Call it the Tao of Manimahesh, call it the duality of life; a trek to Manimahesh lake at 4080m is bound to shake a few foundations.
I have been exploring the Himalayan mountain range from the past five years and have ventured out on multiple treks, mostly in the Dhauladhar ranges. Crossing the Dhauladhar and heading over to Manimahesh Peak (5653m) is something I’ve wanted to do but till that happens, I found myself in village Chobia near Chamba. I was accompanying a friend who is researching (Ph.D.) the effects of climate change on the behaviour of the local Gaddi tribe.
That aside, I was just a few kilometers away from Hadsar where the trek for Manimahesh begins (one of the routes). Carrying the 20kg backpack with all my gear and food, I started to walk without any expectations.
The route from Hathed (near Chobia) to Hadsar via the forest and streams is splendid!
Enroute, I crossed a village where an old granny offered me a bagful of fresh walnuts which turned out to be of great help throughout the way. It took me 2 hours to reach Hadsar and it was just about noon. I asked if the shop at Dhancho (5km mark of the 13k route from Hadsar) was open and an affirmative set me on my way.
The moment I was on the massively popular trail, my phone lost all charge from 90% and conveniently died. Very well! The trail is un-missable with plastic wrappers strewn around marking the route. I had heard about the Manimahesh Yatra which takes place every year for two weeks and lots of pilgrims come for it. Now I know the magnitude of ‘lots’. Atleast a million people throng the sacred place in those two weeks. The Yatra in 2017 had ended on August 29 and I had started the walk on September 18.
The place felt like a wasteland. On my left, there is the gorgeous Manimahesh stream gurgling along but the plastic waste is a severe distraction.
I thought of ignoring the mess and concentrating on the good parts like they tell us to do in life. Just then, I saw a few flies buzzing and then came across the body of a cow which had fallen off the steep slope. Other organisms were gathering around to claim the body. Nature.
I was the only person on the trail, the time was around 2.30pm and my estimates told me that Dhancho should be around the corner. But all I came across were run down semi-concrete shacks (where pilgrims might be camping during the busy days) and small shops made of tin sheets which had closed. The only positive, the tree cover was increasing which brought some solace.
Pretty soon, I reached Dhancho and decided to camp at Pappu’s tent. The guys did a good job of cleaning their premises (all the garbage was neatly tucked away on the slope into the stream). Perfect capitalism. In retrospect, the place atleast had one proper toilet, the situation was much better than at the top.
(these pictures are from the lake campsite but sleeping arrangements are the same in Dhancho)
After a little bit of painting, reading, eating and a lot of star-gazing, I started walking at 7 in the morning. I was eagerly waiting to reach a corner from where one could catch a glimpse of the elusive Manimahesh Peak . The locals believe that the peak cannot be summited (one Indo-Japanese summit expedition from 1968 is disputed) and folklore says that all who have tried to climb; have died and turned to stone. When it comes to summiting, I agree. It should never be man v/s nature, climbing mountains is not a conquest, it is surrender.
The ascent after Dhancho is steady and steeper, it’s a good walk. Considering I was carrying such a heavy backpack (20kg is heavy by my standards) for the first time, my shoulders were feeling the pinch but I had crossed the 3000m altitude zone when one starts to feel the absolute power of the mountains. Raw nature.
I crossed Shankar ki Gharat (Shiva’s water wheel) and another pitstop before reaching Gauri Kund by noon. My spirits ebbed. A dingy little pool surrounded by ugly cement structures and a small temple. I paid my respects and looked up. There it was! The Manimahesh peak. Standing tall, half covered in a thick blanket of snow, the peak looked magnificent.
The Geological Survey of India says that the Manimahesh Glacier has receded by 1km over the last 37 years! I couldn’t imagine what it would have looked like. After a look at the peak, my spirits buoyed a little and I quickly made up the last 1.7 kilometers to reach the Manimahesh lake. By now, I wasn’t expecting anything at all but what was in front of me was beyond shocking.
The lake reduced to its paltry size is surrounded by filth. Dumps of plastic, food waste, shit, discarded clothes and god knows what! A tear welled up my eye. ‘Is this our god? Is this the abode of Shiva? How can we manage to do this? Where is our humanity? Or is this humanity?’
I used to think that for India, plastic and other evils came in too quickly for our society to manage the potential problem. The companies brought the packaging in but take no responsibility for taking out the remnants. Maybe the economically poor/rural community can’t be blamed since they never had a concept of waste. The rural life in the Himalayas is a beautiful, self-sustaining cycle. But this experience at the lake shook something within very vigorously. The rich, the poor, the urban, the rural- we ‘re all responsible. If this doesn’t sensitize us, nothing will.
I refrain from eco-activism but this was probably too much in the face. A landfill at 4080m! A message to myself and everyone- Reduce consumption. Think what you buy and buy only if you need it. Also, think about what happens after you buy. Please, the planet needs our help.
Lots of love.
You can find a complete set of the images here: Sacred Landfill at 4080m
Mirdad (Jubin) is an explorer of the beautiful world within and outside. After graduating as a mechanical engineer, he worked for Tata Motors for a while before moving on to YourStory.com to pursue his passion for writing. A deeper inner quest brought him to Dharamshala in Himachal Pradesh where he has been living since last five years and is a part of Saadho. His interest lies in sustainability, adventure and media.
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