Ocean of Peace - Kareri Lake in Winter
The Dhauladhars are a mountain sub range of the Great Himalayas...running approximately east-west, parallel to the Pir Panjal range. Though not the highest of the Himalayan sub ranges, the Dhauladhars form an imposing barrier rising to almost 5000 m steeply out of the Kangra plains. Himalayan facts and figures have always taken a back seat for me and when I saw the Dhauladhars for the first time high above McLeodganj, rising like a white-haired demon, breathing fire, ignited by the setting orange sun, I was overawed.
Kareri Lake is a small glacial lake just below the Minkiani Pass in the western Dhauladhar Mountains to the north east of McLeodGanj. It is 3500 m high and oval like a perfect ellipse. To the north are the massive rocky peaks of the main Dhauladhar, to the east is a low ridge that leads towards McLeadganj, to the west is a steep drop of a thousand metres to an open valley, while to the south is the only outlet from the lake in the form of a stream going down to Noli and Kareri villages. The lake is frozen over from November to March, while during the summer the surrounding meadows are rich with green nutritious grass and wild flowers that the local Gaddis and villagers use for the grazing sheep and cattle.
More About Himachal|
At a Glance
Kareri Lake is a two-day trek from McLeodGanj. A fine and sunny wintry afternoon in end- November saw me prostrating myself in front of the Buddha in the Tsug LhaKhang monastery in McLeodganj. Feeling suitably blessed and protected, I set off alone towards Kareri, breathing the crisp, invigorating air of the pine forests. It was the beginning of the cold winter but I was surprised to see very little snow on the peaks. The Dhauladhars stood proud and naked, untamed in their wild beauty.
The Tibetan children's village lake was having a sports meet and I was the focus of attraction of a thousand bewildered eyes as I sauntered embarrassedly through the centre of the football field, trying to make a short cut.
Soon I was off the road and heading down a steep mountainside on a well-trodden trail. It was a pleasant evening and wanting to enjoy it, I decided to pitch camp on a flat grassy terrace with a small stream gurgling nearby, even though I had a couple of hours of daylight. After pitching tent and setting all my worldly belongings in my mobile home, I started up my bulky kerosene stove and made some tea. Two gaddi (shepherd) girls came by with a small herd of baby sheep, but they were more interested in poking my tent than in their sheep. I invited them for tea, which they refused. They continued to stare at me in amazement and looked around to for my other companions. I had a bit of a laugh at their disbelieving eyes when I told them I was alone. The campfire I lighted roared so bright that I cooked my noodles on it, saving precious kerosene for later days. As the embers glowed, the sky burnt bright with a million stars. I sat late into the night reflecting on the beauty of my surroundings and the simple pleasures of being alone in the mountains. The lights of the village on the opposite mountain twinkled much like the great sky above me. It was Kareri.
I packed up and set off just as the sun reached my campsite the next morning. Climbing down the mountain I came across a stream, which was crossed halfway by a boulder and the other half by a rickety wooden bridge. The climb to Kareri village was steep, accentuated by my 25 kg rucksack. Toiling hard under the midday sun, I met a local lad, ShubhKaran, carrying a bag of atta up to his village. We got talking and he invited me to have lunch at his humble shack. It turned out that his father was the local Panditji. I was invited to stay the night, typical Himachali hospitality. The whole family treated me like a lost son, trying to dissuade me from going up to the freezing lake. After spending a lovely night with the family and thanking them profusely for having me, I left for Kareri Lake, a 4 to 5 hour trek from the village. The mother packed me some rotis with saag and warned me to watch out for the evil spirits at the lake. Well, I had to feed the rotis to a cow because I couldn't get them down my throat but the love of the family will remain in my heart forever.
Kareri Lake was farther than I thought but when it appeared, after many false alarms, the setting was spectacular. At the base of the main Dhauladhar range, the Minkiani pass towered 600 vertical meters above me. A small lake probably just 6 feet deep at this time of the year, surrounded by burnt brown grass meadows.
There are two small mandirs, adjacent to each other, dedicated to Shiva and Kali on the southern shore and I quickly bowed down in prayer. Kareri lake is the summer settlement of the villagers of Kareri and Noli, so there are a few mud huts built around the lake, but at this time of the year, the whole place was deserted and in the 3 days I spent in this ocean of peace, I did not have a single human visitor.
I inspected all the little huts and found one with a perfect chulha and plenty of hay to add comfort and warmth to my sleeping bag. It also had a perfect view of the deep gorge to the west from the window right above my bed. I then whipped up courage enough to immerse myself in the icy waters of the lake and came out a few seconds later chilled to the bone but exhilarated and ecstatic. I looked around at this beautiful vista...the magnificent mountains...the lake...the huts...it was all mine...there was noon but me in this paradise. I screamed, I ran, I meditated, I practiced yogic asanas, i played my flute. Just nature and I. The silence and the complete stillness were overpowering.
At night I boiled a potato on the firewood chulha and ate it with salt and pepper and let the fire warm the hut well into the night. It was chilly outside, but inside the hut was warm as a home. It was my home. I was up well before the sun rose over the eastern ridge of the lake. The lake was covered in a thin layer of ice that shimmered in a thousand colours with the rising sun. When I went down for water and cracked the ice with my cooking pot, the cracks ran to the centre of the lake. As the sun came up over the ridge, the ice slowly started cracking and I watched this amazing phenomenon as I boiled my morning potato on the fire.
Minkiani pass is one of the crossings of the Dhauladhar Range, the watershed between the Kangra and Chamba Districts of Himachal. During the day I went up to the pass, which is really steep near the top, and is pretty much boulder hopping all the way from the lake to the top. On the way I came across a rock cave built by the Gaddis who use this pass to cross with their sheep into the Bharmour-Chamba area and then onto Lahaul. The view from the top more than makes up for the effort. I could see all the way down to Dharamsala and beyond Kangra to the plains in the south, now covered by a misty winter haze.
To the north, there were amazing views beyond Bharmour to the Pir Panjal range glistening in fresh snow. I wandered into District Chamba and ate a sandwich and watched a golden Eagle float gracefully. Watching the motion of an eagle in the mountains is perhaps one of the most peaceful and inspiring moments I have memories of.
I wanted to go to the sacred Lam Dal lake that was somewhere to the East beyond the pass but I wasn't sure of the route and didn't want to risk getting caught in a winter blizzard. So I walked along the ridgeline feeling privileged to be able to savour these Himalayan heights and vistas in absolute peace with myself. Such are the moments that I seek in my travels and the peace and satisfaction of such moments is beyond description.
There are so many rocks and boulders around the lake and being an avid rock climber, I could not resist the bouldering opportunities of the hard rock here. As the shadows descended down from the pass, the wind stung me like needles and I snuggled into my jacket. Suddenly there was a loud roar from the jungle behind me and I jumped up and stared right into the trees, fumbling to find my knife from my waist bag. But it turned out that the bear was not very hungry and probably didn't fancy a tired and hungry solo traveller for his dinner, so he didn't show up. But he sure scared me enough to sleep with my knife near my head and give me a fitful sleep.
Morning dawned as fresh as a daisy and my fear evaporated with the morning mist. I quickly got into rock climbing mode after a cup of noodles. The morning was spent on some lovely boulders that were high enough to scare me but not tough enough to throw me off. The ideal bouldering.
I felt like moving back and so after a quick dip in the ice, I packed and left heaven the way I had ascended, leaving nothing but footprints, taking nothing but memories. It was a magical time I had spent in that ocean of tranquillity, a time I will cherish, forever.
Editor: Romola Butalia   (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.