Mountain Walking

The Bhabha Pin Valley Trek: All You Wanted to Know (But Didn’t)

Abhishek Kaushal provides information from his personal experience on the high-altitude Bhabha Pass Trek for first-time trekkers to this well-frequented trek route in Himachal Pradesh.

I have always found high-altitude multiple-day treks to be an effective and enjoyable way to test one’s endurance. Apart from the demanding physical and mental test, these treks also allow you to get away from the daily grind in style and serenity, as you ascend and descend through breathtaking scenery. The Bhabha Pin Valley Trek across Bhabha Pass in Himachal Pradesh, India, is one of such treks.

The trek can be done in either direction: Kafnu to Mudh or Mudh to Kafnu. Guides and porters can be arranged at Kafnu as well as Mudh. If you are going from Kafnu to Mudh, one can reach Kafnu by bus or book a direct cab from Shimla. After completing the trek at Mudh, one can either go to Shimla or Manali – you will reach Manali in half the time as it takes to reach Shimla. In case you are planning to do the trek from Mudh to Kafnu, the easiest way to reach Mudh is from Manali via Kaza. There is only daily bus from Manali to Kaza and similarly only one bus goes from Kaza to Mudh. Cabs can be booked from Manali to Kaza as well as Kaza to Mudh.

If done from Kafnu to Mudh, the trek begins in the green surroundings of Bhabha Valley in Kinnaur district, goes through different terrains and ends in the leafless, Cold-Desert environment of the Pin Valley in the Lahaul and Spiti district of Himachal. The altitude on the route rises from 2400 m above sea-level at Kafnu to 4850 m at Bhabha Pass and then descends to 3700 m at Mudh.

Based on my experience, the trek can be completed in 3 to 5 days, depending on individual fitness levels. The locals say that they do this journey in a single day if it is without any load or with bare minimum goods to carry, which translates to around 16 hours of walking. The main consideration for duration of the trek are the night halts which have to be planned to be done near a water source. The trail is well defined since it is a frequent trekking route except near the Bhabha Pass where one has to walk over moraines and snow.

Personally, I rate this trek in the ‘Moderate’ category due to two main reasons. First is the altitude combined with the distance; and the second is the difficulties related to walking on snow/ice near the Pass (although that depends on when you do the trek).

A basic level of fitness is required to complete this trek since it involves climbing steep slopes and walking for long hours across different terrain for multiple days. If the fitness preparations focus on lung capacity, leg strength and endurance, then one can do this trek comfortably without any injury and major fatigue.

Following is a day-wise account of the trek route from Kafnu to Mudh:

Day 1 – Kafnu (2400 m) to Mulling (3200 m)

Day 1 starts from Kafnu after a good night’s rest in a cosy hotel or home-stay. The initial few kilometres of the trek are on a motor-able road after which you hit the actual trail. The climb is mostly gradual except at a couple of places where it can get a bit steep. It is around 12 kms to the night halt at Mulling, which will normally take 6-7 hours including breaks. One has to carry a packed lunch. Most of the trail is through green cover and there are small streams crossing the path at various places. Overall it is a long but easy walk on the first day. The campsite at Mulling is in an open valley on the banks of the Bhabha Khud. It is colder and less greener than Kafnu. This is the last place on the trek where you will see any tree-line near the camp site.

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Day 1 – Motor-able road from Kafnu to the start of the trail; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

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Day 1 – Well defined trail from Kafnu to Mulling; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

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Day 1 – Small stream on the trail; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

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Day 1 – Long shot of the Mulling campsite; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

 

Day 2 – Mulling (3200 m) to Kara (3600 m)

Mulling to Kara is a short trek, mostly a gradual climb with one steep portion before reaching Kara campsite. After the initial couple of kilometres walking among trees, the terrain changes to one with short grass and high altitude shrubs by the time you reach Kara. The distance travelled on Day 2 is around 6 kms which takes 3-4 hours. Kara is like a wide valley near the banks of the Bhabha Khud. It is very windy in Kara, so the wind chill effect is very high -even in bright sunshine one feels cold due to the wind. Hot lunch can be prepared on reaching Kara if one leaves early from Mulling.

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Day 2 – Last group of trees after leaving from the Mulling campsite; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

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Day 2 – View of the trail from the steep climb section to Kara; Photo: Ameen Shaikh

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Day 2 – Kara campsite; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

 

Day 3 – Kara (3600 m) to Phustrang (4100 m)

Start early from Kara since it is easier to cross the Khud in the morning hours (water level rises later in the day). After crossing the stream, the trail goes into a steep climb. The trail towards Phustrang after the steep section is pretty narrow at some points, therefore, care should be taken while following the trail so that one doesn’t slip into the Khud far below! The trail however eases to a gradual climb to the campsite at Phustrang, which is the Base Camp before the Bhabha Pass. The distance from Kara to Phustrang is around 5 kms which normally takes 3-4 hours. Hot lunch can be prepared on reaching the campsite at Phustrang. One can also trek from Mulling to Phustrang in one day as on both the days the distance and time taken is not much. Also, the steep sections are not too long but combining Day 2 and 3 is advisable only if the trekking group has above average fitness.

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Day 3 – Steep climb from Kara plains far below; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

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Day 3 – Narrow gradually climbing trail towards Phustrang; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

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Day 3 – Phustrang campsite; Photo: Ameen Shaikh

 

Day 4 – Phustrang (4100 m) to Baldar (3900 m) across Bhabha Pass (4850 m)

This is the most strenuous and longest day of the trek. Leave very early from the campsite at Phustrang so that the Pass can be safely crossed before noon as weather tends to deteriorate at high altitudes after noon (it is also advisable to reach the night camp before sunset). There is a steep climb from the campsite to the first ridge and the trail can be seen up to the first ridge from the base. After reaching the first ridge, there are two more ridges to the Pass, where one has to walk through moraines. The climb to the Pass from base camp is roughly 4 kms which will take 3-4 hours, but it requires a lot of lung capacity and strength.

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Day 4 – Steep climb from Phustrang campsite to the first ridge; Photo: Ameen Shaikh

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Day 4 – Third ridge and Bhabha Pass top in the background; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

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Day 4 – Final ascent to Bhabha Pass; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

Snow is expected around the Pass so extra care is required while walking to avoid any accidents (since we did the trek in the last week of September, there was negligible snow at the Pass). From the Pass you can see two very different kinds of landscapes on either side. While Kinnaur is greener and the mountain colour is dark, on the side of Spiti, it is leaf-less and the mountains have different colours. There is a steep descent to the base on the other side of the Pass and on reaching the bottom one can stop near the stream for packed lunch. Then it’s a gradual descent to the night halt at Baldar. The initial part of this gradual descent is very irritating as there is no defined trail and one has to walk over rocks, which is time consuming and tiring. Thereafter this it is a nice trail through beautiful surroundings of the Pin Valley to Baldar.

One can also catch a glimpse of the Pin Parvati Trek from this trail. The distance from Bhabha Pass to Baldar is roughly 12 kms which will take approximately 5-6 hours. The total distance travelled on Day 4 is around 16 kms which will take 10-11 hours.

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Day 4 – View of Kinnaur from Bhabha Pass; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

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Day 4 – View of the Pin Valley from Bhabha Pass; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

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Day 4 – View of the descent just after Bhabha Pass; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

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Day 4 – Bottom of the descent from Bhabha Pass and the route to Baldar; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

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Day 4 – Rocky trail on the way to Baldar; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

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Day 4 – A beautiful view of the Pin Valley; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

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Day 4 – Baldar campsite; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

 

Day 5 – Baldar (3900 m) to Mudh (3700 m)

The distance from Baldar to Mudh is around 11 kms which will take 4-5 hours. The trek is mostly downhill with a few uphill sections. After the first four days of climbing, the fitness level is likely to be better, and hence the last day’s trek feels more like a walk, where one can enjoy the view of the landscapes of the Pin Valley. One can stay overnight at Mudh in home-stays or can hire a cab to Kaza or Tabo from Mudh which is approximately two hours additional journey.

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Day 5 – Trail from Baldar to Mudh; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

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Day 5 – Bridge on the Pin river towards Mudh Village; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

 

If you are doing the trek from Mudh to Kafnu, the steepest section of the trek would be the climb from the base near the stream to the Bhabha Pass, since Mudh is higher than Kafnu. Other than that, it is a gradual climb from Mudh to the base of the Pass, and after crossing the Pass it is all downhill to Kafnu.

Overall, the Bhabha Pass Trek is an enjoyable adventure for first-timers and experienced trekkers alike.

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