While the whole world was gripped with the fear and uncertainty of Covid-19 a group of travel enthusiasts were looking forward to the light at the end of the tunnel. Despite whatever the pandemic and it’s restrictions threw at them, they made sure they followed all protocols and met every requirement to successfully travel to the far reaches of the Himalayas on a one of a kind expedition.
A few months ago Wildloggers, a group of travel enthusiasts that organises personalised travel experiences, announced their Sach- Shinkula – Phugtal Expedition 2020. The trip departing in September end promised breath-taking views and unexplored routes mapped onto an 8 days 7 nights itinerary. It would cover varied terrains and unexpected experiences. Though everyone was eager to travel it was imperative to balance the need to travel and the want to get out of their homes while also carefully assessing the Covid situation and safety norms. The SOPs of the states were constantly changing and hence it was very difficult to organize and form a concrete plan. Initially when the expedition was announced it was assumed that only about 18-20 people would confirm, but as luck and the group’s enthusiasm would have it the team got confirmations from more than 35 members travelling in 15 SUVs. The real challenge now arose of working out the logistics for such a large group, a number this high is a task even in normal times but with the current scenarios it proved to be much tougher.
The crew threw itself into planning everything out in full gear. Numerous meetings and discussions brought them to carefully working out a non commercial circuit which was doable despite the challenges, one where the team could house 35 people and also one that contained enough adventure for the travelling group. It was a challenge to constantly monitor the situation and policies across Himachal Pradeshand Zanskar.
The trip started with an overnight drive from Delhi to Bairagarh via Ambala, Ludhiana, Jalandhar&Pathankot covering 700 kms, while stopping at Banikhet (Dalhousie) for Breakfast. The second day saw the team drive off from Bairagarh to Killar (Pangi Valley) while travelling through the mighty Sach Pass at an altitude of 14482 feet above MSL. It started to snow as the group descended from Sach Pass, bringing added joy to the experience. The third day was a picturesque route from Killar to Keylong via Udaipur and Tandi. The day started late after a photo session at the Killar Helipad with added adventure of discovering that the road was blocked a few kilometers down due to blasting, causing the convoy to wait for a few hours in the wilderness. To everyone’s joy came out the makeshift Wildloggersdhabafeeding snacks and tea to everyone till the road opened. The convoy fueled up at Tandi and retired for a nights halt at Keylong. The real adventure began on day four with the convoy determined to conquer Shinkula located at 16800 feet above MSL. This route has only opened last year for vehicular traffic and is being developed as the all weather alternative route to Ladakh. The journey takes you through rocky roads perched on cliff edges barely enough for a single vehicle. At the pass oxygen levels dip and the wind picks up making it difficult to stay at Shinkula beyond 20 minutes.
On descending the northern side and driving through the many river crossings the convoy finally found themselves in front of the majestic Mt.GonboRonjon that made the perfect setting for a wonderful lunch spot and extended photo sessions. A few kilometers further after entering the necessary details at the border in Kurgiakh Village the group rested for the night at the Wildloggers camp in sub-zero temperature.
The day trip to Phugtal Gompa made the entire effort worth it. Starting soon after breakfast the group drove for an hour to reach Purne village. A few kilometers ahead of the last tea stop the trek to the monastery begins on a difficult rocky pedestrian path. The 1.5 hours walk ends at a stunning view of the Phugtal monastery. Perched on the edge of a cliff framed by the turquoise waters of the Tsarap River and guarded by the Lungnak valley this 15thcentury monastery was nothing short of a Wonder of the World.
The next morning saw the group begin their trip homeward from Ski Village to Manali via Keylong and Rohtang Pass on a 200km journey. The aim was to start early so as to avoid high water levels at water crossings but the real challenge posed itself in the form of the cars struggling to climb the northern face of mighty Shinkula on the way back. Once over the pass it was a comfortable drive from Zanskar Sumdo thanks to the black top metalled road all the way to Darcha, Keylong and Manali. The next day saw the whole group resting and spending the last day together in cafes in Old Manali preparing for the last leg home to Delhi.
Despite relaxations from State and Centre Governments, the team at every point ensured responsible tourism throughout the chosen circuit. Everyone travelling got RTPCR Covid tests done before departure despite it not being compulsory for travel as mandated by respective state Governments. The group wanted to ensure minimum interaction with remote/ tribal communities and thus stressed to put up their own campsite to stay away from local villages in Zanskar. Every bit of trash and plastic generated from the trip was carefully brought back to Manali and disposed off in the Civic Municipal bins. In addition to responsible travel, Team Wildloggers ensured that they carried some basic supplies to donate to the kids and monks at the Phugtal monastery.Giving back to the community has been a regular practice of the group through the years. Wheneverand wherever they travel they carry some essentials that may be useful to the locals they visit in remote locations.
Wildloggers is a group of travel enthusiasts that was founded by Rajatesh Maji who is an architect and hotelier. He started his self drive trips in 2010 and had the vision and the will that help the group to grow over the past decade to a collection of 500 plus travelling members along with a supporting core team. Hinna Devi Singh, co-founder of the group looks at stays and personalized experiences as well as unique merchandise, Ashim Badhwar,Govind Vijay and Madhur Dhingra ensure smooth workings on all logistics, administrative and Legal fronts ensuring smooth travel through Punjab considering the farmers protest against the Farms Bills 2020. Essentially, core members bring forth their own personal strength making it a smoothly functionally machine. This collection of like-minded travellers focuses on travelling to unique destinations with tailored itineraries for the whole family.You can travel with every age group and more so the focus is on encouraging female drivers to come forward and face their fears and drive even on the most treacherous terrains with élan.The group has now travelled across the country to various destinations from high into the Himalayas on several expeditions, to the vast Rann of Kutch and along the pristine Konkan coast. Last year they successfully completed their first international drive from Delhi- Bhutan as well.