The Magic of Manali

Manali delivers one of the most beautiful high-altitude hikes to Bhrigu Lake.

Rising powdered alabaster slopes all around, the fresh luxuriance of Nature’s greens, glassy surfaces of frigid water unmarred by errant ripples. 

Enter the picturesque Indian resort town of Manali, an adventurer’s paradise situated in the high Himalayas within the Beas River Valley. This is the cornerstone of the Manali Trekking Circuit, from where the most scenic Himalayan treks originate and centre point from where the famed Rohtang Pass can be accessed.

 

KNOW BEFORE YOU GO

  1. Prepare Diamox, the prescribed medication to combat Acute Mountain Sickness by speeding up acclimatisation, as you’ll be gaining almost 4000 feet in a day.
  2. You’ll need a guide, as the paths aren’t very well-marked or distinct.
  3. Prepare for the hike with sufficient cardio; it’s going to be a pretty steep climb.

 

East of the 4,000m-high Rohtang Pass lies Bhrigu Lake, the rewarding destination at the end of this weekend hiking expedition from Manali. Steeped in legend, the eponymous lake, surrounded by sprawling grasslands and sloping alpine meadows, follows the deep meditation of famous saint Maharishi Bhrigu.

The locals also believe the many gods of Kullu Valley once soaked in the lake’s holy waters and performed religious rituals on its banks hundreds of years ago, making it a sacred dip for devotees.

Photo by: Subhaim

From Manali, it is an hour’s drive up along the winding Rohtang Pass with River Beas flowing serenely on the side, jostling with other vehicles to get to the much sought-after trail. This is where your journey begins into Gulaba Meadows, a short 1.5-hour hike into where the base camp is, at the foot of the trek.

Gulaba Base Camp is a colourful cluster of pitched tents amid a verdant alpine meadow framed by craggy cliffs and dense forest. The most prominent amongst the tents is the yellow snack shack, where the local Indian porters keep a steady stock of necessary supplies for hikers and shepherds passing through.

Photo by: Aniket431

From June to September, the best period to embark on this journey, the sun’s unrelenting shine keeps the chill of the highlands at bay.

Wild horses and grazing sheep pepper the lush hills of wildflowers along the water’s edge, behind which the snow-capped peaks of the Pir Panjal and Dhauladhar range carve up the skyline. The vast grasslands afford spectacular views of Manali’s major peaks, Ladakhi, Shitidhar and Hanuman Tibba. 

On a clear day, you see the mountains in the distance rise almost parallel to one another, punctuated by wisps of cloud being gently tousled along.

These peaceful pastures are a far cry from Manali’s crowded, bustling city centre.

It is a steep ascent from here on out, made especially strenuous with a tent in your backpack bound for the next campsite. Embarking on this difficult part of the trail, your limbs will thank you for the cardio preparation you ought to have done beforehand. 

Photo by: Karan Manocha

Fortunately, there is no need to carry too much water with you, to add to the weight of your backpack. The trickling streams along the way, flanked by towering virgin forests of cedar and silver oak, provide natural spring water you can drink directly.

An occasional rendezvous with the area’s vibrant wildlife keeps your spirits up, as you encounter the many charming species including the Himalayan Monal and Snow Cocks along the way. The Seven Sister peaks dominate the panoramic view. 

A few exhausting hours later that will leave your legs burning, you arrive at Rola Khuli Camp, a scene of multi-hued tents in a vast expanse of green, with a snaking dirt path running through.

Spend a night within the comfort of the tent walls to shield from the biting winds. 

At dinner, the locals serve a pot of delicious, lovingly prepared khichdi, an Indian vegetarian stew made from rice and lentils. And around this very pot is where an unlikely aggregation of hikers from around the world converge, brought together by a common love for Nature’s most beautiful.

The next day’s expedition will finally bring you to the hallowed Bhrigu Lake. Upon crossing a small rushing stream, the steepest portion of the trek awaits, as the rocky path tears away from the treeline in a daunting, almost-vertical fashion. As you ascend, the air begins to noticeably thin and grappling for breath is inevitable. 

Photo by: Huzaifajoyia

The last leg of the climb is a maze of jagged rock, watery snow and slippery boulders, shrouded in thick fog. A windbreaker or a poncho is a necessity here, especially in braving the howling Himalayan winds. The final climb is almost sheer, arduous and littered with snow but the thought of witnessing the lake’s storied divinity will keep you determined.

And finally, at long last, you uncover Manali’s treasure. The oval, ethereal face of Bhrigu Lake gleams serenely between two high-altitude ridges. Whether in the thick of winter or the heat of summer, its depths never freezes over completely. Through the year, Bhrigu Lake transitions between several forms – rich deep blue, emerald green, glassy frozen surface, or dotted with ice floes. 

But whichever form you are blessed to have the opportunity to witness, it is Nature’s masterful work of art, evolving through the seasons. No one form of Bhrigu Lake is ever truly the same.

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