Sitting with three of my likeminded friends in a room in Palchan, a small village situated 11 km ahead of Manali, we were talking about places to explore nearby. We didn’t plan this trip, we just followed the tune of nature and synchronised our movement rhythmically, that is rather summing up sophisticatedly for an excuse by teenagers who have no clue about life.
That’s when we came across something called ’Dhundi’. Dhundi is the last village in Solang Valley and closest to the Beas river. It witnesses the intersection of the mighty Beas river with its first tributary originating from the Beas Kund and the Rohtang Pass respectively. It is also the first village from the south portal of the Rohtang tunnel, which is now called the ‘Atal Tunnel’.
Our hotel was adjacent to the Palchan bridge and Dhundi was around 10-11 km ahead of us. So we decided to visit Dhundi next day and fell asleep all excited. The next day I woke up at 7 am and the temperature was -10 degrees Celsius and the sun hid behind the mountains, maybe a little angry with us for not getting up on time to see it’s first rays.
With that thought, I forcefully woke my friends up and we headed towards Solang Ski and Ropeway Centre. We were stopped by the Border Road Organisation’s ranger, who at first was very friendly but as soon as we told him about our destination, got a bit sceptical. We asked him the way to Dhundi to which he replied – Bhai Ji, you have already crossed Dhundi and there is no village named Dhundi ahead. But when it comes to travelling, we need to rely on our instincts, so we found an alternative route other than the metal road because before proper roads were made, the Himachali people used hidden trails in the mountains to travel.
We eventually were treading on a rock trail which was on the outer edge of the mountain but gradually curved into a narrow trail which led us to a pine forest. Suddenly we were amidst a thick blanket of snow and we had lost it. Each step we took made us feel heavy than the previous one because the snow got inside our shoes making them wet and heavy. We thought this is probably our last trek.
Our trail suddenly ended on what I think was an intersection of two adjoining mountains, it forced us to take a left to find us ourselves in the middle of a snug waterfall flowing over the trail we were supposed to take. We were stuck again. One of my friends went to look out for an alternate trail but came back disappointed.
There was only one way to cross and that was to jump on the other side. Luckily we found a tree to grab onto so we land safely. So I jumped first and barely caught it because my feet slipped, I quickly cleared away the snow from the landing spot for my friends to jump. We came back close to the highway and clearly saw the intersection of our trail and we all were pleased to see the road again but it was short-lived. We heard a rumbling sound and found ourselves looking at two big boulders tumbling down from the mountain bringing with them kind of a mini avalanche just a few hundred metres ahead of us. We never had an experience like this before feeling so helpless in front of nature. All we could do was to run for our life. We discussed taking the road back to Palchan.
But we didn’t come this close to go back without entering Dhundi.
After a kilometre, we saw a partially completed tunnel just next to a tunnel which was entirely destroyed by a landslide. After crossing the tunnel and covering another kilometre, we saw massive cranes, excavators and road rollers. We found the supervisor of these massive machines and asked him about the place. He told us we were near Dhundi. He asked us about how we got here, so we told him about the ranger and the trail we found.
He blatantly told us – you shouldn’t have taken the trail because this whole area is an avalanche and landslide prone area and in the winter months this place is unpredictable.
Tourist cars need prior permission before entering this area and that too on a very tight come and go schedule because there can be an avalanche anytime”. He was clearing the highway which was blocked by a landslide which struck 3 days before we visited. He also told us to return before it gets dark because temperature reaches as low as -20° Celsius in the evening itself.
I looked at my watch, the time was 1:30 pm and we still had 2 kilometres to cover so we increased our pace and reached the Dhundi bridge.
Being a snow-fed river in Solang Valley region, the Beas river was almost frozen and there wasn’t too much water so we decided to find the intersection point following the river and we were successful.
Two rivers with water as so clear that even the tiniest of the pebbles on the riverbed was visible to the naked eye. As soon as I reached the intersection, I removed my gloves, sat beside the Beas river, dipped my hands in the icy cold water and took a sip of the cleanest water that I ever drank in my entire life and probably the cleanest water in the entire Himachal Pradesh at that moment.
We were walking on snow that nobody had walked on for months. We were finding solid ground by poking a long stick in the fresh snow.
There were massive rocks in the then dried up Beas river which we used to sit and admire the beautiful scenery that Dhundi showed us. We found a perfectly elevated rock to sit and admire the view.
We were completely isolated. During sub zero temperature, the villagers of Dhundi go to a lower region and make a temporary settlement to be safe from avalanches and landslides. So it was just us, the endless mountains and the crystal clear Beas river flowing beneath us.
This was the most thrilling and the most frightening adventure of my life.
From jumping over a waterfall in the edge of a mountain to witnessing an avalanche in front of my eyes. This adventure made me rethink our existence.
How easily our life could be taken from us.
We should live life to the fullest and do what our heart says because life could be unpredictable.
So travel as much as you can and as soon as you can.