Where: Himalaya foothills, in the area between Bir and Manali, Himachal Pradesh, India.
When: This was a five day trek in September 2011. We walked for three days, then had a rest day, then walked for one more day.
Why: In 2011, I raised £3,000 for the White Ribbon Alliance, to be able to take part in Charity Challenge’s Trek to the home of the Dalai Lama.
I followed the charity trek with a backpacking adventure around India. Also on this trip I went to Delhi, Dharamsala, Bir and the Himalaya, Agra, Varanasi, Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, Udaipur, Mumbai, Goa and Hampi.
I was sat in my office when a message came in from my colleague Jo. ‘Would anyone like to climb the Himalaya for charity?’, it said. So of course, I immediately wrote back and said YES!
However, it wasn’t that easy. The trek was to raise money for the White Ribbon Alliance, who campaign for safe pregnancy and childbirth. Initially, it looked as if this would be quite a high-profile trek – with the trek ending at the Taj Mahal on Indian Mother’s Day (the Taj Mahal being a tribute to a woman who died in childbirth having her 14th child).
So the first thing I had to do was get a place on the trek (which I did) and then there was just the small fact of raising £3,000.
Well, I thought it was going to be easy. I have over 300 friends on facebook, 50 colleagues, 20 people in my family. ‘All I have to do is persuade every person to donate £5 to £10 and I’ll be there’, I thought. ‘I’ll get lots of sponsorship from companies that market to mums and babies, I thought’ – but it doesn’t quite work like that.
I’d just like to take this time to thank everybody who helped me with my fundraising and donated time, money and effort – you are all brilliant. To my friends who donated their winnings in the pub quiz, to the people in my mum’s church, to friend’s parents, to colleagues, to my family and boyfriend – thank you, so, so much.
Slowly, slowly, we raised the money. I had to sell pretty much everything I owned on ebay to get there, but we did it.
However, I didn’t raise the money fast enough to be able to join Jo and another colleague Angela on their trek, but I was able to delay my departure from April to September – and then I was able to combine the trek with a much bigger backpacking trip around India.
The trek was tough. I had trained, but obviously not enough. We weren’t walking at high altitude, but we did do a lot of climbing up and down. But shanti shanti (gently, gently) we did it and we got up and back down those hills. I was usually last in the group – but I got there, and we had a lot of fun on the way.
The area we were trekking in was simply stunning – but also surprisingly busy. We often came across villages, or passed school kids walking to school along these mountain trails. We stopped a few times at shops, farms or schools and we got to meet a lot of lovely locals.
The crew that I did the trek with were fantastic and I’d like to just say a huge thank you to the group for being brilliant and so much fun. Jane, Raoul, Ajit and Dan Raj were our guides and they were excellent. We were also looked after by the wonderful Sian, Paula and Tara whilst in camp.
Charity Challenge organised all of our trek, from transport to accommodation to food, so I can’t give you specific details about those things, but I have included some links to where you can find more information if you want to make a solo trek to this area.
I would highly recommend doing a Charity Challenge at least once in your life. Not only is it a great way of raising money for some good causes, it’s also a great way to challenge yourself and a wonderful achievement. I personally am not sure that I would do this again as I feel that I placed too much of a burden on my family and friends to support my adventure; however, these challenges are a great way to raise serious amounts of money and they have done a lot of good. I’d definitely consider doing another challenge and will definitely fundraise again, but I probably won’t combine the two.
What I filmed on my holiday
Charity Challenge asked me to film the trek for their promotional material – which I did, but we kept having problems with the camera freezing whilst switched on. However, we did still manage to make this lovely, little film – which features my co-trekkers and I – and shows you a little bit about what we did and where we went.
Getting there and getting about
The crew from the Dream and Activity Centre in Bir dropped us off at the Haribo Pass, where we started our trek, in two 4-wheel drives. They also collected us at the end of the trek for the most scary, awe-inspiring journey over the mountain passes, on semi-washed away roads.
On our second day, we were met at the end of our trek by two trucks, which took us back to our campsite. Those travelling in the back had great fun sitting on the tailgate, bouncing around and watching the world go by. Those of us sat in the cab could see the road, and the driving and it was… interesting.
Otherwise, we did all of this journey by foot (obviously).
For comprehensive information about getting to Bir and around the area, visit birhp.com.
What we did on our trek
Day 1 (17km/10.6 miles, 8 hours)
So our first day started with an early morning drive to the start and then a huge climb over the Haribag (haribo) Pass. At 2,500 meters, straight up, then pretty much straight down, it was the hardest part of the whole five day trek.
The Haribag Pass is an ancient trading route, that is still used by herders, traders, school children and families today. We often had to stand aside so a farmer and his cattle could come past, or we would pass people using the path as a thoroughfare. One man we met, at the top, was quite drunk, and he had his whole family and little dog with him.
The path started off by a river, and as we climbed up and up we passed ruined farmsteads, houses and a small village (Barua). The walking was tough (it was very steep and this was our first real trekking) and it was hot. This side of the mountain was quite exposed but we did have amazing views south over Himachal Pradesh.
It took us about four hours to trek to the top, just in time for lunch. At the top of the pass there was a huge meadow, with big rocks to sit on and soft grass for us to hobble about on. We had a nommy pasta lunch, which poor Ajit had carried up the mountain for us – before refilling our water bottles and setting off on the long trek back down the other side of the mountain.
I don’t know why, but I found the afternoon really tough. The paths were good, but quite rocky, and I wanted to go slow because my balance is not so good. The rest of the group went ahead and Raoul, one of our guides, stayed with me – but he kept a discreet distance ahead, so that I could focus on making my way down carefully. Even then, I had one small fall – which ripped a hole in my troosers and gave me a huge bruise.
This part of the trek was gorgeous. It was through forests, over small streams, past shepherd huts etc., but for some reason I was being really down on myself and I’m not sure why. Something about trekking really does challenge you and I was beating myself up for being last and delaying the group.
Anyway, I caught up with the rest of the group close to the village of Majaj. Here we met lots of friendly villagers who showed us their school, though it was closed. It was fascinating seeing how people lived and existed up here in the mountains, using these trekking trails as their roads.
After the village we trekked down to Uhl River, at the bottom of the valley. We climbed over waterfalls and over a bright red bridge, before getting back on the road and walking the five minutes to our camp, by the riverside.
When we got there, we were welcomed with a bucket of hot water for our feet and hot rum cocktails – the perfect end to a long tough day. You can see a tour of our campsite in the Where We Stayed section below.
Day 2 (18km/ 11 miles, 8 hours)
On day 2, we trekked up the opposite side of the Uhl Valley over the 2,700m Sun Pass, ending at the village of Shanag.
The first part of the walk was up some steps (I hate steps), up to a gorgeous meadow where we did our warm up stretches. We then walked up to the village of La Paz, where we visited the school. The ladies of the village looked gorgeous in their bright saris, and the giggly children in their smart school uniforms were really sweet. Some of the trekkers took pens and sweets and small gifts for the kids, which they loved.
We weren’t really able to talk to anyone from the village, but everyone was very friendly and happily posed for photos.
After the village, we walked through corn fields until we reached the Thadkot River, which we followed uphill. The scenery here was gorgeous, especially in the sunshine. The river sparkled, the hills were lush and green, the forests cool – it was quite Alpine in a lot of ways.
We crossed the Sun Pass about lunch time, before descending down to the valley bottom. We walked through a number of hamlets, past cultivated fields, until we ended up at the village of Shanag. I found the last stretch of this day quite hard, as my feet were killing me (I hated those boots). I found walking on the stony paths at the end of the day quite hard on my feet, and I was so tired – which made me sad again. Luckily, the gang kept me going and we made it to the village, where we were met by trucks to drive us back to our campsite.
The village of Shanag was quite nice, with shops and a café etc, but we had more time to explore it on day 3…
Day 3 (21km/13 miles, 8 – 9 hours. Highest point 2,300m)
I think Day 3 was my favourite day of trekking. It was certainly the easiest.
We started the day back in the village of Shanag. We walked through the village (past a shoe shop) and then up to our first pass where we did our warm up. It was such an easy walk, we couldn’t believe that this was our first pass.
At the pass, there were two houses. There was a very sick, old lady on the porch of one of them. God knows what she thought of these crazy foreigners doing their stretches on her front lawn – though the boys in the house thought it was hilarious and came to join in.
After this, we walked along gentle paths, through woods till we came to a river. It was quite strong white water, but we had to pass through it – so Ajit and Raoul found huge boulders and slowly built a way across for us. We had to take off our boots, then trek barefoot through the white water, before climbing the steep bank on the other side. I went first – and it was quite good fun, though a little scary (the current was really strong and there were leeches).
After this, we walked past a few hamlets, past locals working in the fields (who gave Gareth a huge marrow), before coming to our second pass.
We then descended to the valley bottom, where we joined a road and then stopped for lunch on a shop front. I had a fall on this descent and it was a really stupid, comedy fall – but I did nearly go over the side of the mountain very, very slowly.
After lunch it was off up the road, then up a scary shortcut to the road higher up (thanks Trudy for getting me up the climbing bits). It was then a crazy, scramble up a scree slope to the next pass or, for Carol and I, a longer but gentler stroll up the road to the pass. At the top there was a closed café – and from here we could see the next valley spread out ahead of us and the rest of our afternoon walk.
This was my favourite part of the trek. The last five miles of our trek were on a road, and the firmer, level surface was a joy to walk on. Not having to watch our feet all the time allowed us to wander and talk, joke and giggle, take our time and look around – and there was a lot to see. We saw hillsides of misty terraces, huge hawks soaring above. We had spectacular views of the Shivalik Mountains and the Dhauladhar Range. We passed funny looking cows, goats and sheep. It was a gentle stroll in the sunshine, high up in the Himalaya.
We ended our day at the hunting lodge, which was to be our base for the next two nights. Here we had proper showers and proper toilets, sofas and electricity. It was wonderful!
Day 4 – rest day
So on the rest day we had the option of doing an extra walk – and I was the only one who didn’t go, but to be fair, I was sick.
I had a bit of a case of Delhi belly whilst here – which left me feeling really weak and washed out. I feel sorry for Dom and Emma who had to share the room and bathroom. I’m so sorry girls.
So I wasn’t very well, but it was a great spot to be unwell in. We were staying at the Maharaja’s hunting lodge, high up in the mountains. At the front of the lodge was the deck, and there was a lovely garden. I made a nest for myself on one of the sofas on the deck and just slept, read, ate soup and relaxed. It was so pretty and peaceful, and the crew girls were great and looked after me.
My only bug bear is that in the afternoon, when I was feeling a little brighter, I wanted to go for a little stroll (just to the road) but the girls wouldn’t let me in case I got lost or hurt – and I did feel a little bit like a prisoner, but it was a very nice prison so I went back to my nest in the sunshine.
Day 5 (19km/12miles, 7 hours)
Day 5 was tough as I was still unwell. I hadn’t eaten anything, apart from half a biscuit. I was dehydrated and it was hot! I wasn’t the only one who came down with heat stroke that day. But it was all downhill walking, so that helped.
On this day, we walked from the hunting lodge to Bal – where we met our drivers who were to take us back to Bir. A lot of the trek was along tracks between hamlets and villages, and through marijuana fields (we saw loads of people rolling it – even the kids).
About half way through the morning, we came to a village (Shilpadhani) and at this point I just lost all my energy. So one of the guys took my bag, someone else gave me a biscuit and more fluids, and somehow they got me to the lunch spot.
After lunch we carried on walking down hill, till we came to a huge river and a quarry area. We had one last scary downhill trek before we got to the bridge and the end of our walk.
I cried at the end, I was so relieved and so exhausted.
After this, they loaded us into two vans and took us back to the Dream and Adventure Centre in Bir, where we celebrated our achievement with a small party (well, the other’s did – I went off to bed cos I was still ill) – but we did it! Phew.
Where we stayed
Dream and Activity Centre, Bir
We stayed in the Dream and Activity Centre for the two nights before our trek and the night at the end. For more information on the Dream and Activity Centre, visit the Bir page.
Base camp by the Uhl River
What was great about our trek is that we didn’t have to carry all of our gear with us. Whilst we were off climbing mountains, our brilliant crew transported all of our gear and set up the camp so that as soon as we arrived we could just collapse into our tents. We stayed in the campsite for the first two nights of the trek.
In the camp there was a kitchen tent, dining tent, wash tent (with buckets of hot water), two toilet tents with commodes to sit on, and our sleeping dome tents – two people to a tent.
The camp site was in the most beautiful location, surrounded by high mountain peaks that caught the sun and the clouds and the stars and the weather. Running alongside the site was the white water River Uhl, and there were lots of spots where we could sit on a rock and watch the river go by and try to spot fish.
It was wonderful to be in such an isolated spot – even though we knew there were two villages close by and a road up on the ridge. It felt like we were in our own little valley, with the world a million miles away.
Tara and Paula cooked amazing, hearty meals – and fed us rum punch to take away our aches and pains. Then in the evening we sat around the bonfire, chatting away, before collapsing into our tents for a cosy night sleep.
Maharaja’s Hunting Lodge
We spent our last two nights and our rest day at a hunting lodge, high up in the mountains, that used to be used by Maharajas and the British Raj (I never did ask what they were hunting).
Knowing that it had been used by Indian royalty, I was expecting something quite grand – but actually the lodge was lovely, little, basic and yet cosy and with all the facilities we needed.
There were three bedrooms and each room had a bathroom with a squat toilet and a place where we could have a bucket shower.
In our room we had one double and one single bed. The double was really uncomfy and creaky, and I felt sorry for Emma who had to share with me – especially as I was ill and so had to get up a lot.
At the front of the lodge there was a terrace/deck area – with some comfy sofas. We relaxed out here and played cards, read, listened to music, dried our clothes and relaxed. On the day I was ill, I made a nest on the deck and just enjoyed the sunshine soaking into my bones.
There’s been a debate over the last few years over whether these charity challenges are a good way to raise money for a charity or whether it is just subsidising someone’s adventures – and to be honest, I don’t know what the answer is. I certainly wouldn’t have done this trip had it not been for the fundraising element; but equally I wouldn’t have raised £3,000 for the White Ribbon Alliance had I not done the trek.
White Ribbon Alliance are a great charity who campaign for safe pregnancy and childbirth – something which I really believe in. Happy, healthy moms tend to have happy, healthy babies, who grow into happy, healthy adults.
Thanks to the generosity of my family, friends and colleagues, and by selling pretty much everything I owned on ebay, I was able to raise the £3,000, and go on the trek.
It was tough, but I was very proud of myself and the group for such an achievement.
Fundraising £3,000 is not easy and I actually had to delay my trek as my fundraising didn’t go fast enough. I mostly raised the money through the generosity of my family, my friends, through pub quizzes with big cash prizes, by selling most of my possessions (I was moving to Korea so I was going to do that anyway) and by paying quite a bit myself. Some companies very kindly offered gift vouchers which I was able to raffle off and I organised a quiz night myself – which is where we raised the last part of the money.
You can actually do this challenge without sponsorship, just by paying for it as you would a normal holiday.
The team at Charity Challenge were pretty helpful and organised everything for us. My only bugbear was that they insisted that we had their travel insurance and as I was going on my own adventure straight after his one, it meant I had to pay significantly more than if I had organised this myself.
Would I do this again? I’m not sure that I would. I personally felt that I overburdened my friends and family with something that I could have/maybe should have organised myself. It hasn’t stopped me fundraising, but now I do it on a much smaller scale and keep it separate to my adventures. I would still like to walk the Great Wall of China or climb Kilimanjaro, but I think I would organise and pay for these things myself rather than connect it to fundraising. However, Charity Challenge do do great work and as I said before, I would not have raised this amount of money had it not been for this charity trek.
For more information on taking part in a Charity Challenge, and information on how to fund-raise, visit the Charity Challenge website.
Top tips for hiking
So, I’m not a world class hiker but I have now done a Himalaya Trek and the 800km Camino de Santiago and on these lost-distance walks I’ve picked up a few useful tips for making the hike easier.
- Watch your feet: I always thought that when climbing, it would be easier to pick a spot ahead – then make it to that spot – then pick another spot – and make it to that spot. That way you divide the climb up into more manageable chunks. I was wrong. The best way to climb a mountain is to only look at your feet and the few steps ahead, and to every now and then to stop and look back to see how far you have come and how high you have climbed. Looking ahead, uphill, is just depressing but focusing on your feet allows you to just watch where they are going – and when you look back you appreciate how far you have come.
- Weaving is good. If there’s a really steep gradiant, weave across the path. Your journey may be longer but it takes the gradient out of the climb and so makes it easier to keep going and not get too out of breath. I did this a lot in the Pyrenees, on the Camino.
- Keep going – even if it is preposterously slowly. It is better to keep moving slowly rather than start, stop, start, stop. Keep a slow, steady pace that doesn’t leave you out of breath.
- Walking poles are not for everyone: I took a walking pole to help support my knees, and a lot of people rave about these, but in truth, I gave mine up after two days as it was upsetting my centre of gravity and balance, and I found it better to balance using my hands and feet. On some steep area, it was better for me to have three things attached to the ground (like two hands and one foot) – and the pole didn’t allow me to do this. So for this reason, I gave it up.
- Thermal under layers don’t just keep you warm, they can stop you from overheating too. I wore my long sleeve thermal top to protect me from nettle stings.
- Leggings are great as they are light to carry and can go under other layers. Silk socks are a good layer to wear under your hiking socks as they stop your feet from sweating and stop rubbing too. Merino wool socks, which I wore on the Camino, are amazing. They stop your feet from sweating and so stop rubbing and blisters, they wash and dry quickly and they don’t smell.
- Choose the right boots: I wore proper leather boots, as they are waterproof and this is what everyone recommended me to wear. To be honest though, I wish I’d had soft boots, as the leather boots didn’t let my feet sweat and so my feet ended up very dry and cracked at the end of the day.
- Wear a hat. Don’t worry if you look silly – who cares, you’re climbing the Himalayas. Wear a hat.
- Drink lots of water and keep your calories up. Ginger biscuits are a good snack to take as they don’t melt or go off, and they can help if you are feeling sick.
- Warming up and warming down are so important. We usually did our warm ups about ten to fifteen minutes into the trek, so that our muscles had warmed up when we did it. Because of this, I didn’t have any stiffness after walking (I think the rum punch may have helped with that too).
- Music helps. I did my best walking when I had my music player on, though I only used it on good paths and roads. Where I had to concentrate I kept it off. Some of the crew kept one ear phone in, as they said the music helped to pace them. I think I might try that next time.
For information on getting to Bir, getting around the area and trekking groups, visit the brilliant www.birhp.com.
Find out all about the trek on the Charity Challenge website.
Other useful sites include:
Please note, some of this information may not be correct or may be out of date. All these articles show is how we found these places when we visited and what we personally thought of each place. Where possible I will include links to sites which will contain more up-to-date info. All of this is my own work and any opinion expressed is that of the author only.
If you think I’ve missed something important or have got something wrong, please let me know in the comments section below.
All photos copyright of J Clemo-Halpenny. If you would like to copy or reproduce any of these images, please email me to ask permission.