Trekking to Dhankar Lake from Dhankar Monastery in Spiti
I am not much of a trekker, at least not anymore ever since I worked really hard ( or hardly ?) to acquire that extra tire around my waist. So most of the treks I go now are short quick treks where after a few hours I can sit and watch clouds make patterns in the sky while I plot my next best seller novel ( yes there are a few stories deep inside me, and don’t ask me what stage of writing I am ).
One such trek I did was to Dhankar Lake above the 1000 year old Dhankar Monastery in Spiti. While Chandratal is more famous in Spiti, it is Dhankar Lake that I liked the most simply because the weather was better when I visited the same. In hills you are totally dependent on the weather of the place you are visiting. Luckily the weather at Dhankar lake was perfect for a short trek in the balmy summer afternoon.
The hike to Dhankar Lake begins from a hidden path above the Dhankar Monastery and throughout the journey the monastery plays hide and seek with you as you follow the serpentine path caressing the mountainsides. Dhankar Lake Trek in Spiti is only about an hour or two long yet it is very treacherous as you climb more than 1000 feet in less than 2 hours on foot. As we were leaving the Dhankar Village behind I found this prayer wheel installed in a spring so. What a wonderful idea a prayer wheel that constantly rotates with help of water blessing the water as well as those who use it.
Further up the slope wild rose bushes call these desolate slopes their home and snow leopards are believed to be lurking behind the innocent looking bushes. Though we were not fortunate enough to encounter any snow leopard.
It rarely rains in Spiti as it is cold desert, but it snows every year leading to landslides and mudslides on the slops. This makes the path a strewn with loose rubber, so one needs to be extra cautious as one slip can send you to down on your journey to heavens above.
I have made the basic mistake for a hike, I was wearing my highly comfortable but old Sandals that were made for hiking but now have lost most of their grip due to overuse. ( Hey I may not go on too many treks but I still wear my favorite sandals every day- I am no Imelda Marcos our own Amma. I am happy with just a 2 pairs of shoes / sandal that I wear till they worn out, then I just get the lower changed. ).
So here is my worldly wisdom to you — ” If you are on a hike: Make sure you are wearing good hiking shoes / sandals that retain their grip on the loose soil. ” Unless offcourse if you are trekking Bollywood style like in Yeh Jawani Hai Deewani.
Most of the hike was spent trying to click the distant peaks and the surrounding valley, with a garnish of shy pink rose blooms challenging the desolate rugged slopes, shaped by centuries of snow carrying soil in a torrential flow during summers.
A very important reason why I click pictures on a hike is that it gives me a great excuse to catch some breath. It is not that I am not physically fit it is simply that my city bred lungs are not used to the fresh Himalayan air carrying the scent of wild roses.
As everybody in the group moved past me, our friendly Lama jee was shadowing me and boosting my morale at every step. But even Lama’s have a limit of patience. Finally I crossed that limit and the cool as cucumber Lama jee, insisted to carry me on his shoulders to the Dhankar Lake. Now this was very tempting offer but I had to decline it as I wanted to hike on my own so slowly I continued my climb. But it was big enough motivation for me to continue to climb, after all if the Lama jee can carry me on his shoulders, I can try to hike to the Dhankar Lake on its own.
Slowly but steadily like a mountain goat I reached the dried lake bed and was too disappointed that I could not find any water in the lake. But then I realized I need to look further a small eternal spring was erupting from the dry lake bed and flowing in the opposite direction. There in distance I could see turquoise waters of Dhankar lake and under some rocks my friends were resting. Now it was walking mostly on plane surface but the air was thin so slowly I walked towards the water, stopping just to pray at the small Gompa (Buddhist Temple) on the shore.
There are no trees at this height of so shade was scarce and only a few larger rocks offered some shade. We all squeezed ourselves in the shade and started to soak the surroundings. We could see some peaks that are home to perinnial snow and are host various glaciers that feed the springs around spiti valley that meet to form the Spiti river.
Once the sweat beads on my forehead vanished due to gentle kisses by the mountain breeze I could breathe easy and started examining my surroundings. I could see the reflections of silver waterless clouds in the turquise waters. The water sometime placid reflected the clouds at others played like a Jal Tarang and sang a duet to the wind descending from the narrow pass.
As I was scouting for angles to click pictures, Arun Bhat, our travel and photography mentor asked me to sit still as action was about to happen. ( Arun has visited Spiti for more than a decade and has done extensive work in documenting and photographing culture and people of Spiti with a special focus on Buddhist Monks ).
Anyways as I was wondering what action was about to happen I saw a small dot on a distant hill started getting big every second. Soon the dot evolved into a moving flock of sheep and goat that were coming down to the lake for their sundowner in the Dhankar Lake. Some of the sheep were a bit skeptical on seeing us and gave “ Maain Maaain Maain “ of disapproval but then the thirst overcame them and soon the flock was happily gulping down water, giving us some good opportunity to click pictures of the sheep, goats and the shepherds.
One of the shepherds was dressed like a Rock star with cool shades and army fatigue trousers; he definitely was not a Spitian. As we chatted he asked me to click a picture of his, and I asked him if he belonged to Spiti.
“ Kahan Ke ho Bhaiya ? Aap Spiti Ke to Nahi Lagte ? “
(कहाँ के हो भैया ? आप स्पीति के तो नहीं लगते ?)
( Hey bro, where are you from you don’t look like you are from Spiti”
“Nahi jee hum to Bihar se hain , Garmiyon main bhed bakriyan charane ka kam karte hain yahan or sardeeyon main wapas chale jatey hain“
नहीं जी हम तो बिहार से हैं
“I work here in summer to look after the sheep and go back in winter ”
गर्मियों में भेड़ बकरियां चराने का काम करते हैं और सर्दियों मैं वापस चले जाते हैं
So here I was in the remote Dhankar Lake thousands of feet above sea level where in last 2 hours we have not seen another soul except for our group, and the first human I meet is a migrant worker making his living as a shepherd.
So I think the original traveler after the pilgrims were the migrant workers and they still continue to be the biggest travelers as a group. They may not visit touristy or travelery ( new word ? ) places but they do travel a lot of distance in search of greener pastures, like this particular shepherd.
After some more chit chat with my shepherd friend we started our journey back to the Dhankar Monastery which was now glowing in the evening Sun, so the descent was slow, as I was trying to find angles to click the Dhankar Monastery in the evening Sun.
How to Reach Dhankar Lake: Your starting point will be Dhankar Monastery, from where the hike starts.
How tough is the hike to Dhankar Lake: Dhankar Lake is at 13500 ft and is frozen most of the year. You climb more than 1000 feet in around an hour. If you are reasonably fit the hikes is easy, but remember you are on high altitude and you easily get breathless, so go easy on those backpacks and photography equipment.
How much time it takes to trek to Dhankar Lake: Depending on your fitness level you will take an hour to 2 hour to reach Dhankar Lake from Dhankar Monastery.
Hiking Tip: Wear shoes / sandals with good grip as the soil on the path is lose. Wear a good hat to protect you from blazing sun and if you are too concerned about your skin better apply some sun screen. Carry water, snacks etc. as there is nothing at the Lake and I pray to all mighty one that it remains like that only.
Please bring back all the bottles, wrappers etc. We collected some plastic bottles and brought them back.
Best Time to Visit: Summer months only
Note: I hiked to Dhankar Lake with Arun Bhat, who is co founder of Darter Photography. Darter conducts mentored photography tours to Spiti and you can check the Photography Tours to Spiti here.
Some info on Spiti: Spiti is a high altitude rain shadow area of Higher Himalayas in the state of Himachal Pradesh, you need to cross 2 high mountain passes – Rohtang and Kunzum to reach Spiti from Manali. Dhankar is one of the prominent Buddhist Monastery in Spiti, the other being Tabo, Kee etc.
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