Please Note: As mentioned in this blog, this trek can be completed in just 2 days, but this is only recommended for experienced trekkers who are already well acclimatized or acclimatize fast and trek at a good pace. The trek starts at an altitude of 2500m and Bhrigu Lake is at an altitude of 4200m calling for an ascent of 1700m in a day and back to 1800m at Vashisht the next day, which can be demanding. Frequent white-outs occur in the area and there are chances of getting lost in low visibility conditions.
I was looking online for information on the trekking route to Bhrigu Lake for independent trekkers. Here’s what I found out: it is an easy straightforward trek, one of the trekking routes starts at Gulaba (mod 22) on the Manali - Rohtang highway. The trek passes through Raoli Kholi before we get a steep ascent to the lake and then descends via Pandu Ropa to Vashisht. A few indicative timings mentioned and a couple of pictures of the Bhrigu Lake.
Most of the sites seemed to have done a good copy-paste job of representing the above information in different ways. Now this doesn’t really help independent trekkers does it? Yes it is an easy trek and it can be trekked entirely on your own. Just think there was a need for more details on the route and trails to be followed to provide some more confidence for the do-it-yourself trekkers. So here goes first hand information on how to trek to Bhrigu and back by yourself...
Bus from Manali to Gulaba (mod 22) (1 hr) and trek to Bhrigu Lake through Raoli Kholi (6 hours)
I took the early morning bus from Manali which left the bus stand at 7:30 a.m. This bus had the long journey to Leh ahead of it and seemed to be in hurry whatsoever. It stopped at Kothi for breakfast hardly half an hour into the journey. Parathas are always an ideal breakfast for me before starting a trek and I enjoyed a couple of them before taking my seat in the bus again. ‘22 Mod’ or turn number 22 is where I had my ticket booked for. The conductor brought the bus to halt at this spot which is approx 7 kms ahead of the check-post at Gulaba. I adjusted the contents of my backpack one more time before slinging it on and heading straight for the trail across the road ascending up the mountain.
Easy the overall trek maybe but it is up, up and up; right from the word go till Raoli Kholi. The trek starts right across the road from where the bus drops you off near a worn down sign-board. The trail is well marked initially and climbs up steeply through grassy meadows. Keep heading up and avoid entering the cluster of trees on either side of the main trail. There are many side-trails that head into the forests on the sides of the slopes but these are shepherd trails and must be avoided. Make sure you have your fill of drinking water too, as the next stream where you can refill your bottles is at least 2 hours away.
Manali is at an altitude of 1800m and ‘mod 22’ is at 2500m. The bus ride does not give an indication of the altitudes at all. Only when you start climbing up do you realize that you are at a considerable elevation. I was trekking alone carrying my tent, sleeping bag, stove and ration for the 2 days ahead. The trek seemed anything but easy at the start :P I got into a steady pace soon though and the going got easy slowly. There are a few flat areas which can serve as camping sites too. But there seemed to be no source of drinking water available nearby. The only stream crossed was right along the highway before starting on the trail.
The trail disappears at times and grassy patches cover the slopes entirely. Keep climbing up steadily and you should be able to spot the narrow muddy trail from time to time. About an hour into the trail you will hike past a cluster of trees that provide the last covered resting point on the trail. You will head above the tree line now with nowhere to hide if the elements decided to play havoc. Yes there is some tree-cover available as you climb up, towards your right. But this is off the trekking trail and does not seem worth the time and effort to get there and back even if there was a heavy downpour.
About an hour and a half into the trek, you should come across these rocks which seemed like the last flat space along the trail to pitch up your tent before Raoli Kholi. You can see the end of the tree line over towards your right as you face the uphill climb. The trail is not clearly visible for some time now. Hike further up towards your left for a short while till the muddy trail reappears and you can see the faint line of a trail up ahead in the distance. You have to hike up above the trees to your right towards the rocky cliffs seen in the distance (2 o’clock direction) but in a roundabout fashion, traversing to the right through the meadows first.
Another half an hour ahead, you will come across these rocks laid out over a flattened area which serves as a nice resting place. We are now close to a small landslide area formed by a stream. The steep ascent eases somewhat from here on as we cross a series of 3-4 streams: our first source of drinking water on the trail since we left the highway about a couple of hours earlier. The valley behind you looks fascinating and one can feel the dominance of the peaks on the opposite side. Makar Beh and Hanuman Tibba tower above the smaller peaks.
The Bhrigu Lake trek shows a different perspective of these peaks in the Dhauladhar and Pir Panjal ranges – entirely different from that seen from the Beas Kund trek. Rising up straight from the floor of the valley, the mountains seem grander from here in some ways.
Soon, you should come across this cairn which signals that you are now close to Raoli Kholi. The path descends for a few minutes from here on till the Raoli Kholi camping site.
Raoli Kholi is a pleasant clearing, surrounded by the mountain on all sides, except the one facing the valley and providing panoramic views of the range in front.
There are two routes from Raoli Kholi to Bhrigu. Both routes merge again though and climb as one, steeply over boulders and rocky terrain as the final stretch up to Bhrigu Lake.
First, you need to cross the stream near the campsite and get to the other side. One route then proceeds to the right, goes around the mountain and climbs up again on the other side. This is the route commonly used by the mules and horsemen. It ascends gradually along the side of the mountain before climbing up steeply on the other side. This route seemed longer as well.
I took the second route, which climbed up steeply from the left. The trail was barely visible but you just have to keep climbing up steadily. After climbing up steeply for about an hour, you should come across a short bed boulders which you need to cross. There are cairns put up at the far end of this bed of boulders which you can look out for as you cross over. To be noted that while you can see some markers atop the highest ridgeline straight ahead, you do not need to climb any higher once you cross the bed of boulders.
Once the boulders are crossed, the trail takes a right turn and the climb is gentler for the next 30 minutes. Cairns along the way should now guide you in the right direction. Cross a couple of small streams along the way and the trail climbs up again. It is here that the first route rejoins the main trail and continues towards the lake. The short but steep final section is common to both routes here on, through the rocky mountain-side and it takes about 45 minutes to reach the lake. Rocks and cairns placed strategically should help you ascend steadily towards Bhrigu.
It was cold and misty by the time I made my way up the final steep section and walked across to the lake. It was 6 hours since I started from Gulaba and a bit tiring by the time I made it all the way to 4100m altitude of Bhrigu. I dropped my heavy rucksack to the ground and strolled around the lake, just enjoying the peaceful settings for a while.
There was no flat ground to camp near the lake. There was a notice put up asking trekkers not to camp near the lake as well. One can opt to continue further and descend to the other side to Panduropa or the makeshift campsites along the way, and set up camp depending on availability of drinking water.
Scouting around, down the slope, to the right of the lake, I saw a couple of flat spaces which could house a tent or two. Tired after the long climb and unsure about the water availability ahead, I set up my tent on one such clearing and decided to rest here for the night. It had started drizzling by now as well and I snuggled inside the tent for some warmth and relief from the biting raindrops.
Bread and cheese slices for dinner, sitting atop a boulder and watching the sun set behind the mountains, all alone near the Bhrigu Lake was absolute bliss – something that will linger in my memories for long. Witnessing the Dhauladhar range in front and the peaks emerging from behind the clouds every now and then made the hours go by unnoticed. It was one of the stillest nights I have experienced on a trek. No sounds or disturbances whatsoever – no wind, no rain, no springs with water trickling down the slope, blades of grass as still as ever just like the tent canopy. Complete and absolute solitude for the night!
Bhrigu Lake to Vashisht through Panduropa (4.5 hours)
I woke up completely refreshed thanks to the amazing deep sleep over the night. I hadn’t cooked the previous day and I thought of putting my stove to some use in the morning. I was carrying it along anyways and had ample time to cook up a hot breakfast before descending down to Manali. Wai-wai noodles made for a good breakfast, as always, with some bread and cheese left over from the previous night. It took about an hour for breakfast and to pack and tidy things up before I could start making my way down at 8:15 a.m.
It was another bright and sunny day and it sure did make my task of finding the way and sticking to the trail easier. Foggy conditions and rains would surely have made it difficult to navigate and taken me longer than the 4-5 hours it took me that day.
Cairns line up the way on the other side of the lake too, but there are quite a few of them around the lake and make it a bit confusing. Keeping the lake to your left, walk over to the other side and higher up towards the right – you should be able to locate a trail and follow it for a while. Note that while you have to keep losing altitude traversing along the side of the mountain, but you do not have to descend down directly & steeply to the tree-line on your right. Sort of a middle-ground between the high rocky ridge on the left and the steep valley down to your right.
About 20 minutes hike away from the lake you should come across this boulder atop which is a well-placed cairn. There are hardly any markers after this and the trail does get lost at times in the grassy meadows. Rugged lines appear ahead frequently that guide you along from time to time.
About an hour later, you should come across this makeshift campsite. There is a stream nearby which can quench your thirst, more small streams follow regularly now. The main trail is further to the right of this structure and leads to a short but steep descent. Another 20 minutes on the trail and you are down at another small campsite with similar stone structures: place enough for a few 3-4 tents to be set up here.
The trail is a tad confusing here and you should hike towards the right again with this makeshift campsite behind you, to be back on the main trail. The trail ahead stands out more distinctly now and you traverse along the side of the mountain for a while. You go round a couple of bends and 20 minutes later, find yourself on a large smooth clearing – the Panduropa campsite.
Panduropa is the often used campsite by trekking groups coming up to Bhrigu. Lack of camping space near the lake and no large enough sites for multiple tents to stand up, gets the trek groups over and across to camp at Panduropa. It’s good to rest here before the steep descent to Vashisht too. A stream flows near the campsite and serves the trekkers well.
Move down further from Panduropa and the trail now continues along the top of a protruding ridge to the right. The idea is to get to the cluster of trees towards 3 o’clock as seen in the picture below. Avoid going straight further and descend to the meadows below instead. You might also be able to see shepherd huts and camping parties on the meadows below where you can seek directions. The extreme upper edge of the tree-line to the right is what you should aim for now.
Within 45 minutes of running down the grassy slopes, you should approach the trees and a clear trail heading into the forest. It’s steep all the way down from here on a well-marked route through the forest.
It was good to trek in the cool shade after being out in the sun for a few hours. But the decent was demanding on the knees and the going got a bit slow. Met a few shepherds along the way – shearing the sheep for wool. Quite interesting to watch them skilfully wield a pair of scissors while restraining the restless sheep.
Once inside the forest, it takes about an hour and a half to get down all the way to Vashisht. Towards the end, the trail passes through plenty of apple orchards and you can pluck for yourself some tasty varieties (at your own risk!) on the way down. Vashsisht has plenty of cafes and dhabas and that’s where I headed straight for: parathas and chai treat to end a peaceful short trek!