Sainj Valley Trek & Pundrik Lake- Beauty in the Ordinary

Pundrik Lake and Shangargh in Sainj Valley

It’s a small belief of mine that every incident, however small, has some meaning if only one consciously tries to look for it. Too philosophical? Maybe. But then, what’s life without a little philosophy, isn’t it? 😉 Sainj Valley trek wasn’t a life-changing one. But I deciphered a small little message for myself from this. Read on to find out what that was!

I first came across Shangargh and Sainj Valley through Travelshoebum’s blog post, a few years back. It had looked enchantingly beautiful in the pictures. Ever since then, I’d been dreaming about visiting this place. Hence when Indiahikes opened its first dates for the Pundrik Lake trek, now renamed as Sainj Valley trek, I immediately signed up for it.

Day 1: Aut to Shangarh Meadows and the trek till Tindadhar Campsite

One of my friends accompanied me and we joined our fellow trekkers at the Aut bus stand, in front of the 3km long Aut tunnel. Aut is a town in Himachal Pradesh, on the Delhi-Manali highway, 40 km ahead of Mandi.

We were eleven of us altogether, including our trek leader. After a quick introduction of ourselves, we piled into two cabs and drove towards Shangarh in Sainj Valley, from where our trek was supposed to start. The drive to Shangarh was a beautiful one, with majestic views. On one side there were towering mountains, and on the other, a valley dotted with colorful Himachali houses with the turquoise Sainj river cutting through it.

Sainj valley with its villages
The majestic views along the road

Since most of us had not had breakfast, at the Bajar-Larji junction ahead we made a halt and packed hot and fluffy Aloo Parathas. The mouthwatering smell wafted into our car and my stomach growled in protest. I wanted to gorge on it immediately. But our trek leader insisted it’d be better to have it at our first stop, the Sai Ropa Rest House. And so we moved forward. The road then slowly climbed upwards and the deep valley to our left appeared like a tiny toy village.

The valley dotted with colourful Himachali houses
The valley dotted with colourful Himachali houses

There were some intermittent conversations in our jeep, but for the most part, everyone was quiet. Either enjoying the views outside or dozing off.

After around an hour, we finally reached the GHNP Forest Rest House at Ropa. We got down from our vehicle and walked towards the common hall. Looking at our bulky backpacks, our trek leader let out a laugh and asked us to only pack some essential things into a smaller bag. Assuring us that we’d definitely not need anything more than that for a two-day trek.

Gate of Sai Ropa Rest House in GHNP
Gate of Sai Ropa Rest House in GHNP

We all looked at each other and at our respective bags and laughed. Almost all of us had over packed. I guess we all got carried away with the excitement of preparing for this little adventure.

Somehow we gobbled up our Parathas, freshened up and packed our bags quickly. And within a span of an hour we were once again back in our vehicle and bumping along the rickety road.This time it was a mud track. Since tourism in Shangarh and Sainj Valley had only just started back then, the road was still under construction.

The mud track on the way to Shangarh
The mud track on the way to Shangarh

We drove up the narrow winding road. Every now and then we caught a glimpse of the glistening blue Sainj river below, as it rushed past, jumping over the boulders. It seemed as if we were trying to keep up with its pace! What a sight it was. I was torn between constantly ducking my head out or holding on tight to the handlebar.

The road then forked to the right and after bouncing up and down for a little while longer, we were in a small clearing. We had reached Shangarh. There were few small shops and a signboard pointing to a homestay a little away. That’s all. Shangarh was so different from all the other towns that I’d visited in Himachal. Though I had only just had a small glimpse of it. After a short briefing about the trek, we buckled our shoes, strapped our backpack tightly and our trek finally started.

First glimpse of Shangarh in Sainj Valley

We walked a few steps along a small pebble ridden lane, lined with pretty ‘Christmas’ trees on both sides. Suddenly after clambering over some bushes and small rocks, we emerged in a clearing.

What I witnessed in front of me was a place of dreams. I’ve devoured countless Enid Blyton novels in my childhood and it felt as if one of the places which I had visualized in my mind’s eye, had suddenly come to life! I couldn’t speak a word! But just kept looking from left to right in awe. As far as the eye could see, it was a carpet of lush green. Securely tucked away, ringed by tall pine and deodar trees on all sides, sitting snugly under the gaze of the Himalayas. There were tiny white wildflowers sprouting everywhere! Shangarh appeared to have jumped out of a pretty animated movie.

Shangarh meadow
Shangarh meadow in Sainj Valley, its beauty surpassed my imagination

Shangul Mahadev temple in Sainj Valley

At the far corner of the sloppy meadow was an ancient temple dedicated to Shangul Mahadev, the local resident deity of Shangarh. Its architectural style is typical to temples found in this part of Himachal. These temples constructed out of wood, are beautiful works of art. There were rows of intricate carvings found on the walls and the wildflowers scattered around it, added to its charm.

Shangul Mahadev temple in Shangarh
Shangul Mahadev temple in Shangarh. Look at that carpet of flowers!

Cows grazing, locals idling away, tiny butterflies fluttering. The place exuded tranquility… We spent around an hour there and moved forward. Although I could have gladly spent an entire day in that divine place.

Himachali locals idling away
Himachali locals enjoying their time..

Our trail wound around the meadow and up a road. Apparently it joined the same mud track through which we had previously traveled.

There was thick vegetation to our left, remarkable views of the valley to our right and the mighty peaks of the Raktisar glacier on the right. We all joked and laughed together.. happy to be out in the wild!

Rhododendron trees and a waterfall along the trail
The valley to our right

Also read- Story of a gorgeous sunset in another elusive valley in Nagaland

Villages, forests and ancient trails

We continued on this trail for another two hours and passed the villages of Lower Nai and Dalogi.

There were beautiful traditional Himachali homes made from dead deodar found in the Great Himalayan National Park. The locals there happily welcomed us and even let us use their washroom. We spent some time interacting with them, clicking pictures, and playing with the kids. They said not many tourists are seen around Shangargh and Sainj Valley. Makes sense, since even Indiahikes hadn’t started its full-fledged trekking around this area. Ours was the first batch.

Traditional Himachali homes
Traditional Himachali homes in Sainj Valley
Look at those views! I’d love to sit on that ledge for hours together!

I remember wistfully thinking of spending a little more time there…to be honest, I could have spent hours just sitting on one of those ledges and looking out towards the gorgeous mountains beyond!

We then filled our water bottles, took their leave, and continued our hike upwards. After this, we only stopped to have lunch in between.

A clearing in Sainj Valley
The place where we stopped for lunch

The place where we stopped for lunch was a small clearing in the middle of a forest. This valley is blessed with an abundance of pristine nature. Its interior and offbeat location has certainly managed to preserve its beauty!

Pine cone
Pine cones are beautiful pieces of art! Aren’t they?

We all had our own lunch boxes and took our share of food and proceeded to gobble it up! It was delicious. Outdoor meals have a taste of their own…probably the fresh mountain air also added to the flavour 😉

Sweet Surprises

When we were about to finish, our trek leader said there was a small surprise waiting for us there and started walking along a path behind us. And there beyond the bushes, sitting cozily beside a small stream, was another wooden temple! It was very picturesque.

Temple in the middle of nowhere
A temple on top of a mountain, in the middle of nowhere!

Eventually, we had to trek down a dense forest. The leaves had withered to the ground and had created a carpet of brown and orange. It looked beautiful..but then it also proved that sometimes looks are deceptive! The unsuspecting harmless carpet of leaves proved to be way too slippery and it was a herculean task to just walk a few steps without slipping and falling. And my ordinary sneakers weren’t helping me one bit. At one point, I put out my hands to balance myself and grabbed a branch. Unfortunately, it couldn’t hold my weight and plonk! I was down on my back and sliding down the hill. It wasn’t too bad though. I actually had fun 😛

Trekkers walking towards the first campsite
Can you spot the red rhododendron flowers?
A furry companion in Sainj Valley trek
Our new flurry friend!

After lots of crouching, putting our hands out to balance ourselves, and holding on to branches, we were finally on flat ground. By the time we reached the bottom only a few of us had managed to not fall down.Thankfully no one was seriously hurt!

There was a sweet surprise in the form of a waterfall, waiting for us. This beautiful place seems to be full of surprises! We spent some time here before heading back to the campsite.

Waterfall in Sainj Valley
The waterfall called as Nuhada by the locals

Tindadhar, a cozy campsite

We reached the campsite Tindadhar quite late in the evening and the sun was almost about to set. The campsite was a pretty one. Our tents were already set up. It almost felt as if we were on an extended ledge, jutting out of a mountain. With a deep abyss in front of us and more mountains beyond that.

First campsite of sainj valley trek, tindadhar
Our bright and happy looking tents, home for the night. And dining tent on the upper ledge

After the allotment of tents, we were asked to take our snacks from the dining tent. We immediately shoved our backpacks inside our tents and quickly hurried to have our snacks! We were all famished you see. The slipping and sliding down the hill had managed to open all our appetites.

Can you guess what our snack was? Pasta! Yes! Can you imagine eating piping hot pasta and a cup of tea after a hard day of trek? Sitting on a rock overlooking a beautiful valley, watching the sun go down behind a hill…

I tried not to overstuff myself since we were told dinner would be just as tasty. After eating our fill, and washing our utensils, we were free to do as we pleased.

A ridge in sainj valley
I clicked this photo the next day when the tents were brought down. But doesn’t it feel as if it’s a jutting out piece of land?

Simple pleasures of camping

Some of us went to the dining tent to play some games and some went for a short walk. I went back to my favorite rock and perched myself on it. It was such a perfect spot. Near enough to the campsite that I could hear all the laughter and conversation, yet far enough to enjoy some solitude. A perfect setting.

The sun had set and the sky had turned orange-red. Occasionally, when all was quiet, the only sound was that of birds crying and a distant sound of a stream gurgling nearby. After a while I suddenly felt an urge to listen to some songs. I plunged my hands into my trek pants, took out the ever-present earphones and plugged it to my ears. Ahh bliss…

The sky eventually turned black and night descended on the valley. After a while, we all had our dinner in the dining tent. It was a huge conical-shaped tent with foam blankets. We all huddled together, sitting cross-legged, and gorged on the food. It was as delicious as promised. Even a dessert! Sitting at 6000 mts above the sea level, in the middle of nowhere, we were having kheer! Another stuff of dreams…

A night to remember

After eating our fill we had a fun round of formal introduction where we all got to know each. Apparently Sainj Valley trek was most people’s first trek. After chatting for a little while longer, we went out of our tent with our tiffin boxes. I waited until everyone had left. Almost everyone let out a cry of joy when they pushed open the tent flap and ducked their head out.

When it was finally my turn, for a moment I was struck dumb! The sky was adorned with thousands of twinkling stars! It was almost as if thousands of miniature lights were twinkling and glowing. As if a huge hand had tossed a handful of stardust into the sky and they were suspended midway. Sequins of silver, sparkling and shimmering. Even as I washed my dinner box, I constantly kept looking up to the sky. Wanting to remember as many small details, of this incredible experience, as possible.

My friend and I sat together for a while gazing up at the stars and having random conversations. When the cold started seeping into our skin through our layers of fleece and thermals, we finally decided to call it a night and sleep. It had been a good day..

My tent mate was a cheerful person in her early 40s, and the only other female in this group. She had come with her husband and they were a source of inspiration for us. They seemed to prove the fact that age truly is just a number and there’s no ‘right time’ to pursue anything you love.. We spoke for some more time before snuggling into our sleeping bags.

Day 2: Trek from Tindadhara to Pundrik Lake and drive back to Aut

Morning view from the tent!
Morning view from the tent!

My subconscious mind woke me up just after sunrise. My tent mate was still sleeping. I could hear some ruffling sound outside the tent and I slowly drew open my tent flap. It was not really just after sunrise, after all. I had underestimated my fatigue of the previous night. That’s when I looked at the time. It was well past 7 and was quite bright outside. It was my first experience waking up on a mountain top, with a gorgeous view outside.

We quickly freshened up and had another tasty meal for breakfast slurping our hot tea and staring wide-eyed at the gorgeous vista in front of us.

It was a different world in the morning..The sunlight was streaming on to the mountain tops and everything was bright and yellow. I didn’t really want to leave, but sigh..we had to of course! But then it was another new day ahead with yet another adventure! So wasn’t so bad after all.

Morning sunlight casting a happy glow
Morning sunlight casting a happy glow
Morning sunlight casting a happy glow

A few minutes later we folded our tents and after thanking the mountain staff for their wonderful service, we cheerfully set off. Making our way through the thick vegetation. The sun was now fully up, beating down our backs. We huffed and puffed our way upwards. After a while, the uphill path abruptly ended and all of us welcomed the green canopy and rested for a few minutes.

Forest tales and trails in Sainj Valley

A welcome flat land after a lot of uphill path
A welcome flat land after a lot of uphill climb
The green canopy
Nature and its mysterious patterns
Tree canopies in Sainj valley
The green canopy in the forests of Sainj Valley
Trees in Sainj valley
Into the jungle
A strange lone door in Sainj valley
The door to a dreamland? Or a new door to Narnia?
Forests of Sainj Valley
Forest trails in Sainj Valley

The traditional village of Sarahan in Sainj Valley

The trail continued through the forest for about 40 minutes, till we reached the village of Sarahan.The homes here are unique . Animals are kept on the ground floor and humans occupy the first floor.

A little way ahead, there was a clearing and there were two beautiful man-made structures. A carved wooden temple dedicated to Pundrik rishi and a government school. The temple was built with deodar wood, the pillars and the door had beautiful carvings. The school serves students from surrounding villages up to class 8.

Sarahan Village in Sainj Valley
Entering Sarahan village
A meadow near Sarahan Village in Sainj Valley
The village school. I’d have loved to study in a school with a view like that!
A unique himalayan village in Sainj valley
Unique Himalayan house
An ancient wooden temple in Sainj Valley
Pundrik Rishi temple in Sarahan village

Pundrik Lake, a little different from our expectations?

We continued beyond this clearing for about 20 minutes and reached another meadow. There was knee-length grass growing here. It took some time for us to realize that we had reached our final destination, Pundrik Lake.

On the way to Pundrik Lake
Tiny apple orchards
On the way to Pundrik lake

When you read the word lake, chances are, that you imagined a blue water body. Maybe the more imaginative ones would’ve visualized reflections on the surface of the lake. Pundrik lake was none of that.

On the way to Pundrik Lake
On the way to Pundrik Lake
Pundrik Lake in Sainj Valley
Pundrik Lake in Sainj Valley

Pundrik Lake’s location was surreal though. It was ringed by deodar forest on one side while our trail continued on the other side. This particular path was probably one of the most peaceful ones. Most trekkers had gone silent and the only sound to be heard was that of light chirping of birds and the crunching of dried leaves under our soles.

Pundrik Lake in Sainj Valley
The lake was visible towards our left through gaps in the bushes and branches of the trees. It almost appeared as if someone had cut off a chunk of lawn grass and tossed it over the lake’s surface!
Pundrik Lake in Sainj Valley; another view
Although this grass had thick, long blades!

There were some leaves, twigs and dried, brown tree trunks idly floating in the middle of the lake…Apparently this lake’s surface changes color with the changing seasons. All thanks to the grass that grows on its surface.

Golden orange during autumn, white during winter, and also a light shade of pink during spring, due to some flowers which bloom out of the grass. Now that’d be an interesting sight to witness! Local legend says, there used to be a paddy field there until the local deities from nearby valleys fought, and so the cultivation stopped. Pundrik Rishi is said to have blessed the land with his spiritual knowledge years ago and the lake is named after him.

A dog sleeping peacefully in Sainj Valley
Look at her sleeping so peacefully!
Our trek mate. The youngest one in our team. He had a craze for throwing stones and twigs far into the air! 😀
Shepherds with their cattle
A small girl shepherding her cattle. Her father was a little way behind

We idled beside this lake for some time, clicking pictures and simply soaking up the peace and calm. Some locals passed us by, shepherding their cattle. Drinking alcohol, entering the water, or consuming non-vegetarian food is strictly forbidden here. All of these attract a fine of Rs.5,000.

After this, we started our way back to Ropa. It was a descending trail passing through barley fields, villages, and woods. And after around 2 hrs we were back in Ropa.

The trails passing through fields
The trails passing through fields in Sainj Valley
The trails passing through fields
Barley fields in Sainj Valley
Barley fields in Sainj Valley
A himalayan house in Sainj Valley
A small Himalayan Village in Sainj Valley
A unique Himalayan house with the beautiful backdrop
Doesn’t it look dreamy?
Traces of spring in Sainj Valley
Pretty flowers, sprinkles of spring
A quaint Himalayan house
A dream house!

My takeaway from Sainj Valley trek

Sainj Valley trek, truly emphasized the saying, that it’s not the destination, but the journey that counts. Maybe what we had in mind, with regard to the lake, was different. Maybe it didn’t resonate/match with our expectations. But it was unique and beautiful in its own way. And because it turned out to be so different from our expectations, we’ll probably remember it forever.

Doesn’t this hold true for other situations in our life too? Oftentimes due to our high expectations, we only tend to look at the end result, rather than enjoying the process itself. But it’s always the process that matters, isn’t it? 😉 And that was the message I deciphered for myself, from this trek!

The Great Himalayan National park is a treasure trove of pristine nature and the Sainj Valley trek takes you right to the heart of this! The highlight of the Sainj Valley trek is that, just in a span of 2 days, you get to witness all the wonderful topography. Mountains, plains, streams, meadows, flowers, villages, all in a span of two days. Quaint and intricately carved wooden temples from the bygone era, quintessential to Himachal tradition. The trail is abundant with rich flora and fauna. It’s a complete package!

A tree frame!
Forests in Sainj Valley
Sainj Valley visible from afar
Sainj Valley
And we were back

How to do Sainj Valley trek?

Sainj Valley is yet to gain popularity among the masses and the only trekking company which organizes this trek is Indiahikes. You could also contact Hippie in Hills, another wonderful local trekking organization.

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