A Travellerspoint blog

Magical Kumaon: Serene Ranikhet & Scenic Mukteshwar

A sweet and short trip to the Kumaon Himalayas as we explored the scenic enviornment of the scenic Himalayas...

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Similar to our travel plans as always, destined to happen at the very last moment, this time too was no exception to this golden unwritten rule. Winter was gradually setting in. However, Mumbai and Winters are perhaps not synonymous.

The last 10 years, living and grinding within the corporate whirlpool of this sleepless city, we never recall wearing a sweater; well, well, may be a sweat-shirt or at the most a half-jacket in late December is the ultimate winter gear. The long jackets & pullovers hanging along in the wardrobe as if shriek out loud, "wear us also" and to wear them, where better than to walk in the Himalayas.

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To not venture out for a couple of months our feet would agitate and our mind turn restless. We saw a glimmer of hope arising out of the blues - the Diwali holidays. Though basically it was suppose to be a 2 days affair, but, thanks to our office management they announced holiday from Friday onwards (with a Saturday and Sunday in-between) making it 5 days at a row. Immediately decided to add one of the two remaining balance casual leaves and making it six days in total - to be away from the claustrophobic office cubicle.

Boarding the Mumbai Rajdhani Express, we chugged off from Mumbai Central station that fateful Thursday late afternoon. Soon the platters of servings followed and we kept munching along. It was an apt opportunity to read through the Chirta Banerjee's "Palace of Illusion", which I was contemplating to finish reading since long. The captivating tale of Mahabharata through the eyes of Draupadi kept me glued till dinner was served. Sleep eluded me for sometime but soon the fast rhythm of the chugging wheels as if lullabied me to slumber.

Woke up in the morning and after a quick freshen up in the 'not so stinky' Rajdhani Express washroom, we soon reached New Delhi. As planned, we boarded a cab and were off to Faridabad, where we had to meet a dear friend of mine and finalize a Himalayan dream, about which we'll discuss some other time. Checked ourselves in the posh NHPC Officers Guest house near Suraj Kund (courtesy my friend) and moved out for our scheduled lunch meeting at his office.

Wrapping up later afternoon, we drove back to the guest house and as evening set in, we could feel the nip in the air. At our request the cook prepared a delicious spicy mutton masala which, we savoured with some hot rotis and some fresh green salad. Thereafter, we called it a night.

After a sumptuous breakfast next morning, we lazed around the serene NHPC campus and early afternoon, moved out. Our first halt was Sarojani Market where we reminisced our earlier outings when we were staying in New Delhi working in The Asian Age newspaper as journalists. The market is all the same as it was earlier was and that day being the eve of Diwali half of Delhi as if was shopping there. Young girls in fancy attires haggling with the shopkeepers to secure the best deal for the "oh, so cute dress" and hawkers at the top of the voices urging people to buy tops, shirts, trousers, shawls, and what not at never before prices. Mitali did her bit of haggling and of course shopping - the usual dirt cheap priced tops, jeans etc which I'm sure would not last more than a couple of months.

Thereafter, we took a quick turn and moved to the Delhi Haat - to experience a mini-India within its elaborate campus - of all India states representations through arts and crafts in numerous colourful & vibrant stalls. After a thorough rendezvous, picked up a beautiful Madhubani painting and feeling the hunger pangs in the stomach, headed straight to the Nagaland food stall. The taste of the roasted pork rib that I gorged last time was still fresh and without any second thought ordered a plate of roasted pork rib with the 'bhut jalokia' chutney (world's hottest chilly) accompanied by some noodles. Awesome - out of the world, is the word, same taste, same zest...

After that early sumptuous dinner, we headed to the Old Delhi railway station and boarding the Ranikhet Express chugged out of Delhi. Early next morning, it was still dark as I was awaken by my mobile phone's vibrator. "Sir, Hemant here, am waiting for you in Kathgodam station," the voice spoke as i picked up the call in a half-awaken state. "Thanks Hemant, we'll reach in half an hour," as checked the time and confirmed.

Soon the train stopped by at the platform no 1 of the Kathgodam station. As we boarded down, we could feel an icy wind swept past our faces. "Wow", time to pull out our jackets. 'Welcome Winter, Welcome to the Himalayas', a though passed by my mind as we trudged our suitcase towards our waiting Trevera vehicle. "Welcome sir" Hemant greeted as he helped us with our luggage and off we were on the Himalayan Highway yet again. Dawn was slowly breaking as we gradually started snaking through the serpentine path amidst lush green mountains.

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Though we stayed many a times in Ranikhet, where were currently heading as our first stopover, but I do not recall writing in details of this serene heaven. Would describe its beauty later as we reach. Driving along the traffic-less highway early morning we soon we passed by the serene Bhimtal Lake. With the rays of the early morning sun striking the waters, the greenish hue it created amidst the evaporating frost was an awesome sight. We stopped by the lake shore and clicked a few treasures. En-route further ahead we have a few permanent places where we usually halt for refreshments. How can one pass by Khairane without munching along a few ban-muska ( a simple bun toasted with butter, but simply amazing taste that stayed the same though the years passed by) and not to forget the delicious pakodas to sip along-with some masala tea.

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Having done our bun munching rituals we headed ahead. The serenity of the mountains were clearly felt by us as we drove along the gushing waters of Koshi river that sunny morning. By 9 am we are approaching the cantonment township of Ranikhet. We decided that before we move ahead, we stop by at the ancient Jhula Devi temple - the bell temple - to pay our obeisance situated about 7 kms from Ranikhet. Every-time we are in Ranikhet we try and pay the Divine Mother a visit seeking her blessings. We took a diversion ahead and moved along.

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Driving past the lonesome road through the pine grooves and the occasional oaks trees was a awesome experience. Soon, we were at her doorsteps and as in case of most Hindu shrines, Jhula Devi temple too has its own share of legends. The main deity of this temple is Goddess Durga and is a believed that Jhula Devi - the temple deity has the powers to fulfill the wishes of all her devotees. All around the temple are rows after rows of bells of different sizes hanging along reverberating her powerful presence.

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It is said that any devout whose prayers are answered comes back the next time to thank the Holy Mother and ties bells around the temple - an admission that their prayers has been answered by the loving Mother. According to legends, this temple was built to seek Mother Durga’s protection for the wild animals in the place.

Some 700 years ago around the forest of Chaubhattia abound with wild animals. Leopards and tigers frequently used to attacked people and took away their live stocks. People felt harassed and prayed to Mother Durga for protection and it is said that the holy mother appreared in the dream of a shepard and asked him to dig a particular place where he would find an idol. On digging an idol of Maa Durga was excavated and the villagers constructed a temple at that very site and installed the idol. Soon, people were freed of harrasment of wild animals and shepards roamed the area freely. Childrens use to merrily play on the swing (Jhula in Hindi ).

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It is said that Maa Durga again appeared in someone's dream and asked a 'jhula' for herself. The devotees thereafter placed the diety on a wooden 'jhula' inside the temple sanctorium and from that time onwards the diety came to be know as Maa Jhula Devi and the temple as Jhula Devi temple. This explaned that fact that despite the presence of leopards and the ocassional tiger in this area, villagers and cattle roan freely inside the chaubhattia forest. The present temple was constructed in 1935 and the countless bells that hang around the temple bears the testimony of the fact of Maa Jhula Devi's divinity and healing powers. Amidst the soothing clangs of these bells we were transported to a different spiritual plane as we bowed our heads seeking her blessings.

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After that soulful experience we moved ahead. Nearby to the Jhaula Devi temple is the Chaubatia Garden and last time we were here we missed exploring, so this time we decided to give it a quick visit. We had to make our entries at a check-gate manned by the Army personnel and thereafter drove along a lush forested road. Soon on the left horizon we could see the entire range of the Himalayan peaks standing tall all in a line. We boarded down from the vehicle and took a long stroll across the vast expanses of the Chaubhatia garden which abound around a fruit orchard and colourful flowers all in full bloom. Apple, apricot, peach, pine, sliver oak, deodar, weeping willow trees were all to be seen.

However this not being the fruit season, the apple trees were without leaves as if getting ready for the long Himalayan winter hibernation. Late December onwards we were told this entire area get covered under a blanket of snow. Soaking in all the possible solitude we felt a soothing feel in our inner minds as we gazed at the mighty Himalayas peaks for a long period. No words were spoken; simply the silence of the forest was all we felt within. Soulful indeed...

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Reluctantly we slowly trotted back to our vehicle and made our way towards Ranikhet. Situated in the Almora district, Ranikhet is a cantonment township with the headquarters of the Kumaon Regiment and the Naga Regiment. Set at average elevation of 1,869 m (6,132 ft) the cantonment is spread across two ridges, the first, called the Ranikhet ridge, is situated at an elevation of 1,824 m and the second, the Chaubattia ridge, is at an elevation of 2,116 m.

Ranikhet, literally means Queen's meadow in Hindi. It derived its name from a local legend, which states that it was here, that Raja Sudhardev won the heart of his queen, Rani Padmini, who subsequently chose the area for her residence, giving it the name, Ranikhet, though no palace exists in the area.

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In the year 1869, the British established the headquarters of the Kumaon Regiment here and used the station as a retreat escape the Indian summer heat. It is said that at one time during British Raj, it was also proposed as the summer headquarters of Government of India, in lieu of Shimla. Ranikhet previously was under the Nepalese Rule, and the Kumaonese (people of Kumaon Region) won it under the leadership of their able General Kashi Nath Adhikari with the assistance of Britishers at around 1816.

As this town is managed by the Army, undoubtedly it is one of the cleanest hill station that we have visited so far. Ranikhet, I do not know always charmed me, be it's cute market place, the slow pace of life of the locals, the scenic surroundings, the cute cottages, well the list can go on endless.

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Passing by the neat mall road we stopped at the market as I had to look for a local delicacy not found in Mumbai. It is the humble "lai shak" (a type of green like spinach). Walking downhill I soon located a vegetable vendor selling the fresh greens and I laid my hand in 4 bunch-full which I intend to hand it over the cook at Vimoksha Resorts (where we would stay) to prepare the awesome delicacy for lunch.

We soon passed by the greens of the famous Ranikhet Golf Course, one of the highest in the world. The lush carpet of neatly-trimmed grass all along the hilly terrain would fascinate anyone to try tee a few wild swings. We also saw groups of young army cadets jogging around with their instructors.

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Couple of miles from here we reached our destination the Vimoksha Resort. Set within a lush pine forest with cute cottages dotting the surroundings in the backdrop of the 180 degree view of the Himalayan peaks it is a place seen to be believed.

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Checking ourselves into one of the independent cottages, we placed ourselves in the upper floor with awesome views from the room itself.

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After a quick warm bath we decided to visit the nearby revered Kalika temple which we had missed visiting last time. The day being Diwali we felt blessed to visit the Kali temple - Goddess of Shakti. Situated amidst a lush forest of deodars we bowed our heads at her shrine as the priest chanted a few Vedic hymns purifying and blessing us.

Thereafter, we came back and lazed around the elaborately spread out Vimoksha campus till we savoured a delicious lunch served in our cottage. Late afternoon we explored the nearby areas and with the sun-set the chill kept us indoors as we warmed ourselves in the cute fireplace situated in the living room of our cottage. Dinner was served early and we soon called it a night.

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Woke up early as dawn was breaking and it is a sight to see the Himalayan range from here. As the rising sun-rays hits these Himalayan ranges the plethora of colours emanating is sheer bliss to the inner eye.Major peaks that can be very clearly seen includes the Trishul, Nanda Devi, Nanda khat, etc. Sitting in the warm morning sun in the green lawn of our cottage and sipping a cup of tea amidst the chirping of birds and flowers all around is experience on its own. This place abound by birds including the Himalayan forktail, magpie, bulbul, etc.

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After a heavy continental breakfast we bid good bye to Vimoksha and move out to our destination next. We took the not oft travelled road through Sitlakhet as we made our way towards Almora. The drive in the late morning was smooth as Hemant manuvoured the vehicle effortlessly. Passing by the serene landscape we soon approached the pine grooves of Almora.

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We stopped by for a cup of tea at a roadside stall and Mitali relished some chana allu (a spicy curry of green grams alongwith meshed potatoes). Thereafter, we moved along and after crossing the Kharab bridge took the road leading to Mukteshwar. A huge mountain was our first sight on the road to Mukteshwar, thereafter the scene changed and all along the road the Himalayans peaks stood out loud. With the deep blue skyline and the whitish peaks in the backdrop it was a sight to relish. We passed by many a countless sleepy hamlets where the locals lazed around basking in the warmth of the forenoon sun.

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Thereafter, we entered a silver oak forest patch which stretched for long. It was a deeply wooded forest and we could experience an eerie silence as we drove past. The foliage was so thick that the sun rays were hardly penetrating within. Rolling down the window we filled in our lungs with the fresh oxygen. As the forest patch ended, we saw habitation ahead, and, yes, we reached Mukteshwar.

It is said that Jim Corbett, the world renowned hunter and nature lover came to shoot a tiger here and fell in love with its natural beauty. Set amidst the conifer forests and orchards, Mukteshwar offers the most majestic view of the Himalaya and its snow bound peaks. Abundant with apple, plum, peach, and apricot trees, this place is a hidden beauty, mostly unexplored.

We drove through a few kilometers ahead. I called up my local contact Mr Manoj Mehra, inquiring about the direction to Somerset Lodge, where we had had booked our stay. With his quick navigational direction, we soon reached our destination. We were bowled out at its location, more so with the heritage appeal that Somerset Lodge holds. It is a 99-year old property the typical colonial-style cottage with flowers in full bloom all around its well spread campus that extends to a huge apple orchards down below, christined Gahana Orchards . A neatly manicured lawn in front of the cottage, serving as a sit out and up ahead in the horizon the panoramic view of the Nepal Himalayas - what else could we have wished for.

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Spread over several acres of mountain terrain, Gahana Orchards located in Sargakhet Village in Nainital district of Uttarakhand, is the ancestral home of the Mehra family. It was built by ADC Bacchi Singh Mehra, aide to the Maharaja Jind of Patiala, from 1942-55. The property, which lies 3 kms ahead of Mukteshwar, was opened to visitors some 20 years ago. It has two guest houses – the Somerset Lodge and Oak Chalet -- that are today run by Bacchi Singh ji’s grandson Manoj.

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Around is home to wild cats such as leopards and various mountain birds including the Chakors, Magpies, Mynas, Jungle fowl, Babblers and Whistling thrush.

As Manoj out with a group for some rappelling activity, promising me to catch up in the evening, his uncle Mr Raju Mehra welcomed us as we checked into this awesome property soaked in history. The high ceilings, the cute fireplace, the antique furniture, the well stocked library located in the reading room - the overall feel as we entered our suit, as if took us back a hundred years. Soon a hot lunch was served.

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Late afternoon I took a hike down the road going down-hill from the property through the forest to discover their other jewel - the Oak Chalet. The walk through the oak forest inter-speared by the apple orchards through this beautiful Gahana Orchards was so very refreshing. A young soul guided me through the narrow forest trail and in about 20 minutes amidst the lush forest stood out the Oak Chalet - an all-stone and wood construction - the typical Kumaoni style structure.

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It is an imposing structure having four warm rooms, fitted with all the modern amenities. A separate unit serves as the dinning area. Just ahead of the chelet was a nice all wooden sit-out where the bonfires would light up the night sky and warm up the souls. The caretaker took me around and also showed within a five minutes walk ahead a few tented camps that guest can also use to stay. In fact, I met this gentleman from England, who comes here every year and stay put in one of the tents for six months at a row.

Having a through rendezvous of this unique forest dwelling, I returned back to the Somerset Lodge. Early evening we drove to the cute local market and loitered around for sometime. After watching a heavenly sunset we returned back as the chill started setting in. Manoj came late evening and had a long chat with him till from topic ranging from trekking to spirituality. For dinner the awesome cook prepared a very tasty dry chicken dish which we savoured with hot rotis.

Woke up early next morning and stepped outside to take a hike around the main road. Witnessed the laid back environment as the locals were on with their usual chores. Freshening up, an elaborate breakfast was laid in the lawn, and, we enjoyed its every bit basking in the warm morning sun. Thereafter, we decided to explore Muketshwar.

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Our first halt was the Mukteshwar temple area. A youth came up offered his service to show us around. We took the paved path which offered an awesome valley views. We walked to the Chauli ki Jali - an over hanging cliff - a natural latticework on the rock. As per local legends it is believed that if a childless women touches this jali she usually is blessed with a child soon. It is at this rock cliff most of the rappelling and rock climbing is carried out. Its panoramic views are sheer magic difficult perhaps to capture its beauty is mere words. We sat at this place for quite some time as we watched a pair of lamagier gliding along the deep blue sky.

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Thereafter we took a shot walk through a small forest path and visited the Mukteshwar temple. The temple is dedicated to Shiva and has a 'lingam' made of white marbels. The idols of Brahma, Vishnu, Parvati, Ganesha, Nandi & Hanuman surround the lingam. In fact, Mukteshwar gets its name from this 350-year-old temple of Shiva, known as Mukteshwar Dham, situated atop the highest point in the town, on the Indian Veterinary Research Institute's campus. Bowing our heads in obeisance to the Lord we sat in the serene environment for quite some time meditating.

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Our next stop was perhaps the ultimate spot of Mukteshwar. The PWD guest house is located on a ridge and beyond which is sheer wilderness in the backdrop of a jaw dropping views of the almost 280 degree views of the Himalayan snow peaks. Lines of peaks stood out including the Nanda Devi (25,646fts.) Nanda Kot (6926mtr.) Nandaghunti (6380mtrs.) Trishul and the Panchachuli range. Even beyond the Nepal Himalayan ranges can be clearly viewed from here. We soaked in this heavenly environment for a long long time connecting ourselves to the higher self.

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On our way back we stopped by and took a short hike and visited a British-era church located on a cliff with some awesome views.

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Late afternoon we reluctantly made our way back and after thanking Manoj and biding a warm good-bye, we checked out of Somerset Lodge making our way back towards Kathgodam.

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En-route we explored the Sat Tal forest region and enjoyed some tasty curry chawal by the serene Sat Tal lake. Late evening we reached Kathgodam via Bhimtal to catch the overnight train to New Delhi. Early next morning we flew down to Mumbai contemplating the pure magic we experience each time we walk in the high Himalayas.

Posted by sabyasachi 03:02 Archived in India Tagged temple devi uttarakhand ki ranikhet bhimtal mukteshwar jhula chali jali ranikhet_golf_course vimoksha_resorts_ranikhet somerset_lodge_mukteshwar oak_chalet_mukteshwar sat_tal_forest kathgodam khairane Comments (3)

Roopkund - Our Trek to the Elusive Himalayan Lake

Having read and researched so much about this unique Roopkund trek over the last couple of years, for me it was like I’m actually trekking along on a pre-destined mental map carved out deep within my inner mind.

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The welcoming fragrance of the lush pine grooves, the enchanting narrow trail through the oak & deodar forest from Lohajung onwards, the elusive Neel Ganga, the blooming rhododendrons in pinkish-white and blood-red, the occasional bird-call breaking the absolute silence of the mountains, the miles-long green alpine meadows of Ali & Bedni Bugiyals, the bleating sheep herds in their hundreds always on the run in search of the next pasture, the lonesome wild stallion grazing along, the omnipresent Trishul peak, the shy Nandaghunti, the whizzing Himalayan icy winds brushing across our faces, the stone-shrine of the revered Kalu Vinayak amidst a carpet of snow - an amphitheatre to view countless snow-peaks up close and personal, were all part of my imagination, which, did come true as we trekked our way into this awesome Himalayan trail also known as the “Curzon Trail” seeking to view that jinxed high-altitude Roopkund Lake.

Since, it is here, within and alongside the Roopkund Lake, you would find remnants of a Himalayan tragedy that had happened perhaps millennium ago – well preserved human bones and skeletons scattered all around - a mystery still today as to who these people were, why had they come here and what caused their deaths. Welcome to Roopkund, the mysterious skeletal lake situated over 16000 feet above sea-level amidst the High Himalayans interiors of Chamoli District of Uttarakhand…

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Himalayan Panorama

Saturday, May 5th – Excited as we were, we started off on yet another unique Himalayan odyssey. The hired Meru cab took us from our Mumbai residence at 10.45 am towards the airport. Reaching the airport we checked our baggage and straightaway went for our security check only to face an unforeseen fiasco. As our hand baggage came out of the roller of the x-ray machine, the mandatory stamping on the hand-baggage tag was missed out. This, I did not notice and casually picked up the bag and approached the wide sitting lounge waiting for Mitali, my wife to come about with the camera bag post her security check.

As I waited for her, I happened to check the hand-baggage tag and surprisingly noticed that the necessary stamping was not done. I went back to the security counter and informed one of the security personnel that they have perhaps missed stamping the baggage tag. To my surprise he informed that my baggage has to be frisked, since it contains certain items not meant to be carried in the hand-baggage. To our distaste and embarrassment, he soon opened the zipper and tossed around the contents of the bag and out popped a few cans of Tuna and Chicken Sausages. The personnel initially could not identify what it was; till another colleague informed him that “it is meat….meat” at the top of his voice.

“Sir, we’ll not allow you to carry these cans, have to confiscate them,” the security personnel informed to my utter disgruntlement. “Why would you confiscate them, these are mere food items?” I insisted angrily. “But Sir, there is water inside them and as per our rules we cannot allow them,” he coolly replied.

I countered, “We are going on a Himalayan trek and nothing much is available in those Himalayan interiors other than potatoes, rice and pulses, we need them for extra energy in that utterly cold environment.” He insisted, “Please put them in your main baggage, in that case.” “But, you are well aware that our main baggage has already been checked-in, how can that be possible,” I argued. “In that case Sir, I’m sorry,” he casually replied and as if adding salt to my injury, he commented, for his other colleagues to giggle, “it is not that cold in the Himalayas as you presume” to my helplessness.

In another security counter nearby, I saw a CISF Officer and decided to approach him. I explained to him that by mistake we have placed these cans in our hand-baggage and these are ‘mere harmless food items’, and added that we would really need them to give us that extra boost on our proposed Himalayan trek. After quite some coxing and cajoling, somehow managed to convince the officer and thankfully he allowed us to carry the almost confiscated “banned” protein supplements. Mr Mallik, CISF officer, Airport Security, “Thank you Sir, the tuna and sausages kept us boosted and warm in the Himalayas.”

We thought what a bumpy start to our journey as we boarded the flight walking through the final security gate. In about 2 hours, our Indigo flight was hovering above the New Delhi’s Indira Gandhi International Airport. The Captain of the flight informed that there would be some delay as there is traffic in the airport and our flight kept hovering around at a low height causing the usual pain in the eardrums. Finally, after about 25 minutes of aimless hovering, the flight landed safely.

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Friends of Donkey Years

As scheduled, my friend of ‘donkey years’, Biplob was there along with his wife Urvi to receive us and soon we made our way to his South Delhi residence. Caught up with them both and chatted a lot over a cup of tea. Late afternoon, we decided to venture out and visited the Delhi Haat. We loitered around visiting the various colorful stalls of various states of India – a vivid representation of a mini-India. Our bags were already full and Mitali’s wish to go on a shopping spree had to be sadly curtailed. Finally, we visited the Nagaland Food stall and savored some delicious pork and chicken dim-sums and a dish of roasted Pork ribs with “bhoot jolokia” (world’s hottest chilly) chutney. Post our early dinner we aimlessly drove around the smooth roads of Delhi till Biplob sweetly dropped us at the Old Delhi Railway Station. Bidding bye to them and thanking them, we boarded the Ranikhet Express chugging its way to our destination Kathgodam scheduled to reach early next morning.

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Kathgodam Railway Station

Sunday, May 6 – Woke up very early at about 4.30 am excited. Dawn was slowly breaking up, as I stood alongside the door of the moving train; the fresh Himalayan wind bracing across my face was so welcoming. Holy Himalayas, here we come back yet again to bow at footsteps. The train chugged to a stop around 5.30 am at the Kathgodam Railway Station. As planned, Pandeji, the representative of our contact was there outside the station and soon the vehicle to drive us out arrived. Saw a group of 5 boys sitting in another vehicle adjacent also heading in our direction.

Boarding our Max 4x4 vehicle we soon made our way other of Kathgodam at about 6.30 am. Our destination was the Roopkund Base Camp at Lohajung, approximately 300 odd kms away. It was a long lonesome drive that would take us deep into the Himalayan interiors. Our driver Bishen Singh Bhist was an experienced mountain rider and he skillfully steered through the Himalayan High roads.

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Scenic Bhimtal

Soon the serpentine climb started as we passed by the scenic Bhimtal Lake and thereafter Bhowali. As requested by us, Bhist stopped by at Khairani where we munched the tasty Bun-Mukhan. Each time we visit this blessed land this is a never-to-be-missed item. Having had our fill we continued ahead through the Pine forested road.

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Green Tea Carpet - Serene Kausani

It was a sunny day but a gust of cool wind brushing past the rolled down windows kept us comfortable. We stopped at a road-side hotel in serene Almora and had a cup of tea and its famous sweet Bal-Mithai. Around noon we reached green Kausani carpeted by tea estates all around. We stopped by for some time and sipped a cup of herbal tea. Continuing ahead, we passed by Baijnath, famous for its ancient group of stone temple situated by the side of the Gomti river amidst the Gauda Valley. As we passed by this revered site we recalled our visit last year to this holy shrine.

Early afternoon we reached Gwaldham but the views of the Himalayan peaks were missing. Clouds and fog on the northern horizon blocked the magnificent views of the Himalayan peaks that we recall soaking ourselves from Gwaldham, the last time we were around this part of the country in December 2010. Road condition till Gwaldham was smooth except a few bumps on and off. Continuing ahead we passed by Tharali. From here on the condition of the road started crumbling gradually.

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Artwork of Terraces

The terraces alongside the mountain slopes with abundance of ripened wheat crops were a sight to behold. All around was a golden hue of stepped up cultivation with certain patches of un-ripened green crops, an absolute visual treat to our eyes. Soon, we reached Deval – the confluence point of the Neel Ganga and the Pindari River. We stopped by our vehicle owner Raju Shah’s shop situated in the main market road and discussed with him conditions of Roopkund as well as our onward journey next after the Roopkund trek where we plan to go towards Gangotri. Raju assured that during that journey his vehicle would be there to pick us up from Haridwar.

Finalizing our vehicle hire charges, we bid him bye and continued ahead. The gravel road soon disappeared and it was more or less a narrow dirt track as we approached Lohajung. Trudging along the bumpy road we finally reached Lohajung at 4.10 pm. Debu, our eternal guide of the Himalayas was there as planned to receive us and soon we checked into the Zilla Parishad Guest House. The day long road trip was tiring indeed but the very thought of walking along the unexplored trail from tomorrow onwards wished away any the fatigue that may otherwise have seeped in.

After some rest, I ventured out and visited the Patwal Lodge and was fortunate to interact with its owner Retired Subedar Major Patwal, with whom I had spoken umpteen times over the phone from Mumbai inquiring about snow conditions around Roopkund. Finally, I met him in person. A gentleman in himself, he offered me some tea and pakoras as we discussed about a freak accident that happened a couple of days earlier, when lightning strike claimed the life of an unfortunate trekker in Ali Bugiyal.

It was being said that he was trying to make a mobile call when this happened. We all come to these Himalayan interiors to be away from civilization and it is perhaps a mistake till your trek is over to try connecting with the world outside. It is more beneficial perhaps to connect ourselves to the higher self. I heard about this at Kathgodam Railway Station itself from Pandeji but I did not mention it to Mitali to cause un-necessary anxiety and worry.

A Himalayan lesson learnt – switch off your mobile when you are walking in the High Himalayas. For me of course, thanks to ‘superior’ Reliance network, the signal simply does not stay once you are a little away from civilization. I simply love it, since there would not be any office calls to attend to nor any unsolicited calls to receive as well.

Late evening we chatted with Debu and Trilok Singh Rana, the caretaker of the guest house over a couple of drinks till a hot dinner was served by Khilaf, Debu’s son, who was also there with us during our last trek to Pindari & Kafni Glacier . The Himalayan wind was blowing in full gust and we too retired to the comforts of the beds.

Monday, May 7 – It was the starting day of our trek. Excited we woke up early but as we observed this ‘waking up early’ syndrome perhaps happen naturally when-so-ever we are in the Himalayas. Our eyes would pop open by 5 am and would simply fail to remain shut. Energetic and ever smiling Anand, our cook, in his early 20s, who too hails from Debu’s village of Khati, soon offered us a hot refreshing cup of tea. Behind Anan’s smiling face however lay a tragedy that happened as recently as a week back. He lost his sister who had gone to collect fodder in the nearby forest of their village Khati, when she accidently slipped and fell into the Pindar river. As she was alone, no help came by and she unfortunately drowned in the swift currents of the Pindari. Later, Anand was narrating how they went about that night searching for her sisters with lanterns and how finally they managed to salvage her body.

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Shy Nandaghunti - up in the Horizon

Realized how much sadness Anand must be going through behind his ever smiling face. Sipping the tea I thought about Anand’s tragedy as I watched the sun pouring its first rays into the Nandaghunti peak making it dazzle like gold. After a quick freshen up (our last proper bath till the trek ends) we visited the nearby Raja Rajeshwari temple and prayed the Mother for a safe and successful trek ahead. Nearby, I also witness how a middle school classes were being conducted out in the open, which started off with a round of drill.

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Mountain Drill

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Breakfast - Out in the Open

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Contemplation

Post our breakfast of the usual Aloo Parathas, our horse ‘Hira’ too arrived with its owner Gopal, to carry our rations and tents.

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Distances

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Starting Off

Soon, we boarded a jeep to take us around 7 kms ahead till the Kulling village. Further ahead on the road lay the last village Wan, en-route the Roopkund trail. But while approaching, we decided we’ll not take the ‘Curzon Trail' which starts from Wan but instead start from Kulling and make our first halt at Didna Village. Meanwhile, Khilaf, Anand and Gopal with the horse would take a different route from Lohajung and join us at Didna. The road from Lohajung was pathetic and we swayed ourselves as per the movement of the jeep, it took us about 40 minutes to reach Kulling. All around the bumpy trail was a carpet of forest – fresh and green. Finally, we were dropped at Kulling and we could see a narrow trail going down-hill. It was 8.45 am.

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Directions - Kulling Village - the starting point of our trek

Securing our back-packs we took the first steps of our trek. There were a few cultivation patches towards our right while towards our left the thick vegetation of the forest.

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Serene Kulling

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As I waited

Slowly, we adjusted our limbs and made our way down-hill till we reached the Neel Ganga 2 kms way below in about an hour. We crossed over a huge iron bridge, below which the blue waters of the Neel Ganga flowed over many a rocks and boulders. We halted and captured a few scenic moments. From here it was a climb all the way up to Didna. We soon entered the steep trail through the forest of oak and deodars and continued ahead. The silence of forest was a sheer bliss. Occasionally, the eerie silence was broken by the some bird-call. It was steep climb ahead and we went about at our own pace.

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Bridge over the Neel Ganga

Debu was ahead while Mitali followed slowly. The sun rays penetrating through the thick foliage of the dark green forest in certain patches naturally made a light-n-shade effect. The fallen leaves of the oak trees on the ground of the trail provided a natural cushion as we trudged through. We halted often to catch our breath and also to soak in all the solitude possible. Soon to our pleasure we witnessed plentiful of rhododendron bloom in pinkish-white and blood-red.

Midway through, as we were taking a break we could see the entourage of Khilaf, Anand, and Gopal along with the horse ‘Hira’ way below over the opposite bank of the Neel Ganga trudging along in full speed. Didn’t realize that they would soon catch up on us, they continuously walk, without much rest unlike us.

Inquired with Debu what all animals abound these forests to be informed that deer, bara singha, wild pigs, bear, leopard, langurs, jackals, fox, monkeys, and a plethora of bird life flourish here. In fact, soon we heard barks emanating out from the distance at a consistent interval. “There you are Sir, it is the distress call of the barking deer, and probably a leopard is on the prowl,” Debu mentioned as we paused to gauge from which direction it was coming.

Suddenly, out of the blues there was a flutter and just 5-10 meters ahead we saw a few colorful jungle fowls disappearing amidst the thick foliage, so fast enough that I could hardly capture them in the lens. Thereafter, we continued ahead soon to hear tingling sound of horses approaching us from behind. It was the horses of another group of trekkers guided by Mohan Singh Bhist of Wan village. The trekkers were way behind as we spoke to Mohan who informed us that they too would be halting at Didna for the night and their targeted destination too being Roopkund.

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Shelter - the lodge where we stayed at Didna Village

Our crew meanwhile also reached and joining the other group they continued ahead of us. Meanwhile, gradually scaling ahead the steep inclining path we soon reached a clearing and could see a few houses ahead of us. “We have reach Didna,” uttered Debu and soon we walked by the narrow village path and checked ourselves in a wooden lodge. It was a very basic lodge with the long room on the ground floor serving as a dorm and slightly raised upper floor having two rooms. We were allotted a room on the upper floor. We noticed that our adjacent room having a common entrance was used as a store room. Besides our accommodation block was another small block which served as a kitchen as well as the retiring room for the guides & porters. A few meters away were three toilets and a small bath room, very basic but clean.

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Didna Lodge - inside out

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Sleepy Didna

Didna was a sleepy old village with terraces all around. But we notices that the village was pretty much empty only to be informed that during the winter the villagers move down to avoid the snows and around May mid-week slowly return back to resume their cultivation of potatoes, millet, wheat etc.

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Garden Fresh

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Wild & Free

Soon we were served with a simple lunch of rice, dal, papadam and pickles. As we were resting our heels after the nutritious lunch, the other trekkers arrived. There were a mixed group of 5 friends from Bangalore, Kanpur and Hyderabad, all form the IT industry. They were placed in the dorm of the ground floor. In fact they were the same guys whom we first saw at Kathgodam Railway Station.

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Serene Didna

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Old Man of the Mountains
This 93-year old gentleman narrated to us how he use to go herding his sheep up in the alpine meadows. He is still raring to go but his family members do not allow him to venture out into the high Himalayas because of his failing eyes.

Late afternoon I ventured out of our lodge and walked to the edge of the almost empty village and soaked in the silence. Mitali kept indoor engrossed reading Orhan Pamuk’s Snow. After witnessing a beautiful sunset, chatted with Debu for some time and soon it was time for dinner by 8.20 pm. The age-old adage “early to bed early to rise makes a man healthy wealthy and wise” is at best followed in these Himalayan interiors.

Undoubtedly, there are lesser diseases among these hardy mountain folks. Soon, it started pouring steadily. With the sound of the rain drops falling over the tin roof of our lodge we tucked ourselves into the bed for the last time, since from tomorrow, there would be no more beds, it would be sleeping bag all the way across till our trek ends.

Tuesday, May 8 – Woke up early to be treated by a hot glass of tea by Anand, which I sipped sitting outside and showed Mitali the glimpses of Ali Bugiyal high high into the sky over the mountains. The very look of how high we’ll have to climb made Mitali think if she would be able to make it up. I reassured her not to worry and to keep surging at a steady pace and I’m sure she would make it with some bit of effort.

Quickly freshening up we had a breakfast of hot noodles and started off at 7.05 am with Debu leading the way. The rest of the members of our crew would start later and we were sure that would catch up with us in no time.

Soon we again started following the zigzag trail path through the oak forest. We spotted many a Whistling Thrush, Monal, Blue Magpie, Bulbuls, and many other species of the avian flock which we fail to recognize. It was an awesome environment to walk though this birding paradise. The climb was however was much steeper compared to the previous day and we had to stop many a times to rest. The climb simply went up, up, and further up; no even path to our ease. We were also gaining height and hence less oxygen reaching our lungs.

As a golden rule which I follow during my treks, I always make small distance targets and keep pushing ahead, say I’ll make up in my mind I’ll take hundred steps without stopping and surge ahead. Invariably, I had to stop after 50-60 steps to catch my breath. After some deep breathing when I feel my lungs are full I again continue ahead in a similar manner. Ultimately, it is more of a mental endurance game rather than brute physical strength.

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Resting a While - our guide Debu

I was trekking along pretty much comfortably at a steady pace but I could see Mitali lagging initially. At one pit stop, as I sat with Debu chatting, I could see Mitali reaching after quite an up-hill climb to simply blurting out “this is the last trek for me,” to me as Debu looked dumbfounded. I comforted her saying that we are almost half-way through and we would soon be reaching Ali Bugiyal, “just think how beautiful a feeling it would be to watch the Himalayan peaks from Ali Bugiyal.”

Soon the rest of our crew too arrived and they too encouraged Mitali that she was pretty much trekking nicely. After the break we continued the surge. By 10.30 am we were almost above the tree-line, the dwarfed rhododendrons too were giving away and we could almost see the humped alpine meadows at a distance. Each turn through the trail we would think that this was the last one but yet the trail seems to continue ahead.

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Rhododendron Bloom

We plucked some rhododendron flowers which we contemplated to offer in the stone shrine of the Mother at Bedni Bugiyal.

By now the other group of trekkers too reached and we trekked ahead together till we reached the very edge of the mesmerizing Ali Bugiyal. Wow what a sight, miles-upon of undulated alpine meadows. Our climb however did not end, we had to climb another half a kilometer further to reach the high point of the Ali Bugiyal from where it was an almost straight path going towards Bedni Bugiyal – our destination for the day. Debu and Anand had already reached there and were signaling us to push ahead.

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Leaving the Treeline behind as we approached Ali Bugiyal

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Simply Awesome

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Over the Mesmerizing Meadows

Finally, in another 15-20 minutes we were at the high point of the Ali Bugiyal from where the trail more or less evens out. We were speechless to witness the out of the world beauty. As far as our eyes could see it was a green carpet all around, without a single tree. We clicked; I do not recall how may pictures to capture its beauty in our cameras as well treasuring it deep within our inner mind. We recollected our trek from Munsiyari to Khalia Top, couple of years back, where too we were amazed by the beauty of the alpine meadows but the Khalia meadows were much smaller in size compared to these magnificent gigantic meadows in front of us.

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Snow-Clad Peak Awaits Us

It was a sunny day but some passing clouds were blocking the views of the lines of peaks - Nandaghunti, Trishul, on the north and towards the north-west Chaukhamba, Hati Parvat, etc. these lofty peaks were partially visible not in absolute crystal clear visibility though, because of the clouds. Despite this we were completely bowled over by the beauty of Ali Bugiyal. The tiredness that we had felt till some moments ago while climbing continuously up-hill for the last almost 4 hours simply vanished and there was a constant smile on Mitali’s face.

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Soaking A While

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Miles-Upon-Miles

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Lonesome Meadows - connecting to your higher self

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Awesome Ali Bugiyal

After soaking in all the scenic attributes for about an hour we moved ahead towards Bedni Bugiyal. Walking through the carpet of green meadows was an awesome feeling as we followed the marked trail slowly. We had to again trek a bit up-hill through the awesome meadows till finally we could see way below our red tent pitched in the midst of the Bedni Bugiyal. We still had to go down-hill for about 500 meters till we reach our camp site. A little ahead of our camp site was the Bedni Kund, with no water however, it seem to have dried up. We were told that after the monsoon this kund becomes full to the brim. Adjacent to it was the cute stone temple, laid out by slates, which we saw as we glided down-hill through the meadows.

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Carpet of Grass

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The Trek Continues...

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Our Campsite of Bedni Comes to View

Finally, we reached our camp after a total 7 hours of trekking. Our limbs were tired and we opened our shoes for the needed relieve. But the chill factor was there, it was gradually getting cloudy as we placed our bags inside our tent and got inside our feather-lined sleeping bags to get the desired warmth. Soon Anand offer us some hot tomato soup as icy winds blew across our tent. We could feel and hear the velocity of the wind by the vibration it was causing to the outer cover of our secured tent.

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Our Tent Simply Stood Out

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Snowflakes outside our tent

Soon, lunch followed consisting of the usual rice, dal. But for a change to our taste buds, I helped Khilaf fry some Tuna flakes with onion and chilies. After that sumptuous lunch we zipped our tent and dozed off for some time inside our sleeping bags. Late afternoon, it started snowing, we simply were overjoyed to touch and feel the soft snow flakes that seem to be melting in our hands. After sometime the weather somewhat cleared as I went our exploring nearby.

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Stone Shrine of Bedni in the eveing light

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Awesome Settings

Met another trekker form Kolkata, who informed that they too had planned to go to Roopkund but had to abandon the plan since one of their team member developed signs of AMS (Altitude Mountain Sickness). They left him behind at Wan and would be back after exploring till Ghora Lotani the next day. Really thanked the Lord that till now in any of our Himalayan treks, either of us have not developed AMS. But as a precaution I do carry Diamox tablets just in case it is needed. Since up in these mountains, you are your own friend, philosopher and guide in the literal sense. But till now in any of our treks the need to use them did not arise.

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Kitchen Mess - the stove gave our Khilaf & team a tough time as they set repairing it inside the hut, however dinner was served on time

As dusk set in I entered next door the hut which served as our kitchen as well as living quarters of our guide and porters and chatted with them all, till an early dinner was ready to be served hot consisting of palak paneer, began aloo and chapatti. Outside the Himalayan winds were howling along and soon we tucked ourselves inside our tent. In the middle of the night, it started pouring and snowing again, leading to further drop of temperature. It was bone-chilling cold that night as we curled up tight inside our sleeping bags.

Wednesday, May 9 – Woke up early at 5.30 am. Opening the zipper of our tent I was greeted to the dazzling peak of the Nandaghunti basking in the first rays of the warm sun. The weather had cleared and it was a spotless blue sky with some clouds however in the north-western horizon but still could view the Chaukhamba peak clearly.

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Morning Dawns

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Our Scenic Campsite

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Nature's Call - our blue toilet tent simply stood out amidst the greens

After a quick freshen up, thanks that we did not had to take the nature’s call out in the open. In fact, I had specifically asked Debu to carry a toilet tent, which gave us the needed privacy. Thereafter, we visited the nearby stone shrine of Bedni and prayed for a safe trek ahead, since, from today onwards, we mainly have to do major snow trekking all the way ahead. With loads of anticipation we had a quick breakfast of Gobi Paratha and started off around 8 am – our destination of the day Pathar Nachuni. Though a distance of 6 kms, it was going to be a tough way up-hill amidst all snow.

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Team Work - Hira & Gopal - getting ready to move

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Holy Shrine - the stone shrine of Bedni where we bowed our heads for a successful and safe trek

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Oh so Beautiful

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Holy Communion

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Breakfast - out in the Open

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Pack Up - both Khilaf and Anand wraps up as we get ready to move out

The other trekker group with whom I had interacted the previous day too joined us and we started trekking up-hill through the meadows to reach the trail path – a climb of over 500 meters. Slowly and gradually we reached the trail. We were fully padded in our layers yet we could feel the icy wind brushing across our bare faces.

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Dried Out - the Bedni Kund can be seen in a dried out state, we were told that after monsoon this lake it full to its brim

From here, the trail path is laden with snow and we had to carefully step ahead. It was slippery at times and the trail path at certain section was not visible at all. We had to make our way across carefully, one step at a time, balancing our way with our walking sticks. The snow was soft and our whole legs would go inside as we took each step. One section it was a straight slide down and if we miss a step or slip we were sure to slide down over 500 meter down-hill. Carefully, one by one we crossed that treacherous patch to finally lay our feet on some firm ground.

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Snowland Ahead - the trail can be clearly seen as we started our trek from Bedni

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Free as a Bird

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Watch Your Step

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Resting a While

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The Way Ahead

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Looking Back, Going Forward

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On your Edge - a slip here would be fatal as you would slide down over thousands of feet

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A Slip here, a Miss there

As we took the last bend, approaching Ghora Lotani, we were simply bowled out of the views. The entire Trishul peak along with lines of other Himalayan peaks including the Nandaghunti, and the Tent peak, were all as if in hand reach distance. We sat besides the stone shrine of Ghora Lotani and simply soaked in all the views possible. It was an awesome experience. We shared some chocolates and biscuits along with the other group and the sweet trekker conveyed his best wishes to us for a successful trek ahead as we bid farewell to them since they would depart back and camp towards Ali Bugiyal.

After about 30 minutes of this Himalayan gazing, we moved along. The meadows were slowly giving way to rock and ice. We continued following the trail path. Meanwhile the rest of our group member along with our horse “Hira” overtook us and they continued ahead. Trekking across a few more snow patches we could finally at one turn of the trail see the camp site of Pathar Nachuni. The red tent and and the other blue tent of our crew was already pitched and as we reached Khilaf offered us some hot chicken soup.

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Steps on the Snow

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Pathar Nachuni - camp site so beautiful

We simply sipped the soup and were amazed at our scenic camp site, the prettiest one till date undoubtedly. All around was snow-capped mountains, and, towards the east was a deep valley of a green meadow.

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Killer Views - from within our tent

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Fiber Huts at Pathar Nachuni

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Speechless

Soon lunch of some tasty khidiri followed which we had it inside our tent. The other group of 5 trekkers whom we had met at Didna earlier was camped in one of the two green fiber huts of Pathar Nachuni. We rested till late afternoon as the weather meanwhile too turned gloomy. I strolled outside.

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Just Awesome

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How high is High

All around were snow peaks and the Tent peak stood out majestically amidst the passing clouds. Soon I could see some dark grey clouds building up and soon started snowing. We stayed inside our tents as Anand provided us some hot pakoras and tea. Munching along we simply stated indoor. The icy wind was speeding up as dusk set in. We thought it was yet another passing cloud but it failed to relent.

The mild snowfall soon turned into an out-right blizzard. The heavens were rumbling aloud and 'by God' we started feeling scared. The snow stated falling in sheets and the wind too becoming stronger by the minute. We worried that the gusty Himalayan wind might blow our tent away. The outer covering of our tent was shaking violently. It was dark as we huddled inside our tent praying to the Gods for the Himalayan hurricane to calm down.

Suddenly, we could hear a thud and realized the outer covering of the crew tent blew away. Soon, Debu hurriedly came by to our tent and said we have to be evacuated immediately and moved to the fiber hut. As I pulled down the zipper, we could feel the intensity of howling Himalayan wind. In an instant, we packed our stuff and moved across to the fiber hut some 100 meters away. Anand and Khilaf helped us carry our back packs and soon we were placed inside the warmth of the fiber hut. The fellow trekkers too were worried for us that our tent might be swept across.

Around 8.30 pm, in the midst of the storm Khilaf, sweetly brought in our dinner (hats off to their professionalism, they perhaps deserve a far better fee than we trekkers usually offer) and gulping it fast, we tucked ourselves inside the sleeping bags as the howling blizzard continued outside accompanied by thunders and lightning.

Thursday, May 10 – The effect of the previous day’s Himalayan blizzard was visible for us all to see as we peeked outside the fiber hut early in the morning at 4.30 am. Dawn was slowly breaking up and it was a white mantle all around. The weather was cloudy and gloomy but fortunately there were no rain, snow or wind. Moved to the next Fiber hut where Debu and the other guide Mohan Singh was to inquire about our next plan. We all realized that there would be heaps of snow ahead in the path as our target was to at least reach Kallu Vinayak, the destination next.

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White Out

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No Words to Say

Two other trekkers joined in and we all debated the pros and cons of the trek ahead. The previous night snow has made matter worse since it would be a dangerous way up cutting our way over knee deep snow, through a height gain of over 1000-1500 meters. Some were of the opinion that we abandon and return back but a few other including Debu suggested that we wait for a couple of hours to see how the weather fairs, if it clears a bit we’ll go ahead but in case the weather worsens, we would not have much option, since it would be too dangerous to move ahead.

Sipping many rounds of hot tea we waited and watch the situation also we could clearly see our day’s route ahead – a zigzag white trail going steeply up-hill. Around 7 am, as the weather remained calm and perhaps the Gods relented to our prayers. Suddenly there were activities all around. It was decided that we quickly give it a try to scale towards Kallu Vinayak. Gearing up fast after a breakfast of Sujee we were soon up the trail at 7.30 am. The initial patch had some few inches of snow but as we started following the trail we soon realized that it would be a total snowy affair all the way up 4 kms. It was tiring since as we have gained substantial height gain, the oxygen level too was low. We had to halt at every 20-30 steps. It was a sheer test of endurance, pushing to its limits.

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Path-full of Snow

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Entering the Snowscape

Debu with his expertise and 26-years old hands on experience, lead the way and we all realized how important is the role of a good guide. He quickly and swiftly was cutting the steps through the 2/3 feet deep snow with his Ice-Axe making way for us to follow one step at a time. The snow was soft but certain section it was hard and slippery. Debu informed us that the soft snow is never dangerous but it is the hard snow where the danger lay, since it would be slippery and if you happen to slip it will be fatal. Also there are the chances of an unexpected avalanche.

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Ice-Axe - Debu uses it with awesome ease - cuts his way across the snow

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Vantage Point - both Debu and me sat at a vantage point waiting for the others to scale through

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Surging On...

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Endurance - testing of your mental strength

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Catch Your Breath - at a height of over 15500 feet, oxygen supply to your lungs is LOW

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Pushing your Limits

Another thing we realized how important a good pair of the shoes is for this sort of trek and I was happy at our decision to buy the Forclaz Quecha 500 shoes. As I had read its review it kept our feet very warm and dry despite the continuous walk amidst all snow.

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Life in the Himalayas - a rare sighting of a endangered Tragopan

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Introspect - Anand perhaps was thinking of his sister he lost just a few weeks back

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The Final Steps

Finally, after an arduous exhaustive climb of over 2 hours we reached the shrine of Kallu Vinayak. The last step as one takes and reaches the ridge of Kallu Vinakay; it is a speechless sight beyond. Despite there being clouds, it was a sight seen to be believed. We bowed our heads in the holy shrine of Kallu Vinayak, offering a coconut carried by Debu and some chocolates. We prayed for the safe passage by lighting some incense sticks.

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Kallu Vinayak Shrine - paying our obeisance & thanking the Lord

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Absolute White-out

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In All Smiles - after a hard and enduring climb

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Finally, a dream come true

We were totally spellbound by the vistas in front of us. The clouds were covering the peak of Trishul and Nandaghunti but below we could see the fiber huts amidst the bowl of Bhugwabasa and further ahead the snaking trail going through the ridge of Roopkund and Junnargali beyond can be clearly seen. We sat in top of the ridge of Kallu Vinayak, by walking across a snow patch and simply gazed in silence. We prayed for the clouds to move away to be able to view even better the Trishul and Nandaghunti. Our prayers were partially answered as the clouds gave way and we could see the bowl of Roopkund, the point from where one can see the mystic Roopkund Lake.

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So Near Yet So Far - Roopkund Crater - the Roopkund lake lay within it

I asked Debu “can we venture ahead towards Bhugwabasa and further towards Roopkund,” knowing well that the answer would be negative since we could all see for ourselves that there were no trail path visible towards Bhugwabasa, it was all covered in 10-15 feet of snow. No way could we have moved further. Our desire to see this elusive lake remained un-fulfilled, it was indeed a case of so near yet so far - a mere short distance of 4-5 kms that eluded our final destination – the mystical Roopkund lake.

“No Sir, this is the wish of the Mother, perhaps she’ll call you both back again, the Big Jath is there in 2013, probably she wants you to go beyond Roopkund to Homkund, where the main “hom”(sacrificial fire) would be held’” Debu mentioned to our dejected faces.

Meanwhile, the other group of 5 trekkers stated making their way back as we continued sitting at the ridge and absorbing as much as possible. It was by now 11.30 am and Anand soon pulled out the hot-case and offered us some puris, which was still hot as we munched with some pickles. After spending about an hour, we could see dark clouds circling around and we decided to trek back to Pathar Nachuni before further snowfall happens.

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Himalayan Gossip

Slowly we started trudging down-hill through the snow. By now the snow was melting a bit and it was getting a bit slippery. On one occasion I nearly slipped through a precipitous drop but thanks to my walking stick I could halt my slide somehow. Thereafter, we again carefully continued descending. It was though a wonderful experience walking through the heaps of snow. Mitali was thoroughly enjoying the snow walk. We halted midway for some time before continuing ahead. By 1 pm we reached back our camp site at Pathar Nachuni.

Khilaf was ready with some chicken soup and soon lunch followed. The sun was meanwhile out for sometime as we dried our somewhat wet attire and basked in its warmth. The other group of trekkers meanwhile decided to move further down till Bedni and soon they moved out.

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Back to our Green Fiber Hut

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Landscape so Scenic

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Lady-o-Lady

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Mesmerizing

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Fully Padded - with the icy wind blowing across I climbed up a ledge and watched a heavenly Himalayan sunset

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Sunset - high in the Himalayas

Thankfully we had the whole fiber hut to ourselves as we rested. Late afternoon, I ventured out and sat on a rocky ledge some hundred meters away from our camp site and watched a heavenly sun-set. As dusk set in we celebrated our partial success by toasting some rum amidst the icy Himalayan wind gain starting to gain speed. Thankfully, it neither rained nor snowed. Having our dinner of roti and ready to eat butter chicken we called it a night.

Friday, May 11 – It was bright morning as we pulled ourselves from the sleeping bags. The sun was out and the weather was very clear. We took it a bit easy today since from now on it was all the way a down-hill trek. The snow peaks were all shining in glory particularly the Tent peak. Having our breakfast of stuffed Aloo paratha basking in the morning sun, we started off at 8.30 am. It was a wonderful walk through the green meadows in the backdrop of a deep blue sky. Patches of clouds were there towards the northern horizon but it was it was in no way blocking the magnificent views.

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Tent peak in the Morning Light

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Soaking in all the Possible Solitude

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Breakfast - Under the Warm Morning Sun

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The Trail back to Bedni

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Team Spirit

On the way near Hunia Thal we met Debu’s old acquaintance Kunwar Singh of Wan, whose horses usually Debu hires during his treks to Roopkund. We noticed that this time around also, similar to our last trek towards Pindari & Kafni, hoards to young villages camping amidst the meadows.

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Catching Up - Debu and Kunwar Singh's friendship goes back many year

Every year once the snow melts, they make a beeline line to the alpine meadows – in their quest to gather the valued “khida ghas”, a supposedly aphrodisiac used in oriental Chinese medicine. It is basically an insect sort of organism resembling a needle like grass stem considered of very high value. These villagers scour the meadows day-in-day-out and gather as many of them as possible, which we were informed were sold at big time prices. They consider it a gift of the Himalayas to them.

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Prized Item - khida ghas

Sweet Khilaf, in fact, the previous day, devoted over two hours searching for this elusive “khida ghas” and presented me one of the highly prized item. We continued ahead at a leisurely pace and stopped by Ghora Lotani to be rewarded with some awesome views of the peaks, which while coming we could not view clearly because of the clouds. But today they were all standing tall, the Trishul, Nandaghunti, Tharkot, Tent and line of other Himalayan peaks. Mitali captured some panoramic shots of these amazing visuals with the help of the tripod.

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Identifying the Peaks

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Walking Stick - trekker's best Assistant

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Just Beautiful

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Walking through Awesome Views

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The Walk is on...

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Shy Nandaghunti - within hand reach

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Up Close & Personal - the majestic Trishul peak

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Awesome Bugiyals

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Another Close Shot of Trishul

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Debu at Ghora Lotani

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Scenic Ghora Lotani

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Are we ready?

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Mindblowing

After soaking in for over half an hour we continued ahead, soon to enter the awesome meadows of Bedni. We continued down-hill till we reached the forest beat office quarters of Bedni located near our camp site where we had stayed while coming. We cooled our heels and relished a cup of hot black coffee.

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Trekking for Livelihood - we came across this group of locals heading beyond Roopkund in search of the prized Khida Ghas

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Halting a While amidst scenic landscapes

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The Trail Path Behind

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Take Your Time

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Bedni Kund Comes to View

Thankfully, mobile phones still did not worked but we did tried calling form the WLL phone at Bedni to inform everyone back home that we were safe but failed to get the line. Thereafter, we started moving ahead and soon passed by the Fiber Huts of Bedni. Noticed a new group of trekkers camped out there who were enthused to inquire from us the snow conditions beyond Pathar Nachuni. After a short conversation we continued ahead.

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Up or Down - our trek continues

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Load of a Firewood

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Wild Horses Grazing Along

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Campsite of Ghairoli Patal

We took a different route while going back instead of going back via Ali Bugiyal. Soon, we touched the tree line. We had to go down-hill through the Birch forest into a deep green valley. The walk was lovely as we encountered many a rhododendron bloom. It was a quite walk through the lush forest trail. After about half an hour we saw a flat opening in the midst of forest, wherein lay two cute Fiber huts. Yes, we have reached the destination of the day – Ghairoli Patal. As we were approaching the last few meters it stated pouring. Its intensity increased as we placed ourselves inside the Fiber Huts. Soon, it turned into a big hail fall. In no time the entire green carpet of the forest clearing wherein our camp was located turned white with the falling hails continuing.

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Shepherd and his Lambs

It finally subsided and the weather thereafter cleared. We felt this camp site truly was yet another pretty one. Its serenity was felt by us. Surrounded by huge deodars, pine, oak and birch trees it also was birding paradise. Colourful birds abound its vicinity and we were treated to a cacophony of bird calls. We spotted many a woodpeckers, Himalayan bulbuls, and countless other species of birds which we failed to recognize.

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Campfire - igniting our body & souls

Khilaf and Anand meanwhile went into the forest and brought along lots of fire wood. Seeing the pile of woods we realized our camp fire would be huge tonight. Meanwhile, a huge flock of sheep passed by making the setting even more scenic. Soon our lunch too was ready and
we all had it in the other fiber hut which served as our kitchen, dining hall cum living quarters of our crew. We rest till late afternoon and soon Debu lighted our camp fire. We all joined in and it went on till late into the night as we heard from Debu his numerous trekking tales all across the Himalayas.

Saturday, May 12 – We woke up early as usual but we did have to hurry today since it was the last day of our trek. Yet by 8.30 am we were all set to move out post our breakfast of noodles. The Trishul looked just amazing in the morning light. We bid bye to the scenic camp site and started off going down-hill through the forest. It was a quite walk through the silent forest. A stopped a couple of times to enjoy the serenity of the forest for the one last time. After trekking for over an hour and half we reach the Neel Ganga. We filled our water bottles with the crystal clear azure waters of the Neel Ganga and drank it to glory. Crossing over the Neel Ganga, we had to climb again.

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Trishul dazzles in the morning light

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Pretty Campsite of Ghairoli Patal

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All set to Move Out - the last day of our trek

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Forest Walk - as we moved out from Ghairoli patal

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Walk a Mile - Soak a While

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Quietly Flows the Neel Ganga

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Free Flight

The trail was not that steep compared to the Didna trail earlier and we comfortably scaled ahead. By now our legs too were totally tuned up and soon we reached the top point of Rann Ki Dhur. We interacted with some local ladies who were basking in the sun. Thereafter, we continued ahead another 2 kms till we could see the cute sleepy village of Wan – the last village that one can reach while approaching Roopkund from this side. We walked through huge deodars and soon up ahead we saw the GMVN Tourist rest house of Wan.

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Back to Civilization

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Approaching Wan

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Lush Cultivation near Wan

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Reached Wan

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Tourist Guest House - Wan

We rested in the lawn as Debu got connected to arrange the vehicle to drop us back at Lohajung. There were a huge group of foreign students who too were out on a trek. We interacted with them for some time, as they enquired about the snow conditions. Thereafter, we visited the revered ancient Ladu Devta Mandir. Thanking him for a safe trek we sought his blessing for our journey ahead.

Subsequently, we spend some time inside the premises of the Wan GMVN Tourist rest House till Debu informed us that the vehicle would soon reach and we had to walk down to the Wan village square from where the road-head starts. After a wait of over an hour our Max vehicle finally arrived and soon we started off our way back towards civilization.

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Road to Civilization

In about 45 minutes after driving through the broken dirt track, passing by Kulling Village, the starting point of our trek, we reached Lohajung. We could almost feel warm here literally; after all, we have come down over 7000 feet from the over 15000 feet that we had climbed over till Kallu Vinayak. Lohajung stood at approx 8300 feet.

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That's Lohajung

Trilok Singh Rana welcomed us back, as we checked in the guest house and had a bath after 6 long days. Despite the fact that we did not have proper bath for the last six days, we did not feel any dirty since up in the pristine Himalayas there is no pollution unlike our dirty cities. We decided to celebrate that night with a grand dinner.

Asked Debu to inquire and get some chicken. He returned after some time and informed that there were no broiler chicken available currently at Lohajung and a local chicken would cost a bomb - Rs 500-Rs 600 a piece, which he’ll have to get it from someone’s home. We wondered the ones who’ll be selling the chicken were they also counting the eggs that the chicken would lay in future considering the price quoted. Finally, Debu managed to get 2 chickens for Rs 800 and Khilaf cooked it in typical Kumaoni style – hot and spicy. Slumber eluded me that night since my body perhaps was getting used to the sleeping bag rather than the ‘comfortable bed’.

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Moving on, with promises to be back again

With mixed thoughts of achievement yet delusion, we started off the subsequent morning for next leg of our journey towards Gangotri, promising ourselves however to be back yet again to see for ourselves the elusive Roopkund lake that eluded us this time around.

Posted by sabyasachi 08:21 Archived in India Tagged trek_ roopkund roopkund_lake_trek lohajung ali_bugiyal bedni_bugiyal pathar_nachuni didna_village ghora_lotani trishul_peak nandaghunti_peak ghairoli_patal bhugawabasa junargali_roopkund homkund_roopkund skeletal_lake_roopkund skeletons_of_roopkund roopkund_trek kalu_vinayak_roopkund roopkund_nanda_jath_2013 Comments (10)

Picturesque Chitkul: The Last Indian Frontier Village

Chitkul is the last Indian habitation beyond which lay sheer wilderness towards the Indo-Tibet borders.

sunny 4 °C

A dusty signboard read Chitkul, Population: 610. This was the first sight that caught our eyes as we entered picture-postcard Chitkul. Perched at a dizzying height of 3600 meters, Chitkul is the last Indian habitation beyond which lay sheer wilderness towards the Indo-Tibet borders.

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That's Chitkul's Population...

Situated at the banks of the Baspa river, meandering through the deep interiors of Kinnaur district of Himachal Pradesh, Chitkul is but a paradise on this very earth. To reach this remote heaven one has to fork out from the NH 22 - the old Hindustan-Tibet Road - beyond Tapri, entering the Baspa Valley.

We started off from Sarahan, about 175 kms from Shimla, that quiet morning, after seeking our blessing at the ancient Bhimakali Temple. Our destination was Chitkul via Sangla. Traffic was sparse as the Sutlej rumbled alongside breaking the silence.

Ahead were rows of snow-clad Himalayas. The landscape was breathtaking. We passed by the small town of Bhavanagar to reach Tapri, where we stopped for tea. Scaling ahead, we took the right diversion at Karchham, entering the Baspa Valley. We soon had our first glimpse of the rear view of the Kinnaur Kailash peak, revered both by Hindus and the Kinnauri Buddhist. It was sunny with the snow-covered peaks standing tall in the backdrop of a deep blue sky.

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Kinnaur Kailash - Rear View

As we approached Sangla, we passed by many apple orchards, with red apples literally clinging to every branch. Sangla, situated at a height of 2,700 meters, is a small picturesque hamlet with the Baspa river flowing alongside. The entire Baspa Valley with thickly forested slopes of Pine and Deodar trees is widely acknowledged as one of the “most beautiful valleys in the world”.

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Apple Country

Dropping our bags we trekked through the by-lanes of sleepy Ru village, which was confusing at times, but the sweet Kinnauri locals guided us through. We were amazed at the Kinnauri homes with its intricate wood carvings with black slate-sheet roofs. Reaching the banks of the Baspa we soaked ourselves simply gazing at its greenish-blue water gushing along.

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Baspa Flows Along

Later, we hiked up and visited the much-revered Bairang Nag temple situated alongside a Buddhist temple of amazing wooden craftsmanship -the peaceful co-existence of Hinduism and Buddhism clearly amplified.

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Peaceful Co-existence - Bairang Nag Temple

Sitting by the balcony of our guest house we watched a heavenly sunset. As the last rays of the sun touched the Kinnaur Kailash peak, the plethora of colours that it emated would be etched in our minds forever.

Next morning post breakfast, we decided to visit the Kamru Fort and were dropped at the base of the Kamru Village. The famous Kamru Fort is located high up the village and one has to trek up to visit this high altitude temple. The climb was naturally very steep and finally we reached the main gate of the holy Kamru Fort. A person rushing down from the temple premises offered us some prasad - thick bajra roti layered with yak butter – saying it is the offering to the Goddess Kamakshya Devi. We really felt blessed at the timing of the “holy prasad” being delivered to us by the holy mother - just as we at her gates - after an arduous climb of over one hour.

The caretaker of this temple, Rajender Singh, welcomed us warmly and said that as per local tradition, one has to cover the head and tie a saffron thread around the waist before entering the temple. Sweetly, he offered us two Kinnauri caps which we adorned and tied the thread around our waist as informed.

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Kamru Fort - Seat of Kamakhyi Devi

The tower-like Kamru Fort standing tall in this scenic landscape looks daunting indeed. The main holy deity of the Kamru Fort is Kamakhyi Devi. It is said that the idol of Kamakshyi Devi had been brought from far away Guwahati, in Assam, known in ancient time as Kamrupa.

Incidentally, the name Kamru perhaps had its origin from the ancient name of Kamrupa. We being from Assam - our home state - were elated at the ancient spritual connection between our lands and Himachal. Offering our prayers to the holy mother, we silently sat at the premise of this serene place of a by gone era, and encapsulated the sights both in our minds as well in the camera.

Thereafter, we moved towards Chitkul. Though situated at a short distance of about 26 kms from Sangla, road condition was bad and driving had to be slow. Gradually, we passed by the Rakchham village and a few odd kilometers ahead, we reached a clearing.

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Picture Postcard

The view in front of us was simply mesmerizing – a green alpine meadow, with the azure water of the Baspa flowing alongside in the backdrop of snow-clad Himalayan peaks. On our right side in these idyllic settings was cute Chitkul - the last Indian village. The road ends here.

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Lonely Planet

The serenity of the place was immediately felt by us – the sheer feeling of oneness with nature. We headed out nearer to the mountains and sat by the Baspa in total solitude.

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A Walk Within

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In Black & White

An evening campfire ignited our spirits as we heard many a local myths and legends.

Next morning, we started off to our next destination, Recong Peo, with a deep satisfaction of being able to leave behind our footprints in this last frontier village of India.

Fact File

How to Reach: Chitkul is about 255 kms from Shimla. Follow the NH 22 till Karchham via Narkanda, Jeori, and Rampur. At Karchham, take a right diversion and go via Rakcham and Sangla to reach Chitkul.

Where to Stay: A few hotels and resorts. Also, booking can be done at the HPPWD Guest House.

Posted by sabyasachi 20:28 Archived in India Tagged chitkul kinnaur_valley baspa_valley chitkul_himachal_pradesh sangla_chitkul Comments (0)

See As we Saw: “Mummy Lama” of Spiti Lives on…

Inside in a glass chamber was the mummified lama, lovingly called “mummy lama.” Bowing our heads we felt blessed at his divine presence...

sunny 9 °C

Ever since I read a captivating news report about a 500-year-old mummy, believed to be of a holy lama, discovered deep within the cold desert of Spiti in Himachal Pradesh, it had been my earnest desire to see it first hand. As we planned our jeep safari across the high roads of Lahaul & Spiti region, we kept pondering whether of not we would be able to reach out to this Himalayan remoteness.

"Sirji, I've never been there and being a restricted border area, we would perhaps require permission from the Indo-Tibetan-Border-Police (ITBP)," mentioned Surender Thakur, our guide-cum -driver-cum-friend to my utter disillusionment. But comforted me by adding, "Don't worry; we’ll inquire at Kaza (sub-divisional headquarters of Spiti). If we are destined to have 'His' holy darshan nothing should stop us."

Meandering through treacherous roads (basically broken dirt tracks) amidst the pristine outdoors of Spiti, we finally climbed over the towering 4551 meter high Kunzum La Pass to reach Kaza, passing by Losar, Hansa, Rangrik and countless other sleepy villages.

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Never Seen Before Landscape

Next day, we ventured out from Kaza, driving through a literal moonscape. Strange “out of the world” formation of the barren landscape was a visual treat. As we moved ahead, our hearts were pounding fast. Just before Sumdo, we took a side road to our left to be greeted by a colourful arch - “Welcome to Gue Village.” “Sirji, we have made it,” said Thakur Bhai, seeing our excited facial expressions.

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Welcome to Gue Vilage

At the edge of the quiet village we saw a small concrete structure, guarded by ITBP personnel. Inside in a glass chamber was the mummified lama, lovingly called “mummy lama.” Bowing our heads we felt blessed at his divine presence. A closer observation reveals that the mummy is amazingly well-preserved with unbroken skin; teeth, nails and hairs fully intact.

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Fact File

It is believed that this revered lama was a Tibetan monk named Sangha Tenzin, who gave up his life about 600 years back while meditating in the squatting position he was discovered mummified inside a tomb. The locals of Gue knew about the mummy since 1975 when an earthquake brought down a part of the tomb. But its sheer remoteness kept it out of bounds. Carbon dating carried out by some foreign scientists estimated it to be about 550 years old.

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A Living Monk

According to local legends, about 600 years ago when Gue was troubled by scorpions, Sangha Tenzin squatted down to mediate in the prescribed manner, after asking his disciples to entomb him. It is believed when his soul left the body, a rainbow appeared across the sky and the scorpions mysteriously disappeared from the village.

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To Good to be True

I asked an elderly local, “How old is this mummy?” “Son, it is difficult to say, may be 500 years, 600 years or may even more, in fact no one knows how old he is, but he has been blessing our village down the ages.” He added with an astounding faith, “He is our living God, his nails and hairs still grows.” With a mixed feeling of being blessed yet thoroughly mystified we moved on.

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A Lady of Gue Village Carrying on the Daily Chores

Some time back, I came across a disturbing news report that fungal growth has set and if not properly preserved, this ancient relic could be lost forever. In fact, out of fear of being stolen, the villagers of Gue, directed by their local devta (deity), a few of months back, shifted the priceless “mummy lama” to its earlier location inside the Gompa where it had been lying undisturbed for the past over five centuries.

They feel that it is no longer safe to leave it unguarded and closed it from public viewing. It would be decided later, whether or not to allow public viewing of the mummy, as per the direction of their local devta.

Feel really blessed that we were among a lucky few to have “His” holy glimpse. Only time will say whether or not anyone again would ever be able to view the mystical “Mummy Lama” of Spiti who continues to live on…

Getting there

Gue is one of the most isolated village of Spiti, lying very close to the border of Tibet, about 50km from the Tabo monastery. Coming from Shimla side by the NH 22 – the old Hindustan-Tibet Highway – take the side road after crossing Sumdo. Coming from Manali side on the NH 21 divert at Gramphoo to enter Spiti and drive through Kunzum La pass, Losar, and after crossing Kaza take side road to Gue Village before Sumdo. Distance is about 430 kms from Shimla. Approximately 250 kms from Manali.

Place to Stay
There are no place as such to stay in Gue village, nearest stopover can either be Kaza or Tabo, situated in the remote Lahaul & Spiti district of Himachal Pradesh.

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Posted by sabyasachi 02:14 Archived in India Tagged mummy_lama buddhist_mummy_lama mummy_lama_geu_village geu_mummy_lama geu_village_mummy_lama spiti_mummy_lama Comments (0)

Misty Dhanaulti: Clouds, Mountains & Deodars

Dehradun seems passe, Mussourrie crowded; Welcome aboard to a serene hamlet of Dhanaulti.

overcast 12 °C

Situated just 66 kms from Dehradun, at a height of 2286 meters, Dhanaulti is fast emerging as a leisure destination for those seeking a quiet weekend away from the maddening crowds of Mussourie. Set within lush alpine forests of Pine, Deodar, Rhododendron and Oak we felt totally relaxed at Dhanaulti's peaceful laid-back environment.

Alighting at the Dehradun Railway early morning we haggled our way through the fleecing cab drivers, to finally make our way towards Dhanaulti. Monsoon was slowly setting in and the cool breeze brushing across our faces was very welcoming as we winded uphill towards Mussourie. We could see from way below, Mussourie, as if afloat amidst the clouds.

A look down gave us a bird eye's view of the vast expanses of the Dehradun plains.

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Bird's Eye View

Gradually, we passed by Mussourie and could instantly feel the rich heritage as was drove past many historic buildings soaked in its colonial glory. As it was early, we hardly faced the usual traffic snares around the narrow alleyways of Landour Cantonment and glided through comfortable.

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Mussourie Shines in the Morning Light

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Amidst the Clouds

Thereafter, we followed a steep serpentine single-lane Chamba-Tehri road passing by many sleepy villages. Clouds rose from the deep valleys below and it kept getting thicker as we scaled upwards. At one stretch near a place named Buranjkhand, we could not see beyond a few feet as we drove by in a total white-out state.

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Umbrella

Finally, in a chilled-out state we entered scenic Dhanaulti flanked by thick deodars on both sides of the foggy road. As it was cloudy, we could not view the panoramic Himalayan range, which we were told was a sight to behold.

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Misty Dhanaulti

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Beyond the Deodars

Stopping by in front of the eco-resort, Bamboo Huts situated amidst a forest, and maintained by the Forest Department, we approached the stand-alone reception-cum-dinning hall. The caretaker was still in slumbers as we waited through sipping a hot cup of tea. We had done prior booking at Bamboo Huts, over the phone, through the Deputy Ranger, but we were totally appalled when the caretaker finally came to inform us that as some ministers and other VIPs were coming, our booking stood cancelled.

However, at our persistent requests, the Deputy Ranger arranged our accommodation at another good hotel nearby. We realized this is how government-run resorts function or rather fails to function. Bureaucratic interference is what makes us common layman suffer unnecessarily and this is why it is best avoided.

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Hoofs on the Highway

Settling ourselves at Crown Plaza Hotel we just lazed through the day. Late afternoon, we walked to Dhanaulti's main attraction, the Eco Park set within a lush forest. There are many well-marked trails through this park providing a unique experience to the visitors.

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Eco Park

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Welcome Gate

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Lord of the Universe

Many large bill-boards show-casing the varied bird life around the Garhwal Himalays is very informative. Also inside the park is a stall of selling traditional woolens and other takeaway souvenirs.

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Spot Me if You Can

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Lost in Thought

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Generation - Past & Future

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Following the Trail

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Halt a While

Soaking ourselves a couple of hours inside the quiet park, we walked back to our hotel as the weather too started turning gloomy. Soon, it started pouring hard and continued all through the night.

Next morning, packing our breakfast, we made our way towards the revered Surkhanda Temple, situated about 8 kms ahead of Dhanaulti on the Chamba-Tehri Road. Our hotel vehicle dropped us at Kuddukhal, the base of the mountain from where we had to trek vertically upwards for one-and-half kilometers.

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Holy Bells

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Trail Path to Surkhanda Temple

Situated at a height of 9,500 feet, it surely was a steep climb through a paved path with lots and lots of steps but was well worth all its effort, as we were mesmerized at the views from the top. As it was cloudy we could not however get to see the Himalayan peaks, but range upon range of lush mountains were a treat to our eyes.

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Dark Clouds, Misty Mountains

Legend has it that Sati, wife of Lord Shiva, gave up her life due to an argument with her father Prajapati Daksha who was not ready to accept Lord Shiva as his son-in-law. Prajapati Daksha started defying Lord Shiva openly, and thereby the defying of her dear husband made Sati give up her life leaving her body. It is known how Lord Shiva danced furiously with the Sati’s dead body, and how by the Lord Krishna's Sudarshan Chakra the body was cut into various parts. It is believed that Sati’s head (Sur meaning Head in Hindi/Sanskrit) fell at the spot where the shakti-peeth of Surkhanda Devi stands today.

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Drummer & his Beats

As we were approaching the final climb towards the temple, we could clearly hear drum beats at a distance. Suddenly, to our amazement a few of the local ladies accompanying us alongside, started screaming out loud and rushed upwards as being drawn by a magnet. There congregated near the drummer and in a state of trance danced wildly to the beats.

On being asked, one local lad said that "Devi Mata gets inside their body and they go into a trance and swing wildly". After some moments of celestial ecstasy, screaming, they move inside the holy shrine and after bowing their heads in the revered shrine they became normal again. We could realized how devoted these locals are to the 'Holy Mother' though it surely was an experience which we would surely remember for long.

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Shrine of Kal Bhairav

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Mother and Child

Bowing our heads in the inner sanctum of the shrine, we prayed to the mother from the bottom of our hearts. Feeling blessed, we spend over an hour outside the temple simply gazing at the scenic rolling valleys below in silence. Thereafter, accompanied by a light drizzle, we made our way back to Dhanaulti.

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Quiet Dhanaulti

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Destination Next

Next day, late morning the Manager of Dhanaulti Crown Plaza, Mr Gajendra dropped us back to Mussourie and on the way he said, "in winter Dhanaulti is an all snowy affair, do come back to enjoy the snow."

Dhanaulti truly turned out to be one uncrowded offbeat serene destination, which I'm sure we would like to be back again.

Posted by sabyasachi 22:00 Archived in India Tagged dhanaulti tehri_chamba chamba_dhanaulti eco_park_dhanaulti bamboo_huts_dhanaulti_mussourie dehradun_dhanaulti how_to_reach_dhanaulti hotels_in_dhanaulti Comments (2)

A Trek to Pindari & Kafni Glacier - Part II

Sacred Rivers, Serene Mountains & Sheer Bliss - Trekking in Absolute Solitude through Mountain Forests & Snow-clad Himalayas in the scenic Indian state of Uttarakhand...

overcast 6 °C

After our sweet success to Pindari Glacier our destination next was the Kafni Glacier. We started back from Phurkiya to Dwali and from Dwali diverted leftwards following the Kafni river towards Khatia and finally making it to Kafni Glacier the next day.

Day 7

Distance Trekked : 12 kms
Trek Route: Purkhia-Dwali-Khatia

We had a long day ahead today. Our target was to trek back 5 kms returning to Dwali and thereafter from Dwali, following the Kafni trail, try trekking 7 kms upto Khatia. The drizzle outside that morning however made us a bit worried. Freshening up we had stuffed parathas for breakfast in the KMVN kitchen and started off at 8.30 am. As the way back was mostly downhill it was a comfortable trek contrary to the exhaustion we felt while approaching Purkhia.

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Starting Off from Phurkia

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Landscape so Lush

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Landslide on the Way

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Serene Trail

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Crossing Frozen Stream

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Serpentine Trail over Lush Meadows

The drizzle continued as we gradually passed by the same serene landscape that we had passed by two days earlier. The maple trees, the green ferns, and the thick vegetation of the lush forest accompanied us till we reached Dwali at 10.30 am. We rested outside the Sangam tea-house shack and had some refreshing black coffee and biscuits.

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Finally Dwali

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Coffee Break

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Company

Our initial plan was to stay over the night at Dwali and carry on the following day directly to Kafni. But I suggested that since it was a bit early and the weather too was getting so unpredictable, we continue trekking till Khatia, another 7 kms ahead.

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Entering the Kafni Trail

We started out from Dwali at 11 am. Getting down from the steep cliff where sleepy Dwali is strategically situated, we took the trail going left alongside the Kafni river. For sometime we could feel some welcoming bleak sunrays penetrating through the overall overcast sky. Half-an-hour trek into this trail we realized this was a far open trail and more scenic than the Pindari trail.

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Kafni Flowing By Swiftly

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Maple Tree Standing Out

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Snake or a Plant

However, the trail path was very narrow and one wrong step or a slip would be fatal - the gorge below was a straight drop till the Kafni river. The climb surely was steep as we kept halting occasionally to rest as well as to soak in the awesome views.

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Walking Along

By now our legs were getting used to following a rhythm and Mitali too was trekking comfortably. Up ahead we could see snow-clad mountain beyond the opening of the serpentine river valley. After about an hour into our trek, it started drizzling again. But the drizzle soon turned into a heavy downpour. Our jackets and trek suits were getting soaked and we had to seek cover.

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Shelter from the Pouring Rains

Luckily, we found an over-hanging rocky ledge in the midst of the trail and barely managed to lean ourselves in. It continued pouring as we squatted for the rains it to subside. As the downpour was slowly subsiding we heard some voices in the opposite direction and soon we saw a couple of porters coming down-hill braving the rains. They were being followed by an elderly couple from Bangalore, returning from their maiden Kafni trek.

We chatted with them and the news they provided was not at all encouraging. They had been to Kafni that morning and visibility was not that great but somehow they were lucky enough to see the glacier.

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Mineral Water - Aqua Pure

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Scenic Trail amidst Lush Forest

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Simply Serene

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All Smiles

After sometime the rain stopped and we too stepped out to resume our trek. Mitali was gorging all the ripe wild strawberry possible that were literally growing almost all through the trail. They were smaller in size than the regular ones but were very sweet indeed.

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Handful of ripe Strawberry

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Green Meadows, Snow Capped Mountains

I physically was not feeling great. The height of these places and the long treks each day were perhaps taking its toll. I was feeling low in energy. Gorged in some chocolates to give me some extra boost and continued ahead. Finally, by 2.30 pm were could see ahead of us our shelter for the night.

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Shelter for the Night

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Khatia at Last

Seeing the two small blocks of the Khatia Gram Panchayat Guest houses at a distance gave us the impetus to trudge through the last few meters in full gusto. We realized that after each long day's trek through this wilderness, it was always so very welcoming to see from a distance the accomodation for the night. It was again a basic shelter with one block serving as the kitchen and porter's quarters, and the other block had two rooms with lines of beds with heavy quilts. The good thing I noticed was a cozy fire place in our allotted room. Views from the room itself was amazing.

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Room with a View

It was quite cold and Pradip Singh, the caretaker-cum-cook welcomed us with a hot cup of black coffee. I requested, Pradip to cook us some hot khichidi and egg omelets. To our delight he lighted the fireplace and having our lunch we rested.

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Amazing Views

Early evening I took a short stroll outside. Khatia again is another scenic and serene place with majestic views of snow-clad mountains and open meadows. The clouds were casting a thin veil over the evening sky playing hide and seek with the rising half moon. As it was getting very windy, I too soon returned back to the room and sat by the fireplace.

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By the Warm Fire

Dinner was served at 8 pm but I had no appetite at all. I just managed a spoonful of rice and dal and few bites of fried Sardine, which I had given Pradip to cook. Post dinner, I sat alone in front of the fireplace while Mitali retired to bed. With the last piece of wood burning away, I too retired to bed contemplating what was in store for tomorrow since it was the final leg of our trek as we would attempt to trek to the mouth of the Kafni Glacier.

Day 8

Distance Trekked : 14 kms
Trek Route: Khatia-Walliagar-Kafni Glacier-Khatia

Pradip woke us up early at 4 am with a hot cup of tea. We quickly freshened up and having some hot noodles we set off at 4.45 am towards the Kafni Glacier. The weather was gloomy, cold and windy. It was still dark as the first light of dawn was breaking through. Thin clouds brushed across our faces as we started following the trail across many open lush meadows.

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Dawn Breaking Through

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Soaking in

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Walking Through the Clouds

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Shepherd Guard Dog in Company

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Misty Surroundings

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Walk a Mile, Pose a While

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Grassland in an Alien World

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Awesome

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Touches the Soul

Half-an-hour into the trek, thick clouds rushed in and it was a total white-out. We could not see beyond a few meters. The climb was surely exhaustive but it did not dither our spirit. We kept surging through the steep trail with the hope that the weather would clear enabling us a clear view of the glacier. By 7.30 we reached Walliagar. We have covered almost 4 kms. Here we rested for about 30 minutes. Debu, a devout religious man, lighted a few incense sticks and offering a few fruits, we prayed to the mother for a safe trek and a divine darshan of the glacier.

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Prayer Flag at Walliagarh

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Debu sitting at Walliagarh

Thereafter, the trek through the lovely green meadows was truly enchanting. All around us were miles upon miles of open meadows with yellowish-green grass bushes. Herds of sheep and alpine goats with tingling bells around their neck were seen grazing around the meadows as a few shepherds were humming in a few local tunes.

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All in a Line

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Enchanting Meadows

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Nature's Art

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So very Pretty

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Heavenly

We wondered how beautiful it would have been had the cloud covering not been there. By 8.30 am as we were approaching the final leg, Mitali started giving up. I persistently tried to persuade her to continue the last couple of kilometer - we were almost there but she refused to budge. Failing to persuade her I continued...

Debu was already ahead of me. Low visibility was making it difficult for me to follow the trail properly. As one moment I felt I had taken a wrong turn and was feeling totally disoriented and lost. I gave some shouts to Debu but failed get any response back. He must have been far ahead. It was an eerily silence all around, with just the sound of the whistling wind. Making my determination stronger I tried to orient myself and continued ahead.

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Crossing a huge Snow Patch

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Misty Views

Soon, to my relief I discovered the trail again marked by some stones, and kept following it steadfastly. Suddenly, up ahead through the misty landscape, at a bend after a steep climb, I could see Debu's ice axe fixed upright atop a rock. But Debu himself does not seem to be around. Going a little further up I saw Debu, curling himself up at a small space between two rocks, was in deep prayers.

As if Debu's prayers were working, the clouds were slowly moving away what I saw in front of me gave me shiver down my spine - the entire white upper portion of the Kafni Glacier, just in fornt of me. Words are failing to describe how I felt at that moment. I just kept gazing the glacier in silence. It truly was a feeling which I would not be able to describe in words.

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Partially visible Kafni Glacier - Debu's prayers seem to be working

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Kafni Glacier - the 1st View- the clouds magically moved away - felt the divine hand at work

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Black & White - sheer out the world experience

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A photo to Treasure

After some moments, Debu broke his silence and I suggested we walk up to the mouth of the glacier, a distance of another half a kilometer. This last part of the trek was very tricky and treacherous. We had to cross over a huge slippery snow patch and thereafter balance our way through a sea of loose boulders and rocks. One wrong footing and you would fall causing injuries.

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Mistful Snowful

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Amidst all Snow

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Mouth of Kafni Glacier, underneath the moraine - Black Ice

Carefully, we treaded along till we were reached the lower mouth of the glacier. The Kafni river can be clearly seen originating beneath the huge moraine of black ice. From the left side of the glacier loose rocks were falling down continuously. The glacier moaned and cracked making us feel that we were in front of something living. The misty condition at the mouth of the glacier made us somber.

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Inside the Mouth of Kafni Glacier

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Kafni River - originating from within the Glacier

To Debu's surprise, I quickly started taking off my cloths as I felt an inner desire from within to take a holy dip here. It was 8.30 am. Braving the cold I just got down the big rock where we were sitting, entering the icy waters. I dipped myself into the icy waters closing my breath and prayed; thanking the Mother with my folded hands seeking her blessings.

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After that Holy Bath

Strangely though I did not feel any cold as I came out of the water and wept myself dry with my hand towel. I felt truly fulfilled - a feeling I have not experienced ever before in my life. Putting along my attire, we celebrated by sharing a bar of chocolate that I was carrying in my backpack. Thereafter, we both sat down for about another 30 minutes soaking in thoroughly till reluctantly we had to make our way backwards.

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Raw Nature - another shot of the majestic Glacier

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Passing by the Snow Patch again

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Shrine of the Stones

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Blooming - life in the high Himalayas

The trek back to Khatia was relaxing but soon thick clouds came in and it was again a total white-out. We passed by Wallaigar and saw the site where Kumoan Mandal Vikas Nigam (Tourism Wing of Kumaon region of Uttarakhand ) is proposed to construct a fiber glass guest house soon. The foundation has already been completed. We thought next time if we happen to come by to Kafni, we would be able to come directly from Dwali to Walliagar. We crossed by many a herds of sheep in their thousands making a bee-line to the rich meadows.

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Amidst the herd of sheep

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Absorbing the Serenity

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Trekking Back to Khatia

It again started drizzling and by 11.30 we reached back Khatia. We just chilled out at Khiatia the whole day, and in the evening sitting by the fireplace, celebrated our successful Pindari & Kafni Glacier wilderness trek with Debu by toasting some rum till dinner of egg curry and chapati was served by Pradip.

Day 9

Distance Trekked : 18 kms
Trek Route: Khatia-Dwali-Malla Dhur-Khati

It was again a long day ahead. Pradip woke us up early at 5 am. After freshening up we had some hot noodles and we started off at 6.30 am. The weather had cleared and it was a sunny day with clear views.

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Sunny Day Ahead

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Breakfast of hot noodles, also seen Debu and Pradip

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Moving Out from Khatia

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Trekking by the Kafni river

Our intent was to reach Dwali from Khatia and thereafter continue to Khati village - a total trek of 18 kms. We walked past the the scenic trail and soaked ourselves thoroughly.

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Soaking in the Serenity

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Water of Life

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Utterly Scenic

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Cute flowers in Bloom

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The Walk Continues

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Sheeps in the hundreds

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Majestic horns

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Ready for a Fight

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Shepherd and his Dogs

On the trail we came across many a herd of sheep making their way uphill to the lush meadows of Kafni. These herds are accompanied by a couple shepherd along with a few guard dogs. They skillfully guided them by whistling along. As it was a very narrow trail each time a herd od sheep approached we had to give way for them to cross safely. By 8.45 am we reached Dwali where we rested a while sipping some hot coffee and cookies.

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Bridge at Dwali

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Holy Confluence - Kafni & Pindari joining at Dwali

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Trail from Dwali

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Magic Mushrooms

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Pindari Flows Along

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Mushrooms Bloom

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Reaching Malla Dhaur Bridge

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Bridge over the Pindari

Thereafter we again trekked through by the lush serene forest. Trekking down-hill it is now we realized how much we had climbed. By 11.30 am we reached Malla Dhaur and rested our tired legs at the lone tea house. We interacted with the shack owner who informed us to our amazement that he has been running this tea house since the past 30 years.

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Postcard Perfect

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Sipping some coffee at Malladhaur

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Tea Shack Owner at Malla Dhaur

By 12.30 pm we started off the last leg towards Khati. The long day's tiring trek was draining us out totally.

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Carefull Steps

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Walk on a High - entering Khati, passing by huge Marijuana Plantation growing wild

Finally by 2.30 pm after trekking 18 kms we reached Khati village and straightaway headed to Debu's house and made a call back home from his WLL phone that we have successfully completed the Pindari & Kafni trek safely.

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Thats Khati Village

Thereafter, we trekked another half a kilometer to the check ourselves at the Sangam Tourist Cottage, situated at the outskirts of Khati village.

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Finally at Sangam Cottage

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Tired Legs after completing 18 kms

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Sangam Cottage at Khati

The sunny weather till then gradually turned gloomy and it started pouring. We rested and in late evening sweet Khilaf brought us some home cooked lamb curry which we gorged with some hot khichidi for dinner. Satisfied, we retired early accompanied by the sound of the falling rain over Sangam Cottage's tin roof.

Day 10

Distance Trekked : 12 kms
Trek Route: Khati-Kalwatati Top- Patlakhod-Supi-Talai

Diatance Travelled :
Route : Talai-Barari-Bageshwar

It was pouring hard as Debu and Khilaf reached the Sangam guest house around 8 am. We discussed with Debu whether we can get back via Kurkia but the news he shared was not so good. Continuous rains in the past week resulted in the jeeps stopped plying from Khurkia. We had two option, either we climb up to Dhakuri and thereafter move to Loherkhet or on Debu's suggestion we decided to take another local route not usually done by trekkers. This route we had to climb up over 4 kms to Kalwatati top and get down to Supi village and Talai via Patlakhod. Having some aloo parathas and egg omlate we started off at 9 am once the rains stopped.

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Starting Off from Khati Village

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Interaction on Way

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Mushrooms in full Bloom

Moving out of Khati village we took a trail southwards moving through a thick Pine forest. It sutely was a very steep climb and it completed exhausted us to the hilt. But the trail was very scenic and once we reached the Kalwatati Top, we were rewarded by some amazing views. However the cloud cover somewhat restricted the views. Bowing our head at the shrine at Kalwatai Top and resting for sometime we continued ahead.

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Trekking through a lush Pine Forest

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Kalwatati Top

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Shrine at Kalwatati Top

Thereafter we moved through some luch meadows till we reached Patlakhod, where some habitation existed in the form of shepherd huts. Resting awhile there we moved down through some trecherous tarrain and finally we could see the cute Supi village out in the horizon. Continuous walking was undoubetedly taking it toll but it truely was a rewarding exerience.

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Meadows of Patlakhod

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Resting a While

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Hardy Mountain People

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Trekking for Livelihood not Pleasure

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Following the Trecherous yet serene Trail Downhill

Entering Supi village, we were taken to a local Kumaoni home and we felt very welcoming by the host of the house. The sweet lady of the house treated us to a very tasty organic Kumaoni lunch. She informed that they do not buy anything from outside, they cultivate everything in-house in their land right from rice to wheat, from vegetable to dals.

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Supi Village comes to View

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Finally, some paved path, as we approched Supi

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Entered Supi Village

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Houseful of Hospitality

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Lady of the House - so caring, she reminded me of sweet Mom

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Feeding us with Care

Satisfied with that lovely Kumaoni hospitability, we bid them farewell and moved down about half a kilometer to reach Talai around 3 pm. Reaching there we realized that there were no shared jeeps to take us to Barari. Luckly we found one jeep but the driver would not budge to take us unless we paid Rs 1000.

We desperately wanted to reach Bageswar and if possible move out to Ranikhet. So, we decided to hire the full jeep and moved off. Moved through the gravel road and we nearly got stuck two three times. Reaching Barari we changed the jeep and reached Bageshwar by 5.30 pm. As it got late, we decided to stay back at Bageshwar for the night and carry on to Ranikhet the next day.

We celebrated that evening at Bageshwar and thanking Debu, we toasted to the enchanting trek to the Pindari & Kafni Glacier, promising ourselves to be back next time for the more challenging Sundardunga Trek.

Best Time to Trek
The optimal timing is between May 1st and June 30th and between September 1st and October 15th.
Both seasons has its own beauty.

How to Reach
One has to reach Bageshwar in Uttarakhand, which is about 200 kms from the Haldwani/Kathgodam Railway Station, the last rail head of the Kumaon region. From Bageshwar drive till Loharkhet from where the trek starts. But as the road is being extended, one can drive till Kurkia to start the trek 4 kms before Khati village, avoiding trekking via Dhakuri, saving one full day. Bageshwar-Kurkia would be around 50 kms.

Where to Stay
In the entire route there are no hotels after Bageshwar. At Loherkhet, Dhakuri Dwali and Purkhia, basic PWD Guest Houses & KMVN (Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam) Tourist Huts are located. At Khatia in the Kafni trail, a lone Gram Panchayat Guest House can be used. Accommodation charges are very cheap and booking can be done from Bageshwar/Loherkhet KMVN Tourist Guest House. Also, tents and sleeping bags can be hired by those seeking to camp under the open sky.

Posted by sabyasachi 09:06 Archived in India Tagged kafni_trek trek_to_kafni pindari_kafni_trek khatia_kafni dwali_khatia trek_to_kafni_glacier trekking_ to_kafni trekking_to_ pindari_kafni_glacier Comments (23)

A Trek to Pindari Glacier & Kafni Glacier - Part I

Sacred Rivers, Serene Mountains & Sheer Bliss - Trekking in Absolute Solitude through Mountain Forests & Snow-clad Himalayas

overcast 12 °C

Imagine a tranquil paradise - serene, grandeur and breathtakingly scenic. Soaring snow-clad peaks playing hide-and-seek with each passing clouds, gushing streams, cascading waterfalls, colorful butterflies, chirping birds, green meadows, turquoise-blue waters of the sacred Pindari & Kafni rivers were all part of my imagination. It was as if I could smell in the aromas and soak in the captivating views, as I was researching this trek.

True to my imagination, I can now recall with satisfaction, the amount of enquiry, browsing, interaction and contemplation, were worth all its effort, as we prepared ourselves for this unique approximately 90 km, 8 days long (June 5 till June 12th, 2011), Pindari & Kafni Glacier wilderness trek - to witness Mother Nature's exquisite artworks, painted out beautifully in the broad canvas of the Holy Himalayas.

Our guide-cum-porter, 42-years-old Devendra Singh, better known as Debu, was an avid trekker himself, having a rich trekking experience of 26 years. With Debu's in-depth knowledge of various trek & trails all around the Kumaon and Garhwal Himalayas, with an ever-lively spirit, we felt totally secured in his company. His sleepy village Khati - the last habitation en-route - is about 50 kms from the temple town of Bageswar, situated in the enchanting Kumaon Himalayas of the beautiful Indian state of Uttaranchal.

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A Long Way Up
Picture of the Pindari, Kafni Trekking Route Map

Day 1 & Day 2

Distance Travelled : 1750 kms
Route: Mumbai-New Delhi-Lal Kuan

Winding up a hectic day at work, both Mitali and myself, boarded the Special Rajdhani Express that fateful Friday evening from Mumbai Central Station. Chugging though the night and the entire next day, we reached the New Delhi Railway Station at 6.10 pm. Our connecting train to Kathgodam - the last railhead of Uttaranchal - was at 10.40 pm from the Old Delhi Railway Station.

We got out of the station and made our way to Old Delhi Railway Station. Finally we reached the station at 8 pm. But our worries were yet to be over. The status of our 1st Class AC tickets in the Ranikhet Express was still showing Waiting List 1 & 2.

We just hoped that it would get confirmed. On checking the status again at the enquiry counter, discovered that one of our tickets got confirmed while the other one was still in Waiting List 1. The final ticket chart had been prepared and our only hope was to convince the Railway Ticket Checker. After some anxious moments, the Ticket Checker obliged to our relief that we both would be accommodated.

Day 3

Distance Travelled by Vehicle: 250 kms
Route: Lal Kuan-Kathgodam-Bhimtal-Bhowali-Almora-Bagesawar-Barari-Loherkhet-Chaurasta-Rethi-Karmi-Dhur-Kurkia-DauVillage

Distance Trekked : 3 kms
Trek Route: Kurkia-Dau Village

Chugging through the night in the luxurious 1st Class AC coup, we reached Lal Kuan at 5.10 am - the penultimate station before Kathgodam. As we were making our way outside the station, we were greeted by a person inquiring where we were heading. Answered him that we were on our way to Bageswar and we plan to take a share taxi. To our utter delight he informed that he is taking some people in his Trevera vehicle beyond Bageswar and has 2 unoccupied seats.

He agreed to drop us at Bageswar. We thought it was an auspicious beginning to start with and by noon we would be at Bageswar. Soon, we passed by the plains of Haldwani and Kathgodam. We had a quick bite en-route at Kainchi and made our way uphill via Bhimtal, Bhowali and finally Almora. The winding road as we soared up was very welcoming as we could feel the fresh mountain breeze across our faces.

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Mountain Roads - Here we come again

As decided upon earlier, we boarded down at Siddharth Hotel in Bageswar at 12.10 pm to be greeted by smiling Debu. He had kept a room ready for us to freshen up as I discussed the finer trek details and handed over 50% advance of our agreed amount, enabling him purchases the necessary rations for our 8 days trek.

Debu informed us that we would be able to by-pass the traditional trek route to Dhakuri-Khati via Loherkhet, saving us 1 day since we could drive directly till Kurkia, which is 4 kms before the Khati village, from where the trek would start. Additionally, it would also save us from trekking 11 kms uphill till Dhakuri via Dhakuri Top and 8 kms downhill till Khati.

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Serpentine Path
We moved ahead through the serpentine dirt road

By 1 pm we were all set to move out. We boarded a Max Jeep that Debu had hired and made our way to Kurkia, the last road head. We reached Barari at 3 pm, the last small town en-route, where we had a quick lunch of rice and chicken.

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Pathetic Driveway

From Barari onwards, the road condition was sheer pathetic. The single track winding gravel road was full of mud and slush and we had to get down and give our jeep a push on 4 occasions as it got stuck badly.

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Men, Machine and Slush

Monsoon was yet to set in but the pre-monsoon showers have already done enough damage. Later, we were informed that we were the last to make it to Kurkia. After that day jeeps stopped plying on this route as the weather turned worse.

We passed by the hamlets of Loherkhet, Chaurasta, Rethi, Karmi and Dhur. Finally, by 5.20 pm we reached Kurkia.

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The 1st Snow View
The 1st snow-clad mountains appears ahead of us neutralizing all pains of the long journey till then

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Nature Nurtures
A lone innocent child in the back drop of mesmerizing views

At Kurkia, we were warmly greeted by Khilaf, Debu's 21-years-old son and out trek soon started after a hot cup of tea. Our destination was Khati village - a trek of 4 kms. But Debu suggested that instead of staying the night at Khati, we stay at Dau village, 1 km before Khati, from where we would get an amazing view of the Maiktoli peak.

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The Trek Commences...
From Kurkia our trek to Pindari & Kafni commenced, seen in the picture is Khilaf guiding me through

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Walking Along
Mitali trekking along Khilaf as we made our way to Dau Village

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Looking Back, Going Forward

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Smoke in the Mountains
Smoke seen rising through the layers upon layers of terraced fields

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Stone Path, Lone path
In the fading light of dusk we walked through the lone stone path with mesmerizing views in the horizon

We followed a narrow trail and trekked for 3 kms through lush vegetation to reach the sleepy village of Dau. We were thrilled to see clear views of the Maiktoli along with the other snow-clad Himalayas. We checked ourselves in the lone village guest house dead tired. A hot bath soothed us both.

Thereafter, we chatted with Lakshman Singh, the owner-cum-cook of the guest house as he prepared a delicious dinner of chhapati, vegetable curry and scrambled eggs over his open fire-place kitchen. Stomach satisfied we called it a night.

Day 4

Distance Trekked : 12 kms
Trek Route: Dau Village-Khati Village- Malla Dhaur-Dwali

At 5 am Lakshman knocked at our door greeting us with some hot tea. He informed that the view of Maiktoli peak would be a treat to watch at sunrise. Indeed it was sight to behold. Sipping the cup of tea I walked down the open staircase as the first rays of the sun was hitting the snow-clad peak of Maiktoli. It was creating a dazzling effect. I just stood there amazed.

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Maiktoli Peak dazzles as the 1st sun-rays strike

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Khati Village gets lighted up

On the right was the cute Khati village, at a height of 7250 feet, as if hanging delicately above terraced fields of potato and wheat plantations. By 7.30 am Debu arrived and invited us to his home for breakfast. It was a gesture quite unseen and unheard of in our parts of the "busy city life".

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Khati - the last Village enroute

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Civilization amidst Cultivation

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Walking through the last Village

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With Debu's happy family

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Beauty by the Window

How generous and big-hearty these mountain people are, was all we could ponder and trekked a little over 1 kms to his home at Khati village. We were greeted by his wife, his 2 daughter-in-laws and son Khilaf. In fact, Khilaf helped his mom cook us a nice breakfast of puri, scrambled eggs fried with onion accompanied by home-made ghee, pickles along with some ‘not so palatable’ butter milk.

After that sumptuous homely breakfast, we thanked Debu's wife and started our trek at 9 am. Khilaf accompanied us carrying our rucksack and informed us that Debu would join us later ahead. Our target for the day was to reach Dwali - 11 kms away. Khilaf guided us through their village short-cut and initially we followed a very narrow half-a-feet cemented path winding through potato cultivation. The misty cloud cover made our trek comfortable.

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Leaving Khati our Trek Started

Initially, we trekked downhill till we reached the Pindari river roaring aside. Khilaf informed that we would follow the river all the way through the trek till the Pindari Glacier. The route laid with loads of rocks, was slippery and we had to be carefully at each step.

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1st view of the majestic Pindari River

Thereon, it was a steep uphill climb as we slowly made our way ahead. We walked past the lush forest path mostly uphill, sometime downhill and occasionally even. To our left was the Pindari river gushing downstream with its bluish waters. All around us was a thick wooded forest of pine, oak and maple trees. The steep climb uphill at times was taxing and we had to wait countless times to catch our breath.

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Steep Climb Uphill

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Lush Ferns

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Abandoned Tea house

Slowly and gradually we moved ahead soaking in the varied sights unfolding, both in our minds as well in the camera. Meanwhile, Debu overtook us and kept pushing ahead with our fully loaded ration rucksack pretty comfortably. After about an hour into the trek we reached a clearing and could see Debu resting outside a cute shepherd hut. We too rested there for some time. A slight drizzle started but thankfully it did not turn into a downpour.

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Resting A While

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Aqua Pure
Countless streams of spring water gushes by

The silence of the forest was occasionally broken by some bird calls. The only constant sound accompanying us was the raging waters of the Pindari river.

We continued to trot ahead and were surprised not to see any other fellow trekkers. Suddenly, we heard some voices coming down. It was of an Australian couple who was coming back from Dwali. We greeted and spoke a couple of minutes. They informed us that they could not make it to Kafni Glacier despite trying 2 days, as it was raining - "cloudy, no views buddy" was all they said. This made us apprehensive whether we would be able to view both the glaciers.

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Wooden Bridge at Malla Dhaur

By 11.30 am, we approached another clearing ahead, it was Malla Dhaur. We have trekked 6 kms uphill till now. Malla Dhaur, situated at a scenic setting besides the Pindari river had a few shepherd huts and a lone tea house. We rested for half-an-hour in the tea house and had some tea and hot maggie noodles.

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A Load of Bamboo
At Malla Dhaur a lady carries a load of thin wild bamboos, which is stocked and dried to be weaved into fine bamboo sheets

We also met two other trekker at the tea house. Both were doctors from Delhi and were on their way back. They informed that though it was cloudy the last couple of day, and the climb to Pindari quite tough, but it was a well-deserved effort. They were lucky to get clear views at Pindari Zero Point. It was in their words, "out of the world".

After some amusing chit-chat with them both they bid us adieu. We too, after resting our heels started off our next leg. Mitali was experiencing a slight pain in her right knee but was otherwise fine. We crossed a wooden bridge at Malla Dhaur and thereon the Pindari river that was to our left, moved to our right side.

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Lofty Waterfall

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Water of Life
Just could not resist to drink pure mineral water straight form the source

The whitish-bluish water of the fast flowing Pindari was a treat to our eyes. We continued the steep climb through the forest path frequently resting, chatting or simply soaking in the views silently. After another hour-an-half or so we were out of the forest and could see huge barren mountains to our left side.

We followed the narrow trail through a ridge and soon we could see some habitation ahead of us. Khilaf informed that it was Dwali – the confluence the Pindari and Kafni river, situated at a height of 8650 feet.

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Habitation Ahead
We could see the PWD & KMVN Trekkers huts of Dwali up ahead

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Thats Dwali

We were getting a bit exhausted but seeing the PWD Guest House and the KMVN Trekker Hut ahead gave us renewed energy to surge the final half-a-kilometer. We crossed a wooden bridge and below we could see the holy confluence of of the bluish Pindari and the turquoise Kafni waters coming in from two different directions.

A few meters ahead we crossed another bridge over the Pindari river and took the steep short-cut uphill to the KMVN Trekkers hut. It was 3.30 pm. Our legs were tired. It was cold at Dwali and the weather soon turned gloomy and started pouring heavily. We rested till late afternoon and chatted with Debu in the evening over some rum. Dinner consisted of some rice, dal and vegetable curry. Alongside, I stir-fried some tuna flakes with chopped onion, tomatoes and chilies making the dinner delicious.

Day 5

Distance Trekked : 5 kms
Trek Route: Dwali-Phurkiya

We took it little easy today. Khilaf woke us up at 6.30 am with some hot tea. It was cold yet sunny. Freshening up we sat outside in the warm sun and had our breakfast of tasty stuffed potatoes' parathas and pickles. The landscape around Dwali was utterly scenic as we gazed at Pindari and Kafni river meandering through.

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Out in the Sun

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Warming up

Our destination for the day was Phurkiya - 5 kms ahead. Assuming the short distance we were under the impression that we would be able to wrap this distance on the fly. How wrong we were. We started off at 9 am dumping a few more attire at the store room of the Dwali Trekkers Hut.

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The Walk Begins

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Massive Trunk on the Trail Path

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Rest a while

We trekked through the steep forest trail and it was very tiring. Our legs pained and Mitali was having problems. Slowly and gradually we moved ahead resting awhile every few meters. Each step we were gaining height as the thin air was gradually making breathing difficult. Debu as usual started late but soon overtook us and kept moving at ease. I continued encouraging Mitali to keep it going.

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Cascading Down

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1 down 4 to go

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Serene Waterfalls

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Marching Ahead

Soon we were out of the forest and were above the tree-line. Patches of snow lay scattered in all directions. Thereafter, we crossed a frozen stream. Strange as it seemed, water was flowing underneath the thick snow layer as we crossed it carefully. All around us were majestic nameless snow-clad mountains.

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Frozen Stream

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Watch Your Step

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Waterfalls over Waterfalls

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Pindari Flows Majestically

The Pindari river flowed below us and at one point Khilaf pointed us towards the river and we saw a big heard of Himalayan Tahr. They were moving through the rocks by the bank of the Pindari river. I was delighted to capture a few shots of these rare majestic animals in the camera. The last point before reaching Phurkiya was a green open meadow. Slowly, we had to climb through the steep zig-zag trail through the meadows.

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Rare Sighting - a herd of Himalayan Tahr

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Open Meadows

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Utterly Scenic

Countless streams of melting ice-water crossed our paths as we made our way ahead. We were by now far above the tree line. The only trees that grew here were dwarfed rhododendron and few other shrubs. Pink and white rhododendron flowers blooming in all directions were a treat to our eyes. Unlike our last year's trek to Khalia Top near Munsiyari, there were no red variety of rhododendron flowers to be seen here.

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Rhododendron Blooms

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Phurkiya up Ahead

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Finally, Phurkiya...

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Distances in Kilometers

Finally, after an arduous climb of over four-and-a-half hours we saw ahead to our relief the PWD guest house and KMVN Trekkers Hut of Phurkiya, at a height of 10,600 feet. It was 1.30 pm. It was cold in Phurkiya. Icy winds were blowing across our faces. Debu had already arrived and by the time we reached Phurkiya hot lunch was served to warm us up. The weather was turning gloomy. Clouds were moving in from all directions and soon it was a total whiteout.

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Shepherd Hut in Awesome Setting

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Serenity & Solitude

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PWD Guest House Phurkiya

Visibility fell low and we were as if in the midst of clouds. We rested our heels till late afternoon. Before dusk set in I moved out alone and explored the misty surroundings. Suddenly, out in the horizon, the cloud cover gave way and in front of me was the mesmerizing view the Nanda Khat peak. However, it stayed clear only for a few minutes.

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Total White-out

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Warm by the Fire

As evening set in I had a hot bath and along with Debu, we carried out a small puja for a successful trek to Pindari Glacier the next day. We had an early dinner and called it a night since tomorrow we plan to start as early as 4.30 am.

Day 6

Distance Trekked : 14 kms
Trek Route: Phurkiya-Pindari Glacier Zero Point-Phurkiya

After a toss and turn night, excited as I was, contemplating whether we would be lucky to view the Pindari Glacier, the caretaker of the KMVN Trekkers' Hut woke us up with some tea at 4 am. Freshening up quickly in the darkness, we set out on our final leg to the Pindari Glacier at 4.30 am. Mind it there is no electricity after Khati village in the entire route. Even in Khati, limited electricity runs through solar power.

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Started off to Pindari in the darkness

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Trekking Along a Frozen Pathway

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Dawn Slowly Breaking Through

Slowly, we could see the first light of the dawn breaking through. The steep initial climb made us exhausted quickly as the oxygen level was getting low as we were gaining height at every step. By 5 am it started getting brighter but some hovering clouds kept us apprehensive but we kept pushing ahead.

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Majestic Pindari - Following her to its Origin

Soon, one by one the majestic peaks became visible, Baljouri, Panjoli, Changuch and Nanda Kot - all as if within hand-reach distance. We walked past many a green meadows and ice-melt streams.

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Snow-Clad Peaks - amidst the Clouds

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Waterfalls atop a Frozen Stream

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Asolutely Serene

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Grassland so Alien

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Misty Mountains

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Simply Amazing

After covering about 2 kms I realized Mitali was lagging behind. Returning back some distance, I saw her sitting in a rock and was in tears. Her right knee again was hurting badly and I applied some relieving ointment and messaged her knee. Thankfully her pain subsided and we slowly continued ahead.

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Sheeps Grazing Along the open Meadows

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Pinkish rhododendron - a treat to our eyes

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3 kms More

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Pindari Glacier - the 1st view
At a distance of 3 kms from the Pindari Glacier, we saw her at her majestic best. Felt goose-bumps all over.

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A Wild Horse grazing Along

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Standing Tall

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Panjouli Group of Peaks

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Amidst mighty Peaks All Around

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Misty

Exhaustion was setting in but I kept encouraging her. The thin air was making breathing tough. Finally, by 7.30 am we were at the door steps of Dharmanda Giri Baba's Nanda Shiv Shaktipith Ashram. Babaji greeted us and we moved inside his wood and stone abode and bowed our heads at his temple of Nanda Devi Mata.

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Dharmananda Giri Baba's Ashram comes into view

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View from Baba's Ashram

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Alongside Baba

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Pindari Glacier - as seen from Baba's Ashram

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Majestic Changuch - Standing So Near

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Speechless we gazed at the Pindari Glacier

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Pindari Glacier smoothly sliding down

Babaji prepared some tea which warmed us up as it was getting very cold. We were amazed to see Babaji moving around barefoot carrying out his daily chores. The views from the ashram were awesome. It was like an amphitheater in front of which lies the panoramic views of the Himalayan range.

Clouds continued moving in from the south and the snow-clad peaks were getting partially covered. At about 9 am, after our exhaustion subsided, we decided to make the final walk to the Pindari Zero Point. From this point the Pindari Glacier could be viewed in its totality.

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The Final Leg

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Estatic, scared, fulfilled, happy - mixed feelings to see Pindari Glacier up so close

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Sweet Success - with Debu in Zero Point, Pindari Glacier

It was again another steep climb of about 2 kms. Debu with his Ice Axe lead the way and we slowly followed being totally bowled out at the views. The majestic Changuch stood out tall in front of us totally covered in white snow. Besides it on the right side the peak of Nanda Kot was also visible. As we trotted ahead, Mitali's pain was getting worse and I literally had to cajole her to complete the last half kms till Zero Point. I encouraged her to take her own time and keep coming as I moved forward.

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Mixed Emotions Engulfs Me - oh what a sight

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Changuch at touching distance

As I moved through the last steep climb, over ridge I could see the mouth of the Pindari Glacier. Tears just came to my eyes. I just shut off and kept gazing at its sheer 'out of the world' beauty. To me it resembled a living organism, a living force that lived through time immemorial. Huge crevasses were visible with the ice color ranging from blue to sapphire.

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Out of the World

Down below the white glacier, I could see the humble origin of the Pindari river trickling out of the snow-melt as a very small stream, in contrast to the raging Pindari that we followed all the way from Khati village. It surely was a humbling experience.

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Origin of the Pindari Ganga

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A Picture to Treasure

Mitali meanwhile reached the Zero Point and we captured as many photographs possible. We thanked Debu and prayed from the depth of our hearts, thanking Pindari for the holy darshan and sought her blessings as well. The height of Pindari Glacier Zero Point stood approximately at 3280 meters.

After spending about half an hour in celestial bliss we made our way back to Babaji's ashram. It started pouring after we entered Babaji's ashram. We thought how lucky we were to be able to get a darshan before the landscape got all covered with clouds.

Babaji was supervising some renovation work of his abode but in a whiff he cooked a hearty meal of rice, dal, fried potato balls, which he treated us inside his low roofed kitchen. Babaji has been residing in this paradise since the last 22 years, going down only for 2 months in winters when his ashram gets buried in 5-6 feet of snow.

Saw his compassion as we noticed that anyone who came to his ashram was offered free food and tea. As a gratitude for his hospitality, we inserted some money into his donation box after our prayers in his shrine. He does not ask for anything and it is up to you whether or not you donate anything. I had carried a copy of Yogananda's Autobiography of a Yogi, which he gracefully accepted.

The drizzle outside continued as we bid a gracious adieu to Babaji and made our way back to Phurkiya at 1 pm.

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Back towards Phurkia

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Walking back in a total white-out

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Misty All the Way

We slowly trotted back in a total misty white-out state contemplating whether or not the Kafni trek would also be a success. We reached back Phurkiya at 3.30 totally chilled yet thrilled. Debu as an effective organizer moved us to the adjourning PWD guest house from the damp KMVN Trekers hut.

The PWD guest house had a cozy fire place in our allotted room. By the time we reached Phurkiya, the fireplace was already lighted and our room was warm. Changing our wet cloths we just sat by the fireplace satisfied.

As dusk set in chatted with Debu and heard his various memorable treks over the past 26 years and how he is worried for employment of his 4 sons. His elder son Khilaf and Anand is already following his father's footsteps guiding people to various treks. His younger two sons are studying, one in school and the other in Inter-mediate. He wants them to continue education and seek jobs outside. In his words, he enjoys each day of his job but he adds "it's taxing at times".

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By the Warm Fire Place

Late evening we had a light dinner. We realized that we were losing appetite perhaps due to altitude. Continued sitting near the fireplace till I ran out of firewood. I did not have the energy to go out in the cold seeking more firewood.

Next - A Trek to Pindari Glacier & Kafni Glacier - Part II

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Posted by sabyasachi 09:42 Archived in India Tagged trek_to_pindari_and kafni_glacier trekking_in_himalaya pindari_trek kafni_trek pindari_glacier_trek pindari_glacier_trekking kafni_glacier_trek kafni_glacier_trekking bageshwar barari khati_village dhakuri dwali purkhia khatia pindari_zero_point swamy_dharmananda_giri_ashram nanda_shiv_shaktipith confluence_of_pindari_and_kafni walliagar mouth_of_kafni_glacier uttaranchal_treks uttaranchal_trekking maiktoli_peak biljouri_peak nanda_khat nanda_kot changuch open_green_ meadows_of_kafni_trek trek_to_pindari trek_to_pindari_glacier trek_to_kafni trek_ to_kafni_glacier _to_pindari_glacier pindari_kafni_trek Comments (33)

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