Sacred Rivers, Serene Mountains & Sheer Bliss - Trekking in Absolute Solitude through Mountain Forests & Snow-clad Himalayas
03.06.2011 - 13.06.2011 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The 1st Snow View
The 1st snow-clad mountains appears ahead of us neutralizing all pains of the long journey till then
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.
The Trek Commences...
From Kurkia our trek to Pindari & Kafni commenced, seen in the picture is Khilaf guiding me through
Mitali trekking along Khilaf as we made our way to Dau Village
Looking Back, Going Forward
Smoke in the Mountains
Smoke seen rising through the layers upon layers of terraced fields
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.
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.
Maiktoli Peak dazzles as the 1st sun-rays strike
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".
Khati - the last Village enroute
Civilization amidst Cultivation
Walking through the last Village
With Debu's happy family
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.
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.
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.
Steep Climb Uphill
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.
Resting A While
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.
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.
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.
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.
We could see the PWD & KMVN Trekkers huts of Dwali up ahead
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.
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.
Out in the Sun
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.
The Walk Begins
Massive Trunk on the Trail Path
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.
1 down 4 to go
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.
Watch Your Step
Waterfalls over Waterfalls
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.
Rare Sighting - a herd of Himalayan Tahr
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.
Phurkiya up Ahead
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.
Shepherd Hut in Awesome Setting
Serenity & Solitude
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.
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.
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.
Started off to Pindari in the darkness
Trekking Along a Frozen Pathway
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.
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.
Snow-Clad Peaks - amidst the Clouds
Waterfalls atop a Frozen Stream
Grassland so Alien
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.
Sheeps Grazing Along the open Meadows
Pinkish rhododendron - a treat to our eyes
3 kms More
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.
A Wild Horse grazing Along
Panjouli Group of Peaks
Amidst mighty Peaks All Around
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.
Dharmananda Giri Baba's Ashram comes into view
View from Baba's Ashram
Pindari Glacier - as seen from Baba's Ashram
Majestic Changuch - Standing So Near
Speechless we gazed at the Pindari Glacier
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.
The Final Leg
Estatic, scared, fulfilled, happy - mixed feelings to see Pindari Glacier up so close
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.
Mixed Emotions Engulfs Me - oh what a sight
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.
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.
Origin of the Pindari Ganga
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.
Back towards Phurkia
Walking back in a total white-out
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".
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.
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