Sunday, July 5, 2009
TREK TO PINDARI GLACIER
I had been thinking of trekking to Pindari for a long time. It had been a long cherished desire. I heard of Pindari glacier from Motor Mama who had done this trek in 1946 at a young age of 16-17. Motor Mama is my uncle, my mother’s brother (mamaji), from Indore and we have always addressed him like this since our childhood when we must have seen only him driving the family car. Motor Mama has never looked back since then, and must have measured the length and breadth of Uttarakhand many times over. Though I have trekked to some other glaciers, the Pindari eluded me even when that was the first glacier I had known, and is supposed to be one of the most accessible glaciers. But this year opportunity came almost knocking at the door. Vasu’s plans to trek to Sunder Dhunga glacier with a group had fallen through. I suggested to him Pindari for both of us, and planned an eco-trek, that is, we would travel by public transport, and stay and eat in road-side huts; the only luxury we would allow ourselves would be the services of a porter cum guide. However, Leena, Rajesh and Vinayak from Vasu’s original group joined us, and from an eco-trek it turned into a premier packaged tour of KMVN. Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam (www.kmvn.org) organizes packaged tours to many of its popular treks and glaciers for all kinds of trekkers. Though it does take away some of the charm and thrill of adventure, yet, it provides a convenient way to explore the unexplored Himalayas, especially if time is short and one wishes to avoid all the hassles of bookings or uncertainty of adventure. Though originally we had planned a trip of 10-12 days, but in deference to wishes of the group, had cut it short to 8 days, from Sunday to Sunday. Vinayak at 12 was the youngest member of the group, while yours truly was the eldest; age proof not required.
1st Day: From Delhi to Bageshwar: 450 km
We left Delhi early morning to avoid the rush on NH 24 later in the day. NH 24 goes to Haldwani and Kathgodam via Garh Ganga, Gajraula, Moradabad, Rampur, and Bilas Pur and Pantnagar. NH 24 can be very trying due to its unpredictable (or predictably predictable) and long traffic jams. I had traveled or driven on this road a few times in last few years, and I was so frustrated in 2007 driving there that I had vowed to myself never to return to this highway until and unless I got confirmed news that it had become worthy of being called a road. One wondered how India could boast to fast-track its economy and development with such infrastructure. However, road had appeared much better in April this year when we had traveled to Bareilly. As on earlier occasions, this time too, we stopped at Gajraula for our breakfast of dry paratha (sans ghee or butter that you get separately) and lassi. After Ram Pur (town famous for its knives, and lately put on national map by Jaya Prada), the drive had become comfortable and pleasurable. But we got stuck at Bilas Pur to cross a small bride over a small river. The bridge was too narrow to handle two-lane traffic, and Vasu reminded us that the adjoining unfinished wider bridge was at the same stage of construction as we had seen in 2007. After passing Haldwani and Kathgodam, we stopped at Bhowali for lunch. Bhowali was known in earlier days for its sanatorium. The drive was becoming more and more scenic with mountains and tall coniferous trees in view all along. We crossed Almorah well in time and headed for Bageshwar. We chose to take shorter route via Binsar; however, it proved to be wrong choice as the road was under major repair all along and we reached Bageshwar only by 7:30 pm in the evening. In last few years, it was my third visit to Bageshwar.
2nd Day: Bageshwar to Lohar Khet
Bageshwar is a small sleepy town at 975 m (3217 ft) on the bank of confluence of Gomati and Saryu rivers, and hence is considered an important pilgrimage town. Though there are two rivers, but it was sad to see just a trickle of water, it looked more like a nallah. It has a 7th century Bagh Nath temple devoted to Lord Shiv, and has as its exhibits nearly thousand years old statues. Around temple, there are shops and eating places. During our last visit in June, 2007, we had settled down at an eating place, when Chitra asked for the fans to be switched on. To her amazement, the shopkeeper politely declined to switch on the fan. And the reason he gave us impressed us tremendously. The tiny migratory swallows had built their nests in his shop, and a revolving ceiling fan would have been a sure killer. He informed us that these birds come here every summer, and stay for 2-3 months till their young chicks grow enough to fly to reach their next destination. We were only a transient visitor, but the shopkeeper (and many others in this town), a true environmentalist, had been sweltering every year in the oppressive summer months for the sake of these birds. Swallows build their nests with mud etc which appears hard as concrete. This time too we witnessed these restless birds and their nests and young ones. From Bageshwar, we traveled 45 km by a jeep to reach Saung. The motorable road ends here. Here we met our guide and porter who would accompany us for next 6 days. We trekked uphill for 5 km to reach Lohar Khet at 1760 m (5800 ft). We had wonderful lunch at the kmvn rest house of ‘kadhi’ and ‘marhua ki roti’. The rest house was a hub of activity with a group of trekkers from Kolkata and another group from Michigan arriving there after completing their treks. There were a few brightly coloured scarlet minivets noisily chasing each other on tree tops. I rued my decision not to bring my zoom lens. A little rain had made the evening quite chilly. Our mobiles had stopped receiving signals here; and there was of course no radio or TV or newspaper. Within a day we were so far away from the civilization, and yet strangely, we did not miss any of those things.
3rd Day: Lohar Khet to Khati: 17 km
We were to trek 17 km on our 3rd day, so we left early soon after having our tea at 5 am. It was all the way uphill, and after 3 hours of walking we had our breakfast of, what else, aloo paratha, and resumed walking once again. The trek so far was not too spectacular, though all around it was green. One could see huge patches on the hills where soil erosion had taken its toll. We met a group of young boys coming down after completing trek to Sundar Dhunga. They were excited, yet disappointed in not having seen much of snow at the zero point. Global warming or whatever had taken its toll. We had trekked for 8 km to reach the pass, Dhakuri Khal, at 2940 m (9700 ft). From here, we descended 1 km to reach Dhakuri which has a KMVN tourist rest house. The place was so scenic that one could spend a few days here without going further. However, this was not our destination for the day; we were to trek downhill for another 8 km to reach Khati (2210m; 7300 ft). After lunch, we again pushed ourselves through a beautiful forest full of rhododendron trees. Though October is the usual month of bloom, yet a few flowers had bloomed over some trees. As we reached near the village of Khati, the fields had plants of cannabis scattered here and there. Khati village had about 300 houses, and had a post office with PCO and STD facility. There were some private guest houses as well where one could get a room for as much as 100-200 rupees. Many houses had solar panels and satellite dish over their roofs. At Khati, the trek bifurcates with one trek heading towards Sundar Dhunga. From village the kmvn rest house was at a steep climb of less than 1 km, but that seemed to be the most difficult part of the trek. It was after 4 pm when we reached the rest house, and were dead tired.
4th Day: Khati to Phurkiya: 18 km
Our destination was Phurkiya today at an altitude of 3250 m (10725 ft), which meant we were to climb uphill all the way. The trek passed through a dense forest where we could listen to chirping of birds continuously. I am not good in recognizing uncommon birds through their calls, but could not miss the piu-piu of handsome pied crested cuckoo. We also saw groups of monkeys and langurs too, but they kept their distance from us, unlike their urban brethren. Now Pindari River was giving us company. Across, there were frequent sighting of water falls. Drinking water from these falls was very refreshing and rejuvenating; no doubt we were able to go up and down long distances. We reached Dwali midway which too has a KMVN rest house, and had our lunch there, and resumed our walk soon after. From Dwali, one trek cuts off to Kafni glacier also. At a distant mountain, guide of another group pointed out to a pair of mountain goats (bharel). We were constantly gaining height with wind becoming chillier, and tree line gradually thinning away. From dense forest, we were entering dense mountains covered only with shrubs and small vegetation. We managed to reached Phurkiya quite on time and were in good shape, and comfortable mentally too having come so far. We were at 3250m (11,000ft)and ready to celebrate Vasu's birthday; Leena had brought a cake all the way from Delhi for the evening. Amazingly, Vasu has celebrated his birthday on quite a few such places. Now the zero point was only 5 km of comfortable walk. The sky was clear, and even with chill outside, we felt great sitting outside and looking at moon and snow covered peaks appearing so near. They were changing colour with each passing hour. After dinner we slept early, since we were supposed to start our onward march next morning at 5 am.
5th Day: Phurkiya to Zero Point, and back to Dwali: 21 km
Though zero point was only 5 km away, but it would certainly test us with thinning air and very bright sun on a clear sky. As we advanced, we began to see many peaks which surround Nanda Devi; though, you do not get to see Nanda Devi herself. I had seen Nanda Devi in her full glory a few years ago at Auli. The peaks visible were Baljuri, Pawali dwar, Nanda Khat, Chhangoj, and Nanda Kot. About 2 km before the zero point, the trek culminated into a huge meadow. It was covered with flowers of many colours, almost looking like valley of flowers. There was a hut of a Babaji who has been living there for last 15 years. He looks after the tired trekkers with tea and food, and tells them some interesting stories. It was a magnificent experience being surrounded by snow covered peaks all around. What would I not sacrifice to be able to spend a few days in this bliss! Zero point was still a kilometer away. Normally at zero point the usual trek ends at the glacier. However, here it is just a convenient point, though the glacier is still quite far, having receded by a few kilometers. We were now at nearly 12,500 ft. I reached zero point only to feel sad, the magnificent Pindari glacier about which I had heard and read so much, was now only a rudimentary thing. Instead of a frozen river, it appeared to be a frozen water fall hanging in air as if it had been amputated in between. I did not know whom to blame; global warming, but what is causing this global warming?
Return journey: on our way back we stayed overnight at Dwali and then Dhakuri. On reaching Bageshwar, we immediately left for Kausani to stay there overnight. We returned via Almorah where we stopped for ‘samosa’ and ‘jalebi’. Before we reached Delhi, we got stuck in massive traffic jams at two places delaying our return by at least 4 hours. But no complaints; we all were jubilant having done the trek successfully and as per our itinerary. Will I repeat the trek: perhaps, yes, for Kafni and Sunder Dhunga!