In which we hike to a very soggy campsite at Maggu and then descend to Gauri Kund to re-unite with Jan who has waited here a couple of days to rest his ankle. We now join the pilgrim trail. It’s a very busy hike with the pilgrims up to Kedarnath, a holy shrine and village. We take a rest-day here to recover. Keith has a rough night and our guide has to release the muleteers and hire more porters as we will be going over a high pass unsuitable for mules on our next leg.
India; October 3rd; Day 12; Maddu; 2941m
Trek: 5hrs 30mins starting at 8.29
Low: 2941m at 14.39
High: 3682m at 11.48
Woke up early and walked up to the ridge and the Temples to photograph the sunrise. It was good, but not as good as yesterday.
Came down in time for breakfast and let the sun dry the tent before setting off. We walked down through the village first and then ascended through some woods. It was a beautiful morning and the trail for most of the day was along a gently rising ridge before a descent to the campsite. The views from the ridge were superb and we could see in all directions.
After a few hours we all collected together at a high point for a short break. The ridge continued but by this time the clouds were rolling in to obscure the views. Eventually the rain came and I was forced to put on my camera away and don my rain gear for the first time whilst walking.
The trail continued to fall and rise until eventually I came to the pass. I could see Keith far below on the steep zigzagging path. The descent was difficult at it was wet and some sections were through patches of loose stones. It went down and down to cross a small stream before climbing steeply again, in short spurts, to reach another pass.
I stopped to put my rain gear away and get my camera out again before starting another difficult descent. It was muddy and slippery. The trail re-entered the forest now – mostly rhododendrons and birches – and continued to descend around the mountain. Eventually the trail burst out of the trees to reveal a campsite. Keith and James were waiting here.
A group of orange tents were already pitched here and after we’d had some of our packed lunch some hikers arrived from the opposite direction down the hill. It looks like there wont be enough room for both parties to camp.
We walk down to chat to them. They are French and doing a hike to the religious sites of Kedernath and Gangotri in 7 days. After a glass of hot lemon which they give us we leave having been told that there is another campsite only 2km further down the hill. As we leave it starts to rain. We can’t argue the case for sharing the camp as our porters have already gone. I suspect that the guides from the French group have pulled rank (caste) on our porters and told them to move on. Our guide is still behind us somewhere. As we leave it begins to rain.
The descent from here continues through the forest on a track which is stony and slippery. You have to watch every step.
After more than an hour, and probably more than 2km, we find the porters waiting beside a shit strewn cowshed next to a shit strewn bog. It doesn’t look promising as a campsite! They are convinced that this is where we should stay though no-one really knows. Our guide, Ajay, is not here and we find out later that they had difficulty finding all the mules this morning and spent a lot of time looking for them!
When Jim and Adriana arrive we discuss whether or not to continue. Of course we don’t know if anything better is nearby. It seems no-one can make a decision. Then the skies open and a downpour begins. We are forced into the stinking cowshed to shelter. Keith remains outside for a while trapped sheltering under a tree. We attempt to get comfortable in the cowshed as it continues to rain. Inside the roof leaks in many places. The smell is rich with sweaty wet bodies and cow shit.
Eventually Ajay arrives and considering the lateness of the hour – we’ve been waiting a couple of hours – and the weather decides that this is where we will stay. We will have to pitch our tents on a very soggy bog and make do as best we can.
In a lull in the rain the porters go out and pitch their tents in the quagmire. We follow and put our tents up on the sodden hill-tops between the cow pats.
Everything is damp including my sleeping bag. I lay in my tent as thunder rumbles around. It’s a picture of cold, dark, damp misery! Eventually dinner was ready and this simple fact raised our mood. The red Mess tent was awash underfoot. After dinner the rain was still falling and we had to make a dash across the bog to our own tents.
I found rain in my tent and a sleeping bag that was getting more sodden by the minute. It wasn’t a very comfortable night as the rain pelted down for hours and hours. I did manage to get some sleep though in between cursing the French!
India; October 4th; Day 13; Gauri Kund; 2138m
Trek: 4hrs 41mins starting at 9.09
Low: 1862m at 12.40
High: 2934m at 9.09
Amazingly I wake up to a sunny morning. Incredibly we are surrounded by a ring of snow clad mountains. This wasn’t visible yesterday. I dress quickly and stagger through the swamp to take photographs before the tea arrives.
We have a breakfast of porridge and pancakes and wait for the sun to dry the tents and as much of our other stuff as possible. I lay mine out on some rocks. After an hour of so we pack up and stumble across the quagmire to find our trail.
Today is mostly a descent. At first it’s down through a forest on a wet and slippery rocky trail. Again you have to watch every step. At least the sun is shining today. After about an hour we come to a meadow where we thought we could come to last night. It;s not as boggy or as covered in cow pats as the place we did stay but their are a few water-buffaloes about and they start to puff and stomp so we move off. The view of the mountains is also good here but some clouds are now rolling in to obscure them.
We wait awhile as we think the trail may fork here and we might have a shortcut but when Ajay arrives we just continue down the trail to Trijuginrayan. We were going to stay here for the night but we decide to press on to Gauri Kund where we hope to meet Jan. As we descend through the village we are beholden by the locals to visit the Temple. Jim and James do. After this we continue down to a char shop on the edge of the village at the road head. Everyone has a cup of tea here and sits in the sun for a while.
The trail then continues down through Azalea and Chestnut woods. One of the porters decides that he knows a shortcut but it merely diverts us through some smallholdings before delivering us back to the main trail. Meanwhile the mules and muleteers have passed us!
Still we go down until we hit a road where we stop for a bite of lunch and wait for Adriana and Jim. We follow the road for a short distance before noticing a trail leading off. We ask a woman passing by if this is the way but then notice that our porters have scratched some arrows in the dirt. This is the way then!
The descent continues until we hit another road at a fierce river where there is a bridge, a waterfall and a Temple. From here it’s a 5km walk up the steep road to Gauri Kund. Jim and Adriana accept a lift that is offered and pick up James along the way, but when they pass me I decline the offer as I know Keith is still walking. I’d never hear the end of it! Keith meanwhile has paid a visit to a Hydro Station at the bottom of the hill. He soon catches me up though.
We enter town which is a scruffy ‘mecca’ for pilgrims on their way to Kedarnath. Ajay is waiting for us and he shows us the way to our Guest House. Keith and I crash out and then have a shower. We get get buckets of hot water from reception.
In the evening we wander through town and find a place to eat. It’s Thalli! Mostly lentils. Jan was here, and had been for 4 nights. This must have been terribly dull as I can’t imagine their is much to do or see. After dinner we picked up some samosas from a roadside stall and sat on our terrace. It’s a good job we still had a touch of cognac left!
India; October 5th; Day 14; Kedarnath; 3607m
Trek: 4hrs 19mins starting at 8.02
Low: 2118m at 9.02
High: 3586m at 12.19
Woke up at 5.30 by a knock on the door asking if we want tea. It arrives 10 minutes later. This tea is from the Guest House staff. We get up by and and are quickly packed. Maneesh arrives at 7 with more tea and later we have breakfast, prepared as usual by our Cook, on the terrace outside our rooms. Unfortunately the milk is burnt.
Down below us in the town all is chaos as everyone prepares to leave for the pilgrimage to Kedarnath. It’s chucking it down with rain but it eases off slightly just before we leave. On the way out of town we pass all the people providing transport up the mountain to the Holy Temple in Kedarnath. You can hire a mule, or a Palanquin (which is a sedan chair carried by four people – usually Nepalese) or if you are light enough (children and old ladies only) you can be carried on the back of a Nepalese in a wicker basket. We are going by shank’s Pony although of course we have our mules and porters to help carry our stuff too.
It’s pandemonium at the base of the hill and the paved round is running with mule shit. In fact the whole route is paved in cobbles for the whole 14km to the top. The number of mules on the road means than it is slithery with yellow shit which is made more unpleasant by the continuous rain or drizzle. It’s going to be one long miserable tramp on the yellow shit road today.
The climb is long and steady and it’s important to keep you head down and dodge the excrement and to avoid being nudged off the road by mules as they pass. It’s also best to keep out of the way of the Palanquins as the Nepalese practically run all the way. After a couple of hours we shall have to also dodge the mules and carriers coming down the mountain too.
For the whole time the cloud and rain and drizzle rolls in. We have no views to speak of and it’s a dreary drudge of a tramp up the road. I put my rain gear on but then take off off again as I’m too hot. After a couple of hours I meet James and Keith and we take a break in one of the many road-side char stalls. These are just shacks really and often just cobbled together with wood and tarpaulin.
More rain and drizzle as we plod steadily up and up. after another couple of hours I again catch up with James and Keith who are waiting, again, in a char shop. We wait here an hour or so and have a spot of lunch – just a naan bread. We wait even longer for the first porters to arrive.
We follow them through the small town to our Rest House. We hang around, as usual, for a while whilst our accommodation is sorted out. I can’t imagine what the problem is but eventually we crash out in our cold bunk room waiting for our stuff to arrive. The place has no heating whatsoever. It has no electricity and no hot water either. Great! It’s really quite miserable but at least we are all in the same room and can share our misery.
Our own cook makes dinner for us which is served in the restaurant of the Rest House. A few other people are staying here. All of them are pilgrims. I do have a short walk around town and see all the market stalls selling holy trinkets. I go inside the Temple grounds, but not the Temple itself, and make a small contribution. I get an ash spot on my forehead for my pains!
We go to bed early and huddle under the heavy thick blankets which are provided.
India; October 6th; Day 15; Kedarnath; 3607m
Today we are to take a rest day as our Mules and Muleteers are returning home and we are hiring porters to replace them and help us over the next stage. We shall be going too high (5000m) and over terrain unsuitable for mules. In any case everything is still wet from two days ago. Their is no heating here so we are thankful, as are the porters, that today turns out to be warm and sunny.
Keith has been sick in the night and is feeling rough. I manage to scrounge a bucket of hot water from the kitchen so that he can clean up. We spend the morning sitting in the sun drying out all our stuff and watching over everyone else’s stuff as that dries too. It’s pleasant sitting with our feet up reading our books. Maneesh brings down the tea and we read some more. Keith goes for a wander around town. The others have gone off for a walk to a local lake but are back by early afternoon as the sun begins to go.
We had a bit of a palaver over our room this morning so now we swopped to two rooms in a separate bungalow. The rooms are still cold though. I do manage to get out and visit the Temple in town. The whole place is a bit scruffy and doesn’t feel particularly spiritual.
In the evening we follow the same procedure as last night and have dinner cooked by our crew in the Rest House restaurant. Remarkably the cook brings out a jelly for dessert! After dinner we retire to our rooms and read and laze. We are hoping that the recruitment has gone well and that we can leave tomorrow.