The Real Trek Begins
So we’d best start with a map to show you where we’re going:
If you’re looking at this directly on the web (as opposed to inside an email) then you can zoom in and out on the map to see where we are. Otherwise visit the map here.
As you know we came up the valley to Malla where we start (and end our trek – on the left side). So start from Malla and follow the red line to the south which takes 4 days to get to Ghuttu. Then follow the rightmost red line to Kedernath via Panwali Kantha which took us 5 days (as we had a rest day at Panwali). We had a rest day at Kedernath too and then continued on the red line to Chauki (where you can see a purple line too). Another 4 days. At Chauki we were supposed to follow the purple line up to the Khatling Glacier and then complete our loop back to Malla. It didn’t pan out that way, as will be explained in due course, but we followed the red line south back to Ghuttu (another 3 days: or 2 for Keith as you’ll find out!).
The lines on the map are straight: naturally our paths weren’t! Google Maps (and maps generally of India) are not detailed enough to show tracks and paths.
India; 26th September; Day 5; Nilara on the Dogadda River; 1711m
Trek; 1hr32min starting at 9.20
Low: 1354m, High: 1692m
Descent: 34m, Ascent 359m
I wake at 5.45am to a warm morning, though the sun has not yet reached into the valley. A drove of several hundred sheep and goats clatter across the footbridge and disappear up the trail. Keith gets up and we sit by the river bank watching the world go by. Two young lads come down and bathe in the river and then another host of goats and sheep come across the footbridge, followed by a small group of mules.
Maneesh, our young liaison guide, arrives with our morning tea shortly after 7am. This will become a daily ritual. We then pack down our tents and gear whilst breakfast is prepared. We have cornflakes with hot milk and boiled eggs with toast and tea.
We were ready to leave by 8.30 but it took a long while for the porters to sort themselves out and to get the mules loaded and we didn’t actually get away until 9.20. It didn’t really matter as we only had a short walk today – 1hr40mins – and therefore had plenty of time. I guess it took some time for the porters to agree on who was to carry what and to ensure that the loads were evenly distributed. The mules were carrying the bulky stuff like the food and the fuel as well as the big tents.
The trail climbed out of the valley and we went ahead of the porters until we reached a river crossing. The bridge was in two parts. First a huge tree trunk was slung across to a huge boulder in the middle of the river and then two logs, with stones balanced between, went from this rock to the far bank. It was a precarious balancing act to sidle along these to get to the other side particularly when wearing a pack.
We stopped here and waited for the guides to arrive as we were unsure if this was our stop for the night. It didn’t look like it as there was only a small patch of clear beach on the river bank and surely not enough space for us all to camp. However it turned out that this was indeed the spot and the porters claimed the sandy beach spot and we had to go back across the logs and clear a space on the other side.
Keith and I go for a stroll upstream to see what we can see; a few butterflies. When we get back we sit by the river and have some snap whilst watching the huge tadpoles and small fish.
When the main body of porters arrive an hour later we find a small clearing in amongst the undergrowth and set up our tents. The only difficulty being that we are on the opposite side of the river from the Mess tent and had to cross and re-cross the river many times!
Later in the afternoon we come down to the river to bathe. It’s icy cold, but we do get in and shower underneath the small waterfalls and swim in the tiny pools. We also washed out some clothes and lay them on the rocks to dry in the sun. Whilst lazing about Maneesh arrives with lemonade and biscuits for us and has managed to carry the tray whilst balancing over the log bridges!
In the afternoon Keith and I go for another walk upstream and this time go a bit further up the forest trail. We see some long-tailed magpies, a small yellow bird and a couple of partridge like things. We also see a large chicken sized bird with a crest. We have a small book about Indian birds with us but it’s not complete.
On our way back we hear some crashing noises in the tree above us and are amazed to see three very large monkeys. They are a silver grey colour with a very long and thick tail which is black at the end. They have very black faces with a fringe of white fur. They turn out to be Common (or Hanuman) Langurs. One of them broke a branch and fell to the floor of the forest before scampering away.
Back at the river bank we collected wood and prepared a fire. I had another wash in the river to freshen up! When I came back to the beach after going to my tent I found that James had lit the fire and had used kerosene! This was against the rules established on our first trip to the Himalayas but he claimed a porter had come over the bridge with a small cup-full when he’d been noticed him getting the fire going!
India; 27th September; Day 6; Belak Khal; 2808m
Trek: 4hrs 14mins starting at 8.52
Low: 1683m at 8.52
High: 2784 at 12.45
During the night Keith discovers that he picked up a leech on his back. Probably from swimming in the river. There is blood all over the place including on his sleeping bag and mat. He’s grossed out and the rest of us check ourselves for any signs. James reckoned he picked one off his foot! Keith remains paranoid about leeches for the rest of the trip but that doesn’t stop him from bathing in the rivers.
I lay in bed until Maneesh arrives with the tea at about 7am. From the river I hear a huge commotion going on and when I get down there I see hundreds and hundreds of sheep and goats being shepherded over the river. Most of them are going over the thin log pole bridge but a few try to jump and swim. Their is so much pushing and shoving on the bridge that many leap off into the river and the Shepherd has to wade in and manhandle them onto the bank. It’s pandemonium out there and it takes a good hour for the whole flock to get across and disappear up the trail.
We break camp and re-cross the bridge for breakfast. The bridge is now lethally slippery but we all manage to tiptoe our way across. Today it’s porridge and an eggs for breakfast. A pattern is emerging; cornflakes and porridge will alternate!
Today will be one long steady climb and we hit the trail shortly before 9am. After a short while we hit a fork and after waiting for a while I go back to camp where the porters are still packing and ask advice. It’s left. All day it’s up and up and up through the forest. There is not much wildlife about; no birds and few butterflies. Not much to photograph either!
After an hour I take a break and after that I dawdled and managed to find one butterfly to shoot. At one point the trail climbed steeply but generally the gradient was kind.
As the trail climbed the forest started to include bamboo. After a while we reached a clutch of Shepherds Huts and sat down to have some lunch. We are given a packed lunch everyday. This is usually a sandwich, an apple, a couple of energy bars, some fruits and nuts and a juice drink. Lying in the dappled shade around us was the sheep and goats that we’d seen earlier this morning at the bridge.
Pretty soon we were joined by the muleteers and the mules as they sat down and took a break too.
Our final climb took another hour and the forest thinned out and we were met by a cool breeze at the pass which had a small village. A local family gave us tea as the children looked on. After waiting here a while we walked over to the campsite close by. The mules had already arrived so we were able to retrieve our gear and put up our tents.
We rested and dozed in the afternoon but also took the time to gather some firewood and hang out some washing. Not much chance of it drying though as a mist rolled in.
After dinner we sat around the blazing fire and burnt everything we had. We also finished off the Jamesons.
India; September 28th; Day 7; Bhudar Kedar; 918m
Trek: 6hrs 53mins starting at 8.31
Low: 918m at 18.16
High: 2789m at 8.31
I’m up at 5.45 to walk up to the ridge behind the campsite to take early morning photographs of the mountains in the distance. I’m a bit too early though and I have time to go back and fetch another camera and to persuade Keith to come too. We hang around for an hour taking shots of the peaks as they are lit by the morning sun.
We pack and have breakfast but I leave half an hour after the others as I wait for the sun to dry my tent before packing it. I take some shots of the village before leaving.
The trail descends down through a forest – sometimes the trail is quite steep. After an hour it breaks out into a meadow with fine views into the valley below. We meet a group of Indian hikers who are carrying full packs and doing without porters. It transpires they are doing some kind of Outward Bound course and are all studying at the Civil Service academy in Messoli. We pass and re-pass them all day as we descend and rest in turn.
Eventually Keith and I catch up with the others and after crossing a stream on slippery stones we stop for lunch. Jim is unwell and not eating.
We continue the long descent down to a river and a small village. Some stop for char in a dark tea shop but I press on down the trail which is now a rocky road. It’s hot down at this level and the heat is bouncing off the white stone road and this continues for what seems many miles.
The heat bores down on me but we do eventually struggle and straggle into town and find a place to sit in the shade. A small shop sells us Pepsis and water as we wait for the porters to come down and show us where the campsite is.
The mules and muleteers arrive first and we follow them over the bridge and down to the river bank where we set up camp. Keith and I immediately go for a swim. Its cold; very cold, but at the same time refreshing. Keith is hoping the river is flowing too fast for leeches!
It’s a pity but it seems that we are camped on what smells like a toilet ghat. The evidence is all around. It’s tight for space in the campsite and we have to keep fighting off the mules that want to graze around the tents. We also have to fend off a ragbag assortment of small boys who are hanging around. It’s unlikely they will steal anything though.
I have another swim when Jim and James and Jan are ready and then sit on the bank having tea and biscuits which Maneesh has brought down.
Keith and I go for a wander around the small town before dinner and are surprised by the number of shops. We watch a wedding procession go through accompanied by a drummer. The bride is carried in a covered sedan whilst the bridegroom rides behind on a mule.
After dinner we go back into town and go to the barbers for a shave. Keith goes first and I watch the whole palaver. The boy appears to be only 14 years old or so. He spends a long time lathering before putting a new blade in the cut-throat. You actually get a double shave followed by a range of unguents rubbed into the face, then a massage and lastly a pungent aftershave. Keith looks shiny and new. A small crowd of young boys turn up to watch and chatter. After I’ve taken my turn we cough up the 20 rupees each. In the afternoon the young lad had quoted us 5 rupees!
We finished off the evening with a 7Up in the last shop that remained open.