In which we climb up from the village of Boodha Keta to camp beside the temple at Bairon Chatti (or Gati) where we can see the mountains of the Kedernath range. Then it’s a descent to the town of Ghuttu. One of our party has an accident along the way.
After that it’s a long climb up to Pawali Kantha where can again see the high mountains. We take a rest-day here and indulge in a game of International Cricket.
India; September 29th; Day 8; Bhairan Gati; 2511m
Trek: 4hrs 54mins starting at 8.32
Low: 1257m at 8.32
High: 2811m at 13.26
I was up ay 6.30 and packed my stuff whilst leaving the tent to dry in the morning sun – when it eventually reached the valley floor. Keith was up already and washing some clothes out in the river.
After breakfast we set off and after walking back through town we started the steep climb through a forest. Keith and James set a fierce pace so Jan and I dawdled behind. Jim and Adriana were having a late start anyway. After about an hour we reached a village and was astounded by the amount of litter around. We must have come into the village by the back door but it does seem that the litter problem is getting worse and worse.
As we were unsure of which track to take out of the village we sat and had a cup of tea outside a char shop and watched the children go by on their way to school. They are wearing very smart uniforms – for several different schools in appears – and we cause lots of laughing and giggling when we say ‘Good Morning’ to them. We always get a reply though.
When the porters arrived we determined the correct direction and set off again along a stretch of hot dusty tracks. The track took us through a series of small settlements. Eventually we left this track and took a smaller trail and were again walking in the forest. We caught up with the Academy students who we had met yesterday and they were making heavy weather of the climb with their full packs. They also had twice as far as us to go as they were going to Ghuttu tonight whereas we are aiming to reach there tomorrow night.
At a broken bridge over a small stream we took a break and the whole group came together; porters, mules, students and us and we began the steep climb. The trail here had many short-cuts to circumvent the normal zigzagged trail up the hillside and it wasn’t long before we were all spread out along the trail again. James and Keith once again shot off as I took a 10 minute break to regain my breath. A man on a white mule rode by me and confirmed I was going the right way; all these tracks had made me lose faith!
Eventually the trail broke out of the woods into a magically beautiful rolling grassy area in front of a temple and a small hamlet. In the corner is a muddy pond inhabited by four wallowing water-buffaloes.
We lay on the turf in the sun finishing our lunch whilst we wait for the porters to arrive. The mules are already here. When they do arrive an hour or so later we set up camp and have tea.
Before dinner Keith and I visit the temple – remembering to take our shoes off – and talk to the porters who are resting up there and chatting. Although their is not much wood around we do manage to collect enough for a small fire. We sit around the fire chatting in the evening.
India; September 30th; Day 9; Ghuttu; 1716m
Trek: 5hrs 13mins starting at 8.44
Low: 1673m at 13.39
High: 2688m at 9.10
I was up at 6 to see that the sky was clear but the valley below was full of mist. I wander around to take photographs but the light is not good. That ‘pyramid’ mountain is visible again and it is the only one lit by the morning light. Even an hour later the light wasn’t revealing much and the mist stilled rolled in the valley.
We had breakfast outside today, as we do most mornings, and had pancakes. We then waited awhile for the sun to dry our tents before packing and leaving.
Today would mostly be a descending day but it took us an hour to reach the pass before we started down through a rhododendron forest. Me, Keith and James walked slowly as we tried to spot some birds. We saw the long-tailed Magpies again, a Green Woodpecker and then a Black and White Woodpecker before we noticed a bright red bird; it was as red as an american Cardinal. A type of Gold-crest also flitted by. As the trail descended the trees changed to conifers and the forest became quieter. No birds or butterflies, though I did stop to photograph some of the wayside flowers, including what seemed like an orchid.
At a small stream crossing we see a number of swallowtail butterflies but they proved too elusive to photograph. It was here as we chased the butterflies that we saw two Water Buffaloes immersed in a tiny pond. The trail then opened out to terraced farmland and a tiny village before continuing to descend to arrive at another, larger, village, where a porter was waiting for us. He showed us the way through the village and then took us on a merry dance down through the rice paddy terraces. It’s unlikely we would have gone the correct way otherwise.
Eventually Keith and I caught up with the others who were hovering over Jan. Apparently he had fallen and hurt himself. It sounded like a dead leg. Maneesh was there to help and as we went down the trail we passed the Cook and Ajay coming up the trail to help. They managed to help Jan down the trail to a road below and then walked him up to a char shop where the porters were waiting. From here it was arranged than Jan would get a ride to the small town of Ghuttu whilst we would walk the last 4km. It was a hot and dull walk down the road too as we passed the Hydro works and into the scruffy little town. We were to stay in a hostel here but it transpired that it was full – those Academy students! – and after an hour hanging around it was finally decided that we would camp on the roof.
So we climbed up to the roof, much to the amusement of the local kids, and set up our tents and weighed them down with our gear inside. I made a right mess by spilling a can of talc but it wasn’t wasted as everyone used it to sprinkle in their boots and soothe their feet. The washing facilities were a bit primitive but I was brave enough to try the shower cubicle and its cold water tap.
After that Keith and I went for a stroll through town and chatted to the shopkeepers as we went. Crossing over the bridge we walked to the end of town and saw a butcher roughly chopping up meat. This is a bit odd in a vegetarian society and when we asked what kind of meat it was it sounded like he said ‘god’. Perhaps he meant goat or perhaps he meant cow. We didn’t buy any anyway. Another shopkeeper was grinding something and when we inquired he showed us his bins full of various spices and flour.
Back at the rooftop James had made cocktails from Cointreau and Lychee juice. Very strange indeed. Jan is still in a lot of pain from his leg and has concluded that he can no longer continue. It’s been decided that he will take a taxi early tomorrow morning to Gauri Kund where we will meet him in four days time. A porter will go with him to help him walk and to arrange accommodation and meals. Hopefully he will have recovered by that time so that he can re-join us on the trail.
India; October 1st; Day 10; Pawali Kanta; 3284m
Trek: 7hrs 37mins starting at 6.59
Low: 1670m at 7.12
High: 3447m at 14.04
We are all up at 6am to a cup of tea brought by Maneesh and we break down and have breakfast in double quick time.
The taxi has arrived for Jan and we say farewell and hope to see him in Gauri Kund or possibly Kedarnath.
We walk down through the village and at each shop we ask for a cricket ball. For some reason it’s come into our heads that we should be able to get one in India no matter how remote we are. Eventually in a shop just over the bridge we are directed to a place that has them. It is red and it looks and feels like a tennis ball but is significantly heavier.
As we don’t have a guide with us (as usual) we are unsure as to which way to leave town. We can see a number of different trail climbing the hills around us. After asking around we take the route that we came along yesterday and pass the butchers (not open) and the millers and then the small water-mill just out of town.
Today is to be a long day and almost one long continuous climb. Fortunately the day is cool and the trail is on the shady side of the mountain. The first two hours see us climb through rice paddies and the terraced fields of small outlying villages. We continue to see Ghuttu back in the distance. To confirm that we are going in the right direction we ask everyone we meet along the way. The small children are amused and everyone seems to be laughing. We only nearly go wrong once and a young boy coming in the opposite direction soon puts us right again.
We all stop together at a grassy knoll with fine views before we split up and spread ourselves out along the trail. This give you the illusion of walking alone in the wilderness! As we ascend the farms and villages get left behind and we enter the forest. But just before we do we are nearly trampled by a runaway Ox coming down the trail!
Generally the gradient is not too bad though we are climbing a steady 300m per hour. I’m walking alone and stopping every hour or so and every time I do Jim and Adriana catch me up. We have a chat and a little to eat and then I leave. This happens 4 or 5 times as the trail winds it’s way up through the forest. Soon the trail passes into a darker and murkier forest before breaking out at two Shepherd’s Huts. Shortly after that a man rode by on a grey horse. He confirmed I was going the right way! Always best to be sure!
Then, for a short way, the trail traversed the side of the mountain without climbing at all. By this time Ghuttu could no longer be seen behind. Instead, ahead, the treeless hill tops were visible.
After about 6 hours on the trail I came across Keith lying down in the sun. I joined him for a short while before continuing. Two men coming down passed us and they said our destination was about 4km away. As we waited there our mule train caught up with us and the muleteers also said it was about 4km. Up and then down! When Jim and Adriana arrived at the same spot Keith and I started off on the final leg. Keith soon got ahead of me though as I started taking photographs of the trail and hills. The trail was still climbing and I came to the tree-line at about 3200m. From here I had good views of the rolling trail ahead and could see Keith in the distance from time to time. Also in the distance I could see a Temple on a far hill top and surmised that this would be our destination. It still looked a fair distance away.
I passed a shepherd and his flock before a brief descent and a final, tiring climb to the summit. It looked like a detour and short-cut would take you to the Temple but I stayed on the main trail which wrapped around the mountain. Looking back from the other side I could see two people up at the Temple so I waited for them to come down before continuing. I was unsure where the campsite was. It turned out to be our guide Ajay and the Cook.
I then followed the trail down the last section before being hailed from the right where the muleteers had unloaded our stuff and where Keith and James were lying in the grass. Jim and Adriana arrived a little while later. We all lazed in the sun awhile before choosing our pitches and collecting firewood. After an hour or so the porters started drifting in looking very tired and after tea we set up our camp.
Then the mist rolled in and it began to drizzle and rain just as we were lighting the fire. We moved into the Mess Tent for dinner and although we sat around the fire later we couldn’t really get much heat going. So we crashed out. It was only 8pm!
India; October 2nd; Day 11; Pawali Kanta; 3284m
Today was a rest day. No hiking!
I got up at 5.30 to see an orange glow on the horizon. I grabbed my camera a climbed a small hill besides the campground to arrive breathlessly to see a superb panoramic view of snow clad mountains all around. I was still a little early so I ran back to the tent to get some batteries and also to persuade Keith to get up and come up. We took plenty of shots.
After breakfast Keith and I went down to a spring which we’d discovered yesterday and washed out some clothes. Keith was also brave enough to have a wash! After that I sat in the sun reading my book. However before long I got restless and made some cricket wickets from some bamboo that James had found. A bat was fashioned from a piece of wood with a flat side and we got a game of cricket going. Before long half the porters had joined in. Miraculously we didn’t lose the ball although it was often hit over the hill into the woods. Someone always managed to find it no matter how hard it was hit.
Maneesh brought down some tea mid-morning and we sat out a few overs whilst the Indians continued. Keith, James, Jim and Adriana sloped off for a walk but I re-joined the game until lunch at 1pm.
After lunch I played some more cricket and noticed that the muleteers and the porters wouldn’t play at the same time. I thought this was a bit weird and wondered if it was a caste thing. We played right through until afternoon tea. After that we collected firewood.
Unfortunately the clouds rolled in late afternoon and put paid to any sunset photography. After dinner we sat around the fire for a while but were then forced to retire when it started raining!