India 2009 Part 6

Snow-Blindness and Dissent

On the trail to Chauki, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 19
On the trail to Chauki

India; October 10th; Day 19; Chauki; 3696m

Trek: 3hrs 33mins starting at 11.00
Low: 3700m at 14.40
High: 4555m at 11.08
Descent: 931m
Ascent: 96m

Woke up before 6 desperate for a pee. Staggered out and staggered back. It’s freezing out there. Half an hour later I went out again to take some photographs. It’s still bitterly cold so I went back to bed with frozen hands. I lay in bed a long time but eventually got up shortly before the sun reached the tents. It seems to be quiet all around the campsite.

Maiali P naar Masar Tal gletcher
The glacier from Marsar Tal
On the trail to Chauki, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 19
From the camp at Marsar Tal
The campsite at Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 19
The campsite at Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 19
The campsite at Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 19
The campsite at Marsar Tal
The campsite at Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 19
Breakfast at Marsar Tal
From the campsite at Chauki, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 20
Lateral moraine and glacier from the Marsar Tal campsite

Keith was, unusually, not about and it turns out he had snow blindness and very painful eyes. We later find out that half a dozen of the porters are also afflicted and are in a lot of discomfort. Everyone clubs together to find some eye-drops to help out. We don’t have much but every little helps.

On the trail to Chauki, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 19
On the trail to Chauki
Masar Tal naar Chauki
On the descent to Chauki

All these problems lead to plenty of discussions about how we should proceed. Many of the porters are favouring having a rest day so they can recuperate. Keith however is determined to continue as are all of us.

On the trail to Chauki, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 19
On the trail to Chauki
On the trail to Chauki, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 19
On the trail to Chauki

It takes a long time for breakfast to be prepared but at least that gives us plenty of time to dry out the tents and our gear. We had a smattering of snow fall during the night. After some discussion it is agreed that the party will split into two and that we, with sufficient porters, will go down to Chauki, whilst the others will take a rest day and come down tomorrow. It’s not clear when we will rejoin one another! In the end this doesn’t happen and everyone comes down to Chauki today. It’s not a long hike today and it will get us down below the snow to a warmer altitude.

Trail to Chauki
On the trail to Chauki
On the trail to Chauki, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 19
On the trail to Chauki

Keith and I get fed up of hanging around and decide to go. We will take out our own tents and sleeping bags and enough snacks to keep us going. In our haste we forget to switch my clumsy black bag for Keith’s bag which can convert to a rucksack. Keith is carrying the most as we set off and it must be uncomfortable.

On the trail to Chauki, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 19
On the trail to Chauki

It’s 11am when we finally get going along a rocky traverse. After a while the trail becomes difficult to follow and we rely on a few far and between cairns. We are sure of the direction though as we head down into the valley below which seem to have green patches on either side which may be our destination.

Chauki, Uttarakhand, India
On the trail to Chauki

Sometimes the way is earthy and grassy but mostly it’s a rocky scramble. Several times we had to climb down and then out of rocky ravines which are filled with loose stone. It’s dangerous as the stones are easily loosed and then often come bouncing down around us.

We follow a ridge for a while before descending to cross a small river. On the other side we see a trail going up. We try it but it seems to peter out so we abandon it and take a lower route. We find out later that this is the way the porters went. But it made no real difference. Instead we follow another ridge and another path. Ahead we notice a green swathe above a cliff with a glacial river running below. We convince ourselves that this must be Chauki.

On the trail to Chauki, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 19
On the trail to Chauki

The ridge finishes and we descend to cross another stream before climbing up a cliff to grassy meadow above. We don’t think it can be the campsite though as their is no litter or any evidence of fire. Looking back we can’t see anyone following us. We decide to wait here for the others to catch up just in case this is the place or perhaps we should be on the other side of the river!

On the trail to Chauki, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 19
Crossing a stream: Keith with the wrong bag! The pass we had crossed behind us.

After a while we are ‘hallooed’ and we can see the others on a high track in the distance. That’s the trail we ignored. They arrive within half an hour with several porters. They say that Chauki is another hour further down.

Me and Keith then leave, whilst the others take a break, and we take the comfortable grassy trail down the hill. The trail gradually meanders down to the river bed which we follow for a while whilst occasionally going up and down the small cliff on the river’s edge. Eventually we reach a grassy area which is obviously the campsite. It’s filthy with litter and in one area disgusting with human excrement. Extremely unpleasant. The views however are spectacular with huge mountains all around.

On the trail to Chauki, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 19
Following the glacial stream down to Chauki

We laze around until everyone else arrives and set up our tents as the sun disappeared over the horizon.

Again we are having problems with the disposition of the porters. Jim has a meeting with our guide Ajay. They are discussing our route which is supposed to take us over another pass, at 4700m, and another 4 or 5 days trekking to return us to our start point at Malla. The porters are not keen to go in this direction and want to take an escape route which would take us down the valley to Ghuttu; a trek of three days. Ajay is of the opinion that that the recent snow falls would make the pass dangerous and he’s also concerned about the well-being of some of the porters.

We will have to contact the base in New Delhi to inform them where we are so that the bus can pick us up at Ghuttu for the drive back to Delhi via Rishikesh. However we will not be able to make contact until we reach Ghuttu.

At the campsite at Chauki, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 19
At the campsite at Chauki, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 19

Sitting by the fire we all get together to discuss the options and consequences. We agree to make the best of a bad job and conclude that we shall not go over the pass to Malla but return to Ghuttu. We take into account that Jan is still suffering from his bad leg and has done incredibly well to get this far. We also realise that many of the new porters that joined us in Kedarnath are under-equipped. Some are still suffering from the after effects of snow-blindness and it’s even more obvious that many of them are not that bothered and have been causing trouble almost every day. It’s a great pity as our first porters were hired in Malla and we had hoped to complete our circular route back to their home. They will have to continue alone from Ghuttu in one direction whilst the Gauri Kund porters will go in the opposite direction. It’s 3 or 4 days travel for each group.

Personally I am disappointed as the high passes are the highlight of the trip and it’s a waste to come all this way and not do it. I really liked the idea of finishing where we started too.

After all these discussion we have dinner in the Mess tent as it begins to snow again. It’ll be cold here tonight but nowhere near as cold as the previous nights.


Preparing to Bivouac

From the campsite at Chauki, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 20
Moraines and hanging glacier from the Chauki campsite

India; October 11th; Day 20; Kalyani; 2714m

Trek: 8hrs 7mins starting at 10.02
Low: 2714m at 18.07
High: 3683m at 10.05
Descent: 1501m
Ascent: 546m

Today was a beautiful walk – if long. And we should have started earlier, but we waited and waited until the sun had reached our tents and dried them off before starting. We had breakfast outside and enjoyed the warmth of the sun. It makes such a difference to everyone’s well-being and mood!

From the campsite at Chauki, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 20
The campsite at Chauki
20091011_Adriana_090
Porters get a breakfast fire going

Before breakfast I had wandered around taking some shots and I was the last to leave the camp when we finally got going.

From the campsite at Chauki, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 20
Lateral moraines and a hanging glacier from the Chauki campsite: I think we were supposed to go up there. Disappointed.
From the campsite at Chauki, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 20
Panorama from the campsite at Chauki

Almost immediately we reached the tree-line. As always the first trees are bent and twisted by the wind and often photogenic. James and I spent so much time messing around with cameras that we missed a fork in a trail and almost went the wrong way.

On the trail to Kalyani, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 20
On the trail to Kalyani, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 20
Jim and Jan on the trail to Kalyani, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 20
Jim and Jan on the trail to Kalyani
On the trail to Kalyani, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 20
A porter waits
20091011_Adriana_095
Adriana and porters
Adriana on the trail to Kalyani, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 20
Adriana on the trail
On the trail to Kalyani, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 20
On the trail high above the river
Adriana and Jan on the trail to Kalyani, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 20
Adriana and Jan on the trail to Kalyani

The porters were whistling us from far away and we had to backtrack a bit to find the fork. It wasn’t obvious where this trail was so we just bushwhacked our way across the bush in the general direction of the porters in the distance. We could see that there was a river to cross and Keith and some of the porters were waiting at a very precarious bridge. Keith was patiently waiting so that he could video us crossing the bridge but even then he had to wait longer as James continued to mess around!

On the trail to Kalyani, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 20
Precarious river crossing

Once on the other side it was quite a stiff climb up the other side and I couldn’t believe how breathless I was. I think it was the lack of porridge for breakfast that made me feel so lacklustre too. Fortunately one of the porters held back to ensure that I didn’t straggle too far nor lose the trail. It was a couple of hours before I felt comfortable. Maybe it was the altitude or maybe it was the disappointment of abandoning the high route.

On the trail to Kalyani, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 20
River or bridge?

The whole route today was photogenic and I spent a lot of time taking shots. It turned out therefore that I spent much of the day walking alone. It’s a fabulous feeling imagining that you have the wilderness and the world to yourself.

On the trail to Kalyani, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 20
High above the river on the trail to Kalyani

This first part of the trail was following a river valley down, but the trail itself was traversing high above the river itself. from time to time the trail descended into gullies where we had to cross side-streams and then clamber up the other side. We descended through many woods too. First Birches, then hardwoods, then Rhododendrons and then Bamboos. The shade here was very welcome. Unbelievably we still had some uphill stretches to deal with and some places where we had to scramble over landslips.

On the trail to Kalyani, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 20
The trail goes down to the river

Eventually the trail descended right down to the river and continued along the river bed. I had glimpsed Keith and James ahead of me a few times and now I saw Keith again. I waved, he waved and then he waited for me to catch up. James was nowhere in sight. We then walked together for the rest of the day.

On the trail to Kalyani, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 20
Looking back at a rainbow in the valley

Soon the trail left the river and climbed the bank. It started gently raining as we passed into the mossy green darkness of a forest Looking back we could see a rainbow. from time to time the trail climbed up to empty meadows before falling back into the woods.

On the trail to Kalyani, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 20
Keith tests out another bridge

Once again the trail came back down to the river and we crossed another rickety bridge to a place with a shack and a Temple. Nobody was around. We followed the river bed again for a while before crossing our 3rd bridge of the day The trail then disappeared into the woods again and we spent a little while taking the wrong fork before clambering up to rejoin the proper trail. The trail went on and on and up and down until we began to wonder if we would reach our destination before dark. We were thinking that it starts to get dark about 6 but that we should perhaps think about stopping at 5 so that we could find a place and get a fire prepared. We had no tents or sleeping bags with us.

It’s possible we thought that we’d gone too far or taken a wrong turn. We also thought that James and the Cook and Maneesh were somewhere in front of us.

As the day lengthened we began to keep an eye for likely spots to bivouac for the night and at 5.15 we found the perfect spot. It was just before the fourth bridge, underneath a huge rock with a nice sandy spot beneath. It was next to the main river with plenty of driftwood for fire and also next to a side-stream for fresh water.

house_20091011_keith_000315
Steve at our impromptu fire

We had enough clothes and food and we had the ability to make fire. Soon enough we had a lovely fire going and a huge pile of driftwood to keep us going through the night. We were just settling down, after about 40 minutes, when Keith was shocked by the sudden appearance of our oldest porter appearing above the rocks behind us. He was wearing his familiar coon-skin hat and was dangling a headless bird in one hand. He was laughing and cackling like mad. He was also amused at our endeavour and told us that the campsite was another hour down the trail.

Reluctantly we got our stuff together and left our fire to burn out in the sand. I’d rather been looking forward to spending a night in the wild, but now we had to finish our walk at the darkness crept in. The last hour was a bit of and up and down slog through a gloomy forest. It was just about dark when we arrived.

Jan and Jim and Adriana were still behind us somewhere as were several of the porters. We managed to set u pour tents in the dark and as soon as it got really dark our guide Ajay got 4 porters together to go back up the trail and find them.

It turned out that they had reached a fork in the trail at about 6 and not being sure of the direction had just sat down and waited. They waited for an hour and a half in the dark before they were found and it wasn’t until 8.30 that they straggled into camp. We of course had been sat around the fire keeping warm

Dinner, though late, was enjoyed by everyone, and all seemed to be in a good mood after our various adventures. This was probably aided by the fact that Jim produced a bottle of Brandy ahead of his birthday tomorrow.


Mystics and no Cake

From the campsite at Kalgani, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 21
The campsite at Kalyani

India; October 12th; Day 21; Rees; 2158m

Trek: 6hrs 15mins starting at 9.28
Low: 2165m at 15.41
High: 2735m at 11.11
Descent: 1079m
Ascent: 537m

Today was mostly a descent through farmland and small villages and the trail was hard and rocky and sore on the feet.

The campsite at Kalyani, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 21
The campsite at Kalyani
20091012_jim_111
Keeping warm at Kalyani

For the first hour I walked with Keith but he left me as he intends to do a double day and get down to Ghuttu. Maneesh will attempt to do this too. The idea is that then they can contact base in Delhi and arrange for our pick up in Ghuttu rather than Malla.

On the trail to Kalyani, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 20At a landslip I meet a road crew who are fixing the trail. It’s here that I meet an old man who is travelling the same way as me. I passed them but later when I stopped in a forest he caught up with me. In exchange for an apple and some chocolate he allowed me to take a few portraits.

A fellow traveller on the trail to Rees, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 21
A fellow traveller on the trail to Rees
On the trail to Rees, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 21
Looking back on the trail to Rees
Portraits,  on the way to Rees, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 21
Porter portrait, on the way to Rees
Adriana and Jan on the trail to Rees, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 21
Adriana and Jan on the trail to Rees
The village of Ganga on the trail to Rees, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 21
The village of Ganga on the trail to Rees

At the small village of Ganga James caught up with me as we walked through the very picturesque and well maintained place. It was very noticeable that it had no litter unlike most villages. The Cook and our guide Ajay also passed us here and I took some shots of them too, though they were very reticent.

On the trail to Rees, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 21
Cannabis garden on the way to Rees
Portraits on the trail to Rees, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 21
This chap welcomed us into his home for a cup of tea

Shortly after this James and I came to a small house with a beautifully flowered garden. A child appeared and asked us for sweets and then above our heads a mystic appeared and asked us in for tea. At first we were reluctant but then we changed our minds and went in. Part of the attraction was that I’d noticed some huge cannabis plants interspersed amongst the flowers in his garden. We spent a very pleasant 40 minutes sitting shoeless in his small temple. We talked about India and in particular the development in the Himalayas. Roads, Dams and Forestry. We had our tea and admired his Dahlias, Gladiolus and Margaritas etc. As we left he asked if we had any medicines to spare and I gave him some headache tablets and pain-killers. He then offered to sell us a bag of grass which I purchased for a few rupees. It was no good to me though as I had no cigarette papers and no chance of getting any! I threw the stuff away on returning to Delhi!

Portraits on the trail to Rees, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 21
Villager on the way down to Rees
On the trail to Rees, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 21
On the trail to Rees
On the trail to Rees, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 21
On the trail to Rees
On the trail to Rees, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 21
a village on the trail to Rees
On the trail to Rees, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 21
Looking down on Rees

James soon left me when we got back on the trail and I spent the rest of the day walking and ambling alone. It was hot and the trail was stony and sore. The trail also went up from time to time and this was annoying as well as tiring. Eventually the trail descended into the small village of Rees where I found James and the porters waiting at a dirty and tired old Rest House. This is where we will stay tonight.

house_20091012_D_049485

At dinner we were supposed to have had Jim’s birthday cake but Adriana had given it to the cook to bring out as a surprise but instead he’d accepted it as a gift and presumably shared it out with the Porters! Wonderful. Instead we had baked apples and custard for dessert and some of the brandy that was left from yesterday. Not so bad then.


The Last Leg

On the trail to Ghuttu, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 22
On the trail to Ghuttu

India; October 13th; Day 22; Ghuttu; 1680m

Trek: 2hrs 44mins starting at 7.38
Low: 1657m at 10.18
High: 21458m at 7.38
Descent: 694m
Ascent: 207m

I woke up at about 6 and expected tea around 7. Nothing materialised so I got fed up hanging around and left for Ghuttu before breakfast. In any case I was wondering where Keith was and whether or not he, and Maneesh, had managed to get to Ghuttu yesterday.

The trail was in the shadow of the valley at first as it went down through woods and small meadows. I was a little bit concerned as to whether I was on the right track as the trail was overgrown in many places. I did reach a junction after a while and was then more confident that I was going the right way. In any case I was following the river downstream so I figured it could only be correct. The trail went up and down in farm country until the trail finally came down to the rivers edge.

Jan takes a break on the trail to Ghuttu, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 22
Jan takes a break on the trail to Ghuttu

It was just along here though that I got baulked. They were building a road high above the river and I could hear the diggers above and see huge rocks being toppled down the cliff to the river. I didn’t dare move down stream any further. I could see and hear huge boulders bouncing down, smashing trees on the way, and hurtling into the river. I retreated a little way and found a path climbing the cliff. I started up this but was halted by the screams of the workers above and more rocks bouncing down in my direction. I retreated again and decided to wait for the others to catch up before deciding what to do.

I sat down by the trail and started to read my book when after about half an hour or so a group of lads appeared. I told them what was happening but they seemed confident of getting past. I followed them up the trail I’d abandoned before and they managed to shout up to the workers and get the digger to stop whilst we clambered up.

house_20091012_keith_000335
Leeches, Delhi Belly and Snow-blindness will do this to you

The last 5km or so was along the new road being built. It was a dull dusty trudge. Looking down I could see the new dam being built. I eventually rolled into town and wound my way back to the Guest House we had stayed in almost two weeks ago. After some wrangling at reception I found the room where Keith and Maneesh were. They had got down to Ghuttu yesterday and managed to contact our base in Delhi. After a brief chat and a long shower we went back into town for breakfast. We managed to find a small shop run by a couple of boys who managed to rustle up an omelette sandwich for us.

20091013_jim_129
Adriana meets some fellow travellers on the trail to Ghuttu

After a short walk through the town we sat in the sun and had a couple of cokes. It’s still impossible to buy a bottle of water in this place. We then strolled back to the Guest House and whiled away the afternoon waiting for everyone else to come down.

Ghuttu uitdelen tipgelden
The Porters are paid and we give our thanks for their efforts

In the evening, at about 5pm, all the porters came together to collect their tips and receive out thanks. Those from Gauri Kund would have a 2 day walk home from here but those that started with us from the beginning face a 4 day walk home. They would leave the following morning.

The cook made our final dinner of the trip and Jim and I consoled ourselves by finishing off the brandy. It’s hard to believe we’ve come to the end of our trek and it still rankles a bit that we didn’t complete our original route back to Malla. We now face the long drag back to Delhi. At least Keith and I can look forward to continuing our trip to India. We are going to Kerala for a couple of weeks before returning home.


Ajay, our guide, on the way to Rees, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 21
Ajay, our guide
Surosh, our cook  on the way to Rees, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 21
Surosh, our cook
Bulbeer, one of our porters, at Ghuttu on our last day.
Bulbeer, one of our porters
Rakesh, one of our porters, at Ghuttu on our last day.
Rakesh, one of our porters
Pram, one of our porters, at Ghuttu on our last day.
Pram, one of our porters
Pankaj,  our youngest porter, at Ghuttu on our last day.
Pankaj, our youngest porter
Shambu, one of our porters, at Ghuttu on our last day.
Shambu, one of our porters
Ramesh, one of our porters, at Ghuttu on our last day.
Ramesh, one of our porters
Atar one of our porters, at Ghuttu on our last day.
Atar, one of our porters
Sanju, one of our porters, at Ghuttu on our last day.
Sanju, one of our porters
Pardeep, one of our porters, at Ghuttu on our last day.
Pardeep, one of our porters
Neraj, one of our porters, at Ghuttu on our last day.
Neraj, one of our porters
Ramesh, one of our porters, at Ghuttu on our last day.
Ramesh, one of our porters
Bhaee Phador, one of our porters, at Ghuttu on our last day.
Bhaee Phador, one of our porters
Bahagaan, one of our porters, at Ghuttu on our last day.
Bahagaan, one of our porters
Bachan, one of our porters, at Ghuttu on our last day.
Bachan, one of our porters
Naryan, one of our porters, at Ghuttu on our last day.
Naryan, one of our porters
Kushpal, one of our porters, at Ghuttu on our last day.
Kushpal, one of our porters
Gajmohan, one of our porters, at Ghuttu on our last day.
Gajmohan, one of our porters
Janake, one of our porters, at Ghuttu on our last day.
Janake, one of our porters
Bhata, one of our porters, at Ghuttu on our last day.
Bhata, one of our porters
Padam, our oldest porter, at Ghuttu on our last day.
Padam, our oldest porter
India2009TrekRoute
The Trek Route: Malla via Ghuttu and Panwali Kantha to Gaurikund and Kedernath. Then over the top via Vasaki Tal, the Masar Pass and Masar Tal to Chauki. Then down the valley back to Ghuttu.
India2009TrekMap
Another version of the Trek Route: our orginal intention was to go from Kalyani up to Sahastra Tal and return to Mala

 

One thought on “India 2009 Part 6

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