India 2009 Part 9

Steam Train to Ooty

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Steaming up at Mettupalayam Station. From the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, Tamil Nadu, India.

India; October 25th; Day 34; Ooty

We pile out of the hostel at an ungodly hour and hire an auto-rickshaw to carry our sorry selves and our luggage the short distance to the railway station. Lots of people are mulling around and we find a queue for the people that have Reserve Tickets for the Mountain Railway. It doesn’t take long to get to the head of the queue and we are allowed a place on the train. We are shown to our carriage and have it to ourselves for a little while though we are later joined by an English couple, a French woman and a lady from the USA brandishing a blackberry. A fellow from India joins us too to fill up the compartment. He doesn’t say much on the trip but I think he finds us amusing. Several times before departure various other types of riff-raff try and squeeze in, but my years of practise on the school train keeps everyone else at bay.

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An Alco WMD2 at Mettupalayam Station. From the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, Tamil Nadu, India.

We’ve paid 240 rupees for the trip and our neighbours, who didn’t bother with the Reserve Tickets palaver, have paid 8 rupees. 240 Rupees is about 3 pounds and that was for two people. We also find out later that we were entitled to a first-class compartment, but as these seem much the same as the compartment we have it doesn’t seem much of a loss. In any case it turns out that those compartments are full of oiks. This is one reason why all us western tourists are huddled together in one place.

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Steaming up at Mettupalayam Station. From the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, Tamil Nadu, India.

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house_20091025_D_050104_lznAs we are here so early I have plenty of time to wander about and do some train spotting. Our engine is steaming up in the distance so I concentrate on the diesels that are around. I photograph two Also AWD2’s which are the workhorse of the Indian Railways. These American Locomotives have been built in India for many years. I also see an Also YWD4 which is the engine normally used on the run up to Ooty. The steam engine only does the run once a day and in fact the diesel always does the last few miles from Coonoor to Ooty.

I have the opportunity to photograph our steam engine which she is brought out and hitched up to our rake of carriages, The station has no information office and it’s impossible to buy any memorabilia about the train. This is a bit shocking for a Unesco heritage site, but it gets worse.

house_20091025_D_050083_bwFrom the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, Tamil Nadu, India.The ride itself is very enjoyable and takes about 4 hours. The train stops at various places for watering where everyone jumps out. At Coonoor the steam engine is swapped for a diesel. Keith and I decide that Coonoor itself looks a bit grubby and decide to travel the whole line up to Ooty instead.At Coonor Station. From the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, Tamil Nadu, India.house_20091025_D_050133_bwAt Coonor Station. From the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, Tamil Nadu, India.

house_20091025_D_050081_bwOn our departure platform travellers were able to buy breakfasts. These were sold in tinfoil takeaway containers. We were aghast to discover that these were routinely thrown out of the train window when discarded by what can only be described as wealthy middle-class tourists. It was disgusting to see that the track had become one long litter bin. The rubbish could be seen strewn along the whole line. If India is usually covered in a layer of filth and litter and perhaps it is too optimistic of me to expect that these people might respect their own heritage.

From the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, Tamil Nadu, India.I mean the ride was fun and interesting but the litter and behaviour was gross. It amused us that these same people screamed whenever the train went through a tunnel. This gives the impression that they must think it’s a ride in a funfair and nothing else. Weird.

On our arrival in Ooty our carriage mates, apart from the USA lady, decided to shoot of to the YMCA place to try and find somewhere to stay. The lady from the USA taking her cue from her Blackberry, had tried to encourage us to stay on some ranch an hour out of town. I suspected that she could use this to leverage a lower rate for herself. However we piled into two auto-rickshaws and went to the YMCA. It was busy and only had two rooms. We looked but the place was overrun by a noisy wedding party. We extolled our taxi man to take us somewhere else and we arrived at an ancient and slightly rundown colonial bungalow. It was in a flower garden with views over the town.

From the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, Tamil Nadu, India.
From the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, Tamil Nadu, India.

Even though it was a bit pricey Keith and I decided it was great and we took a room. The English couple, with the French girl in tow (and she’d been in tow for a while) thought it was too much and disappeared to find somewhere else. They came back later and took rooms anyway.

Keith and I wandered into town in an attempt to find some tourist information. We found an office but no information as usual. We found a dingy bar and had a beer but the place was a windowless dive and too depressing for words. We left. We spent a bit of time looking for somewhere to eat in the evening and eventually settled on a small restaurant. In a stall outside Keith negotiated interminably about buying a small knife to replace the one that had been confiscated at the airport. After mucking about for half an hour he didn’t buy one anyway.

From the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, Tamil Nadu, India.
From the Nilgiri Mountain Railway, Tamil Nadu, India.

We decided to have dinner there and then to save ourselves the trouble of coming out tonight. So we did and then took an auto-rickshaw back to our bungalow. We took care to stop off at a wine-shop to buy our regulation Kingfishers on the way.

Football match at Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India
Foorball match at Otty, Tamil Nadu, India

Back in our room I was peeved to discover that the TV couldn’t get the channel that was showing the Man Utd vs Liverpool game. Disappointing. We probably watched some crap movie instead. We found out later that we’d lost anyway.

A Hike to the Toda Village

From a walk in the Nilgiri Hills around Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India
From a walk in the Nilgiri Hills around Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India

India; October 26th; Day 35; Ooty

We order eggs for breakfast at our lodgings but something goes wrong in the translation and we end up with a double order of eggs each. No worries. The boss here has a friend who does guided walks in the hills around Ooty and he will turn up at 11am this morning.

Before that Keith and I stroll into town. It’s warm and sunny today after the cloud and mist of yesterday. We try and find an internet cafe and eventually we find one tucked away at the back. I only need five minutes and I’m quickly back out on the street, As usual we try and find out more information about things to do but to no avail. We return to our bungalow and wait for this guide to turn up. He’s only an hour or so late.

When he does arrive we are told what he has to offer and the price and we all agree that we may as well do it. That’s me and Keith, the English couple and the French girl. We stroll down the hill to the bus station but it turns out that we’ve just missed a bus so we opt to cram into a taxi. It’s a crowded 40 minute drive out of town.

From a walk in the Nilgiri Hills around Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India
From a walk in the Nilgiri Hills around Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India

We are dropped off at a trail that climbs gently through a Eucalyptus forest. I can’t remember now why the Eucalyptus trees were imported from Australia and planted here. When we broke out of the woods we had good views over the undulating countryside with a lake in the distance below us. Shortly we arrive at a small Toda village. Apparently the Toda are an indigenous tribe which still live in the hills and eschew the villages and towns. The temple and house have a particular architecture and is woven from bent saplings. This village has recently acquired electricity so it’s probable that this way of life will not last for much longer as the younger generation leave for the brighter lights.

From a walk in the Nilgiri Hills around Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India
Toda dwellings in the Nilgiri Hills around Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India

From a walk in the Nilgiri Hills around Ooty, Tamil Nadu, IndiaFrom a walk in the Nilgiri Hills around Ooty, Tamil Nadu, IndiaFrom a walk in the Nilgiri Hills around Ooty, Tamil Nadu, IndiaAt the village we examine the temple building and the corrals they’ve built for the livestock. Our guide then gets us invited into one of the homes. I’m reluctant to do this so I wait outside in the sun as they spend a long time inside having a cup of tea in the smoky environment. Outside I get to chat with a small boy and his sister and an old fella who kindly allows me to take a photograph. In the fields the villages seem to be growing only carrots. Our guide seems to be spending an inordinate amount of time here and even when we get going again he seems to be just ambling along. I want to get going and have a proper walk and I think he can sense my frustration. The others don’t seem that bothered and just think I’m being rude.

A portrait from a walk in the Nilgiri Hills around Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India
A portrait from a walk in the Nilgiri Hills around Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India

A portrait from a walk in the Nilgiri Hills around Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India

From a walk in the Nilgiri Hills around Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India
Toda House

Just after the Toda village we reach a Fire Tower which we climb to enjoy the views. Our guide claims to have seen a tiger around here once. It seems unlikely but he does say he’s only ever seen a tiger three times in his life; After this we walk down the hill to the lake’s edge and then scrabble around the side of the lake through a wood. On the far side we sit down and have some snap. We’d bought some cakes from the bus station and we shared these out. Out in the lake we watched a lonely fisherman.

From a walk in the Nilgiri Hills around Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India
Nilgiri Hills, Tamil Nadu

We left the lakeside then and walked up through the woods back towards the road. We were lucky enough to see the Nilgiri Langur which is a monkey only found in this area. We also saw some Sambar Deer.

From a walk in the Nilgiri Hills around Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India
Lakeside in the Nilgiri Hills

From a walk in the Nilgiri Hills around Ooty, Tamil Nadu, IndiaFrom a walk in the Nilgiri Hills around Ooty, Tamil Nadu, IndiaAt the roadside we waited for a bus back into Ooty and thanked our guide and said goodbye at the bus station.

Back at the bungalow we ordered a take-away from the restaurant we used last night. Everyone was amused by this and the manager of the place even turned up with the order to make sure everything was correct. It was and we watched another movie to while away the evening.

Avalanche

Emerald, near Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India
Emerald, near Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India

India; October 27th; Day 36; Ooty

We are up early and head straight down to the bus station to get a bus to Avalanche. Our book suggests that we may find some hiking to do down there. At the bus station we are disappointed to find that the next bus is not until 11am. Instead we find a taxi driver and negotiate a price to Emerald which is a town on the way to Avalanche. The driver is reluctant to go all the way. We agree a price and off we go in his classic Ambassador in the old green colour. Inside it’s beautifully upholstered and he obviously looks after it.

After filling up in a petrol station in Ooty we leave town and pass through the undulating countryside. It’s mostly market gardening country and apparently famous for carrots.

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Tea Plantation on a walk from Emerald to Avalanche, near Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India

When we are dropped off at Emerald, just a small village, we pick up some lunch things; some cake and some fruit. It’s a 10km walk to Avalanche from here and we set off from town down the only main road going west. It’s more rural around here and we pass several tea plantations. After a couple K we reach a junction and assume that the dirt road to the right leads to Avalanche. Only a couple of cars pass us and we decline a lift that is offered. The road continues to wind around and rise and fall. We stop at a Forestry Lodge and try to get some information but the Rangers know nothing. We sit on the bench and have some lunch before continuing.

Before long we arrive in Avalanche and see that it’s no more than a few house for the Forestry workers. A locked barrier is across the road and two guys are manning the gate. They refuse to let us pass and say that we are not authorised without a valid form. He shows us the form, which is in English, but we are not allowed to fill it in now. We should have done this at the Forestry Office in Ooty. We are dumbfounded. What could possibly be the point of this? This is Forestry country with a couple of dams and reservoirs. We argue for a while but they are adamant that we shall not pass. As a coup-de-grace we are also informed that even if we had the form they would not less us through as we have cameras. Photography is not allowed. I’m flabbergasted and inclined to get livid. But what’s the point? I’ve been in India a month and am quite used to this sort of bureaucratic nonsense. The world’s largest democracy and you are prevented from taking photographs in the countryside. Madness.

Keith and I turn around. We have a 7km walk back to Emerald.

On the way we are amused to see a troop of Nilgiri Langur crossing the road above our heads from tree to tree. Further down the road we tentatively think about bushwhacking our way along a trail but discover it’s following a line of electricity pylons. Further still we walk down to a lakeshore and take a break whilst watching some dragonflies and butterflies. We think again about walking around the lakeshore, but decide against it as we have no proper maps with us.

On a walk from Emerald to Avalanche, near Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India
On a walk from Emerald to Avalanche, near Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India

Back on the road to Emerald we are offered a lift by a group of young people. The girls make room for us in the back but don’t talk to us. They are all students on holiday. They have been beyond the barrier but they haven’t walked anywhere but just admired the view. They drop us back in Emerald and as it’s still quite early we decide to try and walk somewhere else. The girl from the USA who we had met on the train coming up to Ooty a couple of days ago was staying at the Red Hill Nature Resort near Emerald. We thought we could walk there and get some lunch before coming back to Emerald for a bus back to Ooty. I’d checked the website for this place and they claimed to have access to several hiking trails. But first we had to ascertain where it was.

Lots of people were hanging around the street at Emerald but none of them were really clear about where the place was. Eventually it was determined that it was about 5km down this particular road. Within the first couple of K’s we where diverted by visiting two dams. The first was a power dam holding back Lake Emerald and the second was just a holding wall for the same reservoir. At the first one we were surprised to see the remnants of the original company buildings and what must have been well maintained gardens. A man was still employed here and he came over to tell us that no photographs were allowed. What is it with this place? We were allowed to walk out onto the dam though and have a good look around. The dam was built by Canadians.

After the dams we continue walking down the road not really knowing how far this Red Hills place is. At one point we flag down a car and ask for a lift. The driver says sure if we pay 50 rupees, so we walk instead.

The road follows the side of the lake and then comes to a place where there is a sort of isthmus of land between two portions of the lake. We stop here for something to eat. It’s obvious that this is a popular picnic spot for the locals as the place is spoiled by litter.

We continue walking and pass a small village where the paved road runs out and the dirt begins. A local assures us that we are going the right way but he can give no indication of how far. Later up the road we are surprised to discover that the car that wanted 50 rupees from us for a lift is now stuck when attempting to turn around,. All it needs is a push. However I ask the man for 50 rupees to help him which he doesn’t offer. So we leave him stuck in the mud. Keith can’t believe that I’ve done this and probably thinks I’m a right bastard. I am. But what goes around comes around and maybe the fella’s learnt something.

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Blue Admiral (Kaniska canace) on a walk from Emerald to Avalanche, near Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India
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Crimson-tailed Marsh Hawk (Orthetrum pruinosum) on a walk from Emerald to Avalanche, near Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India
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A Queen of Spain Fritillary (Issoria lathonia) and Indian Fritillary (Argynnis hyperbius) on a walk from Emerald to Avalanche, near Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India
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Queen of Spain Fritillary (Issoria lathonia) on a walk from Emerald to Avalanche, near Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India

The road continues to climb until eventually we come to the Red Hill Nature Resort which is a surprisingly large lodge complex in the middle of a tea plantation. Our friend from the USA is not here but out visiting something. No other guests are apparent. They don’t have a restaurant but the hosts are kind enough to offer us an omelette. We have a couple of beers too. It was a long way to get here but at least we had an adventure getting here and we still have to walk back the same way to Emerald. After our lunch we are shown some of the rooms. They are fitted out very nicely we luxury bathrooms and fireplaces.

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Tea plantation at the Red Hill Nature Resort, Emerald, near Ooty, Tamil Nadu, India

As we leave the host’s dog makes an appearance, a German Shepherd, and escorts us out of the premises. We are shown a short-cut down through the tea bushes down to the road. In fact the dog walks with us all the way back to Emerald which must be a 7 or 8 km walk. The dog entertains along the walk and is instrumental in showing us the Langurs as they scream and chatter when they see the dog and we may have missed them altogether without him.

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house_20091027_D_050247At Emerald the locals are surprised to see us again and are particularly surprised to see the dog with us. They obviously know where the dog comes from and are aghast that we might be stealing it. Eventually however the dog leaves us and strolls off and we hop on the bus to Ooty. As usual the bus us crowded and the locals are amused to see us. School children hop on and off and some hang out the door between times.

When we arrive in Ooty we walk into town and get an early dinner and get an auto-rickshaw back to our bungalow. Of course we’ve picked up some beers first.

Hitting the Beach

India; October 28th; Day 37; Kappad Beach

We arrive at the Bus Station in Ooty just before 6.30am to catch the bus to Calicut. The bus is already full and we take the last two seats. It turns out that the journey takes about 7 hours and we arrive in Calicut shortly after 1pm. Yesterday when we asked about this bus we were initially told 5 hours, and then later still 6 hours. I don’t think they want to discourage you or maybe the journey time can vary a lot.

The first two hours as we leave Ooty is crazy and the bus stops everywhere to load and unload school-children. The bus is heaving with them and each of them has a huge satchel which they just pile up at the back or give one to hold. Keith had three or four bags piled on him at one point.

At the final bus stop we were gobsmacked by just how many kids appeared from the from the front of the bus, scrambled down the main aisle and hopped off the back. This bus was a veritable Tardis.

The route that the bus was taking was a bit strange as it continued to go north along the edge of the Western Ghats through several small towns at which we stopped for 15 minutes before finally heading west and the Keralan coast. The final descent down to the plains was down through a series of 22 hairpins. We finally left the tea plantations behind and came down to the rubber and the bananas. The views weren’t that good on this descent though as the windows on the bus (Tamil Nadu buses have glass whilst Keralan ones don’t) was grubby and as usual the light is pale and misty.

As we leave Tamil Nadu and enter Kerala the bus becomes emptier and we speed up along the plains to the coast. We are dropped off beside the road in Calicut and decide to get a taxi for the 20km to Kappad Beach. We have an address to go to but we can get no reply at present. We take a highway north and then duck off through the coastal swamps and eventually find our tired little guest house after our taxi driver asks around a lot and backs up and down several dead –ends. The place is grubby and the proprietor seems half asleep. We take it anyway as we suspect nothing much else is about except the posh hotel right on the beach.

It’s hot and sticky down here and so after a brief rest we go for a walk to the ocean and the beach. It’s only five minutes away. The beach has nothing though except a few shacks selling snacks, an ice-cream van and the aforesaid hotel. We have lunch in the hotel and then discover it has a bar too. You have to go out the hotel and then back in another entrance where half a dozen tables are set up under a large open walled, but roofed room. It’s right next to the beach but it’s apparent that the locals are not allowed in. This hotel is big but has a slightly rundown feel. It doesn’t look like many people are here either.

After a couple of beers we take a walk up the beach with the intention of finding some other accommodation but nothing else is here. The sea is calm and the beach quite pleasant but no-one is swimming and only a few are brave enough even to paddle. Back at our dump we snooze for a while before taking a shower.

That evening we walk through the mangroves back out to the main road, away from the ocean, and find a small village. It’s only about 2km but it starts to get dark as we get there and the streets are unlit. Just as we arrive we have to cross a level crossing for the railway. The lights go and the gates close but many people blithely cross over anyway before the trains rushes through at high speed.

In the small town we walked around trying to find somewhere to eat without any success so we hired an auto-rickshaw and ride back to the Kappard Beach Hotel for dinner and a couple of beers. Whilst we are there we talk to the manager and negotiate a reasonable rate for a room for the next couple of nights.

Hanging Out

Sunset at Kappad Beach, Kerala, India
Sunset at Kappad Beach, Kerala, India

India; October 29th; Day 38; Kappad Beach

On waking we pack our stuff and walk the short distance to the Kappad Beach Resort Hotel. After dropping our gear in reception we traipse upstairs to the open-air restaurant and order breakfast. We are the only ones here.

After the usual pancakes, fruit juice and eggs and coffee we return to reception to get ourselves checked-in. They find a room for us. The rooms are separate from the reception building and are comprised of several small blocks with 4 rooms each. Two up and two down. We take a downstairs room. It’s a good room with a terrace outside with chairs, and a decent shower room.

Kappad Beach, Kerala, India
Kappad Beach, Kerala, India

Kappad Beach, Kerala, India

A Pop Video recording at Kappad Beach, Kerala, India
A Pop Video recording at Kappad Beach, Kerala, India

We laze about all morning reading books and occasionally trying to photograph the butterflies fluttering about the flowering bushes close by. Keith ambles off for a walk along the beach and tells me later about a pop video being recorded. A girl and a boy duet. The boy is wearing an afro wig and struggling to play his guitar in sync. Keith watches the crew get exasperated and the camp followers just laugh and enjoy themselves.

Blue Tiger (Tirumala limniace) at Kappad Beach, Kerala, India
Blue Tiger (Tirumala limniace) at Kappad Beach, Kerala, India

It’s a struggle to hold off on the beers until the afternoon but eventually we succumb and wander off to the bar. Absurdly they won’t allow us to order a sandwich from the restaurant to eat in the bar, and I get a packet of crisps confiscated because I bought them outside in the shacks on the beach. The bar does give us some curried chickpeas to go with the beer.

Common Crow (Euploea core) at Kappad Beach, Kerala, India
Common Crow (Euploea core) at Kappad Beach, Kerala, India
Butterfly at Kappad Beach, Kerala, India
Butterfly at Kappad Beach, Kerala, India

In the afternoon we laze in the sun and read. We cool off in the outdoor swimming pool and swim up and down amongst the floating insects. A huge sign tells us that it is prohibited to do almost anything in this pool.

Eventually we go to dinner and have a couple of more beers afterwards. This is the way to wind down a holiday.

Hanging Out Again

Sunset at Kappad Beach, Kerala, India
Sunset at Kappad Beach, Kerala, India

India; October 30th; Day 39; Kappad Beach

Today was the same as yesterday. We had the same meals and drank the same beers. We read on the terrace and had a short walk along the beach. We cooled off in the swimming pool.

Common Indian Monitorr (Varanus bengalensis)) at Kappad Beach, Kerala, India
Common Indian Monitorr (Varanus bengalensis)) at Kappad Beach, Kerala, India

Only two things were different, We spent some time on the internet trying to find somewhere to stay for tomorrow night so that we are close to the airport. More interestingly we had to spend 5 minutes trying to fish a large lizard out of the pool before we could have a swim. Keith eventually snagged it and released it.

The Raven

India; October 31st; Day 40; Chavakkad

We were packed and ready to leave this morning having decide to go to Chavakkad. We’d located somewhere to stay on the internet yesterday and would start our journey by getting the bus into Calicut at 9am.

Breakfast was as normal except that we saw a bird fall from it’s perch dead. There are no gulls along the Keralan coast and the space they occupy seems to be taken up with a species of crow. These crows noisily congregate in the palm trees along the beach, In the grounds of this hotel the staff try and shoo them away with firecrackers from time to time. This morning the noise was going on as normal when Keith just happened to notice that after a brief flurry of squawks a crow just fell to the ground dead. I had my back to it so I didn’t actually see it fall. The staff were bemused at first and didn’t really seem to know what to do. After about five minutes someone came along at scooped it up.

Crows, or more exactly Corvids, including Rooks, Jackdaws and Ravens are well established in folklore and mythology as harbingers of death, Keith and I naturally thought of our Father who has been very ill all year. We had been in contact with home recently and were pretty sure that he was on the mend and a lot better than when we left home six weeks earlier. However we weren’t to know then that our Father would die in three weeks time.

Of course birds die all the time it’s just that it’s not something one generally observes. It was a weird thing to happen.

After breakfast we carried our bags out to the hotel gate to catch the bus but apparently we had missed it. It had left early and had not left from the parking lot outside the hotel as usual. The hotel staff were perplexed but they eventually helped us organise a taxi into Calicut.

In Calicut we were dropped off close to the bus station. As usual confusion reigned here and at first we were told that this was the wrong bus station for Chavakkad however another chap insisted we could jump on this bus … so we did!

The journey took us southward out of the city and down the coast. From time to time the bus left the main highway to find its way to a small towns and villages along the way. On arrival at Chavakkad we jumped an auto-rickshaw which delivered us to our accommodation about 5 kms outside of town next to the beach.

It was a strange place, and a bit pricey, but we had no real choice. The room was fine and we had a garden to sit and read. After settling in the porter/guard/chef rustled up and omelette for our lunch. Later we had a stroll down the beach and watched a lot of fishermen milling about the old boats. We then jumped another rickshaw and went back into town to try and find some beers.

As usual it wasn’t easy. After asking around we were pointed in the direction of a bar which was a dark windowless room up a battered old iron stairway. We took one look inside and turned away in horror. Back outside we considered looking for an internet cafe so that we could check into our flights tomorrow. But we gave up on that too. However we did find another bar attached to a hotel of some kind. This one wasn’t too bad though it was full of the usual drunks. In this one you had to pay for what you wanted at a kiosk and then present the ticket at the bar to pick up your order. Inevitably we jumped yet another rickshaw to take us back to the beach.

In the afternoon we sat around reading and idling away the time and amusing ourselves by photographing the many types of dragonflies hovering about.

The boss came over later to enquire how we were and to ask us what we’d like for dinner. We though a piece of fresh fish would be good and this was arranged. Later I walked back down to the junction and was watching the fishermen unload and pack the catch with ice. The catch consisted entirely of squid. Back at the hostel I asked if it was possible to get some squid for dinner too and the boss duly sent his man down to buy some.

Dinner, of course, was subsequently very good and we enjoyed a kind of squid stew as a starter followed by a large grilled fish, Not bad at all. We went to bed early as we would be starting our marathon journey home tomorrow.

Sunset at Kappad Beach, Kerala, India

The Journey Home

India; November 1st; Day 41; New Delhi

It was to be a long long day of travel today as we go home. We kick off by having a good breakfast of eggs and coffee at our place by the beach. We have to hang around a little bit waiting for the boss to come down so we can pay the bill. We finish packing and then watch the dragonflies.

Green Marsh Hawk (Orthetrum sabina) at Chavakkad, Kerala, India
Green Marsh Hawk (Orthetrum sabina) at Chavakkad, Kerala, India
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Ruddy Marsh Skimmer or Scarlet Skimmer (Crocothemis servilia) female at Chavakkad, Kerala, India
Unknown dragonfly at Chavakkad, Kerala, India
Unknown dragonfly at Chavakkad, Kerala, India
Ground Skimmer (Diplacodes trivialis) at Chavakkad, Kerala, India
Ground Skimmer (Diplacodes trivialis) at Chavakkad, Kerala, India

Then the journey begins. First we take an auto-rickshaw into town where we pick up a taxi to take us to Cochin airport. It’s about a two hour ride. We have a long wait before our flight to New Delhi which has a stopover at Hyderabad. At New Delhi it’s madness waiting for the luggage off the carousel after which we have to queue for a taxi into the city. Remember we have to return to the Connaught Hotel to pick up the luggage we’ve left behind from the Himalayan part of our trip. Our luggage is where we left it and we have time for a last couple of pints of Kingfisher before taking another taxi back to the airport.

It’s the usual palaver of checking in and I lose my pocket knife which I’ve spent the last 6 weeks looking for! Keith just laughs. Our flight leaves at 3am. I sleep the first half and doze the rest. It’s relatively painless.

UK; November 2nd; Day 42; Aylesham

The flight arrives on time and it’s the usual boring stuff to get through at the airport. Then it’s the tube into London and train from Victoria down into Kent. It’s unfortunate that we have to wait at Canterbury East for the slow train to Aylesham – the last 15 minutes.

Back in the village we walk up to Keith’s place and then drive up to Mum and Dad’s house. It’s been an exhausting 36 hours or so travelling but here we are. My Dad looks a lot better than when we left and it looks like he’s making a slow but steady recovery.

Sadly we weren’t to know then that we would lose our father in a matter of weeks after our return.

Interactive Map of our travels in Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

2009 India Kerala Map
Map of our travels in Kerala and Tamil Nadu, India 2009

India 2009 Part 8

From the road from Periyar to Munnar, Kerala, India
From the road from Periyar to Munnar, Kerala, India

Up to the Hills of Periyar

India; October 20th; Day 29; Periyar

After breakfast with George he gets his driver to take us to the bus stop in Kottayam in his auto-rickshaw. We ask around and hop on the Kumily bus which is to take us away from the waterways and up into the hills. It’s a bumpy 4 hour ride and the road gradually rises. In the fields that we pass we first see rubber plantations, then coffee and then tea. The bus is busy but not too bad.

On arrival we cart our gear into the Tourist Office which actually has some information. Five minutes later we are in an auto-rickshaw to the Green View Hostel. The room is fine; we have hot water and we have a terrace. It’s a pity that there is a building site next door but never mind.

We wander back into the town to search out somewhere for lunch. Nothing looks interesting or even safe so we return to Chrissie’s which is just down the road from Green View and seems to be a refuge for travellers seeking normal, e.g. non-Indian, food. We have pasta.

In the afternoon we try to find some more information about the Periyar National Park which is just out of town. We can’t even find the office never mind the information. But after a while we do finally stumble upon it. No point though as it is next to useless. So we decide to walk into the park anyway and see what we can see. It about a 3 or 4km walk which is not too bad and the woods are quite interesting. However when we get down to the park buildings and the lake we find that really nothing is going on. A couple of weeks ago they had an accident here where a boat on the lake sank with the loss of twenty  lives. The park was closed for a while and now it’s re-opened. Nothing is happening however. No boat trips, no hikes and certainly no three day Tiger Trek which is what we were hoping to do. It’s all a bit disappointing.

The lake at the Tiger Reserve at Periyar, Kerala, India
The lake at the Tiger Reserve at Periyar, Kerala, India
Unknown primate at Kumily, Periyar, Kerala, India
Unknown primate at Kumily, Periyar, Kerala, India

We go in the park hotel for a cup of tea and watch the monkeys clambering about the place. Surprisingly quite a few Indian tourists are about but all they seem to want to do is get off the bus, look at the view and get back on the bus. Their is nothing to do here! We take a rickshaw back to town.

Unknown moth at Kumily, Periyar, Kerala, India
Unknown moth at Kumily, Periyar, Kerala, India

In the evening we have dinner at the Green View which is a major disappointment. We sit in a windowless dingy room and have boiled rice with boiled vegetables. We are too listless to do anything in the evening except to go for a desultory walk and confirm to ourselves that not a lot can be done in this town. You can buy spices if you want. The only sign of life is the effort the spice shops make to sell you some cardamon or something.

On the terrace we drink beer and look for football on the TV.

Night Walk in the Tiger Reserve

India; October 21st; Day 30; Periyar

We have breakfast at our hostel. It’s not very good. We idle away the day trying to figure out something to do around here. Not much is the answer. We can’t find anyone offering any trekking or hiking and the mountain bike place has stopped offering the 3 day bike ride we saw in a brochure. It was hoped that we could ride bikes to Munnar but we can’t so we decide that we’ll take a taxi instead. Ir’s only about 10 times the price of the bus but it’s quicker and we’ll be able to stop along the way where we want. In any case it means we are getting out of this place.

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The only thing we can find to do is a night walk through the Periyar Tiger Reserve it starts at 7pm tonight.

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Just down the road from where we are staying we find a good place for lunch. The Coconut Garden. The young boys that are running it seem to be keen and enthusiastic. They don’t even mind serving us beer. We idle away the afternoon reading on the terrace.

At the park gates at shortly before 7pm we watch a couple of boys kicking a football around. We hang around for half-an-hour before our Guide turns up and walks us into the park where we wait some more. Finally at 7.45 an armed guard turns up and we can go. Apparently we need the guard in case we come across tigers. We are given sackcloth bootees to put on underneath our boots. This is our protection against what? We don’t really know. As an added protection the guide puts tobacco dust on our boots too.

Eventually we stumble off into the darkness. We are out walking until about 10pm and see quite a few things; Sambar Deer, Barking Deer (Muntjac), some large Flying Fox Fruit Bats (Dog-faced), which are roosting, and a huge Indian Crested Porcupine. It’s a bit creepy shining our torches through the darkness and glimpsing the creatures of the night but it’s fun. We don’t see any tigers.

When we leave the park we make a half-hearted attempt to find somewhere to eat. But hardly a soul stirs in the sleepy town. So we just go to bed.

Taxi to Munnar

From the road from Periyar to Munnar, Kerala, India
From the road from Periyar to Munnar, Kerala, India

India; October 22nd; Day 31; Munnar

To avoid breakfast at the Green View we walk down the street to the Coconut Garden. The young boys had assured that they would be open ay 8. But no one was there. So we strolled back to Chrissie’s and ordered eggs and porridge. The eggs came first!

Our taxi arrives on time and we leave we se the lads from the Coconut Garden. They only laugh when we tell them that they missed our breakfast. The taxi ride takes about four hours as it winds over the hills through tea plantation country. Some of them look very smart with Poinsettia hedges and Tulip trees in flower amongst the tea. The reds and the greens are very striking together.

From the road from Periyar to Munnar, Kerala, India
From the road from Periyar to Munnar, Kerala, India

When the road rises over a pass we stop for a photo opportunity. The views are spectacular if a little hazy. We don’t realise it but we will be back here tomorrow morning for a sunrise hike.

From the road from Periyar to Munnar, Kerala, India
From the road from Periyar to Munnar, Kerala, India

On arriving in town we cross over the bridge and head for the old town which is separated by about a mile from the new town. We find ourselves a place to stay which is also called Green View. After checking in we wander into town and meander around the market. Because we have organised an early morning hike tomorrow and because Keith has no walking shoes (they were ruined after the Himalayas) we potter around and buy some cheap replacements. Our guide book mentions the High Range Club where you can get a drink. The only problem is you need to look smart. We don’t! In any case we decide to give it a go and take an auto-rickshaw out there. It’s a couple of miles out of town.

Frpm the road from Periyar to Munnar, Kerala, India
From the road from Periyar to Munnar, Kerala, India

When we get there we try and get in but the doorman is not convinced and when he gets the manager it becomes clear that we are not welcome. It’s ironic as this used to be a colonial place for the British only. Indian members have been allowed only since independence in 1947. We are sent on our way and walk back into town.

From the road from Periyar to Munnar, Kerala, India
From the road from Periyar to Munnar, Kerala, India

All is not lost however as our hostel is civilised enough to sell beer and we sit upstairs on the terrace reading and drinking the ubiquitous Kingfisher. We meet a couple of Aussies and later, in the evening, stroll down to the corner to a canteen style restaurant and have a good meal.

Dawn Hike

Dawn above Munnar, Kerala, India
Dawn above Munnar, Kerala, India

India; October 23rd; Day 32; Munnar

We are up at 5pm to set off on our early morning hike. It’s just me and Keith and a guide. It’s about a 13km jeep ride back to the pass where we came over yesterday and we are dropped off just as the sun begins to rise. I’m a bit disappointed as I would have liked to have been on the top when the sun began to rise. No matter it’s good to be about.

Trek: 4hrs 5mins starting at 6.10
Low: 1784 at 10.15
High: 2281 at 7.46
Descent: 6181m
Ascent: 498

Dawn above Munnar, Kerala, India
Dawn above Munnar, Kerala, India

It takes about 2 hours to reach the top as the sun comes over the ranges behind us. The path is quite clear though we have to scramble up some bare rock faces at times. They are not too steep. Although it’s hazy the views are good all round.

Me and Keith and guide above Munnar, Kerala, India
Me and Keith and guide above Munnar, Kerala, India

At the top our guide produces a flask of coffee, some egg sandwiches and some fruit and we sit in the sun having our breakfast. It’s unfortunate that we have to descend the way we had come but now that the sun is up I am diverted by the many butterflies and dragonflies about. There are also plenty of interesting wild flowers about and we are told that this is quite an unusual micro-climate and ecosystem up here. Whilst at the top we are surprised to see a troop of monkeys clambering over the rocks. We are also privileged to see the Nilgiri Tahr which is endemic to this area. It’s a type of mountain goat a bit like the European Ibex.

Above Munnar, Kerala India
Above Munnar, Kerala India

The descent is very pleasant in the warm sunshine and we take our time. When we reach our starting point our guide telephones for the jeep and whilst we are waiting we walk down the road towards Munnar and enjoy the views over the tea plantations. In retrospect I think we could have walked all the way home through the tea,. But we didn’t and arrived back at the hostel about 11.

We strolled into town to try and get a second breakfast but we didn’t have much luck and ended up having scrambled eggs in a fancy hotel.

Above Munnar, Kerala, India
Above Munnar, Kerala, India

As has become customary we spent the afternoon reading and tried not to start on the Kingfishers too early. We would be leaving Kerala tomorrow and entering Tamil Nadu. This meant that our Kerala Lonely Planet was useless. Fortunately Keith was able to lift an old guide book to South India from the hostels library!

We went to the same place for dinner as it didn’t seem worth the effort to try and find somewhere else. The food here is good anyway even if it’s always chicken.Dawn above Munnar, Kerala, IndiaDawn above Munnar, Kerala, IndiaAbove Munnar, Kerala India

Flower on our dawn walk above  Munnar, Kerala, Indiahouse_20091023_D_049997Flower on our dawn walk above  Munnar, Kerala, India

Flower on our dawn walk above Munnar, Kerala, India
Flower on our dawn walk above Munnar, Kerala, India
Glassy Tiger (Parantica aglea)  on our dawn walk above Munnar, Kerala, India
Glassy Tiger (Parantica aglea) on our dawn walk above Munnar, Kerala, India
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Common Lime Swallowtail (Papilio demoleus) on our dawn walk above Munnar, Kerala, India
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Queen of Spain Fritillary (Issoria lathonia) on our dawn walk above Munnar, Kerala, India

Into Tamil Nadu

India; October 24th; Day 33; Mettupalayam

Yesterday we had managed to figure out how to get to the Nilgiri Mountain Railway which runs from Mettupalayam to Ooty. We were aiming for Coonoor which is the stop before Ooty. It would take us two days.

We learnt that a bus left for Coimbatore at 6.30am from the end of the street so we got up early and waited. Sometimes it’s a bit difficult to figure out where a bus is going. The front sign is normally in Hindi or Malayam (around here) and the English is invariably on the side of the bus only. We waved down a couple of buses first and then waited some more. The locals who were opening up their stalls assured us we were in the right place. Our bus did arrive and we were treated to a five minute ride into the new town where it stopped and waited for half an hour! Time enough to get a cup of tea.

The six hour ride passed by quite quickly helped by intermittent dozing. The first four hours or so was quite picturesque as we again passed through tea country. More Poinsettias and flowering red Tulip Trees. The last two hours were spent driving along a main highway along a dry dusty valley with cactus and strange trees.

At Coimbatore we had to find another bus to Mettupalayam. This took some effort to figure but eventually we were assured that if we jumped on this local cross-town bus it would take us to the correct bus station. It did. We had a short cramped and dizzy run through the town. At the other end we locate the bus we need and an hour later we arrive in Mettupalayam. Outside the bus station we stagger across the street and find a place to stay. It’s a bit decrepit but the rooms are large and we have a TV. I’m convinced that we can watch Man Utd against Liverpool tonight but it turns out that that is tomorrow. We watch Spurs instead.

For lunch we find ourselves a place to eat which looks very much like a fast food place. Amazingly many of the dishes are served on a banana leaf and eaten with the fingers. We get something else and eat with a knife and fork. It’s not bad.

We do get ourselves outside and walk down to the Railway Station. This is a terminus for the mainline but also the starting point for the mountain railway. We manage to buy Reserve Tickets for 240 rupees for the two of us. The train leaves at 7.30 but we are advised to be there at 6. Its a bit confusing as I think these tickets merely allow us to queue up for the real tickets!

In the evening we wander around a bit. We are not so hungry so when we find that the local grocery store makes and sells pizzas we decide to sit down and stay. The pizza is about as big as a tea saucer. the fresh fruit drinks are good though.  The local wine shop (which is what the off-license is called even though they don’t sell wine) is just around the corner from the hotel. We get some beers and watch TV.

India 2009 Part 7

17 Hours on the road

India; October 14th; Day 23; New Delhi

Woke up at 4.30 this morning all packed and ready to go on our marathon trip to Delhi. We are attempting to do it in one fell swoop and avoid a night in Rishikesh. We say farewell to our porters who amazingly have got up this early to help us get the bus loaded. I presume they will make an early start to get home. The bus leaves promptly at 5.

For the first couple of hours the road is unmade and therefore slow and bumpy. At about 8 we stopped somewhere alongside the Tehri Reservoir for a breakfast of toast and omelette. after plenty of ascents and descents on the winding road, and plenty of napping too, we arrive at Rishikesh about midday. Halfway to Haridwar we stop at the Midway Resort for lunch. We know this place from our last trip to India in 2005. We have our first meat for three weeks; Chicken Marsala … what else. More importantly we have our first beer for three weeks too. Nectar. Of course we have two pints as the first one disappeared quickly!

Now we are on the dusty plains for the dreary ride to Delhi. The roads are pretty terrible and the journey goes on and on and on. Our driver goes slower and slower. Delhi slowly gets closer but I doubt that we are doing much more than 25 kph. We stop somewhere for tea.

As it gets dark the world seems to get madder and the last hours into the city seem to drag and drag.

It’s after 10pm when we finally arrive after having dropped off the Cook and Maneesh at Himalayan Run and Trek. We meet Heera here, our guide from the Trek in 2005 but we are far to tired to say much more than hello.

Everyone is completely exhausted and irascible when we get to the hotel, especially me and all we can do is have a couple of beers before crashing out. I’m shattered. It was a horribly horrible day.

Arrival in Kerala

India; October 15th; Day 24; Ernakulam

We were up early at about 7 and went downstairs for breakfast. The people from Himalayan Run and Trek were arriving at about 8 to discuss our trip and to help us with the arrangements for the next part of our journey. Keith and I were going to Kerala for a couple of weeks whilst Jim, Adriana, Jan and James were going home. We were in New Delhi a couple of days early so we needed to re-arrange our flights.

Keith and I use the hotels internet to find out the flight details to Kochi (Cochin). It looks like we will have to pay again. The others will have to stay another night here before they can get a flight home. I think they just have to pay a surcharge. The Connaught Hotel staff are very friendly and we manage to find a flight that is leaving today about midday. It doesn’t leave us much time. We also manage to arrange to leave a bag here at the hotel which contains all the camping gear we wont require on the next leg. On our return to New Delhi we will have to come back here to pick it up before returning to the airport. This is a much better option than dragging it all around with us.

The Himalayan Run and Track team offer us a lift to the airport and we leave in a rush after saying our goodbyes to the others. It’s decided that we will discuss the consequences of the trek re-arrangements at a later date.

At the airport we manage to pick up our tickets for the flight and get through the usual palaver of the check-in and security. Keith loses his knife as he’d left it in his hand-luggage!

After an initial delay we eventually leave for the first hop to Mumbai. We spend an hour on the tarmac and then take-off for Kochi where we arrive about 5.30. The sun is just going down, but it’s still pleasantly warm.

We take a pre-paid taxi into Ernakulam and find that our first two choices of hotel are full! The taxi has dumped us off at the first one so we have to manhandle our luggage through town to find another. The staff at the Sealord Hotel are friendly and apologetic that they can’t fit us in and get on the phone to a neighbouring hotel. We taxi around to the SAAS Tower and check-in. After a quick shower we go back to the Sealord as it is one of the few places in town with a bar selling beer! We have dinner at the rooftop restaurant. The beers are great and the food is good too.

We crash out tired after a mad two days. At least we are here. All we have to do now is figure where to go and what to do!

Daytrip to Fort Kochi (Cochin)

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India; October 16th; Day 25; Ernakulam

Another early start start and after a coldish shower we have breakfast downstairs in the empty and cavernous dining room. very sweet banana pancakes as I recall. In the lobby we arrange for a big pile of laundry to be done. almost everything we have is still dirty from the Himalayan trip.

We stroll out into the town and find a scruffy tourist information place in the a bus station. Apart from a few day trips they can’t help us much. Apparently all the backwater stuff is organised from Aleppey which is further down the coast. We search for and find anther Tourist Information place but it too has nothing much to offer. Their is no doubt that they are trying to be helpful it’s just that aside from a few brochures they know next to nothing. This will turn out to be a feature of our time in Kerala. We do however have a Lonely Planet Guide to Kerala with us so we will see how useful it turns out to be.

Back at the hotel we read through some info in the book and Keith phones a place near Kottayam and books us in for two nights. At least we are getting out of this town tomorrow now all we have to do is think about today. It’s easy really as only one place springs to mind. We will go over the water to Fort Kochi and do the tourist thing.

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The ferry terminal is back out through the old bus station and past the first tourist shack. The ferry building itself is not too bad but no infrastructure has been built to get to it! We walk over a pile of rubble and jump a couple of ditches to get to it. Inside we see a timetable on the wall and a line of people queuing. Their is a separate line for women! We clamber into the broken old boat and chug across the limpid water to Kochi. It takes about 40 minutes.

When we disembark we walk towards the main part of the old town. Almost at once we find a restaurant that serves beer and seeing as it’s still a novelty for us we sit down and have a couple. the weather is warm but the sky is hazy.  The restaurant has a stall out front where they sell fresh fish. two huge blue lobsters are moving slowly on a bed of ice. A huge fresh water fish is swimming gloomily around a small tank. I fancy those lobsters though.

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Continuing our walk down the street we come across a small dock where the fishermen are unloading their catch. Huge blocks of ice are being put through a crusher on the back of a truck and the fish is being packed into crates. Along the street a row of tiny vendors are selling fish too.

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Where the seafront building give way to a promenade we come across the famous Chinese Nets. Almost every photograph of Kochi features these nets against the unset. The legend goes that the design of these nets was brought to this coast of India by fleet of the Chines Imperial Navy during the 15th C. Some historians believe that this armada circumnavigated the globe and discovered the Americas long before Cook and Columbus.

We watched these fishermen lower the shallow nets into the water. They are balanced by boulders tied to ropes. But when they haul them out again after a few minutes the catch was of a few paltry little fish only. Keith got roped into helping out a team on one of the nets and they asked for money after I’d taken a few shots. It’s possible that they make more money from tourism now and who can blame them?

On walking further down the shore we passed some fish selling stalls. In places the boys merely had a rug on the floor with the fish spread out. the novelty here was that you bought the fish from them and then they carried it to a local cafe and they cooked it up for you! We walked further down the promenade and then back to through a children’s park to find a row of shacks selling fish lunches. We stopped and had freshly grilled prawns and kalamari on the little tables outside on the pavement. We expected this place to be heaving with tourists but we didn’t see that many at all.

Our guide book noted a few museums to visit so we duly attempted to find them. Down a long empty street past some dilapidated villas we came to the Maritime Museum. It had a boat outside! It was lunch time. It was closed. The guard at the door made no sign that we could go inside anyway and it didn’t re-open for another hour. We didn’t wait.

We retraced our steps toward the main part of town and come across a schoolyard full of screaming kids. Beyond them was the entrance to the Indo-Portuguese Museum which was open. This part of India was ‘discovered’ by Vasco de Gama when he sailed he with a fleet of four ships in 1497. We would later travel to Kappad which is where he first landed in Kerala. The museum here was merely a collection of early Christian artefacts and really quite dull. It is alleged that Christianity was first brought to this coast by St. Thomas in 52AD. Certainly the Christian churches in Kerala are called Syrian Churches. The stuff in the museum though is related to the churches that the Portuguese built in the tears after Vasco de Gama. They must have been surprised to find Christians here already.

In the same grounds of the museum was the Bishops Palace where the Cardinal of Kochi resides. A couple of weeks later whilst we were in Tamil Nadu we read in the paper that the Cardinal had died.  The curator at the Palace noticing that we were wandering about invited us in to look at some of the rooms in the Palace. This was interesting. On one wall was a long list of the Cardinals of Kochi spanning five centuries.

After this we wandered back to the narrow streets of the old town and nosed around the tourist shops. I spent five minutes in an Internet Cafe but couldn’t deal with the dingy light and crappy keyboard. It was time for another beer and it was not easy to find. On one street we saw a tiny written sign which pointed down a scruffy side-alley. At the end of that was a small cafe. Inside we enquired after beer and the man led us through the cafe to a small garden out the back, We sat down and waited and he re-appeared five minutes later carrying a tray of tea-cups and a teapot. We looked bemused, but the teapot was actually full of cold beer and we were expected to drink it from the cups! Beer, all alcohol,  is still largely frowned upon and licences to sell it for the locals are still hard to come by. Our search for beer will become another theme of our journey through the south of India! When we emptied the teapot we ordered another couple of Kingfishers and this time he just left the bottles though he asked us to put them on the floor under the table so they’d be out of sight. The ubiquitous Kingfisher beer. It tastes great now after our three week abstinence but it wont be long before we are sick of it! Not enough to stop us searching for it and drinking it though.

We’ve done a lot of aimless wandering about today but the mission now is to find that first place where we had beer and see if the lobster is still available. We do and it is. At the restaurant we settle down and then change tables. I can’t quite remember why. Maybe it had no air-conditioning. In any case the meal was great and we enjoyed a couple of beers. Marvellous.

It wasn’t far then to walk back down to the ferry dock to get a late boat back to Ernakulam and from there the short walk back to the hotel.

Canoeing on the waterways

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India; October 17th; Day 26; Kottayam

We got up early this morning, packed, skipped breakfast and took an auto-rickshaw to a bus station. In the usual maelstrom and scrum we managed to determine which bus would take us to Kottayam and piled on. This was the first of many bus rides and it had all the required features. The overhead racks are too small for your luggage, the seats are hard and the windows are non-existent. Who needs windows in this heat? We were early so we had plenty of room at first but it soon got full as we went along.

After pushing through the traffic of Ernakulum the bus drove south on the main highway taking many detours into several small towns along the way. We had arranged with George, the proprietor of GK’s Home-stay a few kilometers outside Kottayam that he would meet us in town at the bus station and take us to his place. After a few hours traveling we arrived at a Kottayam bus station but could see no sign of him. As is usual the towns here have a number of bus stations, one of which is the one used by the State Bus Company and the others used bi various other operators. Keith got on the phone and George eventually found us and the three of us piled into his auto-rickshaw with our luggage (a tight fit!) for the short ride. After careering through the traffic in town we headed out into the country eventually crossing a footbridge over a canal and down a rutted path to reach the home-stay.

George’s homestay was by the riverbank and the lodgings were just down a small track at the back. The place had four separate rooms all joined together with a common veranda with a small garden in front. It looked out over a rice-paddy which was at the moment just a brown muddy field.

After our introductions and the usual formalities we settled down. We arranged to have some lunch and George came back for us a while later to take us to his house. All our meals would be taken in his house and generally George would sit down with and chat. Though he didn’t eat with us. We stayed three nights in the end after originally just booking for two, and we were the only guests whilst we were there. George lived with his wife, his mother and his father-in-law. His wife did all the home cooking for us and we were treated to Keralan cuisine at all times. George’s daughter was there too, home from university. he has a son too.

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When we’d finished lunch George showed us his canoe which was tied up in the canal opposite the house. It was a tradition style wooden boat a good 20ft long and he claimed a 100 years old. It was held together by brass rivets. It was a smart looking vessel but spoiled by having poor paddles, one of which was plastic. George offered to paddle us around the local waterways but we assured him that we were experienced paddlers and that we would be safe on our own. Fortunately he handed us a map of the local network of backwaters which would help us in our meanderings. at that point we decided that we’d relax in the afternoon and go for a paddle later when it had cooled off a bit.

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We passed away the sultry afternoon by sitting on the veranda and reading our books. If an occasional butterfly or dragonfly appeared then I’d get myself to take a photograph or two. We were also keeping an eye on the birds which were flitting about. The highlight of the afternoon came when a huge Monitor Lizard made an appearance. Although quite a drab brown colour it was about a metre long. It stealthily moved about the grass in front of us it’s forked tongue flicking. It used it’s feet to scrub up the dirt in places and seemed to be eating small insects. It crept about quite slowly and we watched it for a good half an hour before it ambled off into the undergrowth. It came to within a yard or two of and appeared quite oblivious. I wondered quite how good it’s eyesight was! George’s wife brought down a pot of tea in the afternoon.

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At 4pm we got ourselves together and prepared to try the canoe. We grabbed the paddles from the side of George’s place and settled ourselves in. I took the bow and the plastic paddle and Keith took the stern and wooden paddle. There was quite a distance between us! There’s not much flow in these backwaters and it was difficult to work out if it was flowing at all but we went in the direction that we assumed was downstream.

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We paddled slowly down the canal for about half an hour until we slipped under a bridge and took the right fork. Eventually we reached another bridge and a much larger canal. On the corner was a char shop where a group of men were taking tea. As the light was failing we decided to turn around here and paddled back the way we had come. On our way we passed sights that would become familiar to us as we spent several days in and around the waterways. We saw women washing clothes on the bank, we saw children splashing and playing in the water, we saw men fishing and we passed several other canoes moseying along. It was quiet and peaceful apart from the occasional motor-bike bumping along the track beside the water.

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As we returned so George came out to help us tie up. He was probably relieved that we had not got lost. At dinner that evening he told us a few tales about having to rescue guests who had lost their way in the complex network of canals. After dinner we relaxed and read again. George had supplied us with a couple of beers to drink as we whiled away the evening.

Paddling about the Waterways

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India; October 18th; Day 27; Kottayam

As usual we were up early. On our way to breakfast at 8 we saw a kingfisher on a power line and a butterfly on a weird lacy mushroom. At breakfast we were given fresh fruit and a coconut rice dish. We also had fresh coffee which George makes from his own coffee plants.

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Today we decided to do a longer paddle and we got ourselves on the water about 10am and didn’t return until after 1pm. With the map that George had hand-drawn for us we managed to do a circular route. After following our original route of yesterday we continued along the major canal to reach another junction. We would find out later that this is where we would need to come tomorrow to catch the public ferry for our trip to Aleppey. Today though we turned up another wide canal until we found a very small and narrow canal which would cut us back through above George’s place. It was obvious that not many people travelled this way as we were met by smiling glances from the women working on the banks and washing clothes in the river and by the laughter of the children. “Hello”, “How are you?” they would ask and then say “I’m fine, thank you” in reply. As if they’d learnt it by rote. “Where are you from?” would inevitably come next. From time to time some of the children would run down the bank and ask us for pens. We didn’t have pens but it’s clear that some of the tourists that do come here must bring a pocketful. In actual fact we didn’t see any other tourists in this part of the water-ways and only saw them on the rice boats on the larger canals and lakes. Apart from the locals going about their business we were the only loafers about.

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We were looking out for any wild-life and saw several types of butterflies and dragonflies. Numerous birds were about too. Kingfishers mostly. In the water we were astonished to disturb plenty of snakes. Every five minutes or so we would see a small, foot long, snake, swimming in the water along the bank. On one occasion we saw a larger snake, may be a yard long, attempting to slither out of the water onto the bank. The presence of so many snakes didn’t seem to deter the children that we saw playing and bathing in the water.

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At one point we were amazed to see a huge flock of ducks on the water apparently being shepherded by a man in a boat. They seemed to know what they were doing as they arrived at a bank and proceeded to leave the water in a steady line. Only a few stragglers needed to be encouraged. Apparently these ducks are farmed for eggs and not meat so we wouldn’t be getting duck for dinner. We came across this duck husbandry twice whilst out canoeing. At dinner we asked George about it and he tried to get us a duck egg for breakfast the next day, but didn’t!

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In the afternoon we lazed around again and did some reading. We probably washed out some clothes too and hung them out on the line. The Monitor Lizard made another appearance but didn’t give quite the same show as yesterday. I can’t properly recall if we did another canoe trip later that afternoon. It’s possible. We did however go for a walk around the area thinking we would see things differently from footpaths. George advised us on a route so that we would do a circular route and not lose our way. We almost did though as we found ourselves on the wrong side of a canal and had to walk quite a way to find a bridge so that we could cross over and find our way back. We were almost tempted to ask a local boatman if he would ferry us at one point. It was this evening that we got a good view of the fruit bats. As the sun comes down they emerge from their roosting sites to feed. They are large bats with an almost cartoon like shape as you watch them silhouetted against the sky. These are the largest bats I’ve ever seen. Occasionally we saw a dead one tangled up on a power line. It was amazing to see small flocks of them flapping overhead.

On our return we washed up and went up to George’s place for dinner. He was always interesting to talk to and tonight we were discussing our plans for tomorrow. Keith and I had thought about going on one of those large rice boats that ply the Keralan waterways. They are like small floating hotels, very popular with visiting tourists and therefore expensive. George’s suggestion was that we would get exactly the same experience if we travelled on the local ferries. Of course this would be a lot cheaper too. He told us that we could catch a ferry from very close to here and this would take us out across the lake to a small town on the other side. From there we could catch a bus into Aleppey, spend a few hours there and then catch a public boat all the way back across the lake and through the waterways to Kottayam. From there we could catch a bus back to George’s place. So that was sorted then. That first boat leaves at 8.30. Obviously we have decided to stay another night.

That evening we drank beers and read as usual.

Public Ferry to Alleppey

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India; October 19th; Day ; Kottayam

After breakfast George walks us down to the corner to point us in the right direction for the ferry stop. We follow a small canal and say hello to a few villagers along the way and a couple of children preparing for school. Joining a larger canal we cross over a bridge pass a temple, cross another bridge and arrive at the ferry stop. No-one else seems to be around. Shortly however the ferry makes an appearance and we watch as it is turned around using poles. All the customers then arrive from the surrounding houses and shops. It’s full of people apparently going to work and children going to school.

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As we proceed the boat stops from time to time to pick up more passengers and it’s soon quite full. When the ferry reaches the end of the canal and before it starts across the lake most of the schoolchildren disembark.

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The lake is huge and the shores are barely discernible in the distance. Small rafts of water-hyacinth float around us. We see our first view of the rice boats used as tourist boats as we cross the lake. In the middle of the lake we see some small fishing boats and are surprised to see some fishermen in the water. It’s apparently only a yard deep.

After a journey of two and a half hours the boat pulls into Muhamma and we disembark and start walking into town. It’s not far and we try and photograph some attractive yellow dragonflies to no avail along the way. Once in town we ask around to find out where the bus to Alleppey stops. At the main cross-roads we find a lot of people milling around and after a while we decide to take an auto-rickshaw instead.. We try waving some down but they are all busy. Eventually a local man points us on the direction of a taxi-rank and we get in one. As we turn the corner we stop and pick this fellow up and he shares the ride into town with us.

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At Alleppey (Alapuzha) we get dropped off and walk through the scruffy little place down to the docks. We want to ascertain the time and departure point of a public ferry back to Kottayam. After figuring that out we walk back into town. It’s not very enticing so we decide that we’ll go out to the beach. We wait futilely at a bus-stop and then jump another rickshaw. It’s only a short ride. The beach is a disappointment too. The beach itself is not bad but their is nothing around and it’s all a bit empty. The guide book advises us not to even think about going in the water.  In fact the whole time we are in Kerala we dare not go in the sea. It’s a great pity because with a bit of effort this would be a great spot.

After wandering around a little we decide to get some lunch. Three places are mentioned in the book; one is closed down, another doesn’t seem to have much in the way of a lunch menu and the third is a bit westernised. We choose the latter as the least worst. Actually the food is fine and we get chatting to a couple from the UK who are spending a few days here. I can’t imagine why. Fortunately they sell beers so all is not lost.

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Another short ride in a rickshaw delivers us back to the dock and we get a boat that leaves at about 2pm. It’s crowded with people and their shopping. The ferry leads out to the lake down a short canal where we see a whole string of the tourist rice boats of all shapes and sizes and levels of comfort. We pass many more as we come into the lake and as we sail into and along the broad canals. On the open decks of these boats we can see the guests enjoying drinks and relaxing. We pass several examples of the Syrian churches as we go and small boats ferrying goods about. The canals get narrower as we approach Kottayam and we go under several bridges which have to be raised by a fellow pulling on a rope.

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On arrival at Kottayam we find ourselves quite a way out of town. Only one thing to do; so we grab yet another rickshaw and get driven home. It’s not so straightforward though as our driver doesn’t read and asks another fellow to read George’s card. He;s not sure of the address either and we have to stop many times whilst he asks for directions, shows the card, discusses for a bit and finally moves on. We do eventually get close. At which point we abandon our transport a walk the last bit home. George is glad to see that we’ve made it!

After washing up we return for dinner. It’s chicken again, for the third night running, but as usual it’s cooked in a different, and Keralan, manner. We read and drink beer on the terrace as usual before retiring.

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
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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
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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.

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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
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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

India 2009 Part 5

In which we climb over the Masar Pass at 5011m above the snow-line. First we leave Kedarnath and climb up to the Vasuki Tal (a lake). The view are spectacular. The next day we aim for another lake: Masar Tal, but we run out of time and camp in the snow just below the pass. It’s dramatic the next day as we struggle over the pass and descend over a glacier to Masar Tal.

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On the trail to Vasuki Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 16 In the middle foreground is the glacier head at Kedarnath which is revered as the source of the Ganges (one of them anyway!)

India; October 7th; Day 16; Vasuki Tal; 4287m

Trek: 4hrs 35mins starting at 8.57
Low: 3606m at 09.00
High: 4527m at 12.39
Descent: 292m
Ascent: 956m

We have heard this morning that the new porters hired yesterday have gone back down to Gauri Kund and that out guide Ajay has left this morning at 4am to retrieve them or to hire replacements. Nobody has any idea of what happened or why they would have done that. We however are determined to carry on regardless as are the porters we already have. It’s a beautiful morning anyway.

On the trail to Vasuki Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 16
On the trail to Vasuki Tal. Keith gives me a hand crossing this stream.
On the trail to Vasuki Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 16
The distant mountains above Kedarnath
On the trail to Vasuki Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 16
Me and Keith take a breather on the way to Vasuki Tal

Keith and I set off only having a rough idea of where the trail head is, though we know which direction to take. In an attempt to take a short cut we find that we have to cross a stream at a waterfall to reach the trail proper. Keith gives me a hand across and we find the trail which zigzags steeply up to the pass.

On the trail to Vasuki Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 16
Some parts of the trail are well made
On the trail to Vasuki Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 16
The cloud obscures the view

From time to time we look back in an attempt to see if the others are coming the same way. There are many butterflies about; a Clouded Yellow, a Tortoiseshell and many many Fritillaries. the views down to Kedarnath and of the mountains all around are superb. As we climb the Rhododendrons become smaller until we are above the tree-line altogether. Eventually we could spot others on the trail below us and a couple of the porters caught us up.

The trail continued to climb and Keith went on ahead as I slowed down. he was waiting for me at the pass although this turned out not to be the high point. As usual in the afternoons the cloud rolled in and we could no longer see the mountains around us. We then walked to the real pass and surveyed our descent beyond.

On the trail to Vasuki Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 16
Vasuki Tal itself

It was a steep descent and I again lingered to take photographs by a small lake. Eventually the lake of Vasuki Tal came into view though I could see no one else or any evidence of where the campsite might be. I walked down to the shore and then presumed that the trail went around the left bank to the far end. I didn’t see anyone else until I was almost on top of them as I crossed the stream leaving the lake on stepping stones.

At Vasuki Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 16
Vasuk Tal: now where is the camp site?

We had a long wait here for all our stuff to arrive and unbelievably some of the porters left again to go back and get some more loads. They had no idea if Ajay had been successful in getting more porters or not. It was after dark when Ajay arrived with the new porters. Fortunately our camping gear had arrived before this and we were able to set up camp. It was difficult to find a level spot though and it turned out to be an uncomfortable night for me.

At Vasuki Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 16
Setting up camp at Vasuki Tal

 

The campsite at Vasuki Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 16
Looking down on the camp at Vasuki Tal

About his time it started to hail and snow too so we had dinner inside the Mess tent.

It was a good hike today and it felt good to be back on the trail after two nights in Kedarnath. But we are obviously concerned about the Porter situation. We will see how things are in the morning. You have to think that Ajay walked the 14km down to Gauri Kund and then 14km back up and then did the trail we’ve done too. And the new porters have had a double day, and some of our regular porters went back to fetch more gear and so walked the trail three times! Unbelievable. We will see what the mood is like tomorrow.

Vasuki Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 17
Cairns at the campsite at Vasuki Tal

India; October 8th; Day 17; Masar Pass; 4899m

Trek: 5hrs 47mins starting at 9.01
Low: 4267m at 09.03
High: 4959m at 13.34
Descent: 116m
Ascent: 721m

Keith and I left first and traversed across a rocky mountainside before bearing right to follow stream. The trail is not very clear but the direction is obvious. Up! After a steep climb we follow another stream before scrambling over a boulder patch.

From the campsite at Vasuki Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 17
From the campsite at Vasuki Tal
Keith and James breaking camp at Vasuki Tal whilst Steve's tent is drying
Keith and James breaking camp at Vasuki Tal whilst Steve’s tent is drying
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Jim and Keith breaking camp at Vasuki Tal, with Jan and Steve
Vasuki Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 17
Reflections at Vasuki Tal
Vasuki Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 17
Cairns, a lake and a drift of snow
Vasuki Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 17
Packing up camp at Vasuki Tal

 We have reached the snow line now. At the top of this we broke into a snow filled valley and had good views of the mountains all around. As I walked across the pristine snow I slipped and slid down the slope and lost a lens cap. I didn’t notice right then but fortunately I do have a spare.

On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 17
On the trail to the Masar Pass
On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 17
Looking back to Vasuki Tal as we climb
On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 17
On the trail to the Masar Pass

The way undulated for a while before rising to a point where a group of porters gathered. It transpired that they weren’t sure of the route and were waiting for instructions. It looked to us that the pass lay to the right and Keith and forged on this way (which turned out to be incorrect) until we reached 5000m. We hung around here, not wanting to go out of sight, but we were eventually called back.

On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 17
Reaching the snow-line
Jim contemplates on the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 17
Jim contemplates on the trail to Marsar Tal
On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 17
The porters on the trail to the Masar Pass
On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 17
On the trail to the Masar Pass

It was all a bit chaotic. Apparently three porters had defected this morning and in the confusion back at camp Ajay had to organize that some of the remainder would have to do two trips again. It was cold hanging about waiting for everyone to get together but eventually it was decided that we would abandon the attempt at getting to Masar Tal today and camp here in the snow. This was probably just as well as it turned out to be a long and arduous trek the next day.

Camping Maiali P
We’ll have to camp here! Below the Masar Pass.
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Setting up camp below the Masar Pass

We had to pitch our tents on deep snow but at least we found a flat place, although I believe that we were camped right over a frozen stream! The views all around were superb but as usual the clouds rolled in later in the day. It was cold alright but we were well wrapped up.

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Strange plant in the snow
Campsite under the pass to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 17
Campsite under the pass to Marsar Tal
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Steve, Keith and cook having dinner inside

For something to do Keith and I visited the Mess tent where dinner was being prepared and they kindly allowed us to sit in the tent whilst they prepared dinner. Cosy. We had our dinner here whilst the rest had dinner delivered to their tents!

As we tramped back to our tents the snow began to fall. It looks like we night be buried in the stuff tonight but at least we are no danger from avalanches. This is the highest I’ve ever camped but this is what we came for and it’s strangely exciting. We are still concerned about the Porters though.

From the campsite below the pass to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
Dawn from the campsite below the pass to Marsar Tal
From the campsite below the pass to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
Dawn from the campsite below the pass to Marsar Tal

India; October 9th; Day 18; Masar Tal; 4568m

Trek: 5hrs 47mins starting at 9.01
Low: 4568m at 15.04
High: 5011m at 10.40
Descent: 621m
Ascent: 298m

Woke up at 6,10 this morning after hearing James moving about. We all camped closely together yesterday! I stuck my head out of the tent to see a snowy world and an orange bar on the sunrise horizon. I quickly dressed and grabbed my camera and tripod and clambered out. It was bitterly cold and I only managed a few shots before retreating to my sleeping bag for another hour. It took this long to get my hands and feet warm again!

Camping Maiali P
Camping at the Masar Pass
Camping Maiali P
Dawn at the camping at the Masar Pass
Camping Maiali P
Early morning at the camping at the Masar Pass
The campsite before the pass to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
Breaking camp

Fortunately the sun reached our tents early and this warmed us up too as well as drying out the tent itself. As we usually do we had breakfast sitting outside and marveled at the spectacular view all around.

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James, Keith, Jim, Adrioan, Jan and Steve having a sunny breakfast at the campsite below the Masar Pass
The campsite before the pass to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
Looking back at the campsite before the pass to Marsar Tal
Maiali P naar Masar Tal
Breaking camp below the Masar Pass
Maiali P naar Masar Tal
On the trail over the Masar Pass to Masar Tal

As we were packing up a delegation of porters came down to see us and tell us that they didn’t want to go over the pass. These were mostly the new porters from Kedarnath and Gauri Kund. They are very young too and probably not as experienced as our guys from Malla who have been with us for two weeks or so. We go and see our guide Ajay and persuade them, tell them, that we are continuing. none of us can bear the thought of returning to Kedarnath and this part of the trek is the highlight of the whole trip. Once we are over the pass then it’s clear that they will not want to return this way and will be keener to continue down on the other side.

On the trail to the pass to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
On the trail to the pass to Marsar Tal
On the trail to the pass to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
Keith on the slippery slope above the camp

It turned out though that almost immediately after we were all packed and ready to go that we ran into difficulties. The fresh snow from last night was lying on frozen ice and it made walking up the slightest incline was difficult and dangerous. Keith managed to creep his way up the first slope and helped to plant an ice-axe to which we attached a rope. Everyone was then able to use the rope to assist them upwards. Once we were up here then the trail was easier and mostly just gently undulated up to the pass.

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Using a rope to get up the steep slope
On the trail to the pass to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
Looking back
On the trail to the pass to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
James, Jan and Jum making it up the slope
From the pass to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
From the Marsar Pass
On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
View from the Masar Pass
On the trail to the pass to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
At least this porter is smiling
At the pass to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
Adriana, Keith, Jan and Jim at the Pass – about 5000m

The scenery all around us was gorgeous as we made our way towards the pass at just over 5000m. It had taken us just short of two hours. At the pass we waited for the whole party to get together again before continuing. Our oldest porter produced a bag of coconut pieces as an offering and a blessing. Our new and younger porters now seemed to be in good spirits.

On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
On the trail to Marsar Tal
On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
On the trail to Marsar Tal
On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
On the trail to Marsar Tal
On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
On the trail to Marsar Tal
On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
On the trail to Marsar Tal
On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
On the trail to Marsar Tal
On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
On the trail to Marsar Tal
On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
On the trail to Marsar Tal
On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
Steve, Jan, Adriana, James, jim and Keith at the Masar Pass with the porters
At the pass to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
The porters take a break at the pass to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18

Almost immediately after we started our descent on the other side we came to paces where we had to use the rope again to help us down. Twice we fixed a line for this and a third time it was so steep we decided to individually belay everyone down one at a time. i went first and was astounded when two porters grabbed the rope and started sliding down. I yelled at them as they were pulling me out of line – I was aiming for what seemed a safe spot – and they let go and slid down, packs and all, so finish sprawled at my feet. We were now on the edge of a snow-covered glacier and we had to cross this to reach the valley side opposite. We have to avoid using the glacier to continue now for fear of crevasses but we have to cross somewhere. The porters seem to have no fear and they stride off across the pristine and glistening snow. I untie myself and follow.

On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
On the trail to Marsar Tal
On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
Starting down
On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
Heading towards the glacier
On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
On the trail to Marsar Tal
On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
Descending to the glacier on the way to Masar Tal

It was a nice easy walk across the glacier and Keith soon caught up with me. He too had had some shenanigans on the belay rope. We heard later that Jim had put his foot down and instructed the porters to behave. It took quite a while for everyone to get down and when I looked back I could see the group huddled at the top of the rope for quite a while.

On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
Hiking above a glacier on the way to Masar Tal
On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
Glacier and mountains
On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
Looking back
On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
This way?
On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
On the trail to Marsar Tal

After crossing the glacier the trail traversed along the valley’s edge. The slope was steep and it made progress very slow. It was then that we were surprised to notice another party coming in the opposite direction. That meant we could join up to the trail they had cut (and vice-versa) and save ourselves some work. keith cut some steps in the snow so that we could get up to their traverse. They where an Indian trekking group carrying full packs and several of them seemed to be struggling. A number of packs had been put down and the guides were helping the stragglers across and then going back for the packs. We chatted for a while and then continued on our following the trail they had made.

On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
Looking back at our trail across the glacier

After a brief stop for some lunch we continued as the trail climbed until it finally reached a cliff-edge. The views from here we wonderful and we could see a lake below. Was this Masar Tal? If it was it meant that we would have to go over this cliff and descend to it. I thought perhaps there might be an easier way and advocated waiting for the guide to reach us. The evidence did show though that the group we had just passed had come up this way so after waiting 15 minutes Keith decided to go over.

On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
Hiking above a glacier on the way to Masar Tal
On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
White-out
On the trail to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
On the trail to Marsar Tal,
Before the descent to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
Keith thinking about the descent to Masar Tal below

The trail was very steep and the snow and rocks made it difficult as we followed a route underneath a cliff. Keith got a long way ahead of me but following in his footsteps made it easier for me until the trail became more rocks than snow and I couldn’t see where he’d been. I couldn’t see Keith either. Eventually the trail descended towards the lake which was surrounded by a huge boulder field some of which were as big as houses. It was difficult and dangerous scrambling over these but I did in the end manage to creep along the shoreline and reach the head of the lake. Keith was waiting here and we waited together for everyone else to arrive as we were not sure if the campsite was around here or not. It looked unlikely as it was just a rock field. In time a string of porters could be seen coming down and when they reached us they told us we still had some more to go.

Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
Masar Tal, far below us

We continued descending, first over the rocks and then over earth and grass as we re-crossed the snow-line. When we reached the campsite we started to discuss whether we should press on to Chauki – remember we had lost a day by camping at the pass – but decided that it was too late and we didn’t really know how long it would take the others to reach us.

Before the descent to Marsar Tal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 18
We have to descend the slope on the left to get to Masar Tal below

As we were discussing this another group appeared up the hill and an altercation took place between our porters and their guides about using the camp ground. They even planted poles and placed luggage in some of the tent sites which I subsequently went round and removed! They were trying to persuade us that their was another place just 5 minutes away but after our experience of being moved on the last time I was adamant that we were staying. It seemed that they were trying to pull rank (caste) on our porters but we stood firm. I didn’t believe that there was another place just down the hill (as we would discover the next day).

In the end both parties camped here without any problems.

Eventually everyone dribbled into camp – it had been a long day – and everyone got set up and pitched just as it began snowing. Again we had dinner in our own tents which I find a bit lonely and uncomfortable. Of course it was another early night.

India 2009 Part 4

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.

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Dawn at Pawali Kanta Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 12

India; October 3rd; Day 12; Maddu; 2941m

Trek: 5hrs 30mins starting at 8.29
Low: 2941m at 14.39
High: 3682m at 11.48
Descent: 851m
Ascent: 665m

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Dawn at Pawali Kanta

Dawn at Pawali Canta Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 12Dawn at Pawali Canta Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 12Dawn at Pawali Canta Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 12Dawn at Pawali Canta Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 12Woke up early and walked up to the ridge and the Temples to photograph the sunrise. It was good, but not as good as yesterday.

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On the trail to Maggu

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.

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On the trail to Maggu, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 12On the trail to Maggu, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 12On the trail to Maggu, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 12On the trail to Maggu, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 12

 

On the trail to Maggu, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 12
Village and distant mountains
On the trail to Maggu, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 12
A mountain in the distance

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.

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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.

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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.

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On the trail to Maggu

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.

On the trail to Maggu, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 12
On the trail to Maggu

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!

A couple of porters rest on the trail to Maggu, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 12
A couple of porters rest on the trail to Maggu

On the trail to Maggu, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 12On the trail to Maggu, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 12

 

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!

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Dawn at the campsite at Maggu

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
Descent: 1104m
Ascent: 334m

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.

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Dawn at the campsite at Maggu, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 13
Dawn at Maggu

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.

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Steve at dawn at the campsite at Maggu, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 13
Steve at dawn – getting stuff dry

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.

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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.

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On the trail to Gauri Kund, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 13

On the trail to Gauri Kund, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 13
On the trail to Gauri Kund

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!

Gauri Kund
Jan in Gauri Kund
Gauri Kund, verzamelplaats muilezels
Gauri Kund
Gauri Kund
Gauri Kund
Gauri Kund naar Rambara en terug
Gauri Kund
A student at Gaurikund
A student at Gauri Kund

Beauty and the Beasts
Fantastic mountains … and litter

India; October 5th; Day 14; Kedarnath; 3607m

Trek: 4hrs 19mins starting at 8.02
Low: 2118m at 9.02
High: 3586m at 12.19
Descent: 38m
Ascent: 1608m

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.

At Gauri Kund, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 14
View from our hostel at Gauri Kund

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.

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One way to travel on the pilgrims road to Kedarnath

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.

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At the start of the trail to Kedarnath from Gauri Kund

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.

Kedarnath
Kedernath – with mountains and terminal moraine from the glacier
At Kedernath, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 14
The sun goes down over Kedernath

At Kedernath, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 14

It's Rubbish in the Mountains

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.

At Kedernath, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 16
Tent drying at Kedarnath
At Kedernath, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 16
Kedarnath – trail, village, glacier and mountains
At Kedarnath, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 15
Our hostel at Kedarnath
Looking down at Kedarnath, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 15
An afternoon walk at Kedarnath – looking back at the village
Jim on the trail above Kedarnath, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 15
Jim on the trail
Looking down at Kedarnath, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 15
Looking back at Kedarnath
Mules and muleteers at Kedarnath, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 15
Mules at Kedarnath
Mules and muleteers at Kedarnath, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 15
More pilgrims
The Temple at Kedarnath, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 15
Temple
The Temple at Kedarnath, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 15
Temple
Cpw on the street at Kedarnath, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 15
Cow on the road
Kedarnath, tempel
A look around Kedarnath

Kedarnath, tempelKedarnath, tempelKedarnath, tempelKedarnath, tempelKedarnath, tempelKedarnath, tempelKedarnath, tempelKedarnathKedarnath

India 2009 Part 3

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.

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At the campsite at Bhairan Gati, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 8.

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
Descent: 19m
Ascent: 1030m

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.

 

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From the campsite at Bhudar Kedar as we leave in the morning

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.

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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.

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On the trail to Bhairan Gati, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 8.

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.

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On the trail to Bhairan Gati, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 8.
Budha Kedar naar Bhairon Ghati
Leaving Boodha Kedar
Budha Kedar naar Bhairon Ghati
On the trail to Bhairon Ghati

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!

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At the campsite at Bhairan Gati, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 8.

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.

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Water-Buffalo (Bubalus bubalis)
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At the campsite at Bhairan Gati, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 8.

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.

Bhairon Ghati
The Temple at Bhairon Ghati
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Steve and porters at the Bairon Ghati Temple
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Some porters at the Temple at the campsite at Bhairan Gati, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 8.

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.

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Rice paddies on the trail to Ghutta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day

India; September 30th; Day 9; Ghuttu; 1716m

Trek: 5hrs 13mins starting at 8.44
Low: 1673m at 13.39
High: 2688m at 9.10
Descent: 940m
Ascent: 166m

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.

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Dawn at the campsite at Bhairan Gati, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 9.
Dawn at the campsite at Bhairan Gati, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 9.
Dawn at the campsite at Bhairan Gati, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 9.

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.

At the campsite at Bhairan Gati, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 9.
Breaking down the campsite at Bhairan Gati, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 9.
Jan at the campsite at Bhairan Gati, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 9.
Jan at the campsite at Bhairan Gati, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 9.
Bhairon Ghati naar Ghuttu
Leaving Bhairon Ghati

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.

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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.

Bhairon Ghati naar Ghuttu, rustende dragers
Porters taking a break on the descent to Ghuttu
At the campsite at Bhairan Gati, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 9.
Tortoiseshell Butterfly
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Rice paddies on the trail to Ghutta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 9
On the trail to Ghutta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 9
On the descent to Ghuttu
On the trail to Ghutta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 9
On the descent to Ghuttu
Bhairon Ghati naar Ghuttu
On the descent to Ghuttu
Bhairon Ghati naar Ghuttu
On the trail to Ghuttu

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.

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Camping on the hostel roof at Ghuttu

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.

Ghuttu, camping op dak van huis
Camping on the roof of a house in Ghuttu – child grinding Millet
Ghuttu, camping op dak van huis
Grinding Millet in Ghuttu
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On the trail to Pawali Kanta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 10

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
Descent: 179m
Ascent: 1818m

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.

On the trail to Panwati Kanta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 10
On the trail to Pawali Kanta
On the trail to Panwati Kanta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 10
On the trail to Pawali Kanta

On the trail to Panwati Kanta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 10

On the trail to Panwati Kanta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 10On the trail to Panwati Kanta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 10On the trail to Panwati Kanta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 10On the trail to Panwati Kanta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 10

On the trail to Panwati Kanta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 10
On the trail to Pawali Kanta

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.

Adriana on the trail to Pawali Canta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 10
Adriana on the trail to Pawali Kanta

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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.

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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.

The campsite at Panwati Kanta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 10
The camp ground at Pawali Kanta – taking a rest before setting up

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!

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The campsite at Pawali Kanta Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 11

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.

From the campsite at Pawali Canta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 11
The campsite at Pawali Kanta
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From the campsite at Pawali Kanta

From the campsite at Pawali Kanta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 11From the campsite at Pawali Kanta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 11From the campsite at Pawali Kanta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 11From the campsite at Pawali Kanta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 11

From the campsite at Pawali Canta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 11
Campsite at Pawali Kanta

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.

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From the campsite at Pawali Kanta

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.

 

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Cricket at Pawali Kanta

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house_20091002_Adriana_26_lznhouse_20091002_Adriana_27_lzncricket at the campsite at Pawali Canta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 11After 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.

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From the campsite at Pawali Kanta
The Temples at Pawali Canta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 11
The Temples at Pawali Kanta
The Temples at Pawali Canta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 11
Jim and James at the Temple
James and Jim at the Temples at Pawali Canta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 11
James and Jim at the Temple

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!

From Pawali Kanta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 11
Keith finds some skulls
From Pawali Kanta, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 11
From Pawali Kanta