India 2009 Part 6

Snow-Blindness and Dissent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chauki, Uttarakhand, India
On the trail to Chauki

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Preparing to Bivouac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

house_20091011_keith_000315
Steve at our impromptu fire

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

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

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

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

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


Mystics and no Cake

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

house_20091012_D_049485

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


The Last Leg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

 

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.

house_20091007_D_049137
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

 

 

India 2009 Part 2

The Real Trek Begins

So we’d best start with a map to show you where we’re going:

If you’re looking at this directly on the web (as opposed to inside an email) then you can zoom in and out on the map to see where we are. Otherwise visit the map here.

As you know we came up the valley to Malla where we start (and end our trek – on the left side). So start from Malla and follow the red line to the south which takes 4 days to get to Ghuttu. Then follow the rightmost red line to Kedernath via Panwali Kantha which took us 5 days (as we had a rest day at Panwali). We had a rest day at Kedernath too and then continued on the red line to Chauki (where you can see a purple line too). Another 4 days. At Chauki we were supposed to follow the purple line up to the Khatling Glacier and then complete our loop back to Malla. It didn’t pan out that way, as will be explained in due course, but we followed the red line south back to Ghuttu (another 3 days: or 2 for Keith as you’ll find out!).

The lines on the map are straight: naturally our paths weren’t! Google Maps (and maps generally of India) are not detailed enough to show tracks and paths.

India2009TrekInContext
Where we are in the Himalayas
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.

India; 26th September; Day 5; Nilara on the Dogadda River; 1711m

Trek; 1hr32min starting at 9.20
Low: 1354m, High: 1692m
Descent: 34m, Ascent 359m

I wake at 5.45am to a warm morning, though the sun has not yet reached into the valley. A drove of several hundred sheep and goats clatter across the footbridge and disappear up the trail. Keith gets up and we sit by the river bank watching the world go by. Two young lads come down and bathe in the river and then another host of goats and sheep come across the footbridge, followed by a small group of mules.

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From the first campsite at Malla, Uttarakhand, India.

Maneesh, our young liaison guide, arrives with our morning tea shortly after 7am. This will become a daily ritual. We then pack down our tents and gear whilst breakfast is prepared. We have cornflakes with hot milk and boiled eggs with toast and tea.

Hay at Malla, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 4.
Hay stooks at Malla

We were ready to leave by 8.30 but it took a long while for the porters to sort themselves out and to get the mules loaded and we didn’t actually get away until 9.20. It didn’t really matter as we only had a short walk today – 1hr40mins – and therefore had plenty of time. I guess it took some time for the porters to agree on who was to carry what and to ensure that the loads were evenly distributed. The mules were carrying the bulky stuff like the food and the fuel as well as the big tents.

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Leaving Malla on the trail to Nilara, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 5.
Leaving Malla on the trail to Nilara, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 5.
Leaving Malla on the trail to Nilara, with Temple below

The trail climbed out of the valley and we went ahead of the porters until we reached a river crossing. The bridge was in two parts. First a huge tree trunk was slung across to a huge boulder in the middle of the river and then two logs, with stones balanced between, went from this rock to the far bank. It was a precarious balancing act to sidle along these to get to the other side particularly when wearing a pack.

Malla naar Nilara, zicht op Lata en Bhagirthi river
Looking down on the temple beside the Bhagirith River at Malla
Malla naar Nilara
Between Malla and Nilara
Nilara, rivier oversteek door muilezels
Mules being taken across the stream at Nilara
Nilara
Porters on the river-bank

We stopped here and waited for the guides to arrive as we were unsure if this was our stop for the night. It didn’t look like it as there was only a small patch of clear beach on the river bank and surely not enough space for us all to camp. However it turned out that this was indeed the spot and the porters claimed the sandy beach spot and we had to go back across the logs and clear a space on the other side.

Keith and I go for a stroll upstream to see what we can see; a few butterflies. When we get back we sit by the river and have some snap whilst watching the huge tadpoles and small fish.

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Common Sailor (Neptis Hylas) on the trail to Nilara, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 5.
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Dark Judy (Abisara fylla) on the trail to Nilara, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 5.
Butterfly on the trail to Nilara, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 5.
Butterfly on the trail to Nilara, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 5.
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Common Lascar (Pantoporia hordonia) on the trail to Nilara, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 5.
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Holly Blue or Hill Hedge Blue (Celastrina argiolus) on the trail to Nilara, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 5.
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Chocolate Pansy (Junonia iphita) on the trail to Nilara, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 5.

When the main body of porters arrive an hour later we find a small clearing in amongst the undergrowth and set up our tents. The only difficulty being that we are on the opposite side of the river from the Mess tent and had to cross and re-cross the river many times!

Later in the afternoon we come down to the river to bathe. It’s icy cold, but we do get in and shower underneath the small waterfalls and swim in the tiny pools. We also washed out some clothes and lay them on the rocks to dry in the sun. Whilst lazing about Maneesh arrives with lemonade and biscuits for us and has managed to carry the tray whilst balancing over the log bridges!

In the afternoon Keith and I go for another walk upstream and this time go a bit further up the forest trail. We see some long-tailed magpies, a small yellow bird and a couple of partridge like things. We also see a large chicken sized bird with a crest. We have a small book about Indian birds with us but it’s not complete.

On our way back we hear some crashing noises in the tree above us and are amazed to see three very large monkeys. They are a silver grey colour with a very long and thick tail which is black at the end. They have very black faces with a fringe of white fur. They turn out to be Common (or Hanuman) Langurs. One of them broke a branch and fell to the floor of the forest before scampering away.

Back at the river bank we collected wood and prepared a fire. I had another wash in the river to freshen up! When I came back to the beach after going to my tent I found that James had lit the fire and had used kerosene! This was against the rules established on our first trip to the Himalayas but he claimed a porter had come over the bridge with a small cup-full when he’d been noticed him getting the fire going!

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Jim, Adriana, Jan, Keith, Steve and James on the trail to Belak Khal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 6.

India; 27th September; Day 6; Belak Khal; 2808m

Trek: 4hrs 14mins starting at 8.52
Low: 1683m at 8.52
High: 2784 at 12.45
Descent: 7m
Ascent: 1107m

During the night Keith discovers that he picked up a leech on his back. Probably from swimming in the river. There is blood all over the place including on his sleeping bag and mat. He’s grossed out and the rest of us check ourselves for any signs. James reckoned he picked one off his foot! Keith remains paranoid about leeches for the rest of the trip but that doesn’t stop him from bathing in the rivers.

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The porters camp and bridge with goats and sheep at Nilara, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 6

I lay in bed until Maneesh arrives with the tea at about 7am. From the river I hear a huge commotion going on and when I get down there I see hundreds and hundreds of sheep and goats being shepherded over the river. Most of them are going over the thin log pole bridge but a few try to jump and swim. Their is so much pushing and shoving on the bridge that many leap off into the river and the Shepherd has to wade in and manhandle them onto the bank. It’s pandemonium out there and it takes a good hour for the whole flock to get across and disappear up the trail.

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Shepherds bring a huge flock of sheep and goats to cross the river
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Precarious bridge for animals and us

We break camp and re-cross the bridge for breakfast. The bridge is now lethally slippery but we all manage to tiptoe our way across. Today it’s porridge and an eggs for breakfast. A pattern is emerging; cornflakes and porridge will alternate!

Today will be one long steady climb and we hit the trail shortly before 9am. After a short while we hit a fork and after waiting for a while I go back to camp where the porters are still packing and ask advice. It’s left. All day it’s up and up and up through the forest. There is not much wildlife about; no birds and few butterflies. Not much to photograph either!

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Goats and Sheep crossing the river

After an hour I take a break and after that I dawdled and managed to find one butterfly to shoot. At one point the trail climbed steeply but generally the gradient was kind.

As the trail climbed the forest started to include bamboo. After a while we reached a clutch of Shepherds Huts and sat down to have some lunch. We are given a packed lunch everyday. This is usually a sandwich, an apple, a couple of energy bars, some fruits and nuts and a juice drink. Lying in the dappled shade around us was the sheep and goats that we’d seen earlier this morning at the bridge.

 

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Mules and Muleteer

Pretty soon we were joined by the muleteers and the mules as they sat down and took a break too.

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Blue Admiral (Kaniska canace) on the trail to Belak Khal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 6.
On the trail to Belak Khal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 6.
On the trail to Belak Khal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 6.
Nilara naar Belak Khal, schaapherders en muilezeldrijvers
On the climb to Belak Khali: Shepherds and Muleteers
Belak Khal, bewoner
Child from a village halfway to Belak Khali

Our final climb took another hour and the forest thinned out and we were met by a cool breeze at the pass which had a small village. A local family gave us tea as the children looked on. After waiting here a while we walked over to the campsite close by. The mules had already arrived so we were able to retrieve our gear and put up our tents.

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The campground at Belak Khal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 6

We rested and dozed in the afternoon but also took the time to gather some firewood and hang out some washing. Not much chance of it drying though as a mist rolled in.

 

On the trail to Belak Khal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 6.
View of the mountains of the Bunderpunch Range from Belak Khal

After dinner we sat around the blazing fire and burnt everything we had. We also finished off the Jamesons.

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Me and Keith at the campfire at Belak Khal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 6

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Dawn at Belak Khal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 7

India; September 28th; Day 7; Bhudar Kedar; 918m

Trek: 6hrs 53mins starting at 8.31
Low: 918m at 18.16
High: 2789m at 8.31
Descent: 3356m
Ascent: 1859m

I’m up at 5.45 to walk up to the ridge behind the campsite to take early morning photographs of the mountains in the distance. I’m a bit too early though and I have time to go back and fetch another camera and to persuade Keith to come too. We hang around for an hour taking shots of the peaks as they are lit by the morning sun.

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Dawn at Belak Khal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 7
From the campsite at Belak Khal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 7.
From the campsite at Belak Khal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 7.
Camping Belak Khal
Breakfast at Camp Belak Khal

We pack and have breakfast but I leave half an hour after the others as I wait for the sun to dry my tent before packing it. I take some shots of the village before leaving.

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The village at Belak Khal, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 7.

The trail descends down through a forest – sometimes the trail is quite steep. After an hour it breaks out into a meadow with fine views into the valley below. We meet a group of Indian hikers who are carrying full packs and doing without porters. It transpires they are doing some kind of Outward Bound course and are all studying at the Civil Service academy in Messoli. We pass and re-pass them all day as we descend and rest in turn.

On the trail to Bhudar Kedar, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 7.
On the trail to Bhudar Kedar, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 7.

Eventually Keith and I catch up with the others and after crossing a stream on slippery stones we stop for lunch. Jim is unwell and not eating.

 

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On the trail to Bhudar Kedar, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 7

We continue the long descent down to a river and a small village. Some stop for char in a dark tea shop but I press on down the trail which is now a rocky road. It’s hot down at this level and the heat is bouncing off the white stone road and this continues for what seems many miles.

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Kids at Bhudar Kedar

The heat bores down on me but we do eventually struggle and straggle into town and find a place to sit in the shade. A small shop sells us Pepsis and water as we wait for the porters to come down and show us where the campsite is.

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On the trail to Bhudar Kedar, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 7.

The mules and muleteers arrive first and we follow them over the bridge and down to the river bank where we set up camp. Keith and I immediately go for a swim. Its cold; very cold, but at the same time refreshing. Keith is hoping the river is flowing too fast for leeches!

From the campsite at Bhudar Kedar, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 8.
From the campsite at Bhudar Kedar, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 8.

It’s a pity but it seems that we are camped on what smells like a toilet ghat. The evidence is all around. It’s tight for space in the campsite and we have to keep fighting off the mules that want to graze around the tents. We also have to fend off a ragbag assortment of small boys who are hanging around. It’s unlikely they will steal anything though.

Dragonfly on the trail to Bhudar Kedar, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 7.
Dragonfly on the trail to Bhudar Kedar
Butterfly on the trail to Bhudar Kedar, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 7.
Butterfly on the trail to Bhudar Kedar
Caterpillar on the trail to Bhudar Kedar, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 7.
Caterpillar on the trail to Bhudar Kedar
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Damselfly on the trail to Bhudar Kedar
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Chocolate Pansy (Junonia iphita) on the trail to Bhudar Kedar, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 7.
Unknown frog  at Bhudar Kedar, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 7.
Unknown frog at Bhudar Kedar, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 7.

I have another swim when Jim and James and Jan are ready and then sit on the bank having tea and biscuits which Maneesh has brought down.

Budha Kedar
At Bhudha Kedar

Keith and I go for a wander around the small town before dinner and are surprised by the number of shops. We watch a wedding procession go through accompanied by a drummer. The bride is carried in a covered sedan whilst the bridegroom rides behind on a mule.

After dinner we go back into town and go to the barbers for a shave. Keith goes first and I watch the whole palaver. The boy appears to be only 14 years old or so. He spends a long time lathering before putting a new blade in the cut-throat. You actually get a double shave followed by a range of unguents rubbed into the face, then a massage and lastly a pungent aftershave. Keith looks shiny and new. A small crowd of young boys turn up to watch and chatter. After I’ve taken my turn we cough up the 20 rupees each. In the afternoon the young lad had quoted us 5 rupees!

We finished off the evening with a 7Up in the last shop that remained open.


 

India 2009 Part 1

Charity Donations

With a final contribution from another collection made at the Two Sawyers in Woolage Green the total now raised has reached £12,000 which is double our original target. A big thanks to all those at the pub that contributed. A grand effort. We look forward to the time when we can thank them properly with a visit once the restrictions are lifted.20200315_CharityDonations

Meanwhile we’ll keep the charity donations ticking over … because … why not?

Stay In & Stay Safe

Meanwhile as everyone is largely restricted to home and travel & holidays are currently suspended and the plans for the boys cycling trips to the Liege-Bastogne-Liege (Belgium) Sportive is cancelled and any plans for a 1000 mile ride to Greece this summer postponed we’ll bring you some notes of older trips to keep you entertained (and me busy).

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LondonNewDelhi
Flight from London to New Delhi

Getting to the Indian Himalayas

We’re kicking off with a hiking tour of the Himalayas that me (Steve) and Keith did in the autumn of 2009 with our friends Adriana, Jim, Jan and James. We spent 3 weeks hiking in the mountains with everyone and then Keith and I went to south India for a look around Kerala and Tamil Nadu states, which included some canoeing (but no cycling).

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The Ghats at Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 3

India; 22nd September; Day 1

Kristian arrived at 2am this morning from Manchester with a trailer to pick up an ailing black Morris Minor which he will ransack for parts [this Morris had previously been used by the Aylesham Community]. He has a pale blue Minor of his own! He’ll be leaving for Australia on Friday for a couple of races and some warm winter training. Next season he will be riding for Rapha Condor again.

Keith came up in the morning and we walked around to my Dad’s garage to load the black Morris onto the trailer. Keith drove my Dad’s green Morris around to take the free space in the garage. It started first time after 3 months standing idle. We wondered when it would be driven again.

When the black Morris was loaded and tied down we bade farewell to Kristian as he returned to Manchester. He’ll be back from Australia in the New Year.

An hour later I said goodbye to Mum and Dad and walked down to Keith’s place where we I picked up my bag and we walked down to the station to catch the train to London and on to Heathrow for our flight to New Delhi. Linford, Keith’s son, walked down with us and we said goodbye to him as he left for college at Canterbury.

After struggling through London on the Underground Keith and I arrived at the airport to meet our fellow travellers James, Jim, Adriana and Jan. Keith hadn’t met anyone before and neither of us had met Jan (Adrian’s brother) before. I trekked with Jim, Adriana and James several times in the past including our last trip to the Himalayas in 2005.

As usual I had trouble at the check-in as I wanted my films to be hand-scanned. They refused even after I’d persuaded them to bring the manager down. So all my film went through the scanner and then to cap it all they hand-scanned my photography bag anyway. What a pointless waste of time!

India; 23rd September; Day 2; New Delhi

After an uneventful flight where I read the paper, slept and ate and drank we arrived in New Delhi at 6.30am. I stupidly left my camera bag on the plane and had to rush back to claim it! The cabin crew joked that they were just about to blow it up! Of course my hold luggage was last off the carousel too!

In New Delhi
Taxi driver, Jim and James in a put-put in New Delhi
In New Delhi
The Red Fort, New Delhi
In New Delhi
The India Gate in New Delhi
In New Delhi
Viceroy’s House, New Delhi

We were met by our travel company Himalayan Run and Trek and driven to the Connaught Hotel. In an attempt to avoid jet-lag we then all went for a walk around Connaught Place in the centre of Delhi. In the heat it was chaos though as much of the area is being rebuilt for the Commonwealth Games to be held here in a years time. Also, as is common in large cities in India, we were pestered by strangers trying to be helpful and show us around! We did however manage to change some money into rupees and ended up with huge wads of 100 rupee notes. It’s important to get small denominations as it’ll prove difficult to change larger notes in the villages of the Himalayas. In any case we won’t be needing a great deal of money on the trek.

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Steve at the Railway Muiseum. New Delhi . Trek Day 2

After a brief rest in the hotel Keith and I, in a desperate attempt to fill the time in the afternoon by staying awake, catch an auto-rickshaw to the Delhi Railway Museum. This is a largely outdoor museum where the exhibits sit rusting in the baking heat. Apart from a small gang of schoolkids we were the only visitors. We wander around for a couple of hours and I get my first close look at the iconic Alco WMD2 diesel which is still the mainstay of the Indian Railways.

In the evening we all pile into a taxi and go to the Imperial Hotel for dinner. This is a very posh and very colonial looking place with staff strutting around in sub-military uniforms. Needless to say we were not allowed in the main dining room – some of us were wearing shorts – but we did have a decent meal in the plebs canteen!

India; 24th September; Day 3; Rishikesh

We were up at 4.45am for a quick breakfast at the hotel before getting into the bus to take us to the station. Our own minibus had left last night with our main luggage and would meet us in Haridwar. Instead of a 10 or 12 hour drive we were taking the morning express which would do the journey in 3 and 3/4 hours.

After some confusion at the station – we arrived at the wrong side and then had to drive right around town in heavy traffic – we piled onto the bustling station. I think we have a 1st Class Aircon coach which proves to be pretty comfortable. We are served tea and a second breakfast on our journey.

As the train crawls out of New Delhi we watch as the world awakes in the ghettos and Shanty Towns. As we then speed across the plains we pass mostly farmland and a few scruffy little towns. We see plenty of egrets in the ponds and ditches and also a peacock.

TrainNewDelhiHaridwar
Train from New Delhi to Haridwar

By 11am we have arrived in Haridwar and we stream out of the station with hordes of other travellers into the square which is also heaving with people. We scramble into our minibus and are re-united with our luggage! It’s only a short 24km ride to Rishikesh where we are to spend the night.

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The short drive from Haridwar to Rishikesh
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A pink Indian Elephant, (Elephas maximus indicus) at Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 3.

After checking into our dusty hotel Keith and I decide to go for a walk about town. Even though it’s overcast the day is hot and humid and sweaty. It’s a scruffy place but it’s holy and it sits on the Ganges river. As we wander through the streets we dodge the cows and pigs lying around and try not to get clipped by the traffic. Amazingly we find an elephant and though the minder tries to persuade us to go for a ride we decline but give him a few rupees anyway for the photographs we took. At the river we walk along the ghats, which are empty at the moment, and watch a few people braving a swim in the holy river. The water is icy and a glacial grey/green colour.

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Rhesus Macaque (Macaca mulatta) at Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 3.

Further down we climb up to a road high above the river and then take some steps down so that we can cross on the suspension bridge. It’s here that we see large troops of what look like Baboons. I think in fact they are Rhesus Macaques. We watch the males as they run around keeping control of their family groups and maintaining their territories.

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The footbidge at Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 3.

The bridge turns out to be a pedestrian bridge but this doesn’t prevent the odd cow wandering across – and the cow pats you have to dodge – nor the locals coming across on motorbikes and push bikes. At the other side we walk onto more ghats and watch as devotees place ceremonial platters on the river made of fruit and coconuts and leaves and brightly coloured papers.

The footbidge at Rishikesh, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 3.
The footbridge over the Ganges river at Rishikesh

A small ferry is plying its trade from here and so we return to the other side in a small boat. Once here we find a large, but empty hotel, and have a lunch of lassis, toasted cheese sandwiches and sweet sweet tea in a room overlooking the river. We catch an auto-rickshaw back to our hotel at the other end of town thinking we may take a swim in the swimming-pool before dark. After peering into its limpid and faintly rank green waters we decide against it. In our room we doze and sleep and watch cricket on the TV.

We have dinner in the hotel. It’s all vegetarian and we can get no beers. We will have no meat or beer for the next 20 days.

India; 25th September; Day 4; Malla; 1390m

MimibusRishiKeshMall
The drive from Rishikesh to Malla past the Tehri Dam and Uttarkashi

We left Rishikesh this morning at 6am without breakfast. It was a pleasant warm morning but still overcast as the minibus climbed out of the valley. It did rain a little as we climbed but it soon became clear again as we drove on.

After three hours we pull up for some tea and toast and then stretch our legs in the sunshine. Keith and I stroll down the road thinking the bus can pick us up but we hear some yelling and have to turn back. Apparently the driver had taken a detour to the cafe and was going back the way we’d come!

For a long while the road meandered alongside the Tehri Reservoir until we climbed up over the Tehri Dam itself. The scenery is green and the valleys are wonderfully terraced. We stop for another tea at a cafe overlooking the reservoir and marvel at the emptiness of it all. Not a single boat mars it’s huge surface. I wondered if it was full of fish but then realised that the locals are vegetarian and wouldn’t be interested!

Later we stop at Uttarkashi for lunch. The restaurant is dark and busy and the food is good. We stretch our legs outside as the crowds mill about.

Eventually, at 3pm, after 9 hours on the road we arrive at Latasera just before the tiny village of Malla. We meet our guides and porters and lug our gear a short distance over the footbridge to a field beside the Ganga River. On the path I see a brilliant green black and pink Swallowtail butterfly but failed to get a decent shot.

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The first campsite under the footbridge at Malla, Uttarakhand, India. Trek Day 4.

After setting up camp we stroll along the riverbank and then have a wash in the freezing river. Once the kitchen tent is set up we are brought a cup of tea and later of course we have the first of many dinners prepared by our Chef. The porters have there own kitchen stuff and prepare there own meals. We must have about 15 or 16 porters here and we will gradually get to know them over the next few weeks. We also have 3 muleteers and a team of six mules to carry our stuff. That makes a party of about 25!

Camping Malla
Curious schoolgirls look down on our campsite from the bridge across the Bhagiratha river
Bhagirthi river met dorp Lata
Naag Devta Temple on the Bhagirathi River at Malla from our campsite