Snow Fields, Rockwalls and Riverine Vistas-Traversing Balipass in Winter


Standing in the middle of that 70 degree slope I dug deep again with the hiking staff. Loose earth and rubble sliding from under made it a giant effort to just hold on there. I looked up and saw Jaisingh almost overhead a hundred feet above, waving at me and saying something completely inaudible. Looking down I see Ritesh as a small speck several hundred feet down below, Rama and Pradeep resting on the rocks even further down. The little crew of porters were almost appearing as dots of ants moving on the vast snowfield down below about a kilometre away. All around us were little patches of melting snow bearing weird shapes and myriad rocks strewn everywhere. The eyes were still hurting from the snow- blindness that was beginning to develop. The saving grace was the bright blazing sun making it warm and not the freezing cold one experienced the same morning. I was on the last 100 ft…Literally a hundred tiny steps away from reaching the objective…Bali Pass.

With a gigantic effort of the mind I trudged on to the side and up, hoping the terra firma to be firmer, only to slip again. Even today its a blur as to how those hundred steps happened and the final step onto that little 6 ft depression on the ridgeline that for ages has been called the Bali Pass.

Indistinct and completely miss-able in that spread of the black ridge line dotted with brown and white, this was one of the ancient pathways to Gangotri from Yamunotri. Many a adventurous Sadhus, Seers and Pilgrims would have trudged the same path for several millennia. I soaked in and savoured the glory for a few seconds with Jaisingh pointing his fingers out to the valley beyond showing me the peaks of the Swargarohini Range and the deep valley underneath.

It was only a few minutes later that I realised, I had indeed reached the highest objective of the trek. Made a little mental note- 1442 Hrs 4895 Mtrs 29th of October 2007..set foot on Bali Pass. Ritesh joined in at 1450 hrs and Rama at 1512 Hrs.

The task achieved was indeed monumental!…a mixed bag of trekkers (me 38 years and 25 treks old, Ritesh 29 years and 10 treks old and Rama- 25 years and zero treks old) never having physically met in their lives till about 4 days before, toiling through 3 hard days of 2000 mtrs of climb , braving a whole day of 2 feet deep snow fields were standing atop Bali Pass on the last days of October..Almost welcoming November attempting it from the Yamunotri side. We had assembled the team from scratch from an “Orkut” forum on the internet, sought and heeded advice, researched, laughed at, argued and debated decisions, had members dropping out and joining in, postponed the plan by a day, prepared to the tee and finally had done it! A sweet moment of joyous victory!

Little did we know that the King of the mountains was laughing inwardly! The mighty Himalayas was going to add a spicy pinch to that experience in just about 2 hours time which we were going to remember much more vividly than those few minutes of glory of conquering the pass….a memory that would last beyond a lifetime!..

Beginning

The thought germinated few months back in July when I posted a proposal for the trek in the community forum on the internet. The idea was to assemble a team of able and fit members willing to take up this snow challenge- of doing Bali Pass in Oct-Nov window from Yamunotri side. This was to bring in the uniqueness and the thrill factor….hardly any group tries the pass in this end part of the season from the Yamunotri side. Expert and critical opinion poured in from all sides about probable risks, weather window, team preparation and finally a debate on medically aided and unaided acclimatsation. After each debate few members would opt out. With the remaining final few, the team crystallised almost 10 days before and finalised about 2 days before the trek! Ritesh, Rama and I were the team and we were now going to brave out the entire route for 9 days.

Day 0 & 1- 25th and 26th October 2007

The day actually began the night before when Rama came and slept over at my place in order to start early next morning. We left home dutifully at 0430 Hrs and drove over to pick Ritesh on our way to Barkot. In the thinning darkness of 0500 hrs I met Ritesh for the first time in my life! Brief introduction and small talks later we drove almost continuously for 9 Hrs to reach Barkot. It was my second visit to that place in 6 years. The last time around we were on our way to Saptarishi Kund. On that occasion I had to leave my car at Barkot and take local transport to Hanumanchatti because of a major breach on the road caused by an angry Yamuna. Nothing of that sort happened this time. Chandan, Jaisingh and Rana were in the receiving party at GMVN Traveller’s Lodge- Barkot.

After a light lunch and a brief introduction and briefing we were off in the newish looking BOLERO to Janakichatti. So many changes in a few years! On my previous visit to this part, I had a horror of night trek of 7 kilometers from Janakichatti to Hanuman Chatti with cramped muscles in both legs. But not any more! no treks till Janakichatti! There were Jeeps to motor you on. My contemplative journey was forced to a stop by the road block ahead…. a huge landslide was taking forever to clear and there was a traffic jam! So we decided to kickoff the trek there itself.

Off we went with the hiking staff. I decided to carry my rucksack as well. The 4Km walk was a good warm-up for the trek ahead. It was dark, by the time we reached “Arvind Annexe”..our place of stay for the night. We, as a team was still forming…still trying to know each other and wishing to relate with each other. We were eagerly seeking info on the trek, listening to stories of the accidents in the season, getting to know other team members in the support team etc. The dinner was sumptuous, ending with Pineapple in Sugar Syrup. …the sleep was swifter and the day of the long drive was over.

Day 2- 27th October 2007

The morning was bright and suuny (as it was going to be for the next several days). After a quick breakfast we readied ourselves for the hike…putting on all paraphernalia for the expectedly strenuous day ahead. I was still trying to jog my memory of the last visit …trying to compare everything that I was seeing with the memories several years back. Apparently nothing much had changed except for the fact that the road was much better paved and for some reason the river itself looked much less sinister. After the sharp elevation of about 900 ft from first river crossing we finally reached Devdekhni from where the Yamunotri temple is visible. Rama, Ritesh and I were already testing each other’s mettle by way of a mild competition to stay ahead.

After a quick Darshan at the temple it was time to set off for Lower Damni camp. The Yamunotri temple is unique in a way that, it has a very hot stone called “Divya Shila” which is the main object of worship. Just a few feet away is a tank full of very hot boiling water in which one can cook rice and Potato that is then offered as “Prasadam” to the deity. Some pretty magical stuff for the pilgrims of the yore!!! We were quick to seek some issue based blessings from the Goddess mother (going by my Gangotri experience- seeking protection from weather) which, as we would later discover, were probably promptly granted by the Mother.

Exactly at midday we set off for Lower Damni campsite…our destination for the day. The route to Damni camping area forks out from the JanakichattiYamunotri trail into the mountains to the left after Devdekhni. Thus we had to retrace back till that point from Yamunotri and took that trail up which was marked by a “Diversion” indicator board by PWD department.

After the half day walk on the Yamunotri trail, so very crowded by pilgrims, this trail felt eerily quiet. Suddenly we were all alone in that jungle that was deadly silent, all to our own thoughts contemplating the days ahead. The curious Ritesh was making enquiries about local flora and fauna and Jaisingh in his inimitable hindi replying. The trail was good and well marked and as usual undulating…sometimes going up and sometimes down….but generally up!

Almost suddenly we came to a open area just as the jungle was thinning out. We see a little dilapidated shed indicating a hint of camp site and Jaisingh standing there with a serious and brooding countenance. He was apparently making whistle calls to the porters who weren’t there although they were supposed to have been there. After an anxious hour the issue resolved itself when the first of the porters arrived. Apparently they started late and we had been a little too quick for their calculations.

There was a bit of a deliberation on whether we should camp there at Lower Damni or move on to the higher ground at Damni since we still had couple of hours of sunlight left. But apparently Damni at this time of year has no water, Jaisingh informed. We settled for camping there at lower Damni (3300 mtrs) under the Giant holy tree. This tree under which my tent was setup was a holy tree with Bangles, Combs and lots of one-rupee coins stuck to the trunk. Soon the camp was set-up, complete with the campfire. The tempereature around the campfire hovering around 2 degrees and otherwise at -3 deg at 1900 Hrs in the evening, made us shudder with the thought of what was in store for the 7 odd evenings ahead.

Day 3- 28th October 2007

The night was relatively cold, definitely colder than Janakichatti. Leaving camp site at 0830 I saw Jaisingh carrying a bundle of nylon ropes on his shoulder and knew that we are in for some action during the day. Upon my enquiry about what’s in store for the day, Jaisingh came up with a vague nod…. For some reason we took some trail that ended up nowhere and we presently found ourselves struggling for our way in the midst of a thicket of bushes…thorns grazing on the Jackets . Half an hour of toil saw us thru the thicket and we were back on some reasonable trail heading up towards the brown-dried bugyal which we had seen from the campsite the earlier evening.

As the tree line thinned out and the vision of the horizon cleared up…we slowly found ourselves gaining the visuals of the little peaks of the hills around the Yamunotri valley. After some huffing and puffing of another hour we reached the Damni camping ground…directly opposite the base of Banderpunch massif that defines the skylines from the Yamunotri temple. The two ubiquitous hanging glaciers of the massif almost directly opposite us. The ridgeline was steadily heading up and towards the west and there it was…..a near vertical wall of brown rocks about 500 ft high standing tall on our supposed trail. This is where the fixed rope pitch for the day was going to be!!

Almost every hour we had been asking Jaisingh about the route ahead and every single time the answer would be a wave of the hand in the general direction of Northwest pointing up…not much help there!! Jaisingh would always be about 100 mtrs ahead of us and just now he was steadily climbing that near vertical wall…sometimes on those large rocks and sometimes going behind them. Its only when we reached the base of the rock face that we realised what a task it was to scale that up…the huge slope below the wall was leading to the base of the Yamuna valley in an acute angle and the obstacle-the steep rockface was almost standing vertical overhead. Basically a task that demanded extreme caution and grit on part of first time rope users like us.

Eventually we reached a point where one felt the thumping of the heart loud .. I was hanging onto some rocks and grass lumps looking occasionally down to that thousand feet of slope into the ravine below. Luckily Jaisingh materialised from nowhere having fixed one end of the rope. Dutifully he went about the task of harnessing and taking Rama up the 100 ft vertical followed by Ritesh…I was the last to go having successfully avoided two swishing rocks inches from my unshaven cheeks…even as my friends clambered up holding the ropes.

My first experience with fixed rope went off well. Finally after half an hour, around midday, we reached the flat ground on top of the wall, desparately panting for breath. Jaisingh was carrying the “lunch” of which we consumed only partially. Ritesh was in no mood for lunch since he was suffering from a bout of upset stomach and loose motions. We had to wait for an hour afterwards for the porters wondering all the while, how on earth were they going to make it through the fixed ropes and that vertical. They arrived an hour later having chosen to take an alternate path to the top…rope was not used for them. So far there had been no water source on the way and the poor porters were seen chomping away clumps of snow amidst puffs of Bidi smoke.

The trail, which had eased out now, headed in a North Westerly and Westerly bearing. We finally rose up along the ridgeline ahead and reached the Upper Damni camping ground at 1630 Hrs. The cairn indicating the camp site was visible from a Kilometer away.

Camp site at last!! And that too covered with a soft bed of snow. Altitude 4400 mtrs and temperature close to 3-4 degrees in the shade (at 1630 hr). Rama was overjoyed when he arrived. In moments one could see him rolling around the snow filmy style with some virtual heroine. The camp site had a small hut without a roof which was of little use. The most stunning part was the vista around. It was as if we were in the middle of a snow kingdom.

“What were you writing on that little notebook Lord Ritesh?”- I asked as we were preparing for the evening in the tents.

“ I was watching the eagle flying and soaring above and a thought came- ‘ For these winged creations of the Lord, all these charms and thrills and adventure of trekking the terrain has no meaning!’ How very different perspectives!”- observed Ritesh profoundly.

The night was going to be cold!! All woollens came out including my Down Jacket , the dinner ready by 2000 Hrs. Never knew when sleep came. Apart from few occasional sounds of wind lashing against the tent flaps and the midnight temperature dropping to -7 deg C, rest of the night was uneventful.

Day 4- 29th October 2007

Next day morning was full of activity at our campsite at Upper Damni. We had to cross Balipass and go down till Tange camp-Summit day for us. We had to start as early and camp as early as possible. Jaisingh was coiling the ropes again but wanted one of the porters to carry it. Pradeep and Jaisingh put on snowboots and my crampons and gaiters were packed into Jaisingh’s rucksack.

Seeing all the preparations, Rama, Ritesh and I were dying with curiousity.. What was in store today? Why all this preparation? None of them would open the cards…generally assuring us that this was all standard precaution since we were going to have to do some heavy snow traverse. The excitement in the camp was palpable.

The steady climb up the ridge landed us in a snowfield where Jaisingh pointed out a good many number of pug mark trails of some unseen bear. It was a weird mix of things…the monochrome of the snowfield, the tiring and careful walk, the ubiquitous signs of local fauna, the heated discussion amongst us as to how best to negotiate the snow, the increasing watering in my right eye (a sign of snow-blindness) and the incessant enquiry off Jaisingh as to where on earth was the pass? Presently we come across a flat patch that looked like a good camping ground – probably some people camped there recently. This was the campsite called Bali Pass Base. People who manage to move up beyond Upper Damni in one day do actually camp at this point apparently. At a distance we saw some variety of pheasants who were seen parading, as if aping a group of penguins.

The pass was still not visible and Jaisingh would vaguely point towards a brown gully leading heavenwards at a distance. For over two hours I was thinking that to be the terminal approach to the pass…till we reached there and discovered another huge snowfield ahead. We had to wait for the porters to arrive before we treaded the second snowfield beyond the gully.
This was decidedly, larger, whiter, and higher sorrounded by the peaks around – a large bowl set on the zenith of Yamuna valley. The snow was probably 2-3 feet and waist deep at places as we would discover later. This is where we put on the gaiters, gloves and the balaclavas hoping to brave the snow ahead with ease. But nothing would have prepared us for what was in store for us ahead.

One could see the valley ending at the ridgeline in the eastern horizon. Directly ahead north was a small peak and to its left was a small col which was the Bali Pass- Jaisingh announced. In the heights of Himalayas, often distances play games with visual perception. Though the distance here was a kilometre…it would appear as if one could reach out and touch the pass. One realised the illusion only when one saw Jaisingh cutting route through the snow in the distance looking like a little ant crawling!

After much struggle, slipping, wriggling, panting and resting one reached the base area of the pass from where a steep slope led onto the final climb after which the slope angled to a terrifying 70 degrees. Thats where I got stuck motionless for about 15 minutes…unable to move…scree and debris slipping from under my feet with every effort to climb and me mustering every bit of strength and courage within. Finally after almost half an hour of steady toil along the final slope we reached the top one by one between 1420 and 1520 Hrs. First Jaisingh, then me followed by Ritesh, Pradeep and Rama.

Bali Pass is a very small place up there, hardly enough place for three people to stand together at the top. Even as we waited there for the porters to arrive, sunlight was fading away. What we were seeing ahead of us was the Ruinsara valley bathed in the afternoon sun and directly below us the route of descent looking frightening at a near vertical 70-80 degrees angle. The snowfield below looked almost undisturbed…a quiet and solitary refuge of white..with rock features and crevasses …some visible and some apparent. The thought of descent into that bowl of snow, the possibility of cutting through that for another 2 kilometres and the steadily dropping temperature sent a shiver down my spine. Jaisingh however was forever reassuring, joking with one and all and pointing out the Swargarohini range for us to shoot pictures. We had to wait for another half an hour before the porters arrived and Deepak Thapa handed over the coil of ropes for Jaisingh to fix so that we could descend. It was 1600 Hrs already.

The rope wasn’t long enough to reach all the 500 ft down. We had to cover the descent in two pitches. All of us going to go midway in the first pitch and hang onto the slope somehow in a possible place after which the second pitch will be fixed to reach the bottom. In both cases I was to anchor the belay as the others went down.

Everything went as per plan till Ritesh went down on the second pitch. By then I was feeling numbness on my feet. I was so cold, it was hurting. It looked as if Pradeep, Rama and Ritesh were taking forever to go down!!! Finally my turn came and I requested someone else to anchor the ice axe by standing on it. When I rappelled down, I realised why they were taking so long! There were two vertical drops each of about 20 feet that landed us on a very steep slope. Even as I was leaving the rope and putting the axe in an arrest position, I slipped!! hurtling myself down at a great speed!! Flat ground was still some hundred feet below! Somehow I stopped; arresting my slip…I still don’t know how it happened. After stabilising a bit I realised that both Pradeep and Rama had similar experiences and now Ritesh was being extremely careful to negotiate the way down.

I was testing the depth of snow and generally exploring the field just to keep warm when there were some anxious shouts. Startked, I looked up to see the most horrifying scene in my trekking career. Deepak Thapa with my rucksack on his back was hurtling down the 40 ft vertical wall like a rag doll..tossing and tumbling. Those 4 seconds appeared like eternity as he finally stopped and lied still… still at a height above the flats below. We all thought for a moment that we lost a man. To our relief he stood up and trudged the way down after few
minutes.

Porter Rajan Karki was already reached down.

“Saab, humen saaman yahan chhod ke field cross karna padega. Phir subah aake saaman le jayenge.”- said he.
“Kyon?”- I enquired.
“Aap ko lagta hai ki abhi full load ke saath andhere me 2 kilometer baraf cross kar payenge? Bahut mushkil hoga saab”- he was almost pleading and I could realise the logic as I felt the numbing freezing pain in my feet every moment.
We were cold, tired, exhausted, shocked, our loads were scattered, we had probably lost a good part of the rations and actually were “afraid” of the snow and the crevasses ahead.

The rest of the porters were already in panic and they started jettisoning loads in order to reduce risk of descent. Finally at 1730 we all assembled there at the foot of the pass, around a hastily put fire made of a broken plastic table, Deepak in shock, blood blotches under his nose, the porters agitated and against the idea of a full crossing of the fields and the temperature already was -4 deg C and dropping ..freezing us further every single moment. We decided to bivouac there itself…a little away from the vertical slope and the sinister looking avalanche slab hung midway. There was no way we were going to cross 2 kilometers of powdery snow at that time, light and cold conditions.

The high camp was setup by 1815 at 4900 mtrs at the foot of Balipass… highest for me in terms of camping.After some quick donning of woollens, vigorous massaging by Jaisingh, brief primer on frostbites and some hot water, we felt a bit out of the woods. Till then it was sheer horror of cold, confusion, apprehension and fear. After some soup and minimal food in form of Maggi noodles we settled in for the night.

Temperature dropped to -15 at midnight, water bottles froze, wet-wipes became a lump of rock and galeforce winds, possibly in the range of 100 knots, lashed at the Tent outers through out the night. A thumping headache wouldn’t let me sleep probably because of the altitude till I popped couple of Dispirins.

The only piece of luck we had was that, the sky was still clear and dotted with those million stars. As I went out of the tent at midnight, it was as if I was in a different world. The sky, the peaks and the stars so beautifully unreal on the one hand and the galeforce wind over those miles of snow making it sinister and fearsome on the other. That picture was going to be eternally memorable.

Day 5- 30th October 2007

After the freezing night it was the desparate search for sunlight in the morning. Ritesh went out first reporting the advent of sunlight bulletined every 5 minutes. These are moments when one realises the power of nature..the force called Sun….against other powerful elements like snow and cold….desparately seeking the rejuvenating rays to warm, dry and pump life in. You are an immaterially small cog in the wheel in those interplays of the giant forces of nature.

I was thinking the strategy for the day. Should we start early and target reaching Ruinsara Taal camp to recover lost time and ration requirements or start late, recoup energy and supplies but target only a small distance?

I went into the kitchen tent to take stock of the situation. All eight of them had huddled together there the night before and were still half asleep. The ration situation was grim and the nearest supply point was Seema…25 Kilometers away. There was no way we were going to reach there before 48 hours and we needed food to keep us going.

We finally decided to dry, warm and recoup till midday after which we would start the days trek. Till then two porters would scavenge the slope for any ration that could be recovered. We shall start crossing only after we had strengthened ourselves, if that meant camping at Tange only 2 kilometers away out of the snowfield, so be it.

Thankfully by 1200 one bag of vegetables, sugar, tea and a packet of lentil was recovered from the slopes and the ration supplies situation looked brighter. With the bright sun overhead and copious help of the only working stove, our walking gear was dry and ready for use. We put on additional reinforcement in form of polythene packs over the woollen socks and set off for the day. Jaisingh by that time, was half a kilometre ahead cutting route thru the snowfield, appearing as if swimming on that snow field of waist deep powdery snow. Very often he would almost disappear and reappear again. My heart went out to him, praying fervently that everything be okay by the end of the day.

Half an hour later we crossed by a dreadful looking crevasse to our right around which Jaisingh had cut the route successfully. From that vantage point it became obvious what kind of a terrain we were going thru and what would we have done without the years of expertise of the Nepali expeditionary guide of ours. Yonder to our left was another set of crevasses equally frightening.

After 5 continuous hours of toil with very little water and food punctuated by brief stops to rest, shoot pics of the snow kingdom or to extricate ourselves from holes waist deep we finally sensed the snow thinning out under our feet. Jaisingh would proceed on forever imploring us to move forward. We were so exhausted, I would slip every 5 steps even after crossing the snow.
Finally in the midst of a large network of water streams, patches of snow and grass Jaisingh welcomed me to Upper Tange campsite with a raging camp fire set under a large rock overhang. At 3800 mtrs it was almost paradise for me. In an hour, the entire team would assemble by that welcome fire…joking animatedly, laughing, shouting and playing pranks with each other like a bunch of school kids. Nobody was saying it, but every one of us including Jaisingh was happy that we were out of the snow kingdom and had firewood at last!

Dinner was a much better affair but the camp fire was the best. More wood was procured from a campsite a kilometre below which made the fire last almost throughout the night. By morning most of our walking gear was dry even without the sun.

Ritesh and Rama had some problem with the wind coming into the tent- some problem with the main zipper. Finally peaceful, welcome sleep….that night we didn’t take diamox – we were on our way down here forth.

Day 6- 31st October 2007

Today was the day of the long march. We had been through the most difficult part and now we had to make up for lost time and rations by making one long dash for Seema. The earlier plans were to spend a day exploring the Kyarkoti and Supin glacier region camping at Ruinsara Taal. But that plan had to be modified now and we were to reach Seema from Upper Tange camp- walking a good 20 Kilometers.

Starting at 900 hrs we had to walk by a frozen river and then the sharp descent to the Tange camp area. Jaisingh led us up to a bugyal above so that we could have a view of the Ruinsara Taal while rest of the team crossed the frozen river and took an easy path down to Tange.
Rama and Rajan Karki had shown mild signs of frostbite on the right toe on the feet, the night before. After administering first aid in the night, the toes had now developed blisters and was creating obvious discomfort for both of them. Somehow all of us reached down the valley all the way to the Ruinsara Gad. After some discussion we decided to cross the stream there itself where the volume of water was less and the speed of the current manageable. The porters decided to walk a mile below where they had heard of the existence of a bridge.

The walk from Ruinsara till Seema is a treat for the eyes. High peaks surround you snow clad and every half an hour one sees a place befitting a picture postcard or a desktop wallpaper. Numerous streams are to be crossed and very often the trail comes down to the level of the river Ruinsara Gad flowing nearby. After hitting the Har Ki Dun valley, the trail takes a turn to the south over the Supin bridge and then goes parallel to the Supin River which originates from the Har Ki Dun valley. After all the toil in the first few days, it was decidedly an easy day of trek but an exhausting one.

At 1730 we finally reached the GMVN guest house at Seema to some welcome hot tea at 2600 mtrs. The night was to be spent in the forest guest house there. A nice fire in the fireplace and frostbite treatment was first priority. Some recounting of the day’s experience later finally we hit bed after 4 days.

Day 7- 1st November 2007

Initially we were considering reaching Seema to Sankri directly in order to save a day as per our earlier plan. But the team voted me out overwhelmingly and we decided to camp at Taluka. There are two routes that lead from Seema to Taluka. The upper route is longer through the burnt out village of Datmir whereas the lower route though broken is shorter which follows the river Supin through Gangad village. We decided to take the shorter route assuming the broken trail to be no more difficult than what we had handled so far.

We were all in a chirpy mood today. Compared to what we had been thru, it was a mere jungle walk. We plucked berries from trees, walked into village water mills, shot pictures with village children on the trail, chatted up couple of French tourists who were on their way to Seema, giggled mischievously amongst us like adolescent youngsters as we saw some pretty bong belles trekking up to Har-Ki-Dun, had lunch by the side of the raging Supin River and walked on the 14 Kms at gay leisurely pace.

The Seema –Taluka trail is equal if not better than the Ruinsara –Seema trail in terms of the natural vista that it has to offer. Taluka itself is just about couple of hundred meters lower than Seema but is as picturesque as Harshil is(in the Bhagirathi Valley). The Supin river lazily wounds itself in giant curves along pine jungles.

There were few anxious moments in couple of places where the route was severely broken. There was a place where one had to cross a thin ledge reinforced with slippery thin logs with water constantly dripping from a rock overhang. I had my heart in popping out in anxiety as I saw our team of brave porters crossing that place with all that load on their backs….each one of them carrying about 40 Kgs of load. Rama and Rajan Karki were in severe pain from the frostbite but went on trekking the whole day in stoic silence.

Finally the market place of Taluka beaconed us where we anxiously asked around for Desi Chicken….hoping to have a celebration dinner. We did have the necessary celebration ritual in form of some village kids sharing our campfire and singing the local Garhwali songs in sweet mellifluous chorus. Assisted by the potent local brew made of Mandwa we were all suitably regaled by the side of the lovely campfire. Surely an evening to remember!! Earlier in the evening, Ritesh spent the time exploring and shooting pics around. I noticed some village belles modelling out for him. He surely had loads of fun.

Stay was at GMVN dormitory on beds again…our tent days were over it seemed. Next day we had to reach Sankri, take a jeep to Barkot and hopefully have enough time to start back for Delhi.

Day 8 and 9- 2nd and 3rd November 2007

Early next morning we stopped by the local village school where all five classes in the primary school were lined up on mats at one single place in the open. One class sits on each mat 10 feet long, we were told. The senior classes sit in front near the teacher and the Junior classes are arranged in order to the back. It was a paradigm shift!! All my life I had this picture of a class teacher teaching students in a class sitting in that configuration…and here we had an entire school sitting at one place!!! Some innovation for “Sarva Shiksha Aviyan” in high mountains. Unfortunately we could not interview the teacher who had not yet materialised probably due to the lack of Sunrays in the teaching area!!

A pretty woman with a load on her back joined us in with her brother to whom we provided company till half way, enjoying the easy jungle walk all the while listening to the banter going on between Old Jaisingh and that sharp boy Manoj.

The route from Taluka to Sankri is a Jeepable track where Jeeps used to ply till few years back when the road got washed away 3 Kilometers from Sankri by some flash flood. After crossing that patch we had our group photograph and customary “Bakshishing” for the entire support troop.

Soon enough we were at Sankri where Jaisingh was already striking a deal with a Jeepwallah to take us (Rama, Ritesh and I) till Barkot and them till Uttarkashi. They intended to reach Uttarkashi that night itself and it appeared we would have to spend the night at Barkot and start for Delhi early next day.
The drive from Sankri till Barkot was a pleasant revelation. I had never thought the route to be so very amazingly pretty and made a mental note to visit the place some other day in my Jeep.
Finally we managed to have our much coveted Desi Chicken dinner assisted by fine french wine which i had bothered to carry al the way from Delhi. Some more time spent in the evening looking for small provisions and making the customary calls back home that we would be late by a day. The team left for Uttarkashi at 2000 Hrs….must have reached by 2300.

The next day was a long ride back home for 10 hrs after getting my Jeep washed off the yellow Deodar pollens which had painted it yellow. I was told that the real Tilak is made out Deodar pollens and all the while that we were gone in the trek, my Scorpio was actually having a Tilak bath sitting pretty at Barkot guesthouse.

Ritesh got dropped at Dehradun to spend the weekend with his friend as I and Rama drove back to Delhi recounting the moments of glory, triumph, apprehension, anxiety and sheer moments of exhilarating joy!!!

I had completed the most arduous trek in my career and Rama had kicked off his trekking career getting baptized by fire!

(The team from L to R – BS Rathore, Rama, Jayendra Panwar, Pradeep, Deepak Thapa, Ritesh, Jaisingh, Rajan Karki, Chander Thapa, Vishnu Thapa, Ashutosh) _____________________________________________________________

[ Published under the author’s permission ]

[ Original publication at www.snowscapes.blogspot.com on November 24, 2007–the readers are requested to express their comments on the original Blog as mentioned above ]

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