Mandini n Monsoons : The Hidden Garhwal Sojourn

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Prologue : The Mahindra Spacio shuffled along the path , rugged in its looks and behaviour for it had spent its life in these mountains on broken roads and was on familiar ground . The 14 occupants including the driver crammed inside each having the same thought of a successful arrival at the destination Joshimath . “Saavan ka mahina” saw the the weather and earth waltz and tango most energetically and lesser participants like the 14 souls in the Mahindra Spacio could only be feeble collateral participants dotted around the frame. Meanwhile, back on ground the Alakhnanda flowed along the broken National Highway moving at a frightful pace unstoppable with her power rippling in the form of the raging waters  all over her, for anyone to see . Every movement and every twist of her, showcased the enormous destructive power and energy that she held in her fold, truly Ganga had rightly said the earth would not be able to sustain her sway and  force if she descended directly, hence Lord Shiva had taken her in to his locks to contain her destructive power and what is  Alakhnanda if not Ganga herself for that is how she is called when she merges with Bhagirathi at Devprayag flowing onward to Haridwar and beyond into the wide world .

Meanwhile the Spacio rumbles to a halt and finally the driver kills the engine, 14 pairs of eyes peer ahead to see the cause through the mist and rain. The cause emerges to be rock fall as the earth shakes and one hapless vehicle caught in the melee. The rocks had boxed her in and now the vehicle could neither go ahead nor reverse down the path, her occupants abandoning her to cruel faith and to the whims of mother nature . The area was known as Lambagad notorious for just this kind of incidents and the same was now   being played in live technicolour for those few souls like me who were attempting to cross. As minutes ticked by and converted into hours the situation remained the same, Umeid my guide and i looked at each other deciding that its time to leave the Spacio and strike a path through the mountain slope for this was the only way to tackle Lambagad, the destination had to be reached and so the team loaded the gear on and moved out. The trek that seemed completed had started once again, the curtains had still not fallen on one of the most enthralling of all treks that i have attempted till now ….. Trek to Mandini and beyond towards the Lake of Truth “Satopanth”

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Day 1 : How does one begin especially  as i write after the day has passed , but still  will try to organise my thoughts and begin in a coherent manner. The trip to Mandini Valley was conceptualized on a cold winter night around 5200 mts above sea level with the mercury falling rapidly as me and my guide Umeid sat inside the tent sipping on hot coffii on the shores of “Nandi kund Lake”. That tale has been told and will not be dwelt upon out here. So here we were sitting and discussing where next to venture in the coming year and his words were “sir agar flowering dekhni hai to mandini chalo monsoon mein; Valley of Flower takkar bhi nahin de payega {sir if u desire to see flowering of plants on a huge scale lets go to Mandini Valley , the famous Valley of Flowers is nothing compared to it } ). Now i had neither seen VOF nor Mandini Valley but yes was very interested to see the Himalayan flowers flowering in their natural element and the thought appealed to me. Quickly i asked him the probable month and the approximate time and his reply was it had to be monsoons and that meant August.

Anyways back home after the Nandi kund trek and after few weeks started researching about Mandini valley. Google did not throw much light but yes i came across three blogs which mentioned about this trek but they were all in September and not monsoons so i had no way of gauging as to how it would be like but the blogs helped me to prepare the key places on the route and i decided to cross Mandini Valley and then three ice fields to reach Kedarnath ji. Umeid also recommended the same and after we worked the day itinerary i realized that another destination could be squeezed in too and thus was born the trek to Satopanth; The Lake of Truth and Swargarohini ; The stairs to Heavens.

As months passed by my itinerary got refined and eventually had a 17-day trek itinerary excluding the journey time to and fro my place. The leave was sanctioned after looking for a fortunate moment to propose but till the end moment i was not sure if i would be actually going hence kept my departure a low key affair. The days leading to the trek saw the weather worsening in Uttarakhand and gave me much cause to worry but i stuck to my itinerary and decided to take things as they come.

The tickets were booked and finally the day arrived when i was in the vehicle heading to airport. I did refine my luggage this time to make it lighter especially the camera gear but guess it still needs to be worked upon more for the future. With a combined weight of 26 kgs inclusive of my backpack and camera gear the thought definitely projected a problem.

Anyways with the day finally arriving i was on my way and the route was a tiring one in itself fir the travel comprised of travelling through the day and the night followed by the following full day. The mode of conveyance included flight, train, bus, mini bus and then trekker max. The end point saw me arriving at the small villages that have nestled in the foothills of the Garhwal mountains. Raasi was one such village and the home of my guide Umeid. I was welcomed very warmly by his family and lot of village folk too dropped in or i was invited to their homes and so began endless cups of tea and discussions.

After a simple dinner I bade my good nights and promptly dropped off to sleep. Thus ended the journey from my place on Western Ghats to Umeid’s place in the foothills of the Garhwal mountains which act as outposts for the great Himalayan range that lay ahead.

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The next day morning i was up by around six and venturing to the roof of the house i glanced around at the Garhwal countryside or mountainside (i am not sure which term would be more appropriate) scrubbed clean and pretty draped in all of green and mist. The mighty mountain ranges had garlands of heavy mist that was a living thing in itself moving up and down. The mountain slopes were all green and dense and numerous waterfalls had sprung high up and they were crashing down hundreds of meter with a huge force and vitality which was a sight to see. For an hour i stood and soaked in the landscape spread in front of me while all around me the village came to life and temple bells began to ring with prayers to almighty. The school children were soon on their way to the school, so either thy climbed up to their school or they descended down as the case might be depending on the location of their homes which were spread all over the slopes of the nearby hills. Raasi has two schools one caters to the tiny tots or primary while the other was till metric. After a long time i saw the school assembly and seeing the primary school kids organizing themselves into measured lines and then reciting the school prayer followed by the National Anthem was a most pleasant experience indeed.

Towards Sandera

DAY II. Soon it was time to prepare for the day and in an hour the team had assembled and after a quick breakfast we were on the way. The destination today was Sandera which was a small bugyal(plateau) on the hill top where the slope flattened a bit. It was around five kms of uphill trekking and by uphill it meant from the moment one left the house he just had to climb, climb and climb with no respite even for 10 metres. The entire five kms was a steep climb remorseless and brutal. The first day of the trek and the acclimatization and fitness level spoke; soon after around 30 min i was gasping and struggling. The numerous breaks in between increased but there was no other way for it was up n up all the way. The sun was out in full force and the sweat was draining the salt away at a rapid pace; by the time around 3 hrs had elapsed and i was in a pretty bad shape with my progress being 25 mts of walking and 10 min of rest, struggling in every step and repeatedly asking the porter walking with me as to how much further though i already knew the answer. After close to 4.5 hrs we reached sandera. It was a small bugyal in the midst of the forest but it had a running stream which was the most important factor. The clock read close to 1330 hrs and i just sat down to recover from my ordeal .. eventually after a bit of hot Maggi and sweetened tea i felt better and soon the tents were up.

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There was no major activity lined up for the day and while the team chatted amongst themselves i decided to indulge in some photographic activity in the surrounding hills and stream and thats how the afternoon and evening was spent. In the gathering dusk while the dinner was being prepared had a deeply engrossed discussion with my guide who was caught in the 2013 uttarakhand calamity while on a trek. Post an early dinner turned in for the night and soon the skies opened up as the rains started pouring but i was snug warm and dry ..what more can a man want, to be contd …….

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Towards Paturi

DAY III. The next day morning i woke up to heavy rain laden clouds that hung low on the Himalayan mountain peaks. soon it started raining and i just lay inside the tent for there was no possibility to venture outside , the head porter Mr Prem Singhji i had the tea can boiling away soon under the make shift kitchen shelter and soon there was  a hot cup of sweet tea in my hand,  around 1030 hrs the weather cleared a bit and it was decided to have a quick breakfast and make a move . Two chapattis with pickle and tea later Umeid and me  were ready to move while the rest of the team would pack up and follow us later. We immediately went into the forests that surrounded us as the path lay through them , the mist had descended in full force and it presented a very eerie feeling with fallen gigantic tree trunks covered with moss with mist and rain  all around ,walking slowly but steadily we made our way forward .

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After around 30 min the rains returned but there was no turning back as we kept moving ahead , the path lay through the forests , traversing ridges  going over rocks and just about everything else , i had my photographic gear with me and the entire set up including me was covered in a poncho while the walking stick helped me to gain a sure footing over loose slippery mud and leaves .walking in the rain  on the forested slopes we just kept going , step by step  feet by feet towards the destination for the day . By around 1230 hrs we reached a massive rock overhang that offered some protection from the rain and we decided to wait for the rest of the team to catch up . I was shivering by this time as the sweat was now getting exposed to the falling temp outside , but there was nothing much that could be done . In around 45 min the remaining team trooped in one by one each n everyone wet and shivering. It was decided to wait here for a while to let the rains abate and we all made small talk as best as we could considering the circumstances. The cave like structure was known as Kanera cave and is around 4 kms from sandera . On occasions trekkers have camped here when unable to proceed ahead but there is no provision to erect a tent , just light the fire for warmth , prepare some food and curl up inside sleeping bags to wait out the night  but we were proceeding ahead , at around three it was decided to move as the rains were not abating  and camp site was still two hours away and no one had eaten anything . Eventually we reached campsite Paturi located on a narrow ridge with the ground falling away rapidly on both sides.

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The young porters rigged up the tent quickly the moment there was a gap in the rainfall and i gratefully stepped in . The day has been long tiring and wet . I quickly organized my stuff … cleaned my walking trousers of all the mud but could not do anything about its wetness .. changed into a fresh set of dry clothes and thereafter cleaned the entire photographic gear as there was heavy moisture all around . Meanwhile hot Maggi was prepared and by now the rains had dropped hence the kitchen shelter was set up and a camp fire was burning away to provide heat n warmth to wet souls all around .. (to be contd )

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After thought: In order to give an insight in the terrain that we encountered from sandera to paturi , it was primarily comprised of walking across mountain slopes traversing narrow ridges that connected the mountains together and provided a narrow trail to walk . The entire route involved lot of climbing up and down along the trail for there was no well-defined trail to begin with. The major landmarks on this leg were Devkhark ( where shepherds stay put in their wanderings) , Kanera dhar , Kanera cave and finally paturi  .

Interesting note on shepherds: There are shepherds that one encounters on these lonely lands who for the entire season starting from April till Oct wander out here in search of pastures for the sheep. He is generally accompanied by 3-4 huge sheep dogs. The villagers in this region give their sheep to him to rear and graze and thus he collects sheep from the villagers and takes them far from the villages into these lands to graze. He spends the entire monsoon and later part of the summer alone with his flock in these forested lands and meadows and as the winter approaches he is forced downwards further and further towards the villages until finally he reaches the village itself where then the sheep is sheared and his duty for that year done. He charges around 500 for each sheep for the season in addition to his ration from the owner and in case there are births which happen in the interim he is given an award of 200 – 300 . At any given point of time his flock numbers around 500 -800, thus he earns around 1 to 1.5 lakh in one particular season. But i just wondered on the tough life he leads, alone except for the dogs brazing out the onslaught of rains, fog, wetness, trying to manage the sheep in the mist on guard from the predators definitely needs mental will to do this for months at a stretch.

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Towards Thauli

DAY IV. The next day i got up early and immediately clicked some fine pics; from paturi one can see Chandrashila as well as Tungnath ji very clearly and it was a magical feeling to look at them far in the distance. The previous night we all had a great talk next to the fire and passed away the night till it was time for dinner. This morning the weather was again misty and drizzly. The destination for the day was Thauli and i was told by umeid as well as my head porter that it was a very uphill climb all the way into the mountain peaks itself and that it would test me to the core. So armed with this cautionary advice as usual Umeid and i set out ahead while the rest of the camp would come later. Immediately the climb started and step by step we climbed ..huffing and puffing and chugging like a steam loco all the time . We took a number of breathers in between in order to stabilise the heart beat a bit but the views; Oh !!! the views they were simply marvellous for as we climbed higher the horizon kept increasing and now i could see the mist covered mountain ranges one after other and far in the distance shimmering rivers in valley below while the mist moved all the while obstructing something while revealing some other aspect. It was truly magical and i find it so tough to describe.  We continued climbing and once we reached the peak Umeid showed me the ridge on which we had to walk and then climb another even higher peak slope. So this was how to was going to be as we caressed mountains by climbing almost to the summit and then using the ridge to shift to the next range and then climb even higher, i was tired and sore by this time for was climbing and doing this for the last 4 hours and to add to this the cold rain was not making things any easier. Finally, umeid showed me a mountain higher than all the surrounding ones and said that thus is the last climb. I gritted my teeth and started the climb on soaked shoes and socks all cold to the bone. Finally reaching the top he guided me towards a ridge and explained that we had reached Thauli situated at an altitude of 4100 mts.

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The team had overtaken me by this time and the tent was up as i gratefully unloaded my photographic gear and sat down on dry mats for a change. Soon hot Maggi was served and nothing could have tasted more heavenly at that point. It started raining soon enough which drove everyone inside their tents and into the sleeping bags. The rains subsided in the evening and i came out to click a few pics of both sides of the ridge.

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But what interested me the most was the right side where the great Himalayan peaks were located right from Chaukhmaba , Mandini , Neelkanth , Sujaal to name a few that I could recognise and in the far distance  for a few fleeting seconds  I could even have a glimpse of Budha Madhmadheswar which was soon covered by the mist.

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I spent the daylight hours indulging in some macro photography and as the darkness came so did the rains which drove me back to my tent . Got myself comfortable waiting for dinner while the kitchen tent was all warm and buzzing with the entire team crowded out there. Dinner was served on time and consisted of hot chapatis , dal , vegetable , papad , pickle and rice. After the dinner it felt great to have a cup of tea and then retire for the night.

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Towards Dagla

DAY V.      The next morning i got up to a quiet morning with no wind or rain, the mist played her games in the distance on both sides of the ridge as i sat in my sleeping bag watching the same.  Premsingh ji soon served me two cups of hot sweet tea to get the circulation going and to get me the inclination to leave the warmth of the sleeping bag and the tent. The next hour or so i kept myself engaged clicking pics as the mist revealed one peak after the other and i tried to get them visual in the lens. Chaukhmaba , Mandini even Neelkanth and Sujaal ..what an hour it was as we were all caught up in the excitement , Finally it was time to move for the day and i quickly went about the preparations to begin the day’s trek . Today we were supposed to climb even higher towards DWARA KHAAL ( PASS) located at 4400 mts above sea level and thereafter descend the other side into Mandini region. The trek was again a series of one step after other carefully placed amidst fog and rain through trails built for either the Bharal ( The mountain goat)  but now mankind was also using it . Most of the time I was walking on the edge of the land with maybe a feet of earth  available on any one side before the land just fell away into the depths. I would definitely like to say that in monsoon doing this trek there can be no lapse of concentration for even a minute of it would either result in a broken ankle because of a misjudged step or worse a drop over the side. The guide cannot do much because he is some metres ahead in the rain n mist looking at the path ahead and it is just not feasible to connect each other with ropes for there is no straight path even for 10 mts .

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Finally we reached the goddess of the pass and paid obeisance to the shrine there, rested for a few minutes and then once again moved ahead towards the pass. The pass was finally reached after 1.5 hrs of trek from campsite. we waited for the rest of the team to catch up and then a small prayer was done to the guardian deity and we moved ahead thus leaving one region and entering into the Mandini region. The route was now downhill for around 2 kms crossing a boulder region which definitely fatigued me even more, for today i was tired do not know why but the strain was telling in each step that i took. Onwards we went in the rain and mist each huddled in his own thoughts, my guide Umeid understood that i was having trouble walking and he stayed very close to me. After we left the boulder region behind we now were walking on slopes of small mountains that were interconnected. After around 4 kms I finally reached campsite at around 2 in the afternoon, the team had already reached and set up the tent and i gratefully stepped inside.

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Dagla that the name of the place where we had camped, a meadow on the mountain slope all covered with grass and flowering plants for they were all in full growth in peak monsoon Dagla sits on a small ridge and towards the left of it are the valleys that lead to kalimath and Guptkashi quite a distance away while to the right are the big Himalayan peaks of Mandini and Hembook . In the evening the rains abated and after some hot Maggi and a cup of black lemon tea i definitely felt much better. I was invited to the kitchen shelter and with Umeid and Premsingh ji warmed myself in the heat of the wooden sticks that were burning merrily. Soon soup followed as the discussion flowed on many topics, slowly i too was recovering especially my right knee that had a history of its own.

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After a while I wandered to do some photography with Umeid in company as we walked among the foliage clicking and talking till it started to get dark . After an early dinner I turned in for the night curled inside my sleeping bag as the rains built up outside .

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Arriving at Mandini Valley

DAY VI & VII. Morning arrived and found me awake raring to go, Uemid made some hot upma and chana for me to eat to gain strength also to have a change from what i had been eating since the past few days . They forced me to eat well for it was important that i has the strength to walk. Soon we started ahead while as usual Premsingh ji would wind up the camp and follow with the rest of the team. The path was gentle unlike the previous day and we made good progress walking in knee length foliage which made seeing where the step was being placed a major concern for many a time we had to walk on stones stepping over them for many metres as the path led ahead, hence once again the key word in monsoon when the foliage is in full growth and everything is wet and slippery, watch where the step is placed.

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After around 2 kms we reached DANGJA, a local landmark which was a small bugyal next to a flowing stream. The shepherds normally stay here as was explained to me. It was a very pretty place with flowers and grass all around. After a short break we again moved ahead, there was no rain this morning so we were quite comfortable and after crossing three more ridges Umeid finally pointed to me Mandini valley up ahead. I think the entire area may be called as Mandini valley and not just the place where he was leading me to but then again i am not sure, but yes the place was right at the end of the green valley for up ahead the giant mountains of MANDINI I, II, III rose harsh and straight with mighty glaciers between their folds. But for now i had to descend from where i was, to go down into the valley floor and it was again a tricky proposition in the monsoons.

Eventually did reach down but had to cross a glacial river as the bridge had been washed away. Umeid and Premsingh ji went along the banks searching for a safe area to cross. After some time, they came back with a possible site and we all walked towards it which lay in the direction of the peaks from where the river was coming. The plan was to find a place where various streams joined to make the big river. The site they had chosen definitely was possible with water coming till thigh level. Soon the two young porters made their way cautiously with the stores and then premsingh  ji and the remaining porter followed. I opened my shoes slung them around my neck tightened all the camera gear on me taughtly and stepped into the water; the chillness took my breath away. In an instant my feet numbed from the drop in temperature as the team members urged me to keep moving as one felt the force of the gushing water, slowly by slowly step by step i made my way as did Umeid and finally we crossed the river which was around 30 mts in width.

Ohh the pain in the feet it was exquisite agony as the blood flowed back again and i so badly wanted to sit down right then and massage them but i just stamped them around, wore my shoes and looked around. I was finally in MANDINI VALLEY, as we then made our way back towards the area where the camp was to be erected. On reaching the campsite we paid obeisance to MANDINI Goddess who is one of the forms of Durga herself

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There is a temple built here and we erected our camp nearby. MANDINI VALLEY, truly someone had written that if you wish to sèe nature smile and deck herself up go to Mandini and that is what i was seeing, surrounded by flowers after flowers ..rows of them growing in wild abandon . I had entire following day devoted to exploring the place and i will let the pictures do the talking (to be contd ..)

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Mandini Valley. Truly a place to see in the monsoons, tucked away from prying eyes it was nature at her softness. Shielded by towering mountains on three sides and a dreary path on the remaining side, it has been spared the onslaught that Valley of Flowers has been subjected . The remoteness ensures that only determined few come out here and hence there is no commercialization till date. I am lucky to have seen this place and truly Umeid’s sentence held true “ sir agar flowering dekhni hai to mandini chalo monsoon mein; Valley of Flower takkar bhi nahin de payega “

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Towards Hembook Col Base Camp

DAY VIII.      The next morning we started for the second phase if this trek which involved leaving the Mandini Valley behind moving into the Himalayan glacial terrain for we would be travelling in excess of 4000 mts continuously. The rains were a constant factor and it usually would begin to rain by around noon hence we decided to shift our departure by 30 -45 min in advance.

Accordingly by 0730 hrs we were on the move and the path involved walking on the banks of the Mandini river for close to two km before penetrating the dense growth of plants and climbing up dramatically with an average incline of 60 deg . This kind of uphill climb  was to continue for around 3 kms , for the valley just ended ahead boxed by the Himalayan mountain ranges from three sides. So climbing was the only option , after the steep climb  we reached dizzying heights and looking back  could see the river far down below shrouded in mist but my path lay ahead and it involved even more climbing though the steep gradient eased off definitely and now  was moving through dense green cover whose height was easily 5 feet in most places.

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This place was frequented by the Himalayan brown bear and i was terrified of meeting one either foraging for food or worse come across a mother and her cubs . Somehow  kept my thoughts to myself yet told Umeid that the team to be in close proximity to each other while  moving in this terrain . Umeid showed me a lot of Himalayan herbs and plants that were used by pharmaceuticals or other bio organic companies , there was the plant that was used in iodex balm , then we had the  plant whose roots were used for cuts / bruises , then for painkillers and fever i was shown a specific plant . There are so many plants that are used in spices also and I am amazed by the flora of the Himalayan kingdom.

We continued our journey huffing and puffing as the incline was omnipresent and we were gaining altitude by every step . After sometime the plants fell behind and we entered the barren boulder region which marked the beginning of high altitude region, as we crossed a boulder region in our quest to reach Hembook base camp that was situated at an altitude of 4400 mts . The campsite was a lovely meadow having a gentle glacial stream flowing and green carpet of grass all around at the base of Hembook peak . There were numerous huge rocks all around and we saw ample signs of the Himalayan brown bear as well as Himalayan Thar . The area also had its own distinctive flowering plants and i passed the evening hours photographing them once the rains which had begun in the afternoon abated.

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The rains soon started after dinner and it rained the entire night making me quite uncomfortable inside the tent for the water was soon flowing from all sides of the tent, anyways it was a question off passing the night and it has to be done.

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Towards Baishali Col Base Camp , crossing Two High Altitude passes 

DAY IX.     The next morning we were up early and by 8 in the morning had started the trek. The first checkpoint was Hembook Pass and was soon climbing from within the first 100 mts itself. We climbed steadily past the green grass cover and through the boulder region till we reached the pass after around 3 kms located at an altitude of 4600 mts . After a short break we descended through a steep incline and rockfall area which made both Umeid and my head porter Prem Singh ji very worried and they stayed very close to me throughout this stretch. We crossed the rockfall area which was littered by scores of boulders and we had to step over them hopping from one to another, this is the only way to move in this kind of a terrain.

After the rockfall area came the hembook glacier which had me walking on the glacier itself and i was coming face to face with so many crevasses that had formed, some old while some were new. The main body of the glacier was hardly 60 -80 mts away on the mountain rock face while the glacier river was what on which we were walking. I have recorded moments out here which would be soon made into a clip for better viewing. The Hembook glacier is definitely one of the unknown ones and least visited especially during the monsoon season when the fresh ice is non-existent and what one sees is the centuries old ice that is the bed rock of any glacier that holds everything together and when it fissures and breaks it just moves that section of the earth itself.

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I saw gigantic rocks easily several hundred tonnes or thousands of kgs in weight balanced on frozen ice stools, this ice was solid even in peak monsoon and was taking the weight of these massive rocks so very easily and wonder of wonders i came face to face with blue ice, the rare category of ice that is easily several millennia old and so frozen over centuries that it acquires a light blue colour. I was walking in a magical land barren ruthless remorseless devoid of human presence and unwelcome in every aspect but the visuals that it was revealing that were once in a life time opportunity. My guide explained to me that rarely anyone ventured this side in peak monsoon, generally early winter or late summer is when trekkers would pass through this area.

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After we crossed the glacial river of Hembook i was again face to face with yet another boulder ridden zone, only this time it was more massive and even longer in length to cross and to top it of it, extended all the way till the summit of the pass up ahead known as Baishali Col Pass, the next pass of the trek situated at an altitude of 4900 mts . The mist was coming up as we started up the incline, my attention totally on where i was placing my feet. After around 45 min and half way up, the rains caught up with me. There was still a long way to go and while the rest of the team had almost reached 100 mts below the summit of the pass and found refuge underneath a massive rock formation, myself and Umeid were stuck in the open with me having the camera gear. As the rains increased i realized that i needed to protect the camera gear, wearing the poncho was out of the equation as that would hamper my feet movement on the boulder hopping scenario and with the rains the rocks were getting slippery by the minute. So Umied gave me his umbrella and used the poncho to cover his head. I used my balaclava to cover one camera while the umbrella protected the other and we started again, only this time I was boulder hopping in the rain with an umbrella in one hand, nothing could have been precarious than this and come to think of it i would have never attempted this ever if someone would have suggested this idea but out there, we made do with what best we could have.

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Slowly step by step, boulder by boulder we moved ahead, whole attention on the task at hand and just not bothering about anything else. Finally, we reached the overhanging rock after an hour drenched wet and cold. The team had long departed and we just stood trying to regain our composure and get a grip on the situation. After a 15 min break we started again for the last 100 mts and after around 30 mins we reached Baishali Col Pass, situated at an altitude of 4900 mts surrounded by mist rain and massive glacier systems.

My team huddled under the rain capes stood and congratulated me on my successful arrival mentioning that the worst is over. Soon we would reach campsite and things would look better. I took heart and one by one everyone started moving ahead, but when i looked ahead i saw that the things were not so simpler as now I had to do a steep descent of around 50 mts and up ahead loomed the glacier river of Baishali glacier. I remember telling myself that the only way was ahead and this is what lay ahead so get a move on. The descent started and slowly using both hands in addition i descended in the rain on slippery rocks and soon Umeid and me were walking on the glacier. The terrain resembled something from other planet as we moved ahead in the swirling mist and rain while the boots crunched on dry ice amidst huge rocks scattered haphazardly, the result of upheaval caused by the glacier movement.

After around two kms of this the frozen ice was replaced by minced rock and earth. The ice was there but it was some feet or metres below, i could see it in places but now it has this layer of wet sluggish minced rock and earth, slippery and dangerous for what lay underneath it or how deep it was one could not be sure. The path continued, each man in his own personal space now moving ahead through this battlefield and in between as one tried stepping on boulders rather than the minced rock, could hear water flowing underneath and believe me it is scary for when what would give way is uncertain. The path sloped downwards most of the time while we were walking across it balancing, slipping but moving ahead mindful of the fact that anything from rock to mud could come sliding down from top of the ridge any moment. The journey seemed endless and i lost all count of time or distance. I was cold wet and  fatigued from the excessive concentration, all senses alert since morning and the end was just not coming.

Finally after around 2 kms at 1500 hrs we reached a small space between two ridges that had some firm ground where the tents were rigged up and we stopped for the day. It rained the whole evening and night while Maggi was made within the tent itself as we waited for the dark night to end at an altitude of 4800 mts .

Towards Kedarnath; Abode of Lord Rudra

DAY X.      Tossing and turning throughout the night i finally gathered the will power to open the tent flaps as soon as i could see some light, the wetness of the tent flap was sufficient enough to register itself on my senses and that demanded a considerable will power to proceed to next step of wearing the ice cold wet slippers step out. The dial of my watch said 0515 hrs and the world looked as bleak as i could imagine. I stood for a minute trying to understand what next and finally decided to step back inside to the safety of the tent and warmth of the sleeping bag. For the next hour just sat inside the sleeping bag as vague thoughts kept drifting in and out of my mind as wisps of mist.

At around 6 after two hot cups of tea i decided to begin the day and slowly started the process of packing all the items. The clothes to wear were wet and i decided to use them itself especially the lower trek pants. By 0730 hrs i was ready, cold from head to toe but the resolution to move ahead had come. After a quick bite of biscuits and tea we were on our way. The path lead across the Baishali glacial system and as previous day the progress was slow and cautious. For next two hours we kept traversing across the glacial river, our eyes set on Hanuman pass ahead in the distance. Slowly in the absence of rains we made good progress and by 1100 hrs i laid my eyes on Mahapanth Sarovar at the base of Hanuman peak. Soon Hanuman Pass was reached and on the other side lay Kedar valley, the mood was jubilant as we could sense the end of the trek in a couple of hours.

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The path to kedarnath Ji is all about descent and we descended sharply from 4400 mts to 3200 mts in two hours. The path was tricky and slippery but i concentrated and made sure that walked at a reasonable pace. After three hours of descent through rocks mud and  finally reached Bhairavnath ji . From here in another thirty mins we were at Kedarnath ji and thus ended the trek from Raasi to Mandini and then to kedarnath valley via four passes, 02 glaciers and traversing a height of 4900 mts .

Ohh what a pleasure to be back at the abode of Lord Rudra and that too in monsoons , there was no rush of pilgrims view monsoons in this region made everyone think thrice before setting foot out here. I spent time to my heart’s content inside the main temple chamber with no other person save the priest . I realized that it is this adverse climatic time to visit holy shrines in Uttarakhand if one wishes to seek the tranquility without the human factor intruding into.

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Attended the evening aarti ,  paid our respects to Kedar baba and then turned in for the night as tomorrow began an interim phase before we once again entered the mountains, only this time we would be in the trans Himalayan region and moving towards Satopanth, The Lake of Truth.

Towards Rudraprayag

DAY XI.    The next morning by 0745 hrs we were moving and i think we set a blistering pace covering 17 kms and reaching Gaurikund by 1100 hrs. There we learnt that the road from Gaurikund to Sonprayag was closed for vehicular traffic on account of rock falls. Thus the only option that remained was another walk of additional 05 kms and by 1230 hrs we were at Sonprayag thus covering 22 kms in the morning session. From sonprayag we hired a trekker that took us till Guptkashi and then again we found one more jeep going towards Rudraprayag which we boarded thus reaching Rudraprayag by 1600 hrs and finishing the day here.

In the evening went for a stroll, feeling light and content. The climate was great with the sun out and shining pleasantly, the confluence of Mandakini and Alakhnanda at Rurdraprayag is worth visiting along with a visit to the nearby Shiva temple. So after a light stroll and spending time on the hotel room balcony soaking in the feeling of having accomplished something momentous i had an early dinner and turned in for the night. Tomorrow was supposed to be an early start with the bus for Joshimath departing at 0645 hrs but then that is another tale to be narrated someday else

FAQ

DIFFICULTY STRENOUS
MOBILE CONNECTIVITY NIL
HUMAN SETTLEMENT NIL AFTER SANDERA
MEDICAL SUPPORT NIL
ADDITIONAL INFO IF ATTEMPTED IN MONSOON , A EXPERIENCED SUPPORT TEAM AND POSITIVE MENTAL STRENGTH IN ADDITION TO PHYSICAL FITNESS IS ESSENTIAL.

RISK OF ROCK FALL , EARTH SLIDES IS VERY REAL.

 

Read on for —- Trek to the Lake of Truth : Satopanth

1 comments on “Mandini n Monsoons : The Hidden Garhwal Sojourn”

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