Sunday, February 20, 2011

Satopanth Tal Trek - Day 2

The beginning.
Day 1

Day 2
We woke up by around 7 in the morning. Breakfast was a bit unappetizing. There’s only so much of roti or bread that you can wash down at an altitude. Anyone making an extended trip up here (or anywhere at some altitude) is best advised to let the guide know their food preferences in advance. Our guide, Mannu, had told me the food itinerary over the phone a few weeks back, but I was so caught up with the trip fever then, and was like whatever, Mannu, whatever. Anyway, Satopanth Tal was still kilometers away, and we would either camp at old base camp of Mt. Neelkanth or the new base camp further up, if we can make it. From there, Satopanth can be reached on Day 4.

The two of us set off after breakfast. Mannu and others promised to catch us somewhere up there soon after packing up the belongings. Rough directions exist on these treks because of cairns (small heaps of rocks) made by people who have been there before us. You stop at one of these cairns and look around and pretty much you can spot the next one at a distance.

The initial part of the way just boulder hopping as demonstrated below. Your legs start to ache like crazy, after thirty minutes or so. But we kept moving on, with 2-5 minute breaks after 10 minutes of walk.

Our support crew caught up with us just before Vang Lung glacier, seen below. This glacier burst some time in 2007 or 2008 and brought much misery with rocks and dirt flowing all the way down to Mana village. It even destroyed the bridge across the river at Mana. Mannu gestured with his hands “itne mote mote pathar the”, his hands indicating that the rocks were far far bigger than the hand motion that he was making.

Immediately after the glacier is Lakshmi Van (this is where apparently Draupadi fell to her doom, on the way to heaven). A mini collection of trees. I wish we had the energy to walk the previous day and camp here overlooking Lakshmi Van.

It's one of those places that you go with high expectations, and you end up feeling that your high expectations are in no way a match to the splendor that unfolds in front. Himalayas, by their sheer scale, can do that to you.

Bhagirath Kharak Glacier. Vulture's beak?

Somewhere after Lakshmi Van, the situation became punishing. No wonder Draupadi decided to fall before this – women keep a nostril open for trouble ahead. Ice, my love, ice - had plans for us. Sometimes packed, sometimes shaky, sometimes cracked, most of the times dirty. First we crossed a long field, and then rested for some time, and then decided to go vertical.

Here's another waterfall that could never quite reach the ground, for reasons other than the wind.

They call this the THUMB for obvious reasons. They can call this other things too, but then, hey, this is a politically correct blog.

Majestic sight! Oddly, my mind for a fleeting second did go to Majestic in Bangalore.

After lunch that did not feel much like lunch, we started climbing uphill again through glacial ice. Slipped on a few occasions, but steadied without damage. The shot below shows the source of Alaknanda river - a.k.a Alkapuri. It has the Satopanth glacier on one side (seen here) and the Bhagirath Kharak glacier on the other. Actually the term glacier, meant to me a vast flowing field of ice. Over here, there is a flowing ice field, but it's covered with rock, dirt, gravel and all.

You have to keep moving to stay where you are.

This is Sahasradhara – the spot of a thousand waterfalls. Apparently we came at the wrong time, because all of those springs had frozen up.

Next up was the vertebra. Here's a close up of the vertebra, carefully crafted by the forces of nature. I had half a mind to stop the trek and get back to civilization. The views were just too good, mind you. But I was tired. Shylendran was in better shape. But, frankly I just wanted to stop the trek for the day, and just idle near Sahasradhara.

By this time, I was crying out to Mannu to stop this madness and camp somewhere. He said we have to reach the old base camp of Mt. Neelkanth, which was apparently very close. I learned not to believe mountain goats like him in the next two painful hours. :-) Finally, after a lot of boulder hopping (and, as usual, our entourage leaving early, to set up the camp) we reached. We could see the camp from a distance.

Shylendran went ahead full speed and I was surprised at his energy while I huffed and did puff. I found the reason for his enthusiasm after I reached. (Sorry Shylu. Couldn't let this opportunity go:-)

I had tea and biscuits, and roamed around (within a 100m radius mind you) to take some snaps. Sexy camping ground!

We had dinner, and went to sleep in some time. It was a tough day, but the altitude we gained, the wild terrain, the old base camp location with our personal stream in front and the gigantic massif of Mt. Neelkanth towering above us – all of this more than made up for the fatigue. I was thinking about my family as I went to sleep. My son was 5 months old, and must have been wondering where that tall fellow was. Would I be able to explain to him, why I did this, even if it was for a few days, leaving him, and his mom who was not in the best of health? Of course, my in-laws were there, but then again. Hmmmm. I had a troubled sleep that night, troubled not by fatigue. Fatigue had vanished from my list of worries.

Now, as I write this after about 2 years, I don't think I will have to explain why.
He should be able to find out.
The final part can be found here.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Satopanth Tal Trek - Day 1

Days zero, minus 1, and minus 2 can be found here. That page is not whetted, but then again this isn't either.

Day 1
We were ready by around 8 in the morning. Mannu Rawat, our guide, came with our two porters (Bhuvan and Kuldeep). Bhuvan, a sturdy looking lad, is from Nepal. Kuldeep would be our porter-cum-cook for the next five days. We had our breakfast and started soon enough. We went over Bhim Pul and crossed the makeshift bridge over Alaknanda river. Mannu rushed back to the village to vote, while we moved on from Keshav Prayag, the confluence of River Saraswati and Alaknanda. The national elections were going on, and this was the final round of polling. Alaknanda is on the left in the pic below. We will trace her to her source and move further on to Satopnath Tal, if everything went well over the next few days.

We climbed a little bit and reached Mata Murthy Temple. Every place in Uttarakhand has a legend attached to it, and legend has it that Mata Murthy is the mother of Lord Badrinath.

There are potato fields at these heights. Mannu owns a small farm here. His mother had brought a small sack of potatoes to be used on our trek.

There are native potato storage systems for the winter. The farmers store potatoes in holes dug in the ground before winter. Once the winter ice cover melts, the hole is opened up and the seeds used for farming the next year. Here's a hole that held last year's seeds.

There's very little of a trail on the way. The first few kilometers of walk was through grasslands. I despised the treacherous nature of grass, unknowing what lay ahead.

We could have moved on the other side of the river, which had a clear paved trail, however the crossover would have been difficult. What is called Dhaanu glacier by the locals is the usual crossover point. This year the glacier was very thin, as noted by Mannu in his reconnaissance effort a few days back. We had to settle for the treacherous terrain.

Grubs on the way:

Me, Mannu, Bhuvan, Kuldip in that order, from left:

On the way, we found this waterfall that could never truly fall, thanks to the wind.

And here's the video:

Dhaanu glacier was awaiting us, and we had to cross it. The boulder hopping started with our guide leaving the way.

Boulder hopping:

For people who live closer to the equator, snow and ice have a distinct warm place in their hearts. It is all fine, as long the exposure is limited to a couple of hours of fresh snowfall when you can take some photos and show it off back home. This is real treacherous ice. The photo looked good, but the effort to climb halfway and cross over to the other side made my brain scream "tent" "sleep" "rest." This is a nontechnical trek, so no ice axes or anything to keep you from losing your footing - not even a fine pair of shoes. A day before, a Tibetan lady sold me the shoes I was trekking in, and promised us it was the best. I cursed her in invented Tibetan. (Actually I cursed myself for going on a trek like this without well-worn shoes.)Here's the ice flow that created the glacier:

The glacier seen from above:

One of the many rest stops on the way:

A lot of pilgrims come to visit Vasudhara Falls on the other side of the river. Here's Vasudhara viewed from our side:

For all the exertion, the scenery on all sides was compelling.

The bad part about mountain scenarios is that the distances could deceive you. You can see your camping destination for the night upfront, but to reach it you have to cross a few hillocks or ups and downs. Once you cross a few of them you tend to think that beyond the next "up" is your destination. But like some prescription medicine, the next few "ups" present themselves with consummate ease that only nature can bestow. Any way after some time we were relieved to see the camp all set up in Chamtholi Bugyal. By the time we dragged our haggard bodies in, Mannu and his help had gone ahead and set up everything.

After we settled down, I got some folk wisdom from Mannu "yeah trekking route toh sab bakriwaalon ka den hai" meaning that all these trekking routes are gifts from the goat herders. As soon as the punishing Himalayan winters retreat, goat herders come in and let their herds lose on these pastures. They live in the caves (like the one shown below) and make their flock sturdy and go back to the valleys before the onslaught of the next cold wave.

Here’s Shylendran, my trekking buddy:

The day had gone by and we had not made as much progress as we could possibly have. Kuldip was making dinner which smelled pretty good. But alas, when the time came for eating, my non-veg turrets acted up and could not eat much of the aloo/gobi gang.

I went to sleep with no one except the few of us in 5 kilometers on one side, and possible no one except us for hundreds of kilometers on the other. The mobile strength indicators had died a meek death the moment we started walking on grass during the day.

I had a swell time with Mannu, thanks to Bermuda XXX. But, other than that, I'm sure, Mannu must have gone to sleep thinking how he ended up guiding a bunch of sissies up the mountain, that too when the trekking season hasn't even begun. And I had this sinking feeling that this wouldn't be the last night he would sleep thinking like that.

The next part: Day 2