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

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