Sunday, May 5, 2013

Let's March!!! - A Trek to Dodi Tal - Part 3

The previous part could be found here.
18th March, 2013
We were getting ready in the morning, when Nisha (a team member who had held up strong till that point, despite the snow scares the previous evening) broke the news to us. She did not want to come with us to Dodi Tal that day. She wanted to sit around and wait for us at the Manjhi camp. And I was like, "excuse me, but why?" Her response was classic "Because my mom would not approve of it if she were here!" And I was like "WHAT? This is your excuse - that your mom would not approve, if she was here?" and walked off. Now, that's crappy conversation to have, especially when you have an upset tummy yourself. A few others tried to talk her risk aversion down and to convince her to come along.

Everything else was fine. We took out some bright-red gaiters (borrowed from NIM) to cover our shoes and lower legs from snow, and wore them right away, the wrong way. Thankfully, the guides spotted our mistake, and then we wore them again, this time, the right way.

We had a nutritious breakfast (which I skipped, thanks to HAD). In case you're wondering what HAD is, it stands for High Altitude Diarrhea. It is an acrimonious acronym I coined while writing this blog. My personal contribution to mountain sicknesses like HAPE (High Altitude Pulmonary Edema) or HACE (High Altitude Cerebral Edema). HAPE and HACE can be deadly, but trust me, HAD can be truly excruciating!

We filled our bottles with orange juice, checked our gear, and waited till the support team was ready. In the meanwhile, Nisha had finally come around. She would later lighten up the mood of our guides and support staff during the trek with her constant banter of "bhaiya, mere do chotte chotte bache hai, zara madad kijiye" (brother, I have two small kids back home, help me please). At times, she would have 2 people to look out for her. That kind of help was needed, as time would tell.

We started at 9.30 in the morning. For anyone who is wondering about the difficulty of Day 3 of the trek, this is the easiest. Manjhi pretty much is a hundred metres or so vertical below Dodi Tal, and about 5 kilo meters away horizontal. Mapped out on a trekking scale, that translates into few climbs - a breeze, especially after two days of good trekking, except when you tread the rickety path in winter. And we were right there at the fag end of the Himalayan winter. Our plan for the day was to reach Dodi Tal and return to the campsite by evening.

Very soon, we hit the first snow patch, and that would set the tone for the bulk of the day. Here's some of our team members with Ranveer, Kishan's brother. While Kishan is more of a trekking guide, Ranveer focuses on hard core mountaineering. He has quite a good number of 6,000 and 7,000 metre peaks to his credit. He was standing in for Kishan this time around. In June/July this year, he will be climbing Mt. Kamet, a  7,700 m+ monstrosity, which is the second tallest peak in the whole of Garwhal Himalayas.

It was white all the way, barring a few short stretches.

It wasn't all hunky dory like in the pictures. A few of us tripped and fell, or got stuck in snow at regular intervals. Thankfully, the entire support crew was there walking with us today (cooks, porters, as well as the guides), since we would return the same day to the Manjhi camp without camping at Dodi Tal.

I remember coming around a bend saying "Oh My God", looking at the beautiful vista presented in front of me. Naomi, who was close behind, was anxious when she heard my words. She quickly walked up around the bend, saw what I meant, and chided me - "next time you see something good, please say wow, not, Oh My God!".
 There was little elevation gain, but the panorama was stunning.

Single file.

People kept slipping and ended up sitting on the ground with audible thuds and sheepish faces. And one of us did fall. Thankfully it wasn't a sheer cliff on one side, but a 45 degree slope. I watched in horror as Anupama started sliding off. She was shrieking away and we could see a tree which was going to stop her, given the trajectory she was taking. It was like a slow motion movie, with one of the characters going faster than the others. Thankfully that faster character was not Anupama, but Ranveer, our guide, who ran over the snow faster than she could slide down, and who was there in front of her to arrest her cheap thrill before she got to the tree.  

Then the time came for us to do some organized sliding. This was to avoid a tricky patch involving a small rivulet. It was fun, with some of us tumbling away without stopping (like in the pic below). 
This sport is not for people with HAD. The look on my face says it all.

Just for comparison, check out some other pictures. Liji. Possibly one of the few people to do a Himalayan slide on her birthday!
 Nisha. Chotte chotte bachen (Li'l kids) and all those sob stories took a backseat, when it came to fun.
 Satya, as usual.
 Saurav - navigating the slide.

The trek became harder after this point. Some of the patches were risky to negotiate. In some places the snow was not quite packed well. In others, the walk on the edge of the path itself was scary. What really raised the adrenaline was the steep drop on one side of the trekking path.


Happy to be at the midway point -the Bhairavnath temple. The trek was more or less straightforward from here (fyi - slushy snow minus cliffs, had become straightforward for us by then). I think Dodi Tal is around 2 kilo metres from here.
An interesting thing about this trek was the fact that we took few breaks. We stopped frequently, but those were micro breaks, not the type where you sit around and waste time, and tire your body further. It was no mean feat with 15 people, and all of us would almost always be at a shouting distance from each other. Approaching Dodi Tal. We reached by around 12.30.
At the structure marking the entrance of sorts.
Dodi Tal is an average at every level except its beauty. It's not a big lake, nor is it a very small one. The trek is not long by Himalayan standards, nor is it short. And, when we reached the lake, it was not completely frozen (like Sonia Gandhi, for instance), nor was it completely thawed. 

There are trouts in this lake, and fishing permits are available. But, those permits allow you to just play catch-and-release. Since pure sadism is not our core competency, we decided against that form of fishing. Another face of Dodi Tal.

We identified a good sport - packing snow into a ball, and throwing it into snow. By the time it rolls off, it adds layers of snow on top and finally becomes a snow wheel of sorts. I know it doesn't sound that great now, as I write it, but it was good fun nonetheless - it was one of those you-had-to-be-there kind of sport. 
Shooting breeze. 

Slabs of snow rested on top of structures around the lake.

Birth of a river! This is the point where the river Assi Ganga starts flowing.

And quietly flows the nascent river!
We walked around the lake and idled, while our support crew prepared lunch. I skipped it as usual, not just because it was a bit oily.

The Eco lodge at Dodi Tal. It was closed, but I (and a few others) have profound memories of this facility and its surroundings, especially its derriere.
Attitude shot, with the company flag.

Evidence of Yeti, the abominable snowman.

 Beam me up, Scottie.
This picture was taken in front of the Ganesh Temple at Dodi Tal. Like everything else in the vicinity, this was also closed. This is believed to be the birth place of the Lord Ganesh.

We started our trek back by 2.30 in the afternoon. As expected, coming back was riskier, with the hot sun loosening the snow cover. Thanks to our support people, and oodles of caution, we made it happily in the end. There were 1 or two instances of almost-fell-down-a-cliff kind of scares, but things were fine.


Fine, until the risky sections got over. On plain trekking ground, when the guides let their guard down, Nisha tripped over and fell on a rock, and has a permanent V-shaped scar embedded on her face today. Inglorious episode then, but it makes a good story for her now: "Oh that scar? That one happened while I was trekking in the Himalayas".

We walked fast and reached by around 5 in the evening. It was a tough journey for me and another fellow trekker who had had HAD, and the consequent and consistent testing of bowel power throughout. But she took it in her stride and proudly remarked "I have left my mark on all these mountains!" Tell you what, this is the new hit!

The toilet tent, a pilgrimage spot of sorts.

There was an evening party to mark the success of the trek (reasons for partying are very important for us. The previous night, it was Liji's bithday; and tonight it was a toast to all the 15 who made it). This video is from the previous evening, the new found happy birthday song that goes Hathile paadyo poo poo. What does that mean? It means, "you have to ask a Nepali for what it means." I'm not gonna write it down here.

That night at Manjhi felt much better than all the previous nights. What remained of the trek was just two days of idle walk down. It was sad in a way that we were past the crescendo, but then, hey, you cannot complain about everything.

19th March 2013
We started out the next day by around 10, after clearing out plastic and other debris for which we were responsible.
Parting shots of the Dayara range on our way back.

The infamous 15.

Good bye, snow line. :(

We reached Bebra Gate by around 2 in the afternoon. True to plan, we decided to camp there. There was no point in pushing forward, with two of our team members experiencing some problems walking down. With nothing else to do, we just had a bon fire (yawn) and a party (yawns again). The camp fire this time around was pretty good, with our support crew bringing in a lot of firewood. They were thankful that we took care of the camp fires on both evenings in Manjhi, and they wanted to compensate by putting up some serious fireworks.

20th March 2013
Today was a short walk back to Sangamchatti, which we made without any ado. The start was inauspicious though, with Rachana, our star trekker so far, falling off into the ice-cold rivulet while crossing the log bridge.

Our man here offered to climb a tree to fetch us rhododendrons to eat.

Some wild life on the way. Thank fully we encountered no bears (not that they hang out in the open).

Edges of the wishing tree. You can hammer coins on to this tree and make a wish, and if the local belief is to be believed, the wish will come true (surprise)!
If my wish is to come true, it is bound to have a serious positive impact on these hills among a lot of other things. I think I asked too much of a small tree.
While walking into Aghora village, we met these school kids.

We walked into the school, and met the care takers of the institution.  It was examination time and they were busy, but we still managed to have a nice chat. If I remember correctly, this is a primary school.

6 or 7 year old kids taking their exams. I saw one trying to wriggle her way through a match-the-following exercise.

Preparing food for the kids. We were offered lunch, and it smelt nice, but we politely declined, as we were eager to get back into cell phone coverage area.

If you ever visit Aghora village, look out for bhenji ki bheinz. This one terrorized us even on the way back - a true form of wildlife. I saw people jumping on to roof tops to escape its wrath. This is the notorious bhainz with the affable bhenji.

Last of the parting shots.
 When O when, is the next time, I wondered. I still do.

 Reaching Sangamchatti. We made it back in record time - by around 1 in the afternoon.

Waiting for lunch to be served by the banks of the Varna river. The Varna and the Assi Ganga rivers meet at Sangamchatti, and flow forward as the Assi Ganga.
In all of this, there is a story that remains to be told. Anupama had picked up a pair of Lytos from Bangalore, and this was the state of it, at the end of the trek. The deterioration had started on the way to Manjhi, and it was complete now. We did some damage control with glue in Manjhi, with the song "Fevicol se" motivating the shoe repair crew. We plan to do some compensation talk with the shop folks next week. Watch this space for updates, if you're interested.

Trust these guys to make your trip in these parts. Pradeep Panwar, the guy in green (on the right), was the main guide for us. From awesome food to great support and service, Kishan, Pradeep, Ranveer, and the rest of the gang made it a great experience for all of us. When was the last time some one called out from outside your tent, "Sir, tea?" And when that happens for five days on the trot at six O clock in the morning, without fail, you have to fall in love!

And then we went back to our mundane Hotel existence in Uttarkashi after an hour's jeep drive through rugged  terrain, not before we got some inputs about the trek:

Back in Hotel Shiv Linga in Uttarkashi, we idled for some time, and some of us left for Uttarkashi township for shopping and bites.  Tell you what, nothing beats a bath after 5 days out in the open. Some of us, including me, overdid it, with two of those clean ups, including one in the river in front of the hotel.

While sipping tea and smoking away, I received a call from Sanjay Saini, our rafting coordinator in Rishikesh. A bit of context here might help, our trip this year was divided into two parts - trekking and rafting. Rafting in Rishikesh is an amazing experience, with camping in sandy beaches, umbrella drinks, volley ball, whirly rapids and all that. Two years ago, we did raft the main stretch in Rishikesh with a multitude of class 3 rapids, but one disappointment remained. We could not raft The Wall. The Wall is a Level 4+ rapid, a real tough cookie so to speak. That time, our rafting guides had told us conclusively after the first day of rafting, that most of us were not good enough to take on The Wall, with her deadly eddies and whirlpools, and with a 90%+ risk of toppling. We ate their words then, but then we came back prepared this year, with a few people who would not give up.

The news that Sanjay had to offer was terrible. The Wall rapid stretch was closed the previous weak, after two back to back casualties. Two foreigners had died in the rapid on consecutive days, and after a public interest litigation in the court, the stretch was closed. We could have blamed it on a few things, like the unscrupulous operators with little safety apparatus for a rapid like the Wall. Or even more, the increased water levels in the Ganges, after the Tehri dam waters were being released on a daily basis. Sanjay was confident that we could do the main stretch (Kaudiyala to Shivpuri) with all its fun, without any hassles. I hung up the call, and tried hard to put on my normal face.

I hated it. This was the second time that The Wall was sidestepping  us. And this was the second time in a few days that different forms of the same element - water - would prove to be the dampener. And in the same hotel. On the day before the trek, the warnings from Kishan about excessive snow beyond Manjhi, and now, warnings from Sanjay about excessive dam waters! I just hoped these things would be mere coincidences.

Part 4 here.


  1. Nice account! Enjoyed and had a few laughs :)

    1. Thanks Kannan! Glad you enjoyed it. Your help, after all, was instrumental in planning this trip well. Thanks again!