Friday, October 12, 2018

Walking from the Parbati Valley to Pin Valley

Day 1: 16th Sept, Pulga (2276 m) to Khirganga (2780 m) 7.8 km, 5h

We are on a trail that takes us up the Parbati Valley. The Parbati River originates in a glacier in the Pir Panjal Range and merges with the Beas near Kullu. Our trek started at Kulga (adjacent to Pulga) in the Parbati Valley and will end at Mudh Village on the Pin river in Spiti Valley. Today's is an easy trail taken by many people who want to make a day trip to Khirganga. 

Parbati and Spiti Valleys

We will follow the river upstream to the Parbati glacier and cross the range at the Pin Parbati pass. On the other side, we will cross another glacier that feeds the Pin River and then follow the river till the first habitation in Spiti, the village of Mudh.

Pin Parbati pass trail and campsites

Day 2: 17 Sept, Khirganga (2789 m) to Tuna Bhuj (3333 m), 8.9 km, 6h

I noticed her for the first time today, discretely keeping up with us but avoiding eye contact.

We spent last night in Kheerganga, a camping site near a hot spring with a colony of semi-permanent tents, popular with young revellers not least because of the easy availability of hashish. There were a large number of dogs round about our camp constantly skirmishing. She must have decided to take her chances with us.

Here are some pictures taken along the trail.

The view across the Parbati on the way to Tunda Bhuj

Vijay and Jackie sitting companionably

An almost vertical wall of rock guards the right bank of the Parbati along this trail. High up on the wall, incredible as it may seem, there is a flock of sheep and goats advancing along a strip of green pasture. Our guide points out the shepherds trail. Here, every bit of green it seems is precious and the difficulty of access does not daunt the shepherds.

When we stop for lunch on the way I notice that our dog – someone called her Jackie and the name has begun to stick - has already made some friends in our group.

Down the trail, we meet a shepherd with a large flock and dogs. I overhear our guide Hari trying to talk him into adopting Jackie, but he is not interested. Jakie remains with us for now.

A waterfall into the Parbati just by our camp at Tunda Bhuj

Day 3: 18th Sept, Tunda Bhuj (3235 m) to Thakur Kuan (3541), 7.6 km, 6 hr

Today, the trail is easy and through more open but still beautiful country. We walk just by the side of the river. The weather is balmy.

After reaching camp, Rohit our trek leader takes us for a acclimatization hike up a nearby hill.

Resting after a 150m height gain above camp.  Picture Credit Rohit

View of the Thakur Kuan camp from above. Picture Credit Rohit

Day 4: 19th Sept. Thakur Kuan (3600 m) to Odi Thatch (3879 m), 9.7 km 6.5 hrs

The main challenge today is to cross the Parbati over a huge boulder that straddles the river. This natural rock bridge goes by the name Pandu Pul.

Ascending Pandu Pul
Our guides fix ropes. One by one, we climb and wait on top of the rock for the rest of the team. We spot Jackie just after the last person in the team has reached the top. She has been patiently waiting in the wings. Everyone waits anxiously to see if she will be able to clamber up the smooth rock for which we took the help of ropes.

Jackie tests the waters so to speak by climbing up a steep gradient, slipping and sliding a bit and then settling for a slope she can handle. She is amongst us in no time and basks in our midst, posing for photos.

Back row (l to r) Vijay, Pratibha, Ashish Front (l to r) Anshul, Jackie, Omkar and Satyajit

Descending Pandu Pul

We have not yet finished crossing the Parbati. Right now we are sitting literally on top of the river.

One face of the boulder we are on drops at a steep angle to the other bank. Loose stones have been piled up on the rock to make a sort of stairway. We again use ropes to come down. Jackie comes last effortlessly running down the stairway.

On the way to Odi Thatch. Picture Credit: Rohit

En route to Odi Thatch. Picture Credit Rohit

Day 5: 20th Sept. Odi Thatch (3876 m) to Mantalai (4148 m), 10.2 km, 6.5 hrs

Today, we plan to walk to a lake called Mantalai located at a height of over 4000 m. The day starts bright and sunny. We walk above the tree line and in a wide valley with sparse vegetation. The river bed broadens and looks like a lake with sand banks. This is a perfect place for a group photo.

L to R: Onkar, Anshul, Prashant, Ashish, Vijay, Pater, Sanjay, Chetram, Hari, me, Satyajit, Pratibha. Picture Credit Rohit
The broad expanse of the Parbati
Sand banks. Picture Credit Rohit

Up towards the head of the valley, one can see snow clad peaks. The Parbati meanders its way through the valley.

Somewhere on the way, our guide advises us to stop feeding Jackie. He claims that villages in Spiti impose a fine of Rs 15000 on trekking groups which bring dogs with them. 

We meet a group travelling in the opposite direction and Hari requests their guide to take Jakie back. The man pets Jackie and keeps her occupied while we move on. 

A little later, I notice that Jackie is back with us.

We begin a climb over an escarpment that will take us to the lake. For the last five days, we have had excellent weather with not a cloud in the sky. This is too good to last and the weather starts taking a turn for the worse. The view ahead is obscured by low clouds. Soon we sight the huge expanse of the lake.

Weather deteriorates as we approach Mantalai

It begins to rain. After a brief stopover at a shrine, we continue on a path skirting the lake. I look back and Jackie is there trotting along. Shortly we are at the campsite welcomed by a Pizza that the cook has made for the occasion.

Camp at Mantalai Picture Credit Rohit

Day 6: 21st Sept. , Mantalai (4136 m) to Parbati base camp (4945 m), 5 km, 6 h

The weather has cleared and it is again a bright sunny day. Today is going to be a tough day. We will be gaining 800m in height and camping at the base of the Pin Parbati pass.

Upstream of Mantalai
Parbati Valley looking downstream
A steep ascent begins unfolding expansive views of the lower reaches of the Parbati glacier - of glacial pools in different colours of blue and green. The campsite is on an inhospitable sloping boulder strewn ground at over 4900 m (16000 ft). The white mass of a part of the Parbati glacier is visible above. Tomorrow is D day when we must get to the pass and descend into Pin valley.

Glacial pools in different colours
Pyramid Peak (6036 m) in the background
Camp (4945 m) at base of Pin Parbati pass. Picture Credit Chetram
Around midnight it starts snowing.  We are awake most of the night beating the tent sides to push the snow off the fabric and prevent it from collapsing over our heads.

Day 7: 22nd Sept, Parbati base camp (4945 m) via Pin Parbati pass (5300 m) to Shepherds camp (4373 m),  ~ 9 km, 9.5 hrs

Picture Credit Vijay
I expect that we will wait for the weather to improve, but I am proved wrong. The call comes to hurry up and get ready. Rohit has taken the decision that we should go ahead and cross the pass. Tents are packed in a hurry and we are ready to go by 8 am.

We set out in single file sticking to the track made in the snow by those ahead.  It is continuously snowing and white all round except for the occasional brown of a boulder sticking out. I find it difficult to keep to the pace of the group and start falling back. Soon I am bringing up the rear along with Peter, the trekker closest in age to me.

The snow continuously beats on my face. It becomes difficult to see through my glasses because of the water and snowflakes clinging to it. My “waterproof” gloves are soaking wet. I stop to look back to see a white featureless expanse. There is nobody behind us. When I turn around, I notice that the gap between me and Peter has increased. Those ahead of us have vanished from sight. The falling snow is trying its best to obliterate their tracks.

The scene at 8.11 am, Prashant looking on. Picture Credit Rohit

For a moment, I panic. I am gasping for air. I can’t get enough Oxygen into my lungs - we are at over 5000 m – just to keep up my current pace. I don’t think I can manage to speed up even a tiny bit to close the gap with Peter. I shout out to Peter, but it seems that my voice does not carry. On the second or third attempt, I see him glance back. I gesture to him to slow down a bit and he nods in understanding. From then on I plod along matching his every step with one of mine. I lose track of how long we do this. Eventually we spot our guide Chetram standing at a vantage point, waiting for us.

In a while we get to the glacier. The team has now slowed down enough for me and Peter to keep pace with the rest. The crevasses on our path are spotted by the sardar of the porters – Tiku – who has crossed the Pin Parbati pass five times just this year. He knows the route like the back of his hand and walks in front with a trekking pole, prodding the ground. When he finds a crevasse, a shout goes out for the three roped up leads to take position on either side and guide the rest on where to step, jump and land. We follow this routine crevasses after crevasse, slowly snaking our way up to the pass which we reach at 11.30am.

At the pass, 11.32 am , Picture Credit Rohit
We are at a height of 5300 m (17450 ft). There is no respite from the snow. Visibility is down to a few meters. After five minutes of congratulatory exchanges and posing for photos Rohit orders us to begin the downward journey. 

On the way down, Prashant roped up 11.40, Picture Credit Rohit

Porters contingent leading, Hari behind 11.41am, Picture Credit Rohit

We are now on a glacier that feeds the Pin River and there are more crevasses to be negotiated. The downward journey is much faster and easier on the heart and lungs. In view of the continuing bad weather, we decide to skip the usual camping site at the base of the pass. The idea is to try and lose as much altitude as we can before we stop for the day. After crossing the glacier, we continue the steep descent along a tributary of the Pin till we reach the river.
Trek Leader Rohit beaming after the successful
crossing, 11.40am

Our camping ground for the day is some distance downstream on the other side of the Pin. Right now water is flowing till mid calf level. I begin the painful operation of removing my shoes using numb fingers. We cross the freezing river barefoot. I am the last person to cross and begin the journey along the Pin to our camp. Actually, I am not the last. I catch a glimpse of Jackie running downstream on the other side. She seems to know of a better place to cross.

We reach the campsite, a desolate spot without any cover, wet and miserable. The kitchen and dining tents and a couple of the smaller two man tents are put up with difficulty. Eight of us will have to share the dining tent. Everything is wet - our backpacks, shoes and the clothes we are wearing. I spot Jackie wet and dishevelled picking up some leftovers outside the dinner tent. She has managed to swim or wade across the Pin!

I am obsessed with trying to get as dry and warm as possible. I decide to sleep in one of the two person tents as there is more space (than in the dining tent with 8 people) for me to rummage through my backpack for dry clothes.

The inside of the tent is wet. The rain covers have been inadequate to keep water out of the backpacks. So is the case with my rain coat and pant. The layer of clothes just inside including my precious down jacket is wet. Part of my sleeping bag is wet. The only dry clothes left with me are those that I had wrapped in plastic before placing inside my bag. I wear everything I have one on top of the other and settle down for a night that promises to be cold and miserable.

It snows throughout the night and I keep busy beating the snow off my tent to prevent it from collapsing on me. Water condenses on the inside fabric of the tent and falls in large drops making anything not wrapped in plastic inside the tent damp. Morning when it comes is deliverance.

Day 8: 23rd Sept, Shepherds Camp (4373 m), Pin Valley to Mudh (3800 m), ~ 25 km

We get marching orders soon after morning tea. Today we have to get to Mudh village come what may. Any more camping is infeasible considering the state of our gear. It is snowing without letup. 

What follows is several hours of walking in snow and slush with the feeling of being wet all the time. We take a quick grab at lunch standing; there is nothing to shelter us from the falling snow.

View along the way, 11.58 am, Picture Credit Rohit
Sometime in the afternoon, we reach a road. This is part of a grandiose project to connect Spiti with Kinnaur. The road lacks a bridge over a stream called Pagal Nala; so no vehicle can reach this stretch of the 'road'.

Now begins an interminable trudge on the road – it is actually just a broad beaten track without a bitumen top – following the valley of the Pin. After several hours the road skirts around a fold in the mountain to reveal Pagal Nala in all its frightening glory. It is really a mad cascade of water hurtling noisily down a hill and breaking into numerous frothing streams. My heart sinks at the thought of crossing this raging stream. How am I going to get across without getting completely wet? Just then I spot our guide Hari standing near a makeshift bridge over the nala a little downstream. He motions to me to cross and keep walking on the road.

We had been told earlier that attempts would be made to arrange a vehicle for us from Pagal Nala to Mudh, a distance of about 10 km. There is no sign of any man or machine here. The road is a little better from now on but the snow is unrelenting and it is starting to get cold. It would take at least 3 hours at our pace to get to Mudh and I have visions of having to stop due to exhaustion and freezing somewhere on this road.

We must have walked a couple of km when we see a tractor coming in the opposite direction. We pile into the trailer attached to it and it makes its way towards Mudh stopping every few minutes to pick up other members of our team from the road. 

At one such stop, I see Jackie. She has miraculously made her way till here. As the tractor starts again, a young porter sitting beside me, barely able to speak because of exhaustion, gestures towards Jackie and utters a hoarse cry ‘doggie’ indicating that we should pick her up. Our guide declines. He says that the dog is now in familiar territory and can make do for itself. We are in no position to argue with him. As the tractor speeds up I can see Jakie breaking into a run behind us.

The road has been breached by a stream a km or so before Mudh and this has happened just in the last couple of hours after the tractor set out from there. We get down and slide down over slithery slopes to reach the field below the village in pitch darkness and then walk through the fields to get to the village. In the darkness, I spot Jackie. She has made it to Mudh after practically running the last 10 km from Pagal Nala.

Mudh has a few guest houses that can put up trekkers and we have taken rooms in one. The women of the village have assembled in the kitchen and welcome us with hot cups of tea. The news has spread that a group of trekkers has just come down over the Pin Parbati pass in extreme bad weather and this is a gesture of solidarity on their part. A few of us who got here earlier completely wet have been provided dry clothes and sweaters by the villagers. With a bathroom, a roof to protect us from the snow, a warm bed with a rajai, our guest house in Mudh feels like heaven.

Day 9: 24th Sept, Mudh Village

Looking out from our guest house

Jackie with Peter at our Mudh guest house


We wake up to another cold, wet and dreary morning. There is no activity on the village streets. 

Walking to the ground floor, we spot Jackie lying curled up – a wet bundle – in the corridor.  She has made her peace with the other dogs that populate the guest house. I get the impression that Jackie is not well because she is not her usual bouncy self. However she responds to some petting and food.

That night I tell Peter a story from Mahabharata that I heard from my grandmother as a child.

The story of Yudhishthira and the dog

The Pandavas set out on their final journey from Hastinapura. A dog also follows the group. They reach the great range of mountains: the great Himalayas.

As they proceed further, Draupadi drops dead. Then one by one, Sahadeva , Nakula, Arjuna and finally Bheema fall by the wayside. After every fall, Yudhishthira points out the individual failings of the person because of which he/she could not proceed further. He walks on alone with only the dog for company.

Indra comes in his chariot to take Yudhishthira to heaven. When Yudhishthira pleads that the dog be allowed to accompany him, Indra laughs at him for his foolish love of the dog and says that there is no place in heaven for a dog. 

Yudhishthira insists that the dog must come with him and in the end prevails. The dog reveals itself to be Dharma.

Day 10: 25th Sept., Mudh Village

Mudh under snow, 6.30 am
We cool our heels in Mudh. Jackie is not to be seen today.  It is snowing outside. The road remains breached between Mudh and Sangnam, the next village. The Kaza Manali route is broken. On the other side, the Kaza – Shimla road has also been closed near Tabo. The satellite phone, the only means of communication from Mudh stopped working because its solar powered battery has run out of charge!

The weather starts improving towards the afternoon.

Looking into the valley we walked, 3.20 pm
At the Tara Cafe across the street, we learn from its owner Sonam that dogs are not welcome in Spiti. It seems that dogs follow trekking groups from Kinnaur to Spiti all the time. But the same numbers do not do the reverse journey as there are not as many groups going from Spiti to Kinnaur. Sonam tells us that families here own Yak, cattle and horses, but no sheep or goats. Dogs attack and prey on their sheep. There are at least 10 strays just around his home stay according to him. I can see that Jackie is going to have a tough time here as the passes between Spiti and Kinnaur will remain closed till next summer.

Day 11: 26th Sept. , Mudh Village

Fields of Mudh, 9.28 am
Bright sun and blue sky this morning. There is still no sign of Jackie. With the sun coming out, the battery of the satellite phone gets charged and we are able to make calls. The work of repairing breaches in the road and clearing landslides progresses. We eventually make our way to Kaza that evening.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Markha Valley in pictures

I trekked along the Markha Valley in Aug 2013 with a guide - Dorje - whom I found from one of the travel agencies located on Changspa road in Leh. We did not carry tents or cooking implements and stayed at homes in the villages along the way. The highest point in the trek was Gongmaru La, 5250 m. During the trek, I saw only foreigners (other than the local guides and poney men) with the exception of one Indian woman who was travelling in a group. The trek over 6 days cost me Rs 9000 and this included the charges for the travel agency, guide, food and lodging at the homestays and taxi for commuting to/from Leh.

Aug 20th: Leh (3400 m) - Skiu (3350 m)

On the morning of the 20th, we took a cab from Leh to the Zanskar valley road. The road was damaged by rain and the cab dropped us a couple of km short of the ropeway across the Zanskar from where the trekking route started.

Walking on the Zanskar Valley Road

There was a long wait at the ropeway caused by a large expedition with a lot of luggage who had reached the spot earlier. After crossing the Zanskar, we soon reach the right bank of the Markha which flows into the Zanskar. Our night stay is in Skiu village.

The ropeway across the Zanskar

Walking along the Markha

Aug 21: Skiu (3350 m) to Markha (3800 m)

Markha river just beyond Skiu

Dorje (my guide) looking back for me on the trail.

Markha Village - first sight

Children of Markha Village

Markha Village towards evening
Our homestay in Markha

Aug 22: Markha to Hangkar (4000 m)

A famous rock formation off the trail

Fields of Hangkar. KangYatze (6300 m +) in the background
Like the wild west

Art in the fields of Hungker 
A pair of Chukar
Our host in Hangkar

Our host at Hangkar is Shiring Doshkar Tamalung. She runs the Tamalung homestay. Her children are away in school in Leh and her husband also stays away because of his work. Besides looking after guests at her home, she also has horses to take care of.

Aug 23: Hangkar (4000 m) to Nimaling campsite (4840 m)

Today was to be a good climb - over 800 m. I was fortunate that our host at the homestay arranged a horseman to carry my luggage to Nimaling and further over the Gong Maru La to Chumdo. Setting out, I came upon a pair of Chukar absorbed in each other. Quite some distance from the house, on the way to Nimaling I was surprised to see our host again. She had got there apparently looking for her horse which had strayed.

Kang Yatze straight ahead

Fantastic earth formations

Approaching the plains of Nimaling
Nimaling campsite along a tributary of the Markhs

Aug 24: Nimaling (4840 m) - over the Gong Maru La (5250 m) - Chumdo

This was the toughest day of the trek. I was gasping for breath every step of the way. Soon I started counting steps and pausing after a count of 50. After some more time I think this reduced to 20 steps. My guide took over even the day pack that I was carrying to lighten my load. I was carrying only a water bottle. AFter crossing the pass, the trail soon follows another stream all the way to Chumdo village and then the road head. The stream flows into the Indus.

View at the start of the climb from Nimaling

Kang Yatze 1 (left 6401 m) and Kang Yatze 2 (right 6250 m) peaks seen during the climb to Gongmaru La

Nimaling campsite from above
Negotiating a narrow gorge on descending from Gongmaru La
First view of Chumdo village

Aug 25: Chumdo - road head - Leh

Approaching the road head
View from the Leh highway
On the bus journey from Leh to Manali, I meet a couple of young men from Bengal, Arup and Adhiraj who are returning home after climbing Kang Yatze 2.
Dorje a resident of Leh who served as my guide can be contacted at 9622375220