Saturday, June 10, 2017

Exploring the Gangotri glacier - Gaumukh, Tapovan, Nandanvan and Vasuki Tal in pictures

I did this trek with a adventure travel company called BIKAT. We gathered at a hotel in Uttarkashi on the afternoon of May 27th for a briefing. I was the oldest in a group of 13 followed by 2 bankers in their mid fifties. The youngest was a 25 year old. The team included four doctors from among a group of 8 from Dharwar.  

May 28: Gangotri (3000 m) to Chirbasa (3600 m)

On 28th morning, we drove to Gangotri and after breakfast started on our march to Chirbasa, 9 km away, reaching there late afternoon. Chirbasa turned out to be a lovely campsite and we spent a pleasant evening on the banks of the Bhagirathi.

The trail to Chirbasa along the Bhagirathi

Bharal contemplating us

Bhagirath valley in all its colors
Natural geometry

The Bhagirathi at Chirbasa
May 29: Chirbasa (3600 m) to Bhojwasa (3800 m)

This day, it was a short 5 km trek. We had time to rest and acclimatize before several difficult days of high altitude trekking.

The Bhagirathi peaks from the Chirbasa campsite

Bhagirathi peaks from Bhojwasa

May 30th: Bhojwasa (3800 m) - Gomukh - Tapovan (4300 m)

A period of tough trekking started from this day. Though the distance we covered was only 6 km, it took us over 7 hrs to reach Tapovan. The snout of the Gangotri glacier has changed over the ears and any resemblance to a 'Go Mukh' is hard to see.

The trail fizzled out after Gomukh. Our guide ( Dharmender, belonging to Agoda village near Uttarkashi) took us across the glacier to a point where one could see a steep path climbing up to the Tapovan plateau. After reaching Tapovan, we were not allowed to rest. A sharp climb up a scree slope  a small lake allowed us to look down upon a small lake - Neel Tal - not far from the Meru glacier. Meru itself was hidden in the clouds.

Gaumukh, the snout of the Gangotri glacier
Crossing Gangotri glacier on the way to Tapovan

View of Tapovan ( yellow tents are ours) from a ridge
May 31st: Tapovan (4300 m) - Nandanvan (4400 m)

On this day, we walked along Tapovan towards its upper section, clambered down the scree slope to the Gangotri glacier, crossed the glacier, climbed up the right bank of the glacier to get to Nandanvan. First thing in the morning, we were greeted with a clear view of mount Meru.

Mount Meru from Tapovan

The Bhagirathi peaks from the Tapovan camp
The entire Bhagirathi range from upper Tapovan

Negotiating the Gangotri glacier left bank to right bank
It started raining and turned very cold as we began climbing the scree slope on the right bank. My gloves were deep inside my rucksack and I hesitated to stop in the rain. Meanwhile my hands became numb. A fellow trekker, Arun generously offered me his gloves which were in an outer pocket of his rucksack. It was a quite a struggle to pull out those gloves using my numb hands. 

As we topped the scree slope and entered Nandanvan, the rain turned to snow and there was a whiteout with visibility reduced to a few meters. I was blindly following the trekker ahead of me and at some point lost sight of him. The best I could do was to carry on walking maintaining the same direction. After what seemed an interminable walk, I spotted the kitchen tent which had been set up by our support staff.

Camp at Nandanvan after a snowstorm
June 1st: Nandanvan (4400 m) - Vasuki Tal viewpoint (4960 m) - Nandanvan

Nandanvan was our most advanced camp. The trek to Vasuki Tal was a day trek with a planned return to Nandanvan camp and we carried only our day pack with some food, water, gloves etc. We were on our way by 8.30 am and returned to camp around 4 pm, so it turned out to be a long trekking day. The path into upper Nandanvan was along a ridge with the Chaturangi Glacier to our left and the Bhagirathi range to our right. after crossing the Bhagirathi range, the ridge curved towards the right. Here we left the ridge, descended to a smaller glacier (Vasuki Bamak), crossed it, and scaled up the other side. The last part of the climb was over a "wall" which had to be climbed using a fixed rope. That brought us to a ridge at about 16,300 ft looking right  down on Vasuki Tal.

Sketch reproduced from the Himalayan Journal article on  Chandra Parvat expedition, 1984

Sun lighting up Shivling peak
The Kedar Dome - Mountaineers climb up and ski down this mountain
Walking towards upper Nandanvan. Shivling (21466 ft) forms the background

Chandra Parvat (6728 m) from upper Nandanvan

The rock wall ( far upper side) that has to be climbed. Vasuki parvat is behind
Vasuki Tal from the top of the wall. The Chaturangi glacier and base camps for Satopanth Expeditions can be seen on far side

June 2: Nandanvan - Chirbasa

During our return journey, we have to descend ice blocks on the Gangotri glacier using fixed ropes. A clear day affords beautiful views of Shivling hovering above Gomukh.

Descending a glacier section with ropes
Shivling hovering behind Gomukh
This last picture is of jubilant team members who made it till the Vasuki Tal viewpoint, a height of 4960 m (16,300 ft) according to my camera GPS.


Of the thirteen participants, eight of us made it till the Vasuki Tal viewpoint. Overall, this was one of the tougher treks I have been on with four long (7-8 hr) trekking days spent over 4000 m, several glacier crossings and ascent/descent of steep scree slopes and two occasions where climbing had to be done with the help of fixed rope.


Himalayan Journal Article on 1984 Chandra Parvat Expedition - Link
Website of BIKAT Adventures - Link

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Sham Valley, Ladakh - trek diary from Aug 2013

Fields of Turutse


The Sham Valley trek is considered a "baby trek" and recommended as a first trek for acclimatization for visitors to Ladakh who intend to attempt treks over high passes. Two days after I flew into Leh, I decided to do this trek in preparation for a later trek in Markha Valley. The plan was to do the trek alone, but as it turned out I had at least one companion all along the way.

Purab's house

Day 1 Leh to Tarutse

The 4 pm bus to Likir from Leh is jampacked. Since I had boarded the bus way before its departure time, I had a seat. In the bus I befriend an Israeli who is also headed for Likir. We reach Tarutse at 6.30. It turns out by a happy coincidence that the daughter of a homestay owner is also on the bus. Purab Dorje, a tenth class student, guides us to her home. We have ceremonial tea with the Bhutia family on the low seating with a bowl of Apricots placed in front of us.

Purab we find out studies in Leh and stays in a hostel. She knows Bhote, Hindi and English. Her father is a carpenter. She is the eldest of 3 siblings.

Purab with her grandmother and nieces
There is a long evening ahead of us and Purab volunteers to take us to her uncle's house which is close to the Likir monastery. We get a great welcome in the house where several generations - Purab's grandparents, aunts and uncle and nieces and nephews - are living together. Purab's uncle is a soldier and her aunt teaches in Leh. Two other uncles are Lamas by choice. It is still light and we get a chance to see a watermill which is used to grind roasted barley.

Back at the homestay, dinner consists of butter tea and sattu followed by a stew of wheat momos, vegetables and milk served on the characteristic low tables and shared with family. I share the bedroom with Uri and a Frenchman who has been laid up by diarrhea.

Likir Gompa
Day 2: Tarutse to Sumdo

We begin the day with an intended quick visit to the Likir Gompa losing the way midway. Uzi has a running stomach and is desperate for his toilet paper. The return path is along the Likir topko (stream).

After lunch we start the days trek heading for Yangthang. There are now three of us with the Frenchman Pierre joining us. Uzi is getting sicker by the minute and slows us down. After passing the Likir school, the path follows a line of electric poles. The tar road winds nearby. We reach the top of the pass (Phobe La 3580 m) from where the road winds down to Sumdo. There is also a footpath descending into the valley, but looking at Uzi's condition, we decide to follow the tar road. Climbing a mound just to the left of the road, we can see Sasopol topko (stream) flowing down to Alchi. Further down the road we reach an intersection. One arm winds down while the other follows the topko upstream. The two houses that comprise Sumdo are just across the stream accessed by a rickety footbridge. The path beyond the footbridge disappears in brambles and we are not clear how to approach the houses. Just then, a man appears out of nowhere and after some negotiation we have a place to stay the night. One of the houses belongs to this farmer, while the other belongs to his sister who is a nurse and works in Leh.

Our rest is rudely interrupted by our host asking for help in his fields. Barley has been cut and stacked in the field awaiting the arrival of the thresher. Meanwhile dark clouds have gathered overhead and his crop is likely to get sodden unless protected. There is a massive tarpaulin sheet which the three of us help to move and cover the cut stalks. There are cut stalks with some grain strewn all over the field and the next task is the collect it with the family.

The women in the family, our hosts daughter, daughter-in-law and wife, are also busy in the fields. This means we have a late dinner. Over dinner we lean of this farmers travails. He has a back and tooth problem. Not many trekkers stop bye in Sumdo so he does not get much of an income. He is the only man here. His two sons are  respectively in the army and studying in Chandigarh and he has no one to help him.

The pass
Day 3: Sumdo to Hemis Shukpachan

Our host pleads with us to stay another day to help him in the fields and Pierre nearly accepts. We ask him to put Uzi in the bus for Leh that passes by later and start our trek.

The trail goes behind the farm in the upstream direction. We climb up to the top of the pass from where we can see the tar road leading to Yumthang. The road passes by a camping site where we rest a while. The trail to Hemis starts from near the camp and leads down to the river flowing far below.

We sit by the edge of the beautiful river for some time. The climb starts beyond the river. At the top of the pass, we see the tar road and Hemis comes into view.

Approaching Hemis
Hemis is a large village, much larger than the others wwe have passed through so far. We spend a couple of hours trying to locate a homestay that has been recommended to us and it turns out that it is full. We settle for a guest house on the main street of Hemis.

Day 4: Hemis to Timosgang

This morning, we take the trail to Ang past the famous Juniper trees of Hemis. A large french group is travelling our way and we take help from their guides for direction. We enter a large plateau .... then veering right, we go down a gully till we enter a valley with a forbidding wall. The narrow trail zig zags up this wall to reach Mebtak La (3750 m).

The climb along the narrow zig zag path is scary. The steep incline of the mountain face means that a slip may result in an unstoppable slide down to the base. After the pass, the trail slopes down a gully and follows a straight line to Ang.

Ang is not very impressive and we decide to press on towards Timosgang, a prosperous village with numerous Apricot trees and find a cosy guest house for the night.

That afternoon I have my fill of delicious Apricots, offered by the host family which is engaged in plucking them from a huge tree in front of their house. I wander around the roof of the house where apricots are being sun dried and help myself to more.

Day 5: Timosgang - Lamayuru - Leh

This morning, I bid adieu to Pierre. This is the end of our trekking trail and from here onwards it will be road travel. I get a lift from the main road to Khalse and then another to Lamayuru.

At Lamayuru, I bump into Pierre again in the company of a French couple who are travelling by car. I spend some time in the Gompa and also get a birds eye view of the "moon scape" of Lamayuru.

The "moon scape" of Lamayuru
Getting back to Leh proves to be tougher than expected. There are no buses. After a long wait, I get a lift to Khalse.

Pierre and Uzi
Then follows a hair-raising journey with a Lama in a maruti 800 to Leh. After a close brush with a car with some Punjabi youth, The Lama chases the offending car and forces it to pull up by the side of the road. Somehow there is no violence when the Lama gives the youth a piece of his mind. Emerging unscathed from the encounter, the Lama drives like mad and drops me right in front of my guest house.


I met Uzi again in Leh a few days later. He had recovered fully and was trying a motorbike on which he planned to ride to Timosgang.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Jalsu Pass trek diary - June 2016

The Plan

The Jalsu pass route is a well used trek route to cross the Dhauladhar range separating the Kangra and Ravi valleys. Minakshi Chaudhry in her well known "Guide to trekking in Himachal" lists this as an easy trek taking three days.

Binwa project site above Uttarala
My plan was to take a bus from Delhi to Baijnath on the night of 3rd June, visit Uttarala village on the 4th using Baijnath as base to find a guide and start the trek on 5th. I had planned the trek in 3 stages - Baijnath to Pari (8 km), Pari to Yada Goth over Jalsu pass (13 km) and Yada Goat to Laakewali Mata via Surai (10 km) followed by a bus to Holi.

This was to be a lightweight trek as there would be only two of us to carry the load. In terms of equipment, besides my personal clothes, utensils, sleeping bag and mattress, I carried a two man tent, a multi-fuel stove, 1.5 liter pressure cooker and an aluminium pot and frying pan. The list of items with weight is listed at the end of this post. Provisions and fuel would weigh over and above this. The only food items I was carrying was some emergency tail mix and dried vegetables.

4th June: Baijnath - Uttarala - Baijnath

View near Baklud
I reach Baijnath around 10 am and pick a hotel some distance from the bus stand. It is not the ideal choice as there is a half km walk to catch any bus. It is very hot in Baijnath and the walk to the hotel with the loaded backpack is tiring. Back at the bus stand, I find out that  I will get a bus to Uttarala only after a couple of hours. Second mistake of the day - I go back to the hotel and sleep. Finally I am on the 3pm bus to Uttarala. Just short of the village, there is road work in progress and the bus can go no further. I meet a shopkeeper who says he will guide me to the 'colony' where we will be able to find a guide.

It is about 4.30pm by the time we reach the colony of the Binwa hydro electric project. There are a few shops just inside the entry gate and we head to one of them. I explain my plan to a small audience of shopkeepers and this is then repeated by others to anyone who comes by. In a little while the shopkeepers zero in on a potential guide and contact him.

Raj Kumar
Raj Kumar is a daily wager who operates a machine that is used to lift concrete to higher floors in buildings under construction. He worked as a driver in Delhi but came back because he missed his family. Currently he lives just near the Uttarala colony.  He also has a little land. His ancestors were shepherds and his father worked in a factory in Punjab. The family unfortunately missed out on jobs in the hydro electric project.

We agree on a sum of 3000 Rs as his wage for accompanying me for three days from Baijnath to Holi. (Daily wage of Rs 800 + 600 for bus back). It is past 6 pm and I have missed the last bus back to Baijnath. A shopkeeper with a maruti drops me part of the way after which I walk an hour or so to reach my hotel.

5th June: Baijnath - Uttarala - Khodtru Dhar

Morning view, Khotru Dhar
I take a bus early morning and reach Uttarala. Raj Kumar is waiting for me. We pick up provisions at the Lala's - rice, dal, salt, potatoes, onion and dalia. Raj Kumar manages to get a bottle of Kerosene. We also get eggs from a dhaba and I stop to have breakfast. This is today's first mistake. It is 9.15 by the time we are ready and we have missed the company vehicle that would have given us a free lift to the dam site.

I hand over the tent, cooking equipment and supplies to Raj Kumar to carry while I carry my personal belongings. It takes us 2 hours to walk up to the dam site which falls on the trail to Jalsu. The government built dam is now over 40 years old. We pass by a water source. Raj Kumar convinces me not to fill my bottle as there is plenty of water on the way. This is today's second mistake.

Trail along the Binwa beyond Khotru Dhar
The third mistake follows soon. We follow an unpaved road that circles an enormous hill instead of taking the shortcut going up. This road is what remains of an ambitious but ill fated plan the government had of building a road over the Jalsu pass. Raj Kumar it turns out has been only once before on this route. After following the road for perhaps a km waiting for it to double back we decide to return and find the foot trail. The misadventure costs us at least an extra half hour.

We reach Baklud at 12 and I am parched by now. The water source here has completely dried up. A dhaba normally operates here but because of lack of water, there is no food being cooked. The dhaba owner is kind enough to give us some water from his personal stock.

Cave shelter at Jamad
Further on, we are caught in rain and hail. My rain coat proves quite useless and I am drenched. The trail follows the Binwa river upstream to its source. We reach a place called Khotru Dhar, some distance short of Parai around four. There is a single dukaan. We stop for some tea and the owner turns out to be related to Raj Kumar. It is wet outside and there is no good camping spot nearby. So we decide to sleep in the dukaan that night.

Dinner is rajma chawal and boiled eggs. I cannot sleep that night because of the smoke in the spare room next to the kitchen. The night stay and food costs us Rs 400. Raj Kumar's relative has charged us liberally.

Approaching Jalsu pass
6th June: Khodtru Dhar - Jamad camp (2900 m)

We start at 7 next morning after a breakfast of aluroti and tea and reach Parai with its three dhabas an hour later. We do not stop. After wading through a stream ( this must be the Binwa) we reach a place my guide calls Kharli right at the base of the mountain where Jalsu is located. It is already 11.30. A steep zig zag climb follows. It is 1 pm when we spot a cave which is a possible site for a tent. There is a water spring nearby. It is too late to attempt Jalsu today - so we decide to call it a day here.

It is a tight squeeze under the cave and it takes a bit of doing to set up the tent. The rest of the day is spent in cooking and resting. There is rain at night and a rat trying to get at our rations and that keeps me awake for the most part.

Jalsu Pass
7th June: Jamad camp (2900m) - Jalsu pass (3500m) - Channi camp

On the way to Yada Goat
We start at 7.30 after a breakfast of dalia and eggs and reach Jalsu top by 9.30. At the top are to be seen sheep and a couple of shepherds. After spending a half hour or so resting and taking in the views, we start our descent. The first obstacle is a frozen stream that has to be crossed extremely carefully. A slip will take one down rapidly. We reach Jalsu ka Paddar - a wide green pasture by 10.30. It is a nice walk from there on up to Yada Goth which we reach by 1 pm.

We stop at a dhaba across from the ramshackle government lodge. The dhaba owner, Bikham Lala, prepares a delicious kadi/rice which serves as our lunch. The view from his place is stupendous. The Lala stays here alone 6 months of the year. Among his other sources of income is money from selling Nag Chattri, a jadi booti. It fetches Rs 1600/kg in the Amritsar market and is bought by thekedars. We enjoy a drink of delicious chach.

Trail to Yada Goat
We resume our trek at 2.30 and after crossing the Channi nallah, reach Channi, a camping site with a single dhaba by 4.30. It is a nice walk from Yada Goat to Channi with expansive views of the valley sloping down to the Ravi. The route used by the public is not maintained by the Forest Department. Instead they have built a road along a distant ridge for exclusive use which they keep in good repair.

We pitch our tent outside the dhaba in Channi. An old couple lives there and caters to the needs of travellers. Lala says he has a "machine" implanted in his chest. The operation was done at the PGI in Chandigarh and cost 1.5 lakhs. (The "machine" is probably a pacemaker) He owns a flock of 100 sheep which his son looks after. They have houses in Surai village on the Ravi side and in Paprola in the Kangra valley. They have apple trees and cows but still operate this dhaba for additional income. Their main customers are the khacchar runners and pilgrims heading for Manimahesh. We have dinner with the couple.

Temple at Yada Goat
khacchar gang arrives just before we retire and keeps us awake the whole night. We fear that one of the khachars will run over our tiny tent. The five runners - all in all a rough bunch - keep making wild noises and flashing their torches throughout the night to drive away wild animals which are a threat to their khacchars. They pack up and leave at the crack of dawn.

8th June: Channi camp - Lake Mata Wali - Holi

We cook a khichidi of rice and dal in under 10 mins, eat and set off on a narrow path hewn in the rock face. On the way, Raj Kumar takes a detour to get some lovely chach from a villager. People here don't charge for chach.They have plenty of milk because of the cattle and chach that cannot be used soon is thrown away.

A clump of pine before Channi
As we progress down the valley, the Manimahesh range is visible framed by hills on either side of the valley. To our left are the Dhauladhars standing across Palampur. Far in the distance, the village of Bajol located across the Ravi can be seen.

The first village we pass by is Surai. The village has a guest house and is located at some height above the main trail to Laake Wali temple. A trail to Bara Bhangal takes of from Surai and leads to a point where the Ravi is crossed on a rope trolley.

Approaching the temple, we are in for a steep descent to cross the Channi nallah over a narrow bridge followed by a steep ascent. The bus timings for Holi from Laake Wali are 9am, 11am and 3 pm. There is plenty of time for the next bus. We order lunch at the dhaba which gets cooked and eaten over the next hour.

The Lala, Channi

The temple overlooks on one side the nallah which we just crossed; on the other side one gets a sheer view of a construction site of the Bajoli - Holi hydro electric project on the Ravi river being executed by GMR. GMR also seems to be carrying out work on a building right under the temple complex - project trucks ferry building material and workmen.

A video of the protest by women of Holi against this GMR project

Around 2, I bid adieu to Raj Kumar and he sets out walking the trail we have come on. In a short while I spot him heading upwards across from the river. I learn later that he reached Yada Goat that night. The next day he took the ridge to the right of Binwa river and reached Tar village - the place of his in laws - by nightfall.

Laake Wali Mata Temple from across the Channi Nala
I catch the 3 pm bus and get off at the bridge over a stream flowing into the Ravi at Holi. The PWD has a large guest house just over the bridge where I find accommodation for the night.


1. If you would like to hire Raj Kumar as a guide please contact him at 9805686205.

2. List of items I carried with weight in gms. This excludes weight of provisions and fuel.

ITEM                                                                                                                    Weight

Rucksack (60l)1715
Rain cover165
Tent (2man)2250
Sleeping bag1560
trekking pole250
Rain jacket (white), plastic bags150
Zip Jacket - Down900
Woolen monkey cap90
Cotton top, bottom ( Pant 285, Kurta(145), T shirt (115))545
Track Pant/ T shirt, trunks, socks, (cap, shoes, knee caps) - wearing0
Extra Socks ( 3 pairs, 165), shorts ( 2 pairs, 205)370
Fleece pullover310
Diary/Pen/reservation slips/money/cards/mobile/torch/route maps/provision list290
Med Kit100
Toilet kit        -Tooth brush (35), paste (35), hand/paper soap(30), sunscreen (40), empty bottle, toilet paper150
Spares/repair kit-    spare batteries (camera (40), torch(40)), charger (100), old newspaper, needle, thread, rubber band, adhesive, safety pin190
Burner, pump, oil container, carabiner, rags, windscreen, match box680
Cooking pot with cover ( tea, store dal,veg)290
Ladle, knife, spoon, egg holders, scrubber120
Pressure cooker910
Personal Utensils-  Spoon,fork, tumbler,plate                                                               130
Water bottle, carabiner190
Food ( dried vegetables), ziploc bags160
Emergency Trail mix150