My curiosity about Adi Kailash aroused because of its near resemblance to Mt Kailash in Tibet. Also I learnt that the trekking route to Adi Kailash was a challenging one which was used for the pilgrimage to Kailash-Mansarovar up to Navidang in Byans valley. So when one of my colleagues who was also a trekker, brought to my notice of the trek to Adi Kailash being organised by Mountrek Association, Lucknow during August-September 1993, I felt it was a god sent opportunity which I should not miss. I was also joined by my three others friends for the trek.
On August 26, 1993, we left Mumbai for Lucknow by Pushpak Express. At Lucknow, we stayed in Maharashtra Samaj Hall. where we were joined by other trekkers, mostly from Mumbai for the trek. Mr Ashish Choudhury, General Secretary of Mountrek, who happened to be my office colleague at Lucknow Office, met us. He introduced Inder Singh Dharmashaktu ( from Munsiary but worked in Lucknow in State Government) and Prakash Gunjial ( from Gunji but worked in a public sector bank in Madhya Pradesh) who were to accompany us for the trek as Group Leader and Guide respectively and gave the necessary briefings about the trek. In short, it was a 15-day trek commencing from Dharchula through Chaundas and Byans valleys and return to Dharchula through Darma valley via Shin-la pass (5470m).
On August 28th night, we left Lucknow by Nainital Express with a group of 23 trekkers with sleeping bags, haversacks and other trekking equipments owned by Montrek and reached Tanakpur, the last rail head, the next day morning. We took UP Roadways bus for Dharchula, about 240 kms away which was supposed to reach Dharchula by late evening. Our bus broke down near Gurna, 13 kms short of Pithoragarh. It took about two hours to repair the defects and get the bus started.
After Pithoragarh, heavy rains made the bus driving somewhat dangerous as it was getting dark and the visibilty was poor. To add to the discomfort, the bus was leaking at many places from its ceiling. The bus came to a halt near Bawalkot, 12 km after Jauljibi, as the road was blocked due to a massive landslide. We sat in the leaking bus waiting for the clearance of landslides. At about 5.00 in the morning, the road was cleared and we reached Dharchula 6.30 in the morning - about 10 hours late. We checked in KMVN Dormitory ideally located at the bank of Kali river. Two porters from Munsiary, Kishan Singh and Jagat Singh who were the trusted assistants of our Group Leader, Inder Singh were already present at KMVN. We also hired 3 more porters at Dharchula.
Dharchula, a tehisil town with a population of about 7000 people, is on the bank of Kali river which separates India from Nepal. There is a suspension bridge over the Kali river connecting Dharchula (India) to Darchula (Nepal). After getting the Inner Line Permits and making arrangements for provisions for 15 days' trek, we set off to Tawaghat (1200m) the last road head, by mini bus the next morning. The bus journey along the west bank of Kali river had to be abondoned after about 6 kms because of landslide at Dopath. We commenced our 13 kms of trekking from this point and reached Tawaghat by 1.00 in the afternoon. After finishing the lunch in a dabha, we commenced the 7 kms of steep climbs followed by 2 kms of level walk to reach Pangu (22oom) in the late evening. We stayed in one of the empty Food Corporation of India godowns which was located one km before the Pangu village.
Terraced fields near Tawaghat
Pangu-Sirkha (16 kms trek)
Next morning, we resumed our 16 kms trek to Sirkha (2560m) via Narayan Ashram. After taking a diversion at Sosa, we reached Narayan Ashram by noon. The Ashram was constructed by Narayanswami in 1936. The main building is a dome shaped structure with a backdrop of snow-clad mountains. The Ashram has a big garden with a large variety of flowers. It has a Vihsnu temple, a library and a small museum. There are few rooms for the guests for staying. The Ashram provided free lunches to all of us after which we commenced the remaining 6 kms of trek to reach Sirkha by evening. We stayed in a big hall of Transit Camp of Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP).
Sirkha-Jipti-Lakhanpur (23 kms trek)
We started from Sirkha at 6.30 in the morning as we had planned to take the overnight halt at Malpa. The first 2 kms was, more or less, of a level walk after which there was a steep climb of 5 kms to reach Rungling Top (2980m) followed by equally steep descent of 3 kms to reach Simkhola. On a clear day, one can see from Rungling Top the Api peak in Nepal. That the entire trek route was through dense forest and the weather was cloudy somewhat compensated the hard times we had during the day. After taking lunch at Simkhola, we resumed an ascent of about 5 kms to Jipti. From here, it was a descent of about 4 kms to Lakhanpur through 4000 odd uneven stone steps. By the time we reached Lakhanpur, it was already getting dark and there was no way we could have proceeded to Malpa as planned. We decided to stay in Lakhanpur in two of the four dabhas located under a big rock shelter.
Lakhanpur-Malpa-Budhi - the most dangerous trek (15 kms trek)
The Lakhanpur-Budhi trek route was our test of endurance as we were told that it was the most dangerous and risky part of the Adi Kailash trek. The successful completion of this part of the trek was the benchmark of the successful completion of Adi Kailash trek. The first 6 kms of trek to Malpa was on a narrow path all along the edge of the Kali river on one side and the rocky mountin cliff on the other side. The roaring Kali river dancing through huge boulders and uprooted trees lying on its bed, looked dangerous. On the other hand, the trekking path at some places was so narrow that only one person could walk at a time by facing and sliding both the palms on cliff side with back to the ferrocious looking Kali river and then walking side way. Adding to our problems was that due to rain, the path was slippery and at few places, stones were occasionally falling from the cliff side.
At one place, we were required to walk through a giant waterfall which was falling straight on the narrow trekking path. The force of the waterfall was so powerful that one of us who had gone with an open umbrella had to take a retreat. Ultimately, we crossed the waterfall one by one by holding the protruding rocks on the cliff side. There were some more waterfalls on the way but those were small and not dangerous to walk through.
Kali river as seen from trekking path near Budhi
The trek from Malpa to Budhi was 0n a stony path on the edge of Kali river. In fact, just outside the Malpa village, the water level of Kali river was almost touching the trek path. Prakash, our guide told us that during the period of heavy rains, the path gets submerged in Kali river. As we walked further, the path turned into a moderate climb between the muddy cliff on the one side and and the Kali river on the other side. But the path was not as dangerous as Lakhanpur-Malpa route. On this route also, we were required to walk through a waterfall. When we were half way, the houses of the Budhi village with terraced paddy fields were visible. From here, the Kali river was looking like a serpent moving in a deep valley. We reached Budhi (2680m) in the late afternoon and stayed in PWD Rest House.
Children from Budhi village
Sheeps and cattle grazing at Chhialekh meadow
After walking through the meadow, the last 4 kms to Garbyang was a gradual descent of which about 1 km was on a sticky ash clay path just at the outskirt of the village. The rains had made the clay path extremely slippery and even the shoes with strong grip were of no use here as the wet clay was sticking to the sole of the shoes making them virtually flat shoes. Two or three of us slipped on this path despite having walking stick. Seeing our helplessness, one of the porters brought an axe from a nearby farm house and cut the steps on the clay path after which we could walk comfortably to reach Garbyang by noon. We stayed in a primary school room.
The first thing which we noticed about the village was that it was the cleanest village in the entire trekking route. A group of villagers told us that they treat Garbyang as the abode of gods and therefore they ensure that the village is kept clean. We were also instructed to close the water tap properly after use so that water was not wasted. After all, one will have to fetch the same from Kali river which flows about 100 meters down the village on a slippery path, if the tap went dry.
The slippery path to Garbyang village
At one place, Inder Singh showed me an eating items which the locals carried during their long walk to Taklakote. It was called Sattu. He explained to me that Sattu was made from the roasted wheat or maize which was soaked in local beer to make the dough. Many local folks carried the dough in a plastic bag and munched the same while travelling. On Gunji-Kuthi trek route, there were very few locals and ITBP personnel to give company to us.
A climb to Kuthi on the east bank of Kuthi river
Our group coming out from Kuthi village for trek to Jollingkong
Kuthi-Jollingkong (15 kms trek)
After the last two days trek of relative ease, the trek to Jollingkong (4670m) was mostly a continous climb on boulders and stone ridden path devoid of any vegetation. We were also gaining over 1000m of altitude over 15 kms of trek. In this route, there were no tea shops nor any human settlement. We had, therefore, taken packed lunch with us.
Boulders and stones all the way to Jollingkong
The last 6 kms of trek was the most boring part of the entire Adi Kailash trek. There was nothing to enjoy, no greenry, no snow even on 4500m height, no river and waterfalls. From here, we could see on the top of a mountain the ITBP camp which gave an impression that we would be reaching Jollingkong very soon. But the zig-zag path leading to the camp was longer than what we thought. We reached ITBP camp ar 4.00 in the afternoon. ITBP personnel accorded a warm wlecome to us and insisted on taking tea with them. They did not check anything except the inner line permit. After resting for half-an hour, we came out of the camp. It was a pleasant surprise to all of us to see the vast expanse of green meadow. KMVN fiber hut which was 1 km from ITBP camp was visible. The fiber hut was big enough to accommodate all of us and it was comfortable. The sky was cloudy and the weather had turned chilly by evening. But the fiber hut provided some insulation from cold. After an early dinner of kichadi, we were all in our sleeping bags by 8.00 p.m.
Jollingkong campsite as seen from ITBP camp
Walk to Adi Kailash and Parvati Lake (4+4 kms trek)
The next day early morning, we started for 2 kms walk on a grassy path to the base of Adi Kailash. As we appraoched near the base, we were disappointed to see the Adi Kailash peak hidden behind clouds. However, there was some hope as clouds were slowly getting cleared. After few minutes, the clouds gave way to a breath taking view of Adi Kailash with vast expanse of snow at its base. The sun also came out of the cloud to shower its rays on the peak. Yes, it was a bit alike Mt. Kailash in Tibet especally the snow-less thick line resembling a black cobra encircling the Adi Kailash . As we were walking back to our Fiber Hut, we saw Adi Kailash being slowly covered by the clouds as if a curtain had come down after a magnificent theaterical performance.
Our core group: Lto R Krishnamurthy, me, Deshpande and Jambukeswaran
The walk to Parvati Lake involved climbing 1 km to reach the top of a ridge followed by descent of 1 km. The emrald green lake looked bigger than what I had imagined. Some members of our group took a round walk of the lake. There was a small temple near the lake. We came back to our fiber hut by 10.00 a.m.
Parvati Lake as seen from a ridge
After breakfast, I decided to visit the ITBP Camp to make a courtsey call on the in-charge of the Camp. The other reason for this visit was to explore the possibility of getting some provisions as we were running short of the same for the remaining days of the trek. After exchanging pleasantries, the in-charge invited me to his bunker. He was from Mandi, Himachal Pradesh and he was posted here in this summer.
I apprised him of our plan to cross Shin-la pass to reach Dharchula from Darma valley. He told me that due to heavy accumulation of snow in the vicinity of the pass, it was not possible to cross the pass. In other words, the ITBP personnel at Shin-la pass will not permit us to cross the pass in the present situation. At last, I requested him to provide some quntity of rice or wheat which we have almost exhausted. The in-charge was quick to respond to my request by calling his orderly to bring some rice in a bag . He also gave me two tins containing the pineaple slices. He also requested me to join him for lunch which I politely declined. The pineaple slices were finished in record time by our group when I returned to our fiber hut.
Me at Parvati Lake
In the late afternoon, Inder, Prakash and few of us decided to visit the base of the Shin-la pass to assess the snow conditions. After about 2 kms of trek, we encountered the first patch of snow leading to the pass. While none of us ventured to go ahead, Inder and Prakash went further and came back after some time to say that the way to the pass was heavily snow-bound and it would be very dificult to cross the pass. Even the ITBP personnel stationed at Shin-la Post will not permit us to cross the pass. It was, now, clear that we would have to return to Dharchula by the same route which we came here.
It was a disappointment for all of us for two reasons. First, it would have been an satisfying experience if we have taken a round trek moving through three different valleys and second, the very idea of once again going through the dangerous Budhi-Mapla-Jipti track and thereafter climbing Rungling Top was something which we would have liked to avoid. With these thoughts, we walked back to our fiber hut somewhat depressed.
At dusk, Prakash called all fo us to see his creation of a small ice lingam outside the hut which he had made from the snow collected near Shin-la pass. The ice lingam was still intact in the next morning when we commenced our return trek.
We did a super fast return trek to Dharchula : Jollingkong-Kuthi- Gunji (36 kms), Gunji-Garbyang-Budhi-Malpa (28 kms), Malpa-Jipti-Simkhola (19 kms), Simkhola-Sirkha-Pangu (21 kms) and finally Pangu-Tawaghat (9 kms)-Dharchula (19 kms by bus).
Crossing waterfall and landslide on Malpa-Lakhanpur route
Ordeal of Return Journey
We faced torrential rains, more like a cloud brust, throughout on Rungling Top-Pangu trek. All of us were fully drenched when we reached Pangu. On reaching Dharchula in the afternoon, we came to know that the entire Kumaon region had been experiencing heavy rains. Next day, when we came to bus stand, buses would not go to Tanakpur as Pithoragarh-Tanakpur road was badly damaged at many places. Since the Dharchula-Pithoragrh-Almora Road was operational, we hired three jeeps to take us to Pithoragarh from where we could take a bus to Almora/Kathgodam. After reaching Pithoragarh in the afternoon, we learnt at the bus stand that the road between Almora and Kainchi was blocked at many places. We decided to stay overnight at Pithoragarh to try our luck the next day for a bus to Kathgodam.
Saur valley, Pithoragarh
We got an early morning bus which was supposed to go to Kathgodam. But the bus got terminated at Almora as the road beyond Almora was still blocked. We had to stay back in Almora for the day praying for the reopening of the blocked road. The next day morning, we did see a bus for Haldwani at the bus stand getting ready for departure. The bus driver, however, told us that the bus may go up to the first landslide point which happened to be only about 8 kms from Almora. Ultimately, we managed to reach Bhowali by walking and taking jeep/lorry for intermediate points between two landslides on the road. We realised the seriousness of the situation only when we saw that the road was washed away at two or three places before Kairna. We reached Haldwani at 9.30 in the night by bus to realise that there were no trains from Haldwani at this time. We managed to hire 3 Maruti Omni vans at Haldwani and reached Lucknow at 10.00 in the morning and reached Mumbai by Pushpak Express on the next day.All photos by the author.