Sunday, August 24, 2008

Adi Kailash Trek : September 1993

The Himalayan ranges boast of many peaks associated with Lord Shiva. Among them are the Kedarnath, Shivling, Trishul and Sri Kailash. But not many know that the Himalaya has more than one Kailash - the abode of Lord Shiva. Mt. Kailash in Tibet is the best known Kailash, revered by both Hindus and Buddhists. There are two important peaks named Kailash in Himachal Pradesh - the Manimahesh Kailash at the base of the Manimahesh Lake in Chamba district and the Kinnaur Kailash in Kinnaur district. There is also one more Kailash peak located in Dharchula district in Kumaon region of Uttarakhand which is known as Adi Kailash or Chhota Kailash.
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.
Kali river flowing in front of KMVN, Dharchula.

Dharchula-Tawaghat-Pangu (6 kms by bus, 22 kms by trek)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).

Narayan Ashram

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 dabhas
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.

Waterfalls on way to Malpa and Budhi

The scenery on route was very beautiful with roaring Kali river, green valley and waterfalls. But there was not much time to enjoy the nature when our concentration was mainly focussed on the slippery trekking path and falling stones and rubbles. Trekking in Himalaya is akin to pilgrimage and one must be prepared to face all kind of difficulties. Our porter Kishan Singh always reminded us during one of such difficult situations that no yatra (pilgrimage) was complete without yatna (hardship).

We had a sigh of relief when the path became wide and straight as we entered Malpa village (2050m). The village was located in a narrow gap between a tall mountain and Kali river. After going through the dangerous trekking experience, some rest was necessary at Malpa. So in a sunny atomsphere and on the terrace of a house, we had a second round of breakfast ordered from one of the dabhas.

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
Budhi-Garbyang (8 kms trek)
As per our planned schedule, we were to trek up to Gunji. But considering the hardship which we had gone through previuos day on Lakhanpur-Malpa-Budhi trek, our Group Leader, Inder Singh decided to take it easy and stay overnight at Garbyang. The trek led to a steep ascent of about 4 kms made up of uneven steps of loose slate-type stones after which we reached a table top meadow called Chhialekh (Lekh in local dilect means pass.). As soon as we reached here, light rains started and the whole area was covered with clouds and later mists. So we missed the viewing of snow peaks of the Nepal himalaya from Chhialekh (3380m).
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.
Garbyang (3120m), once a flourishing village was the main centre of trade with Tibet. However, it has lost much of its prominence after the closure of Indo-Tibetan border in 1962. Although the trade route was reopened in 80s, it could not regain its earlier glory as many villagers which included wealthy merchants, had to shift their bases to other nearby villages as their houses, which were located in the upper slopes of the muddy ash colour mountain, were sinking due to geological reasons. Presently, 30 odds houses are located about 1 km from the old village at the base of the mountain.

The slippery path to Garbyang village
In the afternoon, some of us joined Inder and Prakash on their visit to a neighbouring village in Nepal across the Kali river ( I guess, the name of the village was Tinker) After walking 1 km, we crossed the bridge over Kali river and further walk of 1 km in Nepal took us to the village. We were told that this was the route to Kailash-Mansrovar pilgrimage during pre-independence days and also the main route for trade with Tibet. There were a number of houses with wooden carvings on their doors and windows in this village - the ones we saw in Garbyang houses and also in Gunji. As we walked through the village, I did not come across any man in the village. We were told that menfolks had gone to Taklakot and Dharchula during summer for business and work and would return to their homes in winter. Prakash took us to a house where we were welcomed by an old lady. She invited us upstair and served Jya, the tea made from the brew of local tea leaves, salt, butter and some local spices.

A calm Kali river half way to Gunji
Garbyang-Gunji (10 kms trek)
The trek from Garbyang to Gunji (3180m) was fairly easy all along the west bank of Kali river. Here, the river had turned calm with a gentle flow of water. The weather was bright and sunny. As we proceeded towards Gunji, the vegetation became sparse. We reached Gunji by noon and stayed in a house which was owned by one of the relatives of Prakash. For the first time, our porters got a big kitchen to cook lunch and also the luxury of space for relaxation. As was in Garbyang, we were also told here to use water with utmost economy. Gunji is the place where Kuthi river joins Kali river.

We stayed in this house on the first floor at Gunji

Gunji-Kuthi (19 kms trek)
Next day we started our trek to Kuthi, the last village on the Indo-Tibetan border on this part. From Gunji, the path to the right along Kali river goes to Kalapani and to Lipulekh pass which is used by Kailash-Mansarovar pilgrims. Our trekking path was to the left which was on the east bank of Kuthi river. The trek was fairly easy with gradual gentle climbs. All these days of the trekking up to Gunji, we were always having the company of locals and ITBP personnel. Many of the locals were traders travelling with mules carrying pulses, sugar, cloths and locally made woollen items to barter the same with their Tibetan counterparts in Taklakot for rock salt, wool, and mountain sheeps. Also there were tea shops and dabhas all along the route at conveneint trekking distance.

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

Now, we were walking on a level ground very close to the east bank of Kuthi river for an hour or so. This coupled with sunny weather enthused some of us take a quick bath in the river . The knee-deep water was cold but it refreshed us. Our porters had already reached Nampha, a mid-way to Kuthi to cook lunch in one of the dabhas. After crossing a make-shift log bridge, we reached Nampha just in time for a sumptous lunch.

Crossing a log bridge near Nampha on way to Kuthi
From Nampha, the trekking path was flat and wide thorugh a meadow. We crossed an entrance gate from where Kuthi village was about 2 kms. The last 1 km of trek was in the midst of fields. We reached Kuthi (3780m) in the late evening and stayed in a primary school room.

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.
Adi Kailash

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.


KS said...

Wonderful narrative! I should do this trek sometime.

Prashant Joshi said...

awesome description, u r making me jealous. me also wanna go there now :-)

Sadanand Kamath said...

Thanks Prashant.
You must do this trek. The entire trek route is more beautiful and chellenging than what you get the impression from reading the trek report.

chirr said...

Breathtaking journey and write-up..
Two thumbs up!!

mountainlad said...
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mountainlad said...

Dear Mr. Kamath,

I was a bit late in arriving at your blog, and let me admit at the outset that I was totally blown away by your travel/trekking repertoire. I went through each of your entries more than once, poring over pictures that are priceless in today's connected world. The fact that you managed to accomplish all this when travel infra was what it was, back then in the Indian Himalayas, makes it especially awe-inspiring. In fact I was scratching the foggy bottoms of my memory trying to retrieve what the mountain road map and condition looked like when you were off to Amarnath, Malana, or Phurkiya. Till now I was thoroughly impressed by our dear KS, who began his Himalayan travels when he did, thereby giving hope to "Grihasts" like me that there was light at the end of the tunnel (pity I cannot write comments on his blog); now he has company.

Thank you for sharing, and more power to your wanderlust.


Sadanand Kamath said...

Thanks mountainlad for encouraging comments.

By the way, I have enjoyed trekking/travelling more in my post 'grihastha' period than as 'grihastha'. May be that in post retirement period, I have become wanderlust.

Sudhakar said...

Dear Sadanand,
We are group of about 20 people from Maharashtra and planning this trek in July 2013.
According is this right month, or shall be do this in August or Sept considering heavy rains and bad conditions of roads, etc? We shall be thankful to you for your guidance.

wandering soul said...
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wandering soul said...

Sadanand Sir...I really admire your adventure spirit and courage. Your blogs are very detailed and I love to go through them whenever desire for some trek rises in me :-).
Your Adi-Kailash trek description which you took years back is still so crisp n detailed..It's really admirable.....Thanks so much for sharing your journeys with us...

Infact, I also would like to thank Mr. K,Srinivsan with whom you took few of your treks. Incidentally few years back I came across suhanasafar blog and I was amazzzzed by the energy and travel bug which Mr. Srinivsan has...I have become ardent fan of both of you...keep on travelling n blogging...Take care...

Sadanand Kamath said...

wandering soul,

Thanks for your appreciation.

Sadanand Kamath said...

I am extremely sorry for a much delayed response. I hope it is still not too late to respond.

I would suggest you to avoid months of July-August being the peak rainy season. If you have still not finalised, you can consider it doing this trek in June or second half of September.

I will add a caveat here that for the last 3-4 years, the rainy season cycle seems to have changed. We do see some unseasonal rains in early June or even in late September.

So best of luck on weather front.