Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Trek to Darma Valley-Panchachuli Base Camp : The Details

Myself and K Srinivasan (KS) have just returned from the trek to Darma Valley-Panchachuli Base Camp ( July 10-19). For me, it was an unique experience as the home stay enable me to understand the cultural ethos of the Rungs as they are known as such ( they dislike being called as Bhotias). This is an easy trek except for some scary spots between Dar and Nangling. After Baling, it is more or less a straight walk mostly through fields and bugyals. In terms of the degree of difficulties, this trek is slightly difficult than Pindari Glacier (my view) but easier than Milam Glacier trek (KS view). From Nangling onwards, on clear days, you can view Panchachuli group of peaks, the Nangling group of peaks and a couple of unnamed peaks. Since the highest altitude on this trek is 3470m at Panchachuli Base Camp (PCBC) one does not feel the altitude problem. There is a lot of vegetation even at this altitude.

This trek has all the ingredients of an ideal trekking destination - a bit of adventure ( at least a dozen odd major landslides and rock falls points apart from walking 1 km of rock cut narrow path on a perpendicular rock base sending shiver in the spine, at least for me), forests of silver oak, rhododendron, pines and birch trees, Dauliganga river flowing right of the trekking path with its deep gorges in some places, at least a dozen bugyals on the way, varieties of wide flowers from Sela onwards ( in July-August only), snow capped mountains, Meola glacier ( if one is willing to trek 3-4 kms more from PCBC and take calculated risk of crevasses on it and rock falls), the scenic villages especially after Nangling with table top flat farms, houses with rare wood carvings, some of them as old as 100-150 years old and many more.

There is no need to carry tents and provisons in this trek as there are home stays in villages in this route. There are many water sources en route. As mentioned earlier, Some of the villages especially Baling, Son-Dagtu, Dantu ( and likewise Filum, Bon and Gow villages on the left bank of Dauliganga) are located in scenic places and worthy of spending at least one day each. In my view, this trek is a photographer’s delight as there is a lot scope for photography in this trek.

KMVN is in process of construction its Rest Houses at Urthing, Baling and Son ( as usual in good locations). Once these are complete, I am sure this trek route will become more popular ( may be even crowded during season) than what it is now.
Based on our experience and the information gathered from the local villagers, KMVN and our guide/porters, some basic details of the trek are as under:

The Best Period

The best time to undertake this trek is May-June and September-October. Summer at lower altitude - say up to Sela can be intense as we have experienced. Hence, it is better to carry sun lotion. Monsoon season can bring a lot of misery on the trekking route especially between Tawaghat and Nangling which have about a dozen landslides/boulders/rock falls points. Furthermore, the chances of viewing Panchachuli and other peaks are low during monsoon. However, monsoon is the time when there are all round greenery with plenty of wild flowers from Sela onwards. September-October period will generally have clear sky most of the days for good view of peaks. For those who are fond of snow, one can trek during March-April and November-December. Our route guide told me that this year, he had taken a group of trekkers to PCBC in the month of April. On returning from PCBC, they slided on the snow all the way to Meola river bed and trekked towards Dagtu/Dantu.

Dharchula- the Base for the trek

Dharchula is an ideal place to make preparatory arrangements for Darma Valley trek ( also for Adi Kailash trek through Byans valley). It has a big market, good connectivity to various places in Kumaon and the broad-band cyber cafe. You need to spend one night here to get the Inner Line Permit (ILP) from SDM’s Office, the next morning. It is, however, surprising that Dharchula is yet to get the mobile connectivity though mobiles with roaming facility can pick up signals from Nepal towers. The rail heads for onward journey to Dharchula are Kathgodam and Tanakpur from where there are early morning daily buses to Dharchula, From Kathgodam, one can reach Dharchula by evening by taking share-jeep which departs between 5.00-6.00 a.m. The fare per head is Rs.350/-. The share jeep will not take more than 10 passengers and it halts only 3-4 places en route for breakfast, lunch and afternoon tea. Hence, there is not much of a discomfort in travelling in share jeep except that 12 hours journey for oldies like us can be tiresome.
Inner Line Permit (ILP)
One need to take ILP to enter Darma Valley beyond Sela. The one page application form ( in duplicate) together with a copy of photo identity documents (PAN Card, Voter Identity Card, Passport and two passport size photographs are to be submitted to SDM’s Office in Dharchula (located on the main road). SDM’s Office opens at 9.00 a.m. Since the SDM’s Office is closed on Sundays, 2nd and 4th Saturdays and Central Government holidays, one has to plan the trek schedule accordingly. We personally visited the SDM’s Office at around 9.30 a.m. and submitted the application to SDM. After verifying the contents of the application, he directed us to meet the section officer for further actions. We got the ILP by 10.00 a.m. and we were in share jeep for Dar by 10.45 a.m. In my view, submission of applications for ILP in persons to SDM (rather than through guide/porters) hastens the process.

It is better to plan for staying in Dharchula for two nights as it is possible that SDM may be out of his office on a visit to nearby villages or some other official duties. For instance, when our guide went to SDM’s Office immediately after reaching Dharchula in the afternoon, SDM had gone with a batch of Kailash-Mansarovar pilgrims to see them off at Mangti. Sela is the first village where trekkers/visitors are required to show ILPs at ITBP camp for registration. Similar procedure is followed at Baling and Tidang. There is no ban on photography at least up to Tidang ( our last trekking village).

The Other Logistics

One does not really need a guide for this trek during season as all the routes are well marked by PWD with distance in kms from Tawaghat painted every km. Even if some one has digressed from the route, he would ultimately join the main route within a km or so. There are home stays in every villages on the trekking route who provides basic accommodation and the breakfast of Aloo Parathas, Puris and some places Omelette, lunch/dinner of rice/roti and dal/vegetables at reasonable rates. Normally, the rates for overnight stay in these villages are Rs.50/- per person and Rs.100/- if the bed is provided. Lunch/Dinner will cost you between Rs.30/- per thali which may go up to Rs.50/- as you go further up. There are toilet facilities in some home stays at Bongling, Sela and Nangling. Since most of the home stay do not provide mattresses, it is better to carry sleeping bags with mats and one bed sheet. In most of the villages, there are one or two shops which stock Maggie, biscuits, cigarettes, batteries, beverages etc. We carried some assorted varieties of soup powder packets which came very handy during the cold evenings. It should be noted that all villages from Sela upwards are summer settlement villages during May-October who migrate from their winter places in early May each year. Hence, those who wish to undertake this trek during November-April will have to make their own arrangements for stay and food.

Electricity and Communications

Dharchula has fairly good power supply. There are power supply lines up to Bongling but villagers say that there is no power supply most of the days during day time. There is no electricity beyond New Sobla though Bongling had, one time, night power supply but some dispute between the villagers and the service provider had led to the cutting of the power for the last two years. There are solar lights installed at Sela which is available between 7.00 p.m. to 10.00 p.m. ITBP in Sela and Tidang have generator facilities at night during which time you can get your camera/mobile batteries charged free of cost from them.

The mobile phones does not work beyond Ogla unless one has in his mobile the roaming facility in which case, it may pick up signals from Nepal in some places like Dharchula and Sobla. BSNL’s satellite telephones facilities have now been installed at Sela, Baling and Tidang which are operated by ITBP and charge @Re.1/- per minute. There are plans to install such telephone facilities in other villages also. The last place in this part of Kumaon having the broad-band cyber cafe is Dharchula.

Alternative Route

For adding more adventure in the trek and for those who do not wish to go through the 'tyranny' of repetition of places while making a return trek, there is an alternative route from the left bank of Dauliganga river ( direction in terms of origin of the river). After crossing a wooden bridge over Lasser Yankti river, at Tidang, the trek to the left goes to Marchha and Sipu villages while trek to the right goes to Gow village. Somewhere before Gow village, this path meets the trek route to Bidang which goes from the upper slope of the mountain. The lower slope continues towards Gow , Bon, Filum and Chal villages. Between these villages, there are 2or 3 wooden bridges over Dhauliganga for accessing the main trekking route. Although, this trek route is visible from the right bank of Dauliganga, I have not seen any villagers walking on this route ( may be I missed seeing them) except at stretch between Gow onwards towards Bidang. A shepherd told me that the stretch in some places between Bon and Chal so narrow that only hardy villagers venture on this route. One may try this route only after getting a detailed information about this alternative route. Perhaps the villagers in this part of the area may be the best to provide proper guidance.
Part-1 of the trek report covers trek from Dharchula to Baling
Part-2 of the trek report covers trek from Baling to Panchchulu Base Camp, Tidang and back.


Anirban said...

Waiting eagerly for the trip report along with photos.

Nandkumar said...

We have been to Panchchuli from 3 rd October to 11th October 2010.Your blog helped us a lot.The procedure to obtain inner line permit from SDO Dharchula is made stringent- medical check up at Local Govt Hospital, Affadavit etc. hence it takes almost 4to 5 hours.
Mr.Sadand Kamat, Thanks.
Nandkumar Mahajan

Sadanand Kamath said...


Thanks for the updates.

Himadri Banerjee said...

we want to trek panchachulli base camp in the month of sept' from 12th instant in 2016.what are the requirement to fulfil & what about the weather in mid sept'2016 there.pls enlight us.