Friday, August 14, 2009

Trek to Darma Valley - Part-1: Dharchula-Dar-Bongling-Sela-Baling

It seemed our Darma Valley trek was a call of the valley as this trek was not in our list of ‘must do trek’. One phone call from my friend K Srinivasan (KS) in mid-June 2009 (who was in Chennai for some personal work) triggered actions for this trek to happen. KS was desperate for any Himalaya trek and Darma Valley trek came to my mind in a spur of the moment. Perhaps, Rajkumar’s sticky thread on Niti, Mana and Darma Valley on must have been in the back of my mind. When we finalised the dates, we knew that we would be trekking in the monsoon period. A couple of our well-wishers were concerned about doing this trek in monsoon as Darma Valley was prone to landslides and rock falls especially between Tawaghat and Baling. We, however, took a chance on the assumption that this year’s south-west monsoon was delayed by about a fortnight and if this delay was carried forward, we may be spared of rains most of the time during our trek. Nonetheless, we built into our itinerary 3-4 extra days to take care of the disruptions that may be caused by rains.

We reached Delhi by A.K. Rajdhani Express on the schedule time of 10.00 a.m. My former office collegue had made arrangements for our pick up at Nizamuddin and a day time stay arrangements in a hotel for freshening up and rest. We had luncheon meeting with Sudhin and Ashutosh in Gulati Restuarant at Pandara Market. Ashutosh showed us on his laptop the pictures of his recently done trek to twin passes (Lalgan and Lamkhaga passes). The pictures were really stunning and it looked like a technical trek at some stretches. Ashutosh suggested that we could consider doing a shorter version of this trek.

It took about 90 minutes to reach Delhi station from our hotel due to the traffic jam. We got into Ranikhet Express and reached Kathgodam the next day early morning. Immediately, we engaged an Alto car ( Rs.1500/-) for Bageshwar. After two tea breaks at Kainchi and Takula, we reached Bageshwar around 11.00 a.m. It was a dry and warm day through out our journey. We checked into KMVN Rest House. In the afternoon, Debu, our guide, his son and Chamu who had done Darma Valley treks earlier, met us to give the final shape to our itinerary. We planned an easy pace trek of 12 days ( Dharchula to Dharchula) covering Panchchuli Base Camp, trekking further to Tidang and Sipu villages and Narayanswamy Ashram on our return.
Final turn to Bageshwar ( at the far end).

In the afternoon, we visited Bagnath temple located at the confluence of Gomti and Saryu rivers and thereafter spent some time in a cyber cafe. Debu had already arranged a Trax to pick up at 7.00 a.m. next day for Dharchula.
After an early breakfast, we set off to Dharchula around 7.00 a.m. in light rains which made the weather pleasant for the journey. There was some apprehension about a reported landslide near Kanda which could delay our journey. But by the time we reached Kanda , the landslide was cleared.
Bageshwar town as seen from the road to Kanda

It continued to rain as we were proceeding towards Choukari. The rains had made the hills and valleys around Choukori green and scenic. The newly planted paddy fields lent a distinct colour to the valley. Choukari looked scenic with hanging clouds and mist over the green valley even though its trade mark snow peaks were not visible due to overcast sky. It would have been great if we could have thought of the overnight stay at Choukari instead of Bageshwar.
The newly planted paddy in fields near Chaukori

As we drove towards Ogla, rains had almost stopped and sun came out intermittently. Most of the journey to Ogla was through pine tree forests with valley partially covered by mist. At Ogla, we took a tea break. The was the last place on this road where we got the cell phone signals.

Green valley with hanging mist near Ogla

Road to Ogla through pine trees

Paddy fields on the bank of Goriganga river near Jauljibi

After Ogla, it was sunny weather all the way to Dharchula. At Jauljibi, we stopped near the road side to see the confluence of Goriganga and Kaliganga. However, the best view of the confluence can be had in the Jauljibi village which we bypassed as we were keen to reach Dharchula well in time to manage Inner Line Permit (ILP) from SDM, Dharchula before the close of the office. We reached Dharchula at 2.30 p.m. and checked in KMVN in the only room available as rest of the rooms were reserved for KMVN's Adi Kailash packaged trek.

Kaliganga river in front of KMVN. On the other side of the bank is Darchula (Nepal)

After lunch, we got in to the action of filling IPL forms. As Debu went to SDM's Office, he was told that SDM had gone out of his office to accompany the Kailash-Mansarovar pilgrims up to Mangti. The good news was that he would be back in the office the next day morning. With nothing much to do during the rest of the day, we took stroll in the evening on the main road which led us to the suspension bridge over Kaliganga for thoroughfare between Dharchula on Indian side to Darchula on Nepal side. After spendiing about 10 minutes in Nepal Darchula, we came back to KMVN as the gate on the suspension bridge closes at 7.00 p.m.

The next day we visited the SDM's Office at 9.30 a.m. and handed over our applications for ILP to SDM. After scrutiny, applications were handed over to us by 10.00 a.m., duly endorsed by SDM specifying the placed permitted to be visited. Without wasting much time, Debu arranged a share-jeep for Dar, the last road head and by 10,45 a.m., we were on way to Tawaghat. The news at Dharchula was that the landslide at Tawaghat was cleared in the morning and our Trax could go directly to Dar without requiring a change at Tawaghat.

The evening sky in Dharchula

The day-wise details of the trek are as under:

Day-1 : Dharchula- Dar- Bongling ( 40 kms by road+6 kms by trek)
As we were driving towards Tawaghat, we came to know about the closure of road just 1 kms of short of Tawaghat due to fresh rock falls. We were not allowed to walk over the landslide until rock falls stopped. The BRDO has placed one of their workers to a mountain top across Kaliganga to keep track of rock falls. He was holding a red flag from the mountain top to warn the pedestrians of the empending rock falls. It took about 20 minutes wait to see that red flag was withdrawn and we were instructed to walk fast over the landslide hump. On reaching the other side of the landslide, we took one of the waiting share jeeps for Dar. After a lunch halt at New Sobla, we proceeded on a narrow winding road to Dar. We were dropped just short of 1 km from Dar village as the road ahead was partially caved in and there was also a major landslide. We took a short cut climb of about 500m through fields in a hot and humid weather to reach Dar village (2110m) in the afternoon when temperature was 35C !

Clearing of landslide 1 km before Tawaghat

A BRDO worker on the Nepal side mountain to warn the danger of rockfalls on Tawaghat road

Winding road from Sobla to Dar

After some rest, we commenced our regular trek of the first day. The initial two kms of trek was a level walk on a wide track. The next 1 km of trek, though, more or less, a level walk was a bit scary as we were walking on a narrow cliff path, almost a perpendicular slope of about 500m down to Dhauliganga river. At 2-3 places, I was almost hit on my head by the protruding rocks. In some places, the path was not more than 2 feet. I was eager to complete this stretch of the trek as early as possible as the very thought of looking down in the valley sent shiver in my spine. The next 2 kms of trek was again a level walk on a wide track up to Bongling. It would appear that the authorities had worked to extend the road to Bongling but the 1 km of rock cut stretch seems to be the stumbling block.

Rock cut narrow trek path on the cliff-edge on way to Bongling

A meadow on a mountain slope on way to Bongling

We had scheduled for an overnight stay at Sela but the hot and humid weather took the toll of our stamina and we decided to take the overnight halt at Bongling (2220m) at Sher Singh’s house which was located on the trek route itself. In the evening, we visited Bongling village which was further 500m up off the trekking path. We got a rousing reception from the villagers and they insisted that we had tea with them. We politely declined the offer as we just had tea in Sher Singh’s guest house. It was only when an elderly villager told us that the women folks would be very much disappointed if we go back to guest house without having tea, we turned back to have tea along with others and spent some time with the villagers. Bongling village is inhabited through out the year.

Children in Bongling village

Sher Singh, the owner of the guest house is an interesting person to talk. He has his house in the Bongling village but most of the time he stays in the guest house. He has six children, five of them staying in the plains for completing their education. His last daughter stays in the village. He says that he is old but his wife is young. Whenever he and his wife travel together to Dharchula he is often asked whether she is his daughter. He talks about his younger days when he has taken quite often his flock of sheep and goats for grazing after crossing Relam and Shin-La passes. He had also visited Tibet many times from Dowe for business with his Tibetan counterparts before the Chinese war of 1962. He feels that still everything in Darma Valley is good except the habit of drinking murti , a home made alcholic brew which is offered to every visitor like offering a glass of water. If he is required to visit 3-4 houses daily, he will have too many drinks. The tradition is that the offer of murti is an honour given to the visitor and a declining the offer by guests may be viewed as an insult to the host. He is proud to say that he was born in the year India got independence.

Sher Singh and his wife in front of his guest house in Bongling

Day-2 : Bongling to Sela ( 6 kms of trek )

It had rained continuously since early morning. In fact, I woke up to rain water leaks from the roof which made my sleeping bag wet. Th rains delayed our early morning departure. In a way, we were happy that the rain had made the weather cool. As the day progressed, it was once again a hot and humid day. The trek was of short climbs followed by level walk and then short descents to reach Urthing (2375m) which has a nice place for camping. There are good water sources near the only house-cum-Dabha. KMVN has tent facilities here for their package trek to PCBC during season (May-June and September-October). A KMVN Rest House is under construction.

Dhauliganga river on way to Urthing

Urthing camp site

Sela was about 3 kms from Urthing on the usual short climbs-level walks-descents. On the way, we faced 2 major land slides and rock falls points. We would have faced some problems in crossing these points had there been rains as these places are notorious for rock falls. It is better to move along with village folks as they are in a better position to guess the impending rock falls. We reached Sela (2440m) around 1.00 p.m. The plan was to take a lunch break here and move on to Nagling for the overnight stay. But we decided to stay at Sela as the last 3 kms of climb to Nagling in a hot and humid climate would have made us tired. We also liked the location of the Sela guest house run by Dev Singh Selal and other facilities like satellite telephone and camera battery charging being made available by ITBP. Our stay at Sela happened to be the best of the trek in all respect. In the evening, we went to ITBP camp office to register our ILP.

A walk over the dry bed of Dhauliganga on way to Sela

Suspension bridge over Dhauliganga to Sela village to the left

We were impressed by the way Dev Singh Selal managed alone in running the guest house with one two-bedded room and about 30 beds in 2-3 dormitory rooms, cooking in his dabha kitchen for guests and running a general store in the guest house. Obviously, I rarely found him relaxing except for some tete-a-tet with us for about 5-10 minutes. He comes to the guest house around 5.00 am from his house in Sela village and goes back to the village in the night only after completion of dinner to his guests His elder son is studying in a college in UP while is younger one is looking after his grocery shop in Sela village. Being located at a strategic place on the trail itself, during summer, he will have villagers and freight boys who travel between Dharchula and Sipu as his guests for dinner and night stay. On the day we were in Sela, I could see at least 20-30 guests for dinner and night stay in his guest house.

Dev Singh Selal in his shop at Sela

I was worried as to how he will manage to handle alone such a large number of guests for dinner. But at the end, everything went smoothly as some of his guests were assisting him in preparation of rice and roti and and after finishing dinner, they were cleaning the utensils. He is very particular about cleaniness around his guest house and the rooms. Whenever he has time, he will move with his broom and clean the rooms and trail path in front of his guest house, collect all plastic and other trashes which he deposits in a specially created pit nearby.

Day-3 : Sela – Nagling – Baling ( 9 kms of trek)

We had planned to start from Sela by 7.00 a.m. so that the climb to Nagling was completed well before the weather turned hot. The early morning rain, however, delayed our departure. Dev Singh, the proprietor of the guest house, told us that since there were at least half-a-dozen rock falls points up to Nagling, it would be risky to trek in rains. It was only when the rain stopped and sun was out we commenced our trek to Nagling ( 5 kms). As pointed out by Dev Singh, the trek route had many land slides and rock falls points. After about 2 kms of trek in the rocky terrain, the next 1 km was a welcome relief as the forest cover made the trek enjoyable. We saw an hillock on the way which resembled like Shivling peak seen from Tapovan except that it did not have snow on it. The next one km was a level walk very close to Dhauliganga river bank until we reached a suspension bridge for going towards Chal village across Dhauliganga.

Dhauliganga cascading through rocks sprinkles near Sela on way to Nagling

A major landslide and rock falls on way to Nagling

Another rock fall point

'Shivling peak' of Darma Valley

Trail through forest on way to Nagling

At the bank of a calm Dhauliganga on way to Nagling

Dhauliganga seen from suspension bridge connecting Chal village

From the left of the suspension bridge, the 2 kms of climb to Nagling started on stony path by the side of the forest. After crossing two wooden bridges over streams and one major rock fall point, we entered a meadow on a table top from where part of Nagling village was visible. By noon, we were in the first dabha of the Nagling village (2840m) ready for a lunch break. Except for a couple of dabhas, PWD Rest House and a village warehouse (which is used by KMVN as dormitory for its package trek to PCBC), almost all houses are located on a high rise place about 200 metres from the trek path.

Climb to Nagling village starts from here

Crossing a wooden bridge over a cascading stream on way to Nagling
The wooden bridge seen from the a meadow 1 km short of Nagling

Chal village at the other side of Dhauliganga as seen from Nagling

Nagling village central place. Way to village is on right

The 4 kms of trek to Baling is almost safe from rock falls and is a mix of level walk, moderate climbs followed by again level walk under the forest cover until the entrance to the Baling village. The village is located further 1 km from the gate. It was surprising to obseve that a majority of the houses were locked and it was difficult for us to get a home stay until evening when the owner of the dabha located at the entrance to the village returned and open the guest house for us.

Just outside Nagling on way to Baling

Wildflower on way to Baling

Approach to Baling village
In my view, Baling (3105m) is the best village in Darma Valley in terms of lay out, cleanliness, houses with artistically wood carved doors and windows and above all the scenic location. KMVN Rest House is under construction and it is expected that it would be ready by 2010 season. There is a small ITBP Camp in the village where we were required to present the ILP for registration before proceeding to Dagtu/Son/Dantu. The satellite phone facility is now available inside the ITBP Camp.

A richly wood-carved window in one of the houses in Baling

A carved stone kept on the window sill of a Baling house

It started raining in the evening which continued whole night accompanied by thunder and lightning. It looked like as if we were going to face the first test of trekking in rains the next day.

All pictures by the author
Part-2 : Trek report on Baling-Dagtu-Son-Panchchuli Base Camp-Tidang

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Enjoyed reading every word of it. Planning for Darma Valley trip and it was helpful indeed