The overnight rains accompanied by thunder and lightning disturbed my sleep frequently in the night. In sheer desperation, I got up quite early in the morning to see how the weather looked like. It was still raining moderately when I came out of the room but a small patch of blue sky on the eastern horizon with mist hanging over the village gave some hope of improvement in the weather. As the breakfast ordered from an adjoining house was being served, rains eventually stopped but the sky was still cloudy when we departed from Baling. Our plan was to take a lunch break at Son and start for the Panchachuli Base Camp (PCBC) if the weather remained good. The other option was to stay put in Son village and try PCBC the next day early morning.
Wild flowers on way to Dagtu
A group of 'freight' boys, who were carrying materials required for the ongoing construction of KMVN Rest House at Baling, gave us the company during this part of the trek. One of the interesting things they told us about this area was that there was a mud hill in the shape of Qutub Minar on the left bank of Dhauliganga river. When we reached that point, the shape on the mud hill was looking more like a temple than Qutub Minar as the top portion of the mud hill in the shape of a minar had collapsed during heavy rains some years back. As more and more erosions take place due to rains and the flow of the river, even the temple shape may not remain for long.
Mud hill in temple shape on the bank of Dhauliganga
A bridge over Dhauliganga gorge for Chal village
After about 2 kms of walk, we reached a place surrounded by flat land on high plateau. On the opposite side of river were two villages - Bon and Filum, the former looking the bigger of the two - under the base of a high mountain range which the local villager called Bon peak with glacier coming down from its base and turning into a stream to join Dhauliganga.
Somewhere in the middle of this trek route, Dharam Singh Sonal, the Post Master of Dagtu village met us. It was at his house in Son where we had planned for the overnight stay. He said that he was going to Nagling post office to hand over the dak and collect the dak meant for Dagtu and adjoining villages. He assured us that he would be back by 2.00 p.m. Since his house was locked, he requested us to take the temporary shelter in his store room.
Dagtu village as seen from Son village
The entire trekking route of about 4 kms to PCBC is very picturesque. There are bugyals, covered on one side by the dense forest of birch and coniferous tress, wild flowers all the way to PCBC, wild strawberries by the side of the trekking path ( we ate some which were tasty), many waterfalls around PCBC ( I counted 16 of them but I may have missed some). PCBC is a place where you get to see Panchachuli range from top (peaks) to bottom (massif) and the snout of the Meola glacier from where Meola River originates. It would be a good idea to stay for a night in tent at PCBC to explore the entire area which, in my view, would be interesting. The adventurous trekkers can extend the trek beyond PCBC by trekking about 2 kms to cross the Meola glacier and return to Dantu village from the left bank of Meola river. There are, however, some risk, especially in rainy season, of crevasses on the glacier covered by moraines and also the rock falls from the adjoining mountains. In early summer (April), one can have the pleasure of sliding on the snow about 1 km before PCBC to reach the Meola river bed.
KS and me hold the ice-axe in PCBC with Meola glacier in background
Debu performing puja at zero point at PCBC
A small lake on way to Meola Glacier
Dinner was taken a bit late as Mrs Dharam Singh had decided to prepare rotis made from Ugal flour which was a time consuming process akin to making dosa dough. The dinner of Ugal rotis, rice, rajma dal, mix of potatoes and lai leaves vegetable dish, radish salad garnished with some herbs and home made pickles was a great finale to our stay in Dharam Singh’s house. However, we could see some disappointment on Dharam Singh’s face as we politely declined his offer of murti ( home made alcoholic brew) before the dinner.
Kitchen room in Post Master's house Photo by K Srinivasan
A grinding mill (left) on way to Dantu
The valley towards Meola glacier seen from Dantu
We had planned for a short break at the house of Dayal Singh Datial at Dantu around 8.00 a.m. and the message to that effect had already been passed by Jaswant Singh Sonal, the Chacha of Son in the previous evening. An elderly woman (who turned out to be Mrs Dayal Singh) was waiting for us outside her front court yard probably to make sure that we did not miss her house. “ The old man is in the kitchen preparing tea for you and he will be soon out here” she said with an intended pun. Although we were happy to sit in the court yard, she insisted all of us to come inside the house to have tea. The her maxim is that a visit to a house is not complete unless the guests sit inside the house and had tea ( or murti). Soon Dayal Singh came out from the kitchen with cups of tea. He seemed to be a man of few words limiting his conversation to the bare necessatiy.
Another partial view of Panchchuli peaks Photo by K Srinivasan
A view of four of five villages from Dantu ridge
Get, set and ready for Tidang. View from Dantu ridge
A Tidang lady carrying herbs for chatuney
Wood carving on the main door of one of houses in Dakar
A view of valley from Dakar village
Tidang village on the bank of Lasser Yankti river
After lunch, myself and Chamu visited the ITBP Camp which was located about one km away from the Tidang on a table top land towards Dakar. Sagar, the son of Loto Singh took us by a short cut involving a steep climb. It took us about 30 minutes to reach the main ITBP gate. As we were about to enter the camp, six barking dogs came towards us as if they were going to pounce upon us. The timely intervention by an ITBP personnel saved us from these ferocious looking dogs. Sagar told me that these were the stray dogs of Tidang village now well looked after by ITBP. The person managing the recording of ILP had gone for lunch. Hence we were instructed to wait inside one of the ITBP quarters till the person concerned returned from lunch. One of the ITBP personnel made us comfortable and served us with mango juice. He was from a village near Bageshwar and was transferred from Leh to Tidang 3-4 months back. He said jokingly that for him Leh was nearer to Bageshwar than Tidang as he was in his home town in about 24 hours from Leh whereas it takes 3 days from Tidang to reach Bageshwar.
ITBP Camp in Tidang is one of the bigger camps in Darma valley with a helipad. It has its own captive power through giant generators. It has satellite telephone facility which is being replaced with BSNL service ( This will reduce the telephone rate from the present Rs.25/- per minute to Re.1/- per minute). By the time the ILP formalities were completed, it was already 3.00 p.m. As we were returning to our home stay place, it started raining. As we were now short of time, we dropped the idea of trekking to Marchha. When I returned to our home stay room, KS was out for a round of the village with his DSLR. A rest of about 3 hours must have rejuvenated him.
A wildflower on way back to Dantu
When I got up around 5.00 in the morning, I saw through the window the blue sky without any trace of clouds. I and KS immediately rushed out of the room with our cameras to shoot the sunrise view of Nagling peaks. The peaks were indeed visible without any cloud but sensing that there would be still some time for the sunrise, we went to a nearby dabha for tea. Surprisingly, dabha was opened and tea was readily available at this time of the morning. At around 5.30 a.m., the first rays of the sun fell on the right side of the Nagling peaks and within 10 minutes or so, the all peaks were shining with golden colour. At least we could see Nagling peaks on sunrise if not Panchachuli peaks. KS pointed out that had we trekked to Sipu, we would have been in Dantu today to get a clear view of Panchachuli peaks. He was right as there was not a patch of cloud in any direction. Later KS pointed out to me (after returning to Mumbai) that Nagling and Panchachuli peaks belonged to the same range as seen from Wikimapia-Google Earth.
KS's balancing act on way back to Urthing
Coming out of the mist from the Cliff-edge path Photo by K Srinivasan
Pictures by the author except those accredited to K Srinivasan