A trek to Pindari Glacier: May 2008. A couple of weeks of alluring sights, clean air and meeting the finest people in India.
What’s worse than trying to synchronize holiday schedules between two software engineers? Make that number three.
Since an account of this trek exists, it is fairly obvious that the holiday schedules did work out, despite one of us having to fly down at the last minute. Kamlesh, Swapnil and I spend a wonderful couple of weeks in the foothills of the Himalayas, and trekked to the Pindari Glacier.
Pindari glacier is located in a valley known as the Pindar valley (Kumaun Himalaya). It lies between the Nanda Devi and Nandakot mountains at an altitude of 3627 metres. The Glacier is about 3 kilometers long and is fed by the South-Western slope of the Outer wall of the Nanda Devi Sanctuary. The trekking route runs along the southern wilderness of the Nanda Devi Sanctuary and is bordered by beautiful landscapes and breathtaking views of mountains like Panwali Dhar (6683m) and Maiktoli (6803m).
Loharkhet was the last village before the real trek started. That doesn’t mean that there are no stories to share. The previous day, sometime in the mid-afternoon, a bone rattling and nausea inducing Mahindra Jeep dropped us off at a village called Song. Yes, nice name. We were supposed to hike for a couple of kilometers and spend the night in a tourist rest house at Loharkhet. Little did we know that this 2km hike would leave us bushed, so bushed in fact, that we almost spent the evening at the wrong place. A PWD (public works department) building looked exactly like all government structures we’d encountered in the hills, and in our weakened state of comprehension, we proceeded to simply walk in and dump our bags, in what seemed to be the least crumbling part of the building.
We were convinced we were at the right place when a chowkidar (caretaker) came running and asked us if we wanted some food. Startled by what seemed like a benevolent apparition, we said yes and proceeded to gobble down the lentils and rice that the caretaker cooked for us. It was delicious, but probably only for tired, unfit, software engineers. The meal relaxed us, so relaxed, that we proceeded to fall asleep on the wooden floor for the next couple of hours; still oblivious to the fact that we weren’t where we were supposed to be on the first day.
That changed later in the evening. We paid heed to my Dad’s advice about chalking out the next days plan in advance, and perhaps embark on a recon. After walking for 10 minutes or so, we saw a sign… “KMVN Loharkhet resthouse, 800 metres ahead”.
We came back to the PWD resthouse, thanked and paid a small bakshish (token of gratitude, like a tip) to the caretaker - who was really confused when we said we weren’t going to stay the night - and walked up those 800 metres in the evening, to what was supposed to be our stop for the night.
Well rested - the beds in the KMVN(Kumaun Mandal Vikas Nigam) rest house were far more comfortable than the PWD’s wooden floor - we started our walk to Dhakuri at 6 o'clock. Usually I cannot wake up early, and making me do so results in a surly “you will pay for this” sort of stare. There’s something about the hills that makes one really want to get going. Must be the crystal clear air, the lack of noise and the presence of awe inspiring vistas after each bend on a trail.
That’s the KMVN rest house at Dhakuri. By the time we reached Dhakuri, it was nearly evening, and the mist had started to roll in. The meadow was really beautiful and later on in the evening, some campfires were set up.
Dhakuri was the last place where there was access to a telephone, not a mobile phone, but rather a battery powered (with solar powered charging) land line; as it turns out, Kamlesh’s favourite haunt, sneaking out every half hour to try and contact his girlfriend (UPDATE, now wife).
Dhakuri seemed nice enough, but we could barely make out some distant mountains behind the mist, so it didn’t really feel like we were in the Himalayas.
The skies had cleared and the Himalayas were resplendent in all their glory. That day we were supposed to trek to Dwali (about 8 kms), however, feeling particularly adventurous we decided to try and reach Khati (about another 17 kms from Dwali). The plan was to try and minimize the time it would take us to reach Pindari glacier from the final stop on the way (Phurkia). There were also some cloudy weather forecasts if we reached Pindari glacier a day later (after stopping at Dwali) and we wanted to avoid it at all costs.
The walk from Dhakuri to Dwali was picturesque. Most of the trails were through beautiful pine forests with the Pindar river meandering through a gorgeous valley (on our left).
We were making good time and had reached Dwali fairly quickly. The climb wasn’t very steep and we paused intermittently to soak in the scenery and gobble up some trail mix. Chocolates and trail mix, the secret to a happy hike!
The weather was beginning to turn grey, in the mountains, rains can start at a moment’s notice. In fact, a few minutes later, we were in our ponchos. and the trail started quickly degenerating from being well worn, but dependable, into a slippery, sometimes hazardous path. Naturally, the idea to cover two stops on one day, didn’t seem that smart. By this time, we had already traveled atleast 5 kilometres from Dwali and it didn’t make sense to turn back.
It was nearly dark when we saw the KMVN tents at Khati. The immense relief - we were tired, hungry, cold and wet - was short lived the final obstacle in front of us was a ramshackle wooden bridge with big warning signs nailed to it. We spent a good 15 minutes trying to figure out what to do. Eventually, we tried to find a route where there was none, and after somehow managing to cross the stream, we were faced with a very steep (and slippery) incline. Slipping and sliding on all fours, we somehow clambered up this slope to reach the tents, where were greeted by friendly onlookers (one of them was the caretaker) who clearly thought that we were crazy to try and pull the stunt we just did.
So apparently did the mule; yes, one of the mules that carried supplies to the camp stared at us, ambled over to the edge of the slope from where we’d just emerged…then took a couple of steps back… turned around and slowly shook his head … clearly he thought our conduct was unbecoming of good trekkers. Note to self, always ask yourself the following question on a trek before doing something: “Would the mule shake his head if he witnessed your performance?”. Even a slight hesitation before saying “no” implies that whatever you were thinking of doing was a bad idea.
We spent the night in the granary. Due to the bad weather, the camp tents were full.Naturally, we didn’t sleep very well, this is 5 in the morning, we were about to start off for Phurkia (another 16 kms from Khati).
Though we were really tired the previous evening, hunger overshadowed everything else. We gobbled up rice and lentils (standard fare) in the evening, a lot of it. The caretaker gave us the meal, and when he came back later to collect the utensils, he was a little surprised that we’d managed to plow through food that could have fed 5 people. Imagine his surprise when we enthusiastically said yes to his offer of roti (flat bread), dal (lentil soup/stew) and sabzi (mixed vegetable curry) later at night.
Yes, that’s food again. But we are already in Phurkia. it was a fairly smooth climb and we reached well before darkness fell. The caretakers at Phurkia managed to rustle up fantastic meals with very meagre resources.
Next morning, we were greeted with crystal clear skies. Our decision to skip the break at Dwali and saving a day seemed to have paid off.
The hike to Pindari glacier was breathtaking.
On the way back after spending a couple of hours on the glacier we came across a Baba (priest/monk) who’d set up base nearby. We were also told by the caretakers in Phurkia that he feeds hungry trekkers.
It was great fun talking to him, and he did feed us, just about the tastiest meal one can dream of having at this altitude. The Baba even had an e-mail address! Apparently once winter sets in, he makes his way down the valley and comes back when spring comes around
The rest of these photos were taken on the way back.
We met the shepherds near Khati, their dogs were fantastic (and looked like bears!). Each dog had a metal collar with jagged metal teeth sticking out; apparently that’s to ward off snow leopards, who seem to really relish snacking on dogs.
Nanda Devi East soars above the shoulder from Nanda Khat to Traill’s Pass. This view is from the camp at Khati. We stopped here again on our way back. Again, we were put up in the granary. Can’t complain.
On the way back from Khati to Dwali, this time, we were in no rush and stopped for the evening at the KMVN rest house in Dwali. We were treated to Maggi (instant noodles) with omlettes.
We are back again at Dhakuri. End of the trip, things went fairly downhill from here. Quite literally. We went back to our sedentary jobs and there’s no point talking about it. The trek was fun. Mountains are fun. They are more fun, with great friends for company.
P.S. I wasn’t supposed to be the one to write this account, Kamlesh was supposed to. He diligently carried a notebook and a jotted down notes and told us that he’d pen a travelogue once we were back. Swapnil and I were well aware of the intended audience for the travelogue (hint, phone call) and since it’s turned out fairly well for Kamlesh, I decided to take up the slack and write this up.