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The long awaited rain had cast a freshening touch to everything around over the night. The village kund has some water in it now. The improvised system of rain water harvesting installed by the porter gang consisting of a ditch and a polythene sheet in it has collected a good amount of clear water, saving them the labor of going down to the stream. But the bad news was that Bal Bahadur was not able to get any vegetables from the village yesterday. No rains, no produce. We got wheat and rice, and for vegetables will have to look to the wild today. Today the plan is to reach Jhenji Pani, the village on the Lord Curzon's trail to Kuari pass. This would be a longer day, warranting seven to eight hours of trek.
We left Dikundar at around 8.30 in the morning and continued on a trail used by villagers. Soon the trail started climbing up a steep hill. We saw a few large vultures circling the sky often coming quite close to the ground. Further climbing up we found a bunch of them perched on rock ledges above. A little more time on the way up revealed why they were stationed here. There was the carcass of a dead cow on the trail which probably fell to its death from the trail above. Nature's garbage cleaners at work. Small groups of villagers also were moving with us in the trail.
The day was very hot again. Climbing up and down through couple of steep hills in the heat was quite tiring and there was no water to be found anyway in the path. Later we passed through the villages of Ala and Bhora. Thankfully the village water fountains still had running water. Somewhere by the village trail we found a beautiful looking house which had an inscription on it saying it was built in 1957. The ladies sitting in the courtyard wondered and asked us where we were going in this unbearable heat. Here as you pass by, the bunch of children sitting everywhere seemed to be asking for "007" instead of chocolate. For quite some time I could not figure what they were asking. Were they really true when they said more than half the population of the world has watched a James Bond movie? :-D
Vulture in flight ...
Explanation came from Bal Bahadur later. It seems foreigners when they come on the popular Curzon's trail distribute lot of ball pens to kids. The kids are in fact asking for 'Reynolds 007' the ball pen, not for the renowned spy. But then the pen is 'Reynolds 045' not '007', what is this? Did those guys distribute really old models or what? :-D
We again crossed two more tedious ascends and descends across large hills and by two in the afternoon reached another small village with lot of potato fields. We had the packed lunch here. From this place Bal Bahadur seemed to be going to climb up a hill with no signs of a trail anywhere on it. In fact it was a path through which water flowed down the hill when it rained. Oh my! was it steep! We had enough of climbs for the day! Now I knew what to expect when Bal Bahdur says "Aage aur bas thodi si chadaai hei". This should be some path which few people take I thought, till I was surprised by a villager coming down the path with a huge log of wood on his back! Scrambling up through this hill for quite some time we entered a thick forest. In fact this trail seemed to be one very less used going by the absence of mule shit on the way which is an omnipresent feature of the village trails.
The forest was enchantingly thick and had a dense canopy blocking the scorching sun. The path was still fair bit of a climb through the cushion of dead and dry leaves. We asked Bal Bahadur who was up ahead to stop and sat for sometime on a huge fallen tree trunk across the jungle floor. There was a change in the weather now. Dark clouds could be seen wading through the tree canopy. It started drizzling soon. Gentle and mild prickling rain which cools the air and fills your spirits with freshness. Its getting late now, the watch showed 4 O'clock already. Probably we'll have to camp somewhere before Jhenji Pani. We crossed the forest and reached the top ridge of the hill. The ridge is called Binayak, for the Ganesh temple somewhere ahead on the ridge. We saw a family here, staying in a hut with their herd of buffaloes. It seems during summer months people come up these hills with their cattle and mules. They build closed corrals here to keep them which are called Gharaks. The families also will live alongside in small huts. Going down further on the mountainside, we reached some plane land with a bunch of these gharaks. This place is 'Seem Gharak'. Porters had stopped here and pitched tents some distance below. While we walked down, Bal Bahadur showed us a wild fruit that was edible. Ripe red small berry like fruits close to the ground, he called them 'kaaphal'. The ripe ones tased like the cream on top in a fruit salad.
Making the roof while the hay is yellow ...
We were halting here. This place has water and Jhenji Pani is another one and a half hours below. And this place has large flower beds, dominated by little white flowers for a change. We met a really talkative young guy coming down a stoned trail. He talked non stop. He told about Binayak, the temple, the annual small Jat - religious procession that happens here, the stone paved trail till Kuari pass which was built by Britishers and various other things. He and his brother were coming from Ghat village visiting their parents who were staying with their gharaks a little further down. We bid him good bye, and promised we'll meet him tomorrow morning when we go down. Today we have dinner with the last of the vegetables we are carrying. Lets see what we get tomorrow. After the usual night session of fifty six I fell asleep fast quite tired from todays exertions.
Eighth day of the trek, today we will cross the village of Jhenji Pani and reach a hill near the village of Pana. We started at the usual time of around 8.30 in the morning. The trail is indeed stone paved all the way as the talkative Ghat guy said. We met him on the way down, but escaped another long verbal session as he was about to go gathering firewood. The descend was easy. We passed through green forests and couple of streams and reached the Jhenji village soon. This is one of the stopovers in the Curzon's trail. There are a couple of guest houses here mainly targeting foreigners. Past the village we continued to get down in to the valley. A river called 'Jhenji Nulla' flows through this. We cross the river at a considerable height above it by way of a hanging bridge across the river. We sat on the bridge and rested for a while. The river raging deep below was a scary sight as I sat on the edge of the bridge with my feet hanging down from it.
After the bridge is again a steep climb. For more than two hours from that point we went thorough ascends and descends similar to yesterday and passed through many village regions. Group of children everywhere would shout "Namasthe" as you pass by and obligingly you respond the same way. Whats funny is they will keep repeating it, long after you have past them just to see how long you would keep responding back :-) Pleasant green forests and a waterfall marked the approach to Pana village at about four in the evening. Across the valley we could see a huge and old landslide region on a mountain. Almost the whole face of the mountain has come crashing down, wiping out all trees and vegetation and any human settlements that could have existed there.
At work in the fields ...
We bypassed the village and climbed a bit on the ascending path and the tents were pitched on a small grass land up the hill. The porters gang had collected some plants from the wild to work around the vegetable shortage. One was a short serpentine looking plant which they called 'Ninguda' and they had also collected some yellow colored mushrooms. Bal Bahadur and Bhandari went to the village here also looking for vegetables but returned empty handed. It started raining quite heavily in the evening which lasted well through the night. Thankfully the tents held on and the insides did not flood. The Ninguda subji was surprisingly yummy to taste. After dinner when the rain stopped and the skies cleared, a brilliant bright moon rose in the sky. The whole place was glowing in moonlight. It was so bright, the moonlight cast a clear and sharp shadow of me on the ground.
We woke up to clear blue skies next morning. Here and there fluffy little clouds made myriad patterns against the shimmering blue. The Thrishul and Nanda Ghunti peaks are visible from here again, immediately identifiable by the thin long ridge of the triple peaks. Today we trek to a place called 'Dakwani', half way up the hill to Kuari pass. This will be a rather short stretch of four to five hours. We have to reach there early and pitch the tents as it can start raining heavily by afternoon. The trail kept on climbing up the hill through foresty regions for about an hour or so. Abhi claimed he saw a Paradise Fly Catcher and spent some time in vain trying to photograph one. Well, It would be bad if there really were flies in paradise, I think.
After the climb and some plane terrain we suddenly emerged on top of a steep cliff. The visible depth was really breathtaking. The forward runners group and Bal Bahadur sitting on a bridge across the stream below looked like tiny ants. The stream had a frothing white waterfall also which at an unusual angle from this elevation appeared very queer. The whole scene looked like a display pane straight out of some 3D modeling software, as if I could pan, zoom, rotate and look at things whichever way I liked and from far away POVs. It took us quite some time to trek down to the bottom and midway we saw couple of beautiful dripping fountains falling from the cliff side.
Thats too far deep ...
After resting for sometime on the bridge, we walked again climbing the hill on the other side. On the top of that climb there was a vast area of dead pine trees. I wondered what could have caused all of them to die, maybe some sort of spreading disease? We crossed another small stream set in a shallower ravine and reached the grassy ares of Dakwani by two in the afternoon. It was completely covered with clouds. It felt like it can rain any minute. Thankfully the porters had reached before and pitched the tents well in advance. It started drizzling almost as soon as we reached.
But surprisingly the rain stopped and the skies cleared in half an hour. There was no sign anymore of the huge rain clouds that covered the mountain slopes. A gleaming sun brightened the blue sky. The towering round cliffs up in the mountain marking the entry to the pass could be clearly seen now. We spent the rest of the afternoon outside, me taking time out from the game of cards to catch up on the pending days' travel notes. Moon rises early, its still only just more than half way through its journey to becoming a full moon. The continuous roar of a stream could be heard nearby. We could have camped a little higher, but from this point up the stream is underground and there is no other water source.
Tomorrow morning we should start early. The famous view of snow clad peaks from Kuari pass could be seen only if the skies are clear and even as early as nine the skies start to get clouded these days. For dinner, the Ninguda Sabzi continued for the second day in a row. But Durga Sab's department did not give us the wild mushrooms fearing it will upset our stomachs. The night was much colder here compared to last few days. We finished dinner and slept early hoping to start soon after sunrise tomorrow.