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I woke up at five. It was incredibly cold though a little bit of sunlight was there. We were all ready by 6.30. But we could not start as it was very cold and misty and breakfast was late. We could begin walking only around seven when the sun was really up and about. Some brisk walking helped to warm up the bodies. We reached the bottom of the steep climb to the pass relatively fast. In here one feels surrounded by awe inspiring tall and ridged steep cliffs. Bal Bahadur had gone ahead in the trail. His shiny orange pants appeared as a bright spot against the green backdrop of the cliffs.
It took about an hour more for us to complete the climb and we were over the pass by sometime half past eight. Sadly the sky was not very clear. But yet, we could see that the whole skyline up ahead was composed by majestic snow clad peaks. These are some of the tallest peaks in Garwhal Himalayas and in India. Kamet, Neelkanth, Hathi-Ghoda parbat, Choukhamba etc are some of the major peaks visible. We had lot of time to spend here. Today's destination, Tali, is just about three hours walk from here. A bunch of local people were on the pass. They were climbing down to the villages where we came. We waited at the top for quite some time to see if the clouds will clear up, but they were rather obstinate.
Going up to Kuari Pass - The orange spot is Bal Bahadur ...
Later we walked across the pass to the other end. Across the path we found couple of small streams. Theoretically one can camp here, but the gale force winds make that rather impossible. All the while we hoped that clouds will clear offering a better view of the majestic peaks. But sort of shattering such hopes, we saw huge masses of clouds rushing up from the valley behind and spilling over the pass. Porters and Bal Bahadur had already started on the trail to Tali. Me, Jomy and Shanti stayed on top of the tall rock pillars here for quite long. Blankets of clouds came down and settled on the pass almost covering us from all sides. The wind fought with the clouds viciously, slicing and squeezing and driving lumps of white and gray mass all around.
Around 11 we lost all hopes of the sky clearing up again and started walking down the trail. Some distance down there is a fairly large stream and a bridge over it. We saw a bunch of tents here, probably of groups doing the Kuari pass trek from this end, starting from Auli. The grass fields here are patrolled by large flocks of Himalyan crows. These are interesting creatures as far as crows go. They have pink feet and yellow beaks! And their cry is something slightly effeminate and nasal compared to the rock rubbing 'kkraa' of their cousins in the planes.
There behind that mountain lies Tali ...
Tali is generally approached through a more or less level trail over ridges from Kuari Pass. It was considerably hot by noon. On the way we saw a large natural cave and went down to investigate. There were signs of people having stayed in this cave. A strange phenomenon was on display here. Through the narrow break in the ridge near the face of the cave, wind was blowing across with incredible force. Some kind of funnel effect was driving the air from the other side of the ridge through the narrow break. A little more later we came down to a clearing and a grassland. A forest began at the end of the clearing. The camping site was a bit further into the forest. Trouble of finding water followed us here also. The stream here was almost down to a trickle.
This being our last day in the forest, Bal Bahadur declared that we will have a bonfire. There were lot of dry fallen trees around. In a short time, the porter gang gathered enough firewood to burn for two three days on a stretch! It was about three in the afternoon by now. They decided to light the fire now itself. As if it was waiting for it, soon after the fire was lit rain began to fall. We abandoned the fire and retreated to the tents. Rain continued for more than an hour, but it was not heavy. Amazingly the fire did not die! After the rain it began to really burn up spreading a warm fuzzy feeling through the chill air.
For dinner we had a makeshift subzi with the last of the vegetables and whatever remaining. Great food has been an excellent feature of this trek. I would happily go trekking with Bal Bahadur again just for the food part itself! The last night in the forest was calm and rustled with the occasional drizzle of night rain.
The Dhouli Ganga Valley ...
Eleventh and last day of our trek, today we walk down from Tali through Garson top to Auli. The view of the snow clad peaks from Garson top is also supposed to be amazing, but I doubt if the clouds will let us see anything. We started late, about after eight. Auli is a three hour walk from here. The trail mostly goes through high ridges again. Once near Garson top though the clouds blocked our view of the mountains, they in turn staged a more dramatic scene to compensate this. The deep valley through which the 'Dhouli Ganga' flows was lit up in amazing hues by light falling through the clouds flanking the valley on both sides. Sometimes for a minute or two, the very distant peak of Nanda Devi was visible through the clouds.
Walking under the tableau of clouds for an hour or two, we reached the plane grasslands from where the rope way towers at Auli were visible. Crossing the grasslands we entered the last stretch of forest in our path. Inside the forest is the shrine of Patiyar Devata, probably the guardian of the forest. A big bell hangs at the entrance of the shrine. I rang the bell, again and again and again. Eleven times for the eleven days we spent in the lands watched over by the mountain Gods, in the yet unblemished lap of a loving mother, The Good Earth.
As soon as we hit civilization, the tryst with the complications of worldly travails began. Auli is a breathtakingly beautiful hill station in the winter months. But now it resembled some godforsaken hot and burning bland hill. Securing a vehicle from here to Joshimath ended up being a much more complicated task than we expected. Joshimath is the ending point of our trek. It is a pilgrimage place that lies on the route to Badrinath. By the time we sorted out the logistics it was close to three in the afternoon. We reached Joshimath by four. After finding a decent hotel and dumping our stuff, we bid adieu to Bal Bahadur and gang. Until next time.
Joshimath is the place where Sankaracharya established the first of the four Mutts that he founded across India. After baths and some rest couple of us visited the Mutt. I did not venture into the Mutt as it did not seem to be living up to the image I had conjured up in my mind. Instead I stood outside and gazed at the really tall bare mountains right across his small hill town. Could they have been standing just same way for the hundreds of years since Sankaracharya meditated in the jungle cave here? Standing in front of these towering peaks is so awe-inspiring and humbling, no wonder the mighty Himalayas elate you to levels when you feel one with the Universe. I sat down near the Kalpavriksha where Sankaracharya is believed to have meditated. It is a Mulberry tree, supposedly 2500 years old. But I really doubt if Mulberry trees could live for that long. I sat there and watched as the priest of the small shiva temple under the tree quarreled with a local youth for constantly filling water for his house from the tap belonging to the temple. A little group of small children running around the Kalpavriksha with chappals on as they played. An aged Sadhu staying in a hut opposite the temple coming limping with a stick and chasing the kids away. A mother coming running and slapping her little boy for mocking the slow moving aged Sadhu. A domestic dog who came and took shelter around my feet while running away from the house boy trying to put it inside the kennel. Minuscule pieces of enlightenment.
We had dinner from one of the numerous Dhabas here; Hot and wholesome food. One another task was to arrange for a jeep to take us and our luggage to Haridwar in time for the Dehradun Shatabdi Express at 6.00 O'clock in the evening next day to Delhi. Touching a spongy bed after a long time, I slept like dead till the alarm woke me up at 5 am. Joshimath to Haridwar is again an eight to ten hour journey by road. The jeep guy was late, but thankfully he did not ditch the appointment. Most of this day we spent in the jeep in various stages of sleep and consciousness, till he dropped us at Haridwar railway station by four in the evening.
This was again some or the other important day for pilgrimage and Haridwar was again crowded and incredibly hot! The only place open for eating and which had air conditioning at this hour was a dosa plaza. There we gorged on lot of, yes, you guessed it! dosas and generally lazed in the coolness. But filling ourselves up so much turned out to be more of a mistake as we could not do any justice to the pampering snacks and dinner catered in the Shatabdi express! We reached New Delhi by midnight, got taxis to the airport and spent the night inside the airport terminal. In the morning, the huge white flying vessel of Go Air patiently swallowed us all in its bowels, flew over great distances across a sub continent being stir fried by the sun, and regurgitated our half sleepy selves at the Bengaluru international air port.
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