Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pathar Nachoni to Bhuna, Kanol and to Dikundar - through villages ..

Click on the image to view picasa web album ...

With the toughest day of the trek behind us, we have a couple of relaxing days ahead. Today we trek from Patar Nachoni to the village of Bhuna. Our next major destination is Kuari pass at an altitude of about 14000 feet. The kuari pass trail is also called Lord Curzon Trail as the then viceroy of India Lord Curzon trekked this route in 1905. The traditional trekking route starts from the village of Ghat and moves through villages of Ramni, Jhenji Pani and beyond. We will be joining the trail from a lateral route somewhere before the Jhenji village. The trail to Bhuna from Patar Nachoni mainly goes through narrow ridges cutting across mountains. This will be a five to six hour undertaking.

To cut the trail short, we were not going go around the mountain by retracing a bit from Patar Nachoni and following the normal trail to Bhuna. Bal Bahadur said we will cut across the mountain on this side itself and join the trail when it comes around the mountain. Thus we started walking from Patar Nachoni cutting across the green mountain without much of trail existing in our path. It was again a misty morning, giving a general feeling that the rain is finally intending to enter this northern mountain regions. We walked mostly on level altitude, across spongy bushes of untrodden grass, over short streams of broken boulders and regions covered with tiny flowers. Bad weather seemed to follow us in the form of mist and fog rising up from the valley. But the shortcut proved quite effective in quickly transporting us to the trail this side of the mountain.

Blue flowers on the way ...

Soon after we hit on the trail, it started descending quite steeply into deep gorges most of them partially covered in fog. And of course we have to climb all this distance up in a few minutes as the trail starts to go up the next hill. The planes in between were covered with flowers. Lots of blue flowers dominated often as opposed to the tiny yellow verieties in Pathar Nachoni. By noon we reached a cliff from which the trail could be seen almost dropping down to a ravine where probably a stream will run in the rainy season. The trail then rises steeply up the other side of the cliff. I could see the porters sitting at the bottom with some other guys who looked like shepherds. From here a distant village was visible on the mountain side which was Bhuna. We will not be going into the actual village, but camp in a higher spot as next day our journey will continue from the top again.

Climbing down was sort of easy. Looking up from the bottom of the ravine, we seemed to be stuck inside a Jurassic era crater inhabited by Pterodactyls and Dragons. But sadly none came flying around, so plans of hanging on to their legs and maneuvering to the top had to be shelved. The climb was slow. On top we met the group who we thought were shepherds. They were in fact a group of local people who scour the mountains often for herbs and medicinal plants. There was a small stone shrine atop the cliff and lots of cows and buffaloes grazing. Some of them were perilously moving through the thin edges of the cliff. Coming down we hit the tree line again and reached the camping site by 3 in the afternoon. The tents here were set in a small clearing inside the forest and the porters were able to find water nearby.

Cowherd on Bhuna top ...

As we were settling down in the tents a shepherd passed through the nearby trail with his flock of sheep. His large brown guard dog took a fancy to the colored tents and people and came down to visit. He seemed quite friendly, moved around among us, ate all the snacks we gave him and bonded with people. Meanwhile Bal Bahadur and gang negotiated with the shepherd and bought a sheep. Sheep is for dinner. Protein is always welcome, as Bear Grylls advices.

Night was cold. Probably it also rained in the night, going by people who claimed to have heard rustling of the tent roof but I must have been in too sound a sleep for that sound to permeate. Morning was very foggy, but the forest seemed to be much alive with all sorts of unseen birds chriping. Today we will descend to Kanol, which is a fairly largish village. There is supposed to be a forest guest house in Kanol and a small river flowing by. So we are hoping to have a bath after five days and some solar powered electricity to recharge the camera cells.

Surprise visitor from the village ...

Kanol is about three hours from Bhuna. We started descending around nine in the morning from Bhuna top. The captivating harmonics from the gang of cowbells resonated in the grassy slopes. Leaving the herd behind we entered into a luscious green forest. The sun was still hiding in the fog cover and the dew was almost palpable in the air. The leaves and trees were moist and green. Everything is so fresh, you feel a spring in your stride, a smile on your lips and a tune in your breath? well, maybe thats because the nose is partially blocked! Quite soon the sun drove the mist away and set the tree canopy awash with bright light. We were descending by the side of a fairly largish stream which was but only a trickle now. I saw a huge brown rock face which had three thick black vertical lines on it. Is this where Pandavas used to play cricket?

As we were nearing Kanol, we met some traffic in the trail in the form of people going up to gather firewood. We emerged out of the forest by 12 noon into a grass land where the forest guest house at Kanol was situated. Durga sab sprung up a refreshing little surprise in the form of black lemon tea instead of the normal one. After settling down few of us made a reconnaissance trip to the village. Lot of houses seemed to have solar panels on top. There were couple of shops and one of them had a wireless telephone. He offered to recharge the camera cells from his solar-battery-invertor setup. Here also a bunch of kids flocked around me in my endeavors with the camera. Potatoes seemed to be the main cultivation here with the small fields all flowered up now.

Sleepy forest in Bhuna ...

We returned to the guest house for lunch, and after that started playing cards in a siesta mood. Two little girls I met in the village came to the guest house. They sat on the lawn and watched us play some queer game. Pretty soon a bunch of kids formed a motley gang of spectators around the low stone walls of the guest house, all watching the alien visitors indulged in some queer activity. None of them were brave enough to come in though except the two kutti girls. In reward the kutti girls got a share of the hot and crispy pakoda coming out of Durga sab's stables. Glory to the brave. The pakodas tasted so good, all of it was gone in the blink of an eye.

We had baths, washed some clothes and generally rested. This was a pleasant day. By night a thin moon came out and seemed to be smirking at the black night. The man in the moon makes faces as the moon makes phases. The sky was partially cloudy with not many stars. A bunch of village girls were returning from the forest with firewood. I could not see them or figure out through which trail they were coming down. But they were singing, singing with such gay abandon. An unknown mountain song. Their voices rose and fell and reverberated in the darkness. The song merged with the chime of cowbells seemed to be filling the whole night sky. I listened in silence. The enchantment and the undulating chorus slowly died away as they approached the village.

Kutti girls ...

I slept well after a refreshing day. Sixth day of our trek, today we'll travel through a melange of village trails to Dikundar, another small settlement. It should take four to five hours to reach Dikundar. We started around eight in the morning. As we crossed the village, a special group joined us on the trail. A new born calf and its mom cow were being taken to another nearby village by a family. This probably is the baby's first real day out. It was walking skeptically, huddling close to the mom. Shortly thereafter a confusing traffic jam occurred as the calf refused to move further when faced with an oncoming herd of cows and a protective mom blocked the way. People interfered with the bovines and helped them resolve their differences, slowly clearing the way. Kanol seems to be an amalgam of settlements than a single village. The man walking with the cow family told us that it consists of 26 villages and 365 families.

Once the cow family went off the trail towards a settlement on the way, we had an empty path ahead. By this time the trail started descending into a deep valley and the roar of a river could be heard. River Nandakini crosses these mountains through this deep ravine. Nandakini emanates from near Roop Kund and the Shila Samudra glacier close by. The descending trail was tiresome with lots of loose and flaky rocks. The mirage like roar of the river seems so close but every turn just appears to end in another turn down the slope. Scrambling through this trail for 15-20 minutes, we reached the bottom. Nandakini, her waters dull gray and frothing white, was tearing through the valley. A mild stream of crystal clear waters joins Nandakini here and a small bridge is built across this stream. We rested at this confluence for some time, dipping feet into the refreshing and cold flow of the small stream.

Nandakini ...

Walking further, we crossed Nandakini over a bigger bridge built across it further ahead. After this starts a climb, a steep and tiring one where we regain the altitudes lost in climbing down to Nandakini. Once over the top, houses and fields in a settlement were visible. Some electric power lines and poles could be seen criss crossing those areas but Bal Bahadur said they are not active yet. Soon we reached a small stream. There was a short waterfall by the side of the stream and a small building almost beneath it. Bal Bahdur said its a Gharat, or a device for grinding grains. We went inside and tried to figure out how to operate it. Water was redirected from top of the waterfall into the building through a wooden slope that ended on the leaves of a wheel under the building. On the floor of the building, the wheel is attached to a round stone wheel that can rotate on top of another such stone wheel which is fixed. Everything was in place, water was flowing in through the slope,but the wheel was not rotating. Finally we discovered that at the top of the falls the inlet to the water diversion was closed with a wooden plank except for the water seeping through. I climbed up and removed the plank and presto! the gharat started rotating. Feels great to solve any puzzle :-)

From here Bal Bahadur took a short cut to the top which was a fifty degree steep climb for couple hundred meters! It was really hot and these lands were arid and dry except for the stream below. We took a long time in getting up this incline and reached some narrow lanes with houses on the sides. It was about 1 O'clock now. Moving further we met the porters gang and the tents pitched in a small clearing at the end of the village. There seemed to be no sign of water. The village kund, enclosure to retain rain water, lay dry and parched nearby. Water had to be brought from the small stream that we left at the very bottom! A tiring prospect for the rest of the day for Rashtrapathiji and friends. Moreover this place had no shade and an unrelenting sun was burning down on us.

Gharat - complex simple machine ...

After the lemon tea made rounds we found a walnut tree at some distance across the kund. The sleeping mats there shifted there and we sat down underneath the tree and em .. , started playing cards :-D Even here we attracted a group of kid spectators though small compared to Kanol. But here, they climbed up the tree and were watching the sport from the gallery, clinging to the branches right above us! Bal Bahdur and Bhandariji decided to go shopping to nearby village of Sithel as we were running out of provisions. They promised to bring a chicken and Bal Bahadur sab agreed to our demand that we ourselves will make a barbecue out of it.

The walnut tree was our shade and shelter till the evening when Bandariji came and announced that the chicken is cut and ready. A co-ordinated effort ensued in which people collected wood to build a makeshift barbecue rack, dug a pit to burn the fire, made masala and marinated the chicken and cooked it lightly in the pressure cooker. Only thing left was to light the fire and set the meat on it when the rain started. We waited in the tents for long, but the rain showed no intentions of winding down. At last the compromise of simple roasted chicken had to be accepted and we called it a night. The rain continued for long, deep into the night, a much needed respite from the scorching heat.


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