Thursday, November 09, 2006

Pindari Glacier Trek India October 2006


We arrived in Delhi in high spirits. Billy and I wanted to share our impressions from our Rajasthan visit last January with Nick and Ali - the chaos of the roads, the striking of colors of the saris, the culture shock of SO many people.

We were looking forward to meeting Tagore, the architect of our trip, and his family. Through hundreds of emails we had exchanged, Tagore had become a friend and confidante... he knew all the answers to my questions, solved all the logistical problems, and counseled me on cultural issues. I walked right past him in the lobby when we met and felt like the victim of online dating.... who is this stranger who knows too much about me? But once I adjusted to real-time interaction the Tagore I knew merged with the man I met and we picked up like old friends! Saro, his wife was as warm as Tagore described and her sister Glory and husband Christopher had fascinating insight about their re-adjustment to living in India after years in the UK. The dessert buffet at the Shangri-la was fantastic and Tagore's sons , Vivek and Arun chuckled with Nick and Ali - who could try more puddings? The whole family was accompanying Vivek to his wedding on 3 Nov in Madras, so we were fortunate to meet!

Billy and Nick did the cultural tour of Red Fort but Ali and I made it no further than the shopping arcade... five pairs of earrings for £1??? Then we made the mistake of taking our taxi driver's recommendation for shopping and wasted the afternoon at a huge but very overpriced shop (where we later found he got a finder's fee!) Finally, we headed to the train station and fended off aggressive porters and beggars as the platform became more and more crowded. Once on board, we discovered that three families had tickets for the same sleeper beds! Nick and Ali lost all confidence in my trip planning, but Billy and the sharp eyes of a bystander saved us from being thrown off the train by the conductor.... we had been upgraded to 1st class!

The train pulled into Kathgodam at 6am and we were met by Mahesh, our translator and Tagore's neighbor, and Reis the taxi driver. Feeling a bit shattered after two nights travelling, we stopped in Bhimtal at Mahesh's house to drop off the bags we did not need on the trek and had breakfast at the Country Inn where we had our timeshare exchange for the following week. Ali and I made a BIG MISTAKE... we had cereal with milk, before continuing on to Almora for the night at the fancy Kalmatia Sangam Eagle's Nest Lodge, with our first views of the Himalayas.
Food poisoning hit me mid-afternoon and I fell violently ill. Ali knew what was to come when she started feeling ill about 3 hours later. Fortunately the memory is fading now, but it was a truly gruesome experience and I wondered if I was lying when I assured Nick that I wasn't going to die..... About 12 hours later I could finally keep a bit of water down and we started to assess our position. Mahesh was really our lifeline here - able to arrange for the porters (more of Tagore's neighbors, Satis and Doormud) and Reis, our driver, to wait another day to begin the trek. I'm sure we would have had to drop out if we had been signed up for a commercially guided trek! Fortunately the nice managers at the resort found room for us to stay another night, and Ali and I were grateful that we were sick with such a luxurious bathroom!

The next day we slept on and off during the long journey on twisty roads to the start of the trek, until the road became truly a jeep trail at Loharket. A very dim light bulb helped us to see the dal and potatoes with chapatis which would be our staples for the trip. Mahesh found that it was not safe to leave the taxi waiting for our return because vandalism to non-local vehicles was common. Reis slept in the taxi and then headed back to Song where a garage was found to house the taxi safely. We assembled in the morning to start the trek - over Dhakuri pass to Khati,. 20 km was no problem, but the climb was daunting, 3871 m to the top of the pass.

The shade in the rhododendron and pine forest made the climb easier, but we did not anticipate the amount of water that I would need. I ran out far from the top and struggled to keep up. Mahesh kept me distracted, answering questions and he offered me his water - but I was only too aware of the dangers of drinking his unfiltered water! Finally Billy waited for us and shared his remaining water and we climbed the last 1000 m together. The 9 km down to Khati were easy and we stopped at at little chai stop which was was full of children who played with Ali. A smoky dinner and back into sleeping bags by 7 pm.

The next day we climbed beside the raging Pindari river and were met by flocks of goats and sheep coming down from the mountains. By Dwali after 11 km I was tired, but we decided to press ahead another 12km to Phurkia and a climb of 3410 m so that we could make the ascent to the glacier early the next morning.I really struggled up the last few kms and Billy stayed behind me to make sure I didn't fall off the edge. Nick left Ali to carry both packs and he came back to carry mine and lead me up the last climb. I was ashamed to feel so weak, but very grateful to climb into my sleeping bag! I elected to skip the 1280 m climb to the glacier the next day, and snuggled back into my sleeping bag with tea when the others got up at 5am to make the ascent.

They came back with stories of bracing cold and a sadhu holy man in the shrine wearing only sandals. Mahesh and the porters climbed the highest before the cold turned them back too. It did not take anyone long to decend, and we started the walk back to Dwali in the early morning.
Finally, I got to enjoy some of the fantastic scenery and Nick pointed out where he was sure he had seen a big cat on a cliff on the way up. We saw only monkeys. Back at Dwali, the rain started but the hut keeper, chanting nonsense words (chinky-chinky-pinky?), built a campfire to dry the late arriving trekkers, including two guys with fascinating tales of their travels in Ethiopia and Kazakhstan.

The next day was a 20 km walk, down past Khati and back up 2395 m to Dhakuri and it felt pretty easy. I guess I was finally feeling better! We stopped for chai tea and they asked if we could help a boy with a cut foot. Dr Harvey to the rescue! Billy loved taking care of the fellow; steri-strips, antiseptic and a stern lecture about staying off the foot. Later we had Maggi noodles in a courtyard dhaba, where the locals were as fascinated by us as we were by them. The sun came out late in the afternoon and we brought out sleeping bags outdside the rest house to lay on the grass and read. Ali cried when she finished Phillip Pullman's Amber Spyglass and Nick made progress on the mammoth Game of Thrones he carried throughout the trek.

We packed up early the next morning to go up the pass again and begin the long decent to Song - 4527 m over 15 km. Billy worried about his knees, but he was fine. Perhaps the promise of beer in Bageshwar kept him motivated. We greeted Reis with cheers when he met us with the taxi in Song.

A day at back in Bhimtal lounging around the Country Inn hotel - glorious hot showers, soft beds and shiny bathrooms, but the construction noise drove us crazy.


Mahesh offered to guide again and we were off to Nanital, to buy scarves, wooden boxes and the pizza we had craved on the trek. Negotiations were always more successful under his eye, but he never approved of what we would consider a reasonable tip for food or taxis and kept giving us our money back! Mahesh gave us cultural insight into India that we'd never recognise on our own and we missed his company when we explored on our own. I hope we will get him to visit us in the UK on a break from his Business Administration degree.

At first, Nick and Ali were pretty uncomfortable on the streets. They were terrified of the beggars and just did not know how to respond to strangers touching them. They were conscious that people were always looking at them and felt it was intrusive for them to wander through the village looking at people, so they avoided meeting anyone's eyes.

But after a while, they recognised the stares were just curiousity and most everyone would return a smile or "Namaste". We met people on the lake in Bhimtal and Sattal that asked Nick and Ali to pose for photographs with their families, and school children chatted to us on the walk to and from the village - testing out their English.




This was a trip to remember!



For more photos see Billy's blog www.billharvey.blogspot.com






2 comments:

tjohn said...

Toni,

You have been generous on your comments about my contribution to your trek. I would like to belive I deserved the praise.

Tagore

freddie said...

WOW, the trip sounds great!! thanks to share it with the rest of the world...
freddie from Italy