By Anindya Mukherjee
Anindya Mukherjee blogs on his trek to the Sunderdhunga Valley in May 2012.Anindya is an avid trekker with a deep routed interest in trekking in Himalayas along his wife & daughter. He is 38 years of age & currently working in Indian Oil corporation.
To lose oneself amidst nature one has to go someplace where there are no known faces, everything is new and nature is at its splendid best. Some place where there is no sorrow for the things which we did not get in life but the heart is filled with happiness from seeing a beautiful small flower, a stream from the side path, some unknown birds chirping and blue skies amidst snow clad mountains.
Every year we love to go out and lose ourselves among the beautiful Himalayas and this year was no exception. I call myself someone with mind in the Himalayas and body in the plains. In the month of May, 2011 we started for our piece of Himalayan adventure carrying our rucksacks, trek boots and sticks. Adventure is what keeps us ticking and we love our yearly adventure. We mean me and my better half. We had initially planned for Pindari and Kafni trek but ended up doing Sundardhunga instead.
We had managed a long leave of two weeks and we left for Delhi from Kolkata on 30th of May evening. It was a very hot summer day in Kolkata and Delhi was even hotter. Our flight landed on time and we took a prepaid cab to Delhi station to catch our night train to Kathgodam. Our train tickets got confirmed at the last moment. After a good nights sleep we were at the Kathgodam station early in the morning.
The Road Journey - 31st May, 6 am - we started on our onward journey to Bageshwar by the lone shared jeep. The driver had been informed by our guide, Nandan singh Danu of our arrival and offered us the middle seats which we shared with one lady. It was a beautiful journey and we enjoyed it thoroughly. We went via Ranikhet, Almora, and reached Bageswar at 1 pm in the afternoon. After a brief halt for lunch we started onwards for our journey to Loharkhet. After changing jeeps midway at Bharari and Saung we reached Loharkhet KMVN in the evening. A big group of American trekkers had camped there. We spent the evening gazing at the stars, enjoying the cool mountain breeze and slept early.
DAY 1 - 1st May: - First day of our trek and we started early after having tea and biscuits. The first day’s trek was up to Dhakuri.
It was a gradual climb of 7 kms to cross a small pass called Dhakuri Top and then go down 2 kms to Dhakuri Campsite. Sun was up and the weather was getting hot. There is an initial climb from just behind the KMVN bungalow which is steep but levels out after a few meters. You can see the PWD bungalow being constructed below. The jungle starts almost immediately and it is a continuous hike up. We stopped after 40 minutes and 2 kms at a roadside stall and had our breakfast of Maggie and omelets. This place has a stream of water coming from top of the hills and the water was sweet. The tea prepared by the owner of the stall was superb. We met a group of trekkers coming back from Sundardhunga who encouraged us to attempt for Sundardhunga. We decided to do Sundardhunga and our guide reluctantly agreed. We reached Dhakuri pass after a long walk through rhododendron forests. We reached the Dhakuri top at around 1 pm after a hike of 5 hours. You get BSNL mobile signal at the top and that was the last point we got any decent signal, although now the mobile connectivity has reached up to Ritang village. The climb down to the Dhakuri Forest bungalow campsite was fast and we reached at 2 pm.
We found Dhakuri to be the most beautiful campsite before until we saw Baluni top in the later part of our trek. There was 180 degrees view of Himalayan peaks and it was a lovely sight. Had lunch and rested in our tent. There we met a family from Delhi, a couple with two kids who had trekked up to Dhakuri and were there for the last two days. Had a wonderful dinner and slept peacefully in the tent.
DAY 2 - 2nd May: - Our morning started with a hot cup of tea that was handed over to us by our guide and this ritual continued the entirety of our trek. My wife loved her morning cup of tea and confessed to be feeling like a queen. Today’s trek path was a level walk and we started at 8 in the morning after a breakfast of parantha and sabji. The path was an initial descent for 1 km and then leveled out. There were villages on the way where you get tea, biscuits, toffees etc. Midway we met kids returning from school. The only primary school of the area was in Umla village and the kids had radiant smile on their lovely faces although they were wearing torn clothes. After exchange of greetings they extended their hands for the “mithai”, toffees that we had in abundance. It is really wonderful to see that how a toffee can bring a million dollar smile on the faces of these children. After a 3 kms hike from Umla we heard the sound of a flowing river. We could see the Pindar River and took a bypass route by the side of the river and went towards the route for Sundardhunga glacier. The path is by the side of the river and well marked. We went towards the Sundardhunga valley and after a 2 km walk we reached the confluence of the Pindar and Sundardhunga River called Waubham. Here there is a wooden bridge over Sundardhunga.
From here it is slightly upward hike towards Ritang village, the home of our very able guide. After having lassi and then tea we roamed around the village. The village folks were very friendly and chit-chatted with us. Today’s trek involved 13 kms hike and it took us 6 hrs.
Day 3 - 3rd May: - We started after breakfast toward Jatoli village, the last village in the Sundardhunga route. Today was a short trek of 5 kms and we walked slowly and enjoyed the views.
As Ritang village and other villages in the vicinity there was no electricity. A man made channel was made on the way through which water was diverted of the Sundardhunga river and use it to produce hydel power. We walked over that channel. After the channel ends we got down and the path was all an uphill hike. Today we were with three porters with ration, tent and our guide was accompanying us. We reached Jatoli at 12 pm after a 4 hr hike. Jatoli turned out to be a beautiful village with a primary school, a temple and some 20-30 houses.
A KMVN bungalow was being built and was under completion. We roamed around the village taking in the fresh air of the land. Altitude of Jatoli is at 8500 ft. We stayed the night in the hotel cum home of famous guide Shri. Pushkar Singh. Beyond Jatoli the route is not suitable for ponies so one must take porters with you. Also the path is not so well defined so a guide in this route is must.
DAY 4 - 4th May: – We had an early breakfast and started towards Kathaliya, 18 kms away. This route is very less frequented by trekkers but I must tell you that this is indeed one of the most beautiful yet challenging treks you can have in Kumaon region. Met some local guys carrying ‘keeda-ghas” or ‘ Asha-gambu” one kind of medicinal plant found high in the mountains in the snow and is very costly in the black market. It is used to make some Chinese medicines. Himalaya has its many wonders and this is one of them. People here take needless risks in pursuit of such things. We crossed numerous streams on the way and negotiating some of them had its moments of tension and nervousness. The whole route goes through forest cover. Around midway we had to go down to the riverbed of Sundardhunga and walk over boulders for a long time. Here there is no defined path but you must find your way through boulders. It started raining and we had our lunch sheltered below a huge rock. Rain persisted and we started to walk with our raincoats on. After crossing the boulder zone we entered a forest area. Suddenly we saw smoke coming out from a hut in the middle of the jungle. It was Dhunia-dhong, we had reached midway. After crossing the jungle there is a climb down to the river bed followed with a steep climb from the river bed and crossing one huge waterfall cascading down. We finally reached Kathaliya, our stop for the night after a trek of almost
Sundardhunga River is formed of the Maiktoli nala formed from the Maiktoli glacier and Sukhram nala formed near the Sukhram caves. Both Sukhram nala and Maiktoli glacier/ base camps are 1 day treks from kathaliya, 9kms/11 kms from kathaliya respectively. We took shelter for the night in the thatched hut of one of the shepherds. Soup was served with potato chips and our dampening mood was uplifted. Rains continued through the evening and into the night. We could not sleep well and woke up early the next day.
DAY 5 - 5th May: - This was one of the most disappointing mornings of my life. The rains were lashing down and weather gods were playing spoilsport to our aspiration of seeing some of the most beautiful mountains of the region. We had to go out for the morning rituals and hopes started to fade with passage of time. At one point of time we really felt that we would have to go back without seeing anything and all our efforts will be in vain. After morning breakfast, we discussed whether to go up to Baluni top in this weather or not. Our guide Nandan said, “ Dekho saabji, agar weather khul jata hai aur barish bandh ho jati hai to upar challenge, nahito upar is weather me janeka koi faida nahi hai. Kuch bhi nahi dikhega aur dangerous bhi hai upar jana”. In a span of 15 to 20 minutes, the weather cleared up and we were overjoyed and started our upward journey towards Baluni top.
This part was really tricky as we had to negotiate an initial slope of 60 degrees for the first few hundred metres of our journey. When we looked up I thought, how can we go up on this steep slope? But soon we were on our way negotiating the slope with the help of the long grass and branches of trees as support. The route was a shepherd’s trail through shrubs and bushes and was very tricky. The climb up was taking its heavy toll on my wife who was panting for breath. After climbing for 40-45 minutes we got the first glimpse of the snow clad mountains, feeling that now our trek is really successful. Panting and slipping we finally climbed up to Baluni Top after 3 hrs of hike.
This was indeed one of the finest Bughyals I have seen to date, green grass all around and surrounded by the mighty snow clad peaks Maiktoli, Panwalidwar,Mrigthuni Durgakot,Tharkot ,Tent peak etc. We could also see the Maiktoli glacier and the Sukhram nala. The view was breathtaking to say the least and we really fell in love with the view.
As the porters were coming late we sat there, offered puja and took shelter in the shepherd’s hut. There was lot of sheep and mountain goats as company along with the shepherds who had brought them up. They offered us tea as we enjoyed the view. Soon tents and ration arrived and we really enjoyed a sumptuous lunch and rested in our tent. When we came out of the tent in the evening, light was fading and the sheep’s and goats were grazing around. Two shepherd dogs were seen running around playing with each other. In the fading light we enjoyed a beautiful view of the mountains.
DAY 6 - 6th May: - Today we were to attempt Devikund, a mystic lake few kms away. The distance is approximately 4 to 5 kms but could be more. There was no defined path and we had to find our way. We started with some packed lunch and crossed few beautiful small ice patches and glacial frozen streams on the way.
The path was tough and was taking its toll. If new to this trail, the services of a reliable guide is a must.Our guide urged us to move ahead and we reached the lake hidden among the ridge.
After an arduous trek of 4 hours we performed puja with toffees and agarbattis and sat for a few minutes along the bank of the lake. It was a surreal feeling. We felt it to be god’s own place and we felt intruding. We started back and on the way had some fun on the glaciers. We reached camp. We enjoyed the evening and the moonlight night before retiring to our tent and sleeping bags.
DAY 7 - 7th May: - Today was a very long and tiring day as we had to walk for 21 to 22 kms. We came down to Kathaliya and continued walking all the way back to Jatoli. It started raining on the way back heavily. We reached Jatoli in torrential rain and it was a cold and damp evening. Soon arrangement were made for a fire to warm us up. We had food and retired straight to bed.
DAY 8 - 8th May: - started late and reached Khati village in the afternoon. This is a very big village in the Pindari route and has a few places to stay.
The weather was clear and we enjoyed the lunch and sat in the sun. Strolled in the Khati village in the evening and walked a few kms toward the pindari route and came back to our hotel. We had some alu pakodas in the evening and a fulfilling dinner.
DAY 8 – 9th May: - Today we reached back to Dhakuri.
Day 9 - 10th May: - Today we reached Loharkhet and were back to Bageshwar. We visited famous Shiva temple, Bajnath in Bageshwar and the location of the confluence of the Saryu and Gomti rivers.
11Th May: - Caught the early morning jeep to kathgodam and the night train to Delhi. Thus ended our beautiful trek to the Sundardhunga valley and we were back to the chaotic city life.
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