Life on the Edge – A Trek To Gidara

It all started after I posted on facebook that I am free for at least one week during June and would like to go for a trek. Surprisingly, by evening I received two suggestions regarding possible trekking routes that are doable in June from friends who were equally frustrated with mundane city life and ever soaring temperature in Delhi.

Enthused about the prospects, we (Vibhor, Kaushik, Parul, Mokshada and I) decided to meet at Barista opposite IIT Delhi, on 04th June. Most of the destructive/constructive ideas that we get, evolve from this cruel place.

We discussed the two options before us. Out of the two, I had already done the “ROOP KUND” trek way back in 2001 and Vibhor had done the other one. After a lot of brain-storming, we finally decided an interesting itinerary which would take us through two of the most famous high altitude Bhugyals (meadows) and through the snow covered Himalayan peaks spanning a total distance of approx. 95 kms over 8 days.

We decided to cross the Bamsarukhal pass.

We had read many experiences shared by trekkers about this trek route and almost everybody seemed to start the trek from Agoda to Dodital to Bamsarukhal and descending back through Gidara- Dayara. Since I had already gone to Dodital last October, we thought why not try to make it the other way round – Starting from Dayara and coming back through Dodital – Agoda. Now, it  was a real challenge.

Another equally compelling reason for starting the trek from Dayara was that in case we fail to cross the Bamsarukhal pass due to harsh weather or any other reason, at least we will get a chance to visit Gidara which in itself are beautiful Bhugyals spread over miles and since no one of us had been to Gidara earlier, everybody agreed to the idea immediately.

Keeping all the scenarios & constraints in mind, we drew the following itinerary:

Day 1-  Barsu – Dayara ( 4000 mts,)

Day 2- Dayara – Polotona ( 4100 mts ,)

Day 3- Polotona – Gidara (4200 mts,)

Day 4 – Gidara – Bamsarukhal Pass – Bamsarukhal Base (4300 mt)

Day 5 – Bamsarukhal Base – Bingad (4000 mts)

Day 6 – Bingad – Darwa Top – Dodital (3300 mts)

Day 7 –  Dodital  – Agoda (2300 mts)

Day 8 – Agoda – Uttarkashi

Considering we had only 10 days delhi to delhi, this could be considered a very tight schedule with not a single day for rest in between. Also, we had a fair idea that it will be very difficult to cross the Bamsarukhal Pass because of snow and unpredictable weather.

We had only a weeks’ time to plan everything which included,

  1. Procuring all the equipments – tents, sleeping bags, Ruck-sacks, Food items, Ice-axe, Stoves, kerosene (which is the most difficult item to find in Delhi) and other crucial items.
  2. Finding a capable guide and porters for this route – which we could finalise only on 10th June, the day we left from Delhi.
  3. Deciding who is going and who is not.
  4. And most importantly ensuring that your boss is fine when you are back, because you are insulated from the world for 7 days. J

From Delhi to the Cradle of Gods

We finally leave from Delhi on 10th June 2011.

The first setback came as soon as we reached ISBT Delhi. The ISBT is under renovations and the tickets are available only on the Ticket window – Thanks to MS Shiela Dixit. Fine, I reached the window and to my horror there are approximately 500 people trying to get hold of one person at the window with only one bus to Rishikesh at the bay. On enquiring we understood that Haridwar highway is blocked since this afternoon – Thanks to Baba Ramdev and his comrades. We wasted no time and hired a taxi to Rishikesh. We hired another taxi from Rishikesh to Uttarkashi and by afternoon we were at Uttarkashi.

The next job was to meet our Guide who was supposed to meet us there and arrange for Porters and have a final check on the supplies that we were taking with us.

The Guide – Mr Mahendra – A young and smart NIM (Nehru Institute of Mountaineering) trained chap came and greeted us at the Taxi stand and we planned rest of the things over Lunch at a hotel in the vicinity.

We learned that our guide for this trip – Mr. Sunder Singh will meet us at Barsu village from where we will start the trek on foot. Also, we were short of some supplies which we procured from Uttarkashi and headed towards Barsu.

We reached Barsu at around 1630 hours and checked in to the GMVN rest house. The last place where we could enjoy all the luxuries (Even having a bath can be considered a luxury here) which we were to miss for the coming one week and we did exactly that.

We met our guide and porters and discussed the entire plan over a cup of coffee. Mr Sunder Singh also had the same opinion that we will not be able to cross the Bamsarukhal Pass. In fact looking at us, he was more than convinced that even if we reach Gidara and come back safely, we should consider ourselves lucky. In fact it was the first trek for this season to Gidara and he was very apprehensive of the fact that it can be done in Mid-June. I am not sure what he was more concerned about – the weather or our fitness levels. Both were crucial for this trip to succeed.

We went to bed after making sure we had everything we would need over the next one week and praying that weather gods will not mess around too much.

I have seen Barsu develop from a very ordinary village in 2003 to a prosperous self-sufficient village in 2010.  I was scared to death when a young driver tried to manoeuvre sharp turn on the dusty uphill road from Bhatwari to Barsu on my last trip. This time I was pleasantly surprised to see a two way road which is a treat to drive. Most importantly people are more optimistic and cheerful. The village now has a GMVN guest house and a private Resort. It was good to know that Barsu was awarded the “Adarsh Gram award” in 2009 and is setting example for nearby villages.

 

Day 1 – Through the Woods towards the Bhugyals:

We had planned to leave early morning at 0700 hrs so that we have enough time during the day for rest. The first day of any trek is one of the difficult parts as the body needs time to adjust to the sudden change in altitude and weather.  To our disappointment, we woke up to see clouds hovering in the beautiful valley and as soon as we finished breakfast it was raining heavily. It was really heart breaking. We waited for almost 2 hours for rains to finally stop and started our journey at around 0930 hrs. Little did we know that this trip will be one of the best trips of our life.

We had our first halt after we crossed the village and entered the beautiful jungle full of Pine & Rhododendrons. The point of discussion was that we should plan such excursions more often not because it is unmatchable but because we were panting like wild dogs. We crossed the jungle in approximately 4 hrs which is full of Himalayan birds. It is a treat to hear the voice of Tits & Woodpeckers & Eurasian Jays at that place. I was missing my telephoto lens which I had left at home to avoid unnecessary weight or I could have spent one full day clicking the pictures of beautiful birds around.

We reached Bharnala at around 1300 hrs which was our first milestone. Bharnala is situated at an altitude of approximately 3500 fts and marks the end of tree line at this trip in the sense that you will not find any tall trees after this point. Only shrubs, beautiful green grass and small wild flowers. This also means that the Oxygen is thin and one needs to careful regarding the vital body signs indicating problems.

While leaving from Delhi, we had packed some Puris and Aloo Bhaji which we thought would serve as Lunch for Day 1. And I can’t even explain how tasty those Pooris seemed at that moment. After about half an hour of feasting we were back on track towards Dayara which was only 1 hrs walk from Bharnala. We reached Dayara at around 1500 hrs and pitched our tents near a stream of water. Later we learned that it was the only stream in Dayara at that point of time. This meant that snow is not melting fast and we are heading for trouble. Another disappointment came when we learned that one of our cans in which we were carrying kerosene was leaking. We somehow managed to transfer remaining kerosene into spare water bottles we were carrying. But this could mean a disaster later.

Dayara is a collection of beautiful green meadows (called Bhugyals in local language) spread over miles. This place also serves well for skiing enthusiasts from the nearby areas during winters. The Govt. Of Uttarakhand has been trying to develop this place as a Skiing destination like Auli for many years but has not been successful so far since it is far from the reach of common people – Thanks to the steep climb from Barsu which is hindering the development of this place. Govt. had also floated tenders some years back inviting Private companies to build a Ropeway from Barsu to Dayara; however no one has come up with a commercially viable solution so far. And I sincerely hope they don’t succeed.

 

The next morning we woke up to a clear sky and decided to stroll around before packing up for the day’s climb. The beauty of this place is beyond words. It is full of beautiful green grass as far as you can see with occasional tinkering of white & yellow flowers.

Day -2.  Dayara – Siyari – Polotona

We started at around 0730 ahead of our porters who were still packing up the things not sure if we will reach Polotona or we will pitch at Siyari. That would depend on our speed, availability of water at Siyari and the general strength level of the team. It so happens on every trek that your baggage increases in volume and weight on the second day. It becomes very difficult to pack the things like earlier. Most of it is psychological though – basically you are tired after a very abnormal first day and the muscles are stretched beyond routine.  But other factors like the dew in the night which has drenched the outer of your tent contribute equally.

Second day is usually the toughest in terms of the efforts required to complete it. However, from Dayara to Siyari the route is the easiest of the entire trek. You just climb the first mountain and then it is like walking on the ridges up and down and one side of every mountain which faces the sun is a Bhugyal and the other side deprived of sunshine is a dry cliff. We climbed the first mountain which the locals have termed as the “MUSADHANGI”- which means mountain with a lot of mouse. We could easily locate their habitat all around but didn’t get a chance to see any Himalayan mouse. If you are on hills and see something which looks like a beautiful small grey rabbit but without a tail – be sure it is the Himalayan mouse.

Almost lost in the beauty of the place and the magnificent tales Sunderji was telling about his previous expeditions to Bamsarukhal pass, we suddenly realised that the 3 of the porters have not crossed us and Siyari is just an hour away. Porters are usually quicker than you on the mountains. It was still 1230 and had already covered around 60% of the day’s task. We decided to halt till they come. After about half an hour the weather turned nasty. In no time there was a white out. We thought we should cover the ground quickly and reach Siyari so that if it starts raining we will be able to pitch the tent. The porters were still nowhere to be seen. We started fast and reached Siyari.

Sunderji, who was in a better shape than most of us asked – Sirji ab kya Karen?

We told him we can stay at Siyari but we need to make sure there is a stream flowing around. We already had the information that there is one stream in Siyari but it will be dry in June.

By now the visibility had dropped to around 10 fts.

Sunderji came back after 20 minutes and as expected he declared there is no water at Siyari.

That means we have no choice but to move ahead and reach Polotona as early as possible. The porters have not yet arrived. Our worst fears were surfacing in front of us up one by one.

We started moving towards Polotona which is not too far from Siyari, about an hour’s journey. We were about to reach Polotona when the weather cleared and the porters crossed us. They reached Polotona ahead of us and by the time we reached, tents were ready.

What happened during the day was an important lesson:

The porters thought we will walk slow and force the group to stay at Siyari imagining on their own that water will be available which didn’t happen. When they reached Siyari they understood we have walked ahead so they had no choice but to go to Polotona. Now in retrospect we realise we played a big gamble that day. Had we stayed at Siyari without making sure the availability of water, we would have slept hungry and the next day from Siyari to Gidara would have been impossible.

Everything had settled now. Me and Vibhor climbed a little mountain and spent the better part of the evening enjoying the dancing white & grey clouds in front of us. In no time it was dark and we came down to enjoy the tastiest tomato soup I have ever had.

We were smiling during dinner discussing the day’s events and were sure this is going to be one trip to remember.

 

Day -3.  The Summit day and more:

We knew well in advance that the climb from Polotona to Gidara is tough through many landslides and we were also aware of the fact that less water on the hills means thers is snow above which will add to the woes.

We prepared ourselves for the day and left early at around 0730 hrs after a heavier than usual breakfast. We were sure we will not halt for lunch today and will cover maximum distance in the first half of the day because rains have been testing us almost every day after noon. Thankfully everybody was fit.

After about an hour’s walk the tree line vanished completely. We were overjoyed when we saw the first patches of snow but soon realised this could be the end of the trek.

The porters who were walking ahead of us had gathered before a patch of snow approx. 20 ft long running along the slope of 70 degree throughout that hill.  The only way to move ahead was crossing this patch.  Since it was not fresh snow, it had become very hard and slippery. After the patch there is a 90 degree climb of approximately 15 fts. covered with grass which is wet and slippery from one side due to melting snow and the other side is 1000 ft. vertical cliff. Any slip while crossing the snow and you will find yourself slipping at least 1000 fts on the snow but you will live. If you slip while climbing the cliff, there is no way back.

Everybody gathered around and decided we will give it a try and if it feels too risky we will end the trip here.

We were heart-broken. We were carrying a rope which could help in such circumstances bit since there were no stones around; manually holding the rope seemed even more risky. We decided against it.

WE DID NOT HAVE AN ICE – AXE. And how much we missed that piece of metal there.

It took almost 45 minutes for everybody to cross those 20 fts. And Gidara is still 6-7 kms away.

We had realised that it may not be possible to reach Gidara and we may have to come back. What was bothering us more was that the more we are climbing ahead, the more painful it will be to come back to Polotona since there is no flat space to spend the night in between.

We crossed three more such patches of snow and had a little accident when Koushik slipped while crossing a patch of snow but recovered very fast after slipping few feets.

We were gaining confidence with every tricky cross and every vertical cliff. At 1300 hours we had covered 70 % of the days climb. Gidara was 3 kms away and we were standing against a 100 ft  80 degree cliff covered with grass which we knew was the toughest and if we cross it its downhill walk from the top to Gidara which is like a cake walk considering the days misadventures. At this point os time bad weather hits us. White out and visibility drops to few feets. The top of the cliff is not visible now nor the bottom which is anyway too far and one wouldn’t want to look while climbing up.

We were still in doubt when suddenly the porters started climbing up carrying 20 kgs on their back.

Everybody said just one thing- “Agar ye itna mushkil hai to dusri taraf kucch accha hi hoga. Jo hoga dekha jayega. Let’s do it.

It took us one hour to climb this dreadful cliff. But every time we stopped in between to catch our breath, the only thing that came to our mind was that once we are the top we just have to walk downhill towards Gidara. This kept us going.

We reached the top – Me and Parul at the end.

It took us few minutes to understand the situation before us. We literally felt like crying.

We were supposed to walk downhill on the beautiful slopes from here but as far as we could see the slopes were all covered with 2 feets of hard snow. There is only 2 fts margin throughout the cliff on which we are standing. On one side there is the cliff which we have just climbed and on the other side endless slopes covered with snow.

At this point it starts raining very heavily. We cover ourselves with Ponchos and sat there resting, motionless, nothing to speak, no idea whatsoever as to what to do next. Everything had gone numb. Rain turned into hail. Temperature down to near 0. Everything silent. Only the sound of snow balls hitting on our heads.

After about 15 minutes somebody said – “Mujhe Rassi se bandh do, mai jake dekhta hun barf kahan tak hai”

He tied the rope around him, we tied the other to one heavy stone. He starts sliding down. The rope was 40 fts long. After few seconds he is not visible to us. Few moments and the rope tightens.

He yells from below – “Koi chance nahin hai. Jahan tak dikh raha hai, barf hi hai.”

He comes back. Sunder ji goes for a walk along the ridge for around 500 mts and come back to us. “Ab Kya Karen”

We were like – We don’t know…. We had not imagined this in our worst imaginations. He says – “ Sirf ek rasta hai. Ridge pe age chalet hain. Kahin na kahin jake ye barf khatam hogi, wahan se niche utrenge.

We asked – “any idea how far that could be.”

He said “PATA NAHIN”

By now it was around 1430 hrs.

We had two choices – Come back to Polotona or start walking. We were too close to Gidara and coming back from that point was on nobody’s mind. Moreover, it was impossible to come back to Polotona after what had happened throughout the day. The only logical thing was to cautiously move ahead and find doable a pass towards Gidara. But we had no idea how far that could be.

We started again – towards Gidara. On that 2 ft edge. After about 1 km the edge widened a little which gave us some hope. Another kilometre and we saw a huge gap between Snow at some distance. Everybody cheered up. We started downhill through slippery slopes for about 1 km. By now clouds were gone and we could see the beautiful Gidara valley. Green on one side and snow on the other. We just could not wait to reach there. It took us only 1 hour to cover the rest of the 3 kms.

We were at Gidara. And we understood that reaching Gidara is worth every iota of what we had gone through the day. As Koushik would rightly explain it later:

“It is not beautiful, it is beyond that.”

Gidara is a collection of virgin meadows inhabitable for most part of the year. Shepherd (one or two at most) come here for four months starting late June when the snow has receded till early September till the fresh snowfall starts. They bring along with them herds of sheep as large as 500 nos each which roam around the slopes giving the place a unique feel of worthiness. The place is full of water streams all around. The melting snow from beneath creates many natural bridges of snow. One gets a breath-taking view of  “Bandar Punchh” , “Draupdi ka danda”, “Jonli” & “Shreekanth” peaks on one side and the beautiful valley covered with grass and snow on the other.Fuel – Wood/Kerosene is the most valuable commodity at this place. If it s frozen – fuel is equivalent of water. One famous trekker died in the absence of water because he didn’t have fuel to boil ice.

An interesting thing happened as soon as we reached Gidara and pitched our tents. We saw the entire herd of hundreds of sheep heading towards us. At first we were terrified, and then the guide told us they have come in search of salt which they like and can smell from a distance.

We spent that evening like never before at a place like no other. Absolutely satisfied.

We were sure by now that passing through Bamsarukhal is impossible. We planned the next day accordingly.

Day – 4. Spent Very close to Heaven:

The next day we planned to leave the tents at Gidara and climb ahead as much as possible towards Bamsarukhal Pass and come back by evening. We carried our Cameras and other basic necessities and started climbing at 0800 hrs. Had a look at the Bamsarukhal pass and started descending by noon. By 1530 we reached the camp. The achievement of the day was that at a place where you will not see any woods as far as you can see, we managed to gather enough wood to have a bonfire at night which will also serve as firewood for preparing dinner. Remember we had lost kerosene on day 1 and by now we had kerosene enough for only one day’s consumption.

At 1700 hrs we started the bonfire, had soup followed by dinner cooked on the bonfire with everyone surrounding it. That was the last day of the trek and the bonfire continued till late night with everybody sharing their experiences – good & bad about life on the hills.

As usual, Parul went to sleep as soon as the topic turned to “The haunted” but the bonfire continued till late…very late.

Day 5 – Back to the wild civilization:

We started at 0800 hrs from Gidara and after a very tough day which saw us descending nearly 6000 fts and 18-20 kms through Bhangeli and Gangnani, we reached Barsu late in the evening. We crossed two beautiful valleys during the day and it was very tiring.

We reached Barsu late in the evening. Checked into the Resort and washed ourselves after a long time. Over dinner Sunderji told us that we have created 5 new records for him which he would not like to break in near future. Considering we were the first group to completer Barsu-Gidara-Barsu trek this season of 2011, I would consider doing it in 5 days was a real achievement.

Thanks to the wonderful team – Parul (my wife), Vibhore & Koushik. Sundersingh ji – our guide, Sureshji, who would cook that tasty food for everyone after the days task, and all the four porters.

This was one trip I would cherish all my life.

For better pictures with proper Tags, please visit my photo album at Facebook at the link below :

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