Friday, September 28, 2012

Auden's Trail through Shiva's Matted Locks-II

Continued from Part I


Day 7- Upper Ghora Gad Valley Entrance (4600M)- Basisi Bend (5050M) (5 Km)


The skies were finally clearing up. We were looking forward to a great day of long-march that could potentially put us close to the snout of the Basisi Glacier- the farthest and Eastern-most glacier of the Nelang watershed.

(Shepherd shelter ahead of campsite, before Suraji Nala)
Our plan was to explore the inner sanctum of the Basisi (W) Glacier and go over the southern ridge wall to enter the Saraswati valley almost near the Mana Pass- the International Border. We needed to get close to this glacier as early as possible, before the weather turned for the worse.

The climb ahead of the campsite was a biting one involving many scrambles over boulders. About 2 Kms later we came upon a lovely campsite. There was a shepherd shelter there which looked un-visited for a long time; perhaps, ever since the1962 Chinese aggression.

(The frozen Suraji nala coming from Suraji Bamak)
Another hour of scrambling over loose rocks, getting to the river bed and crossing over the not-so-deep Ghora Gaad we gained the right bank that led us to another green meadow. Towards one edge of the meadow was a little rock structure that shepherds usually use for shelter.


On the other side was the long valley-entrance of Suraji Glacier. The waters of the Suraji Nala coming from there had a thick cover of snow. The skies inside the little enclosed valley looked fogged out. If we went directly into the Suraji area in the southerly direction, we would have to cross the 6000 mtr high ridge and then drop down to Tara Glacier and New Jagraon Post. This was a short cut to where we wanted to reach 5 days later.

(Stinger of a climb ahead of Suraji confluence on right bank)
The climb was a stinger after the quick lunch at Suraji shepherd-camp grounds. The route ahead is on the right bank (the side we were in) over a rocky boulder strewn area. By now the landscape looks decidedly Tibetian; massive but easy angles of brown rock-slopes and random patches of snow on them.

Far ahead to the East I could now see the bounding ridge that defined the eastern extremity of Basisi E Glacier. Beyond that was Tibet! We were having the first views of the IB (International Boundary). We were reaching the very edge of our nation’s frontiers! Still gives me Goosebumps, just recalling that feeling.
(Meadow on right bank after climb- 5000M)


The route soon lost some altitude and landed us onto a rocky meadow. We were leveling close to the river now. The valley widened out and seemed to be veering rightwards to the south, about a kilometer ahead. We were looking at the “Basisi Bend”- that sharp turn to the south at the eastern extreme of the Ghora Gad valley. This is where the shapely Basisi Glacier gurgles out its waters from its forked formation- The Basisi West and the Basisi East Glaciers

(Basisi bend camp by riverside- 5050M)

The route on ground was following our well-researched GPS plot with an accuracy of about 5 odd meters. Few hundred yards further ahead, a lovely campsite was visible on the far bank. We decided to make a beeline for that lovely meadow by the riverside after a easy crossover of the Ghora Gaad river.

Today was one of our longest walks; of about 6 Kms. We were back to the true-left, the altitude was now 5050M and we were within striking distance of the Basisi W Glacier.

Day 8- Basisi Bend (5050M)- Basisi W Glacier Snout (5350M) (3 Km)


As one takes the sweeping turn to the right, going upriver at Basisi Bend, one is suddenly made aware of the relative puniness of one’s own being against the Himalayan dimensions all around. The valley walk had ended. It was time to scale some height rapidly.
Army LRP route to the left of the hill
Our route to the right of the hill


Straight ahead to the east we could see the cairn set by the Army-men. That would lead to the Basisi East Glacier- whose eastern extreme was the International border with China.  The Long Range Patrol teams of the ITBP follow that route to directly descend upon the Mana Pass.

(Crossing the Basisi Bend)
Diplomatically, ours was a slightly less adventurous route. We were to follow the valley floor turning right towards the south and enter the undocumented Basisi W Glacier. At its southern extremity lay the imposing walls of the Mana Dhar with a spur leading to its very top. We hoped that it would offer an easy non-technical climb and help us crossover the mighty obstacle. If weather, time and team health supported us, we may even be able to scale the Twin Peaks of the Blue Mountain (On the eastern extremity of the Mana Dhar). From the top of the Mana Dhar ridge, it would be an easy snow-trudge.

Within an hour we began a steep climb on the heaps of the boulders that defined the terminal moraine of the Basisi W Glacier. The glacier snout was somewhere high above. No one was talking. All the chirpiness of the team was gone. The sharp climb was forcing us all to focus hard on the task at hand.

(Terminal moraine of Basisi W Glacier)
Looking at the pace of the porter team, I wasn’t quite sure if we would be able to reach our intended base camp, The Basisi Kund. The route ahead was un-explored, we had no idea what to expect. We chose to remain on the right-lateral moraine ridge rather than getting down to the glacier floor.

By about noontime we reached a small meadow, which would perhaps be 100 meters on each side. A small stream flowed silently in the middle emanating from a small field of melting snow pinnacles – each not more than a foot high. The porters’ train was moving up laboriously, the Basisi Bend area looking far and deep below them.
(Reaching Bugyal Camp at 5350 near Basisi snout)

The GPS showed the Basisi Kund to be still 3 Kms away. After compensating the ground aberrations, I assumed the actual distance to be close to 3.5 Kms. The route ahead was full of loose scree and was looking to be forever winding heavenwards.

Soon clouds started rolling in from the south.

Rather than risking a mis-adventure I decided to camp for the day. We had already gained 300 meters, we had a decent campsite, the weather was turning for the worse and the porters had not yet arrived!
(The trickle of a stream and Basisi Bend far below)

Kalyani suffered a minor injury that day while helping to setup camp. Jaisingh and Janak went ahead to do a recee till Basisi Kund area even as a mild snowfall started recoloring everything around to a drab Black-and-White.

The only prayer that went up silently that night was for the weather gods. If we had a few bad days now, all our plans shall be up in smokes.




climbing towards Basisi Kund in Asia


Day 9- Basisi W Glacier Snout (5350M)- Basisi Kund (5585M) (3 Km)


(En route Basisi Kund)
Although the route along the right lateral moraine rises up constantly, the climb was not the challenge. It was the loose scree on highly exposed slopes that we had to face soon thereafter!

After an hour’s snow trudge from the previous camp we arrived at a rocky platform where the view of the Basisi W Glacier opened up in front of us- a massive virgin snowfield, spread over about 6 Sq Kms. We were on its Eastern side. The Western ridge wall that separates it from Suraji Glacier was appearing close to our right. What a view that was!

Another hour of arduous labor brought us to a high platform at about 5650 M. The view of the Southern Ridge wall now opened up. That was the Mana Dhar; our ultimate objective. Beyond that, was the Saraswati Valley and our exit route to Badrinath.

(View of Basisi Kund area, ridge at centre frame was
planned route. Actual was to the right)
Few more meters of walk opened up the view of large water body, nestled right below the ridge wall that we were gawking at so far. Google Earth proved correct yet again. The frozen pond was indeed looking like 160 Meters long and 60 meters wide. We were having the first glimpses of the Basisi Kund. The altitude read just below 5600M.

As we went about setting up the camp, three men went ahead to carry out a recee for the next day. One of our porters was complaining of stomach pain, bringing back horrendous memories of the Guptkhal trek.

“कुछ नहीं होगा सर, इसको गैस हो गया है। अज्वैन और जड़ी बूटी वाली चाय पिलाता हूँ इसे। थोड़ी  ही देर में  ठीक हो जायेगा।” Said Jaisingh.

(Praying for good weather and team health - Basisi Kund)
I only hoped and prayed. We did have a backup plan though. If the guy falls really ill, we could send back some of the porters to Nilapani. They could perhaps handle the downhill march in a single day.

By evening, all worries were put to rest. Vinod and party came back reporting that they have found a reasonably easy route that led up from the glacier floor. By late evening, Jaisingh reported that the porter had recovered from his flatulence. 

Day 10- Basisi Kund (5585M)- Basisi Col (5900M)- Blue Mountain Hollow( 5750M) (3 Km)


The morning broke sunny and nice; just the kind of weather one hopes for on the summit day. The route plan was discussed as we geared up for the tough climb ahead.
(Route to Basisi Col)

We had to get down to the glacier floor to about 5600 M and then march up till the foot of the Mana Dhar at about 5700M. From there we would attempt a diagonal ascent to the top of the prominent saddle that was plotted at about 5900M. Everything looked fine except for the problem of loose scree.

Imagine putting your foot on any large looking rock on that slope only to find it sliding down; taking down few other rocks along with it!  Every single rock out there seemed ready to be loosened just as one touched it.
(View before getting down to Glacier floor)

The Cwm of the Basisi W Glacier has a lovely layout. It is not too large, gently undulating and all covered with a thick layer of virgin snow. On the one side are the brown rocky walls of Mana Dhar and on the other side, the lovely snow capped peaks. It was a small snow kingdom of its own; a typical cranny of the majestic Himalayas.

We needed to reach the top as soon as possible, before the afternoon weather took over. In spite of the terrible obstacle of the loose scree, we did manage to reach the top in the nick of time. The clouds were beginning to roll in when we stood on top of “Basisi Col”- 5900M.
(Loose Scree all the way till top)

We had achieved the objective. Our hands folded in prayer to the Great Mountain for having allowed us this far. This was a personal pilgrimage for me. I had promised myself this difficult objective as a way of praying to the mountain to for the well being of my father. Standing there at the summit ridge I mumbled something to the camera, some prayer perhaps even as the eyes clouded out.

Ahead to the East we could see the brown hills of Tibet- totally devoid of snow; a sharp contrast with the view south towards the Saraswati Valley. The Mana Pass area looked so far below.
(Basisi Col 5900 M- ridge leading to Tara Peaks behind))

A large glacier led away into the Tibet plateau near the pass. On its left bank would be the century old trade route that went to Guge and Toling Math in Tibet. Invariably, in all travel writings about this area, one finds the mention of the treasures of gold that used to be in this monastery at Toling.

One wonders, if the association of Kuber- the God of wealth, with the upper Alaknanda valley had anything to do with the priceless treasures of Toling in the olden days! A point worth noting is that, the Kinnaur valley too is just about 30 odd kilometers away westwards from Toling Math. “Kinners” or “Kinnaurs” according to the Hindu mythology are the attendant army of Kuber- The God of Wealth. He rules over the mythical city “Alakapuri” – the name of the glacier from which river Alakananda emanates in the current day.
(The Border and Mana Pass- Left is Tibet, Right is India)

Was it possible that Kuber was a real character?  Did he have any connect with this historically prosperous City of Gold at Toling? Were the people of Kinnaur valley at sometime part of this prosperous Kingdom?  I was lost in such thoughts looking at the far away northeastern horizons where the fabled city lay.

In another day we shall be on that path which many a traders, armies and bandits have followed in the heydays of business between the Mana- Badrinath region and the Kingdom of Guge at Toling.
(Begining descent for high camp)

Jaisingh had already identified a possible route of descent- the trickiest part in any expeditionary trek. The route looked comparatively easy and led us directly to the hollow at the bottom of the Blue Mountain on whose West-shoulder we were now standing at Basisi Col. The two tarns predicted by Google Earth were clearly visible. They could help set up a camp nearby.

In another hour we set up the highest camp of the trek – at 5750 M. This was even higher than our Guptkhal base camp!

The team was a little apprehensive about the proximity of the Chinese border.
(High camp at 5750M- Blue Mountain hollow)

रात को कोई China वाले बन्दुक ले कर तो नहीं आ जायेंगे?”- said Vinod
“भाई, no one in the team knows the route ahead. What if we enter China by mistake?” – said Bunty
“Did you think, anyone knew the route till now?”- I asked back with a smile.
“The only guy who knows the route in this team is this little device- this Garmin 62 S- handheld”- It was fun to pull his leg.

We were surely a chirpier lot that evening in spite of the biting cold. Climatically Nelang and Saraswati valley are entirely different- all because of the rain shadow that Mana Dhar creates.

Nelang is dry, comparatively grassier and slightly warmer too compared to what we were experiencing now. The Saraswati valley sees lot more snow and rain and the terrain is lot more devoid of life compared to the Nelang side at similar altitudes. The mercury dropped below -10 that night. It felt nice to imagine that Delhi was reeling under a 40-degree heat wave in the nights at that time.

Day 11- Blue Mountain Hollow( 5750M)- ITBP New Jagraon (5000 M) (12 Km)


Now we were homeward bound. The only little issue was about finding out the road. We knew that we were very close to the fair weather road that the BRO maintains till Mana Pass, may be just about 2 Kilometers.
(Panorama of snowfield leading to Saraswati Valley Balcony. The valley depression ahead is not visible from here)

A gentle slope led us to a raised snowfield from where the view opened up. Majestic looking Mt Saraswati and Mt Balbala were glistening in the sun with many subsidiary peaks in their attendance. The taller stalwarts of the area- MukutKamet and Mana were hidden behind towering outlines of these immediate neighbors.
(First view of Deo Taal and Roadhead)

What was appearing to be a flat snowfield slowly revealed the depression of the valley it was hiding. We arrived at a balcony sort of a platform from where we could now have the unobstructed view of the Saraswati valley to our right and the small bowl of a frozen lake that looked perfectly circular- Deo Taal, the glacial lake that gives birth to River Saraswati.

Dev-Saras” – mentions Sri Swami Tapovananam in his book, “Wanderings in The Himalayas”.

(Deo Taal from 200 Mtrs above)
He writes in that famous travelogue- “… There are few places in the Himalayas where one can enjoy the beauty of snow and ice as here. At that great height of 18000ft, on the shore of that celestial lake, surrounded by never-melting snow on all sides, I entered into a deep Samadhi induced by natural beauty, forgetting Kailash, forgetting the pilgrimage, forgetting the world and forgetting the body itself. ….”

I remembered the Dy Commandant of ITBP 12th Battallion telling us an interesting anecdote about this lake

“Do you know that people have done sail-boating in this lake Deo Taal that you will see on the way? You should also carry some sail boating stuff”- He said with a twinkle in his eyes.
(View towards Saraswati Valley and Badrinath from 5700M)

“ I know I know…one Mr Gautam Dutta I think”. I remembered the only picture of Deo Taal available in Google Earth during the days of expedition-research the previous year.

I was lost in those thoughts looking absentmindedly at the gorgeous view of Deo Taal and the Saraswati Valley further south. Compared to that, the area towards Tibet was looking a drab brown and purple.

“My country is beautiful!” I could not but help thinking out loud :-).
(Volley Ball on the shores of Deo Taal)

Soon the team gathered at the shores of Deo Taal where we caught up with the motor road that leads to Mana Pass. The Pass was about a Kilometer away from where we stood. After touching the motor road many of us kneeled down and kissed the earth in thanksgiving.

The hike downhill was almost in double fast forward. The landscape was a total contrast to what we had seen in the Nelang valley. Except for the motor road, almost everything else was snow covered. The only other colors were from the beautiful cerulean sky and the brown rocks.
(The winding road from Deo Taal to Jagraon)

We marched for another three hours and 10 Kilometers to reach the Army FRP hut at ITBP-New Jagraon Post. We weren’t going to pitch tents tonight; we had managed to find few well maintained Army  barracks that could provide shelter to the teamThe distant reflections from solar panels of the Rattakona ITBP Post were visible from there- 5 Kilometers away perhaps, we reckoned.

बस गाडी मिल जाये रत्ताकोना से …” the team was discussing animatedly. Now that the challenge was over, we were eager to get back home to our families.

Day 12-ITBP New Jagraon (5000 M)- Ghastoli (23 Km)- Badrinath


(Road to Badrinath snow bound)
The road ahead of Jagraon towards Badrinath would be a dream to drive on during better times of the season. At this point in time it was heavily snow covered.

Plodding through snow, just about a kilometer from Jagraon, we saw a team of ITBP Jawans coming up.

“Human beings at last!” exclaimed someone.
आप लोगों से मिल के बहुत ख़ुशी हुई। 10 दिन बाद कोई आदमी देखने को मिला। …” Bunty was shaking the hand of the lead ITBP guy effusively.
“आप लोगों का आने का messageकल ही पहुँच गया था हमें। आप लोग रत्ताकोना मैं  wait करें; वहां से हमारे ट्रक मैं आप को लिफ्ट मिल जायेगा ”.. said their team leader.
(Negotiating the icewalls en route Rattakona)

Our excitement doubled. If we did manage to get a lift in the ITBP truck, we surely shall be in Badrinath by evening.

The route now leveled us close to the riverbed as we approached the vast snowplains of Rattakona. In couple of places runaway glaciers from adjacent slopes invaded the fair-weather road, the ice slabs thicker than 20 feet in some places, that required us to rely on some ice-craft.

जय हिंद !” – I greeted an oncoming soldier.
जय हिंद  Sir. कहाँ से आ रहे हैं। ” – He asked
Nelang- Nilapani और फिर  Mana Pass होते हुए।”- I replied as I noticed some incredulity in the eyes of the young soldier and my chest swelled in pride :-).
(Snow plains of Rattakona)

The team soon grouped at the post and was overjoyed to see the lone PCO at the post. While the members queued up at the PCO to talk back home, the porters dumped their loads on the waiting ITBP truck and started off on foot for Ghastoli, 18 Kms away; there wasn’t enough room in the truck to carry the entire party.

After a simple yet tasty lunch at the ITBP post we hitched a ride on their personnel carrier that was waiting for us. On the way we met a bikers’ group from Delhi that was attempting a bike ride till Mana Pass. The invading glaciers on the motor road beyond Rattakona now hampered their expedition and they were on their way back.
(Team at Mana Village with ITBP Driver Prahlad Singh)

It was a pleasant surprise to find that the walking porters reached us at Ghastoli just after a gap of half an hour. They were on foot and we were on a 150bhp Truck!

Thus ended an epic odyssey through a land rich in history, legends and parables.

But as we drove back home, the long road leading to Tirpani area flashed before the eyes and also the small bridge at Dumku leading to Chor Gad valley. Thoughts engaged the  mind as to how would Muling La look like and why it went to disuse. The interesting satellite imagery of clear blue lakes ahead in the valley of Jadung  beaconed for the next adventure. 

But the very thoughts warned of the redtape-wranglings ahead; the complex labyrinth of passage through the corridors of bureaucracy to obtain the ILP. All this, to explore the corners of my motherland!
   

There is much to explore here only if someone high up understood few things.
  • That there is nothing to hide as strategic information for map-making in the days of Google Earth. We perhaps had a much more accurate contour map than any possessed by the authorities.
  • That civilian activity in sensitive areas only increases our sovereignty over the lands we have. 
  • That greater civilian interaction in such areas is not only helpful for local economy but also a morale booster for the brave soldiers that guard that frontier.
  • That an easier method of allowing exploration in such areas would actually serve the interest of the nation economically,  politically, diplomatically and militarily. 
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The movie trailer of this journey can be seen here:

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The link to the Captioned Facebook Album here:

14 comments:

visionarysandy said...

This is truly an extensively detailed travelogue of an epic expedition. These lines touched me “हम तो चाहते हैं की आप जैसे लोग आयें। हमारे जवानों को भी पत्थर और भरल के अलावा कुछ और भी दिख जाया करेगा।"

I totally agree with the points that you have mentioned in the end. The routes you choose for trekking or I would rather say 'exploring' inspires me for trekking even more frequently. Keep inspiring other trekkers.

I dropped the idea for doing Kedar Tal solo trek because the route at Gila Pahar is washed away (as per a guide). I will probably do Ransi to Kedarnath Trek via Mandani Valley next month.

Bobby Chakraborty said...

I was just stunned looking at your pictures on Facebook and wanted to know more about your quest of more watersheds and the question grew in my mind why would you seek that without thinking that what you were seeking was the last of the pristine glaciers. Over the days I searched the internet and google earth till today when I typed in the magic words " Blog on trek to Nelang Valley " and hey presto, your Snowscapes.com blog opened up revealing more than I had bargained for !! Hauntingly beautiful vistas with evocative words woven within like a rich tapestry that is the culmination of human quest as we strive to go beyond the mundane that is our daily life in the metro cities. Amazing also as I read on and could sense your caring for porters and team members alike ; such is the hallmark of a true expedition leader as like Anindya Mukherjee fo Kolkata who opened up the Zemu Gap route, you are an explorer ; hats off to your skills!!
A group of American friends from Washington D.C. who wished to go to such beautiful places were regaled by my tales about such a place as I shared the pictures on Facebook weeks back. But now seeing how close it is to the border with China I can make out they will have to stick to simpler treks like Auden's col or Vasuki Tal. Your writings inspire me as I too have been penning on blogger.com about my past journeys all over India in my Fiat Palio 1.6 which has carried me over the mountains and cross county over the Indian sub-continent. We share the same wander lust.

Him-Pathik said...

Thanks Bobby and Sandy. Bobby, your compliments themselves are great works of word-weaving. Thanks much for all the encouragement.

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Suraj VP said...

Amazing narration and Inspiring footage with compelling story line ; Instant recall to Leadership through adventure with following transferrable Skills exploration and stimulation

1. Winning in "High" performing Teams Organization : As you guide the team up the meandering and slippery terrains
2. Theory of Constraints : As you win not by just focusing on the target path and best trekker , but by positioning and adjusting the "rope " all along compassionately and mindfuly so that the weakest link gets equal share and feel of the victory mount
3. Power of Compelling vision : True metaphor provision of what a true Leaseship In"sight" can Inspire the progression from routine management and operations of the plain "valleys " to Leading the formidable climb of Leaderhip with the Vision of snowscapes ..
4. The Budha Leadership Circle completion : How you stimulate the journey from a Reciever ( at the base in the plains) to an Interrogator ( as he asks if the supplies can sustain the odds of the unknown!) to the Seeker ( as he finds the Guide in You who can Lead the path ) to a Preacher ( as he kisses the Summit and longs for passing the traits on to the Next )
5. Leadership by 'tapping into character " -as the trekkers shed the clutter of waste and inhibitions, explores the best in them -a fresh breath to ones own capabilties and natural skills -million dollar worth in the corp leadeship corridors
6. Intuitive Leadership : AS one explores his basic natural instincts and unspoiled mettle for survival and ascent up the unpredictable terrian where often intuition leads planning/analsys , much in lines with Tata sons " bonsai manager " ....................Salute Ashutosh and the Him-pathik in You for these wonderful glimpse of the Himalayas ..

Him-Pathik said...

Hi Suraj
Thanks for the kind compliments. Truely appreciate the thoughtful creation in the form of that comment. Thanks much.

mountainlad said...

Him-Pathik,

I returned to your blog after a long time, thanks to the daily grind, and did a double-take. Everything from Lapthal and Topidhunga to Nelang, Mana, and Rattakona within 12 months? And I thought it fancy to substitute Timbuktu with Sangcha Malla in my everyday parlance?

You just made it to my pantheon of gods!!!

ML

mountainlad said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ajith Kumar said...

I came here following your Saptarishi Kund trek in the Yamunotri region. Intrigued by this feature on the Nelang pass as this is one area that I am also interested in visiting in the search of a snow leopard. Your hard work in traversing this region and the detailed account have made me a fan. Will definitely be keeping an eye out for your future adventures! Thanks for documenting everything meticulously and sharing them in detail :)

PS. How did you guys manage to shoot the video - did you use a solar charger for the batteries?

Him-Pathik said...

Hi Ajith, thanks much for the effusive praise.

As for snow-leopards in the Nelang valley I am not sure. SInce it is sparsely populated there is higher likely hood. But lets not also forget that the only human inhabitation in the valley s by armed military men for last 50 years.

Leopards are definitely there but not sure about snow-leopard.

As for the shooting in the cam carder I carry a jumbo battery from SOny which has a total recording time of about 400 minutes of footage, For a 3 week trek, 400 minutes of footage works out to be more than enough.

Thanks for the interest query and compliments again.

Neer Pimoli said...

its a best trip story i had ever read.... 😉

Vibhav Bisht said...

Another gem of a travelogue about the unheard parts of the himalayas. You manage to evoke a sense of belonging amongst the readers with your immersive narrative. Thank you for travelling and writing so much.

Him-Pathik said...

Thanks Neer and Vibhav... thanks for the encouragement...am glad you liked it :-)

Shakti Raturi said...

Wow....Excellent description ... so vital so lively that it seems that I was also walking along with you.

Its true Army men always gets very happy when they see people in their establishments...
I notice this thing during my recent Kashmir Great Lakes Trek .
At Satsar army post when we stopped for checking and Army ppl hosted us and departure when we said them thanks for Hot water and Tea then Jawan replied "Nahi Sir thanks nahi ...kabhi kabhi to Aadmi log idhar dikhte hain......"

Its true Govt should decrease the loopholes of Bureaucracy and should establish a single window approval process to give access of such hidden beauty of might Himalaya.