Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Jahnavi Exploration III- The Chor Gad- Baspa Traverse (Part 2/3)

(This expedition won the IMF Award for "Outstanding Exploratory Civilian Expedition" in 2014)

The Shepherd Trail in the Smugglers' Valley

Continued from Part I

Stage 0- The Drive In

Delhi-Uttarkashi (425 Km)- Dumku (108 Km)

We reached Uttarkashi on 7th June by the appointed time, 12 Noon. The afternoon was spent shopping for local woolens at our favorite shop near the Uttarkashi bus-stand. A Jadh family of Dunda owns this shop. Negi struck up a conversation with the old Jadh Bhotia, enquiring about the current Jadh settlements. After coming to know about our past adventures in Nelang and this year’s expedition objectives he was visibly excited.

यह prayer flag ले जाइए साब. अगर आपको वो pass मिल गया तो ऐसे जगह पे लगा दीजिये जहाँ इसे हवा लगे ” said the old man brandishing a sizeable package from under his desk.
कितने पैसे हुए इसके?” I asked.
अरे पैसे क्या साब. यह तो हमारा gift है - Jadhon का prayer flag. आप हमारे यहाँ पुराना route ढूंढने जा रहे हो . यह तो अच्छा काम है.”

We later gathered that the handcrafted prayer flag would have fetched him about a thousand Rupees in a normal transaction, which he so readily offered us free of cost. His trust on us, that the gift would be well used, added one more reason for successful completion of the expedition!
(Discussions at ITBP Matli, Mess Lawns)

The invite from Commandant Chandel was a pleasant surprise later that day when we went to pay the customary visit to the ITBP Headquarters at Matli.
“Get your entire party in the evening. Lets have a drink together.  We shall meet at the lawns of the Officer’s mess!” said the commandant putting us instantly at ease,
nipping out any apprehension that we might have had about dealing with the ITBP personnel.

The evening was spent in a nice chat with the senior officials of the ITBP Battalion that looks after the Nelang area. We fondly recounted our experiences with ITBP during our expedition to Girthi Valley a few years before when Commdnt Chandel was the CO at Joshimath.

“I really like that people like you continue to take interest in such (inaccessible) parts of the mountain..”- The commandant was all praises for trained civilians experiencing the extreme mountains.

As the discussion veered round to the route into Nelang and the interesting plank bridge near Gartang, he was quick to advise
(The 'Gallery' Bridge the Commandant was talking about)

“Do not even try walking over that bridge now. It is without maintenance for many years and the wood planks are badly rotten”- The Dy Commandant then filled us up on their recent experience of reconnaissance in that area.

“Go meet the Asst Commandant at Nelang around 1400 Hrs and he should be able to help you with a briefing about the route. You will have to meet him anyway for showing your papers. That’s the nearest post before you leave road head”- said the CO.

Few drinks and many plates of snacks later we were a happy and peppy bunch coming out of the gates of the Matli complex at about 2200Hrs in the night. Tomorrow would be our first camp on the banks of Chor Gad.


आप इतने देर कहाँ थे? CO साब ने दो बार phone कर के पूछा. आप को दो बजे आना था कह रह थे.
(The Road to 'Nelang' as seen at 'Dumku')

The post commander at Nelang was waiting for us at his snow-dome office when we arrived there to show the papers at 1530.

“थोड़ा देर हो गया Sir रास्ते में. Pagal Nala बढ़ा हुआ था” We mentioned about the half an hour delay in crossing an engorged nala about 10 Kms before Nelang.

“कोई बात नहीं. चाय लीजिये जब तक मैं आप को route बताता हूँ..” and he started off reeling out route details for the next half an hour. We absorbed as much detail as we could cross verifying with the terrain map printouts we were carrying.

After the download of local route intelligence we were much more confident of the navigation and it looked as if our pre-designed route plan and time schedule was almost 90% on target. The only thing that could damage our chances now was the weather and possible terrain challenges during the decent to the other side of Chunsa Khaga.
(Getting ready for the short walk to The Bridge Camp)

We had dropped the team off at Dumku on our way up to Nelang so that porter-loads could be made while we were completing the formalities. By the time we reached back at about 1630, the team was ready for the short march down to the Metal-bridge over the confluence of Chor Gad and Jadh Ganga

The Jeeps in which we had come left back for Uttarkashi immediately fearing further problems at the Pagal Nala. We went ahead to pitch the Bridge camp about a Kilometer away from the road head of Dumku.

The vertical rock faces of granite around the Dumku-bridge camp make for some interesting observations.  

(The Bridge Camp at Chor Gad confluence)
For almost a hundred feet up on these faces one can see clear signs of water erosion. Either the Chor Gad has gouged her course through or it is the upheaval of the mountain mass; any which way- ballads many million years old etched deep on those rock faces! One of those transcendental moments that nature allows you to peek at a different perception of space-time.
(Drift wood camp fire at bridge camp)

The team seemed to be in fine fettle even as the constant roar of the two rivers at the confluence reminded us continuously of the raw power of nature surrounding us. Driftwood was plentiful nearby. Soon we had our first campfire.

As per our discussions at ITBP-Nelang we had to target at least 12 Kilometers of march the next day to reach Helipad#3 camping ground (mentioned in the maps as Singhmoche Camping Ground).  We started off lazily around 0800 Hrs even as the sun shined gloriously upon the eastern bounding ridge of the “Chor Gad” valley: The Smugglers valley.


A Note about the “Chor Gad”

How and when the valley got to bear this notorious name is still unknown.

Since the days of the early visit of Herbert in 1818, the westernmost valley of the Nelang watershed has always been indicated under this curious sounding name; Chor Gad. “Chor” in Hindi means a thief and hence the possible local legends about tax evaders using this valley.  Who were the smugglers, what did they smuggle and which tax did they evade etc. have never ever been documented. 

In the melee of Tibetan sounding names in the same watershed (Nelang/Jadhang/Sumla/ Thag La/Puling Sumdo/Chunganmu/ Tsang Chok La) how the “Chor Gad” carried its distinctive Hindustani flavor is also unknown.

One hypothesis could be- after the Bushaher-Tibet treaty[i] of 1680, the able administration of Kehri Singh would have exploited trade through Nelang Pass. For securing this interest, they would have had to assert control over Nelang Pass through the Chor Gad valley. 

Perhaps in those times, Bushaher may have played a role in christening of the valley with an overtly Hindustani name unlike others in that watershed.
(The Schlagintweit brothers, explored Himalayas in 1850s)

The alternate hypothesis could be built from the extraordinarily detailed research of the famous Schlagintweit Brothers. Their work was based on the explorations they carried out in the 1855-1858 period. They clearly mention the name of the western-most tributary of the Nelang watershed as, a very Tibetan looking, Tsor- Gad [ii]- not Chor-Gad

It may not be too far fetched to imagine that the former may have been the original Tibetan name that over a period of time could have gradually devolved into the later.  The Schlagintweits have referred to the river as Tsor Gad with out any journal reference, which would mean that the data was collected from direct oral accounts during their prolonged exploration of the area.


Stage I- Shepherds’ Trail to Bushaheri Nala

Dumku 3300 M- Misosa 3700M (12 Km)- Thandapani 4050M (12 Km)- Kalapani 4350M (6 Km)

The route snaked its way along the true left of the river for the initial kilometer or so and then across a metal bridge to the true right. Another hour of spirited walk took us past the Lal Devta  #1 camping ground and then onto another possible campsite that on our Map was indicated by the old name of Namti. The ITBP calls this camping ground Helipad #1. Though these are good grounds, accessibility of water is an issue.
(Looking upstream, the bridge before Lal Devta #1)

Dumku से तक़रीबन डेढ़  kilometer baad लाल देवता #1 ayega. अच्छा camp ground है लेकिन पानी का दिक्कत है. उसके थोड़े आगे बकरीवालों का डेरा है पानी के पास, वहां अच्छा पानी मिलेगा.” I remembered the detailed briefing by Asst Commandant Dimri of the Nelang post.
उसके थोड़े आगे हमारा winter camp-ground है - Helipad #1. वहां पानी मिलेगा main नदी से.”- His information had been detailed and accurate.
“कोई बात नहीं – आप लोग आराम से Heli #3 तक पहुँच जाओगे पहले दिन. नाले में गन्दा पानी आता है वहां. हमने चस्का बना रखा है साफ़ पानी के लिए एक पत्थर के पास..” the post commander had added.

A Note on Lal Devta(s) of the Chor Gad valley

(Lal Devta #1, Chor Gad Valley)
The entire route along the Chor Gad is dotted with as many as three Lal Devtas- each resembling a massive rock cairn. Study of various reports of Survey of India encourages one to theorize that possibly these were Survey-cairns set up by the surveyors to facilitate their work.  The absolutely straight piece of a long pole fixed to the rock of Lal Devta#2 which we saw on the apex point of Chaling jungle only re-affirmed this hypothesis of ours.

The practice of Lal Devta worship is seen frequently, in the valleys that Jadh Bhotias stay in. Both Jadung and Harsil valleys are fine examples of these. The typical Lal Devta shrine is located at a high place involving reasonable toil to reach. Such shrines are never more than one in number in a single valley and are usually identified by piles of Bharal Horns, empty bottles, dry coconuts and similar offerings.
(Lal Devta #2, Chor Gad Valley)

None of the Lal Devta shrines in the Chor Gad valley display these features. There are no offerings, neither are there the customary Bharal horn, bells and the colorful prayer flags; the “devta” status is only justified by the red pennant tied to a flag pole. But then that is precisely how Survey poles were indicated in those days – a red pennant on top so that it could be recognized several miles away through the theodolite to triangulate positions!

It may not be too much to assume that it was perhaps the surveyors like Herbert, Kinney, Ottley and Auden who might have played an influential role in introducing the concept of Lal Devta into the Chor Gad valley by way of erecting impressive survey cairns in various high points.


Soon enough we reached a camping ground, indicated on the map as the Langling Camping Ground, with signs of step cultivation nearby.  The increasing roar of the river indicated the approaching confluence where the Chaling Gad from the true right joins in with the Chor Gad.  
(The boulder field at Chaling Confluence)

The confluence is not visible from the trail but one does enter a boulder field indicating the widening of the river bed  just before the confluence. After the boulder field we recovered a faintly visible trail, running along the true right of the Chaling Gad.

We were eager to locate the log bridge over this stream.   During the half a kilometer of anxious searching, as the path wound up along the right bank of Chaling Gad through dense forests, we presently came across a group of four shepherds with as many mules heading down towards Dumku
(The forest trail where we met the muleteers)

After a brief download from them on the route features ahead, we soon saw the sturdy log bridge laid across the Chaling Gad.

The bridge is about half a kilometer above its confluence with the Chor Gad. We found all the bridges in the valley in fine condition, seemingly undamaged by the unusual precipitation and disastrous flooding that gripped the whole of Garhwal in the monsoons of 2013
(the Log Bridge or Sango over Chaling Gad)

After gaining the opposite bank, a short scramble of about 100 meters brought us onto a table top upon a small densely wooded hillock. This hillock rules over the Chor Gad -Chaling Gad confluence and perhaps can be called as the Chaling Hill or Chaling Jungle. The ITBP and Shepherds however, conveniently called this the  Lal Devta hill. No real sign of Lal Devta worship exists here though, other than the remaining vestiges of, perhaps an old survey cairn and its ramrod straight 15 ft long flagpole.
(The short scramble up to Lal Devta #2,
Chor Gad valley in foreground)

The dense pines grove around the Lal Devta rock provided us the much-needed shade for resting as we waited for the team to regroup. This was the first day and the physical challenge was apparent on the face of few team members. It took us two hours to regroup and then we made a huge navigational blunder!

I had sent out Joshi, the senior-most porter and seasoned fuel carrier of the team to reconnoiter the route ahead of Lal Devta. I had assumed the route to be moving easterly, directly descending to the Chor Gad below.

Lal Devta #2 से सीधा उतराई है bridge तक . Bridge के पास भी आप camp लगा सकते हैं ”- The Nelang post commander had said earlier.

ढलान बहुत है साब . रास्ता उधर से होगा”- said Joshi, as I looked towards the northerly direction being pointed out.  A trail was snaking into the jungle on a level ground.
(The GPS Plot of blunder that cost us dear, Left=North)

We committed the blunder about 200 Meters down this trail where it bifurcates into two– one moving left upstream and the other downstream towards the right. We chose the former and lost considerable time and distance trying to locate the bridge across the Chorgad.

After an hour of anxious search and a kilometer of unnecessary trudge we finally found ourselves on the left bank of Chor Gad. Conveniently around the same time we found the muleteers we had met in the morning returning back. They slowly inched ahead of us and were soon away from our visible range within an hour.
Their trail led our way now on.
(the gentle yet frustrating slope of Misosa, this walk just never ends!)

Half an hour after gaining the left bank we entered the gentle yet frustrating slope of the Misosa grounds. Within another hour we had crossed over the Misosa stream coming from the glacier fields high above to our right.

I saw the shepherds’ mule train vanishing over a rising slope about a kilometer ahead even as we approached the sprawling Misosa camping ground with signs of few old shepherd encampments nearby. The Misosa CG is located almost on level ground with the Chor Gad flowing fast less than a hundred feet away.

The team had again grown a long tail and radio enquiries revealed that the farthest members were at least an hour behind. It was already 1430 hrs and the sun was on its way down towards the western ridges. I decided to camp rather than pushing for the additional 2 kilometers to the Singhmoche Camping Ground (Helipad #3 as the ITBP men called it).
(The Birch forested Misosa Camping Ground)

Camp was set up on the right bank of Misosa stream well above the traditional camping ground. The quality of water on the Misosa stream was much better compared to the muddy waters of Chorgad that at the campsite below.

Our fully laden porters had already covered 12 Kms on the first day and the net altitude gain was 600 Mtrs; an impressive feat by all standards. As for the six of us, our unpracticed limbs were acclimatizing to the mountain environs rapidly.

Shortly after setting up camp we had an unexpected visitor from the neighboring campground on the left bank of the Misosa stream. He was a shepherd who had started off from Dumku that morning an hour after we started and had covered all the ground with his flock of about three hundred heads of goats and sheep. The poor animals were now afraid to cross the log bridge over the Misosa stream and the poor chap was now resigned to bivouac there for the night..
(Our unexpected visitor- Tilak Raj)

Dead wood and half burnt logs were plenty in the vicinity. While the kitchen got active in preparing pakodas and tea, we setup a nice campfire and invited the shepherd over for a tete-e-tete. We had enough route intelligence already; we wished to now dig into the life and history of the men who were regular visitors into the valley.

The thirty something shepherd Tilak Raj, with weather-beaten skin and twinkle in his eyes, was enthusiastic in his narration.  At the end of an hour of chatting up we had gathered the following interesting trivia.

All the shepherds operating in the Chor Gad valley were from one geographical area in the Kangda valley of Himachal.  They were two different groups of shepherds who had well demarcated grazing rights in the upper and lower part of the valley’s rich pastures. Tilak belonged to the one with rights of the Upper Chorgad valleys. Because of the heavy snowfall in the winter, they were making a late entry hoping that by the time they reach their targeted grounds, snow conditions would more favorable.
(Govind Singh of Changdum Plains)

Another seasoned shepherd called Govind Singh whose muleteers we had met in the morning led the other group of shepherds. They had moved into the valley already and may be camping a little distance ahead at the Changdum plains (called Helipad #2 by the men from ITBP).

“दो number helipad के पास आप को shepherd मिलेगा  गोविन्द. नाक उसका थोड़ा सा टेढ़ा है … भालू ने  attack किया था उसको कभी” – the officer at Nelang had briefed us earlier.

When our discussion veered towards the objective our expedition, Tilak fondly recalled the Tapan Pandit’s visit in 2009. He narrated how he had met Tapan Da’s team near Thandapani camp. That’s when he mentioned that the Nala ahead of Thandapani and Dudhpani was called the Kalapani camp, which was also called the Bushaheri Nala by the shepherds. 

“बुशहरी नाला क्यों कहते हैं उसे? क्या बुशहर का रास्ता था वहां से?”
“हो सकता है शायद. यह तो बहुत पुरानी बात है, हमारे पुरखों के time का”
“कब से आते हो यहाँ ?”
“ बहुत पीढ़ीओं साब।  परदादा के परदादा के टाइम से भी पहले …

We were a satisfied bunch that evening. Not only because the story telling around the campfire was romantic but also because our research seemed to have been in complete alignment with the shepherd legends of the valley and our navigation plan seemed to be bang on target.

 We just needed to execute our plans swiftly and carefully.

(The Misosa Marine Drive)

The picturesque trail next day first led us along the riverside over a kilometer long marine drive. Then it rose sharply for about 200 meters as we emerged upon a boulder field. The field was separated from the high bank of the river by a grassy ledge about 100 meters wide.

Even as we were trying to locate the route over the confusing boulder field, Sanjit’s voice crackled over the radio:
“Ashu come in come in. The ITBP guys have arrived on their SRP”.

We were happy to see the post commander of Nelang with a small detachment of Jawans, INSAS Rifles slung across their shoulders. We chatted up waiting for the team to regroup as the ITBP team caught up with us. They had started that morning from Nelang and were there near our campsite by 0900 Hrs.
(Tete-e-tete with the local post Commander)

Chatting up with the post-commander I gathered, he has been posted at Nelang for the last three years and belonged to Dehradun originally.

“बच्चों का पढाई?” I asked
“बड़ा वाला IIT कर रहा है कानपूर से” he said. The father in me could almost feel the swelling of his chest in pride.

The soldier at the northern frontier had been able to see his eldest son through the one of the best technical education the country can provide; Perhaps the best in this part of the world! I was happy for him.
(Lal Devta#3 and Changdum Plains)

A little ahead beyond a fast flowing stream was a large rock with the usual red pennant on a tall flagpole indicating Lal Devta #3. Up ahead the vast Changdum plains opened up; gigantic fans of glaciers dead many years ago upon which a luxurious pasture had developed, dotted at this time of the year with pretty yellow flowers. 

Soon we saw a shepherd from a distance whistling merrily. Coming closer I could see the unique facial description of Govind Singh as I had heard earlier- remnants of his years of struggle for livelihood through the dangerous terrains of high mountains. Here was a man who had a hand-to-hand combat with a Himalayan Bear
(Our host, shepherd Govind Singh leading us all to his camp)

He went about his assumed role of the “host” merrily. Soon tea was served as the ITBP team got busy in pitching their tents and we got busy in clicking our cameras trying to pose with the gun-toting soldiers. 

They were going to camp along with their old friend Govind that night. They intended to come with us till their last patrolling point and after a night's rest at this camp, would go back to their post next day.
(Looking back from Misora camping grounds)

Just about two kilometers ahead of Changdum, where the course of the Chorgad takes a wide sweeping turn towards far left , we went past the Misora Camping ground sprinkled with floral dots of yellow and purple. The flowers were getting ready to bloom and perhaps by the end of June the place had the potential to become a mini Valley-of-Flowers.
(Exposed scree slope before Demoche Gad)

A massive scree slope was now looming ever closer at whose feet the Chor Gad flowed swiftly. The trail led diagonally over this exposed slope and high above a sizeable herd of Bharals grazed about merrily threatening our passage with potential rock fall.

The passage went smoothly as we entered level ground now, heading north again after the westerly diversion on the slope.
(The Marine Drive of Demoche Gad)

The trail now ran by the riverside causing another pretty marine-drive. We were in the Demoche pastures where the Demoche Gad confluences with the Chor Gad on its true right. The river is not difficult to cross here and on the far side we could see groves of Birch, many potential camping spots and an abundance of pastures for grazing. 

Lost in that ethereal beauty of the pretty valley, resting by the riverside we regrouped and had our lunch unaware about the terrain that was about to hit our trail.
(The stinger after the Marine Drive)

After the Demoche Gad marine drive, at the end of the pleasant walk along the left bank of Chor Gad, the trail suddenly winds nastily upwards to the crest of a spur coming out of the Nakurche complex, a spur that pushes the bed of the Chor Gad sharply due west. 

After a sudden rise of about 50 meters the trail levels out and enters the wide fan of the moraine of the Nakurche Glacier coming in from the right, from the east. The snowline of this glacier has receded much farther up; what remained on our trail was a massive boulder field.
(Shepherd shelter ahead of boulder field, looking upstream)

Immediately afterwards one comes across a shepherd shelter perched on top of a precipice directly looking down at the Chor Gad coursing through about 300 ft below. Just ahead was the bad patch everyone had referred to earlier.

मैदान के बाद थोड़ा ख़राब रास्ता है. फिसलन वाली मिटटी है थोड़ा. वैसे हम जा रहे हैं, घोड़ों के लिए रास्ता बना लेंगे.Tilak Raj had informed us during our little chat up at Misosa.
Last का 200 meter लगभग थोड़ा ख़राब है. बस उसके बाद Thandapani आ जाता है snow bridge के बाद. ऐसी कोई बात नहीं है , थोड़ा  step cut कर के और जूता मार के आराम से जाया जा सकता है”- the briefing by our friends in ITBP had been more reassuring.
(The 'Kharaab' patch before Thandapani)

This was decidedly a bad patch of about a furlong and “kharab” had been a serious understatement. There were myriad rain water gullies running through a broken bank of loose scree. The Chor Gad, releasing itself from the icy confines of its upper valleys, was foaming about 250 ft below. Steps had to be cut for the laden porters and we had a cautious passage except for the minor mishap of Nitin. He lost a footing and was found hanging on to dear life on all his fours upon that slippery slope. His ordeal was over a few minutes later when one of our Nepali porters jumped across to lend a reassuring hand.
(Thandapani area as seen from the bad-scree patch)

Soon after the patch of bad scree the trail levels out with the river and a passage has to be found to the right bank over a crevassed snow bridge. Since all local navigational instructions had depended on this snow bridge for crossing over the Chor Gad, I assumed the bridge to be of a permanent nature. It certainly appeared so, looking at the amount of deposition of snow and glacial debris.

The trail slowly rose up the right bank and with in about half an hour we were resting on a little flattish delta on the southern edge of the confluence of a stream coming in from our left. A small stone hut with ramshackle roofing dominated the scene. Some firewood was littered around. We had reached Thandapani camp.

(Thandapani CG, Upper Chorgad view in background) 
Thanda Pani पर हमारा डेरा है. पता नहीं छत ठीक होगा या नहीं. बहुत बर्फ पड़ी है इस बार. हम रहते हैं वहां पर महीनों तक. नाला है वहां Thandapani. नाले के ऊपर पूल बना रखा है हमने. उसी side से आगे जाना है आप को. घोड़े ले जाते हैं वहां से हम बुशहरी नाला तक” – Tilak had described earlier.

I walked up to the edge of the tabletop and had a look at the confluence. The Thandapani stream was bringing in a respectable volume of muddy brown water to merge with the relatively clear body of the Chor Gad. Over the furious flow of the Thandapani was a small natural rock bridge, which had been further reinforced by rock masonry, most probably by the local shepherds, as Tilak had mentioned.
(Navigation plan for next day, porters anxiously watching)

“The chap was right. Tomorrows trail looks to be on this right bank only!”- We were discussing, even as our anxious eyes started tracing out the trail rising rapidly up towards the crest of a spur that defines the southern boundary of the Dudhpani valley up ahead. Soon Vinod managed to engineer a little water hole on the sandy shore of the Thandapani stream, which provided bucketsful of clean water for the entire camp.

The shepherd shelter served as a warm kitchen for the evening and the bright moon heralded a feast of night photography in the coming days; we were soon to enter the kingdom of snow.
(Approaching full moon- seen from Thandapani CG)

Terrain conditions were exactly as per the imagery in the EOSDIS website. We had yet not been obstructed by snow and did not expect to be, at least till the next campsite. Weather was still holding good as per predictions and we were at the gateway of the upper Chor Gad valley covering 24 kilometers in 2 days with altitude gain of about a thousand meters.

“Not bad!” I mused “if we continue this way we should target to be over the pass in next 4 days!” – I wished dearly that the weather and team health held good. Porters looked to be in good spirits without a grumble about the two consecutive long marches carrying double-loads.

(The trail ahead of Thandapani towards Dudhpani)

The trail next day dipped down to the bridge over the Thandapani and then sharply rose up about a hundred feet to land us on another tabletop of rock and scree. The trail hence wound steadily up for about 200 meters till the crest of the spur that bisects the right bank of Chor Gad between Thandapani and Dudhpani valleys, almost plonk in the middle. We had already crossed the 14000 ft mark and the exertion was telling.

On the far bank we saw the moraine filled slopes dropping in sheer precipices from a ridge-line about a 1000 meters above us.

(Approaching Dudhpani valley)

Soon the trail levelled and dropped down to the lovely valley of Dudhpani. True to its name the water was clear as spring water although it clearly was coming from glacial melts and was passing from under snow beds and ice sheets. But what a contrast with Thandapani!! 

Our intended campsite was in the next valley by the banks of the Bushaheri Nala at Kalapani! I wondered for a moment if the name had anything to do with the color of the water source nearby. Didn’t appear to be too palatable or potable an idea!

We didn’t have time to partake of the beauty of the lovely Dudhpani valley to the fullest. It is a recommended halt for future travellers into the valley. One just has to push an additional hour after reaching Thandapani the previous evening!

(Sharp ascent ahead of Dudhpani)
After a quick regrouping we started ascending the trail leading to the crest of the next ridge. The shepherd had advised a diagonal ascent from the hollow of the Dudhpani stream and indicated that the route will gain the crest of the ridge and then drop directly down to the campsite of Kalapani. He had assured that the route was good and they do use mules on that track. (I later discovered this bridle path in Google Earth imagery after coming back from the expedition)

रास्ता ठीक नहीं है यहाँ से Sir. निचे जाना पड़ेगा नदी से. वैसे camp site दिख रहा है यहाँ से”- called out Vinod, the lead scout, on the radio.
(Beginning the sharp descent to the river bed - left frame)

Apparently our current trail headed into a massive landslide zone to skirt which we would have to climb another 1000 ft higher.

(We realized our mistake later. We should have started our diagonal climb much higher up in the valley of Dudhpani. That would have allowed us to gain the crest much above the landslide area.)

The sharp descent to the bed of Chor Gad, the subsequent river crossings over the network of snow bridges and final climb to the terminal flats of the Kalapani Glacier added at least an hour of delay to the days work. The snow conditions helped in all the crossings; otherwise it would have been a nightmare to traverse that patch along the river. Future parties shall be well advised to take the upper bridle path from Dudhpani to Kalapani.
(The Kalapani CG/Nakurche  CG)

Kalapani (As in SoI Map) or Nakurche (US Army Map-1952) was the most picturesque camping ground we had settled into since the beginning of the expedition. 

A network of streams fed a small glacial lake near the brim of the basin by the riverside. The dark color of the rocks on the stream-bed was indeed rendering a blackish hue to the otherwise clean and transparent water. It looked as if a clear stream of water was flowing through an undisturbed coalfield camouflaged under various hues of green, brown, yellow, purple and white.  

(The Kalapani stream near campsite)
We camped early at about 1300 Hrs and used the full might of the blazing sun to dry up things and charge up devices.

Rajender and I reconnoitred ahead for about a kilometer to verify the ground conditions. From now on we shall be on uncharted terrains solely dependent on features, landmarks and the GPS.

Snow conditions did not spring any surprises.

The entire valley of Kalapani was under a white sheet just about half a kilometer ahead of the camp. Some hints of brown were visible on the northern walls of the bounding ridges but not enough to serve our purpose. The long lateral ridges, which were supposed to lead us to the head of the glacier, were totally snowbound. Brown patches there would have surely helped our speed and safety. But all in all we were happy with our assessment.

Continued in Part III

[i] pp 139- “Loss of Memory and Continuity of Praxis in Rampur-Bushaher, Contemporary Visions in Tibetan Studies, Dr Georgios Halkias, Serindia Publications-2009”
[ii] pp94- Route# 153- “Results of a scientific mission to India and High Asia- Vol III”- “Hermann, Adolphe and Robert De Schlagintweit”,1860.

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