We were four ;two doctors, one well equipped, an actuary, whose job it is to assess risks but who secretly wants to be Ray Mears, and I, middle aged and momentarily swayed by the attractive itinerary. It was too late to back out, friends flew in from Liverpool in the UK, we took the overnight to Dehradun and jumped into the waiting 4X4 which took us safely but precariously on a six hour journey to our starting point. The road was reasonable to Mussorie and then it became a morass of tight U bends, narrow, with cavernous drops, breathtaking brimming rivers and landslides where the recent heavy monsoon had unstuck huge boulders of rock as if they were putty. Everywhere along the way debris and the destruction were evident and none more so then in a little village where the force of the water had taken buildings,cars and human lives.
Our journey to our start
The village swept away
Being asked to drive slowly in a sinking area !
The side of one of the roads we were on.
So reaching was pleasurable, momentarily. Our tour guide Ravi had joined us at Uttarkashi and we travelled up to what we thought was our camp site in the village of Barsu. Except when we got there he took us to a dilapidated Indian Government Guest house with damp on the walls and faded, torn carpets. I was taken aback by this and expressed my disappointment- "Where was our idyllic camp site?" I asked annoyed.
He muttered something about the monsoon rain extending this year and then said electricity and hot water here madame, the significance of which were lost on me then, but were to be words I returned to at the end of our trek with a new found appreciation.
The view from the terrace of the Indian Guest house with the peaks of Gangotri I and III, Jaunli, Draupdi ka Danda and Srikanth coming in and out of the clouds.
One of the temples in the village of Barsu from where our walk started.
By a village granary
The Mandir at the top of the village in the fading light of the day.
Tea on the terrace gave us a glimpse of what lay ahead but as evening came, so did the power cuts and dinner was a candlelit affair of simple rice and subji, vegetables to you and me. When I enquired where we were going the next morning Ravi answered in a very matter of fact way. "Straight up" he said.
The village nestled in the hillside was going to be our last encounter with people, apart from the shepherds and the pastoralists who we met over the next week. The path through the forest was beautiful, a work of love and necessity with big stones laid flat to enable those using it to travel well. We stopped for the birds and the vistas and then walked and walked and walked for hours to get to our clearing in the forest and the place of our first camp site by a small flowing river called the Dayara Bugyal (a meadow to you and me). By that time the clouds and the mist were rolling in and we were feeling tired but perhaps content that we had managed the day with no major incident and with considerable admiration for the forest that we had just walked through of pine and oak and deodhar.
She was an exceptionally beautiful specimen. Almost with a velour auburn coat.
Otherwise all we encountered were herds of buffalo and some lovely locals
The beautiful stone path leading up into the forest.
One of the view points
The men, aspiring to their hunter gatherer persona, went out looking for wood and I think that we had the funniest time watching them trying to light a fire with the slightly damp wood. Perhaps this is my favourite picture of my beloved hunter.
The swirling mist rolling over the hills
Getting the water to boil for tea with wet wood is a hard task
I would say that this was my favourite walk in the whole week. It was dense jungle but we were walking on the edge of a mountain side and it was full of the most beautiful flowers and plants. We stopped to admire them and press a few in the pages of C's bird book. Then the climbing suddenly became more acute and we were rapidly heading up and finding ourselves walking in swirling mist and more often then not on the edge of a narrow ridge with views ( restricted ) either way and drops ( unrestricted ).We had climbed from 2750 to 3475 metres. The wind was quite chilly and we had our first deviation from the itinerary if you like when our lunch went missing. Ravi had to go back to find the lunch boys who usually took steeper, shorter paths then us and who followed us from camp site to camp site. We grew very cold and all the water proofs came out of our day bags and we sat on the cold stones, bettter then the wet grass, and considered the possible scenarios of losing our guide to the mist and our lives to the mountains. We were never so happy to see soft shades of humans coming over the ridge and we devoured a lunch of potato salad and chappatis like there was no other.
A shepherd with a lively flock of sheep and goats
The beautiful flowers we found everywhere.
Our afternoon seemed interminable, more paths on narrow ridges, rolling mist, often quite thick at times and ascents of several hundred metres at a time leaving us breathless and beat. We arrived at the camp site described by an irritated G as the shittiest camp site she has ever seen, nothing was even, the water was a long way down a mountain, the way the tents were erected seemed precarious to say the least and we felt head achy and tired but suddenly with a new sense of admiration for our gadget king who had brought out his water filtering device to cries of hilarity and Ray Mears taunting.
We had run out of water. Hugely important at these heights so however shitty the camp site may have appeared it did at least have running water at some distance. So the men took it in turns to filter the water and make sure our water bottles were filled up. Dinner was in the dining tent, too cold to be outside and with moments of complete hilarity about what we had let ourselves in for as well as some sober ones where we wondered very seriously if there was enough in all of us to carry on.