Sunday, February 17, 2013

High altitude meadows of Himalayas (Ganges/Yamuna trail 4)

Ganges Yamuna Trail

Uttarkashi and Thalan (Ganges/Yamuna trail 1)
Uttarkashi to Agoda (Ganges/Yamuna trail 2)
Agoda to Dodital (Ganges/Yamuna trail 3)
High altitude meadows of Himalayas (Ganges/Yamuna trail 4)
Lost in the leopard territory (Ganges/Yamuna trail 5)
Lost in the mountains again (Ganges/Yamuna trail 6)
Arrival in Hanumanchatti (Yamuna Odyssey 7)
Dinner in Hanumanchatti (Yamuna Odyssey 8)
Yanuma Dreams (Yamuna Odyssey 9)
Hanumanchatti to Kharadi Falls(Yamuna Odyssey 10)
Yamuna in Barkot (Yamuna Odyssey 11)
हम भी मिले थे कभी जमुना किनारे. (We met by the river Yamuna) (Yamuna Odyssey 12)

I am not tired at all. I spend the rest of the twilight gazing at the scenes and Assiganga valley below. Nobody is at the path now and it is the perfect time and place to play flute but …. Sigh! I have no flute. I almost mastered the art of fluting – well Almost. At night, it gets very cold at this height of 10,000 feet.
I return to Negi tea shop and sip the week liquor straight from the bottle along with Haldiram’s bhuzia from the shop. I sleep after eating some cold buns because it is a big deal to light up wood stove again. Air is howling and shaking up the frail structure of this small tea shop. Tin roof is making all possible kinds of scary sounds. Bottle helps me to fall to sleep.

Meadows of Himalayas
I wake up in the golden morning and at 7 am Mr. Negi arrives. I pack up and pay him for his hospitality. He starts the wood stove and makes black tea because Milkman-The-Gujjar has not arrived yet from the high mountain slopes where they are tending their thousands of cattle.
A word about Gujjar (Gurjar) community in Uttranchal:
These are also called Van-Gujjar, this is a nomadic tribe. Most of this community is Muslim. They raise cows, buffaloes, goats and sheep. They are traveling people and travel along the fixed routes year after year. They travel with their animals according to season and availability of grass meadows. They reach at all the slopes of greater Himalayas (these slopes are also called Bugyals). In the beginning of autumn when temperatures at the high reaches of Himalayas becomes hostile and availability of grass becomes scanty, they move down with their herds of hundreds of cattle. Gradually they move towards planes where they arrive in the winter and make a camp around the large cities near Himalayas. There they sell their male animals for slaughter and also sell milk and Khoa etc. They supply lots of khoa in Diwali days in the Merrut, Haridwar, Saharanpur, Dehradoon, Mujjafarnagar, Kotdwar, Moradabad, Kashipur etc. etc.

Alpine meadows of Himalayas also called Bugyal in local language
In spring they again make their gradual return to high mountain meadows. In summers they can be seen at extreme heights upto snow lines. If one has a binocular, one can see hundreds of sheep or goats roaming below the snowlines of the massifs of the Himalayas and these cattle belong to Van Gujjars. They are considered rich people because of the ever increasing price of milk and meat. These are very gentle, prudent and extremely private people. They have their ancestral territories and year after year they return to their places. In the wilderness and above the tree line one may find huts belonging to Gujjars. Sri Nagar (Garhwal) is their unofficial headquarters and behind the main bazaar is their enclave.
Amazingly Gujjars also take their buffaloes on the high mountains slopes but buffaloes follow in the June because they cannot tolerate very cold temperatures. Buffaloes return around Diwali days followed by sheep and goats.
I again take the descent in the dense forest towards Dodital and arrive there at 8 AM. Hut restaurant is open and parothas are being made. Anyway since tomorrow I am on parothas diet. All hikers are gathering here around this only restaurant, soon 25 people gather. Everybody is planning some sort of hike and some are inquiring local conditions and some are haggling with guides and porters. Everybody is in a great rush for a early start and everybody is set out for high altitude wilderness.
A solo Briton girl is asking around for the instructions to get to the Hanumanchatti, since our destinations are same so she gang up with me. Neither she nor I want to hire a guide or porter. We both want to do this dangerous mission without any help. People all are against this idea, they all say that this may not be impossible but there is no margin of error. If we lose our way then we are dead. Many people perished when they got lost. It is already 9am now and already it is too late to start for Hanumanchatti because it is 32 kilometers.
After Dodital is the Gujjar territory. I want to walk till Darwa Pass and Briana (the Briton) is carrying a huge backpack. She says she has a small kerosene butterfly stove, a small pressure cooker, sleeping bag good enough for sub zero temperatures and some provisions enough to last 2 days; whereas I have a light jacket and I am only carrying a very light backpack with no provisions and no arrangements to cook.

Alpine meadows of Himalayas also called Bugyal in local language
Now Briana is skeptical to be with me thinking that she may have to share her frugal provisions with me. I have a habit of traveling and hiking alone so I make my own arrangements. After almost all groups had their breakfasts and most of them are already left and now is the time to order more parothas at hut restaurant. I order 20 parothas so not to take any chance if I lose my way in the mountains. I make sure my both lighters are in working order and also my two match boxes are dry and tightly wrapped in the polythene. As the parothas are being prepared I take a bath in the near freezing waters of the pristine lake.

Ascent to Darwa pass
My destination is Darwa Pass today and I will take my chance, I may find some Gujjar and beg them for a night in their hut or tent, if not then I will spend night in the jungle. I have a bed sheet, a loincloth, one light jacket, one set of clothes that I am wearing and another set of clothes that I have as spare. I will wear everything at night as SOS against cold. I heard that after 5-6 kilometers of descent from Darwa Pass, I may find wood to burn, so to keep me warm and also to keep leopards and bear away from me. I don’t discuss this with any local because they all are ready to throw cold water at this idea of going alone to Hanumanchatti. They say that this season’s first organized group of trekkers has just left in the morning. There is no marked trail for the most of the distance to and after Darwa pass and also there is snow for several kilometers before and after the pass.
My parothas are ready; I have enough fodder for 2 days. I stay away from pickle at my mountain travels because I don’t want to have sore throat in this vicious alpine tundra. Having a cup of tea is a luxury in the mountains so I find a discarded empty tin can and I wash it in the lake that would be my pot to make and drink tea.
I am all set.
Briana is still confused and repeatedly inquiring about walking to Hanumanchatti alone. She is on a tight budget and it is her dream to walk form Ganges valley to Yamuna valley.
I begin my walk towards Darwa Top, and she comes after me running and shouting without her backpack.
“Can I come with you, if you don’t mind?”
I look at her from top to bottom. She is so pretty, fragile and vulnerable.
She says with moist eyes, “Am I asking too much?”
“No no, you are not asking too much.”
She says cheerfully, “Can I come with you?”
“My pleasure and anyway this is a free country.”
She runs back to bring her huge backpack. When she joins me half bent with her load.
I assure her that I have enough food for two of us.
She walks behind me dragging her feet in confusion. She is not sure if she is doing a right thing or wrong thing.
She asks me, “You sure, we will get to Hanumanchatti tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow dinner WILL in Hanumanchatti.”
She shouts, “Hanumanchatti or bust.”
The trail from Dodital climbs steeply on the other side of the lake along the stream. We cross it several time on the way up.
She walks behind me all stooped up. After half kilometer I ask her to swap our backpacks.
“You sure, you want to do this?” she says pitifully.
“Yes because we both must reach Hanumanchatti tomorrow.”
“Whoa!” Now her happiness has no bounds.

Alpine meadows of Himalayas also called Bugyal in local language
The trail is initially through the very dense and lush forests and later leads to the open meadows, also called Bugyals. After 3 kilometers when we see the last of the stunted woods, I stop to make a cup of tea before firewood may become a rare commodity. Briana also stops and complains me about being wasting time. I tell her that to reach Hanumanchatti today is impossible and let’s hang around Darba Pass area tonight because at-least Gujjars are camping there. They may help us or if not then we will walk down after Darba but within the possibility of a chance to return back to Darba. If everything goes wrong then we will spend night in the jungle. Tomorrow we will walk to Hanumanchatti. Gradually she comes to her senses because it is already 11 AM. And we cannot walk 23 kilometers in the rest of the day and moreover there are not designated trails. I have a hand drawn map and I have raw instructions that I gathered from locals. I tried to write as many as possible landmarks that people provided me so not lose my way.

views from the pass
Briana offers me her butterfly stove and pot. She also has condensed milk but I refuse because her backpack is so huge that she may get lost in taking things out and then repacking the stuff. I fetch water from the brook and make a chulha of 3 rocks. All goes well and water comes to boil. I make black tea with sugar and then make a mush of berberis leaves. Briana accepts my black tea in her own cup and then I add the must of berberis leaves in my own tea to add flavor. Briana also tries it and loves it.

Himalayan Berberis. Also called as Berberis Aristata
Indian Name: Daru Haldi
Botanical Name: Berberis aristata
Family: Berberidaceae
Medicinal uses of Berberis aristata (Daru Haldi)
The dried root extract of Berberis aristata is known for treating conjunctivitis and many other eye related disorders. The root bark is administered for treating intermittent fevers, as well as malaria. For eye problems, the root powder of the plant is boiled in water until a little amount of the water is left, filtered, mixed with butter and alum, or with opium and lime-juice, and or alone, which is then applied externally over the eyelids to cure conjunctivitis.
The root of Berberis aristata is actually respectable. It is used as a hepatoprotective, diuretic, stomachic, immunostimulatory, alterative, anti-inflammatory, anti-hypertensive, antibilious, refrigerant, antiperiodic, and anti-tumor agent. It is indicated as one of the best remedies for correcting liver function and promoting the flow of bile, healing leucorrhea, jaundice, and enlarged spleen, inflammation of the gall-bladder, improving appetite, digestion and assimilation.
A teaspoon of the root powder acts as a purgative, an infusion of the berries along with wine performs the same, and for gum diseases, a decoction of either berries or root bark is gargled twice daily.
According to Ayurveda, Berberis aristata is bitter and astringent in taste, pungent in the post digestive effect and hot in potency. It alleviates kapha and pitta doshas. It possesses light and dry attributes. The fruit is sweet and sour in taste and has a cold potency, and is used as a diaphoretic, an antipyretic, and a bitter tonic.
Externally, a salve out of the root powder is applied for healing wounds, swellings and inflammations.
The decoction of root bark is mixed with an equal quantity of milk, heated until it forms a solid substance which is then used as an ear drop for the infection, and applied as a wash for piles.
In a combination with camphor and butter, it combats pimples and boils.
Briana washes the tin can and we are ready to move again. Birch forest is now behind us. The final push towards the pass becomes more laborious and the effects of the high altitude are clearly feel as we have to pause time and again to catch our breath. We take turn to swap our backpacks because her backpack. I think her’s is about 35 kilograms and mine is barely 5 kilo including 2 kilo of parothas.

Meadows after the pass
As we are approaching towards Darwa Top, ground becomes mushy and slushy because snow has not melted here yet in the month of April. Then for the next three kilometers we walk on the snow. Luckily we find a trench in the snow that was used by some Gujjar walking his cattle.

Alpine meadows of Himalayas also called Bugyal in local language
We struggle to avoid wetting the inside of out shoes but then give it up and we walk in the slush without bothering about puddles. Sometimes slush is knee deep in the narrow snow wall. Sometimes wall is so big that we cannot see beyond it.
At ( 4115 m ) Darwa Dhar Ridge comes. Pass and surrounding area is covered with the snow. This pass serves as the watershed of the Ganga and Yamuna River valleys. The arrival at the pass is satisfied with spectacular views of the great snow clad mountains such as Bandarpooch and Gangotri group. From this point, one path goes to the Yamuna valley and terminates at the road head at Hanuman Chatti, and another, that takes one on the path towards Bimsarukhal via Bingad. At the pass all we can see is snow but down the mountain we can see green meadows. We walk towards meadows in the pathless terrain.
We don’t see any Gujjars or their in the far away meadows below us. Anyway one acre of high mountain pasture can support 2 livestock units, a sheep is classed as 1.6 livestock units so one acre may support just one sheep. So Gujjars keep moving after all the grass is eaten by sheep. They return after grass regrows.
Well, we don’t see any Gujjar around to ask them directions so a part of my plan is already failed. In the grass meadow there are no marked trails but as per instruction we keep walking in the west direction and take the gradual decline in the slushy snow that is making my walk extremely difficult because I am carrying the heavy backpack.

Pathless land after the pass
After another two kilometers we see first Gujjar Gentleman, a tall handsome man wearing very clean clothes and trimmed beard taking the milk down to Dodital. He is carrying a large plastic 5 gallon can tied to his back with ropes.
He is very angry to see us walking without a guide, he pursues us to go back to Dodital and return tomorrow with some professional. Leopards are active in the region and getting lost is very easy in this area and many people died on this trail to Hanumanchatti.
He gives up when he see that we both are adamant and single minded.
He tells us that we are at right path so far. He gives us detailed instruction to the next meadow after another jungle. That area is called Kanasar.
He tells, “I saw a trekking party arriving there. They will be camping there. They may give you accommodations but anyway hang around next to them. Don’t let them get away from your sight.”
Well, this is a good news. So we are not alone in the region, there is another group and we will attach ourselves with them.
Briana is very happy.
Since it is a descent, so we arrive at Kanasar Meadow in 2 hours.
It is now 2 PM. We walk further in the meadow and spot some tents at the bottom of the meadow. As we get close to that area, we see a group of men pitching 3 tents there and making cooking arrangements. Each one is holding a glass that appears to be whiskey. I chat with a man, group is here with a professional trekking arranging company from Uttarkashi. Then Guide of this group, Mr. Semwal appears form a tent, he doesn’t like the idea of our hanging around there, because tomorrow we may follow them to Hanumanchatti for free whereas his guiding services are for a price.
I request him to have Briana around them and I decide to move alone. Mr. Samwal shouts at us loudly in halting English, “This woman is loaded with money still she does not want to spend a dime and she cannot stay here.”
I try to reason out with him and try to make a deal with him so they may make some arrangement for Briana.
“She can stay with me in the tent and we will let her walk with us tomorrow, it will cost her 2000 rupee.”
Briana says that she will sleep under the sky in her sleeping bag and tries to negotiate the price for 500 rupee but Mr. Semwal blinks to me and whispers to me, “Let her go and she has no choice but return to us and pay us 3000 rupee, because now my price is 3000”
Now all 20 eyes are staring at Briana with ten sinister smiles.
I remount Briana’s backpack and order her to move. She obeys because she has a hunch about what was being said.
She is very scared of them all.
I begin walking towards the jungle and I look back at her.
She is following me and she is weeping.
I laugh it off saying, “What a big deal. We will make a fire and spend night in the jungle.”
Anyway that was my backup plan to start with, if I am unable to find a shelter then I will spend a night in the jungle. But I always knew it very well that I may not find enough dry wood to sustain a fire for whole night. May be barely enough to make tea a couple of times and then at the dead of the dark night it is not possible to find firewood in the freezing temperatures. I did camping in Canada and Alaska and finding dry wood at high altitudes and in the night is simply not possible.
Only problem is that, now I am responsible for someone else too. I consider myself a camel, I can stay hungry or thirsty or cold for a long time ……….
But what about her?

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