Sunday, March 31, 2013

Mayali Pass Crossing (Gangotri-Kedarnath Trek 11.)


1: Trek preparations
2: Arrival in Gangotri
3: Gathering of Motley's Crew
4: Out of Gangotri
5: Beyond Bugyals
6: Trapped over cliffs
7: Auden's Col crossing
8: Trapped in the Khatling Glacier
9: Lucky to be alive
10: Back to the ices
11: Mayali Pass Crossing
12: Arrival in Kedarnath

Day 8
Now ghosts are gone but again shouts of Baba Bhasmasur and Biswas wake us up in the dawn.
Biswas went out early in the morning and Baba was already up and smoking his cheroot. Biswas saw a bunch of bears outside, he came running and screaming and dived on Baba whose cheroot fell and sparks spread all over Biswas’s bedding and belongings. Luckily nobody is hurt but here begins another juicy fight.
I peek put and find bears playing with our pots. Luckily we brought all the food inside the tents. Listening to the loud fighting noises bears run away. Baba and Biswas blame each other for this mishap. Then they summon me to settle the dispute, I tell Baba that we are at the gateway of Kedarnath so calm down. He begins arranging his small temple outside to divert his anger.
We also come out of the tents and there is all talk about the Bhoots that Baba and Biswas has both seen at night. They are giving conflicting and vivid descriptions of the many bhoots they saw at night. One was wearing white robe and was suspended in the air, reverse feet and sinister smile and all. Baba says that one of them ran after him before he dived in the tent and landed on Biswas.
I try to reason out with 1008 saying that there are no Bhoots.
To this Baba shouts at me -
“लो करलो बात. अरे भूत नहीं होते तो भूतनाथ कहाँ से होते.”
Biswas also agrees, “यहाँ तो भूत भी हैं पिशाच भी हैं.”
I ask, “दोनों मैं फरक क्या है.”
Baba says, “भूत के पांव सीधे होते हैं, पिशाच के पावं उलटे होतें हैं.”
I give it up guessing that now both are भूत-पिशाच PhD.
After breakfast we brace ourselves for some brutal climb to Masar Tal. Climb begins instantly along our brook on our left. Later on we discover that this same brook is fed from Masar Tal. On the way we can see Khatling glacier and all the landmarks we walked. From this height this dangerous glacier looks innocence, harmless and beautiful. Without talking we keep climbing. Our hearts are pounding. Biswas is in bad shape due to the amount of weight he is carrying.

Masar Tal

After one hour, it is too much for us and we decide to make tea and then we resume our 45 degree climb over the unstable boulders. As sunlight is intensifying, ice is melting under out feet and it is becoming very slippery. We cross a ridge and then cross another. Views of Khatling Glacier are spectacular and we can figure out the location of Auden’s Col but it is behind the other mountains.
We are passing through huge fallen rocks, as usual Baba is gone ahead of us since his is carrying very little luggage and a blanket. As we make a turn and pass a huge rock we want to rest. To scare Baba we walk behind the huge rock and sit there to relax. We stay there for half hour and then see Baba running back to find us. He passes us and keeps running and shouting. He gets to the point where he can see several kilometers of descent to Chowki meadow area but don’t spot us.
He shouts, “वापिस चले गए मुझे छोड़ कर.”
He starts weeping.
He looks at the sky and shouts:
भोलेनाथ, मुझे क्यों अकेला छोड़ दिया.
बर्फानी बाबा कुछ करो.
अब मैं क्या खाऊंगा.
अब मैं कहाँ सोऊंगा.
Then he walks a bit further to look for us.

Masar Tal
We regret doing this and know that he will curse us. We secretly come out of the rocks and quietly resume our walk. After some distance we shout and then we find him running towards us.
He asks in anger, “तुम कहाँ चले गए थे.”
“हम तो यहीं हैं, तुम कहाँ चले गए थे.”
Calm fully he replies, “हम भी यहीं हैं.”
He walks behind us and is very confused now. Anyway high altitude is playing games on our minds and we are dreamy. We all have to make some serious effort to concentrate on our path.
We are hungry but want to get to the Masar Tal that is now about 200 feet below us. These 200 feet are a unstable boulder zone but it is a peace of cake for us after crossing the Khatling glacier. We reach at the Tal and fresh snow is everywhere.
We find many safe flat placed around the crystal clear small lake. There is this small flat climb and you get a little flat ground. It was very cloudy, cold and misty and we cannot see the whole Tal.

View from Masar Top
We make a camp here. All over are the symptoms of other people’s camps. We see some discarded trash and plastic bottles etc.
It is intense cold again and we make lots of food so to last for dinner time also so to avoid working in the cold again at evening. We walk to the lake and stay there for half hour but in the worse cold staying here is getting rough so we return to our tents. Area is full of rubbles and getting lost in the mist is easy and I have heard travelers getting lost here and had difficulty to find their campsites.
We hear noises and find a large group of people arriving from Kedarnath, they are going to Ghuttu. They are the first people we have seen after several days. They will be halting here for the night. Their worse journey is over and now is the all the way 3-4 days descent to Ghuttu. They are 7 people, 1 guide, 3 porters and one cook. They are loaded with mountain and high altitude gears including ropes and harnesses etc. etc.
We exchange pleasantries and share information. They are amazed that we are coming from Gangotri. They crowd us and keep asking us for our experience. They share tea with us. We are their heroes.
Chowki area Bugyals
Now atmosphere is full of noise and camera flashes. Some have songs running on their cellphones as they are carrying extra batteries.
In the evening, we warm our food to eat and then retreat in our tents. Air is heavy and snow begins falling again. It is accumulating on our tents and walls are now leaning down with its weight. Actually it is lucky that we are having Snow and temperature will stay near zero but not go below. However we will be facing a hell tomorrow.
We all have restless sleep.
Day 9
In the early morning we make our breakfast cum lunch in the below freezing temperatures and in the knee deep snows. We eat breakfast and pack out lunch. Area is full of noise as other group is also ready to leave. They all come to us for consultation about Khatling glacier. They will be making a base camp in Chowki area and leave their most of the weight and take packed lunch to explore Khatling glacier for one whole day and try to walk as far as possible before returning to their base camp.
We are eager to get out of here. This general area is not offering any invitation to stay further. It is tasteless, unstable and bare. All over are the landslides and lose rocks but we already saw worse over the Khatling Glacier.
Sunrise is extremely beautiful, mountains turn to crimson gradually. As sun is rising we see widening orange band on the peaks or rather in the whole sky. We are overlooking the whole Chowki valley from this very high place.

Kedar Dome View from Masar Top
We are wondering about which way to go. This group shows us the way that we must climb the almost vertical cliff next to the Tal to the Masar Top. We begin our climb on the snow and ice and it is slippery. Luckily I and Briana are carrying about half the weight from what we begun from Gangotri. Poor Biswas is crushed under his still heavy backpack. Whole way I and Briana persuaded him to discard some of his belongings but he stubbornly thinks that we may need something from his warehouse in the emergency that is always lurking around us. Something may come handy and something that he may discard and we may later require it to save our lives.
Trail over the rubbles
We keep climbing over the boulders and more boulders and over the snow and ice. Under the snow there is a thin icy film on most of these boulders and although we are walking in knee deep snow still our feet is slipping under us. We are panting and steaming from our noses and mouth. We arrive at the Masar Top at 9AM.
And Wow! What a spectacular view, a memory of a lifetime. This view alone is worth this travel and nothing else can come close to this. What you see is the valley that we cannot see from Masartal. Whole Chowki Valley and Khatling Glacier is visible. Right below us is the Masar Tal.

Leaving Masar Tal
And in the other direction is a huge snow land something from some other planet. At far left we are seeing the other side of the Kedarnath Peak also called Kedarnath Dome that people from the Kedarnath can never witness. In between us and Kedarnath Dome are a huge snow field and a glacier below and we must cross this glacier. It is a vast snowfield and we have to cross a long distance over it.
We lose all senses upon seeing this spectacle. When we ultimately arrive there and walk across it, we cannot see the size of it at that time. It can only be witnessed from the Masar Top. One side we see sparkling green Chowki area and Khatling Glacier far below and other side is the Kedar Dome and a huge snow field waiting for us. This is the last time we will be seeing the greens of Chowki area or may be the last time in our lives. One undertakes these kinds of journeys only once in the lifetime.
We want to stay here forever so we halt to make tea and eat.

View from Masar Top
After that we begin descending over a steep landslide area. Luckily we find footprints of the group whom we met and initially we don’t walk on the glacier but on the edge of the landslides. After that we walk over stable glacier with proper snow cover. Footprints of the other groups are now lifesavers for us.
Once you traverse through the landslide hill to avoid the glacier, then you have to cross those snow fields and after that you have a proper climb through snow and that’s how you reach Mayali Pass. We keep walking on the easy climb over the glacier. It is white every where. Luckily it weather is cloudy so your eyes are safe from the ultraviolet flashes. We can afford walking without the goggles.
Wow we cross snowfields by 1PM and there we stop at the ice to warm up our food and now it the steep climb to Mayali Pass. Group told us that we may need ropes and we have about 100 feet of rope left, probably well enough. But before the climb we arrive on the ground with cones of ice protruding from the soft snow.

To Mayali Pass
I step my foot and instantly slip in the waist deep snow slush. We again take out poles from out tents and I go forward slipping and sinking at several places and find a way dragging the rope for hundred feet. There I tie rope to a ice pillar and Briana makes it first and then Baba. As Biswas is coming he slips deep in the snow and vanishes. Then he reappears and as he is on the firm ground I tell him to first tie his backpack and we drag it and then he comes walking and slipping. It takes two hours and it is already 4 PM. We are wet and find a place to camp but water is not available only snow. Melting this much snow may cost us all of the kerosene we have. We keep climbing and it is getting tough and rough again at this very high altitude. We arrive at Mayali Pass at 5.30PM.

Glaciers below Mayali Pass
We don’t see much view due to the clouds. Pooja samagri is scattered here and there on the top and it appears that guides etc do pooja and pray here to safely cross the glacier below that we already crossed. It’s almost close to 5500 meters, exhausted and wet. Our breathing is very heavy and hard due to cold and thin air. We cannot stay at the pass due to wind and non availability of water and intense cold. We rest here till 6PM and then begin steep descent.

Final push to Mayali Pass
Descent is worse than hell, extremely steep in the snow. We are tired and our legs are trembling. Time to time we each buckle down without any indication. At a flat place I stop walking and tell everybody to prepare for the camp. I fear if we keep going we will only get hurt or break our ankles. Several time we all slipped but luckily no mishap yet and we cannot extend our luck. Vasuki Tal is about 2-3 hours away and is not visible.
We clean snow to erect our tents and arrange kitchen in the very small sloped flat area. We start both stoves and melt water to drink and wash our faces and then make tea and then dinner. We use our last of the sooji and poha and to make upma and phoa. Food comes up nice and hearty.

Near Mayali Pass
Nothing else to do here on this steep slope in the snows but luckily view opens up and we witness spectacular scenery of the other side of Kedar Dome. I make myself a stiff drink and that is all remaining in the bottle. Another weight reduced.
We go to sleep but near morning Briana wakes me up because 1008 and Biswas are again fighting and she believe that this time something serious may happen.
Baba woke up and went out to take a leak around 4 in the morning but ran back in the tent saying there are ghosts and pishas outside.
He asked Biswas to give him some papers from his backpack to burn as he believed that ghosts stay away from fires. Biswas refused to give him papers saying that those are his valuable maps.
1008 shouts, “किस काम के नक़्शे. तू खुद तो पढ़ नहीं सका इन्हें.”
Biswas says, “हाँ मेरे काम के हैं, यह दुसरे रस्ते के हैं. मुझे यह रखने हैं.”
“अरे तुज्हे तो सुब कुछ ही रखना होता है. अपनी बोरी के नीचे दब चूका तू. फिर भी अक्कल ना आयी.”
Biswas yells at him, “मैं नहीं देता तुम्हे अपने कागज़. लीडर से मांग लो.”
“अरे लीडर के पास अगर एक भी कागज़ होता तो वो कब का फूक चुका होता.”
Fight gets intense and Baba shouts, “तुजे अभी भसम करता हूँ.”
Biswas shout at him, “उठा के पटक दूंगा. मन मन की बोरियां उठता हूँ मैं.”
“अरे कभी तू अपनी बोरी के साथ पहाड़ से लुड़का तो फुटबॉल की तरह ठप्पे खाता नीचे पहुंचे गा.”
“एक दूंगा लेट जायगा.”
Sri Sri 1008 comes out of the tent and chants loudly Shiva Tandav Strotam and begins dancing.
Biswas shouts, “अब कहाँ गए भूत.”
“इति श्रीरावण- कृतम् शिव- ताण्डव- स्तोत्रम् सम्पूर्णम् – बच्चू अभी तू भसम हो जायगा.”
At this point I run out of tent to pacify them. Due to seclusion and living in the ices in the high altitude, devoid of basic necessity is taking toll on us all. We all lost weight and our all jaws are bleeding due to scurvy catching us on all. Even lemon does not work. In the bugyal I was so desperate to eat green things, I ate lots of grass there. I suggested them also to eat but they refused. When I walked to the river along there I plucked the roots of plants and ate those roots. Probably that is the reason my condition is a bit better than others.
Everybody is cranky and kooky in the ices and long isolation from the world. Everybody is out to find some excuse to fight and vent off. Briana too is nagging and quarreling with me at any given chance. We did this Kedarnath trek in the reverse way whereas all trekkers do it from Kedarnath to Ghuttu that is all downhill from Mayali Pass. Rarely anyone do this backbreaking climb from Khatling glacier area.
It is morning anyway and we do not go back to sleep but make tea and breakfast.
Day 10.
It takes 2 hours to cross the snows and ice hell and then begins boulders. Boulders are getting smaller and incline is turning in to a sloped meadow. We arrive upon orange and grassy sloped meadow, it is lucky to see any vegetation again. There is no path or trail, we are simply descending and don’t know where we are going. In the grass we find trails and get lost and then return and then again get lost. This area seems like the the outer boundary of the cattle trails, Finally we find a well defined trail and walk over it and see Vasuki Tal and arrive there at 10AM. We have no water and we are extremely thirsty and there is no snow to chew.

Approaching Vasuki Tal
We rush to Vasukital, we are at approximately 4000 meter height. Now we see lots of grass, meadow flowers and gentle slope. Lake is a big in India standard; it is about 1 kilometer long. We see a group of people here who just arrived from Kedarnath and are beginning to install their tents.
Vasukital is a very serene and very spiritual place, beautiful settings, no snow around this place. Small trails around. Some people take full pradakshina of Vasukital, its sacred for them.

Vasuki Tal Kedarnath
We drink water from the Tal and then using water from here we cook lunch here and use last of our rice and tomato puree. After eating lunch I decide to give away my tiny one liter pressure cooker and other pots to the other group but Biswas wants the pressure cooker so he takes it.
I give away my other pots. I give them away all our leftover kerosene, spices, sugar and all because we are close to Kedarnath now.
We again take inventory of our belongings and I and Briana discard all our those clothes burned by Baba’s cheroot, we or rather he won’t need these anymore. My backpacks is now barely 16 kilos and Briana’s is about 10 kilos and most of the weight is tent, sleeping bags and our jackets. I discard my jacket also but Biswas wants it and requests me to keep carrying it till Kedarnath for him.

Vasuki Tal
Kedarnath is 4 hours away.
We begin our last climb from this pretty valley of Vasuki Tal to get to the other side to Kedarnath. Grass accompanies us to this whole climb. We climb slowly in our luxury and arrive at the top of slope in 3 hours.
Suddenly Kedarnath is visible and views are spectacular.

Final approach to Kedarnath
We make tea in Biswas’s pot with the leftover kerosene in Briana’s butterfly stove, and there we see another group and I give them away our remaining tea, coffee and other things. We begin our extremely steep descent walking next to Mandakini River. It is the same river that is in Kedarnath and then in Gaurikund. We walk midst green grass and bushes in the lush green Kedarnath Valley.
Below is the famous Temple town of Kedarnath.
Bhasmasur is in ecstasy and shouting and chanting Shiva’s many names.
To be continued -
One last part.

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