Sunday, March 31, 2013

Trek preparations in Uttarkashi (Gangotri-Kedarnath Trek 1.)


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

In September Uttarkashi is lush green, sky is azure and Ganges is also happy. I and Briana are here and she is pressing me to plot the strategies to do Gangotri to Kedarnath trek and it is against my nature to plot a strategy for any of my travel. I travel at random and unplanned. On the other hand she has valid points; we have to cross rivers. We have to walk on the ice and over the crevices and we will be spending several days in the snows and in isolation in the most vicious terrine of the Himalayas.
“You must think about food, fuel, maps and what not. We will be climbing in between of the Himalayan peaks to go across the Audel’s Col. And then there is several thousand feet of dangerous drop of Khatling Glacier.”
To this I have no answer and may be I need to start preparations here in Uttarkashi. Things may not be available in Gangotri. Luckily she brought two lengths of 100 feet each lightweight rope, two feather filled light high altitude jackets, one ultralight and barely enough for two people tent, two lightweight sleeping bags designed for subzero and 4 dark goggles to cope with the sunlight reflection from the snow white etc. etc..

3D Map of Gangotri area. Auden’s Col is at the right top corner.

My dilemma is to have a light backpack and that seems impossible. Already combined weight of jackets, tent, sleeping bag, sleeping pad and our other belongings is 22 kilograms. My backpack never weighted more than 7-8 kilos. I am already uncomfortable to carry this much luggage and moreover my previous experience with Briana reflects that I will happen to carry even her load too. Account of other expeditions say they made it to the Auden’s Col pass and then to Khatling glacier in 6-7 days and most of them turned from the glacier towards Ghuttu that is another 6 days but in alpine meadows.
Then many travelers walked from Ghuttu to Kedarnath, that again takes 7-8 days. Rarely any travelers made it straight from Gangotri to Kedarnath via Khatling glacier, because it is difficult to carry provisions for about two weeks (gives or take). All groups had a convoy of support personals, porters and guides so they needed to carry rations for many people.
Moreover I never take my travel as an expedition and I walk with my own luxury and leisure so main problem is to carry food for these many days. OK, we can arrange 300 parothas (20 for each day for both X 15 days) but we cannot eat frozen parothas and then eating same parothas each day will cause havoc on us and in a matter of a three four days we will be having scurvy. And 300 parothas weight 30 kilograms. Then we must carry fuel to warm up our food. If we use Briana’s butterfly stove, very conservatively, we will use at least half liter of kerosene each day to warm our food and to melt the ices into water for our drinking needs and this alone comes to 8 liter and we cannot carry this much luggage if we have to climb the Auden’s pass and then cross the Khatling glacier.

From Auden’s Col to Khatling Glacier passage on the snows.
We can carry dry rice but then we need lots of fuel to cook rice and then we also need a pressure cooker to cook because at heights water boils at low temperature and it costs more fuel to cook. Taking noodles, Maggie etc is an option because these are dry and have no water weight like parothas or anything cooked. Then we need to carry more fuel.
After a lot of pondering we opted to carry about 30 parothas (3 kilo), 100 packets of noodles (9 kilo), 1 kilograms of cereals, 2 kilograms of soya nuggets, 2 kilograms of rice and 2 kilograms of assorted daals. 5 liters of kerosene in divided in two plastic bottles of one gallon each, a smallest pressure cooker (1 liter), 2 plastic plates, 2 spoons and 2 plastic mugs. Then we must have another pot to boil water or store water for cooking.
I calculated, this much all becomes 25 kilograms. Then we opted to carry some ginger, garlic, onions, tea, salt, assorted spices, some lemons (to protect us from scurvy), tea and coffee. Then an idea comes to my mind that we should carry lots of curry-patta that grows at the lower areas around Uttarkashi and dry it and carry about half kilograms of it. To reduce weight I decided on not to carry any sugar but Briana vetoed this as she is a doctor. She says sugar is high energy and a rescue ration and we must carry it as emergency measure if we get lost or stranded in a snow blizzard.

On the way to Auden’s Col
This means that our combined weight will be more than 50 kilograms and we each will carry at least 25 kilo each and that is gross. Only one relief is that as days are passed we will be getting lighter says 1 kilo lighter each of us for each day spent and by the time we cross Khatlihng glacier we will be only carrying 18-19 kilo each and that is a relief but if we get to that far. So our weight will be more than 26 kilograms for each.
Airline suitcase for USA to India travel are maximum 50 pound and that is less than 25 kilos and I am familiar with this much suitcase weight and this is damn heavy weight to carry on one’s shoulder. What about if our backpacks give up and tear down. We need to carry some mending materials. We choose to buy most of the provisions from Gangotri so we travel lighter till there.
But at the next morning Briana decided to make our purchases in Uttarkashi and then do a small rehearsal with carrying all the wait and walk till the Thalan Village. Ruining a day in Uttarkashi does not suit me so I veto this idea. OK, we will go to the market with our backpacks and purchase and arrange all items in our backpacks and then bring it in our room. Let’s see if we can do it and then for the real expedition we will be having more weight like our tent, jackets and sleeping bags so let’s fill and arrange all the groceries in our backpack less parothas.
We go to market with empty backpacks and buy groceries form various stores and luckily everything is neatly arranged and we weight our backpacks and weight is about 16 kilo each that still does not include our clothes, jackets, tent, kerosene, water bottles. At another store we purchase pressure cooker, a lightest aluminum pot that can take 2 liter water, spoons, plastic mugs and plates.

Auden’s Col, final approach.
We haul this all to our room. Now I want to know how many meals we can make with 1 kilo dry rice. This we ask a dhaba man where we ate lunch several times. He makes a cup with his one hand and pours rice 4 times in a thali saying that this much is sufficient for you both if no other things are also being accompanied with the rice. We weight the rice and it comes to one third of a kg so we assume 1 kg will last us one 3 times. As we cross the foot bridge towards our Hotel in Joshiara there we remember that we forgot to include cooking oil in our groceries. Briana suggests that we must not cut on cooking oil because our food will be mostly starch and we must have some protein and fat. So we purchase 2 one liter each jars of Dalda ghee so to avoid carrying as much possible liquid. This adds to our weight but so far so good. This much we can manage although we will be climbing walls and this is just the half.
Then I remember the liquor, I should have it to have some good time for a couple of evening so let’s say one liter plastic bottle. Braina does not drink but she recommends Brandy. In the evening we go to liquor store and they have some worse brand of brandy and I decide to take my chance at Bhagori village where I will request some illicit moonlighter to prepare me some raw sugar alcohol for whatever money it may cost. Something that catches fire and this can be also used for emergency fuel if … (I doubt).

Near Auden’s Col
Then I remember we haven’t bought yet Onions, garlic, ginger, lemons etc. We return and buy these things and now we are heavier by 1 kilo each. Whole idea of going alone without any help from Gangotri to Kedarnath is becoming scary by each moment as we keep remembering another item that we forgot to carry and it is adding to our luggage.
At noon we walk in the Inderavati valley and find curry-patta bushes and there we pluck about 2 kilo of the leaves. I try to chew some dry leaves but those do not carry any fragrance so the idea of having dried leaves is flop. We bring the leaves in the room and decide to dry these in the shade for just one day to reduce the weight. We will carry about half kilo of these. These are eatables. I see people in South India, removing these leaves form their curries but I eat these always anyway.
In our room we pack everything and try carrying our loads and now we are really apprehensive about surviving even first kilometer of the more than 100 kilometers walk that includes half the distance of serious climb, about 10 kilometers are to climb rocky walls to Auden’s Col and then descent to the Khatling glacier and then again climbing till Mayali Pass. We don’t have kerosene and water yet. Moreover we are not carrying parothas yet.
Later on I get another idea about making Poha and Uttapam on this trip both things are easy to make and don’t much contribute to the dry weight. So we should carry one and a half kilo of sooji and one and a half kilo of pohas and we will return 60 packets of noodles. So this reduced our weight by 3 kilos and also volume reduced because noodles were taking lots of space.
At the end I buy more kinds of spices to bring taste to our monotonous food. I also buy cardamom, cinnamon, star anise, aniseed etc. to taste up our teas because these things are negligibly heavy.
I already bought essential assorted medicines from Delhi.

The notch is Auden’s Col
Now I am scared to even look at our backpacks. I suggest Briana to give it up but she says she won’t.
OK with me. I am not a particularly adventurous spirit. I hike or trek on my own luxury and leisure. If life will become tough, I will simply abandon everything on my shoulders and will return to the nearest road-head. I never took a pride or challenge in my any of the journey. I always traveled for my fun and joy.
If I won’t see any fun or joy in this trip, I will simply bolt. I tell this straight to Briana. And she replies, “You are free to bolt but I will be going to Kedarnath.”
“OK, then I will be there waiting for you or create a base camp after Khatling glacier from other side. If you survive and reach there anyway behind the Sumaru Parwat.”
“Thank you anyway.”
At night I call my friend to ask for the recipe to prepare basic Upma, and it turns out the easiest recipe.
Curry Patta Tree
Grows wild in all over lower Himalayas up to 5000 feet.
Often used in curries, the leaves generally called by the name “curry leaves”, though they are also translated as “sweet neem leaves” in most Indian languages.

Curry Patta Tree (Murraya koenigii)
In a study published in Plant Foods for Human Nutrition in 2009, several Indian leafy vegetables were compared for their antioxidant activity. Interestingly, total antioxidant activity and free radical scavenging activity were highest in curry leaves. This shows that curry leaves and their extract hold great promise to mediate the immune system and metabolic processes. A study published this year has found potent anti-bacterial properties in curry leaves, which encourages further studies on the use of curry leaves as a viable therapeutic agent. Other studies have also found anti-fungal activity in curry leaves, which explains why it is used to fight bad breath and gum disease.
It is perhaps a good idea to include curry leaves in your diet. They can be used both raw and cooked. Typically, in Indian cooking, a whole bunch is tempered with ghee or oil. It combines well with vegetables, lentils, fish, meats, curds, butter and coconut milk. They can also be ground and used as paste in curries. Leaves dried in open air lose their pungency, while vacuum-dried ones can retain their odor with flavor for up to two weeks. However, the leaves are best consumed fresh. A curry leaf tree is easy to grow in soil or earthen pots in a house garden.
Some practitioners of herbal medicine advise consuming a few leaves in the morning, while others recommend therapeutic doses as juice. However, it should not exceed more than 15 grams. As several metabolic diseases and age-related degenerative disorders are closely associated with oxidation processes in the body, the use of curry leaves as a source of antioxidants warrants further attention.
Like other herbs and spices, curry leaves have a history and a strong presence in our cultural heritage, including food and health. While several health benefits are known, research must focus on identifying the curry leaves’ bio-active substances, validating its traditionally known health effects. With increasing interest in alternative therapies, this information can prove to be hugely beneficial.


  1. यह मेरा पसंदीदा क्षेत्र है।

  2. Its a revision because this i had gone thro' on ghumakkar.
    but its beautifully written supported with so good pics.

  3. Its a beautiful post well supported with so good pics.although i had been thro' this post on ghumakkar but i enjoyed going thro' this by one i will go thro' all of them.
    thanks for sharing.

  4. Praveen ji, I really enjoyed your travel blog. Its humorous with lot of good write ups. Thanks for sharing.


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