A Trek to Remember

Why were we climbing this? I had no answer. What was ahead of this climb? I had no answer. How long did we climb? Neither I wanted to ask this to my friend, nor did I want to remove the gloves and check my watch. We were standing in a queue on an exposed steep rock wall, stepping on cracks and hanging rocks. There was not much space to put our feet. Moreover, due to a drizzle had happened awhile, rocks were wet and slippery. A slip would result in an end forever from this world. There were no other living being except ten of us. No other sound was there except the long hissing sound due to own long breathing. Slowly we had started to push forward, pushing our limit. After climbing few more steps, we could see our porters waiting for us on the cliff above. They started shouting by calling our names, encouraging us to overcome the fear and exhaustion. From there, after ten more minutes of climbing, we found ourselves in a picturesque snow filled plateau in front of a couple of small glacier waterfalls. What a sight it was. Mt Parvati was guarding one side of the plateau. We could see snow-capped mountain ranges stretching towards the horizon on another side. What could be a better place for camping than this after eight hours of an exhausting hike over glacier, moraines and boulders?

It all started a few months back when we got to know a story about the Garhwal Himalaya. Among so many myths and stories about Himalaya, the tale of Panpatia Col is probably one of the most enduring one. It says a single priest used to perform worship at both Badrinath and Kedarnath in every day. He used to take a route to conduct prayers at both the temples which are separated by high mountains. This story had drawn renowned explorers like of Meade, Shipton and Tilman, Martin Moran, Harish Kapadia and many other intrepid explorers. Most of the early explorations had come to a cropper, with weather, terrain and nerves beating each party back. Finally, a route established in 2007, which follows a narrow gully that hides its approach within drifts of moraines, crevasses and massive icefalls. Our mission was to follow that trail to cross the Panpatia ice field and redo the traverse.

Our hiking began from an unnamed culvert over "Khirohi Nala" on the way towards Badrinath from Joshimath. It was a moderate hike along the river bed. We crossed the boulders in the river bed and reached one side of it. From there a thin ledge-like trail went up to the valley. The trail went through the ferns and shrubs as they started to grow thicker at each bending. We followed the trail and reached a village called "Hanuman Chatti". It was a small hamlet of shepherds. We moved a little further and reached a valley. It was the place where we camped the first night. There was a small waterfall ahead of our campsite. We went there in the afternoon. An endless relaxing babbling brook refreshed our mind. One can sit there for hours doing nothing. The view from the feet of the waterfall was breathtaking. We could see the entire trail we crossed in the morning. After dusk, we came back to our tent. Before entering my tent in the night, I noticed bright Jupiter sparkling above my tent. I took my camera and tripod and captured that scene. Such beautiful moments are one of the rewards of travelling the high Himalayas.

Next morning we woke up to a bright sunny sky. We packed up early and started our hike. We followed the river but not along its bed. We stayed right bank of it and traversed through the valleys. It was a steep climb from the beginning. After negotiating, the trail became a little flat. We crossed a couple of stream and few lush green meadows to reach snout of a glacier from where the river begins. The range of snow-tipped mountains surrounded the valley. We could see Mt Neelkanth and Mt Parvati standing like ancient guardians of time in front of our camp. We spent that night listening to the roaring sound of the rushing river flowing close to our tent.

I did live for another day but was far from being fighting fit. I barely managed to stagger up slowly and finished the packing. Unfortunately, it would be the hardest day among all. We started at a lower level of the glacier field and slowly climb over loose rocky boulders on top of it. We kept on crossing piles of them one after another till there was none. We camped on a moraine ground above the glacier surface. There was barely any drinkable water source. The only water source was the coming from melted glacier ice which was full of mud. We all were tired. So we settled the day early after having quick dinner.

Like the previous day, it was sunny in the morning. So we packed up early and began our trek. We climbed few more boulder patches and finally reached the feet of the Panpatia glacier. The views all around were mesmerising as well as terrifying at the same time. The glacier jumped from above eight hundred meters and in few vertical falls reached where we were standing. It was like a huge ice-wall full of cracks and crevasses, impossible to climb without any technical gear. We understood why it took so many years to find a route there. There were crevasses yawned open their white fangs of cold death everywhere on the glacier. We carefully crossed the glacier near its bottom part and reached on another side. We took a brief rest there and slowly started to climb along the path of a dry waterfall. We climbed, crawled, walked for an hour to reach a plateau above the main glacier covered with moraine. From there we could see a dead glacier meeting the Panpatia glacier. Deposition from both the glaciers before their confluence created the plateau. It was almost like a small hill of moraines and rocks. We slowly moved forward along the ridge of it. We knew we had almost reached the Parvati gully. But we were all exhausted. Ours' legs were fatigued. The weather had changed to cloudy and chillingly cold. It was not possible to sit somewhere and gather the breath because cold would soon freeze us. Somebody from us pointed out a line along the mountain on our left. We could spot the Parvati gully. Finally, we had reached the feet of it. But could it be possible for now to climb it?

It was a great experience over the snow. After having hot soup and food, all of us felt energised. We enjoyed the breathtakingly beautiful sunset over the snow-capped mountains. The evening came swiftly and along with the sky gradually cleared up. The night was chillingly cold. I got out of the tent and mesmerised after noticing the night sky. The sky was studded with millions of stars like tiny diamonds sparkled over a pitch dark blanket. White mountain ranges were glowing in the dark beneath the sparkling diamonds. I took a photograph of the entire landscape. We never see so many stars from our place. There was not a single soul except me in that vast unreal mountainscape. It was the landscape where solitude was my best friend. Word is not enough to describe such an experience. There are many reasons why one keeps going to the Himalayas even after all the travails. Finding oneself in such a place is one of them.

Photographs