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The Pindari Glacier is a glacier found in the upper reaches of the Kumaon Himalayas, to the southeast of Nanda Devi and Nanda Kot. The glacier flows to the south for a short distance of about 3 km and gives rise to the Pindari River which meets the Alakananda at Karnaprayag in the Garhwal district. The trek to Pindari Glacier is a relatively easy to moderate grade trek and a popular trek route. The trek route goes through a variety of landscapes and one has to walk through dense forests, along the river bed and on trails with snow clad peaks all around you. For a nature lover, it’s like a full course meal, guaranteed to satisfy a connoisseur’s appetite.
It was 3 years since the last trek to Annapurna Base Camp and another trek was turning out to be an immediate necessity. Surprisingly, things fell in place quite smoothly this time. The team was finalized with Santanu pitching in with his entire family, train tickets were booked and Roop Singh finalized as the guide for the trek. Since Santanu was taking his three and a half year old kid, it was important that we availed the services of Roop Singh, who has the skill and capability to take care of young children. It proved to be a wise decision as he took complete responsibility of the young boy throughout the trek.
For me, it was a quick journey from Kolkata to Bageshwar. I left Kolkata on Nabami evening – a bit difficult leave my daughter in the middle of the Durga Puja, but did not have any other option. Kolkata to Delhi by Indigo evening flight and then checking out the Delhi Airport Link to New Delhi station. It was cool!! 20 mins from Terminal 3 to New Delhi station and another 5 minutes to Old Delhi station. The Airport Express service is comparable to the Heathrow Connect or the Narita Express or the Hong Kong Airport Express. Surprisingly, very few were using the services. I believe it will take some time for Indians to get used to the fact that public transport can be used for commuting to and fro from the airport.
I would be traveling to Haldwani by Ranikhet Express and still had some spare time. My rucksack was dumped in the cloak room and decided to explore Parathawala Gali in Old Delhi. It was quite late and many shops had closed. The shops were not much impressive, but their menu was!! Whoever has heard of karela paratha!! I was not bold enough to try it and settled for papad paratha and dal paratha. Both were new to me and surprisingly delicious.
The next morning I arrived at Haldwani at 5 AM. A 3 hour share taxi ride to Almora and I was enjoying my breakfast with Santanu and his family in their hotel room at 9 AM. Without wasting much time, we took another car to Bageshwar where we were expected to meet our guide Roop Singh. It was a short journey of about 2 hours and by noon we were in Hotel Siddharth waiting for our guide.
Bageshwar to Loharkhet
But a faux pas was in the cards and there was no sign of Roop Singh. All previous communication with Roop had been through the telephone only. That too not with him, but with his brother Ballu Singh.
Our plan was to proceed to Loharkhet the same day, but we were stranded without Roop. We decided to check out the taxi stand for available options to go to Saung. Luckily we met a driver who was a relative of Roop and he could create contact with Roop over the phone. There was some mis-communication due to which Roop had the idea that we would be spending the night at Bageshwar and start for Loharkhet the next day. However, we met Roop when we reached Saung after a 2 hour journey along the banks of the Saryu river. Truly speaking, the first impression of Roop was very disappointing. Very soft spoken and one can hardly here him speak, frail structure and we were wondering if this is the Roop Singh that we were supposed to meet!! Once we started the trek, all our apprehensions turned to admiration. Go with him!! Unfortunately, it was raining heavily by that time and dusk was approaching. After warming up with some hot Maggi and tea, we decided to move ahead to Loharkhet. Soon some plastic wrapped figures were moving towards Loharkhet in the semi darkness. I was tired after my long journey since yesterday and none of us were not mentally prepared for this long walk. Roddur started crying after some time as he was startled by the turn of events and this is not the trek that he had expected!! It turned out to be a long and steep walk. The rain and darkness made it look much more difficult. Ultimately after almost 2 hours we reached Loharkhet and we were surprised by the quality of the room – surpassed all expectations. We were the only occupants for that night. Dinner was in the kitchen, sitting by the fire and enjoying hot chapattis, dal and soyabean and potato curry. That became our staple menu for both lunch and dinner. for the next eight days.
Day 1: Loharkhet to Dhakuri
This was ideally the first day of the trek, though we had walked for a good two hours the day before in torrential rain. Everybody was in good spirits.
Roop had gone down to Song the last evening and was to return with his mules that would be carrying our bags. Roop arrived after some time with a smiling face and ‘namaste’ on his lips. We started on our walk while Roop loaded our bags on the mules with the help of his grandson Krishna. The first day had the maximum ascent – Upper Loharkhet was at 1824m while Dhakuri was at 2672m. The total distance was 9Km, of which the last 1Km was descent from Dhakuri Top. It was very hot and we were getting exhausted frequently. There were a couple of maggi and tea shops on the way that are quite useful. The entire route does not have much habitation except for some after Dhakuri and Khati, which is a big village. These stall owners open their shops during the trekking season and stay in some makeshift homes during that time. The entire route was paved with stone at most of the places which makes it easier to maintain, though the unpaved ones are easy to walk on and seem more natural.
The route was very scenic, though there was not much shade and we gradually moved up towards Dhakuri Top.
It is a small low altitude pass that lead on to the Pindar valley. 2 Km from Dhakuri top is a temple of Chilta Devi. If the weather is clear, it provides a grand view of the snow-capped peaks. But it was cloudy when we reached the top and all we could see were clouds. As we descended to Dhakuri, we realized why it is said to be the most beautiful spot on this trek. Undulating meadows surrounded by dense forest facing the mountain ranges – it’s a perfect holiday spot. The Maiktoli, Panwalidar and Nanda Khat peaks stare at you in Dhakuri. Unfortunately all the rooms at Dhakuri TRH was occupied by a group of 21 trainees from Mosouriee. The good thing about KMVN is that they have one or two tents as a standby and we were given the only tent in Dhakuri. The tent was huge, so we did not have any problems with it. Evening was approaching, so we had some light meal instead of a full lunch. Dinner is served quite early, around 7 PM. It was also for the first time we saw how efficient Roop was. He was waiting with water when we reached Dhakuri. Tea followed immediately afterwards and ensured that food was good and always served in time.
While strolling around, suddenly I came across birds, beautiful birds with long fluttering tails. God, they were beautiful. It was only then I noticed that various types of colorful birds were flying all around Dhakuri – a real treasure chest. They were members of the Magpie family and I saw quite a few variations of these birds in Dhakuri. The evening was spent in bird photography. By this time, the clouds had moved away and the mountain range was standing upright in front of us. It was 3 days before full moon and they were sparkling white in moonlight.
We had just gone to bed when suddenly we felt somebody pushing against the tent. Bells started ringing and the identity of the intruders became clear – our mules. Why the hell did they want to come in the tent? Santanu went outside and drove them away as I was half asleep or pretending to be asleep?
Day 2: Dhakuri to Khati
The next morning we were up at 5:30 AM for the sunrise. Nothing spectacular – but the weather was clear with the promise of an interesting day ahead of us.
The journey to Khati was a short one, mainly descent. The forests of Dhakuri ended too soon and after that there was not much tree cover on the way and we were sweating. By this time, Suparna’s shoes were already coming apart and were tied with ropes around her feet. Roddur was comfortable with both Roop and Krishna and most of the time was traveling on their shoulders. Roop showed a shop from where Suparna could manage to buy a pair of shoes.
There is a village Dau before Khati and a road from here goes towards Jatoli, which is also the road to Sundardunga glacier. Khati is a big village of that region. Terraced farming is done in the village and potato is the major cultivated crop. Due to intense winter and snow in winter, no other crops or vegetable can be grown there. Khati also boasts of a primary and secondary school and all children of the village attend school. We came to know of these facts during our stay in Khati on the way back.
At Khati, we stayed at Sangam Cottage, a very neat and decent accommodation run by a local Tara. It had a small but neat lawn with flowers in front, the rooms were big and the food was good. We will remember his preparation of a delicious, finger licking dish of potato and freshly plucked rye (sarso sag). Roop left for his village Jatoli where he would spend the night and be back the next morning. Jatoli was 7 Km from Khati (1 hour journey for Roop) and on the route to Sundardunga glacier. Khati is also the confluence of the Pindar and Sundardunga river. The rest of the day was spent in meeting other fellow trekkers, a stroll to the village, talking with some villagers and photographing butterflies and bees. It was in Khati that we met a couple in their fifties and they were walking almost 20Km every day. Having completed Sundardunga trek, they were on their way to Pindari. It was also here that we met a 71 year old gentleman, who did a rock climbing course at the age of 63. Our finger-licking dinner was in the kitchen by the fireside. And at night, I got the first shot of the snow capped peaks in moonlight – from Khati only Maikoli is visible.
Day 3: Khati to Dwali
Today would be a long walk of about 11Km. So we made it a point to leave by 8 AM. The route was beautiful and we would be traveling through dense forests. We walked along the Pindar river and had the flowing river besides us throughout the walk. At times we were on the river bank and could touch the ice cold water. We crossed innumerable streams formed by melting ice and flowing along the sides of the mountains to merge with the Pindar river.
This stretch between Khati and Dwali also has its share of a tea shop at an intermediate location. It was almost a 6 hour walk from Khati, but ours was a leisurely walk. Pros can definitely do it in a much shorter time. In between it started raining heavily with small ice pellets hitting us at high speed. However, the forest cover spared us from the severe intensity of the rains. We were once again wrapped in our plastic sheets as we moved on.
Dwali TRH is at an amazing location. You cross the Pindar river, and when you think your journey has come to an end, you have to walk up for quite some time to reach the TRH. From the top, you will feel that you are sitting on the side walls of the saucer. The place is circled by high green mountains with a flat approach land at the bottom. Amazing location!! Dwali is also the confluence of Pindar and Kafni river. Both the trek routes to Pindari and Kafni glacier share a common route till Dwali and then bifurcate from here. The trek to Kafni glacier follows the Kafni river while that to Pindari glacier follows the Pindar river. However, only Maiktoli can be viewed from Dwali, view of the other peaks being blocked by the narrow george of the Pindar river.
Day 4: Dwali to Phurkia
The penultimate day on the way to Pindari and it was a short walk of about 5 Km. Phurkia has the last staying option on this route, unless one is carrying tents. A very gradual ascent, not very difficult – that is how one can describe this days walk. It had its fair share of ups and downs. We had some company this day – a group of 8 trekkers from Bangalore. It was good to exchange views and our experiences. This day we were walking with the Pindari river to our left. The nature of the vegetation was gradually changing as we gained height. The forest cover when we started to walk from Dwali gradually decreased and tall trees gave way to shorter trees and ground hugging shrubs. The walk was gradually becoming tiring and suddenly the Phurkia TRH came into view. The view from Phurkia is restricted and only Nanda Kot can be seen from there. It is to a large extent surrounded by sky hugging mountains on all sides.
The TRH accommodation in Phurkia was not in very good shape and we had a not so memorable experience with rats at night. No wonder people do not stay there longer than expected at Phurkia!! The PWD accommodation was in deplorable condition and looked like it has not been used for quite some time.
Myself and Santanu got hold of a chair and took a seat along the road. Clear crisp weather, snow clad peaks in front, lunch was served where we were sitting – I believe we were rooted in that place for over a couple of hours till we began to feel the cold. There was a small tea shop there and spent the evening in the small, smoky shop where a lot of people had assembled for warmth generated by the burning logs in it. After dinner, we were treated to a view of the sparkling snow clad Nanda Kot in moonlight. It was the night of Kojagari Purnima and the surrounding was basking in moonlight. Surprisingly it was not as cold as I had expected it to be in Phurkia. Luckily there was no wind and that gave some relief from the usual cold of Phurkia. Dhakuri was colder!!
Day 5: Phurkia to Zero Point and back to Dwali
The final day and I was up at 4 AM. Santanu and Suparna would be starting a little later with their kid. By 4:30 I had my morning tea, woke up Krishna and had started for zero point with Krishna as company. The point was cover at least 3 Km before sunrise so that I get to see all the visible peaks flare up to the rays of the rising sun. From Phurkia, the view is restricted and one gets to see only a single peak. All I can say is that I was witness to a spectacular sunrise and marveled at the way each of the peaks were lit by the rising sun one by one.
The route was very gentle and green meadows on either side. The tree line gradually ended and soon the region became devoid of any vegetation. The landscape changed from green meadows to rocky and strewn with boulders. With every turn of the journey, a new peak became visible and soon I was surrounded by high, partly snow clad mountains all around. Soon the ashram of Pindari Baba came into view. I decided to stop there after visiting zero point. Zero point was another 1 Km from there. The final point looked quite dangerous to me – a narrow ridge and hardly two people can walk side by side for the last few meters. The usual scramble was there to take photos and capture the scenery all around. I was not any exception!! I sat down on the ground there at a wide part of the ridge, hoping to spend some time there. The view at zero point is spectacular with a number of peaks encircling the region. The prominent peaks visible from zero point are Baljuri (5922 m), Panwali Dwar (6663 m), Nandakhat (6611 m), Changuch (6322 m), Nandakot (6861 m) along with a number of unnamed peaks. The Pindari glacier was to the left of zero point at a distance and one cannot walk upto the mouth of the glacier. I found that quite a few people were not aware of this fact and they were very disappointed that they could not touch the ice over the glacier. According to the guides, the snout of the glacier has receded in the last couple of years. Earlier, it used to be much near to zero point.
Another Aussie trekker started distributing some breakfast to all present there. I had minimal food in my bag, and that too sufficient for myself and Krishna. So I could only accept the food given by my fellow trekker and unable to offer any.
My remaining team members soon joined me at zero point and after spending some time there we all started the journey back, stopping at the ashram on the way. The ashram is maintained by Pindari Baba. We were offered tea, puri and sabji there. It seems he cooks everybody in the morning for all those visiting the glacier. He lives alone for 10 months of the year and the remaining winter months he is traveling to other parts of the country, collecting funds for his philanthropic work. Myself and Santanu had a long chat with him and we were impressed.
It was almost noon when we left. Surprisingly the weather was clear, with no signs of any cloud or rain. It would be a long journey – another 12 Kms upto Dwali. After a short re-fuelling at Phurkia, we quickly moved out towards Dwali so that we reach there before evening.
Day 6-8: Dwali to Bageshwar
Its always sad to write about the return journey. As we re-traced our original route, we did not have any new experiences. But we did it at a relaxed pace, stopping at Khati and Dhakuri on the way. At Khati we asked Tara to prepare same vegetable dish that we had relished earlier. Tara tried to arrange for some chicken, but it was too costly (a thousand bucks). We had a nice evening chit-chat session with two of the school teachers of Khati and came to know a lot about the village and its schools. Since the village did not have a high school, some of the girls traveled 10 Km daily to school.
From Khati, there is an alternate route by which one can avoid Dhakuri and reach a motorable road at Supi in a day. But my impression is Dhakuri should not be missed. The final destination as well as the journey also matters.
To conclude, we had a car waiting for us near Loharkhet. Roop arranged for it – I do not know how. He also picked up whatever we had left at Loharkhet TRH. It was difficult saying good bye to him. As long as we could see him from the car, he was standing with his hands folded and a sad face. We all hoped that we will meet him soon.
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