17.04.2009 - 21.04.2009
I met Raja through Couchsurfing. It was really a big piece of luck, since Renata decided to call him while on the bus to Dharamsala pretty much on a whim to see if he would come have some tea with us. Well, Raja owns the Himalayan Explorers company (http://www.himalayanexplorers.co.in). He wanted to make a fun/scouting trek with two of his guides (Sachin and Ishan) to the Saru pass to find a new way to Kullu, and offered to take us with him. Us at that point was Renata, me, and Flavia, a Bolivian girl who was couchsurfing with him. Since this was a scouting trek, and because we get along pretty well, he generously asked us to pay only for food and transportation expenses! This trek was one of the highlights of my whole trip so far. Here are some pictures (Most provided by Renata, and some by Raja):
We spent the first day mostly with getting to Barot, the starting place of our trek. This involved a few hours of bus (from left to right Flavia, me, Raja, and Ishan)
including a memorable episode on the roof of the overcrowded bus driving, along narrow mountain roads:
We finally arrived in Barot, the start of our trek. Here's a pictures of the village:
And here are some local women coming back to the village with their load of wood:
In the evening Raja, Sachin and Ishan sent us ahead to Barot to go eat, but we couldn't find a restaurant. The only place we found served us some meager omelets. For future reference: get a Hindi speaking person in each group!
On the second day we went a little bit upstream an affluent of the main river. Some higher cast villagers were kind enough to let us castless pariahs stay on a place far away from their village (It's a very strange feeling for a white Caucasian male western city dweller to meet some illiterate half-civilized peasant that looks down on him. I think it's the first time I felt racism against me. It's very unpleasant.). Here's a local woman in traditional attire:
The river we followed up:
Flavia, Renata, me, and Ishan
A view of the way ahead:
The camp site
Flavia at the camp site. She made Bolivia jump some places towards the top of my list of places to visit :-)
In the evening a local guy joined us at the campfire. He just came from the other side of the pass and told us it was passable. However he also told us that they had recently lost 4 men on this route. I don't know whether he was joking or not, it made me feel rather uneasy. If 4 local mountaineers had lost their life there, how big were the survival chances of a group of tourists? But nobody really cared, and we moved on without discussing the case. It was a tacit agreement that we would go as far as we could just to see how it is.
Dhal and rice for dinner.
Porridge for breakfast.
The third day involved quite a lot of walking. We followed this river up to an altitude of 3200m. We wanted to reach the pass the next day around midday and go back the other side to minimize the risks of altitude sickness. The path went on very soon up a very steep slope, an omen of things to come... The walk up the valley was gorgeous! Here are some photos:
Taking some rest. On this picture there are Sachin, Ishan and the two porters we hired to carry the heavy kitchen stuff, food, and Flavia's baggage (she had everything with her, since she continued on from Kullu and didn't come back to Dharmsala). The two porters are locals and could probably have done the whole 5-day trek in one day with backpack!
Here are Renata and me, and the mountains we had to cross in the background
Here we are enjoying some rest and chai at the camp site after all this walking...
The porters told us it is possible to dry and smoke the leaves of this plant. They use it sometimes against colds. We immediately decided to gather some leaves and experiment in the name of science:
Renata's knees deserve a special entry. There's something badly wrong with the kneecaps, so she has to tape them during difficult walks, something she routinely forgets. Here I am applying some snow to cool down the inflammation.
I am standing here at the very beginning of the river. As you can see from my position, I am not as comfortable as I would like it to appear :-)
Dhal and rice for dinner, but improved with Rhododendron flowers by the cook Sachin.
Porridge for breakfast.
I have seriously risked life and limb before, but never as many times in one day as on this fourth day of our trek. We decided to start early in the morning. Since we are a bunch of lazy slackers, and in order to see where we're walking, this meant we started to walk around 7am. Here's a picture of me, Flavia, and Renata full of enthusiasm at the start of the walk:
So we climbed up the ridge towards Saru pass, once again beginning with a very steep slope. Over 3000m, such an effort at 7am is a rather uncomfortable endeavor. I found myself totally out of breath, because I was naturally breathing as much as experience told me I had to breath for such an effort. I had to consciously increase my breathing rate to compensate for the lack of pressure. Once again, don't trust your instincts when in non-standard conditions... We followed a path on the top of the narrow ridge, with the river-feeding glacier down to our right and the main part of the valley to our left. Here are some pictures of the ridge:
Here's a view backwards towards the valley:
This is the glacier to our right with some bear tracks on the second pic. There are bears and snow-leopards around, but we weren't lucky enough to spot any:
Around 10 o'clock the first snow patches started to appear. Fortunately the snow was quite hard, so we didn't sink in too much (none of us had any kind of boots, I was wearing jeans). Unfortunately the snow being hard made it also very slippery. On the steeper parts Sachin went in front with a small shovel and dug some holes for the rest to put our feet in. The two local porters were always much in front of our group and patiently waited for us from time to time.
About one hour later we had reached the top of the ridge and were closing in on the pass. Here's a view of Saru Pass, behind the ridge:
And some views from the top of the ridge:
Here's a group photo with Ishan and Renata in the back and me, Flavia, and Raja in the front. Flavia went up the mountain as if she was going grocery shopping. Incredible. But then again she lives in La Paz at 3500m above sea-level. How can people live at such low pressure?:
At this point we were at maybe 3800m above sea-level. But from the top of the ridge we still had to climb up to Saru Pass. First there was a quite steep grassy and muddy slope. Watch me half crawl it up:
Then the snow really started. We had to cross the slope keeping to the right, aiming for a grassy patch. Already I had an uneasy feeling when imagining how far down someone would slide if he/she slipped. Although it would be one hell of a ride if one manages to avoid the occasional rocks, the arrival down there would be quite brutal... The view however was phenomenal:
We made it gratefully to the grassy patch and rested there for a while. Altitude was around 3900m. I was getting excited to reach the 4000m. It is something special for us Europeans and Americans, but for the locals it's a trifle, they routinely go above five or six thousand meters.
Now the scary part really started. We had to cross one final snow slope that was steeper than the one we had crossed already. The snow was really hard, so it was difficult to find a good footrest, and in addition there were strong wind bursts that made us loose balance. In some places Sachin went ahead again with the shovel to cut some meager dents in the icy surface. During this time we were waiting behind him, our weight resting on half a foot, and trying to ignore the changing weather and not to think of what would happen if we slipped. Scary shit... Our two porters didn't seem to care about the icy surface and were again far ahead of us. Although this feat was really impressive, I think it also explains how the 4 people got lost that the local guy told us about on day 2. These people don't seem to care about their own security...
Anyway, at midday we had reached Saru Pass and we were really happy about it. The highest point in the pass was at 3970m. And at this point it also started to snow, so it was out of the question to climb one of the mountains. Damn, so close!:
At this point we also got a glimpse of the way we had planned to go:
Our guides wisely decided that we had already pushed our luck and that there was no way we could cross these icy slopes and mountain range without equipment. Instead we decided to follow the valley down:
This involved going down a steep and very slippery mud slope. I slipped once and it's only because I stuck my stick in the ground that I escaped the slide down to the glacier below:
One more for the fun:
We finally crossed the mud slope and gratefully arrived at some forest (where our porters had been waiting for us for probably an hour, they just ran down the slope using some weird technique with their stick). Alas, there was no path in the forest either, and the ground was still very steep, making it very difficult to go on.
So we decided to climb down and walk on the glacier. This meant we had to go down this grassy slope. Here Sachin surprised us with these memorable words: “This is very dangerous part. Go very very slowly!” It was a dangerous part, but after what we had just gone through it was just one more of them...
So around 3pm we started walking down on the glacier. We all fell on our asses regularly (even our porters!) and there were some really fun parts to slide down. This is also the part when Renata thought it might be a good idea to tape her knees. By the time it must have been killing her already:
Of course we were aware that there was a very cold river flowing under our feet, and we tried sometimes to keep away from the center, but at this point we were too tired to care much. This river surfaced occasionally, forcing us to climb around the open areas (over slippery mud and rocks again...):
At 4pm we finally reached the end of the glacier and started to walk along the river. Yes, we all had drenched and cold feet at this point.
And finally, finally we found a path that followed the river. This muddy path went down the valley along the river and occasionally there was just 30cm of slippery surface to walk on next to a 20m drop. In normal conditions I wouldn't dream of setting foot on such a thing (I am afraid of heights), but again at that point I just shrugged it off. I think I found a way to alleviate my fear of height: I have to go on treks and go through hours of agonizing fear and slowly my brain gets used to the sensation...
Around 6pm we found Malik, whom we adopted for our God for this day. I think Malik had been a monkey once.
After over ten hours of walking we set up camp just before it started raining, and proceeded to dry our shoes and clothes around the fire. Dhal and rice never tasted so good as on that evening.
Safe and sound and happy :-D What a day!
Porridge for breakfast.
On the fifth day we followed the river further down. The weather was annoyingly changing every 30min from rain and cold to sunny and warm. A real pain!
After a while we reached inhabited space and passed some houses and villages. The plaques are in memory of dead people. I spent a lot of time walking and singing with Renata. I had forgotten how much I enjoy singing.
Marijuana grows naturally all over the place here. You can just grab some along the way:
In the last village we passed there was a school. The children there obviously were very interested in us. I guess they don't get many tourist out here.
We took a bus down to Kullu where we parted with Flavia, and then another bus back to Dharmsala where we arrived around 3am. Here we are at Kullu bus station eating some salad served on a piece of paper with pieces of cardboard:
I think I'll remember this trek for a while. God that was so much fun... Can't wait for the next one :-D
For the latest news in McLeod, read the update to the Dharamsala entry.