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Nandadevi base camp trek

   Spontaneous plans and unknown company are the essential ingredients of a serendipitous adventure. The Nandadevi base camp located in the Kumaon Himalayas between Rishiganga Valley on the west and the Goriganga Valley on the east, was a route I had been meaning to explore for a long time. As luck would have it, Ganesh, an old acquaintance called with details of a German group gearing up for the Nandadevi base camp in mid-May. After hectic overnight arrangements, I decided to trail along; it could be the ideal recce trip for future treks I would offer to the Nandadevi base camp.

   The morning of twelfth May, saw me on a flight from Pune to Delhi, then onwards to Kadgodam. After a night at Relax Inn, I continued by cab to Almora, Thal and reached Munsiyari, late Monday evening, after an exhausting two day journey. I awoke to the spectacular sight of the snow-capped Panchachuli peaks and found myself on the banks of the gushing Goriganga, little wonder then that Munsiyari in the local tongue means ‘the place with snow’.

   Our trek group was held up for a day, as Niels, one of the German trekkers had a stomach-ache; the usual welcome foreigners receive from Indian food. The day in Munsiyari was well-spent buying last minute supplies like rainwear, tissues, sanitizer and other essentials. The local S S Pangte Museum was a pleasant surprise; it hosts artefacts, hookahs, vessels, geological samples from the area that illustrate the culture and geology of the area. That evening, a freak hailstorm washed over the countryside. With hindsight, the day-long delay in starting off the trek was most fortunate.

Day 1: Munsiyari to Garam Pani

   We drove across the first leg of the trail, from Munsiyari to Lilam on an under-construction motorable section winding its way towards Tibet. We made a quick stop en route at Darkot to equip ourselves with hand-held solar lamps for the trek ahead. Our motley crew of 4 Germans, Ganesh, Pappu (Ganesh’s nephew), John (a mule handler called a kachcharwala in the local language) and me trekked onwards guided unerringly by the Goriganga river through the Johar Valley of Kumaon.

   After 12 kilometres, we reached Dhapa and began a steep descent to Jimighat, giddyingly close to the Goriganga river, followed by a steady uphill walk along the right side of the valley to Lilam, where the first ITBP post on the trek route is located. After dispensing with the verification procedures, we proceeded to Garam Pani (Pachpal Udhyar) just shy of Rirgari. The rocky terrain we trudged across had a pleasant surprise in store, a gushing overhead waterfall that glazed over a precipice. As there was no way around it, we had to wade through the freezing channel, to reach Garam Pani, where a warm welcome awaited us, literally. The name Garam Pani, meaning hot water, seems more amusing yet rather unoriginal when lent to a hotspring, a little sulphur jet mixing with cold river water which makes for a therapeutic and relaxing experience. A quick meal later, we retired to the shanty and tents that made for our humble, overnight accommodation.

Overhead Water Fall

Overhead Water Fall

Day 2: Garam Pani to Nahardevi (12kms)

   If the little joys of being in a jungle are being awoken by elephant trumpets or tiger roars, we experienced its mountain equivalent, being awoken by a local commotion heralding the sighting of blue sheep on the valleys opposite to our campsite. We watched these caprid creatures scampering along rocky mountain faces, knowing we would soon set off on a similar trail.

   We packed up and left Garam Pani in the wee hours of the morning to avoid the daytime heat which is quite acute as Garam Pani is located in the lower altitudes. A couple of kilometres into the trek, we encountered a bifurcation: one uphill route along the ridge, and one riverside route. We chose the latter, as the former was a longer, more rigorous route. The scenic riverside route to Rirgari, was sheltered beneath an impressive cliff overhang. The path leading down to the river is made of boulders held by metal wires, it hugs the cliff on one side while offering a view of the raging river alongside.


   From Rirgari, an 8 kilometre uphill climb follows a valley created by the meandering river, brought us to Bugdiyar, the 2nd ITBP post. En route, a small dhaba offered simple respite in the form of snacks and refreshments. After registering our names at Bugdiyar, a steep 3 kilometre trek led us to Nahardevi, our pitstop for the night. We camped in straw huts overlooking the lost breathtaking views of the winding Goriganga, and the little temple of Nahardevi, tucked into a crevice at the base of the mountain. The vicinity is named after the local deity worshipped here.


Day 3: Nahardevi to Martoli, via Rilkot (16kms)

   This stretch of the trek was the most interesting in terms of geology, we trudged across three glacier crossings; through slush and ice, in the wake of woolly sheep and packhorses. After a brief halt at Rilkot, a mountain path dotted with numerous trickling waterfalls wended its way through a schistose-rockscape towards Martoli. One can usually find a mineral called Fool’s Gold or Pyrite in such landscapes, as its name suggests it is a glittering, golden mineral that tricks one into thinking it is gold. Sadly, we did not come across it or it could have helped us trick some gullible folks back home and helped reclaim our travel costs.

En-route to Rilkot

En-route to Rilkot

   Martoli is a picturesque village nestled amidst towering mountain peaks that rivalled the azure blue skies. The lush green meadows were pasture grounds for wild horses. We took shelter from the windswept landscape, in slated stone houses with wooden carved doorframes.

Wodden framed houses

Wodden framed houses

Day 4: Martoli – Pacchu

   In every trek there are moments when one steers off course, Martoli hosting the Nandadevi temple merited one such diversion. We sought divine blessings from the Goddess Nandadevi and prayed for good weather for the trek ahead. It seemed like our blessings were heard, as the temple offered us the first glimpses of our destination, the Nandadevi peak.

   Our downhill path changed rapidly from an under-construction motorable road to a slushy route through green meadows dotted with purple flowers.

Lavender flower bed.

Lavender flower bed.

We passed waypoints like Burfu, Mapa, Gangar (which was an abandoned village whose story would no doubt be an interesting one) onward to Pacchu. As we reached our destination early and the skies overhead demanded our attention, we had time for some tomfoolery, namely photos of ourselves jumping into the air against the glorious backdrop of the Himalayas. Perhaps we could not rival the mountain goats we had encountered before, but the sense of freedom I got, so far away from everything I knew, in the lap of beauty, I could truly describe myself as a “footloose gypsy”. Having built up our appetites, we had an early dinner and turned in, hoping to catch enough rest before conquering the Nandadevi base camp the following day.

@ Nanda Devi Base Camp !!

@ Nanda Devi Base Camp !!


Day 5: Pacchu – Nandadevi base camp – Pacchu

   A hearty breakfast prepared us well for the steep uphill climb from Pacchu into the mountains beyond, and the rapid descent into the valley after. We had to brace ourselves to cross a weak, narrow bridge that offered a giddying, gushing view of the frothing river beneath. Another climb brought us to lush pasturelands speckled with lavender flowers, and it seemed like there was a giant slice of sky overhead. Half meditative, half stupefied by the beauty of the scenery that lay before us, it seemed we walked on clouds and were taken by surprise when we reached the base camp. A quick round of refreshments, tea and noodles are staple food in the mountains, we decided to trek onwards, where a snow-clad peak hosting the Nandadevi Biosphere Reserve awaited. The rhododendrons, beautiful yet poisonous flowers that grow at these high altitudes, were in a multitude of colours and shapes. Our shutters clicked away furiously, all the way downhill to Pacchu.

Day 6: Pacchu – Laspa, via Rilkot

   Our trek back from Pacchu took us through Mapa and Burfu, where we diverged from our earlier route to Martoli and chose a motorable bypass towards Rilkot. En route, we had to stop off at an ITBP checkpost to inform the authorities of our exit. After a tiring three kilometre uphill trudge, we reached Laspa, our efforts were rewarded with tea, finger chips and onion pakodas. On a local shopping spree we indulged in Chang, the local rice beer and other supplies, as also firewood. Our night-time celebrations were just starting, Pappu and John set the flavour for the evening by breaking into song, local Johar valley songs were followed by my renditions of Kishore Kumar and Mohammed Rafi songs, culminating in Duetsche Liede by our German contingency. We sang late into the night, our voices to be lost upon the mountainside like the dying embers of our bonfire, yet the memories would last us a lifetime.

Cooking at Laspa !!

Cooking at Laspa !!

Day 7: Laspa to Garam Pani

   We retraced our steps from Laspa, along a long, winding and tiring route and upon arrival at Garampani, fell into a deep, much-needed sleep.

Day 8: Garam Pani to Munsiyari

   Our walk from Garam Pani back to Munsiyari, marked the end of our memorable Nandadevi trek. A month later, we heard news of the landslides at Uttarakhand and the changes in the course of the river we followed. Next year, the trail will be different and will need to be charted all over again. It made us grateful for the experience we had had, knowing that the route will never be the same again.

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One Response to Nandadevi base camp trek

  1. Amish you’re website is fantastic! kudos!
    Nilu Yuleena
    BIG hair LOUD mouth

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