It felt good to be back in India as we hurtled along, all four of us in an autorickshaw, through the mayhem of old Delhi streets; the noise, the crowds, the chaos, and the smells, as darkness fell, heading to the station. Becky and Katy felt comfortable with this world as they tucked into a plate of dosah, vada, idli and sambar dhal. Now 9 and 7 years old they had already done trips to Morocco and Ghana.
Our train, the express sleeper to the Himalayan foothills, stood at the busy platform. Red shirted porters pulling large carts, others carrying two or three trunks on their heads, huge hessian covered loads being manhandled on board, loud shouts in the commotion, and vendors calling out, selling tea and snacks. We boarded the train and settled down in our bunk beds.
Our plan was to trek to the Kaffni glacier, 3800m, clinging to the side of Nandi Devi, India’s highest mountain.
Early the next morning we arrived at the end of the line. We now had to travel by road the long journey to the trail head at Song, stopping off for a couple of nights at Almora. The hills were green and lush. The road wound its way up and the hills turned into mountains. We stopped at a small town to buy provisions for our trek and visited a small temple complex. The final two hours up to Song was by shared jeep on a very rough road. The valley sides closed in as the route became steep and rough. The river to the side cascaded over the boulders.
At the sleepy trailhead village of Song we stop for some food while we try and work out how to find a guide and porter for the trek. We have been in this situation many times before. Talking to one or two people, trying to work out who would be good or who would be a pain to spend a few days with. Song was quieter than most trailhead places and it took some time before someone appeared while we were tucking into our rice, vegetable curry and dhal.
Narrise and Harrise were appointed to be our guides, a rate was set and a deal done. In a very short time they were ready for the off, wearing smart trousers, jacket and collared shirt, perfect hiking kit!
A steep climb past small stone house clinging to the mountainside got us high up above the valley where we stayed the night in a simple lodge. The next day we set off climbing through Rhododendron forests up to a pass to take us over to the Pendari valley. Monkeys sitting on large slabs of rock, others scurrying off on the forest floor.
From the pass their were spectacular views of snow capped peaks of the Nadi Devi range towering above us in the distance.
Quite orderly, well maintained stone trails took us up the Pendari valley. Waterfalls fell from great height to the river below
We followed the Pendari River valley for a couple of days, gradually climbing in elevation, the wooded slopes became steeper and rocky. We stopped at night in lodges where we had simple food cooked on open fires, and slept on the floor in our sleeping bags.
Small villages perched on the mountain side provided welcome breaks for chai.
Holy men walked with us for some time. They are are on a pilgrimage to the Pindari Glacier to visit the source of the river, which is a tributary of the Ganges. They walk in sandals and orange robes. We wonder how they manage in the cold and ice. People feed them on their journey and we offer them some biscuits we have been carrying from Almora. They take the whole packet which Becky and Katy find hard to accept as that was all we had! They will remember the holy men who went off with all their biscuits.
Eventually at the confluence of the Pendari and Kafni rivers, across a wooden bridge we reach the rest house at Dwali(2650m) This is our final stop before the last push up towards the Kafni glacier. We are now well above the the trees and on about the limit for villages. Becky and Katy spend the evening playing UNO with some young German lads who are also staying at the rest house.
Early next morning we set off for the climb to the glacier. The rest house provided us with a picnic lunch of cold omelette, potato curry, and puris all wrapped up in polythene bags. The path was narrow, rocky, and had fallen away in places. Sections of snow and ice had to be crossed. Narrise and Harrise helped us across scary sections of the trail. The sticks they had found for us lower down the valley became very useful in supporting us over the steep rough terrain. It was freezing cold in the early morning.
We continued to climb for several hours. The valley was beautiful. Huge snow capped mountains all around us. The sun came out and the sky was blue making for an impressive backdrop to the immense scene.
We were noticing the altitude now and needing regular stops to catch our breath. We pushed on hoping the glacier would come into view round the next corner of the winding valley. Eventually we had to stop to eat our picnic. The cold omelettes, potato curry, and puris tasted good. We we were starving. It was a beautiful scene that surrounded us. Silence, snow, towering mountains, emptiness, we felt very isolated. This was a true wilderness, and it felt like we should see a snow leopard slowly walking past on the icy mountainside.
The weather was changing quickly. Clouds were rushing over the high mountains. The temperature was dropping. It started to snow. Katy was suffering badly from the altitude and felt sick. We were at 3600m, feeling cold and had to make the decision to to get back down the valley quickly. Maybe the glacier was round the next corner. It might have been, but it was too far for us.
A rapid descent got us back down the trail to the welcoming warmth of the resthouse. It had been an incredible experience and quite an endurance for us all. Sun burn, altitude problems and exposure to extreme cold, all in one day.