Posted by: charanik | July 7, 2008

On The Bank of Satopanth

 My Silent Ascetic

Satopanth Taal

Satopanth Taal

We ran into him on the bank of Satopanth Tal – a small triangular shaped glacial lake in the deep of the Himalaya at an altitude of 14320 feet. Satopanth, literally meaning the way to the truth, a sacred lake, described in the Skanda Puran said to be guarded by the Holy Trinity—Bramha, Bishnu and Maheswar (Shiva) . At the foot of Chaukhamba group of peaks, the lake is very difficult to accessible and well protected from the casual forays of the naïve travelers. High ridges and treacherous glaciers surround it leaving only one route of access that too over razor-sharp ridges and perilous broken glaciers. Every time the trekker had a fall or is faced with a landslide and there is no escape from those, he would desperately want to run back to the safety of the Badrinath valley – amidst familiar sights and sounds, into the warmth and safety of a bed. But after traversing a considerable distance and spending one night under an overhang (a jutting rock from the mountain wall), when ultimately we comprehended the danger fully; there were simply no point in returning. To do so, we had to cross that killing field again. So we simply marched on.


Naturally, at such a godforsaken place, in the middle of nowhere, miles away from the nearest habitation, in the lap of legends and harsh reality, we least expected anyone and definitely not a half naked ascetic.


Walking for around ten hours per day over the most difficult and dangerous terrain that too for two full days and in the process almost killing ourselves, we had reached the lake. As we dragged our half dead body over the last ridge and descended on to the bank of the lake, he came out of a nearby cave with a reassuring welcome smile as if he was expecting us for a long time; holding two steaming cup (actually two coconut shells) of scented tea. He must have seen us coming down the ridge and rightly guessed; we need some hot beverage badly. The first thing that strikes one about him was his average demeanor. He was of average height, average built — with a common face.  Apart from the unkempt long beard and the moustache, there was nothing striking about him. But instinctively one feels, there were more to that deceptive appearance, as if, he was deliberately trying to keep an ordinary and low profile.


I looked closely and realized that I am looking at the most striking pair of eyes that I have ever seen. It is not the eyes itself, which were rather small but the gaze that was coming out of those eyes– full of so much compassion. It caressed me so gently and some thing ruptured inside me. I felt like crying.


Though the temperature around here was near freezing point, he was wearing a small dhoti that only fell up to his knees; the torso was exposed to the elements and his skin was burnt deep brown (at this height sunrays plays havoc with the skin). Through the long beard and moustache his white teeth flashes every time he smiles and he smiles a lot. His small and lithe body looked exceptionally fit. I had so many questions for him wailing to burst out that I was momentarily lost for word. Seeing my amazement, which must have been dangling like a red flag, he gesticulated to let me know that he would not speak; he had taken a vow of silence. That must be the proverbial last straw on the camels’ back. Seeing me crest fallen, he gave me that dazzling smile again and signaled me to rest for a while. Yes, we badly needed some rest.


As we took possession of the two nearby vacant caves– the big one for us and the small one for our guide and the porter, he went into his cave to prepare our meal. Silently, he has taken the control by allowing us to stay and by accepting us as his guest. But where from he gets his ration! The thought haunted me for the rest of the day. The Shepard of Mana (last village near Badrinath on the Indo-Tibet border) must have been supplying him with the ration on their forays into the valleys around the lake but that’s must be very occasional. Nobody would take the huge risk to come here regularly. Food is the most precious commodity here and he offering to feed us, four healthy young men, from his precious store without even batting an eyelid!


It is so frustrating when one has so many questions and no answers.


We had no prior plan to visit Satopanth Lake. We came to Badrinath for the relatively easy and well- known trek to the Valley of Flower and Hemkunda Saheb – the pilgrim centre of the Sikh. But fate had something else for us. In Badrinth we were staying in Balananda Ashram where we met Swami Darshanananda, the in-charge of the Ashram – a sort of hotel in the guise of a Dharamshala. One evening sitting snugly in his room, we were discussing the commercialization of religion and the profusion of Dosa and Chana Batora shops in Badrinath and lamenting the loss of those quiet and peaceful religiously significant places where one can spend some time meditating or just chilling; Darshananandaji gave me a long searching look and suggested that I visit Satopanth.  Though I have read about the Satopanth Lake but had not the foggiest idea how to reach it or how many days it will take us to reach, where were the paraos(the places for night rest)– these are a ‘must- know’ on any trekking expedition. Darshananandaji assured us that he would take care of everything and he did. He arranged the guide and a porter. Our newly appointed guide and porter bought our ration arranged a stove, kerosene and other essentials.


The lake, 25kms from Badrinath, could be reached after a difficult trek of two-day with night rest at Lakshmiban and Chakratirtha. Caves in those stopovers are used as the night shelter. Around Badrinath every place is steeped in legends so are Lakshmiban and Chakratirtha. It is said that goddess Lakshmi ( goddess of wealth)and her husband Narayan ( the preserver) meditated in Lakshmiban and Chakratirtha respectively and while meditating Narayan kept his famous Sudarshan Chraka on the valley which depressed by the weight of that Chakra to form a beautiful round shaped meadow surrounded by lofty mountains.

I really feel that the whole of Himalaya is not only made of stone and ice but also of legends and hearsays.

The route initially goes along the true right bank of the fiercely flowing Alakanada River. But instead of the right bank we mistakenly took the left bank – not that there are well defined ‘asphalt roads’ in this part of the world but boulders and scree with no sign of any distinct path. We paid the price of the mistake by bivouacking (open encampment) at an altitude of 13000feet. It was such a freezing experience!


 Madan Sing Bist, our guide, tried his best to dissuade us from taking the left bank trail but the ITBP constables, posted at Mana – the last village on the Indian side (we were on the Indo-Tibet border) stopped us from proceeding further. They wanted to see our permission for visiting Satopanth. We were supposed to take permission from the Sub-Divisional Magistrate of Joshimath.  We did not know that and pleaded ignorance. But ignorance is ‘no plea in eyes of Law’ and we were told to go back. Finding no way out, I had a talk with the in-charge of the ITBP camp and showed him my official identity card.  Thus convinced that we were no Chinese spy and no threat to the national security, we were mere humble government servant who could be traced easily, we were allowed to proceed.

Though lowly paid, but the government servants had some advantages!


The ITBP soldiers who were supposed to know this place like the back of their hand “enlightened (!)” us on the forthcoming broken glacier along the right bank route. They said ‘it would be very risky to cross that broken glacier’.  Feeling superior on our theoretical knowledge and paying no heed to the sage advice of our guide, we marched on along the left bank. So at the end of the first days’ trek of ten hours, we found ourselves lost amidst an ocean of rocks, boulders — without a shelter and more importantly without a source of water. We had a princely dinner with a handful of nuts and raisin.

Crossing the river formed by Basudhara fall

Crossing the river formed by Basudhara fall

Fortunately, we could find an overhang under which we could manage to spread our ‘royal bed’ on the rocks and could somehow squeeze together. In a way that was good, because our body-warmth would give us some heat and when your night shelter is at more than 13000ft with three sides open, you need all the warmth that you could generate. We could also identify the direction towards which to proceed. But that would be another day and we were too tired to think straight.


It was still dark, around 5 in the morning, when I woke up. As I fell asleep around 8 in the night, an early rise was obvious. Even dog-tired souls just cannot sleep more than 9 hours.  As I looked with some trepidation towards the dangerous trail that lay ahead that we have to traverse, the first few sunrays touched the snow crested peak of Nilkantha West Ridge and the peak erupted into a blaze. Stunned, I devour the sight — a prodigious fire on a snow peak. All of yesterdays’ hassles and hardships have turned into a beautiful gift.

Himalaya takes a lot but gives back plenty; one could not hold it in ones palm, it always overflows.


The rest of the journey till we reached Chakratirtha, was somewhat boring! Clambering up the loose moraine, going two steps forward and sliding one step down, with a few water falls and snow peaks giving company; it is laborious and event less except a few land slides and rock falls that nearly killed us. But by that time, such happenings were ‘all in a days’ work’!


On the way Madan Sing showed us a valley, high up on the mountain and said, “Sir, O dekhiye Alakapuri”( See there is Alakapuri)”! Alakapuri, the abode of Kuber, the god of wealth, was immortalized by Kalidas – the great ancient poet, in his book of verse “Meghdutam.”


Eventually, on the verge of collapse, we reached our destination. As we collapsed on the last ridge – the valley laying under us, Asim, my companion uttered a full sentence of the day, he was too busy to save his life. He said wearily, “Well, we are saved.”


Surrounded by lofty snow peaks, Chakratirtha, a well shaped circular green meadow, around 2 kms in length and 1.5 kms in breath, was a relief amidst the harsh environment. A small rivulet of about three feet wide divided the meadow in two halves. We took shelter in the only cave which fortunately was wide enough to accommodate all of us but to enter in it; we had to walk on our knees.


Next day we were on to Satopanth glacier. After three hours of hard trekking on the treacherous glacier we reached under the last ridge and could see the red flag flying on top of the ridge indicating the site of the lake. We simply dragged ourselves to the top.


The first thing that struck me squarely was the strange ethereal ambience of the lake. It had such calm and soothing effect; probably because it’s an achievement of hard labour or may be the legends, ultimately got me! But I had to admit, our suicidal efforts were amply rewarded. The perfectly triangle shaped lake at the base of the snow crested Chaukhamba I peak, surrounded by lofty mountains reflected an azure sky. A small green field in its eastern side, dotted with alpine flowers accentuates the harsh surrounding. As I feasted on the spellbinding scenery, for the first time I became aware of the complete lack of sound around it. It’s eerie! Except the sound of occasional avalanches that were coming down the Chaukhamba peak, as it is already mid-day and the snow on the peak has started to melt, coming down as huge avalanches, the silence was all encompassing. In fact the sound of the avalanches – alike the sound of a thunder, only accentuates this all-embracing, all-pervading silences. The emerald green water of triangular lake mirrors the snow crested Chaukhamba I peak. The image has been repeatedly broken by the waves of the lake forming due to the pleasantly cold gentle breeze that wafted from the snow crested Chaukhamba peak. The broken image re-forms immediately only to be broken again.


I was resting on the grassy bank of the lake when Madan Singh showed me a path towards the Chaukhamba I peak and told me, that was the path traversed by the Pancha Pandavs on their last journey to the heaven. He said, even today, ascetics who want to leave this painful world to enter the other world of supreme bliss, often take that path never to return.


This practice was very much in vogue just some three hundred years ago. Then the King of Tehri used to give this permission to those ascetics who wanted to take that last journey. But before giving permission, the aspirant was provided with all the luxuries of life — well fed, well dressed, company of beautiful maids and so forth. After few days of living in utter luxury he was commanded to leave all and to return to his former ascetic-life of abstinence. If he succeeded to return, only then the permission was granted.  Later, the British government stopped that practice.


But nobody is there to keep an eye to prevent ascetics from this suicidal effort. So even today ascetics do take this last journey on this path towards the peak of Chaukhamba never to return. That’s why Chaukhamba is called ‘Swargarohini’(path to heaven) by the locals.

From the bank of the lake, I could see a clear path like trail leading to the peak of Chaukhamba. But as the sun rose high, avalanches after avalanches started to roll down that path. It’s definitely a sure path to the other world; whether that path goes to heaven or hell that I am not very sure.


The clearness of the lake-water was surprising. It’s crystal clear. Standing on its bank, I could see almost its bottom. Legends has it, whenever something falls in the water, small birds would come flying and pick it up from the water. I have heard the same story on other sacred lakes of Himalaya, Khecheopalri in Sikkim being one.


Some small grey birds were hopping around me on the bank of the Satopanth Lake. I made a small paper ball and threw it in the lake. My paper ball remained floating till the afternoon turned into the evening and I could not see it any longer. But no bird came to pick it up.


As the evening descended, my silent ascetic came and sat beside me. It seemed that he is in a mood to talk. Immediately, I started to fire my questions. Smilingly he took up a pen and started to write down his answers in my diary.


I asked, ‘why did he come to this god forsaken place?’


He simply replied, ‘to meditate’.


‘But that can be done in ones home.’


He said, ‘yes. But you know, milk comes out only from the nipples of the cow and not from its horn or hoop.’


We talked about god, religion, spirituality, laws of nature, almost on every thing under the sun except on his person. He refused to answer any personal query; not even from where he came from. He had magnificent clarity of though, deep insight, strong opinion – a bit religious may be, but nevertheless strong belief backed by logical argument.


At the end of it he asked me, ‘why did you come?’


I said, ‘to see and to experience this fantastic world of myth and reality; to see this breathtaking beauty.’


He said, ‘me too. But to see the mountain within the mountain; to see the tal

within the tal; to experience the world within this world of myth.’


The evening passed into a starry night, I have never seen so many stars in the night sky before and the night into a glorious dawn. It was time to depart from this world of splendor and legend. As we clambered up the ridge, our silent ascetic stood on the bank of lake biding us farewell. I turned back to have a last look. I, certainly, will not be coming again. Seeing me turn back, he waived. I felt his gaze on me — full of compassion and tolerance, silently caressing me like the soft touch of a caring mother. Again something wailed inside me, and again I felt like crying aloud.


We did not know anything about him. Mortals like us are not comfortable with unanswered queries and unexplained phenomena. There were so many unanswered questions– thousands of it that were never going to be answered, smothered by the omnipotent silence. Perhaps he was right to take the vow of silence. This is certainly the right place for taking such a vow.


It is said, Bramha-Bishnu-Maheswar – the holiest of the gods, the Holy Trinity, are in perpetual meditation on the three vertices of the triangular shaped Satopanth Tal (Lake). That’s why its ambience is so ethereal. Nobody dares to break the all-pervading cloak of silence around here. 

Off course, we have not seen any of the Holy Trinity; on second thought, perhaps we have seen one!

Posted by: charanik | June 20, 2008

The Journey Begins.

The Journey Begins

 

Miles to go before I sleep

Miles to go before I sleep

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nothing needs to be impossible for you. After all man is six feet taller than the mountain he climbs. Only the will resolute has to be there”.


With these lines in1939, J B Auden, the famous geologist and explorer had inspired Swami Probodhananda who was planning to cross Kalindi Khal (a high mountain pass of 19510 feet, between GaSoaring to touch the skygongotri and Badrinath) with fellow Sadhus (Ascetics). Seeing that he was still not convinced Auden added, “You need not get frightened; there is no danger to life. And if it is so, that should be a further lure for a man like you.”


After 6 years of that famous meet, Probodhananda did eventually cross Kalindi pass in 1945 to reach Badrinath from Gangotri, along with five half naked and one fully naked Sadhu. It took him six years to find those fellow adventurers who were mad enough (!) to take that huge risk.


Yes, modern pragmatic society does consider these men and women who risk their live to climb some godforsaken mountain peaks or high passes as simply fool. But still they go, attracted by the lure of the mountain, particularly of the Himalaya; like moths attracted to the flame. I consider this an enigma! To avoid the answer one can imitate the famous mountaineer who was asked for his reason to climb the Everest and simply said, “Because it is there”.


But those lines of Auden have always haunted me and that famous meet between Probodhananda and Auden became a guiding factor in my life from when I was attracted to the mountain, particularly to the Himalayas.


Like millions of Bengali, my first encounter with the Himalaya was in Darjeeling more than thirty years back. But that was just a very brief frolic – a group of college students having the first gambol of their life; though we did visit Himalayan mountaineering Institute but more as a tourist attraction and not as a serious student of mountain.


I was christened with the Himalaya by my maternal father-in-law who with his five feet tall and thirty five kilogram frame was an avid and surprisingly, tough trekker. He has since retired but the Himalaya got a new addict in me. Every year I go to the Himalaya like a pilgrim to have my yearly Darshan.


I have never tried to be a mountaineer; for me trekking with the rucksack on my back and the cool mountain breeze in my face was enough. In fact, when I started to trek, I was past my prime and taking to mountaineering would have been foolish; I was smart (!) enough to realize that. But though I have never stood on the top of a mountain, only on top of a few high mountain passes, Audens’ comment always would bug me; is man really six feet taller than the mountain he climbs!


Figuratively yes; particularly when one is standing on the top of a mountain peak. Till then despite the back breaking labour and the lung bursting breathing, a mad rush of adrenalin, a sense of achievement drives us. We had a job to do and damn well would complete it. But as soon as one reaches the summit, be it a peak or a pass, one kneels down and offers a prayer, to whom I am not very sure; but an overwhelming sense of satisfaction and humility engulfs us completely. For a few moments one feels at peace with his surroundings – that charming and brute nature. A great sense of achievement and calm overwhelms us. Probably to this sense of achievement and peace we – even the hardcore atheist among us, offer that prayer. So, are we really six feet taller than the mountain we climb? It’s a difficult one to answer.


My first trekking, like hundreds of Bengali, was on the trail to Sandakphu (the highest point of the terrai Himalaya within Darjeeling district of West Bengal). One fine morning we – I, my newly wedded wife and one of my close friends landed in the Darjeeling taxi stand. We were booked in the youth hostel of Darjeeling which happens to be perched on the highest point of Darjeeling town, a place called Jalapahar. It was a straight climb of 500 meters from the taxi stand. Half dead, we some how managed to drag ourselves there with our rucksack and other luggage (newly wed wives were not supposed to carry luggage and the poor husband had to bear the extra burden! Figuratively & literally!), only to be sternly told that we have no reservation. We showed her (the wife of the warden, the warden was out on a job) our reservation chit but she was unmoved; they did not have the copy from their head office. Period. Seeing my wife shivering from the exhaustion and the cold and when told that we have a newly married woman among us, she mellowed a bit and offered us a room, which has no flooring – the floor was covered only with brick and with windows that can not be shut properly. Clouds had free access to this room and the bed was wet and cold.


In the morning I went to the Himalayan Mountaineering Institute to hire a guide  for our expedition (!), the highest point of which was only 12000 feet. The institute supplies the toughest and the most accomplished Sherpa guides to the numerous mountain expeditions including Everest and I thought it was prudent (!) to approach the best. After all I have a newly married wife to protect.

Mr Rai, the Administrative Officer of the institute, with great patient informed me that they would have been happy to give me a guide but they really could not spare a Sherpa since all the instructors (yes, the Sherpas of this institute are all instructors) have left with trainees for high altitude training in Sikkim and were not likely to return within the next seven days. On hind-sight, Mr. Rai must have been a very patient and gentle man and that’s why he simply ignored my atrocious audacity.


But I do not frustrate that easily (would be trekkers are not supposed to), especially when one has a new wife to prove ones’ worth. So on my way back, I hired a local lad who after his school final examination was free but has never ventured outside the hill-town.

Well, at least he was a Nepali and could speak the language. Thus, having achieved my target of finding a guide, I came back, victorious, to my wife who was suitably impressed by the achievement of his newly wed husband.


Next morning, Bikash Pradhan our newly appointed guide, came to the taxi stand to meet us with a small kit bag. On seeing our incredulous looks, he assured us with a confident smile, he will get his gears et al in Manebhanjan, the starting point of our trek, where his uncle lived and who was a famous Sandakphu guide.


On reaching Manebhanjan, we went for a cup of tea and Bikash went to his uncles’ house with confident gait only to return with drooping steps to inform us that his uncle was dead drunk but even in his drunken stupor he recognized the nephew and refused to part with his gear. My friend lent Bikash his most favourite half sweater, knitted by his mother and we embarked on to our trek. To cut a long story short, we did reach Sandakphu with two night halts in beautiful meadows simply because there was a well marked trail to Sandakphu and it’s really very hard to loose ones’ way.


On our return, we took another route, to reach a place called Rimbik, the road head, from where we were to take a bus to civilization. On way to Rimbik, we were to cross a dense forest infested with Himalayan Black bears wild dogs and leopards. But on the eve of departure, we could not find our guide. It appeared that, very sagaciously, he started early with another team which had a real guide. We tried to follow their trail and eventually lost our way in that damn forest. When we were struggling to find our way out from that godforsaken forest, our guide was safe and sound in a lodge in Rimbik, waiting for us (anxiously, I was later told!) to reach and pay his food bill.


Hours of desperate trek led us nowhere; totally exhausted and nearly dead, we eventually found our way with the help of two Nepali women. They, damn fortunately, came in the forest to gather fuel-woods. These women took us to their small village high-up on the mountain. The village had only three thatched huts and one of their husbands eventually guided us safely to Rimbik.

As we entered the hotel, unable to walk a step further, almost dead and muddied beyond recognition, Bikash came out to greet us on the doorway; he had his bath and wearing a fresh scented dress – the scent unmistakably my wifes favaourite sandal scent that came from her small knapsack which Bikash was carrying. With a straight face, he said, he was worried (!) sick for us as he has reached the hotel at least four hours back.


That was my introduction to the Himalayan trekking. Later, after years of easy and hard trekking, some of which nearly killed me I could look back and still feel the tremendous drag of the trail; the sense of déjà vu when I would hit the trail with the rucksack on my back and the narrow stone-path under my feet; the cold mountain breeze greeting me like a long lost brother.


On my numerous journeys in the deep Himalaya I have realized, the trails have no character without the walker on it. A trail is just a trail with no story to tell until human trudges on it. Similarly, the Himalaya is inseparable with its legends, its magnificent children who live in its lap on those high valleys and led a simple yet charmed life. Without them and without its legends, the mystical shining peaks of the Himalaya and its numerous trails with their turns and bends are just a heap of stone and ice – a cold and deadly place.


It is really amazing how from a deep sea (Tethys) the Himalaya raised its’ head due to a massive collision between two tectonic plates (India & Asia) some fifty million years ago. Many years later it, probably, sheltered the Homo erectus who had witnessed further uplift of the Himalaya and survived the ice age. The experts claim that, “The Himalayan region has been home to humans since time immemorial.”1


Whenever I am on the trail of the Himalaya, the trail becomes my home. Radha (fiancée of Lord Krishna), when deep in love with his lover, lamented that “the way to my home has become never ending” (Ghare jaite path more hailo aphuran, as immortalized by poet Jnyanadas of Baishnav Padabali – a collection of Bengali poems based on the love between Krishna & Radha). Actually, she did not want to reach home because then her journey would end. On the Himalayan trail I too find oneness with Radha.  My journey seems never to end.


In my quest, I am not very sure for what, I have covered most of the Uttarkhand—the Garhwal and the Kumaon. I went to inaccessible places far away from the hustle bustle of the Uttarkhand towns; days walk from the nearest road-head and found the largest natural “OM” of the world, the largest natural “Shiva lingam” of the world, the most sacred natural lake of India, where it is said that the Holy Trinity (Bramha, Bishnu & Maheswar).


are in perpetual meditation and along the way also found charming children, sagacious old men and women, unusual human beings and some mystics – wandering monks. I will be talking more about them than on my route itself, because as I said, without them the Himalaya is just a heap of Ice & stone

 

  1. The Making of the Himalaya and Humans: Rasoul Sorkhabi: Himalayan Journal Vol: 59.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: charanik | October 28, 2013

Durga Sing Martolia.

Ruins of Martoli houses 2

Durga Sing Martolia.

Trekkers to Milam glacier usually do not visit Martoli village on their way since the village is not on the main route and one has not only to take a detour, but also to take a somewhat steep ascent. But, I was determined to go to Martoli, simply because, it prides itself on a splendid view of Nandadevi peak.

So one day, early in the morning under a clear- autumn sky I & my companion of 65 years started from Rilkot village – our last nights’ stay, towards Martoli. It was only a trek of four kilometer and the gradient of the slope was not that steep as I had heard.  We were enjoying our morning trek on a green grassy slope dotted with alpine flowers in full bloom to give the greenery a nice break, with Gouri Ganga accompanying us in a gorge which vanishes from sight as we gain height.

On way to Nanda Devi Temple

About one & half kilometer before Martoli, I could see the mesmerizing Hardeol peak, (7150 m); meaning the temple of god. I simply sat down on an almost flat stone to enjoy the scene.

After a reconnaissance in 1939 and a few serious attempts starting in 1967, the first ascent of Hardeol was made by a team from the Indo-Tibetan Border Police on May 31, 1978, led by S. P. Mulasi, climbing from the ridge connecting the peak to Trishuli.1

From this region the border of the old Johar or Sauka kingdom used to begin and went up to the its’ border with Tibet. It was a very prosperous kingdom, mainly, due to a very profitable trade with Tibet. As the kingdom was wealthy, it was repeatedly attacked by the kings of Tibet & Nepal but every time, after a short domination by these kingdoms, Sauka regained its independence. Only when the British conquered Sauka, it lost its’ independence forever and after India became free of British rule, it became a very remote part of independent India.2

As an aftermath of the India-China war, the border with Tibet was closed down and so was the business with Tibet. The prosperity of Martoli vanished along with many other high villages of this region as the border suddenly became an un-surpassed barrier. In 1961 Martoli had a population of four hundred and fifty that came down only to eighteen in 1981.3

The beautifully curved doors of the ruined houses of Martoli; still somehow standing, states the tales of the old prosperity.

As I started to walk, one tall gentleman approached me and asked: “Are you Mr. Chakrabarti.”

Somewhat bamboozle, I replied, yes.

He introduced himself as M S Bhandari, an inspector of ITBP (Indo-Tibetan Border Police)and in-charge of the ITBP camp there and said, “Sir,  I was told to look after you by my commanding officer at Munsiary during your stay here.”

Well, thats’ a great news! A government servant is certainly lowly paid (?) but enjoys certain advantages!

I remembered, I requested SDM of Munsiary (Sub-Divisional Magistrate) to inform ITBP about my trek because I might need their help.

The gentleman took me straight to the house of Durga Sing, the head man of Martoli village and that’s when I first met Durga Sing Martolia; a tall Rajput of athletic built with a sharp–intelligent look. He looks like 50 yrs of age but it was the next day that he informed me on my asking that his age is 65.

Their custom is to add the name of their village with their surname to give an fixed identity. So Durga Sing became Durga Sing Martolia; meaning Durga Sing from the village Martoli.

From 1982 till then Durga Sing is the village head-man and he lives here with his elder sister who very lovingly calls him out, “Duggo, Duggo”.

All the houses in Martoli were dug-out houses. Big square-wholes were dug-out of the rocky land and the houses are built inside that whole. Only when a house is two stories, its’ top floor remains above the ground. Windows were very small to avoid cold breeze.

All this bone-crashing hard work to build a house is done to avoid the very strong wind that blows from Tibet across the pass. The wind starts to blow around 10-00 am and it sounds like a railway steam engine running at full steam. It stops suddenly around 6 PM. Immediately; the outsider would have an eerie feeling, as if some high sounding activity is suddenly amiss.

Typical Martoli House

Durga Sing offered me his bed, in the first floor of his house. The bed was on the floor of his two stories house and was laid-down on a soft woolen carpet with a clean bed-shit and a pillow.

Well, that was a kings’ bed, I thought because on the head of it was a small window opening up to a snow peak (Bankatia, I was told) as if it is framed permanently. The calour of the peak changes as the morning glides into the evening.  A garland of dry “Baklo” flowers hangs outside the window. This flower has a specialty; it spread its fragrance more & more as it dries up. The gentle breeze wafted in, the sweet fragrance, all day long.

Yes, indeed it was a bed fit for a king.

My lunches & dinners were coming from the ITBP camp but I used to take breakfast with Durga Sing which was a bowl of smashed potato sprinkled with black pepper very lovingly prepared by his elder sister; who after preparing the food would call her brother “Duggo, Khana thanda ho raha hyay” ( Durga the food is getting cold) and we would come running-in as the lady will get angry if we were late because her precious food is served best when hot.

There were just five houses and 15 people to administer; so Durga Sing and his sister had a lot of leisure-time. Durga Sing had a small plot for cultivation of potato, which takes all of his early morning. Since his sister, very haltingly, can speak Hindi; I had the opportunity to have Durga Sing entirely to myself.

We spend hours after hours talking about Himalaya. He is one of the most respected experts on Himalayan medicinal herbs and often was invited to Lucknow to advice the UP Government (then UP was not divided) on preservation of Himalayan herbs or to speak in  seminars on the Himalayan herbs in different cities of UP.

He has two sons & two daughters who were married and well established in cities. Durga Sing has no financial need to toil on his land but he just could not resist the call of his breeze mountain-village. So, every summer he would come with his elder sister to cultivate his land and would stay still mid October to bring back his yield to his three stories other house in Munisiary

He single handedly created a forest of Birch trees in the high-land of Martoli village and that brought some musk-deer to his birch forest. His only regret is that, he is unable to protect these endangered antlers from the poachers. He requested me to speak to the SDM of Munsiary about the poaching and I immediately assured him that I will and I did talk with The SDM on my return. Probably with no effect at all; as I know the way government moves.

On the second day of my stay, very early in the morning, I went to visit the Namdadevi temple high up on the hill. Nobody was in the vicinity except me and the temple door was not locked; it was simply shut-down.

 

Nanda Devi Temple

As I enter the sanctum-sanctorum an exquisite fragrance filled me up. It was so eerie! As if Devi Nanda was just sitting on her throne and hurriedly left on my intrusion; her sweet exquisite body odor is still lingering.

Feeling somewhat bewildered I looked down on the floor and saw someone had covered the floor with dry “Baklo” flowers. Regaining my self-confidence on my agnostic view (!), I came out of the temple and sat dizzily on its step. Suddenly, a shaft of sunlight fell on the crest of Nandadevi. It turned golden. Molten gold started to slide down from its’ crown. I sat there mesmerized.

Nandavedi must have flown from the temple to that peak and sat down on its’ crest!

It was now the time to leave a heaven caked Martoli and to go on my way to Milam.

Durga Sings’ sister gave me a packet of smashed potato for the road.  Durga Sing walked alongside me till the end of the village to see me off.

Ahead, there was a steep descent to negotiate and very cautiously I started to descend.

After descending and reaching the main path to Milam, I looked back. Most probably am not coming back to Martoli village, ever. I felt Durga Sing also know that.

So I turned back to have a last look and as I looked back, I saw Durga Sing Martolia, standing on the edge of the ridge.

He waved at me; I felt the gentle touch of his rough palm on my shoulder again and a gaze on me full of so much love and compassion; as it caresses me so gently, something broke inside me. Tears wailed up in my eyes.

In that instant, I knew, I have a home in deep of the Himalaya, in a magnificent village called Martoli, inside a cozy room owned by my elder brother known as Durga Sing Martolia.

“Rato ko chanlewale rahe jaye thak ke jis dam,

Ummid unki meri tuta huya diya ho.

Bijli chamak ke inko kutia meri dekha de,

Jab aasma me harsu badal ghera huya ho.” …..Dr. Muhammad Iqubal.

(When the night-traveler is exhausted/ his only hope is the light of my broken lamp-shed. / When the stormy-cloud covers the sky / please show him my broken hut by lighting – O! Thy).

Martoli Village

  1. The Himalayan Journal: 45: S P Mulasi.
  2. Beyond Milam: Himavanta, July 1998: Edited by Kamal Kumar Guha.
  3. Ibid.
Posted by: charanik | August 27, 2012

LET ME TOUCH THE HORIZON — HEMKUNDA SAHEB

 

LET ME TOUCH THE HORIZON

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Perched at a height of 14250 feet, surrounded by snowy peaks, the sea-green rotund lake was described in the ‘Puranas’. It is said, in the ‘Satya Yuga’ Lakshman- the younger brother of Rama had meditated on its bank. So was King Pandu- the father of the Pandavas, in the ‘Dwapar Yuga’. Guru Gobind Singh- the tenth Guru of the Sikhs and the founder of the ‘Khalsa’ order also said to have meditated on its embankment in an earlier birth. And in the ‘Kali Yuga’, standing on its bank, I am soaking-in the all-embracing unspoiled beauty that surrounds the lake. A few chunks of ice are floating on the crystal clear cobalt coloured water that reflects the deep blue-sky. Super imposed on that reflection of vast blueness, are the images of the surrounding snow-peaks. It is ‘Hemkunda’- a glacial lake of astonishing beauty. The place is called ‘Lokpal’ in Hindu scripture and ‘Hemkunda Sahib’ in Sikh scripture.

 

Day one: The trek starts from ‘Gobindaghat’ (1829 mts) – the road-head, a small settlement wedged between mountains, on the confluence of ‘Alakananda’ & ‘Lakshman Ganga’. When I reached Gobindaghat, it was bursting at its seam with pilgrims, as this is the ‘Yatra’ season. Named after Guru Gobind Sing, it is on the Hrishikesh-Badrinath road, 271 kms from Hrishikesh and 23 kms from Badrinath.

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Through a narrow lane, lined with shops, we cross Alakananda over a steel-suspension bridge and the ascent starts. Ghangaria — our destination for tonight — is 13 kms ahead. The treeless paved winding trail, on the bank of ‘Bhuindar Gad’, had us scurrying up for cover, as the fierce sun beats down on us and the path ahead hold promises of shade as it goes through ‘Gobind Pashu Vihar’– a reserved forest of Himalayan Fir, Spruce, Maple and Cedar. We turn back to see the picture post-card settlement of ‘Gobindaghat’.

 

Soon we reached the first village –‘Pungaon’- a village of eerie silence; not a soul around. The small stone houses are locked. The ‘Chati-Walla’ (roadside tea-stall proprietor) solved the mystery. ‘Pungaon’ is a winter settlement. The villagers usually reside in ‘Bhuindar’– a bigger and higher village. The trail is steep and tiring, but lined with ‘Chatis’ every one/two kilometers. So we gulped down gallons of tea and rested in between steep climbs. A plethora of wobbly rickety horses with huge ‘Sikhs and Sikhanis’ on them, desperately clutching the reins; cute babies in ‘Kandis’ (wicker baskets) carried by Nepali porters, sleeping away the rigours of the journey; babies carried on motehs’ back, tied with “dupatta”, elderly ladies & gentle men in ‘Dandis’ (a chair carried by four bearers) and boisterous Sikh youths marching ahead along side an elderly Sikh sweeping the trail with a broom (considered a pious act) – complete the picture on the trail till we reached Bhuindar.

 

Bhuindar, on the confluence of Bhuindar Gad and Lakshman Ganga, is a filthy village with nauseating smell. Villagers are too busy in catering to the needs of the reach Sikh pilgrims rather than for such mundane activities like cleaning. After all, this is the booming business time of the year, which last only for three months. We are relieved to depart and hit the trail again and immediately revived with a soothing sight of a snowy peak — the ‘Hathi Parbat’ (22070 fts) — so named for its likeness to the back of an elephant. Crossing ‘Lakshman Ganga’, we reached a beautiful meadow dotted with alpine flowers. The forest canopy gave way to open sky covered with dark rain-cloud. We reached Ghangaria before the downpour and lodged in the dilapidated forest bungalow. Ghangaria has good hotels and a modern Gurudwara. But I had my own reason to choose that ramshackle bungalow. It is where the great Himalayan traveller and writer Umaprasad Mukhopadyay stayed during his visit sometime in 1950s.

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 Day two: Ghangaria (3089 mts) – a narrow valley covered with dense forest and surrounded by soaring mountains is damp and despite the best efforts of the sweepers of the Gurudwara, is filthy. As we hit the trail, a sunny morning greeted us. 1 km ahead, the trail bifurcates — one leads to the Valley of Flowers and the other to Hemkunda. We took the path that leads to Hemkunda.

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It’s a tough climb ; more than 4000 ft. in 6 kms. The track goes through glaciers and spellbinding scenery.  Lakshman Ganga dives into a gorge in a blinding fury, tongue of a glacier gobbles up the trail and we had to amble over it with snowy peaks giving us company. Panting & puffing like a steam engines, we reached at the base of a flight of stairs. This is the short cut.  The longer route goes through slippery glacier. We had little choice ! Off we went in a labourious walk, up the stairs. They say there are 1300 stairs. But I, for sure, was in no mood to count. I had to summon all my strength to reach the top of those blasted stairs. But once on the top I was rewarded with the most astoundingly beautiful sight I have ever seen.

 

In front of me, with an octagonal Gurudwara on its bank and surrounded by snowy peaks, rests a rotund cobalt coloured glacial lake. A small rivulet — ‘Lakshman Ganga’ — issues from one side of the lake, which turns into a mass of swirling water down stream. Blue, yellow and red alpine flowers are in bloom.  The sun came out of the cloud bathing the small valley in brilliant sunshine. Sikhs are having a holy dip in the ice-cold water of the lake while a middle-aged Sikh in yellow turban and red jacket, is meditating on the bank. On one corner of the lake stands a rather modern Lakshman temple. An image of ‘Lakshman’ in black stone and two images –‘Ganesh’ and ‘Lokpal’, are housed in the sanctum. None of the images appears to be old. The Gurudwara has a picture of Guru Gobind Singh and a ‘Granthasahib’.

 

History, myth and legend: According to the ‘Puranas’, in the “Satya Yuga”, Lord Shiva created this place, as well as, the lake for the ‘Lokpals’- the preservers of the earth. In the modern times (1931), Frank Smythe came in this region on his quest to conquer Mt. Kamet. He again came in 1937 and recced this region and named the valley “Valley of Flowers”. In 1936 Sohan Sing and Mohan Sing — two Sikh pilgrims, embarked upon a religious expedition to locate the place in the deep of Himalaya, where Guru Gobind is said to have meditated in an earlier birth. The Guru had described the place in ‘Bichitra Natak’ — a religious scripture authored by him. After a long and arduous search, they came upon this place, then known as ‘Lokpal’. This place matched the description of the place they were searching and a religious congregation accepted this place as the place where Guru Gobind Singh must have meditated. So was born ‘Hemkund Sahib’ the second most sacred Sikh pilgrim center after the GoldenTemple.

 

It’s time to leave this heaven and go back to our chaotic city life. The image of that middle aged Shikh gentleman, in yellow turban and red jacket, meditating on the bank of the icy white lake, will haunt me forever. I recalled a Tsao poem,

“Go far into the void, and there rest in quietness. / All things arise and bloom in their time, / then they return to their roots. / Their returning is peace.”

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Posted by: charanik | August 14, 2012

VALLEY OF GODS – Badrinath and Kedarnath.

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As we reached Badrinath, ominous black cloud conversed in. Soon it started raining. The rain started with few drops but in no time turned into a full-scale hailstorm. Heavy drops of rain with hails hurtling down the sky is not exactly my idea of fun. We scurried for shelter and found it in the ashram of Balananda on the eastern side of Alakananda. Evening closed in. We were tired of the long journey and went to bed immediately. No body was interested in dinner.

It is very early morning. My friend nudged me awake and dragged me to the wide window. The tower of the temple with the gold pitcher can be seen in the low light. Behind the temple the Nilkantha peak, the ‘Queen of Garhwal’, with its scimitar like sharp ridge was reflecting the moon light as if in sleep. Suddenly the dawn broke through. The first rays of the sun set the peak aflame. It took a golden hue resplendent in colour, lighting the valley with its reflection. Without any warning whatsoever, we were transported into a mystic world full of legend.

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The Legend: Himalayas is the abode of Lord Shiva. But down the ages Lord Vishnu captured Badrinath. The legend has it, in the ‘Satya Juga’ Lord Vishnu meditated here for thousands of years when Lakshmi, the ever-dutiful wife, provided shadow over her husband in the form of a Badri tree. So the place came to be known as Badrinath. Also, since Badrinath (Vishnu), the husband (Nath) of Lakshmi- the goddess in the form of a Badri tree is believed to reside here, the valley is named after him.

Actually, the whole valley encompassing Kedar-Badri was the home of Lord Shiva. But probably during the later Puranic ages the Vaisnavites manage to edge-out the Shaivites from the valley and installed Vishnu as the presiding deity.  This change of guard was vividly described in the Puranic tale – ‘The battle of Kirat and Arjun’. Arjun though defeated, managed to propitiate Shiva who took the guise of a hunter (kirat) and induced him to leave the valley and settle in Kedarnath. Thus Badrinath came under the domain of Lord Vishnu.

Modern day Badrinath: In Badri, the first task of any visitor, without any exception, is to go for a ‘Darshan’ of the Lord. So we also went to see the Idol of Lord Vishnu. Legend apart, Badrinath is the most important religious center of Vaisnavism in India. Perched at a height of 10300feet, the scenic beauty of the place is simply breathtaking. Surrounded by lofty mountains, the wide valley is bisected by the mighty-holy river Alakananda. The fiercely flowing Alakananda just below the temple, its swirling water dancing over rocks, is in complete contrast to the age-old immobility around.

Till the middle of the 21st century, Badrinath could be reached only by a long, hard and arduous trek over mountain ranges that crested to a height of 10000ft plus. But thanks to the modern age, now Badrinath is accessible directly by road from Hardwar/ Hrishikesh. The journey is long and tiresome but the scenic beauty on the road is worth the trouble. Better still; take a night-halt either in Rudraprayag or in Joshimath.

Our bus Started very early in the morning from Hrishikesh. It was still dark. We took this bus because it is the only bus that reached Badrinath in a day.  Its headlights blazing, breaking the darkness, our bus started to climb the mountain-road towards Devaprayag- the confluence of Bhagirathi & Alakananda. These two rivers merged here to form ‘The Ganges’- the holiest river of India. By noon we reached Srinagar, the most populous town in this route and took our lunch. Through the soft light of the afternoon our bus reached Joshimath. Throughout, baring a few patches, the road was good. But after Joshimath, the road is one way, operating through ‘gate system’, and the condition was bad; landslides at several points made the journey nerve racking. By evening, somehow managing to avoid disaster, we reached Badrinath. It was a bone shattering journey but the spellbinding scenic beauty all around made it worth every dime.

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BadrinathTemple:  Two avalanches in 1948 & 1950 coupled with the devastating flood of Alkananda in 1958 ruined the old Badrinath settlement, which then had to be reconstructed. Most of the new settlement was built on the eastern bank of Alakananda facing the temple and the Nilkantha peak.

Beside the stunning beauty all around, the main attraction of Badrinath is the temple of Lord Vishnu. The existing structure is not that old. The original built by the great Sankaracharjya long destroyed. This modern structure built by the king of ‘Garhwal’ in the fifteenth century consists of an outer and an inner segment. We approached the main gate, about 50ft high, that sports a flag. The pitcher of the tower is gold plated. Two sides of the entrance have false stone windows with curving. The dominant bright colours- blue, green and yellow-on the outer walls do not go with the religious serenity. The dome shaped tower shows the influence of Muslim architecture. The Maharaja of Jaipur built that during the Mogul rule. Statues of Kuber and Narayan stand guard on two sides of the richly curved wooden main-door. As we stepped on the wide stone paved courtyard, an arch of black stone with two images of Vishnu in full splendor, on either, sides greet us.

The sanctum sanctorum, build of stone, has rich curving all around. Every body was to stand on the doorway to have a ‘Darshan’. The image of Lord Badrinath made of black stone, is fully covered with jewellery & flowers. So we could only just make out the outline of the idol. Except the ‘Rawal’- the chief priest, nobody is allowed to touch the idol. A replica in the courtyard shows the details. The image is that of Vishnu in the posture of meditation, holding Shankha, Chakra, Gada& Pamda. A sacred thread dangling over the wide chest that shows the kick mark of the sage Vrigu.  The eyes are shut firmly; locks have come down on the wide shoulders.  It is an exquisitely beautiful and awesome statue that is revered by all, the believer & the non-believer, alike. The images of Kuber, Shridevi, Bhudevi, Ganesh & Naranarayan stand on the two sides of Badrinath.  A statue of Uddhab, friend and the most ardent follower of Krishna, kneels in front of the image. During winter when the temple is closed, the image of Uddhab is brought down to Joshimath and is worshipped as the representative of Lord Badrinath.

Around the temple: Images of lesser gods viz. Hanuman, Lakhsmi etc & the office of the temple are located in the temple complex in separate buildings. Around the temple complex, we visited Pancha shila (five sacred stones)- Narad, Baraha, Nrisingha, Markandeya & Garudah and the Pancha Tirtha (five sacred center)-Hrishiganga, Kurmadhara, Prahladdhara, Naradkunda & Taptakunda. We took a dip in the hot water of the ‘Tapta Kunda’. The water is said to have curing power! Well, I don’t have any disease. As for my friend, I don’t know. If you are game for a little adventure, then go for a trek to see the Charan Paduka- an impression of a foot on a stone, believed to be that of the Lord Vishnu himself. A breathtaking view of the Nilkantha peak from this spot gives the non-believer the reward worth the trouble. Mana (3kms), the last village on this side of the border with Tibet, on the confluence of the rivers Saraswati and Alakananda is also worth a visit. The confluence, ‘Keshabprayag’, is said to be very sacred. A natural stone bridge over Saraswati known as ‘Bhimpul’ and a fall on the course of the river are a must see. Legend has it that ‘Bhim’, the second brother of the ‘Pandavas’, put up a huge stone over the river so that ‘Draupadi’ can cross the river. So the bridge was named after him. A bit tougher treks to ‘Basudhara’ (8kms), waterfall of breath-taking beauty, for the adventurous type, is worth the trouble. The fall, coming down from a height of 145meters, is sure to spellbind you. At least, it did so to me!

As the sun sets behind the ‘Nilkantha’ peak, the lights around the temple are switched on. Religious songs from the temple wafted towards us.  As the moon came out, its silvery light cascaded down the sharp ridges of ‘Nilkantha’. The picture-perfect scene was spellbinding. The atmosphere in the entire valley changed subtly bringing in a new dimension and transporting us into a world of mysticism and hope. Tomorrow is an another day and we will leave for Kedarnath.

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On way to Kedarnath: The bus we took is called ‘Bhukh-Hartal’.  Since the locals had to resort to a hunger strike (Bhukh-Hartal) to get its route sanctioned, the name stuck. It starts from Badrinath at around 7-30 in the morning and reaches Gourikunda, the road-head, in the evening via Chamoli and Chopta. There is an alternative route via Rudraprayag. But the former goes through a reserved forest amidst spellbinding scenic beauty under the watchful eyes of snow crested peaks of the Choukhamba range. So we took this route.

On the way, visitors can break journey to visit Rudranath or Tunganath from Mandal and Chopta respectively. The Musk deer breeding center at Pangerbasa is worth a visit. A beautiful bungalow at Dogolvitta, half an hour’s journey from the breeding center can be a splendid place for a night-halt. But we had a tight schedule and simply could not afford to break journey. We reached Gourikunda in the evening.  Spending the night in one of the numerous ‘Dharmasala’ of Gourikunda, we intend to tackle the 14kms trek to Kedarnath early in the morning.

Gourikunda (6500fts): ‘Devi Gouri’, the daughter of the ‘Himalaya’, sat here on a long meditation to propitiate Lord Shiva and forced the grand ascetic to marry her. A temple in Trijuginarayan, a hamlet nearby, stands witness to that grand marriage. The sacred sacrificial fire in the temple before which the marriage was solemnized is said to be burning till date. Gourikunda, a well shaped narrow valley, also boast of an ancient temple of ‘Gouri’ and a hot spring. The hot water is a sure cure of aching limbs and after a dip in that hot pool, our tired- aching limbs from the long bus journey, got a new lease of life.

The trek: In the early morning, we were on the trail.  The path is stone paved and wide enough for comfortable walking but “plundering” horses and ‘Dandis’ (an easy chair carried by four carriers) that carries the pilgrims to the temple neither allow the trekkers to walk in peace nor one can avoid them. The trekkers find it difficult to walk through this confusion. So as they say, it is better to join them when you can’t beat them. I mean, it is better to ride a horse. It will be a life time experience! But if you are stubborn enough to take the challenge head-on, then the splendor of the route is compensation enough. We took a tea- break at Jangalchati 4kms ahead. The place with a few teashops is perched precariously amidst the Kedarnath reserved forest. A fall of exquisite beauty on the true left side of ‘Mandakini’, across the gorge, gave us company. Ramwara, a small valley that boast of the only tourist bungalow on the way, is another 4kms away. The aged and the infirm can break their journey here. We took our launch here. The steepest part of the trek is from Ramwara to Garudachati, a distance of 3kms. Fully fueled it took us one and half-hour only to cross Garuda.  Another 3kms of walking through a green carpeted valley interspersed with small blue, yellow and red flowers and we reached Kedarnath valley.

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Kedarnath (3584mts): The first sighting of the temple from ‘Deo Dekhani’ (place from where the god is first seen) with its gold pitcher on the tower, the snowy peak of Kedarnath (22770ft) in the background and the wide green valley watered by the dancing ‘Mandakini’ river is so spellbinding that most of the pilgrims broke down into tears. The saucer shaped valley is 2kms long and 1/2kms wide. The temple and the hamlet are on the eastern side of the river. The cold here is biting, as the snow line is very near. No other temple in India is as close to the snowline as the Kedarnath. We are in another land of legend.

The legend: In Kedarnath, hearsay, history & legend are inextricably mixed. It is simple impossible to separate them now. According to the ‘Puranas’, in this valley ‘Upamanyu’ propitiated Lord Shiva, the god of death &destruction, by a long meditation and compelled him to stay in the valley forever. Mahabharat has another story. The Pancha Pandavas after the ‘Great War’ of ‘Kuruskhetra’ came in the Himalayas to wash off their sin of killing their own kith & kin by having a ‘Darshan’  (sighting) of Shiva. But Shiva was reluctant to appear before the sinners. So he fled in the guise of a bull. The Pandavas pursued him and here Bhim was able to catch hold of the back of the bull that then entered the earth leaving behind its back. The Pandavas built a grand temple over the left-off back that by then has turned into stone. This is the popular belief. But, the Mahabharat though mentions Badrikashram, does not mention Kedarnath. So the name of the builder of the temple is shrouded in mystery that has defied numerous attempt of cracking.

Another popular belief, Sankaracharjya-the great reformer & ascetic-had built the temple also appears not to be true. It is certain that Sankar visited Kedarnath. He stayed there till his death. But Sankaracharjya died at the tender age of thirty-two and most probably came to Kedar in his thirties. So it seems simply impossible that even an active man like him was able to build such a grand temple at a height of 11745ft in those days of grass-root technology in such a short time.

According to Rahul Sankrityayana, the great Sanskrit scholar who visited Kedar in 1951, there was a temple in the 4th century. This time frame is much before the time of Sankaracharjya. He also said, the popular belief that the figurines in the shelf of the inner walls of the temple were that of the Pandavas is not true.  Mainly these figurines prompted the belief that the temple was built by the Pandavs.

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The Temple: In early afternoon we approached the temple. The architecture of Kedarnath temple is unique as no other Himalayan temple shows a Grecian influence. The Grecian influence can be seen, most vividly, on the tympanum of the temple. The tower shows Tibetan influence. Some experts think that before Sankaracharjya turned the temple into a Shaiva center, it was a Buddhist temple, which explain the Tibetan influence.

The temple stands on an elevated square stone courtyard, an image of a bull sat relaxed, facing the main door. The kitchen and a small temple of Ishaneswar, another form of Shiva, are located behind the main temple.

The temple has two segments. The outer part is called ‘Natmandir’ where devotees stand to see the idol and the inner part or the ‘Garvagriha’ is the Sanctum Sanctorum where the idol is lodged. Two ‘Dwarpals’ (guards) stand erect on two sides of the curved wooden door of the ‘Natmandir’. An image of Ganesh greets the pilgrims at the door. The outer segment has four columns on four sides, shelves on the walls contains figurines which are believed to be that of the Pandavas, Kunti and Draupadi and also an image of Laxmi-Narayan.  Here, a brass image of a bull facing the Shiva is worth a look. A curved lotus looks exquisite on the roof of the ‘Natmandir’.

The wooden door of the sanctum is richly curved with figures and sketches. Two exquisite images of Laxmi & Parvati add to the splendor. Experts believe that these images are later additions. The walls of the sanctum are covered with several coats of ‘ghee’ and soot. Shelves on the walls contain figurines smeared with soot. So I failed to identify them. The roof is adorned with lotus curved on stone. A black stone with a striking similarity to the back of a bull is worshipped as the image of the Lord. The stone ‘Lingam’ is naked, devoid of any jewellery, a compliment to the Lord who renounced everything. However, in the evening during the ‘Aarati’- worship with lamp- the naked image is decked with a silver crown and ‘Bramhakamal’- an exotic flower found only in the higher riches of the Himalaya.

Around the temple: Next morning, we explored around the temple. ‘Vrigujhampa’, a great black stone on the mountain behind the temple, from the top of which ascetics and pilgrims used to jump to their death to earn a direct entry into the haven is worth a visit. The practice was stopped during the British rule. The five Ganges believed to originate from the heaven, Alakananda (invisible), Mandakini, Dudhaganga, Khirganga & Mauganga flow through the valley. The three Ganges that are visible, merge with Mandakini. Five holy ‘Kundas’ (small puddles)- Udak, Retas, Amrita, Eshan & Hansa Kunda- are a must see for the pilgrims. A short trek (2kms) to ‘Chorabali Tal’- the source of river Mandakini- is worth a visit. On 4th June 1948, the ashes of Gandhiji were sprinkled on the water of the lake and renamed ‘Gandhi Sarobar’. A bit tougher trek to ‘Basuki Tal’ (8kms, 4135mts)- the abode of the great serpent ‘Basuki’ and a high altitude lake of great beauty, can resurrect you. It is a hard one day trek but worth the trouble.

It is time to leave this heaven. A cool breeze was blowing. The scattered small red, blue and brown flowers in the valley were swinging. The green-carpeted valley on the backdrop of the snowy mountain was resplendent with colour. The gold pitcher on the tower of the temple was shining against the snow-covered Kedarnath peak. This serene picture with a touch of mystic left an ever-lasting impression as we left the ‘Valley of Gods’.

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Posted by: charanik | January 9, 2012

PANCHCHULI BASE CAMP TREK— JYAN SINGH DUKHTOLIA

Gyan Singh Duktolia – Child of the Himalaya:

Panchachuli 3 & 4

The Panchyat Ghar (village level administrative building) of Duktu village, a village in deepHimalaya on the way to Panchchuli Base Camp, has been built strategically. Perched on a high ground, it looked down upon the whole village, as far as Dantu– the next village across the Dhauli Ganga gorge, two kilometers away. Dhauli Ganga issues forth from the junction of Sona and Meola glaciers at the foot of the Panchachuli group of peaks, about five kilometers away from Duktu village where I am going next morning.

Duktu is a small village in the Darma valley, deep into the Kumaon Himalayas, surrounded by lofty peaks, on which fresh snowy has been deposited, a sign of coming winter when the whole valley will be buried deep under the snow and its inhabitants will migrate, within a day or two, to a lower village for the entire winter months.

I was lying flat on my mat on the grassy courtyard of the Panchyat Ghar, looking idly up the deep azure blue cloudless sky and eventually dozing off to a slumber.

High above my head, a yellow-billed cough (Pyrrhocorax graculus) was gliding incessantly in circles using the upward lift of the hot mountain air and calling its mate. The sun was directly above my head and its fierce rays were cutting into my skin; but the cool fragrant & gentle breeze that wafted towards me from the surrounding snow peaks, was cooling me off to doze.

It was one of those perfect days.

As I was drifting slowly to view a technicolour-dream, Gyan Sing, village-head, came rushing in and woke me up from my reverie with an urgent plea, “Saab, aapko aabhi ekbar mere ghar jana hoga” (Sir, you must come to my house at once).

I have planned to languish there in Shabasan (dead mans’ posture) till the sun goes down behind the mountains and naturally most reluctant to leave my heaven.

We were trekking for the last three days on an average of ten hours per day and certainly, had earned a rest. But by the expression of Gyan Sing, the matter appears to be serious.

So reluctantly & languidly I asked him, “Lekin, kyun?” (But why?).

Gyan Sing replied, “Mera ghar me do saheb aaye hnyay. O log  mujhe biswas nehi kar raha. Ghar se nikal ne ka time ghar tala bandh kar ke nikal raha hyay.” (Two foreigners have come to stay in my house. They do not trust me. When going out, they are locking up their room).

He continued to pour out his anguish, “Mnyay unpad aadmi. Aap angreji me unko samjha dijiye ki o mujhe biswas kar sakte.” (I am illiterate. You please tell them in English that they can trust me).

It would seem very insignificant to us – the city bred modern man. Who cares a hoot about some foreigners not trusting me !

But Gyan Sing was in great pain, literally.

These children of theHimalayaare illiterate and very poor; their life is tough beyond the imagination of most of us but they simply cannot bear the thought that somebody, that too a foreigner does not trust him. Mr. Traill, the British Commissioner of Garhwal acknowledged that and certified them as, ‘an honest, industrious, orderly race, patience and good humoured’. (Statistical Report on the Bhotia Mahala of Kumaon: Traill, G.W).

I am in Bhotia Mahal – thelandofBhotiaswho does not lock their house – ever and value their honesty above everything.

Early in an autumn morning we started from Dharchula in jeep for Panchchuli base camp. Dharchula, the sub divisional head-quarter on the Indo-Nepal border on the bank of Kali Ganga in the Pithorgarh district of Uttarakhanda, is a bustling town. Our jeep ride will end at a village called Sobla—the road-head and our trek to the Panchchuli base camp starts. It’s a gentle trek of three days.

After negotiating few land-slides on the way our jeep reached Sobla in the late morning and we started our trek. We had our breakfast in a road-side Chati(restaurant) with cold paratha and potato curry and soon we were on our road under the blazing sun. Our destination Sela, is a small village, 16 kms away.

I always enjoy the initial trek of first day. Its gives me a feeling of utter freedom. Nap-sack on by back, not a care for the world, free like a soaring bird, all I have to do is walk & walk.

We took a short cut through a steep ascent and midway everything went blank for me. I just collapsed on the narrow path and somehow managed to hang on. My companion – my friend and porter, Umed Sing, who was a little ahead, came rushing down through the steep descent.

Well, it’s must be the cold paratha that was doing its trick. A few drop of homeopathic medicine and after a few seep of water; I could stand again and complete the steep ascent to reach a roadside chati.

By late noon we reached Bugling village, 8 kms away and had our lunch with rice, dal and boiled local creeper in Sher Sings’ chati.

Sher Sing is using red plastic chairs in his dining room. Now a day, these ubiquitous plastic chairs can be found in even inaccessible villages in the deepHimalaya. The juggernaut of development has reached the remote Himalayan villages and along with it brought pollution.

As we start for Sela — the next village, the path became relatively steep but the natural beauty around us is worth the labour. By the time we reached ITBP camp of Sela, the sun has gone behind the mountain and the temperature dropped dramatically. We took shelter in the “five-star” chati of Dev Sing and had our dinner with rice-dal and fried egg—a delicacy rarely found in this route. Dev Sings’ chati , called a five star Chati for the facilities it proved, is on the true right bank of river Dhauli Ganga, the village is on the other side of the river.

As we drifted in to the slumber that will drive away the pain and the labour, the constant gurgling sound of the fast moving stream kept us entertained.

After a hurried breakfast with noodles, we started early next morning for village Duktu, 10 kms away but the path became so difficult that only by late afternoon we reached Baling, a prosperous village 6 kms away from Sela after a frugal lunch at Nagling, a small village on the way. My companion, a young of 65 years with a bypass heart surgery only two years back, was so exhausted that I had to stop at Baling in the house of the local postmaster.

Astha, the daughter of the postmaster, a young modern girl with high-school certificate, took our care so nicely that we felt like we were in our home. The dinner with hot chapatti on top of which ghee was spread lavishly and sabji in their kitchen in front of the flaming oven was a treat and I slept like a log.

Since we had to trek only 4kms next day, we started late with a leisurely breakfast. Leaving the village we entered a enormous level field and met a precession of humans, cows and horses going down. The residents of village Dantu & Bon were leaving their village in seasonal winter migration.

Migration

I was thinking how this field will look during July-August when it will be full of alpine flowers. Somebody behind me said “ August-me aiye, bahut phool milega”( Come in August, You will find lots of flower). Astha came-up from behind. She coming with us to visit a relative in Duktu.

First view of Panchachulli 3 & 4

We reached Duktu in the early morning and lodged in the Panchayat house of the village. I immediately took to the green lawn in front of the house under the blazing sun and started “Shabasan” on my mat. That’s when Gyan Sing came to bring down me from my heaven & day dream.

I had to accompany Gyan Sing to his house where I met Katrina & Christoff an Austrian couple. They are traveling in Indiafor the last two months and came to visit Panchachulli base camp. We had an extended adda session till evening and Gyan Sing was suitably impressed by my English speaking power!

Very early in the next morning we were on the rough route to the Panchchuli base camp. It is still dark and dawn was breaking slowly behind us. As we reached a strategic point in front of the Panchchuli group of peaks, I sat down on a big boulder to wait for the sun-rise. Cool fragrant breeze, carrying the chill of the snow crested mountain, wafted towards us from the east. All around us silence reigned.

The five peaks of Panchchuli are still dark. The darkness started to lift very slowly and my thoughts wandered to the early expeditions of these peaks.

The mountaineering history of Panchchuli began with Hugh Ruttledge. He saw the group at close quarters reaching high up on the Sona glacier. He examined the routes and thought that the north arête may be possible. After 21 years two teams examined the eastern approaches again. W.H. Murray and his Scottish team followed the Ruttledge route. They intended to reach the north col and follow the northeast ridge. They found the terrain too difficult.

Later Murray and Douglas Scott went up the Meola glacier. From its junction with the Sona glacier they climbed ‘till 16,000 ft by way of the central diff and found the only way to Meola’.

Just 20 days after them came Kenneth Snelson and J. de V. Graaff. By early September they reached the upper Sona glacier and ‘found that its head was a cradle of 600 foot cliffs offering no route to the northeast summit ridge’.

They then followedMurray’s route to upper Meola and reached the south col to examine the west side.

They thought of the south ridge but wrote: ‘The ridge towards south col has a rather easier gradient but it is very broken, heavily corniced’. They gave up the southeast face also after 400 ft.

With such verdicts, the eastern approaches were left alone. Only a team each in 1970 and 1988 tried them unsuccessfully.

The western approaches were tried one year after Murray, in 1951. Heinrich Harrer and Frank Thomas were joined by two Sherpas and a botanist. Though their account in the Himalayan Journal is not very explicit, their photographs in the archives clearly indicate that they pioneered the route through the Uttari Balati glacier, by passing three icefalls. Harrer with Sherpas reached the Balati plateau and examined the north and west ridges. They tried the west ridge but a Sherpa fell off on hard blue-ice. Harrer gave up.

They had spent only 16 days on the mountains but pioneered the route which was followed by all subsequent expeditions from this side.

In 1952, P.N. Nikore followed the Harrer route and his attempt in June almost coincided with an attempt by another team led by D.D. Joshi which included Maj. John Dias. Both the teams reached the Balati plateau. Nikore returned in 1953 and claimed a solo ascent of the peak without any conviction or proof to corroborate his claim. He was disbelieved and the claim ignored.

The first Border Police team in 1972 was led by Hukam Singh. They powered their way to the Balati plateau via the Harrer route and made the first ascent of peak I. The first of the Panchchuli had fallen.

Repeating their route, Mahendra Singh led another team in 1973. They fixed almost 3000 m of rope. The entire route on the southwest ridge was fixed. On 26th May 1973, 18 people reached the summit.

The mountain was left alone for 18 years.

In 1991 two routes were climbed by the eastern approaches. Both teams were from the Indian army. The first team followed the Sona glacier, climbed the northeast slopes to reach above the north col and established a camp on the north ridge. The ridge was followed to the top. Thus the route suggested by Ruttledge in 1929 was completed after 61 years.

The second army team followedMurray’s route to the upper Meola glacier. They pitched a high camp following the southeast slopes to theEast Ridge. The summit team broke the cornice to reach the top. Thus the route suggested by Snelson-Graaff was completed after 41 years.

The scene finally shifted back to the west.

The Indian-British expedition 1992 followed the route along the Uttari Balati glacier to the Balati plateau. On peak II, a team of three climbed the southwest ridge. It was a hard climb on ice, keeping well away from the hanging cornices. This was the second ascent of the southwest ridge, now after 19 years.

Another team of two pioneered a new route up the steep and icy west ridge, with bivouacs. They descended the southwest ridge completing the traverse. Thus the route tried by Harrer was completed after 41 years.

The 1992 expedition later made the first ascent of peak V.

The first ascent of Panchchuli IV peak was made by a New Zealandexpedition on 1st October 1995. The team was led by John Nankervis. (see H.J., Vol. 52, p. 247).

Peak III and the direct south ridge on peak II still remain un-attempted.

I was lost in thought and could not notice the moment when the sun came out from behind the mountain. The first tangential sun rays fell on the deathly-icy peaks of Panchchuli. Slowly, like a slow motion movie, all the five peaks came alive one by one.  As if some unknown giant hand has just poured molten gold on the crest of those peaks. The reflected light from the peaks lighted the valley in golden hue; it started to laugh in sheer joy.

First Sun Rays on Panchchuli Peak 1 & 2

Posted by: charanik | December 24, 2008

Manimahesh—The Serene Abode Of The Lord.

 Manimahesh

 

Manimahesh-- The Sacred Lake.

Manimahesh-- The Sacred Lake.

 

 

 

I met Zoltan at Dhanchoo inside a Chati (roadside eateries and resting place). Danchoo, a picture-perfect valley on the bank of Manimahesh Ganga, deep inside the Dhauladhar range of the Himalayas, is the perfect place for a discussion on mysticism and God. For Zoltan- the Yugoslavian – is bent upon such a discussion. He was traveling in China, Thailand and India for the last two years in search of spiritualism or for a perfect guru. It was raining hard and inside the Chati, sitting cozily on a blanket with glassful hot tea in our hand, we were animatedly discussing various aspect of eastern mysticism. It’s only natural to discuss mysticism as the trail that we were trekking, leads to Manimahesh Lake (13500fts) – a sacred oval shaped glacial lake on the foot of a peak, called Manimahesh Kailash (5656mts) – said to be the summer bode of Lord Shiva and this period – Janma-astami to Radha-astami (end August to mid September), is said to be the most auspicious for the pilgrimage.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         

It was early morning when we reached Hadsar from Bharmour, traveling on a narrow asphalt road, bounded by hill on one side and a deep gorge on the other through which flows Buddhal River. Hadsar (7000fts) – the road head – is a small settlement and is usually buried under snow through out the winter.

 

 

The Twins

The Twins

 

 

 

 

 

After a breakfast of hot French toast washed down with steaming tea from a Langar (free eateries that spring during this Yatra period), we – my 68years old companion and myself- started to climb. The trail, leaving the bank of Buddhal River, soon became quite steep; but the stunning scenario, particularly the tortuous course of Buddhal amidst tall pine and deodar and the foaming colfluence of Buddhal and Manimahesh Ganga, was incentive enough for tramping ahead.

 

Accessible only from late June July to early October, the route is closed with deep snow for most of the year. From the very beginning, it is a steep climb with hardly any descent. This is tough; because while going up you yearn for a few patches of downward slope. Similarly, when coming back, the steep descent put in severe pressure on the knee.  The result is an aching feet and wobbling knee. But the breathtaking scenery and the serenity that prevails around more than compensate the pain and the hardship.

 

After walking continuously for two hours, I came upon a log bridge over the swirling Manimahesh Ganga. The very thought of crossing that wobbling bridge without any hold to hang for dear life, forced me to take a rest and ponder over the dangerous situation that I am letting myself in ! But the beauty of a trek is that you can’t stop midway. There is no place to stay and from previous experience, I know spending a night on the open in such a freezing environment is not very funny. So balancing myself precariously and staring straight ahead, I took the first hesitant step and was able to cross. I was feeling great, like when a contestant won in the “Who Dares win” and looked back smugly to survey my just owned feet. Imagine my shock, when I saw a one legged man with a crutch crossing that bridge with ease, uttering loudly the name of the Lord Shiva ! With a badly bruised ego I started to climb again and within an hour reached Danchoo, the nights rest.

Towards Manimahesh

Towards Manimahesh

Danchoo (12000fts) surrounded by the mountain, is a small grassy valley through which flows the fiercely flowing Manimahesh Ganga. On its southeast corner, the entire flow of Manimahesh Ganga cascades downs a giant boulder. The setting sun draws a stunning rainbow over that cascading fall. The valley resplendent in colour slowly turns gray as dusk descend silently and the temporarily installed electric bulbs sprang into life bringing an end to my dreaming.

 

Next day from the very beginning the climb became steeper. We stared to climb towards ‘Bandarghati’ (a place for Monkey) —a most appropriate name, I must say. The 2 kms trek took one full hour due to its sheer steepness. The next stop, Sunrashi, ahead of another 2 kms trek is comparatively less steep. Since we have crossed the tree line (usually tree line finishes at 10,000fts), the pines and the deodars are replaced by blue, red and yellow Alpine flowers. Throughout the trek Manimahesh Ganga is my companion. I am trekking alone. My companion has fallen behind. The age has caught up with him.

 

 

Danchho

Danchho

 

 

I reached Gourikunda (another 3 kms from Sunrashi) around 12-30 hrs. Manimahesh Lake is only 1 km away on the other side of a ridge. But I had to wait here for Sonamama (my companion) and Maninder (my porter). They took another two hours to reach and by this time it started to rain. So Sonamana decided to stay in Gourikunda. Assisted by Maninder, I went ahead amidst torrential rain. So far, we were able to avoid rain by reaching our each days destination by early noon. But now, despite wearing a water proof suite and shielding myself with an umbrella, I was drenched. Some thoughtful (!) guy had paved the path from Gourikunda to the Lake with concrete and rain made it quite making it slippery. So the 1 kms trek took a full hour and at last I was standing on the bank of Manimahesh Lake (13500fts). 

The big greenish lake in a depression amidst snow capped mountains, fed by a glacier that originates just below the Kailash peak, had an immediate soothing effect on my over worked muscles and nerves; one feels at ease with the nature. A concrete path and a guard wall encircle the lake. On the western side of the lake stands a trident—the symbol of Shiva along with a white marble stone image of the lord. To day is Janma-astami — the most sacred day for offering a Puja to the Lord; so hundreds of devotees are having an ablutary dip in the ice-cold water before offering Puja. A festive ambiance prevails. The rain has stopped. The sun came out of the cloud briefly to put the snow-crested peak of Kailash on fire, turning the greenish water of the lake flaming orange.

 

In the morning we were waiting for the sun to rise when Daniael- a French Canadian, who comes to India twice a year to research on mystic cults and with whom I was introduced yesterday – came up and we discussed the legend of Manimahesh. 

When Shiva became fed up with the polluted environment of Amarnath, he came to hide in the pristine Manimahesh. A Gaddi (Shepherd), on course of tending his sheep, wandered into Manimahesh and discovered it. He was ordered by Shiva himself not to reveal this place to anyone and to keep his part of the deal he was rewarded with one thousand sheep (in my childhood, I was told Gods don’t bribe. It is us the mere mortals who are to offer bribe to please the Gods). But the shepherd disclosed his secret to a monk and agreed to lead him to that place. On reaching Manimahesh he heard a voice accusing him of the broken vow and he along with his sheep and the monk were turned into stone for their insolence. One crow that was accompanying them also turned into stone. But the secret of Manimahesh was unveiled. And the annual pilgrimage to the sacred lake began.

 

The Lord on the bank of Manimahesh Lake

The Lord on the backdrop of Manimahesh Peak

 

 Fact file: The railhead is Pathankot. Direct bus and private taxi link is available to Hadsar-the road-head via Bharmour – the ancient capital of Gaderan(the land of the Gaddis). The trek starts from Hadsar. The first days stop is at Danchoo (7kms). One can reach Manimahesh (8kms) next day. The route is steep but stone paved. The best time is August end to middle of September when shelter and food are available throughout the route. But then the route becomes a bit crowded.  Trek in July and October is lonesome. But then all provision including tent and ration need to be carried.

Posted by: charanik | November 5, 2008

Hemkunda & Valley of Flower

 

In The Garden of Eden

 

Meditation On The Bank of Hemkunda

Meditation On The Bank of Hemkunda

 

 

As we stood on the confluence of  ‘ Lakshaman Ganga’ and ‘Alakananda’ at ‘ Gobinda Ghat’ (1829 mts) – the road head to the ‘Valley of flowers’ and ‘ Hemkunda’- and looked at the concrete path that is snaking its’ way to the sky, we could not suppress a long sigh. Simultaneously we thought -‘ climbing again’. But we were not to blame. We have just completed one of the hardest trek of Garhwal – a distance of 52 kms over the most rugged but the most beautiful terrain that I have ever seen and finding a few extra days on our hand we decided to take this leisurely trek. But despite this being a pilgrim trail and a popular trek, the trek seems to be not an easy one. 

Gobinda Ghat a small settlement, named after the 10th Guru of the Sikhs, is bursting at it’s seem with Sikh-pilgrims,  Dharamshala’, ‘Gurudwara’, hotels, shops, horses& their keepers and porters. It stands on the ‘ Hrishikesh’ – ‘Badrinath’ road, 171 kms from ‘ Hrishikesh and 23 kms from ‘Badrinath’. The narrow shop-lined lane, through which we had to pass, left us short of breath and we hurriedly started to climb. As we gained height the dirty and noisy ‘Gobinda Ghat’ looked like a surrealist picture out of which the freshly painted red rooftop of the ‘Dharamshala’ stands out reflecting the strong mid-day sun.

 

Piggy backing

Piggy backing

Soon we reached the first village-‘Pungaon’- a village of eerie silence. There’s not a soul around and the small stone houses are locked.  The mystery was solved by the ‘Chati-Walla’ (proprietor of roadside tea-stall). ‘Pungaon’ is a winter settlement. Excepting the winter, the villagers reside in ‘Bhiundhar’-a bigger village, way up. The trail is steep and tiring, but lined with ‘Chatis’. So we gulped down gallons of tea and took frequent rest before steep climbs. A plethora of wobbling rickety horses with huge ‘Sikhs & Sikhanis’ on them – desperately clutching the reins; cute babies in ‘Kandis’ (wicker baskets) carried by Nepali porters; elderly ladies & gentle men in ‘Dandis’ (a chair carried by four bearers) and boisterous Sikh youths marching ahead along side an elderly Sikh who is sweeping the trail with a broom (considered a pious act) and climbing very slowly – complete the picture on the trail. Soon we reached Bhiundhar

 

Bhiundhar, on the confluence of ‘Bhiundhar Gad’ (small mountain river) and ‘Lakshman Ganga’, is a filthy village with nauseating smell. Villagers are too busy in catering to the needs of the reach Sikh pilgrims and have no time for cleaning. This is booming business time that last only for three months. We are relieved to depart and hit the trail again and at once were rewarded with the soothing sight of a snowy peak – the ‘Hathi Parbat’ (22070fts); so named for its likeness to the back of an elephant. Crossing ‘Lakshman Ganga’ we reached a beautiful meadow dotted with alpine flowers. The forest canopy gave way to open sky covered with dark rain-cloud. We reached Ghagria (13 kms). before the downpour and lodged in the dilapidated forest bungalow. Ghagria has good hotels and a modern ‘Gurudwara’, but I had my own reason to choose that ramshackle bungalow. In this bungalow the great Himalayan traveler and writer Umaprasad Mukhopadyay stayed during his visit sometime in 1950s.

 

 

Carrying The Loved One

Carrying The Loved One

 

Ghagria (3089 mts) – a narrow valley surrounded by soaring mountains, covered with dense forest, is damp and despite the best efforts of the sweepers of the Gurudwara, is filthy. Next morning, as we hit the trail, a sunny morning greeted us. 1km up, the trail bifurcates- one leads to the ‘Valley of flowers’ and the other to ‘Hemkunda’ in a Y formation.

hemkunda

 

It’s a tough climb 0f more than 4000 ft. in 6 kms. The track goes through a glaciers and spellbinding sceneries.  Lakshman Ganga dives into a gorge in a blinding fury, tongue of a glacier gobbled up the trail and we had to trudge on the slippery surface in the company of snowy peaks. Panting & puffing like steam engines we reached at the bottom of a flight of stairs. The trail through the stair is a short cut. The other route, longer & tortuous, goes through the slippery glacier. We had little choice! So, off we went in a laborious climb up the stairs. It is said that there are more than1300 steps in that staircase. But I, for one, was in no mood to count. All sufferings end. Ours’ too end and we were rewarded with the one of the most astoundingly beautiful sight that I have ever seen.

 

Hemkunda

Hemkunda

 

Before me with an octagonal Gurudwara in its fore ground, surrounded by snowy peaks, lays the most beautiful, cobalt colored & rotund glacial lake (4150 mts). This is the ‘ Hemkunda’ known to the pilgrims from the ancient time as ‘Lokpal’. ‘Lakshman Ganga’, a small rivulet, issues from one side of the lake that turns into a mass of swirling water down stream.  All around blue, yellow and red alpine flowers are in bloom.  As the sun came out of the cloud, the small valley, resplendent in colors, bathed in brilliant sunshine, simply hypnotized me. A middle-aged Sikh, in red turban, is meditating on the bank. Young Sikhs are having a holy dip in the ice-cold water. On one corner of the lake stands a rather modern Lakshman temple. Images of ‘Lakshman’ in black stone and two other images one of ‘Ganesh’ and the other of ‘Lokpal’ are housed in the sanctum. None of the images appears to be old. The Gurudwara has a picture of Guru Gobind Sing and a ‘Granthasahib’. 

According to the ‘Puranas’, Lord Shiva created this place and the lake for the ‘Lokpals’- the preservers of the earth.  Since time immemorial Hindu pilgrims used to visit this place, which is believed to be place where ‘Lakshman’ meditated in the ‘Treta Yuga’. In 1936 Sohan Sing and Mohan Sing, two Sikh pilgrims embarked upon a religious expedition to locate the place in the deep of Himalaya where Guru Gobind is said to have meditated in an earlier birth. The Guru had described the place in ‘Bichitra Natak’ -a religious scripture authored by him. After a long and arduous search they came upon this place, then known as ‘Lokpal’. This place matched the description of the place described by the ‘Guru’. Later a Sikh religious congregation accepted ‘Lokpal’ as the place where Guru Gobind Sing must have meditated. So was born ‘Hemkund Sahib’ one of the most sacred center of Sikh pilgrimage. 

Next day we were on the trail to the ‘Valley of Flowers’. The track goes on the bank of  Bhiundhar Gad’ and over the tongue of a glacier. It’s short distance, only 3.5 kms, though the valley is spread far beyond. As we enter the valley a vast meadow unfolds with Rataban and other snowy peaks in the backdrop.  In 1981 this 87 square kms valley gained the status of a National Park and grazing was banned in 1982. Human intrusion was banned in February 1983.  The Park now has 521 species of flowers and herbs. 

The valley usually blooms during mid July-August. This is the first week of June. But still we could savour the enchanting beauty of a number of alpine species. The herbaceous flora of this zone represents a spectacular array of multi-colored flowers, for instance, Bramha kamal (Saussurea obvallata), Primula involucrata, Aquilegia pubiflora, Lilium oxypetalum, Epilobium latifolium, and Corydalis meifolia can be seen during the growing season. 

Of 31 rare and endangered plants found in the Valley of Flowers 13 are medicinal plants. Most of the rare plants grow in unusual habitats such as rocky slopes, forest edges, and marsh meadows. The species are rare because of restricted habitats, small population size, narrow range of distribution, and over exploitation by people for medicinal uses in the recent past. 

The density of wild animals in the Valley of flowers is very low.  Himalayan tahr, musk deer, mouse hare, Himalayan black bear, red fox, Himalayan weasel, common languor, flying squirrel has been sighted. According to local people Himalayan brown bear, bharal, and snow leopard are also seen in the Park. 

In 1862 Col. Edmund Smith came into this valley and later T. G. Longstaff with Arnold Mumm and Charles G. Bruce in 1907 passed from this valley. But it is the botanist and philosopher in Frank Smythe that recognized the true beauty of the ‘Valley of Flowers’. In 1931 Frank Smythe came in this region on his Kamet expedition. On his return, he crossed the ‘Bhiundhar pass’ and descended in this valley. He came again in 1937 and recced this region when he christened the valley -“ Valley of Flowers”. 

We reached the middle of the valley, a place called ‘Bamani Dhaur’ (cave of Brahmin). A few paces ahead stand the grave of Margaret Legge. In the late June of 1939 she came to the ‘Valley of Flowers’ to study the flora. On 4th July she went up a slope to collect sample and slipped to her death. On the request of her sister, she was buried among the flowers that she came to study. Next year her sister erected this small memorial and inscribed on it –

“ I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills/ from whence cometh my help.” 

It is time to go back to the mundane world of ours. But before leaving, I recalled the words of Frank Smythe, “ So I spent some of my last hours in the Valley of Flowers, seated by the camp fire, until flames died down and stars brightened beyond hill-tops; and all about me was the serenity of God.”

 

Posted by: charanik | July 23, 2008

A new destination

Hee Gaon – A new destination

 

Darkness descends early in autumn. Its only 5 o’clock in the evening and the road ahead is dark. Our Sumo while negotiating the steep ascents and hairpin bends of the mountain road that passes through a jungle has put all its head lights and fog lights on. There is not a soul around to ask for direction and we don’t know where we are. We have just crossed Soren, a small hamlet in the western Sikkim and at presenet are somewhere near a place called Kaluk. We are told about 7/8 kilometer ahead of Kaluk on the road to Dentam is Hee Gaon, our destination. Our only link to the outside world is the cell phone, which surprisingly, is working.  But whenever I could contact Mr. Birendra Tamling, the hotel owner at Hee, for direction; he sought back asking, “Sir, where are you?” But how the devil, I know where I am?


Suddenly out of the darkness came out a signboard declaring “Hee Police out Post”. As I yelled the driver to stop, a young man materializes form the darkness – Jitendra Tamling, the younger brother of Birendra Tamling. He was waiting for us. This is the Hee Bazar and the 8 kilometer road to the resort is a Kuchha stone paved road under construction with sharp hairpin bends. Our driver never stopped cursing his bad luck till we reached the resort. He had to be on his back gear several times to negotiate sharp hairpin bends and drivers are famous for not to like backing in a mountain road with deep gorges laying the road.


We had started from Siliguri around noon. The road goes on the bank of the Teesta till Melli where we crossed Teesta and reached Jorthang, the business centre of south Sikkim, in the late afternoon. An hour rest and some refreshment later, we crossed river Rangit to enter western Sikkim and started to climb steeply towards Soren, crossed Kaluk and ultimately reached Hee Gaon around 7 in the evening.


It was quite dark and cold. We were exhausted more from the excitement than the long journey and went to bed early.

Hee resort was opened by the chief minister of Sikkim Mr. Paban Chamling on 3rd December 2006 under rural tourism project and the

resort started functioning from May 2007.

 

It’s a quite, serene village far removed from the hassles of the modern frenetic life with water fall cascading through the village, collecting itself in a quite natural pond in front of the resort. The resort facing the majestic Kangchenjunga range, with basic modern amenities is comfortable to live-in. The kitchen serves organic food and traditional Limboo food, “Khabze” and “Jero”. The village boasts 300 houses, mostly of Limboo race that originally belonged to the Kirat race, mentioned in the Mahabharat and who inhabited amidst the dense jungles in the foothills of the Himalaya. In later period they migrated to greener pastures of Sikkim, Bhutan and Darjeeling. They follow the teachings of Teyongsi Srijanga who came from Nepal in 1740 AD to preach Yuma Samyo sermon in order to educate and spiritualize his people.

 

The morning saw us on the road to see the must visits around the village, the Yuma Samyo manghim(Temple of Teyongsi Srijanga), Srijnaga Phuku ( Cave), where His Holiness Srijanga is said to have hidden his book of knowledge in a box. The box has turned to stone imprisoning the book of knowledge forever. A nice trek to see the Pheng Doji falls and to the Red Panda gate of the Rhododendron sanctuary is a must. Verse, famous for its blooming Rhododendron is only 22 kilometer away from the Red Panda gate. The stone paved path through the sanctuary under the shade of Rhododendron trees is delightful trek, particularly in late May when the Rhododendron trees are in full bloom. 14 kilometers of the Red Panda, there is even a camping ground, Samma Tar, so that the trekkers can take it easy. Porter, tents, all camping gears are available in Hee I promised to come back and to do the trek.

 

Next day ushered in a turquoise blue sky with white clouds leisurely wafting around in it. Hee Goan has such a laze ambiance that I just lay down in the resorts’ courtyard sunbathing till the sun went behind the mountain, gazing at the mighty Kangchenjunga range lording over the green mountains and the Rishi Khola

(Mountain stream) valley with butterflies fluttering all around me in the cool breeze.

 

Fact file:

Access: Hee Gaon is around 150 Kms from Siliguri/Bagdogra. You can either take a vehicle (Rs 2500) or go to Jorthang by share jeep or SNT bus and then take share jeep for Dentam. Get down at Hee bazaar and trek the rest 8 kms. On prior intimation Mr. Tamling may arrange pick up from Siliguri/Bagdogra or Hee bazaar.

 

Stay: Hee Resort. Room rent Rs. 1200/day/room (two bedded, extra charge for extra bed) + 10% service charge.

 

Food: AP Plan. Rs 500/head/day.

 

Others: More places to see around Hee. You can also hire vehicle in Hee to visit Pelling, Pemayangtse, Khecheperi Lake (Rs 1800) or Uttare(Last Village of Sikkim on West Bengal border) via Singsore Bridge (the 2nd highest bridge of Asia over a gorge) (Rs. 1500/).

 

For Booking and further info Contact:

 

Help Tourism: 143, Hillcart Road Silguri.

Ph: 0353-2535893/2433683 Fax: 0353-: 2532313 E-mail: helptourism@satyam.net.in.

Kolkata office: 67-A, Kali temple Road, Sadanandakuthi, Kalighat, Kolkata: 700 026. Ph: 2454 9719. Fax: 2485 4584.

E-mail: kalighat@vsnl.net

Or

Mr. Birendra Tamling, Hee Gaon, West Sikkim. Pin; 737111. Ph: 03595-242201.

 E-mail: tamling@rediffmail.com.

Cell: 09434153545.

 

 

 

The Magnificent Children of the Himalaya

Bhotias of the Bhotia Mahal

 

The Panchyat Ghar (village level administrative building) of Duktu village has been built strategically. Perched on a high ground, it looked down upon the whole village, as far as Dantu– the next village, two kilometers away, across the Dhauli Ganga gorge. The river issues forth from the junction of Sona and Meola glaciers, about five kilometers away, at the foot of the Panchachuli group of peaks. Duktu is a small village in the Darma valley, deep into the Kumaon Himalayas, surrounded by lofty peaks, on which fresh snowy has been deposited, a sign of coming winter when the whole valley will be buried deep under the snow.


I was lying flat on my mat in the grassy courtyard of the Panchyat Ghar, looking idly up the deep azure blue cloudless sky. High above my head, a yellow-billed cough (Pyrrhocorax graculus) was gliding incessantly in a circle using the upward lift of the hot mountain air, calling its mate. The sun was directly above my head and its fierce rays were cutting into my skin; but the cool gentle breeze that wafted towards me from the surrounding snow peaks, was cooling me off to doze. It was one of those perfect days.


As I was drifting to view a technicolour-dream, Gyan Sing, a prominent villager, came rushing in and woke me up from my reverie with an urgent plea, “Saab, aapko aabhi ekbar mere ghar jana hoga” (Sir, you must come to my house at once).


Naturally, I was most reluctant to leave my heaven. I have planned to languish there in Shabasan (dead mans’ posture) till the sun goes behind the mountains. We were trekking for the last three days and certainly, had earned a rest. But by the expression of Gyan Sing, the matter appears to be serious.


So reluctantly I asked, “Lekin, kyun?” (But why?).


Gyan Sing replied, “Mera ghar me do saheb aaye hyay. O mujhe biswas nehi kar raha. Ghar se nikal ne ka time ghar tala bandh kar ke nikal raha hyay.” (Two foreigners have come to my house. They do not trust me. When going out, they are locking up their room).

He continued to pour out his anguish, “Mnyay unpad aadmi. Aap angreji me unko samjha dijiye ki o mujhe biswas kar sakte.” (I am illiterate. You please tell them in English that they can trust me).

 

It would seem very insignificant to us – the city bred modern man. Who cares a hoot about some foreigners not trusting me?

But Gyan Sing was in great pain, literally. They are illiterate, very poor; their life is tough beyond the imagination of most of us but they simply cannot bear the thought that somebody, that too a foreigner does not trust him. They cannot stomach that because they are Bhotias, whom Mr. Traill certifies as, ‘an honest, industrious, orderly race, patience and good humoured’. (Statistical Report on the Bhotia Mahala of Kumaon: Traill, G.W.

 

 

Bhotias: Bhotias are a unique mongoloid race, inhabiting in the high Himalayan valleys of Nepal, Garhwal and Kumaon – amidst lofty snow peaks, cascading waterfalls, fiercely flowing streams and if I might add, squalor. The high valleys they populated have become known as the ‘Bhotia Mahal’, a name given by the British, meaning land of the Bhotias.


The nomenclature “Bhotia”, to describe their race in general, was thrust upon them by the ruling British. Bhotia land, particularly in the Johar valley is called “Souka” by their neighbours — the Nepalese, the Garhwalis and by the Kumaonese and the individual Bhotia as “Soukpa”.               

                                                                   

Legend has it that the valleys were populated by a Chela (disciple) of Shakiya Lama, a holy man of Tibet and as such, the land populated by them became known as “Souka” and the inhabitant as “Soukpa” (Kumaon Ki Itihas: Badridutt Pandey)

 

Extent of the Bhotia Mahal: The ‘Bhotia Mahal’ within India, comprises the inter-Himalayan valleys of the snow range bordering on Tibet – Byans, Chaudans and Darma in the east, Johar in the middle and Painkhanda on the west. Bhotias are also found in the Byan Panchayat in Nepal.


I intent to restrict this article within the Indian border which I have the opportunity to visit several times and study. Also, due to space constraints, I shall discuss only a few traits of the Bhotia Mahal

 

Origin: The origin of the Bhotias is lost in antiquity. The word ‘Bhot’ or more correctly ‘Bod’ and their Mongoloid features point to a Tibetan origin. Some expert thinks that ‘Bhot’ or ‘Bod’ is really the same word as Tibet. Sir J. Strachey defines the term ‘Bhot’ as ethnographical rather that a geographical expression. (The Himalayan Gazetteer: volume: III, Part 1, Edwin T Atkinson quoted from ‘On the Himalaya in Kumaon and Garhwal’: Sir J. Strachey, Calcutta Review 1853.)


The Bhotias themselves, usually, do not admit their Tibetan origin. They claim their descendant from the Rajput clan of north India; who, they claimed, had migrated to Tibet in the distant past and after residing there for several generations, re-migrated to India and settled in the Himalayan high valleys, where they reside now. Most of them use ‘Singh’ as the suffix (surname) to there name to prove their Rajput origin. They also append the name of their village to their name ( viz: Durga Singh Martolia: Durga Singh of Martoli village).


E T Atkinson supports this theory of migration and re-migration, “…it is possible that it may be true, for the existence of Rajput colonies in Tibet at a very early date is recorded in histories both Tibetan and Chinese.” (The Himalayan Gazetteer: volume: III: Part 1: Edwin T Atkinson). He also points out, “The traditions of the different valleys, though different in detail, agree in the main out line of the story”.


Studies need to be undertaken into this unique example of early migration from India to Tibet and consequentially very early and probably one of the first, crossing of the high passes.

The Bhotias call themselves ‘ran.’.. The literal meaning of ran.  is ‘sell’ – arm and horse. The experts conjecture that, “one possible etymology may be that ‘ran. man’are the people who sell.” (The Impact of Ecology and Culture on the speech of the Bhotiyas: G.M. Tribedi: People of the Himalaya: Anthropological survey of India).


To explain this early migration and many such mystery and legends of the Himalayas (viz: the well known legend of a priest worshipping both Kedarnath and Badrinath in a single day), some experts suggest a unique theory, like that of the “Grand Unified Theory of Natural Forces” that can explains all the rules that forces of nature follow.


The claim that it’s a geological fact that the Himalaya underwent substantial uplift and some shortening of crust at least on three major juncture, approximately around 2000 B. C, 200 B.C. and 850 A. D. As a result of this upheaval, road communication (though there were hardly any road worthy of the name) between India and Tibet and Central Asia, that existed in the past, were completely cut-off. Thus, there is certainly a possibility that in the distant past Tibet and Central Asia were much more accessible from India than now giving support to the theory that Rajputs might indeed had migrated to Tibet in the distant past. Otherwise, the strange uniformity or rather similarity, of religion, culture, way of living, economic pursuit and language among the residents living along the southern border of Tibet, almost parallel to the whole length of Himalaya, is hard to explain.


Also every substantial rise in the Himalayas created some unfavourable climatic condition in Central Asia and Tibet, resulting in shortage of food and fodder, which might compelled the people there, who were mostly pastoral nomads, to move in search of good climate and fertile land. This might had forced the Bhotias living so far in Tibet, for a second migration to India. (Radiant Himalayas: R C Naithani. Publication Division, Ministry of information and broadcasting, Government of India).

I must admit, this is an interesting theory worth pursuing.

 

 

On the other hand, Vishnu Purana, the Mahabharata and the Varita-Sanhita ( all ancient Hindu religious literature) mention a number of tribes – the Sakas, the Nags, the Kiratas, the Khasas ( all Indian) and the Hunas (Tibetan), dwelling on the border of Bharat, which in all probability refers to the portion of the Himalaya, bordering Tibet, which we now call Bhotia Mahal..

Thus it will be safe to assume that the modern Bhotias are a mixed tribe of all these ancient tribes, where a mix of Tibetans can not be denied.

 

The Habitat and road communication:  The only parts of Bhotia Mahal, which are inhabitable and capable of cultivation, are narrow valleys lying between great peaks in which flow tributaries of the rivers — Ganges on the west and the Kali on the east. Greater part of the Mahal consists of barren rocks or beds of snow with forest of fir, spruce, cedar, cypress and similar alpine trees at lower elevation. Bhotia Mahal occupies one third of Kumaon and Garhwal but only one-sixteenth of its area is cultivable. In recent years, the cultivable area shrank further as the fields were not ploughed for lack of manpower owing to permanent migration of its young residents to greener pastures. 

 

Vegetation:  Apart from various species of trees, particularly alpine, a luxuriant growth of precious medicinal herbs are abundantly found in this area. Some of these are: Salampanja (Orchis latifolia), Salam Misri (Orchis mascular), Gugal (Doronicum rogla), Kutki (Picrojakurroa) Jatamase (Nardostachys jatamase) Attis (Aconitum neterophy eleum), Dandasa (Jaglans regia) etc.

It is really unfortunate that no planned farming of theses invaluable herbs is taken up either publicly or privately. Unplanned harvesting by locals is the order of the day, which might result in complete disappearance of theses herbs in the near future.

In my recent foray in to this area, I was briefed by the young district magistrate of Pithoragarh, Mr. Amit Singh Negi, that government is seriously thinking of taking up the farming of medicinal plants to economically help the tribes. I only hope this effort is translation into action.

 

Road communication: Even during the 19th century the road communication was almost non-existent. Sir J. Strachey reports, “…there is nothing to deserve the name of road or even a path.”


But, things have not changed much since. Due to the annual pilgrimage to Kailash Manas Sarovar, the mule path that passes through Chaudans and Byans valley towards Lipulekh pass gets some attention by the administration but that’s the end of the story. The young DM acknowledged that. Though, recently there is an effort to improve the road communication in Johar valley; but the other trails particularly the path to Darma valley and Kuthi valley need some serious improvement.


The five principal valleys along which the roads run are, the valley of Saraswati leading to Mana pass, western Dhauli to Niti pass, Gouri ganga in Johar valley to Untadhura and Kungribingri pass, the Dhauli in Darma to Neo-dhura and Kachh pass and the Kuthi-Yanti in Byans leading to lipulekh and lunpiyalekh pass.

 

Climate: The Bhotia Mahal may be divided into two climatic divisions: 1) the lower valley having heavy rainfall during monsoons and high temperature in summer and 2) the high valleys having heavy snowfall with periodic rain.


Four local seasons may be observed: a) Yena (middle March to middle June) marking high temperature and cyclonic weather in the lower valleys and moderate climate in the higher valleys. b) Shyal (middle June to middle September) which is marked by heavy rains which decreases towards higher valleys. Land slides and road washouts are commons in this reason. Seasonal springs and streamlets are formed. c) Namin (middle September to middle December) marked by occasional rain, clear sky in the lower valleys but snowfall in the higher valleys. d) Gunchh (middle December to middle March) marked by snow line falling down to 5000 ft. Temperature below freezing point in the higher valleys and occurrences of avalanches in the higher valleys.

 

People, Culture and Religion: The male Bhotias posses a well built muscular body. The women are usually fair and also posses a strong body. Traill presents the Bhotias as honest, industrious, orderly race, patient and good humoured but very filthy in their habits, using the skirts of their dress to scrub both their persons and their cooking utensils.


I would agree with Atkinson to a large extent. It is indeed a mystery to me that despite adequate supply of water, even piped water, in the villages why the Bhotias still keep their persons, their houses and hearth filthy!


The Bhotias appears to be a homogeneous tribe. Some expert even goes to the extent of describing Bhotia society as casteless (Ecological Adaptation of the Bhotias of Kali Basin of U P Hills: R S Raypa: The Himalayas and the Himalayans. Ed: Manish Kr. Raha: Anthropological Survey of India). But I observed, lots of heterogeneous elements and casteism among the tribes residing in different valleys. The Bhotias of Mana and Niti are called Marchas and those of Johar are known as Sokpas or Rawats. The Marchas and Sokpas eat and drink together; they also intermarry; but both the tribes looked down on the Bhotias of Darma and Byans and neither eat or drink nor intermarry with them.


I believe this custom is more status centric than intrinsic. The flourishing trade with Tibet in the pre 60s in which they had a monopoly, made the Marcha and the Sokpas economically much better off than their brethrens of Darma. So they used to look down on the Bhotias of Darma valley.


But this argument fails in case of the Bhotias of Byans valley. They also had a flourishing trade with Tibet and prosper quite well. So this aspect of casteism needs to be studied further by the experts.


This division, mainly based on economic power, does also seems inconsistent with their social structure, which appears to be casteless. Experts observe that, “The Bhotias have a casteless society.” But Atkinson remarks that “ The Bhotiyas of Juhar acknowledge only two castes, Brahmans and Rajput…The principal clan of Bhotia Brahmans in Juhar are Dobedhiyas, Pathaks etc, while in the Rjputs they are Toliyas, Martolias etc…. There are no Brahmins in the Darma patties”. (The Himalayan Gazetteer: volume: III, Part 1, Edwin T Atkinson).


This writer, while traveling extensively in the Bhotia Mahal observed that in the modern Bhotia society, like all other modern societies, there appears to be only two castes — the Haves and the Have-nots.

 

House and dress: In Bhotia language ‘khU’ is house. The word ‘khU’ also means cave which points to the possibility that in the remote past the Bhotias used to live in caves and instead of coining a new word for house they gave a new meaning to the word ‘khU’.


The houses are generally of two or three stories and if land is available, built around a courtyard. The houses are substantially built of stone, with sloping roofs of slate or deodar planks, or earth and gravel beat smooth. Windows and doors, made of wood, are small to prevent cold breeze to enter but they are intricately carved, particularly, in the houses of affluent people. The ground floor is usually used for the cattle while they sleep in the upper floors and the kitchen is usually in the upper floor.


Almost all the hoses have no WC. Open fields away from the village are used instead. Top open common general walled places in the village, which has a source of water, are used as bathrooms by the women folk.


Since they bath not more than twice or thrice in a month; bathing has taken the form of almost a ritual. Women-folk of the village gather with their washing and take long time to complete their washing and bathing, especially if the sun is out and shinning. I have not seen many men bathing.

Bhotias use different words for the ground floor and the first floor, which are Tin..kan. and Thim respectively.

The male Bhotias wear anga (coat), pajama (loose trouser) and topi (cap) made locally from wool.


The female wear an upper garment, a skirt from waist to ankle, a conical shaped cap drooping backwards and a cotton girdle on the waist, made locally from wool. The women also wear jewellery, mainly, earring and nose ring made of gold and silver.


This writer observed drastic changes in the dress pattern. The cloths they use at present are not traditional and mostly mill made with polyester blend that are used in the lower valleys. The women were sari and blouses .The girls and boys like to wear zean pants rather than the traditional dress. Among young women, traditional practice of wearing jewellery, particularly heavy jewellery, is dying.


Astha, the young daughter of the postmaster of Balling village in the Darma valley, had her schooling in Dharchula (a border town). She accompanied me on my trek to Duktu from Balling as she had some work there. On the trek, she was wearing a Salwar-Kamiz (a universal north Indian dress for the women) and a leather jacket.

 

Food: The Bhotias consume large quantity of meat with rice. Ghee (Indian clarified butter) and milk are also taken. Green vegetables are conspicuous by its absence. In my treks, I had hardly come across any vegetable dish in any those numerous Chati (roadside eatery) that I had taken meals. Dal-Bhat (pulses & rice) is the most common food. Some locally available green leaves are consumed. Tea churned with butter and salt is common.


The old food habits have also gone a sea change in the present days. Now, they consume wheat flower breads, pulses and take tea with milk and sugar.


But the old habit of consuming large quantity of liquor had not only survived but has gathered momentum. Both men and women consume large quantities of Daru (fermented and distilled) and Barchhyang (locally fermented).

 

Status of Women: For any healthy society this is considered to be a powerful indicator. Some expert remarks, “The women folk are never looked down but get equal status. They equally contribute in maintaining the economy. Strict practice of monogamy is mainly because of equal status enjoyed by women. In arranging the marriage, the will of the bride is given higher importance than that of the groom. Absence of dowry also denotes equal status of women. The housewife is called ‘Mulin Rani’ (goddess of the hearth). (Ecological Adaptation of the Bhotias of Kali Basin of U P Hills: R S Raypa: The Himalayas and the Himalayans. Ed: Manish Kr. Raha: Anthropological Survey of India).


It may be admitted that the status of Bhotia women in their society is much better than their sisters across the Indian subcontinent but still, men rules. Though polygamy is nor prevalent but widows are still forced to marry her dead husbands’ younger brother; even when she dislikes her would be groom. This is done ostensibly to prevent division of precious fertile land.

The recent 73rd amendment of Indian constitution in 1992 made it mandatory to elect women in the Panchayat bodies (lowest level local administrative units) but I found that though women are even elected as Pradhan (chief) in many Panchayats of the Bhotia Mahal, they are only the de-jure chiefs while her husband or any other male party functionary is the de-facto chief

.

Though in the plains of India, this amendment really empowered women and had put them in the decision making lobby.

Also beating of women by their drunken husband is very common and such incidents are usually, not given much importance by the society.

 

Religion: It is interesting to note that despite occasional Tibetan occupation and influence of Tibetan religion and customs and despite long period of isolation from the Indian plains, Bhotias are, largely, Hindu by religion. They follow the Hindu rituals and customs with a strong incorporation of their own culture and custom mainly due to the isolation. Their natural surroundings made them pantheist and animist.


In most of their temples that I have visited, there are no idols but stones on which rudimentary sketches are made to bring in a resemblance of the Hindu divinities. On my way to the higher valleys, I have also seen prayer flags tied to trees, which are treated as sacred groves. Natural objects like mountain peaks (Nanda Devi), rocks, rivulets, trees also represent deities.

Some of their local deities are – Byasirkhi (Byans Rishi, the famous author of the Mahabharata), Shyang Se (Mahadeo or Shiva), Durga and Nanda Devi. There are also many local village gods. They are a firm believer of super natural and unnatural powers.

Their religion seems to be influenced much by Shaivism. Shiva is the main deity and wine, which is offered to the Shiva, is one of the main offerings in any Puja (worship).


The temples are rudimentary buildings built mostly with loose stones. Sometimes, the idols are kept in the open under a tree or under an overhang.


Though it would be a digression, but at this point I could not resist the provocation of recounting an incident during my trip to Johar valley in 1996.


I was staying with Durga Singh, the Mukhiya (village head-man) of Martoli village and left very early to visit the Nanda Devi temple of the village up in the valley. As I entered the sanctum sanctorum of temple where the idol is kept, I had a strong smell of such a sweet fragrance that is really beyond this mundane earth. Hairs on my body stood out; as if, Devi Nanda was resting there and seeing me enter, has just left, leaving behind her body fragrance. I am an agnostic. But the soft light of the early morning, the snow peak of Nanda Devi in the background, the silence that reigns around, the utter calm that prevails, transported me momentarily to a divine world that can not be described but had to be experienced.


Off-course the origin of the fragrance is not the body odder of Devi Nanda but a local flower, called Baklo, strewn all over the floor of the sanctum. But that’s another story.

 

Economic need and adaptation: Owing to their unique strategic and positional advantage and their natural ability to adapt to high altitude, the Bhotias built a monopoly in the trade with Tibet. They acted as the medium through which all Indians, as well as the British explorers of later years, had to go to Tibet for whatever reason. This suited the Bhotias well as they reaped the benefit.


Moreover, agricultural production of Tibet being utterly insufficient for the support of its inhabitants, the country almost entirely depended for its supplies on India. That too suited the Bhotias well. Thus trade with Tibet and with Indian plains became the main occupation of the Bhotias and the over dependence on the trade also brought their downfall.

 

Trade: The Bhotias imported rock-salt, borax, raw wool, woolen cloth, sheep, horses etc from Tibet and exported cereals, sugar, implements, utensils, mill made woolen and cotton cloths and such other articles of daily use.

The Bhotia traders used to stay in Tibet for business from July to October, returning in November to do further business in the lower valleys and plains of northern India.


They also acted as the guides and porters to the pilgrims going to Kailash Manas Sarovar. Bhotias used to provided all the carriages and supplies to the British army, at a handsome profit, I might add, in their marches to Tibet.


The Bhotias became famous as crafty traders and trade thus made them quite prosperous. They were better provided with food, clothing, shelter and other amenities of life than their Himalayan brethrens – the Kumaonese and Garhwalis.

 

Contacts with the outside Society: Till the 19th century, the Bhotia Mahal with its inhabitants, remained, mostly, cocooned in their own society — cut off from the outside modern Indian society; though owing to its’ compulsion on trade with Tibet, Bhotias had to keep contact with the Indian plains because most of the goods that they exported to Tibet used to come from the Indian plains. But that is largely restricted to trade alone.


One of the earliest contacts with the Indian plains was with Bengal (where I live and naturally would like to put forward this instant!). The copper plate of King Deba Pal found in Munger (in modern Bihar) mentions King Dharma Pals’ (770 AD -810 AD) armies visit to Kedarnath. He was the then king of Bengal. The army must have come in contact with the Bhotias.


At that time the Katyuri dynasty (from the beginning of the Christian era to 700 AD) was ruling over Kumaon and then came the Chands dynasty. But owing to their inaccessibility, the Bhotia Mahal, could not be conquered completely and largely remained outside of these kingdoms. They had their petty principalities, which owed allegiance to the Doti kingdom of the western Nepal. The Gurkha invasion in late 18th century (1790) from the Doti kingdom, for the first time, affected the Bhotias badly. Then in the early 19th century, the British expeditions came and the Bhotia Mahal lost their seclusion forever.


Owing to their political design, the British government started to make forays into Tibet and for that they started to employ the Bhotias – Nain Singh, Mani Singh, Kishen Singh etc as informer-explorer and the British army also started to employ the Bhotias along with their beast of burden as porters.

 

Impact of Indo-China war: This single event had a devastating impact on the Bhotias — their economy, their life and their future. The closing of the Indo-Tibetan border, as a consequence of that war, not only stopped their trade with Tibet, the main source of the earning, but also had a cascading negative effect on their daily life.


The war not only stopped the trade but the weaving of woolen cloths and the rearing of livestock, Bhotias’ two other major vocations, have also been severely affected.


Till 1962, (the year of the war) hordes of goats and sheep, jibu (cross-breed of yak and cow), mules and horses were reared. They provided the means for transportation between Tibet and India as well as in the annual migration from the upper to the lower valleys. The break up of trade with Tibet and consequential increasing tendencies of permanent migration has lessened the importance of these beasts of burden.


The stoppage of Indo-Tibetan trade had resulted in large-scale permanent migration. A case in study is Milam Village in Johar valley.

Milam, which used to be one of the most prosperous villages of the Johar valley boasted a population of 1733 in 1900 – 954 males and 779 females, which came down to 300 in 1960 and to only 18 in 1981(District Gazetteers of United Provinces of Agra and Oudh; Almora: H G Walton and Himavanta July 1998). The trend of permanent migration to the towns and lower valleys is very strong in every village of the Bhotia Mahal.


Garbiyang, once a prosperous village in the Byans valley, like that of Milam, is in ruins today. So is Duktu, Sela, Marchha in the Darma valley.


The case of Durga Sing, the Pradhan (elected village chief) of Martoli village in Johar valley is a burning example. His two sons are well educated and settled in the cities. Though every summer Durga Sing, accompanied by his elder sister, comes to Martoli to till his land; his sons, since settling out, have never visited the ancestors’ village.


In all the Bhotia villages that I have visited in the valleys of Drama, Byans and particularly in Johar; I felt very sad seeing rows of dilapidated dwelling units, most of which are abandoned and on the verge of disintegration, still standing somehow amidst ruins


Till sixties, the Bhotias mainly engaged themselves in trade after elementary education. The changed socio-economic and political scene forced them to seek jobs and the Government also helped the Bhotias in their pursuit for job by declaring them Scheduled Tribe in 1967 and thereby helping the Bhotias to get jobs in the reserved category. Now a days, one can find many Bhotias in the army, in the paramilitary and in the police forces as well as in the administration.


These people, better off economically, have permanently settled in the lower valleys or northern plains amidst pleasant climate. They are well educated and are engaged either in business or in service and are reluctant to go to their native villages in the higher valleys.

But quite a substantial portion of the Bhotia community could not take the benefit of the modern society and they still cling to their ancestral villages in the higher valleys and practice seasonal migration. They are poorer in comparison and have hard life as before; may be harder since their main livelihood, the trade, has disappeared and agriculture, as always, was a strenuous and inadequate alternative.

This has given rise to sharp divisions and gave birth to two new castes in the more or less casteless society of the Bhotias. The new castes are “Haves and Have-nots”.


As most of them live in the lower valleys or in the northern plains and due to their close cultural contact with other inhabitants of the lower valleys and  the northern plains the Haves follow ‘Brahmanical Hinduism’ and have left behind many of their traditional customs and rituals. They are well off and enjoy all the modern facilities of the society.


On the other hand, the Have-nots are still in dire strait. Literacy is low among them. Superstitious beliefs and age old customs still determines their way of life. Few have found jobs in the lower posts of police and paramilitary forces. They cannot afford to purchase costly land in the lower valleys and hence cannot settle permanently in the benign climate of the lower valleys.  They still practice seasonal migration and had to maintain two settlements. This practice of seasonal migration is quite expensive and further strains their meager savings. 


Thus the division between these two groups – the Haves and the Have-nots is increasing day by day.

 

To conclude I must say that, The Have not group, which share major portion of the Bhotia population, requires the support of a stable and profitable economy. They may exploit forest produces like herbs, medicinal plants and timber under proper administrative guidance. They may be taught to produce cash crops like potatoes, fruits (apple), Soya-beans that require less land and yield with less labour. These cash crops have a good ready market in the north Indian plains.


Weaving of woolen carpets, shawl and winter wears by the Bhotia women can be an alternative source of earning; so is the farming of medicinal herbs which has a great possibility.


Since the enactment of Bio-Diversity Act of 2002 in India, restriction on the unrestricted commercial exploitation of bio-diversity has been imposed. Under this act all states are bound to form a Bio-diversity Board at the State level and Bio-diversity Management Committees at the grass root level to help the locals to commercially exploit the rich bio-diversity and government funding is to follow. Bhotias can take the advantage of this act.


Good transportation facility would be a prime requirement. Ropeways across rivers and mule paths can be constructed with comparatively small investment.


Rainwater harvesting would be a viable alternative to water crisis. Eco-tourism also has a great possibility. I have seen groups of foreigners trekking in the valley with tour operators from Delhi and Derhadun. Local tour operators could be developed and employing them will be cheaper to the tourist also.


It is seen by this writer that Government agencies are not doing their job properly in the sense that various schemes on offer are not being utilized to its full extent by the Bhotias as well as by the administration.


The Bhotias of Bhotia Mahal direly needs ideological as well as material assistance.


The effect of the breakdown of the Bhotia economy and their tendency of permanent migration were summed up succinctly and beautifully by the Gaon Buro (Village elder) of Milam village on a mystic evening of 1996 when I was visiting Milam.


Looking towards his ruined village, in the fading evening light, which stood amidst breathtaking landscape, he said slowly and painfully, “Saab, iha kire-mokore nehi hyai, bada jantu bhi nehi hyai, jamin sona ugalti; lekinn dekhiye, saab biran pada hyai” (Sir, there are no insects here, no big games, land yields gold [very fertile] but see, all are lying abandoned in ruins).


If the trend of permanent migration of the Bhotias to the lower valleys, to the towns and cities of north India is not arrested soon, there will be no Bhotia left in the Bhotia Mahal.

 


Bibliography:

1.      The Himalayan Gazetteer: volume: III, Part 1, Edwin T Atkinson quoted from “On the Himalaya in Kumaon and Garhwal: Sir J. Strachey, Calcutta Review 1853.

2.      The Himalayan Gazetteer: volume: III, Part 1, Edwin T Atkinson.

3.      Ecological Adaptation of the Bhotias of Kali Basin of U P Hills: R S Raypa: The Himalayas and the Himalayans. Ed: Manish Kr. Raha: Anthropological Survey of India.

4.      Radiant Himalayas: R C Naithani. Publication Division, Ministry of information and broadcasting, Government of India.

5.      District Gazetteers of United Provinces of Agra and Oudh; Almora: H G Walton

6.      Himavanta July 1998

7.      Kumaon Ki Itihas: Badridutt Pandey.

8.      The Impact of Ecology and Culture on the speech of the Bhotiyas: G.M. Tribedi: People of the Himalaya: Anthropological survey of India.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted by: charanik | June 25, 2008

Exploring The Neora Valley

Exploring The Neora Valley

 

Neora Valley

 

Trekking through the dense Himalayan Terai forest and climbing steep slopes on the way, could be quite tedious. Your eyes do not get the visual relief that you normally finds in a trekking expedition. Except the path in front of you, the sight can not wander. It’s a regimented, straightjacket kind of thing; there’s hardly any scope of visual relief. Your surroundings and even the sky are canopied by thick foliage and all you see are big moss laden tree trunks, so huge that a single man alone can not be encircled those. In such a trek, the trekker sometimes looses the sense of enjoyment and time. He just trudges ahead. And that’s exactly what I was doing on this path.

One can not even truly call this trail a “path”. It is only for the sake of calling something that I am addressing this trail, as a “path”. Bamboo trees formed most of this lower mountain dense foliage where a small clearing, about a foot wide, has been literally snatched from the forest by making that a path. It was created for the patrolling of the forest guards and now we were marching on it.


The trail goes beneath big Rhododendron trees, about 200/250 ft high. I have not seen such huge Rhododendron trees in my previous Himalayan sojourns. In this high and dense forest Rhododendron and bamboo trees rule; we are mere intruders.


Rain water while rushing down the mountain, leaves behind a trenched uneven path, curved out of the mountain wall; it looks like as if somebody had trudged many times on this path before. Breaking the eerie silence that reigns around we were marching on this “Rajpath” (kings’ way) which was made by flowing rain water.


Joseph, our guide, was lecturing us about the forest, where wild animals roam; apparitions appear and disappear, people were lost without any traces. Well, personally, I am very much interested to bump into an apparition but that can not be said about an encounter with the wild animals that roam around — leopard, boars, wild dogs, black bears and even tigers, to name a few. But Joseph assures me, “Saab daro mat, o log (animals) kuch nehi karta, srif kala bhalu chhorke.”(Sir, do not fear; those animals do not harm except Himalayan Black bear). Then he added as a soothing after-thought, “Is Jangalme kala bhalu bahut hai” (In this forest, there are lots of Himalayan Black bear). His soothing observation kept us really moving ahead!


Bijan and Asoke were trekking ahead; Pratik and Biswarup, rest of our small gang, are coming up behind with Joseph. I am in the middle. All of us, except Biswarup are above fifty years of age. We have some trekking experience though not in such god-forsaken terrain; but Asoke Chanda – a former first division football player of Kolkata football leagues was a first time trekker.


It was the second day of our five days’ trek and as the leader I was supposed to keep an eye on Asoke. But seeing his performance in the first day, I was confident that despite a hard and some time dangerous trek, Asoke would survive. So I let him go ahead a bit with Bijan who is an experienced trekker and mountaineer.


Being on his first trek Asoke has to prove that he can really move well on difficult terrain and I must admit, so far he was doing extremely well. Even then, I must be close to him. So I started to climb fast and turning a bent I could see them. Bijan has climbed on to a wall to take a top-view picture and Asoke is standing beneath him on the path.


As I came near, I saw Asoke transfixed and crying; tears streaming down his cheeks. I was worried sick. Something must have happened and moved fast. As I approached him, making all kinds of sound, Asoke turned to look at me and said simply,

“Even in my wildest dream, I have never imagined, some day I will be beholding such beauty. Thank you Chinmoy.”

It took some moments to comprehend; Asoke was crying out of sheer joy.


Following his gaze, I looked upon a flaming red mountain wall — dotted with pink and white. An entire wall of the mountain has been enveloped by blooming Rhododendron flowers and around such riot of colours are all imaginable shades of green and through this resplendent foliage I could see a grey sky overhead, torn in places where its’ blue colour peeps through.

ready-to-strike

Ready to Strike -- Snake Lily

 

 

 

The beginning: It all started 25 years ago inthe year 1982, when Himalayan Club along

with Zoological Survey of India,  Departmentof Botany, Calcutta University,  West Bengal

Forest Development Corporation and Indian army organized an expedition — first of its’ kind,  to the then uncharted Neora Valley forest of the Terai Himalaya in West Bengal. That was an epic expedition, much of which has been forgotten.


A report by Capt. (later colonel) Ajit Dutta,a copy of which was presented byMr. Kisore Chaudhury — the project coordinator of the expedition, to theKolkata section of the Himalayan club,still exists. The report credited Mr. Kamal Guha as the expeditionleader and Capt. Ajit Dutta was the transport Officer. The team consisted of 17 members and 35 porters.


After a few days of trekking, the impossibility of an expedition in the Neora Valley forest was accepted by the then leadership and the expedition was declared abandoned. But according to the report, two members of the team Capt. Ajit Dutta and Mr. Kisore Chaudhury and later supported by K K Rastogi of Botany Department, Calcutta University, refused to abandon the expedition and with the permission of the leader embarked on a nearly impossible, suicidal attempt to complete the expedition. They were supported by Mr Bist — an army Jawan and two porters — Kazi Tamang and Shibu Thami.


It was a herculean effort and they lost their way on the 2nd day (predictable in such an uncharted terrain) and survived on boiled curcurbits and bichu leaves (a black leaf with thorn all over; touching it would feel like bitten by a scorpion). Rastogi, the botanist commented at this point, “If we can eat bichu leaves, then I am sure I can eat anything.”


The expedition from Lava, the road head, started on 23rd November 1982 and the three musketeers launched their three man suicidal expedition on 3rd December. They came out of the forest, exhausted, dehydrated and famished, on December 10thon completing the expedition.

As an outcome of this expedition and with sustained campaign later to save its pristine character, Neora valley was declared a national park in 1992.

 

We, the five members trekking team, of which four are Himalayan Club members of Kolkata section, are trying to cross the Neora Valley on the eve of the silver jubilee of that expedition. Of course, we will be trekking on a well defined path from Lava, the road-head and wish to come out at Samsing — a quaint hamlet at the foothill, on the other side of the valley in a four night-five days trek.

Since Neora Valley is a National Park, lots of official hurdles need to be crossed to get the permission for the trekking. My posting as a bureaucrat in the state helped and on reaching Lava, the main road head, on 15th April 2006, the range officer of Lava forest range helped us to procure all necessary permissions on deposition of requisite fees. He also arranged for the porters, the guide and the transportation to Chaudopheri — the road head and the starting point of our trek.


Initially we had planned to trek to Chaudopheri from Lava, a distance of 14 kms, on a lovely path through the forest. But our initial calculation proved to be utterly wrong. We have planned to take night-rest at Chaudopheri, Alubari, Rechela top or Jorpokhri, and Mauchaki. On the fifth day we planned to reach Samsing and planned to en-train for Kolkata on next evening. But Sannyasi Giri, the range officer, bluntly told us, in Neora valley we could not trek to Mouchaki from Rechela top, a distance of 45 kilometers, in a day.

We need to stop at Bhottekharag, 15 kms ahead of Mauchaki and we might also need to pitch a tent between Rechela top and Bhottekharag, in case it rains heavily. So not only we had to reschedule our night-rests but had to find a tent since we have not brought any tent. But Mr. Giri was a picture of assurance; he will provide us the tent. But it will be a huge tarpaulin tent and we need to hire one extra porter to carry the tent only. That means we had to pay for an additional porter and also had to purchase extra ration.


That also mean, we could not afford to spend the first night at chaudopheri and the leisurely trek from Lava to chaudopheri had to be dumped. We had to take a jeep from Lava for Chaudopheri, which I personally regret as the trail from Lava to Chaudopheri is one of the most beautiful forest-trail that I have seen for a long time.


Well, life is not always a smooth ride; it surprises and challenges with sharp turns and un-assessed bends and that’s why life is so beautiful.


Now we plan to take night-rests at Alubari, Rechela top, Bhottekharag and Mauchaki. But we could not adhere to this revised plan also as every day we had to face new challenges and plan our trek accordingly.

We had a team meeting and decided that nothing can be done; trekking expeditions are rare in Neora Valley and I, entrusted with the job of planning, could not find enough background material to correctly chalk out the plan in advance. Even today there are places in the Neora Valley where man has not yet set foot and no scientific studies have been conducted. It’s still very pristine. Our only hope is our guide — Joseph Lepcha, who is the best guide around and who modestly claimed that he has traversed this trail at least 50 times.

 

Going towards unknown

 

16th April:

 

With our rucksacks, gunny bags, PVC drums and 13 members—including the guide & porters, we were quite a lot. To make room for the 13 people, all goods were loaded on the roof of the Jeep. But as the Jeep started to move, rucksacks and bags started to rain down from the Jeep-roof. Praticks’ was entrusted to supervise the packing. He just threw up his hands upward in disgust and perhaps in helpless resignation!  Joseph had to take-up the job and did it with élan.


As we left the concrete jungle of Lava, we could hear birds call – lots of it but could not sight them. Here trees are blessed with dense foliage. Though I have never traversed this trail before but my guess was right. It was indeed a beautiful trail through the forest — shady, cool and full of birds call. The gradient was steep on some patches. In one such patch, we had to disembark so that our jeep can negotiate the steep ascent. I used that opportunity to take a few ‘birds’ view’ photographs of Lava.


The cobbled road is so beautiful that I christened it “Urvasi Sarani” (Urvasi was the heavenly dancer and courtesan and Sarani means road). But that name applies only if one treks on this trail. But if one covers it in a jeep like us then the trail becomes Udaysankar Sarani (Udaysankar was the most famous classical dancer of India) – you toss and break into involuntarily dance while desperately latching on to some hold for dear life! It took one & half hour to cover this 14 kms distance.


On the way, we met two more porters, casual employees of the forest department who were told to bring two ponies from Chaudopheri to Lava to carry our luggage as we were supposed to trek to Chaudopheri. Since they have not had any food, Joseph told them to go to Lava, eat and then come back to Chaudopheri to load our gunny bags and drums and proceed to Alubari — today’s night rest.


At Chaudopheri (2372 mtr), the first forest check post, Our permits were checked and leaving the drums and gunny bags behind for the pony we started our trek. The gradient was benign, about 30o-40o but the first days trek is always difficult. Moreover, from the very beginning the dense foliage of the forest engulfed us. It was midday but there were hardly enough light. The dense bamboo jungle ensured that harsh light does not enter to disturb the eeriness of the jungle. It was fine with me except that I did not have enough clearing and lighting to take a decent photograph.  However, I took some shot expecting nothing good. But later on printing the films, I found that the light & shed has been an enigmatic image builder.


It took us almost five hours to cover the distance of 16 kms from Chaudopheri to Alubari. About 13 kms of this trek was through dense forest and the rest 3 kms was through undulating valley. Near the camp, standing on the ridge with mountain walls as the backdrop, I can see rolling green hills sloping gently towards the middle of the valley where fierce Neora River flows down.


In the late eighties Alubari was a forest village where mainly Potatoes (Alu in Bengali language) were cultivated and the village was thus named Alubari (Home of Potatoes). When in 1992 Neora Valley was declared a National Park, the village was relocated outside the park area.


The forest camp here boasts of two rooms, one kitchen and surprise, surprise, not one but two WC — well that was luxury! Nowhere in this trail could we find another WC. We took one room where we were greeted by wooden cots. Pratik immediately flopped on it and within minutes was sound asleep. Bijan, our quarter master, had to supervise for the evening tea and dinner and off he went. That leaves three of us – Asoke, Biswarup and I, who just lazed around. But what happened to our gunny bags and drums that we left at Chaudopheri? Joseph very calmly informed us, “Saab chinta mat kijiye. O aa jayega.”(Sir, don’t worry, it will come). Well, Joseph is really a cool guy but I am not and till 8 PM when we called it a day and went into our sleeping bag, those things have not reached Alubari. On my anxious query Joseph very calmly said again, “O aa jayega.” Well, I would damn well want to know how! But I was too tired to argue. We will see. Tomorrow is always another day.

the-gang

Bhottekharak Camp

 

 

 

17th April:

 

It was one of those beautiful mornings. As I stepped out of the room, I was greeted with an overcast sky. Cool breeze wafted from the east and bird-calls greeted me. Excepting the north, all around me, the green valley resplendent in sheds of green lay languidly – just like a beautiful maiden on a bed of green soft leaves.


In the east, I can see the steep trail to Jorphokhri or Rechela top (3170 mtr) – the highest point of this trek, the tri junction of Bhutan, Sikkim and West Bengal which is our destination today. It is indeed a steep trail but fortunately only 8 kms long.


As Joseph stepped out, I asked him about those gunny bags and drums that we left at Chaudopheri. What transpires was a heroic tale of duty. Gurung and Tashi, the two porters who were to bring the goods on ponies, could not tie the drums on the pony for want of strong cord and had to carry those drums and bags on their bare shoulders. Since they could not carry the entire goods at one go, they had to go back again to carry the rest. By that time it was dark and they had to trek from Chaudopheri to Alubari (16 kms) in pitch dark through a forest that teems with wild animals. That means they carried loads up to 30 kgs to a total distance of 64 kms through this dense forest and a part of it in pitch dark. Well, this is possibly the one of the higher example of dogged performance for duties that I have ever seen anywhere in the mountain. It should get an entry in the Ripley’s “Believe it or not.”


We started for Jorpokhri at about 8 AM. The dense bamboo forest was at a lower elevation and now the route goes through the Rhododendron forest. The incline was steep, about 400-500; somewhere it is steeper but as the trail went through forest; it was shady. Though this is primarily a Rhododendron forest, we have also seen Oak trees, ferns and orchids (Piptanthus napalenis and Pleione humilis). During my trekking in the Himalaya I have seen many Rhododendron trees but have never seen such huge Rhododendron trees. Here the Rhododendron trees are about 200/250 feet high.


It was April, the bloom-time of Rhododendron flowers and the trees were in full bloom. In this valley I have seen mainly Rhododendron arboruem and Rhododendron barbatum. On the lower elevation, I have also seen some Rhododendron dalhousie and Rhododendron lindley.


We are to trek only 8 kms today and the route is not that difficult, so I was going slowly devouring the beauty, the smell and the colour around me. Green has so many shades here — light green, deep green, blackish green and in the lap of this overwhelming green shades red, pink, blue and white were the apostrophes. It was a natural kaleidoscope.


The silence that reigned here was all pervading and I could hear the sound of a falling leaf and the rustle of leaves when gentle breeze passes through them, playing with them and teasing them to play along.


As the canopy overhead prevents sun rays to penetrate into the jungle, trunks of huge trees were full of moss. This light and shed along with the moss ridden trees have given an ancient appearance to this forest. One fears to tread on this path lest one disturbs the meditative forest.


The air was full of oxygen and so light that one has no difficulty in breathing and consequently in trekking. It felt so light. The smell of the forest also pervaded my senses; somewhere it was too strong and in other places it just wafted towards me, touched me so softly that I could hardly smell it.


Some one kilometer before Jorepokhri, a track goes down towards a Sikkimese village — Renok. From Renok one can trek to Jorepokhri and back in a day. We reached Jorpokhri around noon. 


Jorpokhri or Rechela top (3170 mtr) is a mountain table-top surrounded by blooming Rhododendron trees with two very shallow ponds (Pokhri) in the middle. Rain water accumulates in such shallow ponds in the mountain and since water is a rare commodity here, all such ponds are revered — Jorepokhri being no exception; one can not bath in its water. Locals come here to worship

.

A 40 x 20 feet trekkers hut with tin roof stands on one side of the table-top in splendid isolation. There is an unusable WC. The walls of the hut were made filthy by charcoal scrawling; trekkers declaring undying loves to their lady love. But one can have the luxury of lying on a wooden cot. From one side of the hut to the other side wooden cots are just waiting to take exhausted trekkers like our Pratik who promptly slumped on it.


The lunch was on the way and meanwhile I had a one to one with Joseph.


Joseph Lepcha our 36 years guide works in the forest department as casual worker since 1992. Even after working for 14 years there is hardly any chance of a permanent job and he earns around only Rs 3000/month. He has two school going children and a family to look after. But I was more interested to hear his numerous sojourns in this wild country.

So I asked, “Kabhi Jantu dehke” (Have you ever seen animals?).

He replied, “Bhut bar.” (Many times.)

“Kabhi laphrame nehi pare?”(Ever encountered danger?).

He answered, “Ekbar. Raste me kala Bhalu mila tha. Mere hath me shrif ek chhatri tha. Mnyay chhatri khola usko daraneke liye. Lekin o kutta ka maphik bhoka aur attack kiya. Mnyay chhatri chhorke bhaga.” (Once. On the track I met a Himalayan black bear. I only had an umbrella in my hand. I opened it to threaten the bear but it barked like a dog and attacked me. Leaving the umbrella, I ran like hell).

Though forest department claims there are 15/20 tigers in Neora Valley National Park; but no body has so far sighted one and that’s includes Joseph and the forest guards I met during this trek. Some has seen tigers kill and found pug marks.


Neora Valley forest is truly a virgin forest; some of its tract is yet to be scientifically explored. Neora valley might become the definition of a virgin forest. Till 1706 Neora valley was under the Sikkim King and then the king of Bhutan conquered it from the Sikkimese King. In 1864 Neora valley came under the British rule and after more than 100 years, in 1986, the Government of West Bengal announced its intention of declaring the Neora Valley biosphere as National Park and the actual declaration was made six years later, in 1992.


This 8800 hectare National park has vast altitude difference, from 180 meters to 3200 meters and so is a vast repository of Himalayan flora and fauna, some of which are highly endangered.


31 species of mammals including such rare animals like Red Panda, Wild Dog, Flying Squirrel, Clouded Leopard, Himalayan Black bear, Himalayan Tahr; 79 species of birds including Monal, 276 species of insect and 38 species of other invertebrates are found here. 15 species of highly endangered mammals, which are in the ‘Red Book’ of IUCN, are found here.


Sitting on the grassy patch out side the trekkers’ hut, I was lost in thought but had to come back to senses when it started to rain. The evening has silently crept in. This was a bad omen. Though the sky was overcast through out the last two days trek, it did not rain. Trekking in Neora valley is itself a difficult job at best of times; trekking in rain would be really difficult. As the evening merges into night the rain became a hailstorm and there after it turned into a heavy shower. With the rain came coldness and dampness. After a hot dinner of Khichri (rice & cereals boiled together) and finger chips, we settled in our sleeping bags accompanied by the pitter-patter of the rain on the tin roof and soon lost ourselves to the dream world.

 

 

Through the Rododendron Forest

Through the Rododendron Forest

 

18th April:

 

It was early morning; I came out of the tin shed. The rain had not stopped but has become a drizzle. After a cup of hot tea, I was off to Rechela Danda, the highest point of this trek, where borders of Sikkim, Bhutan and West Bengal merge. It is just about 200 feet up from the tin shed but the track has become muddy. I had to be careful lest I slip.


I stood facing the east on the Rechela Danda. As far as eyes can see, all around me rolling hills merge into the horizon. In front of me is Bhutan; Sikkim mountains block the north-west and on my back, on the south-east, is West Bengal.

As I turned to look behind, I was literary shocked to see a carpet of flaming red Rhododendron flowers covering the entire wall of the mountain. I can leap from my high point and the red carpet would catch me and would gently lower me on to the meadow below.


I shifted a little to the south and about 200 feet down, the twin ponds came to my sight. Their banks too are covered with blooming Rhododendron flowers. Nature has bedecked Jorpokhri with infinite care and perseverance.

After breakfast, at about 9 AM, we started to trek in the rain towards Bhottekharag camp on the bank of Bhote Khola (stream), about 30 kilometers away. We will have our lunch at Rechela camp, 8 kms ahead.


The trail goes through dense forest of Rhododendron and Oak. Gentle ascend and descend greeted us along with rain and mud. We reached a peak and started to go down. The trail became difficult with steep descent (600/700) and slippery steps and to top it all, the rain soon became torrential. Coming out of a bend, we were glad to reach Rechela camp (2782 mtr) on a small clearing in the middle of the dense forest.


We were soaked to the bone and had to change. Sitting next to the oven in the kitchen was the only respite from the shivering cold.

After lunch, Joseph came for a decision. Bhottekharag is still more than 20 kms away. It was raining hard and the route ahead was difficult. So we might not be able to reach Bhottekharag before the evening and might have to spend the night in the open under the tarpaulin tent. It would have been fun in normal circumstances but not under heavy downpour and with dangerous wild animals snipping around.


So we decided to wait a little in the hope that the rain may stop or might become a drizzle. But the downpour continued unabated and soon it became apparent that we had to stay in the Rechela camp today. That’s an extra day that we did not calculate. Nothing can be done now. We had virtually no prior information on this route. So our earlier plan went down the drain. Now in the changed circumstances, we had to reach Samsing from Bhottekharag in a day and would not be able to spend a night at Mauchaki camp. Joseph told us it is possible to reach Samsing from Bhottekharag in day. Samsing is only 20 kms from Bhotekharag and though the first part of the trail is difficult the later part is a mountain-road. So it was an unanimous decision that we stay here today.

After lunch and a little siesta, I was ready for an adda (chat) session with the forest guards — at the side of a raging camp fire under a plastic sheet; in front of the wooden camp

.

In Neora Valley National Park, all forest camps are built on the only path that crosses the park (NVNP). Since there are virtually no other trail except this one poaching rarely takes place in NVNP. But still the forest guards keep themselves alert. In fact during my entire trek neither I could see any sign of tree felling nor any sign of animal. As the forest coverage is very dense in NVNP the chances of sighting an animal is almost zero unless they cross your path.


Though we started first every day but soon our army of porters would overtake us. They are more interested to put down their load than pondering on the beauty of the forest and definitely not interested in encountering any wild life. So they went noisily and boisterously and after they had tramped on the path, all animals simply vanish.


We have seen lots of orchids, funguses and few birds (Black headed Oriole, Chestnut headed Bee eater etc). Even sighting of birds is difficult in NVNP since the foliage that form the canopy is so dense that birds can easily hide in it.


There are four forest guards in this camp; another two guard the Orchid camp (2278 mtr), few kilometers down the hilly slope. It’s a lonely life here. Their constant companion is an old radio. I could not recall when I have last heard radio. Those were the days in the sixties when I used to listen to radio Cylone (now Shri Lanka). The station used to play popular Hindi movie songs with Amin Sayani hosting the show.


On questioning, the guards in this camp also informed me that though they have seen lots of animal and the famous Red Panda often, they have not sighted any tiger. Well, I could find no plausible answer to this riddle.


They are from Samsing and once a week, by turn, they return to their home. They trek to Samsing in a single day trekking around 45 kms through the most difficult part of this god-forsaken forest.


The rain showed no sign of abatement. Unlike the Alubari camp, this camp has only one small room with high wooden cots. With the guards we were 17. So two tire of beds were rolled out; the first on the cots and the second under the cots.

 

rhododrendron

Rhododrendron in Full Bloom

 

19th April:

 

As I woke up at 4 AM it was still dark outside. The rain has not stopped but its ferocity had gone. It’s now gently falling from the leaves.  We have to leave early today and without their morning “cuppa”, nobody will move an inch. But the big question was who will make the tea; none of the porters were willing to leave their bed. So I had no choice but to wake up Joseph who in turn set the ball rolling and we were up and ready to start by 6 AM.


I turned back from the fringes of the camp to have a last look at the small wooden structure that sheltered us from the ferocity of the elements. All the guards waved at us biding good bye; one of them, Rajendra, was leading us.


How can one thank these people enough who have shared their home & hearth with us without the slightest hesitation or resentment? We slept on their cot, they slept under the cot. We relaxed in their bed; they sat outside in the rain under a plastic canopy. Still they were courteous and cheerful towards us.  As I turned on the bend, the forest gobbled me up and they were gone. The forest has also engulfed the camp.


Bijan, Asoke and Biswarup were leading today. I am following them and Joseph was bringing in Pratik at the rear. I was bit worried about Pratik. Today’s terrain is said to be the longest and toughest and Pratik was not doing well at all. He was just somehow tugging along.


I was all alone in the trail and it started again to rain hard. One by one all the porters have overtook me. Excepting Pratik and Joseph, all other team members were also ahead. Today, everybody just wanted to complete the stretch as soon as possible; nobody even the porters, were interested to dally a bit.


I was feeling hungry. So I sat down on a fallen tree trunk to eat a chocolate bar which I always carry in my pouch. I have neither any idea how far Bijan, Asoke and Biswarup have progressed nor how far behind were Joseph and Pratik.

The forest was eerily silent around this place. I could almost hear the sound of falling raindrops through the leaves. Sitting on the tree trunk, I began to listen to the song of silence. But I could not have the luxury to relax but had to move ahead and complete this difficult and miserable trek.


Utterly exhausted, totally drenched, I started to slog along and at this point I lost the track. As I went down steeply towards a Jhora (stream) I found the forward track was closed with the densest forest that I have ever seen. For a moment I was frozen with immense fear as I realized that I am lost in one of the most inhospitable terrain in the earth. I just scampered back to the fallen tree trunk where I was sitting a few moments ago to eat. The loneliness and the silence became so over bearing that I lost my cool completely and started shouting — “Bijan, Asoke, Biswarup,” again and again. There were no answers. Numb with fear, I began to sweat profusely. My only hope was to wait for Joseph who was coming behind.


Anytime a Himalayan black bear might appear and I was too tired to run; moreover I did not know in which direction to go. Every second became an hour. I waited for about 15 minutes but it seemed an eon. I just transfixed my sight on to the path through which Joseph was supposed to emerge from the dense foliage. The most beautiful sight of my life was; so far, Joseph coming down the slope.

With fumbling steps I started to trek again but the trail have become difficult as I had to negotiate a number of steep and slippery descents. My knees began to wobble under the strain and the old pain in my knees shot up. Few kilometers ahead, I had a bird’s view of Murti River meandering through the plain and then camp Maple – relief from this grueling trek.


Maple camp, a wooden structure of three rooms was established in 1996 at an elevation of 1950 mtr. It is the biggest of forest camps that we have seen so far


Pratik entered half an hour later, totally exhausted and at the brink of collapse. He simply dived on the bed with wet cloth and shoes on. Though dripping all over, Joseph entered as cool as ever; as if he has just finished his morning-walk. All our money inside our pockets has become wet. We dried it by putting those wet notes on our belly. It was Bijans’ idea and lo behold! The notes were dry in no time.


After a lunch of Dal-Bhat-Sabji (Rice-cereal-vegetables) and a nice “power-nap” we were back to action.  Bijan sauntered to the grassy patch in front of the camp to take our snap but scampered back with leeches all over his feet.

 

to-bhottekharak

Coming out of it.

 

20th April:

 

It was 8 AM and we were ready to tackle the last patch of our grueling trek. This four nights and five days trek would come to an end today. We were happy since at the beginning we had doubt about our ability to complete this difficult trek. Porters were happy because this ‘damn’ trek is going to be over soon and they can go back to their families and civilization.


Today’s path is said to be full of leeches. Tobacco leaves soaked in water when applied abundantly on ones feet said to prevent leech attack. So every body became busy massaging wet tobacco leaves on their feet.


As we trekked a few feet from the camp, it became evident that today’s stretch is bereft of any track altogether. Till yesterday, however narrow it is, there was a track. In some stretches the trail was only six inches wide but still there were always some resemblances of a path. But the stretch on which we started to trek today has no resemblances of a path. The forest has simply swallowed the track and in this dense foliage millions and millions of leeches were just waiting to attack. No amount of wet tobacco leaves, in whatever way applied, is going to save us from the army of leeches.


We literary started to run down the steep, slippery descent. At some stretches the descent was almost vertical. We were damn lucky not fall heavily.


I, Asoke and Bijan are marching together. As Asoke crossed me at some point, I noticed a big leech was sucking blood just behind his ear. It started to bleed profusely as I pulled it out. I had to apply antiseptic.


It has become a monotonous trek to us. Everywhere there were dense forests. You could not see a thing. Other than some avi-fauna, we could not sight any wild life either and the downpour on two subsequent days has turned our trek to a nightmare.


Though the sky was overcast, blessedly there was no rain. We heard lots of bird-calls but since without stopping we could not take our eyes off the track for a moment, we could not look for birds; if we had done so, we were sure to fall and had broken some bones and stopping in this track was a luxury we could hardly afford.


After trekking for around three hours, we came to a point where the whole track has gone down with a land slide. There was a gap of about twelve feet. The only way to negotiate this stretch was to climb a sheer wall and traverse. Bijan was a good rock climber in his youth. So I suggested that he took the initiative. But we had no rope or any anchor. So Bijan had to traverse the gap free hand — without any rope or any kind of anchor whatsoever. Had he slipped, he would fall on a rock about twenty feet down and surely would break some of his bones.


As we stood with bated breath, he found some pinch holds on the rock surface and very slowly like a slow motion picture, testing his foot holds, traversed the length. I went next. But in the middle of the traverse I lost my confidence and just hung there for dear life. Bijan from one side and Asoke from the other extended their hands but both fell short by two-three feet. It became crystal clear that I was all alone on the rock wall and self help was the only way out. So gathering all my strength I swung myself on to the other side. Asoke crossed the gap with surprising ease. Though it is his first trek at the age of fifty, he is proving to be a good trekker.


Pratik came up. He was moving faster today, probably since today was the last day of our trek and there was no rain.  He was also most fearful of leech attack and that probably egged him on. He tried to traverse the gap but failed and scampered back. He tried again and failed again. Fearing that we might desert him in this leech infested jungle till Joseph came for his rescue, he started to plead, “Please, do not leave me.”


I had to assure him, “Do not worry; nobody is going to leave you”.


At this point, Joseph reached with Biswarup and took Pratik through a diversion, down below. We just looked on dumbly; some how we have missed the diversion. Instead of taking so much risk, we could have easily taken the diversion. The risk we took was totally unnecessary.


At last we reached a proper road, a jeep-able road – modern world entering the remote, virgin forest track — the “Juggernaut of modernization”.


The word Juggernaut has its root in an Indian word, “Jagannath”. Jagannath the Hindu deity is famous for his chariot. His chariot, if started to roll, never stops, whatever be the reason.


So during the famous chariot festival of Lord Jagannath at Puri – a sea side pilgrim town in Orissa, pilgrims used to dive under the spinning wheels of the chariot to sacrifice themselves to reach heaven. The Chariot just rolled on over those prostrating humans without stopping. This practice was stopped by the British but even today pilgrims try to use this shortcut for a direct entry to the heaven.


Thus the overwhelming force which can not be stopped is called “Juggernaut”.

In this remote, inaccessible jungle the Juggernaut of modernity marches on in the form of a Jeep-able road; you simply can not stop the Juggernaut of modernization.


Sitting on some scattered rocks on the wide road, we started to pull leeches out of our shoes and socks. Leeches were dancing merrily on our shoes and socks, sucking blood.


 Mauchaki camp was just an hour ahead and Samsing our final destination, connected through a metallic asphalt road, was just four kilometers ahead of Mauchaki. A jeep was waiting at Mouchaki to take us to Samsing. Soon we were scampering for the bathroom on the second floor dormitory of the Forest rest house at Samsing. 

 

clouded-leopard_banerjee

Clouded Leopard -- That rare & endengered animal

 

21st April:

 

Coming out of my room as the dawn was just breaking, I had a premonition; it will be one of those perfect dawns and it was. As I stood on the wide balcony facing East, I could see, far away, rolling hills of Bhutan merging on to the horizon. Last nights rain has deposited fresh snow on those peaks and the first light of the day reflecting the splendour. Somewhere a Doyel (Magpie Robin) started to sing. Its melodious singing wafted towards me riding on the cool, gentle, fragrant breeze. The Sun came out behind those far-off hills, making the ridges stand out in silhouette against the blue sky.


I was mesmerized.


Suddenly I heard a voice, so near, so soft but sounds like coming from far off,

“Chinmoy, please take me on to a trek on the glacier! I want to hear the sound of crunching ice under my feet! ”

I turned around. Asoke was standing next to me on the balcony, looking towards the resplendent Bhutan-hills. Lost in my own world, I failed to notice his coming.


I could see Asoke is transfixed, lost. His glazed eyes were not seeing anything. He is marching on his glacier; crunching hard ice under his feet — somewhere in the deep Himalaya.

 

 

 

Jorpokhri-- TheTri-junction.

Jorpokhri-- TheTri-junction.

 

 

 

 

 

 

15 species of highly endangered mammals in the ‘Red Book’ of IUCN that are found in the Neora Valley National Park.

 

           Name                                                                  Scientific Name

 

1.      Red Panda                                                   Ailurus fulgens

 

2.      Himalayan Thar                                           Himitragus Jemlahicus

 

3.      Himalayan black bear                                    Selenarctos Thibetanus

 

4.      Serow                                                       Capricornis   Sumatraensis

 

5.      Goral                                                                Nemorhaedus goral

 

6.      Gaur                                                                 Bos Gaurus

 

7.      Tiger                                                            Panthera tigris

 

8.      Clouded leopard                                                Neofelis nebulosa

 

9.      Leopard cat                                                 Felis benglensis

 

10. Leopard                                                       Panthera pardus

 

11. Fishing cat                                                   Felis viverrina

 

12. Marbled cat                                                  Felis marmorata

 

13. Pangolin                                                      Mains crassicandata

 

14. Indian Rock python                                     Python molurus

 

15. Satyr Tragopan                                            Tragopan satyra

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FOREST TYPE: according to Champion and Seth;

1) Lower Hill Forest: Stretches the plain to 762 mtr elevation

 

a)     dry mixed forest: Principal species:

 

1. Dubanga sonneratioides, 2.Steriospermum Parsonatum, 3. Adina cordifolia, 4. Pterospermum acerifolium, 5. Terminalia tomemtosa,                      6. Chukrasia tobularis, 7. Terminalia belerica 8. Dillennia pentagyna

 

b) Wet mixed forest: Principal species:

 

1.Schima Bauhinia hylium, 2. Schima wallichi 3. Bauhinia  purpuria,

4. Cedrela toona,  5. MIchelia Champaca,  6. Dubanga sonnertiodes,

7. Acrocarpus fraxinifolius,8. amoora wallichi

 

In the slopes of east and west Nar blocks, Eugenia mixed with 1. Terminalia myrocarpa, 2. Turpinea Pomifera , 3.Phoebe hainesiana, 4. Khumani stipulate, 5. Milosma simpliofolia, 6. Dysoxylum sp (Eugenia-phoebe hylium)

 

 

 12) Geranium nepalense.

 

High level oak forest: 2438 mtr to 2743 mtr.

 

1. Quarks Pachyphylla(50%) 2. Quercus lamellose, 3. Acar compbellii, 4.Magnolia campbellii,5. Rhododendron sp., 6) Symplocos sp., 7) Maling bamboo, 8) Ferns: Polypodium, Polystichum, Dryopteris, Cheiklanthes, pteris, Botrychium, Asplanumum, Peraneum, Drynaria.

 

 

 

 

 

Coniferous Forest:

 

1) Tsuga brunnoniana, 2)Taxus baccata, 3)Abis densa

 

 

4) Rhododendron (Eastern Himalayan sub alpine-14/c-2) forest:

 

1)     Arundenaria pantlingii, 2) Rhododendron arboruem, 3) R. barbatum, 4) R. falconeri,5) R. dalhousiae

 

1)     Swerita chirata, 2 Swerita bimaculata, 3) Swerita nervosa, 4) Swerita dilatata, 5) Cardamine hersuta, 6) Geranum nepalense, 7) Capsella bursa-pastores, 8) Drymaria villosa, 9) Polygala arillata, 10) Viburnum nervosum, 11) Thalictrum jaranicum, 12) Polygonum molle, 13) Polygonum chinense.

 

5) Himalayan moist temperate forest:

 

1)Arundinaeria panlingii, 2) A. griffithiana, 3) A. aristata, 4)A. maling

5) A. falconeri, 6) A. racemosa, 7) poa sp., 8) Oplismenos sp. 9) Potentila sp. 10) Cyperus sp.

 

Important invertebrates:

 

Neora valley national Park has 276 species of insect. 38 species of other vertebrates have also been identified.

Insects: The National Park is rich in Lepidoptera( moths & butterflies) diptera, bugs and aphids. One very small blood sucking dipteran fly attack man & animals in the late afternoon and cause irritation.

 


 

 

1)Dinobdella forox: a cattle leech

2)Hirudinaria manillensis: a very large leech

3) Haemadipsa zeylanica: the commonest leech

4) Haemadipsa Montana: found from 1500-2700m

5) Haemadipsa sylvestris

6) Haemadipsa ornata: the stringing leech and a black & yellow stripped sp.

 

Other invertebrates includes: snails, limpets, Centipedes, Mellipedes, Spiders, Mites and Ticks.

Species of conservation interest:  About 20% of the total species in this NP are extremely rare and many of those face the threat of extinction.

1)     Balanophora neorensis

2)     Balnophora polyandra

3)     Betula utilis

4)     Swerita chirata

5)     Swerita nervosa

6)     Swerita dilatata

7)     Ranaculus tricuspes

8)     Ranaculus ficarifolius

9)     Thalictrum foliolosum

10)Digitalis purpuria

11)Gentiana pedicellata

12)Geranium nepalense

13)Schisandra  neglecta

14)Taxus baccata

15)Viburnum grandiflorum

16) Viburnum stellatum

17)Viburnum cotinifolium

18)Begonia gemmipara

19)Ilex hookeri

20)Ilex odorata

21)Rubus glaciate

22)Cardamine macrophylla(sub sp. Polyphylla)

23)Rhododendron arboruem

24)Rhododendron barbatum

25)Rhododendron falconeri

26)Rhododendron dalhousiae

27)Partia monlana

28)Monotropa sp.

29)Utricularia sp.

30)Arisaema griffithie

31)Cinnamomum impressinerum

32)Rhus sp.

33)Eleocarpus lanceafolius

34)Cyathea sp.

35)Botrychium sp.

36)All species of orchids

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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