You dont need to be one of the crazy mountain lovers to appreciate the unparalled beauty of Nanda Devi peak. The granite manifest of the Bless giving patron goddess of Uttarakhand is ravishing from all the angles. To witness the face of main peak which had so far eluded my kumaoni eyes I decided to trek to Kuari Pass ( Nanda Devi appears quite different when viewed from Kumaon). And thus I found myself paying the pilgrimage to the Devi.
Day 0: Joshimath..Joshimath..Joshimath..
The base for the trek is Joshimath. The religiously important town of Joshimath stands at 1950 mts and is last major stop before Badrinath. Joshimath is 253 kms from hrishikesh and is well connected through bus and shared taxis.This laid-back , almost lazy town made me fall in love with it instantly.
I learned that a permit from DFO is required to trek beyond Auli and to get that you must be accompanied by registered Trekking agency, which can be found aplenty in the beautiful main market.Surprisingly there was no checkpoint in Auli to check for the permit which made me belive that this rule just might be ploy to rake in some money by agencies and forest dept. Although i must say the permit was genuine.The agency takes care of the permit and is not much of a nuisance, unlike the ILP in some cases.
In the pleasant sunny morning I learned that both our guide and porter were Nepali which to be honest was a bit disappointing as I prefer a local companions My disappointment soon turned to exaltation when Megma the guide laid open his repertoire. How often do you trek with a real sherpa who had scaled Kamet and even tougher Thalaysagar. The shy sherpa had many tales to tell during the trek.
The 16km journey to auli took no time on the booked jeep and by 11:30 we were all set to go .On the fine cloud free day I had the first view of Nanda Devi. One of the most beautiful peaks in the world, Nanda Devi holds special place in Mountain lore and the view in itself is a reason enough to visit Kuari Pass. It was a perfect start to the trek,
As soon as we left the last man made eye sore , the rope-way tower, behind we entered thick Kharsu forest.And soon enough the tree line bade us farewell and dramatically gave way to Gorson bugyal. The trek onward was mildly uphill with Nanda Devi and Dunagiri dominating the horizons throughout.The gorson bugyal in itself is a campsite but we had planned to camp at Talli.
Talli is downhill from the gorson top and is fairly easy trek albeit one or two points which had been rendered tricky by the inclement weather this year. Talli has a small pond to boast .Although the water is not potable but lack of usability is handsomely compensated by sheer splendor of the water and the reflection of Nanda Devi and Dunagiri.
The campsite is further down as we reenter tree line.The Talli campsite is small clearing amidst strikingly beautifull forest.We were at the campsite well before the dawn.The eventful first day was rounded off in best possible fashion around the fire.
As if Nanda Devi had herself decided to make sure the pilgrimage is flawless, we were greeted with another impeccable morning.The never tiring guide and porter brought us the morning tea and we were ready to go. The high point was to be achieved today.
The trek uphill to Chitrakantha is comfortable walk. Hathi and Ghodi parvat now take the centerstage. Devi’s guards.
The best place to view the peaks is Khulara top and not the Kuari Pass. The top is just a little gradual climb from chitrakantha. But are the dividends ripe.The fort like massif of Chaukhamba lies on one end of the white horizon which boasts of who’s who of uttarakhand himalaya. Starting from Chaukhamba, the peaks I could identify were Neelkanth, Kamet, Mana,Ghodi,Hathi, Dunagiri, Nanda Devi and Trisul.
The actual Pass does not lie enroute to Khulara campsite and one has to digress away from Gailgarh to reach the pass.
The view from pass is no better than that from khulara top, its less expansive actually. There are options of going to the top which is steep climb of half an hour. One can also visit Pangarchula if time permits and there is desire to go.
Having reached the top, there was only downhill way to Khulara campsite. Khulara is an ideal campsite, with running water and large ground like clearing to lazy around. It is big enough to accomodate a number of groups which is usually the case with this trek being very famous among trekkers.We, however, camped a liitle further down , not due to some reservations but as a result of some miscommunication between us and advnace party consisting of a sole porter. This place too was picture perfect campsite with a little stream flowing nearby. All done and seen, we were at the camp at 3:30 with nothing better than to bask in the pleasingly warm sunlight in the surreal environs.
Having lot of time to kill we went back to an area above Khulara witness sunset.The time of sunset and sunrise is best time for photography and we did make most of it.Dunagiri stood defying adamant clouds and posed for us bathed in red sunlight. A gift we gratefully accepted
Day 3: Jab main tumhari umar ka tha to Nanda Ghunti jata tha
Dunagiri had been a constant presence on the horizon throughout this trip and it continued so as we made our journey down to village Dhak.Its all down on a less than comfortable incline.In a hurry to reach to the road we hardly noticed the beautiful forest we were passing through. Only during a momentary rest did I notice the sheer beauty of the forest and its few inhabitants that we met.The first sign of civilization is a small village named Karchi.We got a chance to meet some of the residents of this village of a handful of houses.It is fascinating to see how even in this age a person carrying nothing more than a camera can startle and even intimidate some one. Naturally beautifully children with skin parched due to weather and neglect were particularly camera shy.
The village Dhak is only half an hour away and by 11:30 we were waiting for a jeep chatting leisurely with friendly locals.Some of the most intersting persons I have come across were during treks and this trek offered its fair share.An elderly man claiming to be of 87 soon joined us, having a gossip and hot tea to go with it was too luring an oppurtunity for him to pass.His blatant exaggerations were countered by younger audience but his never ending retorts could not be matched.There was something in that brief meeting that is amiss in our more civilised world.
Drive back to Joshimath was a small one.Relentless clouds finally won over and started to obscure peaks around us.From the back of my eyes I saw a last glimpse of Nanda Devi and fell to slumber simultaneously.
I am now back at unenchanting plains.I can not hope to see here wonderful people I met just a few days back, guides and porters bound by unseen code of ethics offering services far beyond their responsibilities,people offering to help before you even think of asking for, people taking pride in their culture and beliefs.Nor can I find a town working with pace it wants to and not governed by others. All I can do is to wait and plan for my next escapade in place where I feel strange sense of belonging.
How to reach the base:Joshimath
Joshimath is 253 kms from Hrishikesh and is well connected by buses and taxis.This is the last stop before Badrinath so devotees throng this place in drones during the summers.Getting here shouldn’t be tough.Route to follow is Hrishikesh-Srinagar-Rudraprayag-Chamoli-Joshimath and can be done in a sibgle day with ease.
Where to stay
Many hotels here as tourists and devotees come here in numbers.In Sept-Oct there are more trekkers than pilgrims so I would recommend this time of year.
Who to contact
As this is base for many treks and mountaineering expeditions, there are many tourist agencies here.Take a stroll in the market and chose one that offers more bang for the buck. I went with Grand Adventures.
And the trek begins
From Auli. You will need to book a jeep to take you there or you can try rope-way if you are not claustrophobic. Anyways its a short trip and enjoyable at that.
Day 1 : You can either camp at Gorson or Talli but I would recommend Talli as its pretty easy walk till Talli. You need camping gear right from the day 1.
Auli-Talli is around 10 kms.
Day 2: Talli-Chitrakanta-Khulara and camp at Khulara campsite. Kuari Pass does not lie on this way and you need to divert to Kuari Pass from Gailgarh and return the same way. Total distance traveled must be around 12-14 kms.
Day 3: All downhill till you hit the road.Must be around 15 kms but its easy.You reach village Dhak where you can wait for the bus or a taxi to take you to Joshimath some 20 kms away.
If you have time and willingness, do not miss out on trip to Badrinath. Takes only a day to and fro.