Surely there is a route which I am unable to see from here for the path the guide pointed out seems almost like a snow gully. But there was none.There is only one way to cross Kachni Dhar and with copious amount of snow it looked menacing from the little cave we were resting in.
Our plan to cross Ghia Vinayak pass looked in a soup even before setting out from Delhi as the guide informed of unfavorable snow conditions. It was not surprising as this winter had unusually high snowfall, continuing a recent trend of record shattering extremes of weather. I was faced with a choice of resorting to plan B, which being Kedar Tal was no less dangerous, or choosing to curtail the trek to more accessible Nandi Kund. I chose latter with a hope that the condition just might turn good enough when we reach.
With a hearty meal of Old Delhi’s chicken changhezi, Adil, Nitin and I left for Rishikesh and beyond.
[ Rishikesh- Rudraprayag-Ukhimath-Ransi]
Ransi is connected with Rudraprayag via a direct bus that leaves at 1:00. You miss that bus and only option would be a shared taxi upto Ukhimath and then to book a taxi to Ransi.Luckily we didn’t, despite our uncanny knack of missing the last transport.We trudged on all too familiar roads for good part of the day to reach Ransi at 6. Ransi is a typical end of the road village with few shops and options to stay. Although shops here stock basic items, its not recommended to leave the shopping of essentials to Ransi.
Despite some early protestations by our guide, we stuck to our plan of making it to Madhmaheshwar in one day. It is always tricky to decipher whether the guide’s suggestions are out of genuine concerns of client’s well being or driven by potential commercial gains.We however saw no reason in taking an inconvenient break and set out for Madmaheshwar at 6:30 in the morning.
The road that took us to Ransi goes further up for a small distance until it transforms itself into the trail. Ransi cuts a beautiful picture from the distance with expansive view of the winding river below. The trail understandably is a comfortable paved path and continues downhill till village Gaundar about 6 kms from Ransi.
It took us little over one hour of leisurely walk in the beautiful trail to reach Gaundar. Gaundar is a relatively large village with more than a couple hotels. We had breakfast in one of the hotels in bright early morning sunshine accompanied by a couple of elderly gentlemen. Like all elderly “bubus” of this part of the world, they have a lifetime to look back to and all the time in the world to reflect; thus they are full of opinions and anecdotes and will happily open up should you lend an ear.
Our guide and porters arrived an hour and a half late looking worn out. We were rightly alarmed but the proverbial die had been cast and that was our team for the trek.
Gaundar marks the start of 11 km uphill trek to Madmaheshwar. The paved stone path runs true right of the emerald and white river below. The trail is easy but tiring owing to considerable altitude to be gained. Places like Bintoli, Maikhamba Chatti along the way offer food and accomodation options. We took a much needed brek at Maikhamba chatti which is little over halfway from Gaundar. Trail further runs through forest giving welcome break from the tree less slope that we walked this far.
A gentle balcony protrudes out of the slope and there sits Madmaheshwar in all its grandeur. The second in order of the five Panch Kedars, Madmaheshwar is revered by pilgrims and trekkers alike. There is a certain calm about the tiny temple town lined with hotels. Overcast sky and the snowscapes provided a nice setting to the evening tea with the talkative hotel owner. Calm of the evening was only interrupted by a minor inconvenience. Porters and guide were no where to be seen.
They arrived after dark and were visibly exhausted. We decided to give them some respite next day and share some load. All matters sorted, it was time to enjoy a good night’s sleep in beds for the last time in next few days.
We were greeted with a news that we would be the first team to cross Kachni Dhar. A team before us had made an unsuccessful attempt. The way to Kachni Dhar is visible from Madmaheshwar – straight climb to top then coming down on right side before climbing to the ridge Kachni dhar itself. There was some snow in the first climb and ominous amount towards the right.
Temple bells woke us up to a wonderful morning. Pilgrims were busy in their morning rituals when we left at 8:30. The steep climb starts right from the temple compound and continues to the very top. We reached our first snow crossing around noon and waited for the guide to show up who was trudging too slowly for our liking. The trail was completely covered and we had to make two long traverses to get to the top.
The view opens up to the beautiful valley bounded on three side by steep cliffs and remaining side dropping steeply towards Madmaheshwar. Kachni Dhar stood in front of us as a sentinel guarding the passage. I tried to figure out the possible way to cross the ridge but couldn’t find any. There seemed no way of going around and only path leading up was the one in front of us. We started down the valley late in noon as the weather began to deteriorate.
Once at the base of the ridge, the climb looked all the more menacing. The path up was continuous slope of ice and snow without any break in consistency. The only way to cross it was a long traverse up the exposed slopes. The traverse ended with a cliff which lent very narrow space to maneuver and pull ourselves beyond. We had to cross it one by one with all the dexterity we could muster. Another traverse beyond that and we finally reached to the point which from distance looked almost impossible.
The view from Kachni dhar is absolutely brilliant with the valley rising to the peaks afar. The destination of the next day was visible from there but appreciating the view had to be delayed in favor of more pressing thing, setting up the camp.Rain had started and so we had to quickly pitch tents in what seemed like very unfavourable camping site.
[Kachni Dhar- Pandavsera]
Kachni Dhar indeed is a precariously perched camping site. We had to pitch tent right next to the razor shard ridge at a very steep angle as the flatter ground below was covered in snow. Terrifying vertical drop of couple hundred meters was merely steps away from our guide’s tent.
Beauty of Kachni Dhar and expansive view beyond was now visible in radiant sunshine, Pandavsera, our destination for the day looked very near. As it turned out it was deceptively far.
We started for Pandavsera late in the morning. The path takes through a number of ridges which are not visible from kachni Dhar. We had a shaky start to the day when first our guide and then our two porters slid down the steep slope while trying a traverse. Few tense moments followed but they landed safely, our guide with a few scratches and porters with shaken self belief.
Our early brush with a potential mishap alerted us to the dangers and we were all the wiser to use rope for next many crossings. After crossing a number of ridges and frozen water streams, we reached atop a high ridge which seemed like a last hurdle before gentler grounds. The top however laid before us another swathe of crossings more challenging than ones we had crossed. To get to them however we needed to negotiate a very tricky way down a water stream as the original path was covered with hollow looking snow.
The way down consumed more time and energy than we had anticipated and we were drenched and exhausted when we came across one of the trickiest yet snow crossing. We lined up holding our rope with our guide leading the way, expertly cutting steps in steep and exposed slope. When it seemed like yet another crossing, I felt a violent tug and looked back. to my horror the porter last in line was holding one end of the broken rope while another porter was slipping uncontrollably towards the drop with no rope. He however swayed himself towards his right and safely reached edge of the snow. I dug my knees and elbow to arrest the fall and provide support to Nitin who was slipping holding on to rope and thus unable to self-arrest.Those were kind of moments you only enjoy in hind sight with comforting knowledge of safety, but when the situation transpires you are all too happy to see it through as quickly as possible. We too reached safety in a short while and carried on. Its wise to be cautioned by those moments but equally important is to not let them dwell and sow self doubt.
Day 5 :
Pandavsera is a narrow valley with one end opening to miles of unrestricted view while other ends closed with peaks. Through the maze of these peaks one opening leads to Nandi Kund through a steep climb.There are a number of large boulders strewn about the flat valley and a clear stream running through it making it a beautiful place to camp.
The path to Nandi Kund starts with walk to edge of the valley and then crossing over the river to start the climb. There is no bridge and a safe passage is to be found to cross over. Beyond the river a lush bugyal of sorts runs for while before the path takes a steep angle.
In different weather there would be a trail uphill but we didn’t have that luxury and walked straight up hammering in each step.Exposed rocks and earth patches were scarce and slope too steep to allow proper rest in the climb. thankfully there was one continuous patch of rocks which although difficult and exhausting, gave a welcome relief from snow. Towards the end of the rock patch the incline turned really challenging. We could get a sense of flat land above with Nandi Kund small distance further right. Adil went for a long and daring traverse to the right and climbed up to the flat land, I decided to make a cautious and tiring straight climb. Our guide was still some distance below us. Sure enough there was flat land above and Nandi Kund towards our right. We were there.
The Kund was nothing more than a depression of snow and had it not been for our knowledge, we would have never guessed a large Kund to be there. The place had everything I expected from the destination – arresting views, remoteness and a real sense of being in the great heights. Like everything good, this too had come to an end and we started our way back.
Cautiously crossing the tricky part down roped in , I thought that to be the last adventure for the day. You, however can not strike out uncalled for adventures when you have someone like Nitin in team. He aims to be a risky mountaineer but in my view there is nothing like a risky mountaineer, there are only cautious mountaineers or no mountaineers. In our slide down the slope he inexplicably turned 180 degrees and slid face first. Then later he appeared on opposite side of the river completely drenched owing to a tumble he took while crossing the river. He could have reached completely dry but to each his own I guess.
Day 6 :
Pandavsera to Madmaheshwar is a long walk but we did not want to camp again at Kachni Dhar. Besides Kachni Dhar to Madmaheshwar is easy walk downhill once the tricky snow part is over with. We had to trek in heavy rain towards late noon the last three days and so we had set a target of crossing Kachni Dhar before 4. The umpteen ridges between Kachni and Pandavsera seemed never ending.
It started to hail heavily when we started our descent from Kachni Dhar. Roped up, drenched and chilled to bones, we cautiously walked down the steep snow slope. We had another slip early in the day and I was extremely cautious in cutting steps making sure I get a firm purchase on the snow. Even then the I was sure arresting a fall in this slope would be next to impossible. To cross the part safely was a huge relief, beyond that it was a simple matter of an easy climb, another couple of snow patches and then downhill.
We reached Madmaheshwar at 6 to bittersweet feeling of having completed the trek but also of knowing that the good part is over. Tomorrow it would be an early morning start to reach Ransi before 12 to hit the road and then a scramble to reach home. But tonight we feast under the stars and enjoy the harmony of life.
Some pics from the trek courtesy Adil- blatantly uploaded without his permission