There are multitudes of reason for why a person leaves his comfortable surroundings and ventures into unknown to undertake a trek. The inexplicable urge to be in the vicinity of Himalayan peaks, the insatiable thirst for adventure or the need to be away, for a while, from the daily grinds of the unforgiving life. Whatever your reason, in Sunderdhunga nature has enough shows up its repertoire to elate you in its wondrous ways.
Part 1: The Planning
It all began with a chance to do an exploratory trek with Indiahikes. After a long period of exams and interviews and what-nots of seemingly eternal process of B-school admission, I needed to restore order in over agitated brain of mine, perturbed with level of activity I forced upon it. An exploratory trek appealed to the photographer, traveler and nature lover in me. I was soon selecting the trek.
Sunderdhunga is touted as the most beautiful trek in the region. And when the comparison is drawn with Pindari and Kafni treks, both immense in beauty, it says a lot about what this trek might offer. It looked promising right from the initial investigation with views of Maiktoli looking particularly impressive. With my almost whimsical proclivity to do a valley trek, Sunderdhunga made perfect sense.
I had never met any of the team members before. The only relevant information I had that everyone was ready to “rough it out”. That’s all I needed. With each of us belonging to different walk of life, the potential topics to talk about during the walks and around the table looked infinite (and so it was).With only a cursory meeting at Bageshwar, the introductions were reserved for bigger stage.
Part 2: The Execution
The newly built road from Loharkhet to Kharkiya sets a perfect stage for the adventures to come. The road snakes through villages still remote enough to cause villagers to look excitingly at the passing vehicles carrying trekkers from a land which exists only in their imagination. Khati, much more accustomed to the footfalls of those from the world beyond, is a perfect place to gear up for the trek ahead. With many groups from all over the world staying in this small village of 60 households, it plays the role of the host to trekking community with striking efficiency. It is also the economic and social hub of the numerous villages scattered in the vicinity. The amazing atmosphere of Khati sets the mood perfectly for the journey ahead and with peaks looming large in the background, providing the teaser trailer of visual treats to follow.
The trek, in essence, starts from Khati and Jatoli is the first stop. The trail is a treat for someone who loves forests and the steep forest covered slopes rising from the banks of Pindar and Sundedhunga Gad truly starts the trek in spectacular fashion. It only took us a leisurely walk of 5 hours to reach Jatoli.
Much smaller and far more exotic than Khati, Jatoli is last village en-route. The invariably laid back and slow paced village is a wonderful place to relax. The hazy weather obscured the peaks above but the place still had aplenty to keep the shutterbugs busy. Villagers, their curiosity finally taking over their inhibitions, were fascinated by the ipads and the ipods and came in drones to have a look.
The trek becomes a grade more challenging from Jatoli onward, the distance to cover on a single day more serious. As we move deeper into the valley, the ever growing proximity with peaks becomes apparent in many different ways. Many ups and downs render the path challenging with each ounce of energy summoned to take the next step.
The ever changing landscape en-route Kathaliya, our destination for the day, freshens up tiring body and with each new show the energy is replenished. The forest makes way to a boulder zone requiring careful trudging over precariously placed rocks by the river. Part of Panwali Dwar ridge presents itself in a spectacular yet slightly veiled appearance as the valley opens up.
Soon after we faced our first glacier; an enormous mass of sludgy ice connecting two ridges across the valley. The path is relentlessly uphill from then on, the only respite being that Kathliaya is not too far. Kathaliya is the camping ground at the confluence of two streams that make up Sunderdhunga Gad. Seasonal shepherds are the only inhabitants of this beautiful grassland, unsurprisingly so as their cattle look in perfect harmony with nature (or did I make it up in elation?).
Part 3: The culmination
The culmination of all the planning and execution is the trek to Maiktoli BC. What the trek loses in altitude, it more than makes up with the arresting proximity with the mighty ridges of Maiktoli and Panwali Dwar. The adrenaline pumping adventure begins with a incline up a very narrow path between two ridges completely laden with ice and snow. The need for adventure is handsomely fulfilled in the short trek to the top with many a stretches commanding use of ice axes and ropes. We took a final step up the hill to see large expanse ending abruptly where Panwali Dwar stood defiantly. My attempt to describe the panorama and my subsequent elation will be futile to say the least.
But there is more. Silken slopes of Maiktoli are not visible from Maiktoli BC, the vantage point for that is Baluni Top. The straight climb from Kathaliya leads to the top that welcomes one with more than 180 degree of Himalayan view. Maiktoli stands right in front , appearing at a touching distance. If left with time, energy and inspiration you can go to DeviKund further up which requires additional day of camping. This is part of another trek to Nag Kund which ends in Jatoli after crossing Pataki Pass.Sadly that is for some other time for me as this is where I bid my farewell to Himalayas on this occasion.
The trek turned out to be better than already high expectations. I was amazed by the frequency and extent to which the landscape changed from villages to forest to grasslands to glaciers. Even Sunderdhunga river that was roaring with its might and volume at Khati was reduced to just a stream that we could cross in our stride. It is a trek that people with varied interests and inclination for challenges can enjoy. The valley of beautiful stones packs wonders at every nook and cranny. Wonders, whose snapshots will linger in my memory for a long time to come. Wonders present with abundance that are presented so graciously to anyone who makes a pilgrimage to this land of Gods.