Thursday, July 8, 2010

Mission Rudragaira - interlude at Uttarkashi...

On the way from Hardwar to Uttarkashi, near Chamba

Reached Uttarkashi at evening on 14th June, rather tired and weary from the longish drive from Hardwar. Got our old room no. 2 at Hotel Bhandary and Restaurant - that favourite haunt of mountain lovers. Shivraj turned up there and there was a joyful reunion with our old friend and instructor. After initial thumps on the back and catching up on his exploits - he had summited Satopanth (7071m), Gangotri I (6672m) and Rudragaira (5820m) in the one year that had elapsed since our last adventure together.

The situation didn't look too good for our attempt on Baby Shivling just now - recently he had taken a French couple to Tapovan and had scouted the region well. First of all, the Bengali Mataji who had looked after us so well last time had been evicted by the forest department from Tapovan. which meant that hiring a cook, porters etc. would jack up the costs of the trip markedly when added to the charges that the forest dept. would levy for persons, tents etc. That, coupled with the bad weather still prevailing at Tapovan, tilted the balance in favour of Rudragaira. So Rudragaira it would be that we attempt this summer... A good 200m or more higher than Baby Shivling, technically it would be less demanding than the rocky cliffs of Shivling Junior, though. At the back of my mind, I wondered if it was the lack of belief in our technical abilities that made Shivraj change plans, actually...

Sudhakara Sir, Shivraj and Kailash on the way to Nachiketa Tal

We spent the next day on an acclimatization trek to Nachiketa Tal. A beautiful mountain lake in the midst of pine and rhododendron forests, it can be reached by a trek of 3km on foot from Chaurangi Khal, itself a drive of about 18km from Uttarkashi. It was an easy hike and we caught up with Shivraj on the various happenings in his life and in the mountains.

Nachiketa Tal

At the lake, we came across some pahari girls cutting fodder for their livestock. The tough girls were clambering up steep slopes and even tall trees to chop down the leaves. Their songs were extremely melodious and Sudhakara Sir recorded the sweet strains with their permission. A Eurasian jay and a yellow-billed blue magpie kept us amused with their antics, too. We then went to pay our respects to the Baba who lived in an ashram on the banks of the lake, only to find that the holy man was rather miffed with us that our first attention had gone to the damsels singing among the trees! However, we soon placated him and before long he was regaling us with his dramatic narration of the Nachiketa legend related to the lake. He even made us tea and advised us to visit the Yam Dwar (Portal to the nether world that young Nachiketa visited to parley with Yama - the God of Death himself).

A young pahari girl at work collecting fodder

The baba at Nachiketa Tal

We visited the Yam Dwar and spent some more time at the lake before hiking back to Chaurangi Khal and our waiting vehicle. Back at Uttarkashi, we met our cook-to-be for the expedition - Dinesh Kumar, a fine climber himself who was the veteran of many treks (including the arduous hike to Auden's Col) despite his young age.

Dinesh checking supplies at Uttarkashi

Now we started feeling the excitement of the trek, with Dinesh shopping for supplies and going over the logistics of how many porters to hire etc. with Shivraj. We also stocked up on last minute purchases of essentials like warm clothing, waterproof gloves etc. I remember going to sleep with the feverish excitement of anticipation.

(To be continued...)

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Rudragaira - the beginning of the adventure

Well, the time had come...

Mount Shivling and Baby Shivling

After a year of gazing at a picture of Mount Shivling and Baby Shivling that adorns my table at my workplace and fantasising about climbing Shivling Junior, June finally came around. Following the tensions of examination duties and corrections and what not had come depressing news about developments at work. We were impatient to get among the mountains and shake off the baggage that tends to accumulate during work.

A source of worry was that our mountaineer friend from Dharali - Shivraj Singh Panwar, was not reachable by phone for quite a while now... However, when he contacts, he contacts on all fronts - messages by email, on Orkut and Facebook, followed by a phone call! Anyway, we were relieved to be in touch with him again. However, he had some dampening news. He was just back from Tapovan where he had gone with a French couple and had the opportunity to study Baby Shivling from all sides. The weather was bad, he said. It had been snowing heavily at Tapovan and the gullies on the mountain of our dreams were full of unconsolidated snow. Treacherous conditions to climb, especially for us inexperienced climbers. How about Rudragaira, he asked.

I was unwilling to give up on the mountain that had given me a dream to hang on to for a year now. "Let's take a final call when we reach Uttarkashi." I replied, hoping wildly that the weather would clear miraculously, as it is perfectly possible in the Himalaya. And that the Sun would melt away all the troublesome snow by the time we reached.

Thus we set out on the morning of June 11 to Margao, where we stayed for a day, moving about in the market, window shopping for fishing tackles and such stuff. Later, Kailash and I could not resist the lure of the spirits in Goa. Poor Sudhakara Sir - a teetotaller vegetarian stuck with two most unscrupulous elements! He caught up on his reading while we both struck a spiritual high.

Kailash insisted we walk everywhere in Goa - preparation for the trek, apparently!

Next day we were on the Rajdhani to Delhi. The journey was made enjoyable by the presence of a little Sardarji - Indermeet Singh, in our coupe, whose antics kept us amused. At Delhi we were welcomed by Shri. Duggal - Kailash's classmate from B. Arch. and a most endearing character. We freshened up at his house and went to the Qutb complex and Ba'hai temple. There we discovered the dangers of travelling with a Professor of Islamic History. He didn't spare anybody - including poor Duggal and Prof. Sudhakara the mathematician!

The Qutb complex

KR didn't even spare the poor mathematician

Duggal gets even with his former classmate finally!
After another session of spirits and non-veg at "Rajinder da Dhaba" (with Sudhakara Sir forced to sit in the car with his Paneer Tikka and coke), Duggal dropped us at Nizamuddin station, where we caught the Dehradun Express to Haridwar. We arrived at Haridwar at the unearthly hour of 5am, and as we picked our way among the several hundred prone bodies of people sleeping at the station, it struck me for the first time that our journey had really begun! But I simply could not wait to be away from the crowded pilgrim centre to travel deep into the Himalaya.

Breakfast at Hardwar


We checked into a hotel near the station to catch a few hours of sleep and had our breakfast. Next was to take a taxi to Uttarkashi, where we would meet up with Shivraj.

(To be continued...)