A pleasant trek to Gala ... The Third Stop

Trip Start Aug 19, 2006
Trip End Sep 13, 2006

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Monday, August 21, 2006

Today is ekadasi, the eleventh day of dark nights and third day of our journey. Fortified by a good night's sleep we are eager to start our onward journey. Some of us have arranged for ponies to negotiate difficult ascents and a personal porter to carry backpack with some essential items like cameras, water bottle, raincoat, towel, soap, medicine, and extra pair of socks at Dharchula itself as it is not always possible to get them ahead. The yatra organizers have made arrangements for transport of our luggage by mules. 
We are now entering the Greater Himalayan region. It is the northern-most mountainous region of Kumaon. These are sparsely populated, high altitude zones characterized by narrow valleys and very steep slopes, hills rising suddenly in to great heights. They are rugged, look crude and savage. They are awe-inspiring beauties. In their rough and tough exterior, however, lies a seductive heart of gold. Do not therefore, go by their external forms; they truly possess extraordinary sublimity. Now as we go deep in their proximity we will experience endless joy amidst sweet melodies of the solitude.
Look at the mass of lofty mountains surrounding us from all sides, like a fortress guarding the treasure within. I marvel at them; so many of them existing at random, a continuous series with no end at sight. This massive conglomeration of rocks rooted deep within mother earth, standing almost vertically side by side or back to back, is awesome and remote against the starry sky. At times, clouds or mist may mask them as if to obliterate their existence but they fail to keep them prisoner for long, for sooner or later the age-old blue hills show up refreshingly beautiful and rooted as ever before. Clouds love to hang on them, so does the mist. It is an exciting sight to watch the mist gradually rise from the bottom of the hills and slowly waft towards hill tops or drift side ways along the hills. The process continues especially during monsoon and winter. Such is the nature's display of magic and it holds me spell bound and my romance with the mountains alive.
Our two hour bus journey of 34 km from Dharchula follows River Kali, upstream, along its right bank. The road gradient up to Tawaghat (914 m) is gradual. Many small wild streams meet river Kali on way. Tawaghat is confluence of river Kali and Dhauli. We cross River Dhauli and continue our journey along right bank of Kali all the way up to Mangti bus terminus. The motor road is narrow along the narrow valley. The serene scenic beauty, cascading waterfalls spouting cold water, singing streams, endless flow of clear blue snow waters of River Kali; cool breezes caressing our cheeks gives us a pleasant feeling, in spite of the scary bus ride..
At Mangti our journey by bus ends and first leg of our trek begins. But here, we have a surprise in store for us. About one km. short of Mangti the motor road is breeched by land slide through which a wild stream carrying huge load of water and debris noisily gushes down. There is no way a bus can drive through it. It is scary to ford it but we managed it with utmost care. Some of us who did not take off the shoes or folded up the trousers got the taste of turbulent wild hill streams - they got completely wet.
Once out of the closed enclosure of the bus I realised for the first time how beautiful it is to be in the clean open air. I feel free and look around as if I am seeing the scene for the first time. The hills are awash with monsoon rains and look bright and shining. There is water everywhere - cascading from overhead, trickling through rock crevices, in turbulent streams gushing over rocks and boulders. Acres of soothing green grassy expanse ..... These are nature's way of expressing its joy during monsoon. At places moss and bracken ferns growing on rocks and bushes add variety to the landscape. All is quiet except for the roar of the River Kali hundred meters down below and murmur of a nameless stream across the road. There is a shop by roadside and the PWD rest house above the road. We encounter women with a load of fuel or fodder on their heads, indicative of a settlement somewhere nearby in a valley hidden from the prying eyes.
Now I get a real feel of the yatra as our long procession of yatris followed by mules, mule-drivers and personal porters begin to move. We are now on our own on the mountain trail under the shadows of towering dark hills.
 We get the glimpse of the road we are to trek. It is a motor road constructed some time back but before it could be fully developed and put to use, work was suspended as the area falls within the musk deer sanctuary. The road snakes through the hillock, on the near-top of which is our destination for the day.
 This is a short trek of about 9km and a gradual ascent all along. The wound we have inflicted on the hill to make this road is still raw. The Nature will take a long time to reclaim the grandeur. The boulders and landslide debris are spread almost all over. The road however, is wide enough to move nonchalantly without any fear of falling down in the ditch.
The sky is clear but hazy with stray white clouds here and there in slow motion, as if in search of their mates to overcast the sky. Band of fog lazily drifts across the hills. The birds sporadically sang delightfully in our welcome. A magpie sitting awhile ago on a tree branch looked distrustfully at me with uneasy darting eyes noisily flew away in the hiding. The blue jay in particular was very curious of our presence as it fluttered from branch to branch. To a watchful eye there are many birds, insects and animals to be sighted.
 It is almost a clear and warm day. The continuous climb tires me. Drenched with sweat I decide to sit on a huge bald rock lying in the middle of the road shining and basking in the sun. Crisp and cool breeze caresses my cheeks and I shiver with cold. Gradually I begin to feel refreshed by the extra-ordinary air coming from faraway snows and remote glaciers.  
While resting insects may climb on your person. They may sit on you or prowl all over your body; longer you rest the more the chance they have of quick feast on your body. Flies and moths may rest for a while perhaps to seek warmth from your body. They are grateful for your presence and welcome you in their own way. Soon you realize that you are beginning to be in harmony with the system ... a system of give and take, of caring and sharing.
Tired yet enjoying the natural beauty, walking side by side with nature we reach our destination around five in the evening. Our approach to our camp was heralded by barking of dogs. Tough though the trek was but, praise the Lord, we made it and were greeted in the camp by smiling faces. Suddenly we realized that it was not as tough after all, as we felt while negotiating it. But then this is a small step in our long journey, only an introduction, a sort of familiarization and acclimatization.
Gala is situated in the fringe of the forest, almost at the top of the hill we climbed this afternoon. The Gala village is very close by. Our camp is the only flat grounds near about, rest is very steep. All the oaks in the vicinity are heavily lopped for fodder or cut for fuel wood. There is a dense patch of forest above our camp.
Far away across the valley below is a village with beautiful terraced fields.  The Greens of the terraces merge with all pervading greens. River Kali is no more visible.
The mist gradually rises from the valley towards the top and drifts sideways. After a while it will cover the entire hill and probably disappear soon after. Entire scenario is very pleasing and exciting.
 The sun sets behind the hills. Far away last rays of sun linger on for a little while on serrated hill tops. Sky changes colour. Western horizon is flushed with red glow which eventually turns grey. The mountain silhouettes look gigantic. And the dusk descends. The smile is gone out from stray clouds which wade about sad and turn grey. It is like what some bard has thoughtfully said, "When the blue of the night meets gold of the day".
In twilight, the light blends with shadows, objects become distorted and blurred and indistinguishable, loosing their identity. The curtain of velvety grey spreads all over. Flock of birds return to roost and the cattle with their bellies full return home.
There is a kind of sadness as sun sets. Dome of sky turns blackish and looks melancholic. All is quite. Dim lanterns flicker in nearby houses as continuity to light homes after the sun set. Somewhere far away someone plays sad notes on his flute. 
Our homes tonight are dome shaped dormitories, each of which can accommodate ten yatris. Mattresses along with quilts are spread on the wooden floor. A lone bulb hangs by a wire on the ceiling. A diesel generator is switched on for about three hours at night. These dormitories allow meagre trickle of light and air in, through a small glass window once main doors at both ends are closed so as to provide maximum warmth during night.
On the third day of our journey we are here in a remote isolated area at a height of 2018 meters. This is our first of the camps far away from the luxury and noise of modernity of our invention.
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kailashi on

Many thanks Mr Robert Taylor

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