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Nanda Devi Incident
6th June 2019
After an exhausting road trip, I slept through the night like a log. The fresh mountain air had acted as detox, stripping me of the last two day's weariness. I woke up at around 8 AM the next morning but didn't get off the bed for a long while. A strange sense of life had filled my body as if it hadn't been aware of its depths all this while. It was perhaps the effect of the pollution-free air and the magic of being amidst nature. I allowed myself enough time to absorb that serene feel.
After Shalu woke up, we arranged chairs on the balcony and admired the view of Musiyari with a silly smile plastered on our faces. To our dismay though, the weather was cloudy with obvious chances of rain. None of the famous Pachachuli peaks was visible and if the drizzle turned into heavy rain, we might as well have to cancel our day's plans. "What plans, exactly," we wondered as we sipped tea from our cups. We couldn't do the Khaliya Top trek that day. And apart from that, we didn't know where to go and what to do.
Before we could decide on an impromptu itinerary for the day, we had to shift to a new hotel. Back in Gurgaon while planning our trip, we wanted to stay at Milam Inn. It is located at the edge of a valley right in front of the Panchachuli peaks and provides arguably the best view in Munsiyari. But by the time we had decided our dates, the hotel had got fully booked. We searched through other options but couldn't find any other hotel with a similar view. We checked other dates and, thankfully, found a room available from the 5th of June in Milam Inn. So, we decided to spend the first night at Hotel Pandey and switch to Milam Inn early the next morning.
When I went to the hotel's reception to inform them of our checkout plan, I noticed a few foreign trekkers gathered at the hotel gate. They were collecting their trekking bags, probably preparing to leave. Strangely, all of them bore a gloomy look and there wasn't much talking going on in the group. I asked the receptionist curiously who they were. It was then that I came to know about the heartbreaking incident that had happened at the Nanda Devi mountain. The group was what remained of the expedition to the deadly mountain that had swept eight climbers under an avalanche. The mountaineers had been missing since May 25 and the group had been waiting for their news since then. An ITBP team had been engaged in a search operation but there was no chance of finding their friends alive now and they were planning to return to their home countries. This incident did dent our mood a little that day, especially of Shalu who got immersed in finding out more about the incident on the internet. Thankfully, the reception was low in Munsiyari and she couldn't dig much. We were able to concentrate on our trip!
We had checked into Milam Inn by 10 AM. Our room was on the first floor and the view was worth all the hassle we had gone through. We ordered the evergreen combination of two cups of tea and a plate of aloo-paranthas for the breakfast. The combination tasted especially delicious due to the rainy weather outside.
Having attended to our hunger and settled in our new room, we were confronted with the same question again - where to go now? It was 11 AM already and if we didn't decide soon, we would end up spending the entire day laying on the bed. We could visit Birthi Falls, but that felt like a futile exercise as it was 30 km away and we could see it during our return journey anyway. We didn't want to begin the day with Nanda Devi Temple or Tribal Museum, as we could visit them in the evening too. After much brainstorming, we decided to go to Maheshwari Kund.
The Two Lakes
Maheshwari Kund is a small lake near Munsiyari which can be reached after an easy one hour trek from the town. The entire path is well laid out and no guide is required as such. The trek starts from the first turn on the road to Milam Inn. We packed a couple of water bottles and a few chocolates and began our trek.
The winding trail leading to the lake went through a forest initially. The cloud cover had become as dense as black by then and a drizzle had started. The birds seemed particularly delighted by the turn of weather and were tweeting in a melodious song. The sound of drops falling on the forest's canopy and the frequent thunders echoing through the mountains had made the trek an enchanting experience. Now and then, I was looking at the roof of the forest, trying to spot the birds that were singing so musically.
After about half an hour of walk, the trek turned into an open area. From there we could see the entire town of Munsiyari. The beloved mountains were right in front of us, but clouds covered their heads. We were wishing for them to clear and reveal the view we had been so desperately craving for. There had been a few stretches of sunshine and faint glimpses of snow-covered peaks, but overall the weather only turned worse as the day passed.
We reached a lake after forty-five minutes. The first thing I saw was the ripples of raindrops spreading on its surface. The water was as clear as glass and the deep lake bottom was visible. There was something peculiar about it though - it seemed to be man-made. I couldn't recall reading such a fact about Maheshwari Kund before. On the contrary, there was popular folklore associated with it. So, how could it be man-made, I wondered. There was no mobile network, so I couldn't verify it either. Anyway, I wasn't curious that much because it was beautiful the way it was. We spend some time there and got photos clicked. The rainfall was intensifying, although was still tolerable.
A group of local shepherds had been keenly watching us making all those silly poses. They had been talking to each other all this while. But as soon as we started returning, they said that we hadn't visited the lake. I frowned but didn't say anything. A short pause later, one of them clarified that this wasn't Maheshwari Kund. The actual lake was further ahead. He directed us in the right direction.
We thanked them and continued further. After a few hundred meters we stumbled upon another lake that had appeared almost out of nowhere through the thick forest cover. It was now obvious that this was the actual one. It was surrounded by tall trees on all sides and its water was not as clear. There were also trunks of dead trees in it, which gave a feeling of some magical pool of a fantasy novel.
We spend a good half an hour there and got a lot of photos clicked before returning.
The Mighty River
Back in our room, we had our lunch. Our plan pretty much was a dead end after that. We could visit the Nanda Devi Temple or the Tribal Museum. But again, it was only 1 PM and we wanted to keep these two spots for the evening.
While searching on the internet, we found that about 30 km from Munsiyari was a village called Madkot where we could see the Gori-Ganga river. There wasn't anything special about the river, except for the thrill of exploring an unknown valley in the Himalayas. That was exciting enough for us!
So, we got in our car and headed for Madkot. But it seemed the weather was adamant on playing the spoilsport. Just after a couple of kilometres from Munsiyari, we encountered a landslide. The earth-movers were busily clearing it though, and we hadn't had to wait for long. Ten minutes later we were moving again. The path carved by the machines was narrow, slushy and dangerous. Our Duster, nevertheless, crossed it with aplomb. A little further we met another landslide and had to wait about half an hour there.
We had planned to stop at Darkot village on the way and shop for its famous woollen clothes. But due to delays caused by landslides, we were forced to drop the plan. The clock was ticking and we were venturing on an unknown road. There were also chances of heavy rainfall which could worsen the broken patches of the road we had just crossed. So, we headed straight for Madkot.
And seriously, what a ride it was! We had already been awed by the road to Munsiyari. But the road to Madkot was on a whole another level. The grandeur of the mountains all around was a sight that only eyes could feel and mind could fathom - no words could ever justify it. "Wow!" was the word we were exclaiming at every turn.
The Gori-Ganga river came closer as we climbed down the valley. And what a mighty river it was! Originating from Milam Glacier and swelled by the rainfall, it was flowing like an incomprehensible force of nature. We were still 10 km from Madkot but could hear the river as loud as lightning thunder. After crossing the village came a spot where we could go down to the river.
I was armed with an off-road vehicle for the first time and got this crazy urge to take it down that rough incline and drive it up to the river. Thankfully, Shalu was able to instil some sanity in me and we parked the car before heading down.
The roaring flow of the river was so loud that we couldn't even hear ourselves talk. There was a mighty valley around us and being at the bottom of it made us feel our insignificance in front of nature. We were no bigger than ants in front of the river, and a single gush of water could make us disappear, never to be found again.
We spend a good one hour there and clicked a lot of photos. We also tried to find the hot-springs that Google Maps had been telling us were in Madkot. We thought we were staring right at them, but couldn't see anything other than a bunch of people bathing by a water tank. And then it struck us - the springs had been converted into a bathing facility by the villagers. Utterly unimpressed, headed back to our hotel.
By the time we were back in our room, it had started raining heavily. So, our evening plan for Nanda Devi Temple and Tribal Museum was out of the window. We still had the last few hours of the day to chill and do whatever we wanted. And what better way to spend time in the mountains than to eat and relax. I ordered two cups of tea and a plate of pakoras. We arranged our chairs on the balcony and enjoyed the snacks amidst the clamour of rain. There were times when lightning flashed behind the clouds and made Panchachuli peaks visible for a moment. And that moment was spectacular enough to imprint permanently in our memory like a photograph. That whole setup had been arranged just for it by nature, or so it seemed for it was that perfect. The delicious tea and pakoras we had that day left us craving for months to come.
We went to Khaliya Top Trek the next day, as penned in the following post:
8th June 2019
There isn't much to say about Birthi Falls in particular. We went there while returning on the fifth day of our visit. The waterfall was high and there were a lot of people enjoying it there. Many of them seemed to be from schools and colleges.
We got some photos clicked and after about fifteen minutes were back on the road.
Ahead of us now was a 550 km journey to Delhi which had taken us two whole days during the onward journey. We hadn't booked a hotel in Almora as we planned to reach there and rent a room in Hotel Shikhar, the one where had stayed while coming. In the evening, when we reached Almora, I didn't feel much tired and had the stamina left to continue driving. We both didn't like the idea of staying in Almora or Nainital. The comfort of home was more tempting. And the motivation was to climb down the mountains first and reach the plains. From there it was far easier to drive.
But the Google Maps once again deceived us in taking the wrong turn and lead us towards the road through Kathgodam. We had to face an hour-long traffic jam before we could enter the city. But the good news was, we had left the Himalayas behind us and the jolly-good plain roads were in front of us.
I was really tired by now and Gurgaon was still 300 km away. We took a short halt in Kathgodam and pondered over our options. We could take a hotel and sleep the night through. Or I could drive all the way home and spend the entire Sunday resting in the comfort of our bed. The latter option was more soothing and lucrative. And we decided to go for it!
As the night crawled in, sleep began making my eyes heavy. But we had a Redbull at our disposal just for such a scenario (or experience at Nag-Tibba had taught us some valuable lessons).
Thankfully, the NH9, which had been nightmarishly clogged during the day, was essentially empty at night. We breezed through the highway without any jams.
At 4 AM, after nearly 18 hours of non-stop journey, we finally reached our home in Gurgaon. We had our pizza (which we had ordered while entering Delhi) and slept a sound sleep.