Parvati Valley

Trip Start Jun 24, 2007
1
6
12
Trip End Jul 17, 2007


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Sunday, July 1, 2007

After the arguments of the morning, we caught a morning bus that would take us to the end of the road at Pulga.  Pulga is the site of a new hydroelectric project and the dam is under construction.  The first couple of hours took us through beautiful farming villages and apple orchards.   The valley here is very green and lush with the monsoon rains.  Big trees are plentiful.  After about an hour of walking, we stopped for a break in a small town that could supply us with Coke and entertainment.  They had a pool table, which Nate was all over.  So we lounged around for nearly an hour, waiting for our porters to catch up.  There was one who had been walking with us, but the rest of our "entourage" was nowhere to be seen.  Oh, well - we pushed on.  After about 3-4 hours of walking, we came to a shelter for travelers; a large wood building with an impressive chute of water flying off of the hillside. Here we sat for 3 hours wondering where our guys had gotten to.  Eventually, around dusk, the stragglers made it to camp.  Some had bypassed us somehow and ended up further down the trail, but some were just dead slow.  This was not going to fly and we made our displeasure known to the guide and the hotel guy.  It had become clear that the hotel guy, not the guide, was in charge as he had been tasked with collecting the money at the end of the trek.  After much "discussion" and a little yelling, it was agreed that we would hire two replacement porters from the next village - Khirganga.  We did pick up one replacement porter in Khirganga - a Nepali guy who has a restaurant in town.  It took two more days of arguing to get the slowest porter to head back down the mountain.  We never did get that second replacement, but things worked more-or-less smoothly for the rest of the trip.

Khirganga, a half day's walk from the end of the road, is very popular with Israeli and at this particular time, Japanese stoners.  The valley is well known for its marijuana production and the 20-something Israelis turn up after military service to relax or forget or something like that.  In fact all of Himachal Pradesh is crawling with Israelis.  They are by far the majority of travelers in the region, and they have a somewhat unsavory reputation.  They travel in groups of 4-8, keep to themselves, and smoke a ton of dope.  They tend to be rude to the locals and travelers who aren't Israeli.  Granted, these are broad generalizations.  I met Israelis who were perfectly lovely people - even they bitched about there being too many rude Israelis around.  I digress. 

After a lovely lunch of omelettes in Khirganga, we pressed on through old growth forest to our second night's camp.

The third day, the terrain opened up into an explosion of wildflowers and broad expanses of green. I got a little carried away photographing the flowers, as you can see, but it was hard to help myself. We had a cool river crossing aboard a basket suspended from two cables and made camp the third night at a vacant shepherd's camp where there was a crude lean-to for a kitchen.  We set up our tents on many years' accumulation of sheep and goat dung, making for a beautifully cushioned slumber.

The fourth day, we got our first peeks at the BIG mountains all around. Up the side valleys, through holes in the clouds, big, rugged, glaciated mountains were everywhere. We made our camp at another shepherds camp, this time occupied.  We got some entertainment watching the the shepherds chase goats up and down the cliffs.  The goats and sheep got some entertainment watching us and nibbling on our tents.  Unfortunately, during the night, one of the goats thought he might like to sharpen his horn on Lloyd's tent, and put a 6 inch gash in the rain fly.  Nate hung out with the the cook, the guide, the porters and the shepherds in a spacious cave created by the many boulders in the area.

Day five saw us approach Mantalai Lake, site of a Hindu shrine to Shiva, the destroyer.   Lloyd presented us with tikas of holy ash that he had brought from southern India.  When he offered the ash to a particularly devout Israeli traveler, he promptly stuffed a pinch up his nose and snorted.  Ummm.  It's not that kind of powder, man.  The lake is more of a broadening of the river, caused by a huge lateral moraine of a side valley glacier.  We camped at the edge of the lake, the waters creating some beautiful reflective scenes in the evening and morning.  Two of our porters hiked around the corner to enjoy the hospitality of the two Israeli guys we had been running into periodically for the last couple of days.  The Nepali porter was so stoned, his irises disappeared and it looked like the whites of his eyes were bleeding, they were so bloodshot.  The Israelis must have had some good shit.

On day six, we began our two day slog up and over Pin pass.  This was where the real climbing began.  The four previous days had been fairly leisurely in comparison, with walks of 4-5 hours.  Often we were in camp by lunch time.  After a chilly, glacial river crossing, we began the hand-over-hand ascent of the valley wall. Some of it was a bit sketchy, but nothing overly dangerous.  It was quite hard work though, with the day beginning around 4,200 meters (~14,000 feet) and ending at 4,800 meters (~16,000 feet).  We took about seven hours to make the first day's ascent to our "basecamp" from which we would cross the pass. We were in a breathtaking spot, surrounded by huge, glaciated mountains, our own valley possessing a huge glacier resembling a giant tongue, free from crevasses. I took a solitary walk up onto the glacier in the evening, enjoying the scale of the place.

Day seven was the day of reckoning.  We got an early start, approaching the foot of the tongue, and making our way up. We were all struggling a bit with the altitude.  The day was made up of long, gradual ascents of snowfields and glaciers, punctuated by steep scrambles up scree slopes. We managed to drag ourselves up and over the pass, somehow, and were rewarded with steep snowfields on the other side. Lloyd got some impossible air and Nate and I enjoyed the skiing. Once we managed to locate our crew, who were far ahead, we settled down to a hot meal and an argument with the hotel guy, who was demanding a rest day for everybody.  In the end, he seemed to get his way, but we asked that the following day we complete the walk to Mudh, which was scheduled for two days.

Day eight, our rest day, it rained non-stop.  I'm not sure I have ever spent ten daylight hours confined in a tent, let alone in a tent with my son.  There was some strain on the father-son bond.  By the afternoon, I had to get out.  I took a walk up the mountain to the snow line, which was only about 500 meters above us. The rain had slowed a bit and I even experienced a brief snow shower.  The snow had put a brilliant white layer on all of the mountains and glaciers, particularly a grey and ugly jumble of ice at the head of the valley (the Pin Glacier?), made to look like a sparkling white miniature Khumbu Icefall.

The last day would be quite long, by design; an estimated 8-9 hours.  We began the morning packing up our thoroughly drenched gear.  My 15 year-old Eureka tent is in serious need of a waterproofing, so everything was wet.  The river was raging due to the rain, making for a hairy river crossing.  We started searching upriver for a way to cross as our guide got fed-up with our reluctance and made the crossing in the thigh deep river adjacent to camp.  We searched and tested, jumping the braided channels here and there, finding no promising crossing points.  Our plan was to avoid getting wet, which was thwarted by a misplaced foot here, and shortened jump there.  After prodding the river's defenses for nearly an hour, the porters discovered that we could simply walk a few hundred meters upstream and cross on the snowbridge at the river's source.  I was a little skeptical, but the bridge seemed to be several at least a couple of meters thick.  After an hour and a half, we were back at our camp - on the opposite side of the river.

The day was a mix of sun and drizzle.  The scenery had changed dramatically from the Parvati Valley.  It began to look more like a high desert.  Colorful valley walls gave it the feel of the South Dakota badlands.  About halfway down the valley, we hit the road and a couple of hours past the end of the road, we hit our last significant hurdle to the hot food and warm beds of the village of Mudh.  It became clear why there were no vehicles on the road we had walked.  The road was severed at a stream crossing.  The crossing was battered and unusable.  There was an 'easy way' to get across that our guide was adamant about; a six foot jump across the concentrated flow of the stream - a raging torrent from the rain.  A fall would certainly not be good, and possibly deadly.  Nate felt that he couldn't make the jump.  I was annoyed.  I was finished with this trek.  I wanted my hot food (not rice and dal!!) and the comfort of a warm place to sit and rest.  I was being irrational.  So in my pissed-off state, I searched below the "bridge" for a way across.  Nothing looked promising.  After an hour of searching with our guide sitting above, waiting, we resigned ourselves to getting wet.  We were able to get across one channel of the stream unscathed, but wouldn't be able to get across the second.  We made the decision to cross wearing boots to be safe (for better footing).  Again I was annoyed.  I had made it 8 1/2 days without getting my boots wet (Gore-Tex rocks).  Now this.

In the end, the stream crossing wasn't a big deal.  It was knee deep with solid footing.  The stream didn't feel as powerful as it looked.  We crossed and had a good laugh at our hour and a half of preparation for this seemingly trivial task.  Oh well.  Better safe than sorry.

We arrived at Mudh and checked into Tara's Guest House - one of several in town.  The room overlooked the barley, potato and pea fields and was a great spot from which to watch the sunrise the next morning.  We bought our gang a meal that night - everyone chose the thali - more rice, lentils, and chapatis.  My visions of paneer were dashed, however, as Mudh is an entirely Tibetan village.  The menu was Tibetan with the exception of thali and a few Israeli dishes.  We shared few jugs of chang, explained to me as wheat beer, but I think it must be milk based.  Anyway - tasty stuff.  The three of us turned in and our gang carried on till the wee hours.
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