A Long Trek to Budhi
Trip Start Aug 19, 2006
21Trip End Sep 13, 2006
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Where I stayed
Sitting here atop a hillock it is hard to believe its summer. A cool breeze brushes my cheeks and milky mist plays with my hands. The velvety green hills watch me tenderly from afar. I am engulfed in nature; it is so quiet and beautiful with green rolling hills and valleys. The sublime beauty of the landscape and the pristine air has an irresistible influence over me. It gradually seeps in and flows within me. And I feel liberated and poetic.
Look at the tender leaves ... ever so playful, smiling, dancing and whispering at the slightest touch of the breeze... ever so happy and contented. Look at the dew-drops delicately balanced on the leaf-blades sparkling with delight as the sun's rays kiss them and dancing ecstatically with the morning breeze. If I keep my eyes wide open and be focused I believe my imagination will soar high and certainly see angels in the deep blue sky and also see them walking in these velvety green mountains, even hear them whispering in the ear.
Today I was awakened with a start at dawn. We have a long way to go. I step out in the open. It is still dark. Air is heavy and suspended. Silence is total. A rooster gives good morning call from somewhere behind the hills, signalling arrival of dawn shortly.
Gradually darkness eases and gives way to greyness as eastern horizon brightens. Soft light of dawn spreads. The still air stirs. An easterly breeze, youthful and agile tickles me. A whiff of cool air sends shivers deep down the spine. The azure sky turns white and horizon is aglow. The sun is still behind the hills but far away mountain tops are smiling delightfully in morning rays and trees sway and heave with joy. A flock of birds take flight across the sky. The new dawn arrives with all its glory. I joyfully fill my lungs with the fresh aromatic crisp morning air, rich in ozone.
Our camp is alive with activities. We are all set to take on our 19 km long treacherous and strenuous journey, with early Morning Prayer for safe and pleasant passage. I am delighted at the prospects of an adventurous and thrilling day ahead.
So just before dawn after having a cup of tea we say goodbye to Gala.
We walk on almost level path. We pass through terraced field on either side. They are green with paddy. The houses here are small. Near them the apple trees are loaded with shining apples and walnut trees with ashy raw walnuts. It is tempting to pluck green hill-cucumber hanging on tender stems close by. Some fields are full with cabbages and some with pumpkins. Where there is no crop green velvety grass covers the landscape. They say, 'rocks don't have a heart', but look there are so many pretty little flowers peeping through the rock crevices. It is exciting to watch mist gradually rising from the bottom of the valley to reach the high and mighty mountain tops in front. They look dark, awesome and mysterious; watching us intently from a distance as we pass by.
Living conditions are very harsh in these remote areas. Simple and honest hills people pray to the almighty for little mercies. A stone, a rock, a stream, a river is a temple for them. Every house and every village has a temple. Few steps on, we see there is an old village temple besieged by wild vegetation and surrounded by cedar trees.
A few paces on is the point of our decent, called Bindakoti Ki Chadai, or the ascent of Bindakoti. Bindakoti is a village in the vicinity. It is unnerving sight to behold the steep, snaking path we have to tread on the bald face of the mountain. The path is made of over 4000 steps, each with one to two feet riser, carved out from the underlying rock. The entire rocky slope is devoid of tree growth. Only grass, herb and shrubby growth are visible in sheltered pockets which soothe the eyes. During summer months however, sun is fierce and illuminates entire exposed southern slopes. Water is scarce in the area. Across the valley, in Nepal, the slopes are covered with vegetation.
The descent which is about 6 km long and about 300mtrs (1000 ft) down in elevation takes us about three hours. At the end of the descent we reach a place called Lakhanpur (2400 M.) and I am delighted to hear the murmur of endless flow of River Kali once more. The place gives a feeling of being in a large deep hollow pit. It is a few acres of flat land on the right bank of the River Kali. It is narrow with almost vertical hills on either side. Here we are welcomed by tempting heady smell of hot, crisp and mouth watering aloo-parotas or puries wafting across from the tea shop near-by. Suddenly I realize how hungry I am. Here, we take our breakfast. I enjoy the delicious breakfast in silence listening to the babble of the river.
With a feeling of well being after having breakfast, we relax here for a while to soak in the new environment. Some nurse their sore knees and cramps in the calves, others doze and a few capture with their cameras to the verdant glory of the moment. Each one is alone and cocooned in himself, trying to overcome the travails of the journey. In this each seems to be energized with the collective energy emanating from the group.
Here we are in a beautiful land of gods in which gods' own rivers are flowing. How crystal clear is the water here! You can see the river bed and count the pebbles if you so wish. It is pure and rich in minerals. Free from pollutants. The sprawling big rivers that we see down in plains have originated from a small spring, rising in the cool and dense shadows of the green or snowy mountains deep in the interiors. They are part of the Indian folk lore and mythology. Sages have spent ages in retreat writing epics and Vedas meditating in the bank of these rivers. People have come to settle close to them. Great civilizations have risen from these rivers and died on their banks. Our present civilization may have similar fate, unless we mend our ways and stop polluting them. They are life line to millions of people. They are repository of history and myth. Rivers are the ecosystems of water plants and animals. Once these rivers are dead so will be the economy of the region and of the society. The source of these rivers is considered sacred. There are temples all along these river banks. Hindus worship and make pilgrimage to them but it has now become only a routine ritual. We all understand where the life sustaining water we drink comes from and yet sadly we have not learnt to respect them and continue to pollute them with impunity which is death knell to these rivers. Let us stop treating them as natural dumping ducts for sewage or garbage. Let us treat them with all respect they deserve or else allow them and with that the civilisation to die.
I am happy under the blue sky in the wilderness and away from man made modern facilities TV, news paper, and telephone. There is no water, air, noise or light pollution.
We continue our journey now along a winding, nearly level but narrow mountain trail. In contrast to the arid slopes devoid of vegetation that we encountered a short while ago, here we are amidst water every where. The small wild streams meander through steep slopes above, carry along sand and pebbles for company for awhile, and surmounting all obstacles en route thunder on unmindful of the pit falls. As they roll down through rock projections overheads free fall down through space they spew sprays as we pass along. Water oozes from rock crevices. It runs under our feet. This is the section of the road which is carved out by cutting the underlying almost vertical rock. It is like a half cut tunnel with the rock projecting out over-head. It is bordered on our left with rock wall and on the right an open edge with vertical fall of 20 feet or much more at places in to River Kali. The passage is low in height and narrow in width and therefore, we have to bend low to negotiate it. The surface of the path is uneven and rough with sharp projecting stones at places. Sometimes we have to wait in a safe corner to yield way for the incoming mules or travellers. We have to be extra careful in such section of the road as the River Kali is only about twenty feet down and carelessness may cause serious mishap. We are also well covered with raincoat or else we may be completely drenched in icy cold water.
In spite of all the precautions we cannot avoid the splashes of cold water entering our clothes. In fact I enjoyed the cool spray of water hitting my face. It was a great fun. Some of us had long raincoats which flap around throwing water all over and so quite a few of us got wet. I learnt the consequence of playing with water hard way as in the camp I find that water has entered inside my age-old wrist watch and stopped its working..
The uneven road surface strewn with pebbles and boulders seem to crackle in pain beneath our feet as we plod on. Slowly and steadily we trudge on the tough climb or rough descent but continuously gaining height and always remaining in the same narrow valley where River Kali flows. We are delighted to see the foaming white waters gushing underneath a small wooden bridge. Shortly afterwards another beautiful scene unfolds before us. There is a torrent originating somewhere high in the sky that rushes down the steep slopes with great force, ending up in the great vertical fall cascading down in waves of sprays. And this majestically waterfall is suddenly revealed round the bend. Few steps on we encounter yet another beautiful waterfall splayed across a huge dome shaped rock. The misty mountains, bald at top, rising sharply with lush greenery on easier slopes are there all the time watching our progress. There is no habitation near about. Occasional whisper of breeze and calls of unknown birds is the music of we hear. We are heavily dressed in woollens. The sun laughs at us thus fortified and teases us with shining brightly in the sky. We shed them one by one. We are now exposed to every wind that blows. We shiver and wrap ourselves with windcheaters. Rocks are wet and radiantly smiling as afternoon sunrays fall on them. Tired of tough trek, yet bear it out amidst splendour of Devine Nature, we reach Malpa, as clouds start gathering up in the sky.
Malpa was a camping site earlier. It is on the bank of Kali, surrounded by lofty mountains with sharp edges cutting across the sky. A swift wild stream called Malpa-gad rushes down from steep hill slopes to meet Kali. This is the site of tragic landslide of 1998. The cloudburst in the catchment area caused an avalanche bringing down huge mass of debris while yatris were asleep, killing all of them. Famous dancer Protima Bedi was amongst them. The entire village of Malpa was washed down leaving no trace of it. After the tragedy this camp was abandoned and shifted to Budhi. The remains of the landslide are still there in part of the erstwhile camp site to tell the tragic tale.
Across the Malpa-gad there are a couple of shops. We take hot lunch in one of them.
We are now about 2-3 hours away from our day's destination. Along the way there are few hutments and terraced fields. Locals grow coarse millets like ogal /buck-wheat (Fagopyrum esculentum; F.totarricum), Chaulai (Amaranthus frumentaceus) and maize to last them provision for few months. at Lamari we have a cup of hot tea. As we approach Budhi through a tough climb we pass through a tunnel of broadleaved trees predominantly Utis (Alders). And finally we are at Budhi. There is a small fall at our camp site and falling down in to the stream which finally meets the River Kali we have already left deep down below. Chaulai
It was indeed a strenuous trek, long and winding, a roller coaster walk through a narrow valley which at times gives an uneasy feeling of being sandwiched between the steep rocky walls. One can't see any thing beyond these walls. At that time I wished I had wings to fly on top of these mountains to have bird's eye view of all that lies beyond. But the majestic mountains continue silently watch us pass by, unmindful.
Above the road near our camp is a shop with a small paved courtyard where wary travellers break their journey and rest awhile to catch the breath and to drink cold water or a cup of tea. After regaining strength they move on. At the end of the day a large number of locals gather here to gossip, exchange the day's stories and watch the yatris pass by to settle in the camp below. As we enter our camp we are delighted to see rows flower beds blooming of colourful cosmos, butterflies and bees hovering about them.
The sun is about to set behind the mountains. There is an old man sitting at the edge of the terraced fields minding a couple of cattle and goats grazing nearby. I hear the occasional cattle bells of his animals. The crickets and beetles have now started their evening song, as the wind whisper mysteriously in the grove. A dog is on late siesta by the road side, a lone bird in flight decides to land in the grove of trees near about .... A very familiar site I always seem to have known, situated on the edge of a stream, surrounded by terraced fields in which locals grow beans and millets.
This is our home for to-night. These are slopping tin roofed structures of stone masonry, standing on terraces of different levels. The low ceiling dormitories are with open veranda and furnished with raised wooden beds, mattresses and quilts. The set of bath rooms with running water are located at the far end down below. Here we will spend one more night on our return journey.
This is how we the fourth day of our journey comes to a close and twelfth day of the dark nights begin. Tomorrow is yet another long day to unfold new chapter of our fascinating yatra.