A Lively Walk through Valley of Flowers to Gunji

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

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006

The sky is clouded. Slowly mist rises from River Kali and covers the mountain slopes. As sun rises from behind the clouds pink and purple glow lights up the sky and the landscape. There is silver lining in clouds as the sun peeps out for a while through the clouds.

The mules are nibbling soft grass in the open. There is scramble amongst them as their masters whip them to behave and to make them ready for loading. You can see welt marks on the bodies of most of the mules as a result of hard hitting -- poor fellows!  They certainly deserve better treatment. I had a long talk with my pony, explaining her about the difficult journey we may face today and that I may have to use her services to negotiate the steep climbs. She listens with raised ears in rapt attention, as if to say, `I am ready`.  
 Finally we are on our way. Once again we have an early start to make as this trek too is a long, tedious and tough. After about 500 paces of easy gradient we reach the village of Budhi. It is a sub-alpine village on steep slopes on the bank of River Kali. It is amidst some lofty peaks of main Himalayan range, and is at an elevation of 2740M (9070ft.). It is a big Bhotia village. They are called Budyals. This time of the year a big fair is held here and a large number of villagers from near about villages gather to attend it.
As we leave Budhi village a steep climb named Chhialekh Ki Chadai begins. This ascent which is about four kilometres long is named after Chhialekh Bugyal at the end of the climb.
We steadily and slowly clamber the ascent. I envy the youngsters who are moving up the hill nimbly like mountain goats. The path isn't smooth, it is strewn with big boulders and pebbles which crackle as we step on them. There is dense undergrowth of shrubs and herbs and colourful wild flowers. The trail is through a cover of Fir, Spruce and Cypress trees. With their straight trunks and thick sprawling branches, these stately trees, stand precariously but majestically on steep slopes, dancing to the tune of the wind and yet firmly rooted to the ground. For ages they have been there watching the valley below. They have seen many travellers pass by and given shade to many. If they could speak they would regale you with stories of yore. Texus (Yew) makes its presence in the middle rung and together with the shrubs peep intently at the sky from openings for the chance sight of the sun. The shrubs invariably coexist and are loosely chained by the creepers and vines which feed on the host.
It is indeed tough going up now. Each step onwards is a great effort. As the lungs gasp for more air I stop to rest for awhile and fill my lungs with the sweet and soft mountain air. I tenderly touch the leaves and petals and feel His hands caressing in response, reassuring me of His love. I talk to the plants, to the tiny flowers gaping at me from the rock-crevices in sympathy. And thus I try to lose myself in the poetry of nature. 
As I pass through dense tree cover I see prospering under the shadow of tall trees a lone bird-cherry tree. The little bunches of shining green cherries swing delicately in the air and rapturously waive at times, as if to attract attention. Over a time these fruits will turn bright red when ripe and will hum with birds and bees as the tree will host a treat for them all.
I plod on steadily, deep in concentration and determination but extremely weak in limbs. I converse with myself and promise myself any thing that prompts me to move on. My legs wobble and yet I move on ... but then at last at the insistence of my mule driver and my own body need I ride on the mule I have hired to survive the ordeal.
At the tea shop by the edge of the precipice where most of the porters and some of the yatris are resting for a while and having a cup of tea, I also dismount. There is still a steep ascent of about a kilometre to go. From here we could see a small dot deep down that is Budhi and also faint out line of the trail we just left behind. The precipice is a near vertical fall of over 2000 feet at the end of which is River Kali. After having rested for a while I decide to follow other yatris on foot, but soon I am left far behind others, alone with my pony and the porter.
 A mist rising from the valley completely blots out the entire landscape as was visible from this height a short while ago. It is so dense that we seem to be floating on the clouds high up in the sky. Visibility is only up to few yards. I slowly move on. And at last I made it and reached on the top with sublime feeling within. Overcome with exhaustion, I slump on the ground deeply relieved and relaxed, as if huge mountain of a load is off my shoulder.
As I open my eyes I see the veil of dense fog hiding the beautiful natural splendour, lifts slowly, giving me rare and magical glimpse of panoramic view of lush green pastureland ablaze with many colourful flowers pleasantly smiling....And it is simply angelic. Does the fog often play such tricks, I wonder! Or was it only for our delight! I won't know. 
 Wild Flower3
And shortly after, the curtain falls anew, as the thick fog descends down and entire view is closed from the human eyes. The fog is so dense that nothing is visible beyond few yards. We have but to wait and rest at the tea shop near the pass, have our breakfast. Before long the dense fog begins to thin out and starts receding. Api peaks too are covered with clouds.
 Chialekh Bugyal
Chhialekh  The pass is narrow, about two to three meters wide and is called Chiyalik or Chhialekh. Across the pass is the spectacular valley of Chhialekh, locally they call it the Valley of Flowers. It is a high altitude pasture at the height of 3350 meters. The pasture is along gradually rising slopes with small level patches here and there. Nearly a 3oo meter away down the slopes is ITBP camp. We are welcomed by them with a hot cup of tea and snacks. 
 Wild Flower1
We leave behind the stiff climb and we are now on a level path which winds through beautiful valley of Chhialekh.  The air is redolent with sweet fragrance. I enjoy the icy cool air as it hits my cheeks. I like getting wet in the dense fog. Here, I am not alone. Bountiful Nature surrounds me. I enjoy wading in this lush green meadow amidst pretty little wild flowers awash with colours of myriad hue, amidst the leaf blades of grass dressed in dew drops. The cool morning snow air breathes over the meadows in soft whispers. Distant dark trees in the foreground are rhythmically swaying with the wind and smiling in the warmth of the morning sun. That's the universal harmony which finds expression in the sweet music of nature. 
 Wild Daises
Here, it is not the ordinary air that we breathe. It is the breath of snows: crisp, cool, clear and fragrant, coming from faraway snow peaks and deep recesses of remote glaciers. It brings sweet scent from the herbs and flowers that grow everywhere: in high-altitude pastures, valleys, glens or dells, all type of terraces or in the clefts of mountains infusing our lungs and throats. It is refreshing and rejuvenating, packed with cosmic energy. Free from dust particles or smog. It is pristine and pure, a purity of a crystal. Its quality is such that it can transform the human mind to a sublime state and make the spirit rise to glorious heights. You can hear it as it caresses the lofty pine trees, bushes and grasses; can see it in the gentle ripples of a pond or lake and gently dancing in pine needles, whispering, whistling and singing with them. It however, is not as gentle all the time. It may turn tumultuous, ferocious and violent any time, may hurl stones, branches, twigs and dust, and may uproot trees, making birds and animals scurry for shelter. Such skirmishes are natural frolics as there is an inherent universal harmony among all elements of nature. 
  Wild Flower2  
The area is treasure trove of large species of medicinal herbs in danger of exploitation by unscrupulous people. During summer months these meadows are crowded with cattle and sheep on their way to still higher altitude in the Kuthi river valley. Towards the beginning of September they return to the plains of Tanakpur
 Wild Berries
We are now in the land of Bhotias, a tribe who inhabits inter-alpine valleys of these rugged Great Himalayas called Bhot. On this traditional route to Tibet we pass through three big Bhotia villages: Budhi, Garbyang and Gunji. For generation they have maintained trade relation with Tibet through high altitude passes. They maintain herd of goats, sheep and jubu for wool, meat or as beasts of burden. They do not take great trouble with their fields. Every woman of the household can be seen weaving shawls, pankhis or carpets. The woollen products thus produced are sold in the annual fairs of Jauljibi, Bageshwar and Thal. Between May to October of summer months they are in their high altitude homes and in winter come to lower valleys. The environmental needs compel them to maintain two set of establishments and to sustain their economy they have developed pastoral traits. In general they are honest, industrious, and good humoured people.
As we step down the slippery trail we get a charming view of the wide valley deep down. It has grassy level fields bedecked with flowers right up to the edge of River Kali. A big temple in one of these terraces is visible from here. The Bhotia village Garbyang of. Garbyals is now in sight. The village is situated at an elevation of 10300 ft, in sub-alpine zone of Great Himalayas. In early seventies or so, the entire ground under this village sank down, making the houses unfit for habitation. The descent from Garbyang up to the bank of River Kali becomes extremely slippery, muddy and dangerous to negotiate on any rainy day.
Garbyang was once the home of the wealthiest Bhotia tribes and an important station on ancient established trade route. During heydays of Indo-Tibetan trade it was centre of activity. Rock salt, borax, wool and carpet from Tibet were bartered with mainly grain and cloth from India. After Sino-China conflict of 1962, trade came to an abrupt halt. Their source of livelihood received a jolt. Trade with China resumed in early eighties.
The valley is wide open here with level grassy terraces. The Nepali village Tinker is across the Kali.  Here blue River Kali is met by foaming milky River Tinker. The River Tinker is large stream and in no way inferior to Kali. Their confluence is spectacular. There is a small suspension bridge across River Kali to cross over to Nepal. Along the Tinker valley is an alternative route to Tibet through Nepali territory.  
As we pass on, we come across sea-buckthorn bushes growing in profusion along rills and stream beds. It is small plant of about two meters in height, full of thorns and loaded with small yellow berries when ripe. These are very sour and very rich in vitamin C. sea-buckthorn drinks prepared from these berries are now available in the market. It is nutritious and keeps cold away. It is also being used in cosmetic industry.
Through grassy green hill interspersed with occasional pine patches, fording big and small streams, we reach a point from where wide flat terraces of Gunji, perched under the shadow of tall almost naked hills, is distinctly visible. It looks close-by and yet is still so far off; a mirage of hope. Past small village called Nepulchu, past a wooden bridge over the River Kuthi, a swift flowing glacial stream arising from Chhota Kailash, we climb up, and approach Gunji village through bare slopes. Kuthi River flows between Nepulchu and Gunji villages and meets Kali a short distance down stream.
We are now in the region where an aromatic plant called Juniper extensively grows. It crawls on ground embracing acres of land.
We pass through Gunji, a heavily populated Bhotia village. Houses are built of stone masonry and have beautifully carved wooden doors and windows. People are hardworking and prosperous. They have strong build with distinct Mongolian features. They exude ready gentleness and look simple. But in fact they are shrewd bargainers. Many of the Bhotias own shops in Taklakot (Tibet). The young Bhotia children are very sweet. They have bright round chubby faces, rosy cheeks, innocent looks, small eyes, snub nose and are ever ready to break into a sweet smile at the smallest gesture. Women play a major role in the hill economy. They are tirelessly busy with house chores.
At last we reach Gunji camp. It is evening. I look heavenwards for his grace. We are all tired. I am exhausted, gone completely kaput. We have been on foot continuously for last three days and have done nearly 50 kilometres, of which about 40 kilometres in last two days alone; we have much more yet to trek...but not today...some other day. The situation however, is not all that hopeless. This trek has been extremely fascinating and absorbing. The grandeur of the rugged hills, exciting scenic spots, lofty trees, silvery white snow peaks glowing gold in the early morning sun, velvety-soft meadows, an unbelievable variety of ferns, herbs, bushes thriving randomly, constantly changing landscape, and above all, wild flowers in unimaginable hues, dancing in air and spreading ethereal aroma. All this has made it physically alluring and spiritually stimulating. This trek is indeed a walker's delight.
 As evening approaches, sunrays lose warmth, shadows lengthen and it is chilly in the open. Frost starts to set in. The last rays touch the crown of the peaks before dipping down behind the hills in the western sky. Finally the grey curtains drop and everything hide behind it. Hills look ghostly now with all manner of shape and sizes. The night sky is almost clear. The evening star is out in the sky and soon entire blue dome of the sky is lit up with sparkling stars. The candles are already lit in the camp; a moth frantically knocks at the small glass window for entry inside. Far off shops and houses in the village are lit up with kerosene lamps. The solar lamps have been switched on in ITBP camp nearby. The silence is complete. In such a beautiful setting a precious day says goodbye and goes to the repository of past.
Our evening activities now begin with prayer meeting in ITBP temple. Today our prayer is louder enough to demand attention of the Almighty. We are sure He has certainly heard us.
Thus the curtains fall on the fifth day of our travel. It is the 13th day of the moonless fortnight.
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Where I stayed

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