When last we posted, we were on our way to make arrangements for a week-long trek to the Pindari Glacier. We decided to skip the guide, porter etc and go it alone, which ended up being a pretty good move. Anticipating an excruciating sunrise bus journey to the trailhead village of Song, we were pleasantly surprised to learn that we could instead take a "share taxi," a dilapidated jeep crammed like a sardine-can with more passengers than any reasonable person would assume possible, but infintely more comfortable than a bus
. After winding our way through the Himalayan foothills for 5 hours or so, we were suddenly informed that we had arrived. We found ourselves standing in a one-cow town with no trail in sight, but with some creative sign-language, a few locals were able to point us in the right directions, and away we went. The first hour or so was a very steep, very hot climb to the village of Lahoraket, where we decided to spend the night. Dodging the incessant offers for services we didn't want or need, follwed by requests for everything from shirts and shoes to our sleeping bags, we finally settled on to our viranda and, as we quietly read our novels, witnessed what would become a daily deluge - huge rain drops, brilliant lightening strikes and the kind of thunder you feel in your bones - better than tv!
We awoke early the next morning under clear blue skies, Mike had his obligatory cup o' chai, and we hit the trail. The rain had washed away any hint of smog, providing us with our fist glimpses of the high Himal. Wow! The views were amazing - terraced fields, flowers and dramatic peaks. To add to the scenery, brilliantly colored birds and white-bearded monkeys watched us as we walked. We got to camp the second day just in time to avert a hail storm that would not have been fun to hike through, and again watched it do its thing from the (fly-infested) comfort of a covered porch.
H continued her sleeping school, leaving Mike envious of her slumber as he woke at first light and confused the locals with some tai chi. That day's hike was notable for the inumerable waterfalls cascading from the sheer cliffs that form the glacial valley. We followed a perfect little trail along the contour of the river, and began congratulating ourselves for having timed this trip perfectly to get the best weather and miss the putative "hordes" of Indian students that hit these same trails for their holidays
. After a long climb from the river valley, we rounded a bend into the last stop before the glacier, a tiny settlement built expressly to house hikers on their way up, and BOOM! Sixty teenagers hit us like a monsoon storm, swarming with questions about our country of origin, marrital status and more, and worst of all, begging to pose with us for photos. We sought shelter in our cave-like dormitory, only to be greeted by leering stares over a wall that divided our room from one occupied by 10 or so teenage boys. After several more sophisticated attempts to dissuade this behavior, Mike suprised himself and H by jumping the wall and scaring the chai out of the boys, who thereafter bothered us no more. H showed off that night by drifting off to sleep as a group of 20 or so gathered in the next room to sing religious songs at the tops of their post-pubescent lungs as Mike chanted quietly to himself, "serenity now, serenity now."
The whole crew awoke at 3:30 the next morning and hit the trail. We gave them a good head-start, and started up the valley into the glacier around sunrise. A stiff climb brought us into a glacial bowl, carpeted by small purple flowers and surrounded by vast snow-capped peaks. H said it was the most beautiful place she had ever seen. We evaded the students who had converged in another area, and managed to spend a serene morning in the shadows of these majestic mountains
. We headed down before the throngs, and ended up walking 20+ miles that day, getting caught in a monsoon rain that soaked us to the bone, leaving us feeling closer to clean than we had in almost a week. That refreshing feeling ended the next day when, after another full day on the trail back to our original starting point, we began anew the grueling journey back to Almora. We arrived at dusk, collected the stuff we had stored at the hotel (despite H's conviction that we would return to find the town's people sporting our clothes and reading our books), showered and ate a greasy plate of authentic Indian freedom fries. By the way, H had by this time resumed conumption of Indian food, limited on the trail to rice, dahl, potatos and chapati, and has remained (as does Mike) healthy as a holy cow.
This is getting (ok, long ago got) long, so I will limit the description of our bus trip yesterday. We somehow emerged from a chaotic (and I mean SERIOUSLY chaotic) 6:00am attempt to find a way from Almora to Rishikesh with a semblance of a plan to catch a government bus at 8:00am. Awaiting that bus on a fly-infested and Winchesterian set of steps going nowhere, H demonstrated cat-like reflexes as she lept just in the nick of time from her seat where a young girls urine flowed from the step above (apparently the bathroom at this impromptu bus stop). And that was the fun part. Duct tape would have significantly improved the structural integrity of this moving convection oven, which at times was so full that one could hardly take a deep breath, which you wouldn't want to do anyway on account of the, umm, exotic odors filling the stale air
. We each found heretofore undiscovered resevoirs of endurance and, after 12 hours, a brief transfer at a dark and very confusing bus stop, and another bone-jarring hour, we arrived in Rishikesh, where we now sit. Rishikesh is hotter and less interesting than we had hoped, so we are again heading for the hills, this time to Dharamsala, home of the Dalai Lama where Mike has spent some time. We hope to find cooler temps, Buddhist culture (in contrast to the purely Hindu and Muslim ones we have seen thus far) and perhaps a few fellow westerners (we have seen nary a white face in the last 2 weeks, and wouldn't mind someone else to talk to besides each other!), and a cold beer!
So there you go, folks - more than you ever wanted to know about our last week. We hope to be able to find in Dharamsala a computer that will accept the software we need to post some pix - there should be some good ones.
Hope all's well with y'all...
Scantily-clad dreadlocked ascetics, some in the traditional orange garb, others in not much at all, mingle with Pilgrims and the occasional western hippy as the Hindi music echos off the banks of the Ganges river in this holy city of Rishikesh, where we have landed at long last. First we'll tell you about our trek, then our intermnable bus journey from Almora to Rishikesh.