Mountains, Nature

on placid whites – winter hike to Chenap valley…

Chenap Valley, Uttarakhand, India

‘twas perchance that we got to know of Chenap valley, which we did as our original plans went awry at the last moment… tucked in ‘twixt religious fervours, highways and hydropower more hedonistic that utilitarian, and the never-ending scrapes of JCB for last-mile connectivity, ‘tis purported to be a quieter alternative to Valley of Flowers, although to be fair, there are countless valleys of flowers in the mountains, no one less spectacular than the other in their prime…

traffic and roadwork disruptions being kind, we managed to reach Joshimath from Delhi in thirteen hours… a forty-five minute jeep ride from Joshimath brought us to the end of the road (not literally the end, there’s a road being built on either side of a bisecting stream that awaits a bridge, so one goes till the point where the excavators are working) to Thaing village, turning left after the bridge at Vishnuprayag on a project that is being built for at least a decade now, and might easily take another decade to culminate… ‘tis rather melancholic watching hills being decimated into rubble as the blasts go off… one would want to maintain the status quo, but also appreciates the travails of the native, and the irony of the fact that ‘tis the roads that have brought one here in the first place… 

pontificating such as we waited after a couple of kilometres for the mules to catch up before leaving starting the climb to Thaing, a makeshift log bridge leading the ascent up the valley, its iron counterpart still biding its time… the trail climbed steeply, devoid of most vegetation… the road, of course… the mountain faces were scrubby golden, a typical winter visage, there were a few clumps of Forest Champa still blooming, Himalayan Pale Grass Blues flitting about, and Griffons circling overhead…

a two hour hike brought us to the camping ground, a small field adjoining the primary school… Thaing is a cluster of ‘sub-villages’ spread across rather lavishly over quite a substantial amount of area for a mountain village… a cellphone tower right in the middle ensures that most of youth are hunched over their mobiles as they walk, hardly ever tripping though… the surrounding massifs were steep with little vegetation on the sides… we had the first glimpse of Nanda Devi from here, peeking in from the northeast…

climbing up the next day, it took us almost forty five minutes to reach from the lower part of the village to the higher clutch of houses… Kashmir Rock Agamas were coming out to bask as we entered the forest… ‘twas a proper mule trail, full of steep dusty switchbacks, punctuated by a surprisingly high number of Acrididae hopping about as if on hot coals… lots of jungle fowls in the lower part, sneaking about the forest, that gave way to startled monals abandoning their hideouts as we neared the ridge…

around three and a half hours of climbing brought us to the ridge overlooking Thaing. There was a forest hut at the beginning of the ridge, and we camped about ten minutes ahead in a forest clearing called Dhar Kharak… ‘twas only two in the afternoon but there weren’t any water sources ahead… we took the liberty of pitching the tent near a cliff for kicks and lazed about for the rest of the day…

the Himalayan vistas were opening up now, and with Nanda Devi we now had Bethartoli and Nanda Ghunti for company, there was fuelwood today so could avoid kerosene and enjoy wood-fired chapatis too… for a ridge, ‘twas thankfully not too windy though clouds were playing hide and seek throughout the day, although we got a nice winterline to feast the eyes upon… Chenap valley beckoned the next day, and we were only halfway up from what we’d seen from the bottom…

we woke up to a cloudy morn… the ridge not a good place to deal with dark vapours, our steps quickened as a result… around half a kilometre brought us to the end of the ridge on this particular mountain, and we saw a large herd of Himalayan tahr, about fifty or so, ambulating about the steep rocky massifs with the trademark nonchalance of ungulates… as inspiring as their climbs were, we could all but manage a laboured scramble up the next stage, a short but really steep ascent to a flag mounted above a cairn that marked the entry to Chenap valley (place called ‘Bhootkodi’, I was told about an anecdote about a squabble between two hunters here in which one shot the other, and the story ended there abruptly, no ghosts or anything else to provide any correlation to the geography or the name, but I was too bothered with the clouds above to be more inquisitive, but my hunch is that the hunter’s ghost lingers)…

a light ascent brought us to the Chenap valley and the snowline, dwarf rhododendrons peeking out here and there and other surviving flora burnt red… as we took in the panorama, a couple of flakes melted in my index finger at eleven thirty… it’d been a while since I’d seen snowfall, never once on a trek, but this wasn’t the best of places to be enjoying one… rest of the party still quite a distance behind, me and a porter made a dash, or rather a thrash through the snow, looking for a place to camp, the snow had buried all the shepherd encampments and flat ground was hard to find… I was too lazy to take out the gloves then out so had to enjoy the crests and troughs of getting buried in the snow, freezing the darned life out of the hands and feeling the blood rushing back again after a couple of minutes, only to get doused again…

we found a small clearing next to a rock that was relatively flat, and after clearing the snow, hastily pitched the tent, just in time it turned out as the snowfall increased… I was worrying about a miserable night spent but luckily the clouds changed their mood and we were let free after only about an hour of light snowfall… ‘twas still chattering cold though, and the evening was spent drying out the boots, with the quintessential narrow escape where one almost ends up burning them…

the Himalayan panorama had change with Nanda Devi as a pivot, and we now had Rataban, Gauri Parbat, Hathi Parbat and Dronagiri to gaze at as the clouds cleared a bit in the evening… no starry nights though, and no reprieve from the cold either, a broken sleep where one changes dreams whenever a cold shiver wakes one up… a meadow in hibernation that refuses to let a man sleep…

we’d planned to go higher up, but morning clouds and the snow conditions would have made it an ordeal, considering that there was a fair distance to drive back too, and any injury won’t be helpful… I think it was the cumulative exhaustion of having been driving a lot the past week that made me apprehensive more than the mountain or the weather, but one goes by the instincts, so we decided to break camp and retreat…

the descent is usually unassuming, but this one for some reason slayed the quads, reaching Dhar Kharak in about a couple of hours, where some Alpine accentors were chirping about, I could feel my heart beating in my thighs… there was nothing overtly technical or challenging otherwise, just one of those days where the lesser travails trip you over…

we camped again in the school grounds, and hastened down next day to the roadhead in a couple of hours, the long drive to Srinagar beckoning and walking slow too painful anyway… on the whole, a rather uneventful trek with a sprightly climax, a valley that would be a sight to behold in the summers, but wasn’t too bad in the winter either…

 

Chenap Valley, Uttarakhand, India
it always seems daunting when one first looks at the destination, the ridge top in the middle was our gateway to Chenap valley

 

a makeshift wooden bridge
an inconspicuous bridge leads up to the trail, made terribly dusty by all the road cutting work

 

Forest Champa (Spermadictyon suaveolens)
Forest Champa were abounding on the trail side

 

Himalayan Pale Grass Blue
Himalayan Pale Grass Blue

 

tree resembling human face
this tree so resembled a human face

 

traditional Shiva temple
an old temple sits at the entry of Thaing, with the new temple right opposite to it

 

a traditonal Himalayan dwelling
Thaing is spread across quite a substantial area for a mountain village

 

Nanda Devi peak
we camped on a ground adjoining a primary school, with Nanda Devi peeking out from the northeast

 

star trails
a clear night, and star trails

 

Kashmir Rock Agama (juvenile)
a Kashmir Rock Agama came a peeking as we left Thaing

 

Acrididae
as we climbed up from Thaing, the trail was quite packed with critters from the grasshopper family jumping about like crazy

 

Indian fritillary (Argynnis hyperbius)
Himalayan Queen Fritillary (Issoria issaea)

 

Chenap Valley, Uttarakhand, India
the campsite at Dhar Kharak

 

Chenap Valley, Uttarakhand, India
a panorama of Greater Himalayan peaks (from left to right) Nanda Devi, Bethartoli, Nanda Ghunti

 

Nanda Devi peak
Nanda Devi

 

Trishul peak
Bethartoli

 

Chenap Valley, Uttarakhand, India
winterline is perhaps a reward one gets for braving the cold

 

Chenap Valley, Uttarakhand, India
we kept following the ridge from Dhar Kharak, the trail now climbing swiftly

 

Himalayan Tahr
a large herd of Himalayan Tahr grazed around in the mountain opposite us

 

Himalayan Tahr
a hefty male

 

Chenap Valley, Uttarakhand, India
a steep final stretch guarded the entry to Chenap valley

 

Chenap Valley, Uttarakhand, India
a twenty minute sprint saw us heaving atop to a cairn at ‘Bhootkodi’, the incline easing off after that

 

Chenap Valley, Uttarakhand, India
it started snowing as we hit the valley, and we scrambled off in search of a campsite, most of the usual spots buried in snow

 

Chenap Valley, Uttarakhand, India
as the snowfall intensified, we pitched one tent on the first flattish patch of land we could find

 

Chenap Valley, Uttarakhand, India
the snowfall subsided after an hour, and we scuttled out of the tent towards the fire

 

Chenap Valley, Uttarakhand, India
(from left to right) Rataban, Gauri Parbat, Hathi Parbat, Dronagiri, Nanda Devi

 

Chenap Valley, Uttarakhand, India
an angry wisp of cloud over Gauri (left) and Hathi Parbat

 

Chenap Valley, Uttarakhand, India
a vista of white

 

Chenap Valley, Uttarakhand, India
gloomy contrasts

 

Chenap Valley, Uttarakhand, India
with the weather remaining dicey the next morning, we decided to retreat

 

Chenap Valley, Uttarakhand, India
winter colours

 

Chenap Valley, Uttarakhand, India
the descent out of the valley took quite a heavy toll on the quads

 

Alpine accentor (Prunella collaris)
Alpine accentor (Prunella collaris) at Dhar Kharak

 

Thaing Village, Uttarakhand, India
as we reached Thaing, DOMS (Delayed-onset muscle soreness) was on its way too

Trek itinerary:

Day 1: Roadhead (1,400 mts) – Thaing (2,000 mts), 5 kms, 2 hrs

Day 2: Thaing (2,000 mts) – Dhar Kharak (2,850 mts), 4 kms, 3.5 hrs

Day 3: Dhar Kharak (2,850 mts) – Chenap Valley (3,650 mts), 3 kms, 3.5 hrs

Day 4: Chenap Valley (3,650 mts) – Thaing (2,000 mts), 6.5 kms, 4.5 hrs

Day 5: Thaing (2,000 mts) – Roadhead (1,400 mts), 7 kms, 2 hrs

 

Winter trek to Chenap Valley, Garhwal Himalaya, Uttarakhand

Author: Parth Joshi

Allured by the outdoors, the author is made up in parts of that quintessential lost soul wreathing under the pangs of biophilia in a desk job, a wannabe elegist mostly ending up in dungeons of poetasters and an optimist waiting for the senility of the modern world to fade away while sampling shoots and leaves. In saner times, he has a keen interest in areas pertaining to tourism, history, agriculture and climate change, especially with respect to historical interpretations, emerging technologies and future livelihoods. An avid trekker, runner, cyclist, birder and photographer, he is more often than not found gloating over anything hinterland, on foot or over computer monitors, and fantasizing solutions that can foster inclusive growth and sustainable livelihoods for communities at the grassroots.

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