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India’s Pindari Glacier: does size really matter?

After a 30 hour train from ‘hell on earth’, or Chennai as it is more commonly known, New Delhi was the last place I wanted to be.

However the bustling metropolis is a useful base to plan a trek. Whilst purchasing a sleeping bag for two pounds, I got talking to a Dutch couple, who were leaving the following morning to do the seven day, 98km Pindari Glacier trek, north of Delhi in Uttarakhand province.

Nanda Khot, India's third-highest peak

Nanda Khot, India's third-highest peak

As the name suggests, the focal point of the trek is Pindari Glacier, where at Zero Point you reach a maximum height of 3820m (12500ft).

Talk about timing. We got along very well, went out for dinner, and I joined them the following morning on their gruelling trip north to Bageshwar.

Transport hub of Northern Kumaon, Bageshwar is in the eastern side of the state. The KMVN co-ordinates all treks from here, and offers guides and porterage services, which we politely declined.

So, after a good nights sleep, Lars, Esther and I hired a jeep for the slow two hour climb to Loharket; the starting point of the trek.

Day one was all uphill. During the almost 1200m climb, the views became more spectacular the higher we ascended. Our heightened sense of isolation created an ambiance we wouldn’t forget in a hurry.

At the summit of our climb we passed through the gates of a very rural temple, under which a local man warned us not to enter, as it would mean bad luck for eternity. Better not then…

After a short, but relieving descent, we reached the small village of Dhakori, and settled into one of the very basic tourist rest houses there.

Just before it went dark we encountered an array of colour, with the Himalayan landscape cutting eerie silhouettes in the distance. A sight to behold.

Sat by the fire, the lovely mutton curry that Hati, our host for the evening, had rustled up for us fought off the biting cold. We felt a world away from the hustle and bustle of city life.

It was essential that we rose with the sun everyday. At this altitude the clouds come in early, making visibility poor anytime after late morning.

This early start was made all the more glorious by our first glimpse of Nanda Khot, India’s third highest mountain, which is 6861 metres (22500 ft) above sea level.

Day two took us through several remote villages, with all kinds of industrious activity going on all around us. What surprised us most, was that despite how little they had, the local mountain folk were happier than many a passer- by in the western world. Children were playing in the street, laughter echoing all around. It felt glorious to be part of it.

Further along we came across Khati, the largest village in the valley, where each house is painted in a different vibrant colour, with the snow-capped backdrop completing the wonderful scene.

From Khati to Diwali, the only other civilisation we came across was a small Dhaba, or Chai shop, where a cup of the sweet local tea gave us a welcome energy boost.

High above us, the mischievous Langur Monkeys swung around without a care in the world, looking for an afternoon snack to fall out of our rucksacks.

Diwali, the point where the Pindari and Kafni rivers meet, deep in the Nanda Devi Valley, seemed like a strange place to settle, but we weren’t complaining after out 19km hike!

This KMVN run settlement was more comfortable than our previous nights stay, but at three times the price, which in India is still more than affordable.

We all were feeling it the following morning. My hiking boots that I bought in Delhi weren’t giving me the necessary knee support, but for 15 pounds, what did I expect.

Lars and Esther were both getting ill, possibly from the altitude, or the Dhal and rice we were eating twice a day, so we decided that we would only go as far as Phurkia on day three, 5km up the valley, and spend the morning in the sun trying to recuperate.

This short journey turned out to be the most difficult leg of the journey. It was uphill for the whole of the 700 metre, five kilometre climb, which caused severe disillusionment from the rapid altitude change.

A very nice noodle dish served by the welcoming workers at the KMVN in Phurkia around a roaring fire calmed our nerves, and prepared us for the main event the following day.

We rose sprightly enough on day four to begin the seven kilometre climb at 4:30am, determined to witness what we had travelled so far to see, and clouds would not get in our way.

We weren’t to be disappointed. The weather was fantastic, and as the sun burst through the cracks in the mountain ridge, a whole new world appeared before our eyes.

Wild deer were roaming the meadows, eagles circled overhead and we were the only people for miles around. It felt like a fairytale land.

Zero Point stands at the base of the phenomenal Pindari Glacier; a sheer wall of ice, slowly melting as the earths temperature rises. Not many glaciers are still intact in the area, but this colossal vista is still going strong.

Having never seen such a sight, we stood in awe of this wonder of the natural world, and marvelled at what many people would never get the opportunity to repeat.

Depending on the weather you can go higher from here, however due to recent avalanches and landslides this was not possible, so we made the short descent back to Dharmanda Giri Baba’s Nanda Shiv Shaktipith Ashram, or Baba’s place for short.

Living a stones-throw from Pindari Glacier, Babaji spends a large portion of his year up here to meditate in the almost complete silence this region offers.

The rest of the year he travels around much of northern India fund-raising for the local mountain villages, to help build a better future.

Feeling very humbled, we said our goodbyes to the inspirational Baba, and descended back through Phurkia to Diwali, as downhill we could go twice the speed.

After a recommendation from an Indian wildlife photographer we met at Diwali, we decided to challenge ourselves, and tackle the 22km ‘off the beaten track’ amble to Kafni Glacier, to touch a glacier!

Upon arrival it was abit of an anti-climax. The glacier was a peculiar grey colour, with water pouring off at a rate of knots, seemingly melting before our very eyes.

However, much to our delight, the views back down the valley were something else. The path was due to close the following day, and ensconced on the rocks we felt very fortunate indeed.

The route to Kafni

The route to Kafni

Over the next two days we meandered our way back towards the relative civilisation of Lohaket, to negotiate a jeep back down to Bageshwar a day early.

After a hot shower, and a welcome non-Dahl and rice meal, we looked back over our surprisingly breathtaking pictures, and began to appreciate what we had witnessed. Yes, we couldn’t tell our friends we had seen Everest, but we saw such a diverse landscape, some Himalayan giants in their own right, and there wasn’t a soul in sight to steal any of our thunder.

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