Hiking India’s Kuari Pass in the Himalayas
By Mridula Dwivedi
“Itne pathron per tou mein jindagi mein kabhi nahin chali hun.”
(I’ve never walked on so many stones in my whole life.)
We decided to trek through Kuari Pass, in the Uttranchal Himalayas and the journey started from New Delhi. It was raining for most of the journey and when we reached Rishikesh at midnight, it was still raining.
I was quite disappointed and I started bugging my husband that maybe we would not be able to trek at all if it rained like this. He too got confused for a while and we considered alternatives but he pacified me, saying if it rained too much we would trek through Valley of Flowers instead.
So we checked into the Gaurav Hotel, which is just in front of the bus stand, and it is nothing to write home about. The only saving grace: it had no carpet that would stink and a relatively clean washroom.
The next morning, we started for Joshimath on this Khatara (uncomfortable) bus. It was full of pilgrims intending to visit Badrinath, which is quite close to Joshimath. Both of us have motion sickness and have no option but to get zonked on Avomine.
The Journey Begins in Earnest
The journey was the usual bus journey with a lovely view of the river Ganga, stops at Dhabas for lunch and tea, the aching limbs, and the fervent wish that we may soon reach the end. Most of the time, because of taking Avomine, we both fell asleep and missed the view.
This bus had the particularly sharp edge (I kept my tracksuit top on it) where I rested my hands on the window and I hit my head on the seat in front so hard a few times that I had small bumps (blame it on Avomine induced sleep) till two days after.
We Liked their Philosophy
When we travel, we never book a hotel in advance or decide on a trekking agency to use. While we were walking to a hotel with huge rucksacks (and shoes tied to them), a young guy asked us if we were here to trek?
He pointed out Grand Adventures to us and we were sold on their punch line: ‘Where you come from is not nearly as important as where you are going!’ We liked their philosophy and decided to give them a try. They gave us good rates and ultimately we trekked with them.
Our guide’s name was Sohan Singh Bisht (Sonu and I recommend him highly as a guide) and not only is he an excellent guide but an excellent cook too, a much appreciated quality by both of us! He along with our two horsemen (young lads really, of 18-19 years of age) told us many fascinating stories. And by the time we reached Joshimath, the rains had completely disappeared. We really had a sunny trek this time.
The Ropeway To Auli from Joshimath
The starting point of our trek was Auli, and one can take a jeep to Auli from Joshimath, but that would have meant Avomine and being zonked again. So, we decided to take the ropeway along with Sonu.
We were quite scared that the state government authorities would not let us take so much of luggage on the ropeway but they were really nice and helpful. I have high praise for them for treating us with a lot of consideration.
Our horses were waiting for us in Auli. We started quite late on the first day but it really did not matter, as we covered a very short distance.
We walked barely for 45 minutes when our guide told us we would be camping for the day. Our guide helped us pitch our tent and then took over the kitchen!
Very soon we realized we had forgotten to bring the sugar. But our guide, with the help of the young lads, managed to get it from some village. As I said earlier, Sonu cooked excellent food and we feasted throughout this trek.
On the second day we started trekking in earnest, and we camped at the base of Kuari Pass. We decided to sit there idle for one day, as the views were fabulous. Usually, people camp at Chitrakanta, but our guide took us further probably to compensate for the little walking we did on day one.
We got the most wonderful views from the Kuari Pass base.
An Ambitious Goal
After sitting for one day we were raring to go and our guide set us a really ambitious target. We had to reach Pana (skipping two campsites along the way), and even he was anxious as to how long we would take.
We started at seven in the morning and crossed Kuari Pass and continued walking on and on and on… We walked for nine hours that day and even the locals were surprised that we managed to cover all that distance in one day. We feasted on maggi in the evening before dinner and this was the most tiring day of our trek. The day after this was moderate and we camped at Jhinji.
From Jhinji, we again had a long day, a walk of 8 hours. I thought people would be quite convinced that I could do this walk as I had done the nine-hour day without any complaint. But it was not to be.
Teaching H a Lesson
By now, our rations were really getting light and H kept joking that if I couldn’t walk, then I could sit on a horse and complete the trek! He also kept harping on how playing TT (I play table tennis almost daily) can never keep me fit. The guide also chimed in a few times with H. I decided to teach H a lesson.
When I walk on a trek my head is usually in the trees, flowers, hills and peaks or the stream that is flowing by. But on our walk from Jhinji to Dhuni, I kept it firmly on the path and I started with my former athlete tread and then I did not stop much (a lifetime ago, I could run ten kilometers without too much sweat). We climbed two hills that day to reach our destination and H kept struggling to keep pace.
We took a small break and after he reached there panting, much later (OK, maybe not that much later, but still after me) I told him he could use the horse if he felt like it. I also asked for his opinion on table tennis again and it had changed considerably in that short span of time!
Our walk downhill was a really tough one as the road was full of loose stones and believe me, “itne pathron per tou mein jindagi mein kabhi nahin chali hun” (I have never walked on so many stones in my entire life). Even now my knees hurt.
Picking up Litter on Kuari Pass
Kuari Pass trail is not that littered but both H and I try to pick up as much plastic as we could along the way but sometimes we were just too tired to bend down one more time or go after a piece that was off the track. We burned it at the camp later. If you have a better suggestion to deal with the plastic problem, do drop in a comment.
The last stop on our trek was quite close to a village where the kids have a favorite hobby: they hang around the campsite and just sit and stare at you! Quite unnerving if you ask me.
The last day’s walk was relatively easy and we soon reached the road head and were once again back to reality.
Oh! and if you trek through Kuari Pass, the villagers consider you either Ungrez (Foreigner! imagine me, dark and sunburned on top of that, being mistaken for a foreigner) or a Bangali (Bengali, which is far from true, but at least West Bengal is in India). For the local people think no one else treks!