Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 0: Nainital to Didihat
Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 1: Didihat to Dantu
Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 2: Dantu
Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 3: Dantu to Munsyari
Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 4: Munsyari to Lohaghat
Kumaon Wanderings : Darma Valley – Day 5: Lohaghat to Nainital
Today was when the things were going to get tough. Keeping that in mind I started early from Didihat. Waking up by 0530, I was out riding by 0600.
Map for the day
First off the hunt for a good place to photograph the Panchachuli peaks. Fortunately the morning was clear. There ain’t many places in Didihat to get a great view of the snowy peaks. Finding a small opening between two houses, I took a few pictures and then left the town towards Askot. First rays of sun hitting the Panchachuli Peaks
At Malli Mirthi there as an intersection and I asked for directions. I was promptly shown a shortcut to Askot. Pretty soon the road turned into a narrow trail and I wondered whether that was the right way to go. Eventually, the road opened up into a beautiful pine jungle – just the kind I love.
The beautiful pines on way to Askot
Nanda Devi from the Askot shortcut
The shortcut enters Askot through a narrow lane and then joins the Pithoragarh-Dharchula highway just below Askot.
The road is nice and wide. Here I turned towards Jauljibi.
Bridge at Jauljibi Jauljibi tea shop
At Jauljibi, the Gauriganga river meets the Kali river. It is also the location of a famous Jauljibi Mela held in Nov every year. In the olden days the mela used to be a place for trade between India/Tibet/Nepal. With new avenues of trading, the importance mela for trade is reduced. Still the mela is visited by thousands of people from surrounding villages.
I stopped for a cup of tea. Could not find anything to eat as all shops other than this tea stall were closed.Kids walking along the Kali river on their way to school
From Jauljibi, the road follows the Kali river to Dharchula and beyond. The river separates India and Nepal. At places there are hanging bridges to connect the two sides. I would not be surprised if some people stay on one side and work on the other side. Such is a nature of artificial lines between countries.
Sprawling town of Dharchula
The town of Dharchula was much bigger and wide spread than I had expected. The name of the town has an interesting origin. From Wikipedia: “The name of the town originate from the Runglo words for Darchyo (White colored Holy Flag erected outside every house of local community traditionally) and la (an honorific term in local language) because earlier only the darchyo / white flags were visible when seen from far away.“
The road to Tawaghat mostly bypasses the town of Dharchula, passing through the slopes above the town on the Indian side. This also enabled a panoramic view of the town spread across the two countries. A waterfall on the Nepal side of the Kali river valley Man, machine and nature. A bridge being build between Dharchula and Tawaghat.
Post Dharchula, the road narrows with large stretches of unpaved road. It was like a forewarning for what was to come ahead as I turned into the Darma Valley from Tawaghat.An old man and his grandson waiting for a jeep at the junction of Tawaghat
At Tawaghat, as I turned left into Darma Valley, I knew the going to Dugtu/Dantu was going to be tough. So I looked for something to eat. However, there was hardly any shops or stall for food.
Nap point selfie.
It was almost four and a half hour since I has started in the morning. Wanting a longer break, I took off my riding gear and stretched out on a parapet on the side of the road. In no time I had drifted off to sleep amidst the sound of chirping birds and falling water. A tunnel near the dam on Dhauliganga river.
The short nap had an amazing effect and I no longer felt tired. It was what I needed for the bad roads ahead. The views were perfect and it was a pleasure riding in that environment. Hanging bridge over the Dhauliganga river A villager walking to across the hanging bridge Over the hanging bridge. The road did not cross the bridge. Got onto this just for the picture.An overloaded jeep on its way through Darma Valley. The red dot on top of the jeep is a person.
Being a remote area, there was hardly any vehicular moment on the road. The first jeep crossed me more than an hour after I entered the valley at Tawaghat. I would only see four vehicles and three bikers (who I believed eventually turned back) in the valley.Village house at the Sobala
Most of the morning, the sky has been partly cloudy. While I was concerned about not having clear visibility of the peaks, the beauty of surrounding more than compensated for it.
Waterfall on the road Autumn Colors over a mountain stream
While the surroundings were beautiful, the road was horrible with multiple large and small water crossings. Navigating a small downwards slope, I misjudged the speed and descent, resulting in the bike skidding and a fall. The ego was hurt more than any physical injury. So finding a beautiful spot near a stream, I stopped for a break.
The stream cascaded down the rocks amidst the yellow, orange, red and greens of autumn. Just sitting there listening to water roaring down the rocks was heavenly. I wish I had stopped longer. However not knowing how far my destination was, I started off after a short break.First view of the valley below Dugtu/Dantu villages
Little did I knew that within twenty minutes, I would have my first glimpse of the valley below Dugtu/Dantu villages. As I entered the small valley, clouds started rolling in. What luck!!
Pretty soon I was at the Dugtu Village. There are a few houses and a small shop. The trail to Phanchachuli basecamp starts from here.
At the shop I had tea, packet of chips and biscuit which I shared with a black stray hanging around.
A little later an overloaded jeep showed up. Along with the locals there was a couple visiting just like me. The wife for some reason had an expectation that there would be a fancy restaurant where the jeep stopped and they would be able to have a nice meal. Probably they had started off after breakfast from Dharchula and now it was late afternoon.
Disappointed she was taking out her anger on the tea shop owner. All he had to offer them was tea, chips and biscuits. Only choice being the choice between salty and sweet biscuits. The interaction between the two was a source of uncomfortable amusement for all others waiting for their tea to be served.
I, having arrived before the jeep, already had my hot glass of the tea in my hand. Eventually the stray jumping to catch the biscuits, I offered him, came to everyone’s rescue and broke the altercation.
Asking around for a home stay, I was told that the home stays are in Dantu village which was a short distance ahead. So with a glass of warm tea and snacks under my belt I pushed off for the last stretch. The other two tourists planned to walk to the base camp and stay there.
Village of Dugtu (pic taken from Dantu later)
The small stretch was to be more difficult then I expected. Turning the corner after Dugtu, I found the bridge over Nyuli Yangti, river which flows down from the Panchachuli glacier, under construction. The flow of the river was good and the bottom of the river wasn’t visible to predict the route.
I stood there exploring my options including going back, parking the bike at the shop and walking to the base camp. Then the jeep that had dropped off the two tourists came from behind. The driver, of course knowing how to navigate through the river, plunged the jeep into the river. Half way though the waters, he strategically turned right and soon was out on the other side. It was a sight to capture which I missed due to being focused on learning how the jeep was crossing the river. The guy sitting on top of the jeep motioned his hands to tell me that I should do the same.
Now it was my turn. Fortunately (or unfortunately) I missed the fact that was water of the river was coming off a glacier melting just a little distance up stream. In my mind I knew what route to take and where to make that sharp right turn.
And I started off. The moment I hit the water, the cold shocked me. Everything till the calf went numb. For a moment I lost focus and braked hard. I did remember to keep revving the bike. The last thing I wanted was to have water enter the exhaust. The moment passed, senses regained and I ploughed on. The bike stopped again behind a big boulder and I had to push back with my feet in the water to navigate around it. My boots were now full of freezing water.
Remembering where to turn, I made the final push to cross only to realize that water was much deeper on the other side. By now I was wet well above my knees. Though deeper, the river bottom was more level on this side and within seconds I was out on the other side.
All wet and freezing, the last hurdle was crossed.
Nyuli Yangti River from the other side. This picture was taken next day morning when I came down to study the flow and strategize my return crossing. The small patch below the slope on the left edge is where the road enters/exits the river.
Shivering I emptied water from my boots. There was no sun, hence the option of drying the clothes was not there. Moving ahead, I stopped at a shop below the village of Dantu, which was just around the corner. The village was further up and the small shop was open. The jeep that crossed before me was just leaving. The shopkeeper surprised me when I asked for a home stay. The village was empty. Everyone had gone to Jauljibi for voting in the panchayat elections. He did add that many of the villagers were expected that evening but he wasn’t sure when they’d show up.
By now the cold socks, shoes and pant was numbing my legs and feet. I decided to walk around while I contemplated what to do. The options were to wait for the villagers to come, sleep in the shop or return to Dugtu and walk to the base camp.
Prayer flags at the Dantu Village
With numb feet, I started walking up to the village. The Panchachuli was were all shrouded amidst clouds, but I could imagine how beautiful the view would be. The village was all locked up. Looking at the way some of the houses were locked, it did not seem that the villagers were planning to return before summer.
Locked up house a Dantu
Walking down to shop, I prepared myself for the freezing river crossing back to Dugtu. I did not expect the villagers to return.
As luck would have it, the moment I descended to the shop, a jeep showed up. And voila, everyone that got off the jeep were residents of Dantu. Checking for a home stay, they consulted among themselves and allocated me to one of the houses.
Foolishly, I asked to see the house, not knowing that they all would pretty much the same. So back I walked up the hill to the village. The house I was allocated to was at the far end. It looked good and the host quite friendly.
The room was nothing fancy. A typical hill house with cattle on the lower floor and rooms on the upper. There was a mattress on the floor and few thick quilts. The low roof had wooden pegs to hang clothes. There were no plug points and the LED bulbs wee powers though solar batteries.
I asked for help to bring my saddle bags up and a neighbors son walked down to the bike with me.
My room with clothes hanging to dry. Behind the green tarp are the stairs downwards.
After taking my bag to the room, I got rid of the wet shoes and socks. Changing into something dry, I went out to have a glass of sweet tea. Sitting in the courtyard I chatted with my host. There were four people living there in the family – host, his wife, daughter and brother. The other kids were off studying in Haldwani.
After a while I went back to my room and dozed off tucked into the warm quilt.
Denu – brother of my host at Dantu, lighting up a fire to warm me up.
It was dark when I woke up. There was a fire burning and I brought my shoes out to dry. A friend of the family joined. He had just retired from the Uttarakhand health department and was planning to repair his ancestral house at Tidang. That day he was stopping at Dantu before proceeding to Tidang on the next day.
Over fire we swapped stories and then headed inside the kitchen for dinner. Dinner was a cosy affair, sitting on the floor next to the fire where food was cooking. Menu was roti, rice, potato/green beans, ghee and spicy chutney. Having only eaten a packet of biscuits and chips during the day, I wolfed down whatever was served.
Dinner in the kitchen
After dinner, as I went out to go to my room, I realized that the sky had noticeably cleared up. So I headed out behind the village and was amazed at the perfect view of Panchachuli glistening in the moonlight. Standing in the cold, I was mesmerized by the beauty of the mountain.
A few pictures later, I was back in my room. My host’s wife came by to check if I was comfortable and covered me with one additional quilt.
The long tiring day had gotten me to where I had been wanting to be for the last month or so. I dozed off to a content sleep. Panchachuli under the stars.
Pictures from next day:
Milky WayMy home stay