Seema to Har-Ki-Dun
It was the day to visit Har-Ki-Dun! We were up early, and expected to leave by 6 am. But things did not go as planned, for a number of reasons. Some of it was related to the poor infrastructure at the GMVN guesthouse. There was no running water, and this delayed not only Bahadur and his men, but as us as well. It is hard to be productive in extreme cold. One generally yearns for hot water/chai to start the day. Due to the water situation, Bahadur couldn’t prepare breakfast on time as well. When we finally packed and left, it was 7 am. The sun was out and the weather was great. As usual, my wife and I left first. We crossed the bridge that connects Seema to the village of Osla and beyond. Osla is towards the left, while our destination is towards the right. The bridge looked well constructed, but immediately after that was a bad patch. We had to navigate through some large rocks, which was irrigated by a constant trickle of water. It was an upward climb, and by the time we scaled this path, Bahadur had caught up with us. It was treat to watch him tread the same path as we did, but with much more ease. He eventually overtook us while we paused to catch our breath. Any ascend was a stress-test on our hearts and lungs.
After this challenging stretch, we reached a well paved mountain path that seemed flat for as far as our eyes could see. This boosted our spirits, and we also came across locals from Osla who were on the same path, walking towards fields. The mud trail ran through a relatively flat stretch of valley, and parallel to the river. On one side was the river, and on the other, parts of the land was in cultivation. The villagers were friendly, and also mildly amused by us. I am not sure how many of them had even seen other parts of India, especially big cities from were strangers like us come from. During small talk with one of the ladies, we were offered porter services for a fee. I was carrying my camera rucksack, and my wife had a small day pack. The lady said she would come with us to Har-Ki-Dun, and return the same day to Osla. I was surprised because it was the first time I heard of someone capable of doing a round trip to Har-ki-Dun from Osla in one day. However, a little later, one of our porters told us that some trekkers don’t stay in Har-Ki-Dun, but instead do a round trip in a day from their base camp at Osla. Osla offers camping opportunities, and is preferred for those carring their own tents. Seema is good only for the good-for-nothing GMVN guest house. To us, visiting Har-Ki-Dun in a day sounded like making a round trip from Bangalore to Chennai. The ladies made it sound like a round trip from Bangalore to Mysore. However, this didn’t matter to us as long as we were on the flat stretch that we were enjoying currently. In fact, at one point I was a little optimistic of doing a round trip myself.
So the thing about trekking in the Himalayas is that as soon as you start feeling all mighty, the mountains soon show you who is mightier. Ahead of us was this steep ascend, and to get to the base of it, we had to cross a stretch that had recently been affected by a minor landslide. This stretch was only about 100 meters, but one wrong step and we would go sliding down with the rock and dirt to the river below. On the bright side, this fall didn’t look fatal. Maybe only requiring an airlift due to broken bones. But we had the lovely ladies of Osla for company, and they encouraged us to follow them confidently as they showed us how to cross broken bridges and steep cliff-sides like a boss. However, once this feat was accomplished, they decided to
carry on, probably to achieve the aforementioned feat of making a round trip to Har-Ki-Dun in a day. They soon disappeared around a bend, and just
as we were about to follow them, Bahadur shouted from higher ground, indicating that we had to climb up, instead of walk straight. So we started to walk up, taking small easy steps and using the walking sticks for support. In about 20 minutes that we took to reach the top of the mountain, we used up most of the energy that we had gathered from breakfast. But here we were, much higher from Seema, and just a little closer to Har-Ki-Dun. It felt great! Two more mountains, and we would reach our destination. Our porters spoke encouraging words and overtook us. The time was 8.30 am.
The beauty around us was overpowering. The intangible reward of beautiful sights after a tough climb is probably best received by city blokes like us. I wondered what the locals, and men like Bahadur think of the Himalayan beauty. We were now away from the valley, and in high open Himalayan ground. To a distant we saw beautiful snow-clad mountains. There was fresh snowfall just above Seema as well. Pine, cedar and other alpine trees dotted distant mountain sides. My wife indulged in a mountain peak identification exercise with Bahadur. Seema was still within visible distance, but not for long. Soon, we were to make a complete left turn to leave all sights of civilization behind to hike towards Har-Ki-Dun. We had one more challenge ahead of us, and this time the magnitude of it was very much measurable. This is how it looked:
I had a fruit or two and started the ascend. It was tiring, and mostly due to exhaustion. I was hoping my body could run on solar energy. We were well past the tree-line, and the bright Himalayan sun beat down on us. We look like ants, on the side of the humongous mountain. We finally made it up after an hour and a half. The sights from this height were even more rewarding. The air was cooler, and mild breeze teased our tired bodies. It really felt like heaven! We were told that the toughest part was behind us, and I believed this naively. Just as we were to make the final left turn, we were greeted by two locals coming down with a horse. They turned out to be the Har-Ki-Dun GMVN manager, and his man-Friday. The manager, a pudgy man wearing traditional attire looked a little funny. The two were going back to Osla, as no tourist had turned up at Har-Ki-Dun, as yet. I began to make some calculations to make sense of this. Do much capable trekkers and local ladies leave Osla by 7 am, check-in at Har-Ki-Dun by 11, and return home by sun-down? How else could the manager have a cut off time of 10 by when to expect trekkers at the GMVN guest house? And here we were, at 11 am, still half way through.
We finished our check-in formalities at the mountain side. Over conversation while entering details in the register (the man did not know how to write), we inquired about the weather at Har-Ki-Dun. Like most mountain people, he answered in riddles. The wind was blowing strong as we spoke, and I feared that the manager’s pen would go flying into the deep valley next to us. The horse was impatient, and one snort and my hat would probably fly away as well. I was not looking down into the valley, thanks to my vertigo. But we had to complete the formalities. I optimistically said we would stay at Har-Ki-Dun for two days. Why not? The weather was great where we were, and we had covered all the distance to enjoy exactly this. Bahadur even paid the manager the requisite amount. The manager in turn asked the boy to accompany us, and we bid farewell. I was careful to stand on the side close to the mountain, and let the horse cross over from the side close to the cliff-edge. And in the process, we had to brush against each other. Yes, that was exactly the width of the path.
From here on, to Har-ki-Dun was an exercise in patience. The GMVN house keeper mentioned to Bahadur that we had to pay extra for firewood, but our guide confidently replied that his men would collect the required materials from around. This statement meant that even Bahadur wasn’t aware of what was in store for us. But currently, the scenery changed dramatically after we first crossed an alpine forest. The hard part was mostly behind us, although we were just too exhausted to feel this welcome change in effort. At the forest, we saw a bunch of vultures feeding off a dead animal at a distance. We were told that this was the kill of a Himalayan tiger. The prey was most likely a horse, belonging to one of the locals. The remains was just a bunch of bones, so we couldn’t tell. I liked the sound of tiger, and hoped to see one. I reckoned that Himalayan tigers wouldn’t be man-eaters, and I would get a few rare photographs in exchange to making this encounter. Unfortunately, we never came across any tigers. Just beautiful sights, and lots of birds enjoying the same. We were so engulfed by the beauty of the place, that we presumed that we were already in Har-Ki-Dun. I had read a lot about the famed beauty of the Gharwals, and the place we were in matched what my imagination had cooked up.
Unfortunately, Bahadur and his men were nowhere in sight, and we just continued walking, hoping to find the GMVN guest house sooner or later. We knew that the GMVN guest house was the only sign of civilization beyond Osla. There are no villages or settlements after Osla. But for almost two hours of hide-and-seek, we never found GMVN. Because we assumed that we were already in Har-Ki-Dun, we were walking slowly and taking photographs. However, we soon had to leave the beautiful valley behind, and start ascending in search of the elusive GMVN guest house. A few more steps ahead, and lo, behold! In front of us was a huge patch of snow! I was totally unprepared for this. There were no footprints or trail in the snow. I did not know which direction to take. Exhausted and feeling lost, I decided to just continue straight. But the snow was slippery! We had to take calculated steps, and it was all upward. Luckily, two of our porters saw us from ahead, and gave us directions. They had disappeared when we got there, and ahead was more snow. The path was such that we couldn’t see too far ahead due to
huge rocks blocking our view. We just kept treading on, and shortly later we saw a tiny guest house at a far distance.
This was it! The guest house was at the base of a huge mountain. This sight was majorly dramatic. The tiny GMVN guest house and nothing but huge mountains, glaciers and a frozen river beyond implied that we were in the middle of nowhere. The snow was deeper here, and luckily for us another porter came with an ice pick to rescue us. He dug
out a path, as we slowly walked to ensure we don’t slip and slide away into the cold stream that was flowing by the side. After about half an hour of walking this snow trail like on a tight-rope, we reached the guest house. There was no way we could explore what lay beyond Har-Ki-Dun without the necessary equipment – ice picks and snow chains for our shoes. It was breathtaking, overwhelming, and extremely disappointing all at the same time. To add to my woes, my shoe started falling apart after I hit the snow trail. A grand arrival, this was.
Inside the guest house, the cold was biting. The problem with cement structures is that they trap the cold inside. We chose to stay in the dorm, because the deluxe double bed room did not have a working toilet. All this and the thought of not being able to move in any direction without the help of someone with an ice pick made us feel crippled. But here we were – at a destination that was totally nothing like what we had imagined. For better or worse, this was mother nature again showing us to accept things for what they are.
The co-ordinates of Har-Ki-Dun as per MotionX GPS app on my iphone is as follows:
|Latitude:||31º 09′ 12″ N|
|Longitude:||78º 25′ 51″ E|
This is different from what Google Maps shows up when you search for GMVN Guest House. I guess whoever recorded the coordinates did not do so correctly. Below is the correct location (green arrow):