Tuesday, November 29, 2011

The Roaring Mountain

Kavitha Reddy

Roaring winds from Mt. Nanda Devi (East) were crashing into the tent at Camp-1 at 5,200 masl. One strong blow would take the tent down 300m onto the other side of the ridge. Ice axes, three-feet-long snow stakes and walking sticks that were used to anchor the tent loosened in no time. I used all that there was in the tent to hold down the three corners and stood firmly at the fourth, knowing within that I was losing ground and had to get to safety, abandoning my tent, backpack and other essentials. Suddenly, I heard Bharath and Takpa, rushing to my rescue as they kicked down the anchors deeper into the snow and held on to the tent for the next 45 minutes till Nanda Devi calmed down.

Locals believe that Nanda Devi Range is one of the most powerful and dangerous ranges in the Himalayas, and hence offer prayers to her to ensure that her fury does not bring doom. For mountaineers, peaks in the Pindari Glacier have always been most challenging, given its inhospitable terrain and highly unpredictable weather conditions. But Pindari Glacier is also one of the most beautiful regions, and our quest to climb Mt. Nanda Khat (6,611 masl) started from Loherkhet.

The trek from Loherkhet to Pindari (the glacier has receded in the last two decades) is a 50km stretch of scenic beauty. The trail traverses through huge rocky hills on one side and lush green hills on the other, while the Pindari River gushes right below. The several waterfalls that join river Pindari at the base add to its attraction. The rich forest cover on both sides of the river houses an amazing assortment of flora and fauna; birds like the Eurasian Jay, Rose Finch, Snow Partridge, Snow Dove and Fly Catcher are found in abundance.

Even though the Rhododendron flowering season was over, there were still some pink patches contrasting with the lush green surroundings. Dakuri, our first camping site gave us a 180-degree trailer of the snow covered peaks like Maiktoli, Cream Roll, Sunderdhunga Col, Panwali Dwar, Bhanoti, Nanda Devi and its outer sanctuary ridge.

As we hiked up and down the hills crossing Khati, the chirping of the birds and the sound of the pleasant breeze were drowned by the roaring river. Tiny Brown Dippers entertained us for a while but the sound of the river was too loud to be ignored. As we reached a place called Dwali where the water flowing from Kafni and Pindari Glaciers meet, it was a different world all together. In fact, the enormity of the water was so much that the hills on both sides became invisible.

As we moved to higher altitudes, trees and shrubs were replaced by grass and the trail opened into meadows covered with bright yellow buttercups and different colors of Potentilla.

One disturbing factor to this serene landscape was the visible threat of excessive grazing by over 4,000 sheep. In addition, shepherds set fire to the dried grass and Juniper shrubs as birds fled screaming, abandoning their nests, little ones and eggs, laid in the grass. It was a heart breaking sight. This very grass held the top soil together, which would now erode causing landslides.

Every expedition, every summit attempt may not be always successful, but what drives a mountaineer to these mountains again and again seeking new challenges is the sheer love for them. These mountains bring out the best in you because they make you realise how small and insignificant we human beings are. And that we have no right to change or destroy their beauty for they are unique as they are.

For a true mountaineer, surviving the cold, facing challenges, and climbing through tough terrain is not a sport but an ‘attitude’ towards life. And so is a natural protectiveness towards these giants that are home to our rivers, lakes and wildlife.

Kavitha Reddy is a qualified mountaineer, Adventure and Outbound Learning Professional and an Associate Member of Indian Mountaineering Foundation. She can be reached at info@basecampindia.com

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