Saturday, 26 December 2009

Cow Pats and Quagmire


India; October 3rd; Day 12; Maddu; 2941m

Trek: 5hrs 30mins starting at 8.29
Low: 2941m at 14.39
High: 3682m at 11.48
Descent: 851m
Ascent: 665m


Woke up early and walked up to the ridge and the Temples to photograph the sunrise. It was good, but not as good as yesterday.


Came down in time for breakfast and let the sun dry the tent before setting off. We walked down through the village first and then ascended through some woods. It was a beautiful morning and the trail for most of the day was along a gently rising ridge before a descent to the campsite. The views from the ridge were superb and we could see in all directions.


After a few hours we all collected together at a high point for a short break. The ridge continued but by this time the clouds were rolling in to obscure the views. Eventually the rain came and I was forced to put on my camera away and don my rain gear for the first time whilst walking.


The trail continued to fall and rise until eventually I came to the pass. I could see Keith far below on the steep zigzagging path. The descent was difficult at it was wet and some sections were through patches of loose stones. It went down and down to cross a small stream before climbing steeply again, in short spurts, to reach another pass.


I stopped to put my rain gear away and get my camera out again before starting another difficult descent. It was muddy and slippery. The trail re-entered the forest now - mostly rhododendrons and birches - and continued to descend around the mountain. Eventually the trail burst out of the trees to reveal a campsite. Keith and James were waiting here.


A group of orange tents were already pitched here and after we’d had some of our packed lunch some hikers arrived from the opposite direction down the hill. It looks like their wont be enough room for both parties to camp.

We walk down to chat to them. They are French and doing a hike to the religious sites of Kedernath and Gangotri in 7 days. After a glass of hot lemon which they give us we leave having been told that there is another campsite only 2km further down the hill. As we leave it starts to rain. We can’t argue the case for sharing the camp as our porters have already gone. I suspect that the guides from the French group have pulled rank (caste) on our porters and told them to move on. Our guide is still behind us somewhere. As we leave it begins to rain.

The descent from here continues through the forest on a track which is stony and slippery. You have to watch every step.

After more than an hour, and probably more than 2km, we find the porters waiting beside a shit strewn cowshed next to a shit strewn bog. It doesn’t look promising as a campsite! They are convinced that this is where we should stay though no-one really knows. Our guide, Ajay, is not here and we find out later that they had difficulty finding all the mules this morning and spent a lot of time looking for them!

When Jim and Adriana arrive we discuss whether or not to continue. Of course we don’t know if anything better is nearby. It seems no-one can make a decision. then the skies open and a downpour begins. We are forced into the stinking cowshed to shelter. keith remains outside for a while trapped sheltering under a tree. We attempt to get comfortable in the cowshed as it continues to rain. Inside the roof leaks in many places. The smell is rich with sweaty wet bodies and cow shit.

Eventually Ajay arrives and considering the lateness of the hour - we’ve been waiting a couple of hours - and the weather decides that this is where we will stay. We will have to pitch our tents on a very soggy bog and make do as best we can.

In a lull in the rain the porters go out and pitch their tents in the quagmire. We follow and put our tents up on the sodden hill-tops between the cow pats.

Everything is damp including my sleeping bag. I lay in my tent as thunder rumbles around. It’s a picture of cold, dark, damp misery! Eventually dinner was ready and this simple fact raised our mood. The red Mess tent was awash underfoot. After dinner the rain was still falling and we had to make a dash across the bog to our own tents.

I found rain in my tent and a sleeping bag that was getting more sodden by the minute. It wasn’t a very comfortable night as the rain pelted down for hours and hours. I did manage to get some sleep though in between cursing the French!