A glimpse of Eden

A glimpse of Eden


A glimpse of Eden

Nupur sista treks up to the Milam Glacier and to the base of Nanda Devi east peak, a divine spectacle of nature that is often referred to as Shangri-La.

Shortly after my return from a trek to Hampta Pass in Himachal, I was suffering the usual heartache of wanting to head right back to the mountains, when I chanced upon this book titled Nanda Devi: Journey To The Last Sanctuary, penned by Hugh Thompson, an accomplished climber.

He spoke of two legendary mountaineers of the early 1900s, Eric Shipton and Bill Tilman, finding their way through the impenetrable gorges along the Gori Ganga river, into the outer and inner sanctuary of the inaccessible Nanda Devi mountains. With peaks at heights of 20,000 feet all around, they effectively seal off the Nanda Devi mountains that nestle in its midst, also called by many as the ‘Shangri-La’, or even ‘The Lost Eden’.

It takes at least a day or two of road travel to get to the starting point of a trek in most places in North India. Especially Uttaranchal, where the road travel takes up almost 40 hours, that is, about two days. A conservative estimate, if you have no disasters like a puncture or a road block due to falling rocks, heavy rains or any other unforeseen calamity.

We reached Almora in the wee hours of the first day. At around 2 am, we located a lovely lodge, slumped ourselves and our bags for a quick nap. After a quick breakfast in the morning, we were on our way to Munsiyari. The roads got narrower on the hilly sections and the twists and turns became more frequent. We spotted our first mountains covered in snow in the distance.

The following day, while ponies and permits were being organised, we hopped onto jeeps with our backpacks and drove for about 40 minutes or so to the starting point at Selapaani. After two days on the bus, we were eager to hit the trail.

Sights along the way

We walked through thick forests, water falls and deep gorges with the Gori Ganga to our right. The walks were arduous. We walked along a narrow ledge with a formidable rock wall to our left and a sheer drop to the right leading straight down to the Gori Ganga, accompanied by strong winds seemingly trying to blow us off our path.

The gorges eventually gave way to large valleys leading towards Milam village. We saw herds of sheep grazing, and seemingly uninhabited villages consisting of a few houses in the valleys as we got closer to Milam. There were rickety bridges, large and small, to cross over the Gori Ganga along with other rivulets that joined in. The water here seemed to be in a grand hurry to go wherever it was heading. The mountains, covered in snow, were a sight to behold. The high snow-capped peaks peppered the route throughout. The remaining days were spent walking through lush green forests with birds singing themselves silly. Our cooks kept us sane on the long days by whipping up some amazing food throughout. Along the way, at every campsite, there were ITBP (Indo Tibet Border Police) camps.

The officers were friendly and helpful.We finally reached Milam village. ‘Mi Lam’ means “Man Road” in Tibetan. This used to be a hub of activity until 60-odd years ago, when it was once a part of the ancient trade route between India and Tibet. The dilapidated houses and deserted villages en route are visual remnants of a prosperous past, a time when these traders transported salt, wool, animals and other trading goods across India into Tibet and back. Now, practically uninhabited, most of the old houses lie in ruin as they were abandoned when the Indian army was first stationed in these regions, during the Indo-China war. Today, the army presence is strong in this region. For now, civilians are not allowed beyond the landslides that lie just before Milam Glacier.

We got views of Nanda Pal and Nanda Gond, both covered in snow. Our guide suggested a stopover at Beiju on our way back so we could see the Nanda Devi twin peaks the following morning. Beiju was a ghost town, very windy, with not a soul inhabiting the houses. The next morning, views of Nanda Devi were magnificent with a halo above the right peak that kept changing shape. It almost looked unreal.

Right at the tail end of the trek, from Railgaadi to Munsiyari, it began to rain and hail. On our last evening in Munsiyari, the heavens decided to open up and offer us some mindblowing views of the Paanchuli mountains on the horizon along with the setting sun, which was absolutely breathtaking.

To say that it was a wonderful experience would be a gross understatement. The mountains were our constant companions. I’m already missing them and hope to see them soon, once again.

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