True Solitude - An Independent Trek to Pindari Glacier

2nd Oct 2016

From L to R: Pindari Glacier, Changuch & Nanda Kot

Photo of True Solitude - An Independent Trek to Pindari Glacier by Rohan Bhasin

Pindari Glacier, which rests in the Kumaon region of Uttarakhand, India, offers a degree of solitude and peace that probably no other popular trek does. It may not be as littered with picturesque landscapes as other getaways but for someone who is bogged down by the monotony & immense weight of urban life & looking to re-connect with their inner selves and in-turn with nature, then this is possibly the perfect trek in that regard.

Besides the solitude, which was what I cherished the most, one gets an opportunity to see some breathtaking vistas too. Firstly, as the name suggests, the trek offers an up-close view of the Pindari Glacier itself, which feeds the Pindar river that accompanies you along the length of the trek, along with some magnificent peaks of Kumaon Himalayas like Panwali Dwar, Nanda Khat, Changuch & Nanda Kot, which are all six thousanders.

In October of 2016, I along with a friend trekked the 60 km distance to the Pindari Glacier Zero Point & back, in our maiden trek & below is a travelogue detailing our experience. I hope this helps you plan yours.

Day 1

Our trek began from Almora (1650 mt) , my hometown, around 1 pm as we headed to Bageshwar for the night. The plan was to spend the night in the K.M.V.N (Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam Ltd) rest house & start the trek the following day. Its a 3 hr drive from Almora to Bageshwar covering around 75 km. We managed to reach Bageshwar around 4 pm & headed straight to the K.M.V.N guest house. There we spoke with the caretaker & he advised us to take an early morning jeep to Kharkiya. Kharkiya happens to be the last motor-able point along this route from where the actual trek begins. He was kind enough to arrange a jeep for us & promised that the jeep would pick us up from the guest house itself. With the jeep booking out of the way we checked into our room. The room did not offer much in terms of amenities. There was a basic double bed, two chairs & a table. The sheets provided were not the cleanest but the loo was satisfactory. There was a geyser & we were quite happy with that. We paid around 800 for the night.

After checking in we went out to explore the town of Bageshwar. Bageshwar (975 mt) is a typical non-touristy town. The usual hustle & bustle of life can be seen here. The town is not the most gifted in terms of views but having chai along the banks of the river Saryu, which runs across the valley of Bageshwar, was to our mind a good way to spend an evening,

After strolling across town we picked up some Rum & ordered room service which was basic but tasty food. We chatted the evening away & shared our excitement since this was the first time we were trekking & had consciously decided to do it on our own without the help of a guide or porter.

Since we were on our own our bags were on the heavier side, weighing 22 & 15 kg respectively. We could not split the weight equally due to one bag being smaller than the other. The contents of the bags were food packets, rum, warm winter wear, water bottles, medicine box, rope, batteries, torch, headlamp, mobile phones, power banks, cameras, tent, sleeping bags, rain covers etc. Also, I was not carrying the most comfortable and light-weight clothing. I had not spent on light-weight gear at all & instead was carrying normal trousers, cotton t-shirts, heavy puff jacket, waterproof running jacket, and a passable back-pack. Now, one key advise to anyone going on their first trek is to never wear cotton shirts while trekking. I was stupid enough to wear them along with a cotton vest. The end result was that both the t-shirt & the vest absorbed my sweat & turned very hard & left permanent marks on my back as the weight of the 22 kg back-pack pushed them down & thus bruised my skin. This one little mistake caused me immense discomfort & was probably the one lesson I will never forget. Do not wear a cotton vest while trekking & invest in good quality quick dry t-shirts.

We slept by 11 pm that night since the day was going to start quite early.

Packing the night before leaving Almora.

Photo of Almora, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin
Day 2

The next morning we were up by 6 am. We showered & washed & re-packed our bags & put on our trekking gear. Looking at one self in the mirror with all that trekking gear gets you so pumped. We were ready. True to his word, the jeep was at the door at 7 am.

The route to Kharkiya is a 4 hr drive covering around 100 km. It started raining the moment we crossed Bageshwar. We took a pit stop at Kapkot which is on the way to Loharkhet, the actual base camp for this trek. There are two ways of going about the trek. The first is to start the trek from Loharkhet itself & reach Dhakuri which is an 11 km hike. Camp at Dhakuri & the following day trek down another 9 km to Khati village. The other alternative, which was the one we chose, is to drive till Kharkiya & then trek 5 km directly to Khati village, saving yourself a day. Though, I may add, my friends took the alternate route when they did the same trek a year back & vouch for the fact that the view from Dhakuri Top is the best one on the trail. So, chose accordingly.

We spent an hour at Kapkot having breakfast while the taxi driver got more passengers. The road from Kapkot to Kharkiya is quite treacherous. Its not the most comfortable journey, but the eagerness of starting the trek gets you through the discomfort.

We reached Kharkiya by 12 noon & started the 5 km trek to Khati (2210 mt). The route is a gradual decent for about 2 km followed by a straight path & an eventual climb of 2 odd km. Now, since this was the first time I was trekking & add to it the heavy weight of the bag, I have to say I was very slow & feelling exhausted with every step. It was quite a challenge to finish the 5 km trek. Eventually, we did reach Khati around 4:30 pm.

Khati is probably the most beautiful village I have seen till date. You are welcomed into the village with step-farmlands, traditional kumaoni stone houses, laughing children & all this is framed with Mt. Nanda Kot in the background. It is quite literally a fairy tale village. Unfortunately for me, I was too damn tired to enjoy this scenic village & instead headed straight to the K.M.V.N guest house which is a little climb at the end of the main village. There, I happened to meet a family friend who runs a beautiful resort in the town of Binsar & is a frequent trekker himself. He was there with the employees of Hans foundation, a non profit organization working towards improving the quality of life & education in an around the village of Khati. He was helping set up a satellite linked office for them to work out off. Apart from offering us free dinner & countless cups of hot tea, he also helped us get a spot in the veranda of the guest house to pitch our tent as it had started raining by then & the guest house was already fully booked. I was thoroughly moved by the kindness shown to us, especially when I was nearly exhausted from the trek.

Before dinner we chatted with the employees of the Hans foundation who were mostly men & women in the 20's. They were from the Bangalore & Delhi offices and had spent close to a month recceing places around the village. I was fascinated that their job gave them the opportunity to travel to such a quaint place & to be honest I was a little envious. Nevertheless, I was very thankful to them for having taken the initiative to improve the lives of the people of the village since being from the state, I have seen how tough life in the hills is.

After a sumptuous dinner of dal, rice & veggies, we bid goodbye to our hosts. Post a night cap we dozed off, rather uncomfortably, since we had never ever slept in a tent or sleeping bag before.

A lovely Home-stay en-route Khati village

Photo of Khati, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

The picturesque village of Khati

Photo of Khati, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin
Day 3

The following morning we got up late owing to the poor quality of sleep. We were up at 8 am & took an hour to get ready, pack the tent, sleeping bag & the back-packs. Around 9 pm we were all packed & headed to have some breakfast but by that time our hosts from the previous evening had left. The only person left was the caretaker who informed us that he had run out of food & could only offer us tea. So, having sipped the tea we started the trek on an empty stomach but full hearts.

Today's trek would take us along an 11 km trail that was an eventual downhill trek to the Pindar river. From there the path would curve up & then straighten out. It would then take us to the river bed of Pindar again since the actual route was waylaid in the 2013 disaster that wreaked havoc across Uttarakhand. Our destination for the day was the small village of Dwali (2575 mt).

By the time we reached the Pindar river, which by our calculation could not have been more than 2 km from Khati, I was drenched in sweat. This is surprising because the weather was cold & it was drizzling the entire way though the path was protected by dense forest cover. We did stop at the river but did not take a dip owing to the cold weather.

After a short break we started again & trekked across the forest till we reached a small clearing & the forest began again. The route did not offer much scenic beauty as it was mostly under dense forest cover which was drenched in the rain.

I have to add here that along this entire 11 km stretch we came across only 4 people. 2 trekkers making their way down & two locals. Besides that there was not a single living soul we met. For someone who had spent the good part of the year shuttling between Delhi & Jaipur, this was a very welcome change. The solitude and the rhythmic walking calmed me down so much & just opened up my mind. From constantly thinking about deadlines & reports I was now able to focus on all the small things around me - the hushed sound of river, the ruffling of leaves, raindrops falling off the trees, the crushing sound of leaves as we stepped over them & the sound of my own, rhythmically beating heart. I was in a different place mentally.

By the time we reached Dwali it was 5 pm. We had been walking for almost 9 hrs. We were immensely tired & famished. Apart from dates & raisins, we hadn't consumed a single morsel of food. Also, the cotton t -shirt had done its damage. My back was burning up. I was in no shape to camp that night so instead we took 2 beds in the K.M.V.N bungalow for 500 per bed. We changed into dry & warm clothing & I asked my mate to spray Volini on my back as I incorrectly assumed it was muscle pain from carrying all that weight & since there was no electricity in the village my mate was unable to see the flesh wounds on my back.

After settling in we went straight to a tiny tea hut. We had eggs in maggi & it was heaven. Now, Dwali is a tiny village with barely 3-4 huts, a K.M.V.N guest house & a P.W.D guest house. There were barely 4 people besides us. It is perched on a little flat ground above the river bed. Owing to the fog we were unable to see the views around us & given the cold & exhaustion we were in no condition to explore.

At the tea shop we met 2 other trekkers who were climbing down post a successful summit. They turned out to be our seniors from school & we just sat there chatting with them. Dinner came & went and the conversation just flew by. Eventually, fatigue caught up with us & we headed back to our beds & had a very pleasant & restful sleep.

The forest path en-route Dwali

Photo of Dwali, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

The Pindar river en-route Dwali

Photo of Dwali, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

One of the many waterfalls. En-route Dwali

Photo of Dwali, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin
Day 4

The following morning we woke up around 6:30 am & were greeted by the sight of the snow covered Nanda Khat. It was mesmerizing. Such sights give you the much needed push to carry further & bear the discomfort.

After soaking in the sights we got packing. Today, we were fortunate enough to enjoy a breakfast of aloo parantha & chai. It was a perfect start to the day as the weather gods were kind too. The sun was shining brightly. We started the trek at 8:00 am after saying goodbye to our seniors.

The camp for today was the village of Phurkiya (3260 mt) which was 7 km away. The route was again through forest cover but a little less dense & much more sunny. We enjoyed this day & went about in a steady pace soaking in the sun. Again, I have to point out we came across only one local villager walking down. Other than him we did not cross any other person. We eventually reached Phurkiya by noon.

Phurkiya is a village consisting of one K.M.V.N bungalow with a small kitchen & an abandoned old house. Besides that there was no other structure visible. It is on one side of a ridge & can barely be called a village. Once here, we took off our bags & started to dry our wet gear in the sun. We had eggs & maggi for lunch post which the weather turned foggy again. It got quite cold very quickly. We had at least a couple of hours before sundown. We pitched our tent in a corner behind the abandoned house & used it as cover from the wind because Phurkiya was very windy. We dried our gear inside the abandoned house & it worked out well, saving our stuff from rain which started shortly after we had pitched our tent.

We spent the next few hours in the tent chatting, joking & listing to good music. At dinner time we sat in the kitchen hearing the stories of the 2 caretakers. Joining us in the kitchen was a Korean trekker & his local guide. Through the thick plume of the cooking fire I could see the satisfaction & joy in everyone in the room. Somehow, in this wilderness there was peace & happiness that money cant buy. It was a priceless moment marking the end of this day.

A small glimpse of Nanda Khat as seen from Dwali

Photo of TRH Phurkiya, Bageshwar, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

A small rainbow forming against a waterfall. En-route Phurkiya

Photo of TRH Phurkiya, Bageshwar, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

A dense fog settling in at Phurkiya

Photo of TRH Phurkiya, Bageshwar, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

The tiny tiny village of Phurkiya

Photo of TRH Phurkiya, Bageshwar, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

The kitchen of K.M.V.N guest house

Photo of TRH Phurkiya, Bageshwar, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin
Day 5

The next morning we were blessed with clear weather & Nanda Khat shone in the sun rays like a glittering pearl. Perfection is what nature creates & men try to emulate. This sight personified that statement. Breakfast & sad goodbyes later we started for the final climb to the much awaited Zero Point. 5 km away from Phurkiya, Zero Point lies at 3600 mt above sea level. The pathway to the top spot is a pleasant one.

We cut across a small patch of forest and were welcomed by a small meadow. We took a moment to appreciate this view & then headed up. Along the way we saw the two mighty mountain peaks - Nanda Khat & Panwali Dwar. They were layered in snow & the pristine blue skies just added to their grace. We came across wild horses & waterfalls. This was the most beautiful day of the trek & we were lucky to have had the sun shining through out the entirety of the climb.

Finally, we arrived at the Zero Point (3600 mt) around 11 am. The Pindari Glacier stood out with the snow resembling a swollen river. To its right was the magnanimous Changuch. Words fall short to describe this view. In the middle of this awe struck moment we realized we were all alone & the only ones to be camping here today. Across from us was a stone temple built by the man famously called Pindari Baba. This solitary monk came here at a young age and established a temple at the base of the glacier. He has worked tirelessly for over two decades establishing schools & imparting education & employment to the locals through his solo philanthropic work. It is remarkable what he has achieved & he is indeed a living example of what a driven individual can accomplish.

True to the stories we had heard the man was very humble. He invited us in and offered us tea & pooris & spoke to us at length about the causes he has worked on. He then guided us where to pitch our tent so that we may get some respite from the winds.

On his advise we camped behind a small stone hut. Then, we went exploring the sights around. The drizzle had started but we were unfazed. We went as far as the route took us. It was serene & overwhelming at the same time. We had the place completely to ourselves.

Babaji gave us a cooker full of pulao & pickle. It was a delicious meal. We sat outside the tent as long as the cold allowed us & were taken back by the beauty of the night sky. It shone so bright. Such sights make you believe in existence & make you realized how trivial everything else is. Finally, when the cold was too much to bear we headed in & dozed off with smiles on our faces.

Nanda Khat as seen from Phurkiya

Photo of Pindari Glacier, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

Panwali Dwar & Nanda Khat en-route Zero Point

Photo of Pindari Glacier, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

Valley view en-route Zero Point

Photo of Pindari Glacier, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

Panwali Dwar & Nanda Khat

Photo of Pindari Glacier, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

Pindari Glacier

Photo of Pindari Glacier, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin
Day 6

The next day we were up at 6 am. We soaked in what would be the final sight of the exquisite peaks & glacier. Packed & ready we said goodbye to Babaji & headed back down.

Along the way my friend & I got into an argument about what our destination would be for the day. While I insisted that we camp at Phurkiya my mate wanted to push down to Dwali. We couldn't have chosen a worse time for this as we were trekking across a path that had been destroyed by the landslide & the only way across was to walk laterally with our chests to the rocks. The anger just made this bit worse.

We reached Phurkiya by 11 am & I was ready to settle in but my friend insisted we trek down to Dwali. I got so mad that I started walking down & told him I would only stop at Khati now, bringing the total trekking distance to 23 km. As we neared Dwali my mate tried to cheer me up & wanted to stop at Dwali but my rage wouldn't have it. In my anger I had already twisted my ankle & then like an arrogant child I refused to have lunch.

We walked & walked & my pain got worse & worse. Yet, my ego was too proud to show it. I went on with rage on my face. Finally, having started the day at 8 am, we reached Khati by 6 pm having trekked for 23 km & 10 hours.

When we reached Khati I could barely take one more step. I threw my back-pack away & my back felt like someone had lit a fire on it. My poor friend took all my attitude without a fuss. I was in no position to camp & since everything else was booked, we managed to convince the cook of a restaurant next to the P.W.D guest house to offer us a room in his house for 700 bucks. The moment I stepped into the room I took off the wet clothes in a hurry as the cold & fatigue had gotten to me. After putting on the dry & warm clothes I layered myself with quilts & blankets. After 20 minutes or so when I was warm enough I asked my friend to inspect my back. He took a look & told me that there were major bruises on my back & the pain relief spray had made them worse. While I stayed in bed like a diva my mate arranged for dinner.

The dinner calmed me down as did the fatigue. I was too tired to be angry so gave in & went to bed.

Morning view of Pindari Glacier

Photo of Khati, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

Mt. Changuch as seen from Zero Point

Photo of Khati, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

Packing the tent with Pindari Glacier & Changuch in the background

Photo of Khati, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

View on the way back from Zero Point

Photo of Khati, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

Views views & views

Photo of Khati, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

Wild horses & Himalayan peaks

Photo of Khati, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin
Day 7

The next morning we were finally able to relish the beauty that is Khati village. We had our morning tea while enjoying the panoramic scenery of the village. Had we not been broke we would have definitely spent another day in Khati or trekked further to Dhakuri Top. Alas, our finances got the better us. After breakfast we trekked back another 5 km to Kharkiya. We took a jeep to Bageshwar. After a small lunch at Bageshwar we took a taxi to Almora. The journey back made us forget the silly fight & it dawned on us that we had just completed our first solo trek. It was a proud moment for us. We soaked it in & started chatting again like nothing had ever happened. This is is beauty of old friends. There is so much space for forgiveness & compassion. We reached Almora by sundown & had a hot shower the moment we entered my house.

It was a trip that hooked me & made me a trekker for life. Little did i know that this maiden trek would start a hobby that would eventually become a yearly thing. I urge you all to taste the pleasure of solitude & scenery that Pindari has to offer, albeit with a better attitude than mine.

Feel free to hit me in the comments section for more info. Cheers!

Nanda Khat & I having a vain moment

Photo of Almora, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

Horses & Himalayas

Photo of Almora, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin

Final glimpse of Mt. Nanda Khat

Photo of Almora, Uttarakhand, India by Rohan Bhasin