Escape to the Himalayas Part 2

We travelled by car to the second part of our trip and stopped on the way in Bageshwar for dinner in a hotel by the Saryu River. After 8 days of vegetarian food we all ordered a chicken curry, it was very good. We stopped and bought fruit, biscuits and kit kats for our next weeks trekking.

We had a hair raising 2 hour car journey along narrow mountain paths and we had to push the car up a couple of bits where there had been landslides slipping and sliding close to the edge.

The scenery was breathtaking. We arrived in Supi at 3 in the afternoon and met our guides Lokash and Balwant and moved into our new guesthouse which was the prettiest so far.

We sat around all afternoon reading and chatting, had dinner which was very good and then a good nights sleep. It was incredibly cold, the hot water bottles helped.

We walked around the other parts of the village which has 500 people and is the biggest we have been to. We are the first tourists of the season and we sent women and children scuttling away giggling with our Namastes.

We started after breakfast walking to the top part of the village, a 3k walk up. It was a fantastic view. It is also much higher than Binsar at 2100m we felt it in our lungs. My nose bleeds when I am high up. We came back down for lunch, the food is a lot different here we had spaghetti, slightly spicy, rice with cabbage and some fruit. In the afternoon we explored the main part of the village with the oldest house, built in 1701. The woodwork was beautiful. The villagers are friendly and shy and hardworking. The women carry huge chunks of rock with a band on their heads and ropes around the rocks and flip flops, they are incredibly hardy folk. There are a few new stone houses being built and the women are the labourers earning very little for backbreaking work.

We went to a newly built community centre built by Village Ways to teach the women to sew, they have 20 sewing machines. The bags they make are sold and the women get a small amount, it is a great project. They had an order for 1500 bags from an American company, it’s going well.

The women also get a very efficient stove for cooking if they join the group, a good incentive. We like Village Ways as they put a lot back into the community. They have also started a health and wellness course for all the women which includes hygiene and child care.

I wasn’t looking forward to the 1000 step walk the following day. It was brutal, right along an open mountainside but we made it to a viewpoint and watched Himalayan vultures and Kestrels rising with the thermals leaning over a huge flat rock for a better view.

We thought it couldn’t get worse but there was at least another 1000 steps after these, almost as vertical. My legs felt leaden and the altitude was making us all feel breathless, but it was worth it.

We arrived at the guesthouse in Jhuni found our rooms and all had a nap after lunch. They are very friendly and brought us copious amounts of chai and biscuits. It is 2300m and by 3.30 became very cold. We all put on thermals, hats and as many clothes as we had. The villagers lit the fire in the dining room, we were ready to eat and looking forward to hot water bottles. We are almost always in bed by 9.

On a walk around the village the guides were explaining it was a very wealthy village. They have 2 crops; caterpillar fungus which is a fungus that attaches itself to caterpillars, a parasite that kills its host and grows out of its body. They harvest it from the mountains when the snow has gone, 4000m up and they sell to the Chinese via the Indian Government for a million rupees a kilo. They also grow marijuana!!

They use the marijuana for making ropes (the stems) and they produce some of the best hashish in the world, I am reliably informed!! It’s the last inhabited village in India until you get to the Tibetan border. It’s awesome. The food in Supi and here Jhuni has been the best on the whole tour. We had kidney beans, spinach and potato, rice and chipati, delicious. We asked them if they made alcohol and they said they did from barley. Very kindly they brought us some after dinner, we all slept well that night.

I wasn’t really looking forward to the hike up to Jaikuni camp at 3100m. We were the first walkers this season and the snow had just gone. The guides assured us it would be ok, we could go slow and it was. We went slowly especially as we got closer to the top. Our lungs burned and legs were heavy. It was a hard climb the last bit through ancient oak and rhododendron forest.

There were lots of gnarly roots and stone steps and rocks to negotiate but as we reached the top it was spectacular and well worth it. The forest becomes very dark and dense closer to the top and then voila a big open meadow and our campsite. The tents were bigger than we expected, more like big safari tents with a bathroom. The toilet was housed in a separate small tent, a long drop.

Being with 2 Boy Scouts, Chris and David, we hunted for wood and built our own big campfire before the stove was lit in the dining room. It was very cold. We had about 8’’ of bedding and a hot water bottle, ice on the ground at 7am but an awesome view of the whole Himalayan range of mountains. That’s why we came on this trip. Words don’t do it justice.

We had breakfast and set off at 9. Only 2km uphill and 9 down a relatively easy walk, 4 or 5 hours, we carried our own lunch which we did everyday. As always on these trips it’s the people who make it special. They are kind, generous, shy, friendly people as curious about us as we are about them. They live an incredibly simple rural life and can teach us a thing or two about hard work and being happy with family and what you have in life.

We are now in a village called Dhurr for 2 days. Time to wash a few clothes and relax a little. We only have a few days left and time has seemed to stand still. I am trying to soak it all up, I really don’t want to leave.

We went on a walk down to the bottom of the valley and the Pindar River. The river comes from the Pindari glacier and many many kilometres downhill flows into the Ganges. We crossed wobbly iron bridges and went right down to the waters edge sitting on huge rounded boulders.

The flow was immense and must be a wide raging torrent in the monsoon. We walked 3 miles downhill and then we had to come back up. We all found it extremely hard in the midday sun and after lunch we refused the afternoon village walk and all went back to bed.

The last day is a walk mostly downhill to the last village we stay in called Karmi. It takes 4 hours. We arrived at the guesthouse to big smiles and home made lemon soda. We ate the contents of our tiffin boxes and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon. We have walked 60 miles over 12 days of the 16 day holiday. People say I am like greased lightning on the descents and a sloth on the way up but we got there in the end.

Watching the children play in these villages, whoops of joy as they chase each other or you see 4 or 5 kids high up in a tree shouting ‘good morning’ is a real joy.

They don’t seem to have toys or balls to play with and definitely no iPads or anything our kids do but they all seem incredibly happy and playful, fit and healthy. How different it is to our kids at home. Complaining, overweight and worrying how many likes they get on their latest Facebook post. Worrying they haven’t got the latest trainers, barely leaving the house. It just shows how superficial our societies values have become; the irony that I am writing this on an iPad is not lost on me!!!! We could learn a lot from these village kids. Most of them look a bit grubby with a tatty woolen hat and jumper and repaired flip flops (unless they are going to school and then they look pristine) and best of all, huge endearing smiles. I know it isn’t all beer and skittles and there are many hardships but they live in a fantastic natural environment and are healthy and happy in extended loving families.

We have so far seen 75 species of birds. There are 6 different woodpeckers, many types of eagles, vultures and many other unusual and colourful birds. The animals are more elusive but we have seen the odd glimpses of wild goats, barking deer and evidence of leopards and porcupines. Black faced langur and rhesus macaque monkeys we saw often in the trees bounding around and lots of lizards basking in the sun. I have run out of superlatives for this place, it’s brilliant.

If you wanted to meet beautiful, friendly, shy, hard working people and walk in stunning mountain scenery. Eat home cooked and home grown vegetarian organic food. Be totally disconnected from the internet and electricity (quite often) but have simple and warm accommodation then this experience is for you. I cannot recommend it enough. It’s called:

VILLAGE WAYS; THE COMPLETE HIMALAYAN. You would not regret it. It’s not anything close to 5 star and it is physically challenging but it’s the most rewarding and authentic thing I have ever done. It’s been an experience not a holiday.

On the last morning lying in bed and watching the pale sunlight filtering through the thin curtain, listening to the birdsong and the distant barking of a dog across the valley I realised how much I would miss this beautiful place. The chattering of the family in the kitchen, the pounding of the spices for the morning sweet, spicy chai and the faint whiff of woodsmoke will stay with me forever, I will come back.

The last day we walked up to the road and had a five hour journey back to our original starting point of Khali Estate for one night. We then parted company with David and Ingrid who carried on to Delhi for their flights and journeys back to the U.K. and Norway. We still have 10 days in the mountains before we return to Delhi and go home.

We are going to stay in Kasar Devi for 8 nights only a few kilometres from Binsar. In the 1960’s Bob Dylan, Allen Ginsberg and Timothy Leary spent a lot of time there just chillin’ and that is exactly what we plan to do. Tune in, turn on and drop out. Woo Hoo.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

-Mark Twain

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