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MAJOR EXPEDITIONS TO THE INDIAN HIMALAYA IN 2009

The best news of the year 2009 is that Indian government has opened 100 new peaks for climbing!  Though the notification came in early 2010 the process was undertaken throughout the year 2009. It is almost after 17 years that a number of peaks have been  opened to climbers.  All the peaks are in Zanskar and Ladakh area. Many of them are along the road which runs Kargil-Sankoo   to Padam.  It passes Panikhar, Parkachik, Ringdom, Pensi la to reach Padam.  South of this road lies several smaller  valleys which are on watershed between Zanskar and Kishtwar. The peaks lie in these valleys like Gelmothungos, Chilung, Durung Drung, Hagshu and Nun and Kun peaks, both above 7000 m were open but now many other approaches to these peaks are possible.  Lingsarmo, 6955 m, a high peak in the Nun-Kun massif is now open. In Shafat glacier peaks opened include  Rungofarko I, (6495m), II (6395 m), Chilung nala: Chiling Pk I  (6253 m) and II (6349 m), Hagshu valley peak 6515 m and in the Durung Drung valley peak 6485 m.  Moreover due to the road passing at mouth of these valley one has to get off from transport and cross the Suru river or Doda river to set up a base camp. Peaks are not more than two days away, thus allowing to be climbed in very light style, economically and almost changing base camps by road.      

Some photographs were published in the Himalayan Journal vol. 65  and complete list of 104 newly opened peaks with co-ordinates and map references is available.  Zanskar any one ?

In 2009 there were  64 Indian and  37 Foreign expeditions to India, bringing it to a total of 101, one of the largest number in recent years.  However many Indian expeditions were to peaks that have been often climbed (Satopanth, Chhamser Kangri) and many  foreign groups were commercially organized trip to well known peaks, including  Nun and Kun.  Stok Kangri retained its record as most climbed 6000 m peaks in the world with added tag of one of the dirties base camp seen (or smelling) anywhere !

In Garhwal one of best climbs was of Mukut Parvat (7242 m). This high peak on border with Tibet was climbed a French team, which is also significant as a team of foreigners was allowed to climb a peak on the border.  Martin Moran solved the challenge of Changuch (6322 m) rising above the Pindari glacier. Many teams in the past and even in 2009 failed, sometimes causing deaths, where Moran, an expert on the Indian Himalaya now, succeeded in making a safe first ascent. Indian team climbed Deoban (6852 m) and the leading Slovenian alpinist Marco Prezelj with two young climbers, climbed Bhagirathi II (6512 m) and III (6454 m) in the Gangotri glacier. They climbed south and southwest faces respectively in alpine style.

Sikkim was also opened to allow a British team to attempt Kellas Peak (6680 m). Though they did not  ascend the main peak, party reached Kellas Col (6380m), a snow saddle on the border ridge south of Kellas Peak  and climbed an unnamed peak of 6252 m.  On nearby Tingchenkhang (6010 m) tragedy struck a Mumbai team soon after the ascent of the peak. A freak fall killed two young climbers while two badly injured Sherpas with them were rescued.

In the eastern Karakoram two high virgin peaks were attempted in adjoining valleys. An American, British Indian team attempted Saser Kangri II (7518 m) Eastern peak. While an American-Indian  team attempted Plateau Peak (7287 m). Both attempts reached half way up their respective  mountains.

Both leading oragnisations in India had new Presidents. Ramkrishna Rao  former Director General of ITBP was elected as President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, while a leading Indian mountaineer Col. Ashok Abbey took over reins of the Himalayan Club.

A leading Himalayan artist Serbjeet Singh passed away during the year. He has left behind a legacy of many paintings. He was painting at Zozila pass in Kashmir as a war artist when Indian guns were firing on Pakistani troops. He produced several sketches of the Himalaya based on maps which were remarkably true to reality.

The young Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdulla was present at a well attended seminar organized in association with the Himalayan Club at Leh. His attention was drawn to various aspects of environment pollutions in the Ladakh region. Later the Club presented  him a detailed proposal for improvement. It is hoped that serious attention will be paid to this as the pollution is killing tourism too.

And finally,  the Indian Himalaya was severely effected by changes in the Himalayan weather and one can use the cliché that only certainty about the weather was its uncertainty.  The dry spells had effect of villagers psyche too. The villagers of Langja in Spiti were always suspicious about weather being affected by the mountain rising above their village which had a romantic name Chau Chau Kang Nilda – “Blue Moon in the Sky”. This year the villagers stopped at three expedition from proceeding to this mountain as they believed this was effecting the  crops.  A curious effect of Global Warming !

Both leading oragnisations in India had new Presidents. Ramkrishna Rao  former Director General of ITBP was elected as President of the Indian Mountaineering Foundation, while a leading Indian mountaineer Col. Ashok Abbey took over reins of the Himalayan Club.

A leading Himalayan artist Serbjeet Singh passed away during the year. He has left behind a legacy of many paintings. He was painting at Zozila pass in Kashmir as a war artist when Indian guns were firing on Pakistani troops. He produced several sketches of the Himalaya based on maps which were remarkably true to reality.

The young Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir, Omar Abdulla was present at a well attended seminar organized in association with the Himalayan Club at Leh. His attention was drawn to various aspects of environment pollutions in the Ladakh region. Later the Club presented  him a detailed proposal for improvement. It is hoped that serious attention will be paid to this as the pollution is killing tourism too.

IMPORTANT  EXPEDITIONS TO THE INDIAN HIMALAYA,  2009

SIKKIM

Kellas Peak (6680 m)

Team: British

Leader: Jeremy Windsor

For the first time in more than 75 years a party of climbers obtained permission to retrace the footsteps of historic British explorers such as Douglas Freshfield, Alexander Kellas and Frank Smythe, visiting the mountains in the north west tip of Sikkim.

Graham Hoyland, Mark Lambert, Anindya Mukherjee, George Rodway, Dukpa Tsering Sherpa, Phurba Sherpa, Thendup Sherpa and Jeremy Windsor, a team that had received an Alpine Club grant and BMC approval for its innovative venture, headed north from Gangtok by 4WD to the district capital of Lachen, then on to the roadhead just beyond Thangu.

With the help of the Indo-Tibet Border Police and a number of bemused yak herders, the party moved west across the Lugnak la to the Lhonak valley, then made a series of camps up valley in an attempt to make the first ascent of Kellas Peak (6680 m) on the Tibetan Border north of Jongsang (7462 m).

During the 1930 Kangchenjunga expedition, Gunter Dyhrenfurth, Frank Smythe and other members had named this shapely mountain after the highly prolific Scottish explorer, Dr Alexander Kellas.

Kellas, who visited the mountains of Sikkim from 1907 to 1921, made a prodigious number of climbs in the region and in 1910 completed no less than 10 first ascents over 6000 m, including 7125 m Pauhunri in northeast Sikkim, at that time the highest summit in the World reached by man.

Through his professional interest in chemistry, Kellas became an authority on the effects of high altitude on the human system, and questioned whether Everest could be climbed without the use of supplementary oxygen.

In 1921 he explored approaches to Kabru (7338m) to the south of Kangchenjunga and returned to Darjeeling just a few days before joining the first British Everest expedition. Sadly, during the approach through Tibet, he suffered a heart attack and died.

One of the great British mountain explorers of the time, Kellas was a retiring character, who most often climbed with local Sherpas and, unfortunately, wrote almost nothing about his mountaineering experiences.

This autumn Jeremy Windsor's party was able to reach Kellas Col (6380m), a snow saddle on the border ridge south of Kellas Peak first reached by Alexander Kellas during one of his unsuccessful attempts to climb Jongsang. Members of the party also made the first ascent of Pt 6252 m, but frequent avalanches and difficult hidden crevasses put them off making a serious attempt on Kellas Peak.

However, the expedition was able to identify a large number of attractive unclimbed peaks in the Lugnak, Muguthang and Lhonak valleys, which should attract mountaineers for many years to come providing access to this area remains possible.

 (Lindsay Griffin)

Tingchen Khang (6010 m)

Team: Indian

Organisers: Chakram Hikers, Mumbai.

Leader. Mangesh Deshpande

A team of five mountaineers was on an expedition to attempt this peak in the Sikkim Himalaya. On 19 October, Mangesh and Sekar along with two Sherpas reached the summit by 1.30 p.m.  After descending around 100 m on the slopes below the summit, they slipped and fell about 50 m. Both the members were fatally injured and died. Sherpa Mingma and Sherpa Ang Dorjee were also severely injured. On receiving the news of the accident, rescue operations were launched with the help of local government authorities, high altitude Sherpas and military authorities. The remoteness of the area and weather conditions made the rescue operations difficult. Both the Sherpas were evacuated by Indian Air Force helicopters and were subsequently admitted to the hospital and survived.

UTTARAKHAND

 

KUMAUN HIMALAYA

Nanda Devi East (7434 m)

(1) Team: Polish

Leader:  Jan Lenczowaski

Since the first ascent of this peak in 1939 by a Polish team the climbers from this country has a special affinity with  this high peak.

The 10 member Polish team established base camp at 4300 m in the Lawan valley. They followed the south ridge and put up Camp 2 at 6400 m on 22 May 2009. They reached 6900 m on the route. Constant bad weather, insufficient time and sickness of one member made them call off the attempt.

Changuch (6322 m)

(1) Team: British

Leader:  Martin Moran

Many teams had made attempts  to this unclimbed peak in Kumaun and some of them ended in disaster. At last the mountain selected its climbers and the six member British team was successful in reaching the coveted summit in the pre-monsoon season. After establishing their base camp at 4275 m in the Lawan Gad, ABC at 5150 m and the summit camp at 5800 m, they followed northwest ridge of the mountain. On 9 June 2009, Martin Moran with Robin Jarvis, Paul Guest, Leon Winchester with LO Ludar Singh reached the summit. They estimated the climb to be of technical grade Alpine – D.

They also attempted Nanda Devi east but too much snow, lack of campsites and illness of two members stopped their attempt at 6050 m.

(2) Team: Indian

Organisers: Mountaineers’ Association of Krishnanagar

Leader: Basanta Singha Roy

Unlike the British, the seven member team from West Bengal was not successful in climbing the peak.  They crossed Trail’s pass en route and entered Lawan gad from Pindar valley. They established their summit camp at 5640 m on 29 August on the northwest ridge connecting Changuch with Nandakhat.  Technical difficulties stopped the attempt at that point.

(3) Team: Indian

Organisers: Altitude High Adventure

Leader: Anit Sah

This 14 member Indian team also failed in the post-monsoon season due to bad weather and snowfall. They reached 300 m above their Camp 2, which was established at 5180 m.

Kalanka (6931 m)

Team: Netherland (Dutch)

Leader:  Michael Robert van Berkel

From Jumma, the 3 men Dutch team reached the base camp at Bagini Kharak (4400 m) on 19 August 2009. They reached ABC at 5000 m but could not proceed due to lots of snow. As a consolation, they climbed an unnamed peak (6505 m) near their base camp on 21 September.

GARHWAL HIMALAYA

GANGOTRI AREA

Bhagirathi II (6512 m) and III (6454 m)

Team: Slovenian

Leader:  Marco Prezelj

The well-known super alpinist from Slovenia visited Garhwal Himalaya with two young climbers, Rok Blagus and Luka Lindic in the post monsoon season of the year. They climbed both the peaks in alpine style. Bhagirathi III was climbed by southwest face and all the three reached the summit on 22 September 2009. Bhagirathi II was tackled from its south face followed by south ridge and all the three climbers stood on the top on 01 October 2009.   

Kedarnath (6968 m)

Team: Italian

Leader:  Giordani Maurizio

On 12 August 2009 all the eleven members of this Italian expedition successfully reached the summit of this high peak in the Gangotri glacier. They followed the traditional route from their base camp at Tapovan.

Meru Shark’s Fin (6450 m)

Team: Slovenian

Leader:  Silvo Karo

Another well-known name from Slovenia, Silvo Karo attempted Shark’s Fin of Meru with two friends, Andrej Grmovsek and Marko Lukic in August – September 2009. They established ABC at 5160 m. But they could reach only up to 5800 m on their intended route on the east face. Lots of snowfall called for the retreat.

Unnamed (6172 m) and Swachand (6721 m)

Team: Italian

Leader:  Giambattista Villa

This unnamed peak is located on the left bank of Swachand glacier having geographical coordinates latitude 300 47’ and longitude 790 11’46”. In August 2009, this a member Italian team followed the traditional path from Gangotri – Bhojbasa – Tapovan to Sunderban following the Gangotri glacier and established base camp at 4600 m. Bad weather stopped any further progress. 

CENTRAL GARHWAL

Chaukhamba I (7138 m)

Team: Indian

Organisers: Summiters, Kolkata

Leader: Satyajit Kar

This large team from Kolkata approached this high mountain from Mana. After reaching Bhagirath Kharak glacier, they established their base camp at Ghoracha (4200 m). Three high camps were established. Camp 3 was established at 6100 m above the icefall. They attempted north face and reached just 40 m  below the summit on 25 June 2009. Bad weather stopped them from reaching the top.

 

Deoban (6852 m)

Team: Indian

Organisers: Ordinance Factories Mountaineers & Trekkers

Leader: Samrat Basu

The nine members team approached Deoban located in the Amrit Ganga valley in the post monsoon season.  They established base camp at Eri Udiyar on the right bank of Amrit Ganga. Camp 3 was established on Upper Bidhan glacier and summit camp was put up at 6320 m. They started climbing northwest ridge and finally reached via the  west ridge.  Leader with Ashim Ghosh, Tapas Dey, Prosenjit Bagchi along with 4 high altitude supporters reached the summit on 28 August.

Mukut Parbat (7242 m)

Team: French

Leader:  Albrieux Lionel

The eight member French team approached this high mountain from Ghastoli. After entering Khati nala they reached the Pachhimi (West) Kamet glacier. They established base camp at 4800 m, ABC at 5300 m and the summit camp at 6500 m on the south ridge. They climbed the peak in alpine style. Leader with Cabane Damien, Giacobi Sebastien, Jourdain Didier,  Pellissier Emmanuel, Ms. Poitevin Marion and  Bohin Sebastien reached the summit on 2 October 2009 at 11.00 a.m.  Munoz Dimitry suffered because of acute mountain sickness and returned early from the expedition.

Mukut Parvat was first climbed by a New Zealand expedition in 1951, but from Dakhhini Chamrao glacier and NW  ridge. They had receed the west Kamet glacier approach before but  found it too challenging.  Sir Ed Hillary was member of the team and it was one of the reason why he was selected to joing the 1953 Everest expedition.

Ronti (6063 m)

Team: Indian

Organisers: The Natures’ Foundation

Leader: Debabrata Dutta

This seven members team approached Ronti from Wan following the route through Ranak Dhar-Gairuli Patal- Ali Bugial- Baidani Bugial- Pathar Nachuni- Kailubinayak- Baguabasa- Huniathar-Rupkund- Giunargali col reaching their base camp at Silasamudra.

They established Camp 1 at Dodang and then cross Bara Homkund. On 29 August they reached Ronti Saddle and finally the peak at 13.30 p.m.

HIMACHAL PRADESH

Fluted Peak (6159 m) in Losar valley, Spiti

Team: Indian

Organisers: Jadavpur University Mountaineering and Hiking Club

Leader: Atanu Krishna Pathak

The team of eight members approached the mountain from the Losar nala and established two high camps. On 27 June they reached under a cornice at 5800 m and could not proceed. The attempt was called off.

Indrasan (6221 m)

Team: Indian

Organisers: Tarit Memorial Mountaineering & Trekking Association.

Leader: Partha Majumder

A seven members team attempted this attractive mountain near Manali in June 2009. After establishing Camp 1 atop Duhangan col (5100 m) the team had to return as bad weather and excessive snowfall stopped the attempt at 5300 m on 12 June.

Menthosa (6443 m)

Team: Indian

Organisers: BEAS Sodepur

Leader: Amiya Sarkar

The seven members team followed Urgus nala and established two high camps on the mountain. From their top camp (5850 m), on 30 July 2009 they made an attempt to reach the summit. But a big crevasse at around 6005 m could not be crossed and hence they retreated from the peak.

Papsura (6451 m)

Team: Indian

Organisers: Bhadrakali Padatik

Leader: Prosenjit Mukherjee

This eight member team from West Bengal established base camp at 4500 m on the Tos glacier. They established four high camps and the summit camp was at 5850 m. From the top camp they reached 6100 m on the northwest face of Papsura. Bad weather and lots of snow prevented them from continuing the attempt. Attempt on nearby Devachen also foiled due to same reason. On 8 June, Arun Sen, Dipankar Ghosh, Rajib Bhattacharya, Soma Paul, Jyotilal Soren, Santosh Singh and Subrata Das reached the top of an Unnamed Peak (aprox 6000 m) via north ridge. This peak was located on west of their summit camp of Papsura.

Rubal Kang (6187 m)

Team: Indian

Organisers: Kolkata Trekkers Youth

Leader: Ashim Kumar Ghosh Chowdhury

This peak is located in the West Dibibokri glacier, and was attempted by an eight members team from West Bengal. They established two high camps on the mountain. From the top camp at 5836 m, Kakali Majumdar and Mohar Singh Thakur reached the summit on 27 August.  No Further details available.

Shiva (6142 m)

Team: Indian

Organisers: Climbers’ Circle

Leader: Tapan Kumar Mukhopadhyay

The peak is located in the Pangi valley of Chamba district. From Cherry village the team of nine members followed the right bank of Garotu nala and reached base camp on 27 July. They established Camp 1 (4800 m) on southwest ridge on an icy patch, Camp 2 (5400 m) on the broken west ridge and Summit Camp 95800 m) again on northwest ridge. They continued climbing the ridge and on 7 August, after crossing an icy hump, the leader with Sushanta Mandal, Laxman Singh Rana and Kendru Singh Rana reached the true summit.    

Unnamed Peak (6184 m) near Gangstang

Team: British

Leader: Jonathan Preston

The eleven member British team began walking from Darcha and after passing through Palamo and Doll established base camp at 4284 m. They established ABC at 5008 m and Camp 1 at 5606 m. Two members suffered because of acute mountain sickness and were brought down by the liaison officer and high altitude supporters. Other members continued the attempt. From summit camp, south face was climbed and on 05 October Leader with Robin Thomas, David Bingham and Benjamin Fry reached the summit. This was first ascent of this peak located at the geographical coordinates Latitude 320 49’25” and Longitude 760 58’ 91”. They have proposed to name the peak as ‘Sarasvati’. Their GPS showed the summit to be at 6165 m. 

Unnamed Peak (6060 m) near Karcha Parvat

Team: Japanese

Organisers: Tokai Section of Japanese Alpine Club

Leader:  Tsuneo Suzuki

This Japanese team of three members followed Karcha nala and set up base camp at 4420 m. Camp 1 (4700 m) and Camp 2 (5200 m) were established and on 18 July at 2.50 p.m. Ritsuyu Matsubara with 3 high altitude supporters reached the summit via northwest face. They proposed the name ‘Lower Karcha Parvat’ to this peak. 

EASTERN KARAKORAM AND LADAKH

 

Saser Kangri II (7518 m)

Team: Indian American

Leaders:  Motup Goba and  Mark Richey

The Joint Indo-American-British 2009 Sasser Kangri II Expedition included Indians Chewang Motup (co-leader), Ang Tashi, Konchok Tinles, Dahn Singh, and Tsering Sherpa; Americans Mark Richey (co-leader), Steve Swenson, and Mark Wilford; and British climber Jim Lowther. 

Our goal was to climb the east Summit of Sasser Kangri II. The west summit was climbed by an Indo Japanese expedition in 1984.  According to all our maps and information, the  east summit is higher and therefore should be referred to as Saser Kangri Main and would make it the second highest unclimbed peak in the world. 

Our expedition left the Nubra valley (3050 m) near the village of Tigur on 7 August.   Two days were spent hiking up the Chameshan Lungpa valley to the snout of the Sakang Lungpa glacier.  Base camp was established in a side valley on 11 August  above and to the southeast of the Sakang Lungpa glacier at 5180 m.  To reach our intended objective of the East (Main) Summit of Sasser Kangri II, we needed to cross over onto the South Shukpa Kunchang glacier which was the next valley east of  our base camp.  We made several acclimatization and reconnaissance trips up the unnamed glacier behind base camp on 12-13 August and established a camp on an unnamed pass above the South Shukpa Kunchang glacier at approximately 6000 m.  We dropped onto the South Shukpa Kunchang glacier on 14 August to explore the route to the base of the south face of Sasser Kangri II and then spent till 16 August  acclimatizing and exploring the area.

We returned to base camp on 16 August  in deteriorating weather and waited there until 24 August  when the weather improved enough to go back over the pass onto the South Shukpa Kunchang glacier.  We spent two nights camped high on the glacier at 6500 m to acclimatize and then returned to base camp on 27 August.  We received a weather forecast for at least a week of bad weather so we decided to hike back down to the Nubra valley on 30 August to rest for a few days at a lower elevation.  We hiked  back to base camp on 2 September  in still unsettled weather but with a forecast for clearing in a couple of days.

On 6 September  we climbed back to the pass in cold and windy conditions with only a forecast for a small window of good weather.  Because the weather window was not going to last long enough to climb Sasser Kangri II, we decided to use the opportunity to go up on the route for a day and reconnoiter the route and assess snow conditions.  On 7 September  we made an advanced base camp below the face and on 8 September  we climbed up the south face to approximately 6700 m before rappelling back down. The bottom of the south face is at about 6000 m and the map shows the east summit at 7513 m.  The face is all hard water ice and no snow so the lower slopes were all technical ice climbing.  The rock on SKII is high quality orange granite.  It is a safe route with nothing above you to fall on you.  There were a couple of ice cliffs on the left, but if you stay along the far right side of the couloir like we did then anything that falls from those ice cliffs is well to the left of you.  On 10 September  we returned to base camp to wait again for a better weather spell in which to try and go to the summit.

Bad weather kept us from attempting the peak again until 19 September  when we started up the face again with the intent of going for the summit.  We reached a good bivouac site earlier in the day at 6700 m  and spent the night there since there did not appear to be any good bivouac sites until a ledge system at 7000 m.  On 20 September  we climbed up steep ice slopes in the main gully system to where we veered to the right into some mixed climbing that would take us onto the major ledge system halfway up the face.  We had a poor bivouac that night on small ledges chopped out of the ice and we were not able to erect the tents.  On 21 September we made progress onto the large ledge system and established a better bivouac by spending nearly 4 hours chopping a ledge out of the ice.  That night it snowed and due to the poor, cold and windy weather we decided to descend on 22 September.  Climbing this high in late September was very cold.  We had nighttime temps of -13 to -17 C and highs during the day if we had sun of -5 to -9 C. 

We left base camp on 25 September  and arrived at the road in the Nubra valley that same day.

(Mark Richey)

 

 

Plateau Peak (7287 m)

Team: Indian – American- British

Organisers: The Himalayan Club

Leaders: Divyesh Muni and  Marlin Geist

This five member Indian American team approached this high, unclimbed mountain from the Sakang valley. No expedition was reported to enter this valley after 1985 Indian Japanese team to Saser Kangri II. They faced many difficulties in finding the route and ferrying the loads to their base camp near the snout of Sakang glacier at 4800 m. They established ABC at 5400 m on the moraines of the glacier and Camp 1 at 5760 m at the base of the wall leading to the col between Plateau Peak and Saser Kangri III. They started fixing ropes on the wall in turns and reached around 6600 m on 15 August. On the same day both the leaders with Rajesh Gadgil and Sudeep Barve reached the Sakang col (6100 m) overlooking North Shukpa Kungchang glacier. The weather turned bad and heavy snow followed. The team decided to retreat from the route due to threat of avalanches. They named the route ‘Dog Leg’ due to its shape.

On 26 August, Divyesh Muni with Rajesh Gadgil, Samgyal Sherpa and Mingma Sherpa completed a first ascent of Tsumzong Kangri (6010 m) in alpine style. The peak is located near the junction of Sakang glacier with its subsidiary glacier near its snout. One high camp was established and from there the climbers first followed north ridge and then west ridge to reach the summit.     

(Divyesh Muni)

Arunachal Pradesh

A Visit to Pemako, Arunachal Pradesh

In Tibetan Buddhism the importance of kora, or circumambulation, is immense.  The famous kora around Mt. Kailash and Manasarovar lake is a prime example. A kora of Takpa Siri at the head of the Subansiri valley in Arunachal Pradesh and Kundu Potrang in Tibet, a little to the north of the Dibang valley also in Arunachal Pradesh, are considered similarly holy. Over the years thousands of pilgrims have undertaken these koras, which entail considerable hardship even today. 

Often an entire region is considered holy ground, like Pemako, the area around the Tsangpo-Siang river. While no actual boundaries define Pemako, it consists of several valleys, peaks and rivers, now spread between Tibet (China) and Arunachal Pradesh (India). The concept of undertaking these journeys is to find the inner self   which only the hardship, coupled with strong faith can provide.

The wide Yang Sang Chu (river valley) near the McMahon Line, is part of the region of Pemako.   Literally meaning ‘the hidden valley’, it contains three pilgrim sites; Pemasiri, Ruitala and Dhanakosa, each on a high mountain ridge. Pilgrims, both locals and those from lower valleys visit between July  and October.  Now with roads all the way to Tuting the journey is much shorter and is further curtailed by a weekly helicopter flight to Singa, in the centre of the valley.   This approach may make it convenient to visit but it does not take away from the beauty, the hardship of final climbs or the holy spirit of Pemako.

My wife Geeta and I travelled across the Brahmaputra on a local ferry, always an exciting prospect and an experience one should not miss. We first drove to Menchuka (via Along), which is to the west of the Siang and from where the other major river, the Siyom originates.   The long drive was rewarding with large villages to begin with and thick forest in the later part. Menchuka is a wide valley and surprisingly the centre of the valley is clear of thick forest, open enough to allow large planes to land. The ancient Samden Yancho monastery is situated on a conical hill in centre of the valley. A few kilometres ahead the place where the Sikh Guru Nanak had stayed has been converted into a gurudwara. The road ahead leads to the Tibetan frontier.

Back to the main road to Tuting, at Along, we were joined by very fit Group Captain V K Sashindran and his wife Sangeetha. We started our main trek from Tuting in late October 2009, looking at some snow on higher reaches we realised that we should have come a month earlier.  Going east, we passed many small villages amidst the thick forests.  It was a place full of simple beliefs as we passed holy stonesy, small monasteries and crossed few pilgrims. Everyone here had undertaken the koras.  Half way up the valley the river takes a half-U turn almost forming an island.  Devekota, a small monastery is located here. It is a serene place, with one old lama as the sole occupant. A kora around this mountain of Devekota is considered to give merit of all the koras in Pemako.   Accompanied by the old lama we undertook the kora on a full moon day, and were introduced to the simple local beliefs.  From Singa, which we reached after two days of further trekking, we split into two parties with the fitter party successfully reaching Ruitala. They performed the kora and called this route as ‘hardest trek they have ever done’!

We proceeded east slowly through a forest of great beauty, remoteness and some difficulties. There were pilgrim shelters and the route appeared to be maintained. After three days we reached a spot close enough of Pemasiri to enable a closer look. It had light snow on the ground but as it rained the next day, our plans were doomed. On the route back to Singa we met a sadhu who had stayed at each of these three high places for a month each.  When we returned the group that went to Ruitala had already flown out by helicopter.   For us it was a lovely, leisurely 5 day walk back, camping on the river bank and chatting with villagers, as a pilgrimage should be.

A trail from Kugging village at start of the valley climbs up steeply to Dhanakosha, a high altitude lake. Maps show several lakes near this spot, and the ridges of Paulipik, Doni Lipik and Testapuri are sure to offer great views of Tibet and specially of the elusive Namcha Barwa.

The area requires inner line permits for Indians  (easily obtainable) and foreign trekkers have also been undertaking these koras (with proper clearance, which is given). The remote pilgrim sites like these would certainly shower hidden   blessings from gods in this land of Pemako.  

(Harish Kapadia) 

And finally,  the Indian Himalaya was severely effected by changes in the Himalayan weather and one can use the cliché that only certainty about the weather was its uncertainty.  The dry spells had effect of villagers psyche too. The villagers of Langja in Spiti were always suspicious about weather being affected by the mountain rising above their village which had a romantic name Chau Chau Kang Nilda – “Blue Moon in the Sky”. This year the villagers stopped at three expedition from proceeding to this mountain as they believed this was effecting the  crops.  A curious effect of Global Warming !

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