Saturday, 11 January 2014

Tiny Tots in the Tirung

Mules can carry enormous loads in the mountains - everyone knows that. Ask Raj Kumar if they have any other special abilities and he will tell you that they can also help you find your way in complete darkness. On a dark and moonless night, Raj Kumar held on to the tail of a mule carrying trekking supplies and made his way safely back to Thangi where the rest of us awaited him. Raghu and I had clocked in a few minutes earlier, sharing a torch between us to prevent us from stubbing our boots on the roots of trees and plunging headlong into the swirling waters of the Tirung nala hurtling far down the slope.

View from Kalpa
As Raghu and I fumbled our way on to the open veranda of the wooden house we were to spend the night in, we could hear robust singing, not entirely in tune, accompanied by peals of laughter. The rest of the group was obviously in high spirits, having arrived many hours earlier and reaping the rewards of a full belly. Now it was our turn: a polite gentleman appeared out of the dark, attired in the uniform of the Indo-Tibet Border Police (ITBP).

"Sir," he said gently, "do come and have dinner with us." We followed him to another wooden building where a small detachment of the force was posted. We squatted on the floor while hot rice and dal was ladled out on stainless steel plates for us. It was a simple meal, and once again I was touched by the hospitality of the soldiers that man the far flung valleys and mountains of the Indian Himalaya. Thangi in 1993 did not cater to tourists or trekkers and the ITBP men relieved our cook Raj Kumar from the chore of cooking for our group of men,women and children. He had rendered sterling service during the last ten days and was now looking forward to the return to Kalpa.

Raldang Tower (5499 m) from Kalpa
Thangi had been the roadhead for our trek up to the meadows of Lalanti. Planned originally as an opportunity to acclimatize for Ajay Tambe, Harshavardhan Subbarao and I before we went climbing in the Chango Glacier further to the north in Kinnaur, it had soon snowballed into a motley group comprised of thirteen persons accompanied by Raj Kumar. My wife Margaret joined the group with our three and a half year old son Sanal. Not to be outdone, Ajay's wife Jayanti  brought their son Akshay who was only a month older than Sanal. Anita and Mark Krishna, who live in London, comprised the third couple. Raghu Iyer, Franklyn Silveira and my sister Ipi made up the singles' club. Harsha's friend Aneeta Wadia who had trekked with us to the Dibibokri two years earlier ( see   ) was the other young lady in the group.

Akshay (left) and Sanal catch the sun at Lalanti
We reached the green open slopes of Lalanti in three stages from Thangi. Entertainment along the way was provided when one of our mules sat down on a very rocky section of the trail and refused to budge. He was eventually persuaded to move his ass when four of us joined hands under his belly and heaved; fortunately, the beast decided not to kick our heads off our necks and we survived the ignominy and the laughter from the non-participants.

Day Two saw us setting off from Lambar. By late afternoon we were groping along the side of the Shurting torrent in knee deep water, clinging to the false security of the rocks on the cliff before we found a suitable ford. As the shadows lengthened we pitched tents among boulders and thorny bushes in a shallow ravine.

Sanal rides piggy back with his mother along the Tirung river

The slog up to Lalanti the next day was only relieved by a glimpse of the peak of Phawararang (6349m) up a side valley. A cold wind was blowing as we camped and Raj Kumar got busy getting his kitchen shelter organized. The rather quick ascent to approximately 14,500 feet took a small toll on some of us who complained of headaches and nausea. Surprisingly, the two little boys seemed to be the fittest of us all as they chased some of the baby yaks grazing around us!

Phawararang - 6349 m
Jayanti had come equipped to cater to their needs and the next day she had them drawing and painting outside on the grass. The rest of us amused ourselves as best we could. For Ajay and myself this meant hiking up towards the Charang Ghati pass at 17,000 feet and huddling in the wind, watching the prayer flags flutter like souls possessed. When we returned, we found a group of people from the village of Charang who had come up to do the popular circumambulation of the Kinner Kailash massif. They appeared quite surprised to see our two little boys enjoying the comforts of the Lalanti pastures.

A few days later saw us back at the junction where the Shurting nala flows into the Tirung. This is also where we realized that we had brought supplies way beyond our needs, especially lentils, flour, and rice. Our muleteer was quick to spot an opportunity and offered to buy off our excess at a discount! No wonder the folks living on India's mountainous borders excel as traders....

At Thangi, the singing went on late into the night while the kids slept. We were back in the fabulously located Circuit House in Kalpa the next day after stopping at Rekong Peo for a lunch of exquisite momos.

The group separated a couple of days later. Ajay, Harsha, Raghu, Franklyn and I would be heading up to the Chango Glacier in the north eastern corner of Kinnaur while the rest were descending to the flesh pots of Shimla. The sadness of seeing my son and wife depart was tempered by the anticipation of the adventures that surely lurked amidst the peaks of the Chango. For that story, see

Trekking is hard work!

The Charang Ghati pass (5200m) lies at the far end of this valley above Lalanti

Sketch map by the late Arun Samant for "Exploring the Hidden Himalaya" (1990) published by Hodder & Stoughton for The Himalayan Club