A High Adventure at Clouds End along the Mystical Path
A High altitude, challenging trek steeped in Mystery is the Panpatia trek in the Gharwal region of Himalayas.It has been a challenge for the famous explorers and Mountaineers until it was explored by Martin Moran and the team. Known as Lost Trail and must do trek for every adventure seeker.
There is a story that is still existing in the people of Garhwal, Uttarakhand and among the explorers, that a Priest who used to travel from Kedarnath to Badrinath in a single day. For most of us who have heard this story it was just a mythical tale but there were some explorers who had thought it was not just folklore. It has drawn explorers like Meade, Shipton and Tillman, Martin Moran, Harish Kapadia and countless others. The explorations began as early as 1934; have mostly come a cropper, with weather, terrain and nerves beating each party back. The prize of the exploration is the crossing of the Panpatia col, a pass that hides its approach within drifts of moraines, crevasses, and massive icefalls. However, a route across it exists, and we know that from the many reports submitted by the mountaineers, and the final successful crossing by a duo from West Bengal, in 2007.
I first heard of this mythical path and its first crossing in 2013. From that moment, a thought always lurked around the corners of the mind that I should give it a try. For me, journey is always the reward and the destination never mattered. If you can not complete a trek or reach a summit, it is not a failure. It is just postponement. At the start of the trek, I was like 80% sure that I will not make it through even the first day as I had a minor lower abdominal muscle tear just 6 days back. Even with a significant amount of pain, I embarked on the adventure.
There are two ways you can reach the trailhead. The easiest approach is to drive to Khirao from Joshimath and other way is to drive to Badrinath and start the trek. The second path is significantly difficult but rewarding in terms of view. We (our team consisted of me and another friend, a guide and 4 high altitude porters) took the second route which starts from the holy place Badrinath. This route is tougher because you have to cross Holdsworth pass or Nilkantha Khal. It takes at least 2 to 3 days to reach the Panpatia glacier snout camp from the Badrinath.
On the first day of the trek you are awarded a majestic view of Mt. Nilkantha (6596 mtr) as you march on towards the Dumkal Kharak. Day two tells you in your face that what you have signed up for. You have to make an almost 45degree steep and rocky ascent directly to Holds worth’s place. It is tiring and it takes a toll on your body at around 4650 meters. But when you look down the view is gorgeous. You make the stop for the day somewhere during descent from the pass depending on your vicinity to the water source. One needs to be careful as the altitude gain is very rapid this day.
From Day 3 onwards an omen of bad weather followed us. On Day three you climb Neelkanth col / Holdsworth col descending all the way down towards the Khirao river bed reaching the snout of Panpatia Glacier. It is complete descent through some steep, wet bugyals and ridgelines. Gradually terrain becomes easy and you come to a relatively easy place. Half of the day it was raining and I was soaking wet, marching on in a damp rainy whiteout day is somewhat demoralizing. Next day i.e. day four is a long day with gradual ascents. We cross never-ending moraines and weave across patches of snow to ease our march. Marching on with heavy rucksack through the lateral moraine is always an annoying and tough job. These last two days gears you up for what is coming next and the main challenges of this trek is about to begin. Bad weather is still looming over us.
Day 5 is all about the inception of actual trekking. I had to walk complete uphill to a place where the trail ends. The trek was demanding, as it was quite steep and complete ascent. Bad weather still lurking around the corner. Most of the time during the day it stays in whiteout condition, sometimes it drizzles. Very few moments I get to see the dominating peaks in the landscape. From here on out I know that majestic mount Chaukhamba will be visible to my right flank in the snowfield above. In order to reach the snowfield one big hurdle has to be crossed that is a narrow gully made of snow and rock leading to the upper snowfield. Due to the constant whiteout,dark came in early and I took refuge inside my tent.
Day 6 is one of the most important days of the entire trek. Today's trek involves a steep climb which brings you to the edge of the terrace from where the only way forward is through steep snow and rock gully. Some help of rope was needed to cross this snowy , rock-ribbed path . In my case , rope fixing was not needed but weroped in and enter the domain of pure snow. The way to the Parvati Col and the Panpatiasnowfield which is a huge plateau of snow surrounded by lofty peaks takes you through a series of gentle humps. Chaukhamba rises in all its glory and, with some luck, you may also catch a view of Nanda Devi. After crossing the Parvati Col you reach the massive yet glorious Panpatia snowfield. Due to bad weather and constant whiteout I could not get a single glimpse of the entire chaukhamba range that looms across the snowfield. The day was indeed long and demanding. It is a strenuous climb altogether but once you are in the snowfield you can realise you are now so close to the mythical Panpatia col itself.
Day 7 is the day I have been waiting for these many days. I have climbed in this awful weather bearing immense pain in the abdominal muscle. All these did notmattered for me now as I know I am very close to the mythical pass itself.
We started very early as the weather is playing a spoilsport for us for last few days causing marching past 2 o’clock in the afternoon tough. It was a way too long of a day. The entire world became unicolor for me. All are white around me, white snowfield and constant whiteout with us as specks of color in the infinite white. Marching through the day will take you across the massive length of the Panpatia snowfield. It is a long traverse but with a negligible ascent. After a short climb, you reach the majestic Panpatia Col offering supposedly impeccable views of the towering mountains, glaciers and humongous snowfields stretching far and beyond. Unfortunate to me ,I was not able to witness those moments as it was covered in cloud. Following the Panpatia Col there is a vertigo-inducing descent that leads to SujalSarovar. Due to some snow lying in the slopes we again got roped up and slowly began our long descent. From our camp we can see a small lake insome distance below which is named SujalSarovar. It was a very tiring day and I was already starting to find the refuge of sleeping bag inside my tent.
As we have already crossed over the col and toughest part of the entire trek, what lies ahead is the steep descents most of which are already known to me. Our plan was to reach Madmaheswar temple ground today only making it a very long descent. We go into a narrow pass just above the Sarovar which leads to a long descent though the snow slopes. The terrain eventually changes to boulder zones and descending through the boulder zone is always very tiring as it takes a toll on your knees especially. The long and tough descent through the boulder zone made us so tired that we abandoned our target of reaching Madmaheswar today. You can see the Madmaheswar Ganga from here. I retired myself with a tired leg and a couple of muscle painkillers to subside the abdominal muscle pain. The comfort of knowing that you are homebound and trail ahead is known to you is quite assuring.
Next day we started early as we had a plan to reach the road-head. It took us around 2.5 hours to reach Madmaheswar temple ground. Madmaheswar being one of the PanchKedar is an auspicious place. We offered puja in the temple. The Puja ceremony and loose pace of our descent took so much more time than expected. That’s why we decided to call it a day in Gondar village as I knew some local villagers from my earlier treks in this area. This is the first time we got precooked meal courtesy of the villagers which reminded me that we are now heading to the urban jungle.
On the final morning, we woke up a bit late as we already knew that very less walk is ahead of us. We walked till the end of ransi village to get to the motorhead. After some waiting, we took a car to Ukhimath. I decided to stay in Ukhimath as I knew some people here already. Here I said goodbye to all the people who helped me and carried most of the load during this treks through some demanding and treacherous terrain.
Having done this trek in not a 100% fit condition gave me additional confidence that I can push myself beyond what I thought a limit before. My sincere request to anyone who is attempting this or any other trek in the Himalayas is that you should bring back what you took in. Conservation of nature should be the utmost importance to all of us. Having done with this trek, now I have a plan to complete the entire route from Badrinath to Kedarnath crossing the challenging possess Bishali col - Yeonbuk col and Mahapanth col of Mandani Valley ...in a single stretch..