Saturday, 16 June 2012

Lion Peak : Into the Den

Though I had slept quite well I woke up depressed to a cold and cloudy, grey sky. Arvind had had another bad night and had decided to go back to Manali.

We repacked our kit bags and helped him to cross over to the Batal side of the nala. He headed off to the teashop to see if he could rustle up some aid. Luck was with him as he returned within the hour with Gautam and Raju, our new porter recruits. They helped him get back to the bus stop with his baggage while Ravi and I proceeded to transfer our reduced loads to the Bara Shigri side of the nala in a repeat of the previous day's rope sling manoeuvre. We dumped 5 kg of "theplas" (fried, supposedly long-lasting Gujarati parathas) among the boulders as the long moist journey from Mumbai had kindled a healthy growth of fungus on them! Thus lightened, we began the slow approach to the snout of the Bara Shigri glacier with the help of our two new porters who had now returned after leaving Arvind at Batal. They very gladly accepted 6 kg of atta and the remainder of the theplas which Ravi and I now planned to jettison as well - our plan was to trim our weight and go in as light as possible. The porters concealed their booty up a small gully for them to pick up on their return. It was great to be walking again and to realise that perhaps our little expedition might still arrive at the base of our peak!

Our two porters enjoy tea and rotis with the shepherds (with dogs)

After a short tea break with some hospitable shepherds from Palampur in Kangra who were herding their sheep up to the high pastures we neared the terminal moraine of the Bara Shigri as it thrust its millions of tons of rock, soil and detritus into the Chandra river. Clambering over huge boulders we finally decided to pitch tents for the night in a little grassy enclave among the rocks. The sun dipped rapidly behind the retaining wall of the glacier with its rocky crenellated summits and the temperature plummeted.

Traversing high above the Chandra river we move towards the snout of the Bara Shigri, visible at the end of the frame.

I pose with one of the porters

Ravi is silhouetted against a striking mountain backdrop. Dharamsura and Papsura are the two big peaks on the left.

Closing in on the snout of the Bara Shigri glacier across the wide Chandra valley

We camped for the night a little beyond this point

Camp at the mouth of the Bara Shigri
Next day, four hours of boulder hopping on the tangled moraine of the glacier, laced with a liberal dose of collapsing mud slopes, brought us to what was called Centre Camp in the historical accounts of the exploration of the Bara Shigri glacier. It was hot and it was dusty and it was exhausting. It was hard to believe that we were traversing a river of ice, frozen beneath all the ugliness. Everything was shades of brown, ochre, black and grey. A few hardy stands of pink willow herb struggled to add a dash of colour to the barren wilderness. The only human encounter we had that day was with four people descending the glacier. They were from the large expedition from Chittaranjan in West Bengal which was camped further up at the junction of the Lion and Bara Shigri glaciers. These four gentlemen were going back to Manali to replenish supplies of kerosene and food which they were running out of......when they told us that there were 14 mouths to feed at their camp, we were surprised that they had not factored this into their logistics planning. We exchanged pleasantries and when we enquired from them how far did we have to go till Centre Camp, they confidently predicted "4 hours at least"! When we actually made it there in the next 2 hours we were mighty pleased with ourselves: perhaps we had given the impression of being an extremely slow-moving group to our friends to have come up with their estimate. It was still just before midday and blazing hot; we cowered in the shade of the rocks after putting up our tents. Out of curiosity I placed my temperature-reading watch out in the sun and hastily put it away when the reading touched 51.6 deg Celsius! I remembered then reading about an Australian expedition on the north face of Everest which had to deal with severe sunburn in a high glacier bowl where the heat of the sun gets reflected by the vast mirror-like slopes of snow and focused like into the basin....out here in the Bara Shigri, it was the rocks that were heating up and grilling us mercilessly.

I am flanked by Gautam and Raju at Centre Camp.
The NE face of Dharamsura provides a fitting backdrop.

An early dinner at 5:30pm and we called it a day. Four hours of trudging up the moraine the next day finally brought us to the junction of the Lion nala and the Bara Shigri glacier. This is where the large group from Bengal was camped and this is also where we established what we called our Advance Base Camp. We exchanged pleasantries with Deepak, Dilip and Neelkanth from the other expedition - they were very hospitable and offered us tea and biscuits as we set up our tents. Gautam and Raju were paid off for their services and we watched them skip happily back down the glacier.

Since it was only mid-day, Ravi and I picked up some light loads from our pile and hiked up the Lion Nala for 2 hours until we reached a spot christened "Thanda (Cold) Camp"  by Josephine and Barbara of the Women's Kulu Expedition 1961. They had named it thus because of the extremely cold winds that they encountered here, right at the base of the icy snout of the Lion glacier. Twenty four years later nothing had changed, it was still a freezing, uncomfortable campsite on rocks. Later we were to modify the name to "Hawa Mahal" (Palace of the Winds). We dumped our loads here and rushed back to Advance Base, to be offered tea again by our neighbours!

"Thanda Camp" or "Hawa Mahal" was just below this icy snout of the Lion Glacier.
Two figures can be seen descending the slope in this telephoto shot from the camp.

They topped up their hospitality by inviting us over to their camp for dinner and we were only too happy to accept, as we were now truly tired. They had a full time cook turning out meals at regular intervals and we were shocked to see some electric bulbs strung up in their kitchen mess tent! Power was being supplied by a couple of large batteries. We concluded that their budget was significantly more than the micro finances Ravi and I were operating on......on return to Mumbai we sat down and calculated that between the two of us we had spent less than Rs.4000/- on the whole trip. This included transportation, food, hotel and porter charges!

Anyway I was glad that someone had the means to offer us a free dinner of delicious chicken curry, meat, chapattis and rice at 14,000 feet on a glacier! I tucked into the meal heartily but Ravi who is a vegetarian, ate his usual small portion. I shall always remember that sumptuous repast and am eternally grateful to those kind gentlemen from Chittaranjan. It was almost midnight when we finally fell asleep, happy and content. We had every reason to be : in exactly a week's time after leaving the hot, teeming, tropical and humid megalopolis of Mumbai, we were poised to fulfil our little Himalayan dream.


  1. Aloke..truly well written..any plans for a book? Best wishes.