It was a short ride to Song where we had agreed to rejoin Pankaj, and we arrived before we were expected. We were hailed as we arrived there and regaled with chai and biscuits.
But the road was unremittingly steep 1:6 with a bumpy rock surface. We were no faster than Pankaj and Chammu who were on foot. In a few spots the road had been washed away, and at the lowest of these an earth mover was making repairs.
The KMVN rest house is huge and fairly comfortable. What more there is to Loharket we have no idea; there are a couple of isolated houses, and some clustered together a km away.
Notes: Loharket is stressed on its middle syllable. Trekkers to the Pindari valley generally reach the KMVN by motor transport and walk onwards. Im impressed that motor vehicles can cope with the road.
17km is a very well judged days ride.
We were separated from our bikes for the climb to the pass: they were carried/pushed for us. Pankaj encouraged us to stop frequently for chai; Tracey, seeing discouraging signs in the weather, was in no mood to obey. So we set out on a brisk but pleasant trek to the top, Colin eventually finding the appeal of tea houses too strong to resist. Tracey reached the Dhakuri Khal while there were still views, though she had to share it with some noisy trekkers equipped with mobile phones, iPods, and raucous voices.
When the bikes arrived we set of on descent. At first not much was ridable until we came to an open meadow where there are a couple of tea houses and an official bungalow. Here we had lunch.
Beyond this point the gradients were gentler and we were mostly following a stony mule track, at least 50% ridable.
Notes: the hotel is run by Pankajs family, the Danu clan. A basic-looking lodge, the Annapurna, is on the trail a little before Khatti village, and has a wonderful situation.
Sun 31: KhattiPhurkiya (3180m) (17km, 1230m)
A marvellous day. The first part, as far as Dwali, was about half ridable. Khatti itself is some way above the valley floor, but the trail at first ascends higher, skirting a huge landslide, and then makes a stony descent. After this the going is easier and flatter.
There is a welcome chai stop at a tea house at a bridge. The trail crosses to the true right bank and then ascends viciously on a well made stony surface. Look on this as a push with elements of carrying.
The going is easier for the next stage, the trail being hard earth with occasional entertaining stony outcrops, all quite high above the river. Eventually the path descends to a bridge, regaining the left bank at Dwali, a collection of tea houses together with a KMVN bungalow. This is where we had lunch. Cloud gathered ominously as we ate.
The weather definitely wasnt on our side. Spots of rain were followed by a volley of hail and then some wafty snow. Phurkiya was a welcome refuge. Theres nothing more there than a KMVN lodge and perhaps a basic hotel.
Mon 1 Nov: PhurkiyaZero Point (3800m)Dwali (2600m) (17km, 760m)
The highlight of the trip. A beautiful clear morning, though sufficiently cold. If you cant begin the day with a swooping tarmac descent, at least in India you can always start with aloo paratha.
The first stretch was fairly steep and included an icy river crossing. Fortunately the guys offered to take our bikes; Chammu, who had carried our belongings to Phurkiya, was now unladen. Then the gradient eased and we took our bikes back. It was 1°.
The walk crosses the stream, now no more than a trickle, and quickly climbs the sharp-edged and crumbly moraine thrown down by the glacier. Zero Point is the point at which the path has crumbled away. The glacier itself is attractive, though said to be in very rapid retreat. We were told that the most recent attempts on Changuch and Nanda Khat had both been fatal, and that Chammu our porter had been in the summit party for one of the nearby mountains.
It was a quick walk back. We stayed longer at the Ashram this time, talking to the swami, and enjoying the sunshine and chai. The swami told us that a road was being built to connect Martoli to Munsiyari for defensive purposes, and that in a rather Irish fashion it was being built from Martoli southwards; it was due to be finished in 2011, though the 2010 monsoon may have disrupted plans.
Some cloud which had arisen during the day cleared before sunset, leaving us with majestic views of Nanda Devi East.
Tues 2: DwaliKhatti (11km, 300m)
Weds 3: Khattipass (2500m)Kapkot (42km, 600m)
Today was hard. At first we rode/pushed along the mule track until the junction with the ascent to the Dhakuri Khal; but this time we instead followed the dirt road along the Pindari valley. It should have been easy going, but the monsoon had done terrible damage, and we were forever stopping to carry our bikes over fallen trees or landslips.
We crossed the pass and descended, taking an hour to cover the zigzagging road to a point which Pankaj and Chammu reached directly in 10 mins. After this they carried our bikes along footpaths to Khami village where we had lunch.
Conditions were not so bad for the afternoon. We rode along a slightly tortuous succession of vehicle-width tracks which we assume were standing in for the demolished road. Then we joined the road itself and set off on an easy descent. Before long we passed the last obstacle at the highest point being served by jeeps. Pankaj and Chammu stayed waiting for transport to arrive, and we enjoyed a merry descent, keeping our eyes open for camping opportunities at the lower end of the valley.
Inevitably Pankaj and Chammu passed us, and they greeted us at the entry to Kapkot, where they bought us chai and gave us back all our bags. They set off on their journey home, and we rode on looking for accommodation. Fortunately Kapkot PWD was empty, and gave us a comfortable and friendly stay.
Notes: the PWD had just received a fresh coat of paint. Its chowkidar was another member of the Danu clan. Unfortunately Diwali was coming and a temple with a loudspeaker was just outside the PWD; but with remarkable civility it ceased blasting its bollywood devotional music at 10.00pm.
The road across the pass had been completed in 2009, so the engineers must have been saddened to see it so comprehensively wrecked. There were no signs of repair work.
Ive refrained from naming the pass, but I can tell you that it begins with a g. Mike calls it the Geirey pass. When I asked at Khami it was given a pronunciation not unlike Gowrie pass, and Pankaj then wrote this down as Gavdri pass. (A characteristic of the Kumaoni dialect is a tongue-flap intermediate between a d and a rolled r; you often see references to tadka dhal.) Meanwhile the village on the north side of the pass which gives it its name is shown on the topo maps as something like Guraph.