LOST BY THE RIVERS ~ On the trails of Satluj, Baspa, Pin and Spiti.

Part I – Mudh ~

View of Pin Valley from Mudh.

A Walk in the Park

The uphill climb, along the edges of a gushing stream at 13,000 feet, wasn’t exactly what my wife had in mind, when she’d agreed for an afternoon stroll. Over the years, she has much enjoyably espoused my way of ‘a walk in the park!’. And so we walked along the icy pour, enthusiastically, and in near perfect harmony.

The snowline had receded far up the slopes as it was late summer, and we could get glimpses of the perennial white peaks, only occasionally though, through the veil of transitory clouds. We walked passed the houses and reached a water crossing. The stream ran across the dirt road forming a ‘nalla’, as the native would say. Further downstream, it flowed under a wooden bridge, and continued to the valley floor, until finally emptying its waters in the Pin-River.

After walking a few hundred feet up the slopes, the remnants of the glacier had become prominent. Till there, we had made our way through a rocky path, where the trail was dry and fairly defined. The ascent then onward however, gradually got more difficult, as the older snow hardened had and had become muddy. The melt water mixed with glacial debris, made the terrain slushy, and we lost footing more than once, hand-in-hand. Precariously positioned rocks and boulders, kept us alert for the ‘Rolling Stones’.  We could feel the wind piercing through, to the bones, as the Sun lowered behind the ridges and shadows rose up the sides of the mountains. Breathless, both by the vistas and half the level of oxygen, we decided not to go up any further. We settled on a boulder for a while to catch the breeze, and after my wife had had become content with her ‘selfi’ish vanity, we started descending back.

The snow caped mountains of Parvati Valley, appeared gracefully at the edge of the distant horizon. With the twilight setting in, the sharp vistas of the valley faded into a bleached landscape. The road had become desolate, the tranquil only disturbed by the occasional thump of a biker’s arrival. Even the dogs, with their thick covering of fur couldn’t bare the chill and retreated to whatever shelter they could seek. The last of the grazers disappeared down into the village, as dusk befell on Mudh.

Wanderlust backpackers, loitered around the lodges. In pairs and castaways, alike in their seemingly covert scheme of refreshment, would gather on the edge of the cliff. Sniffing the intoxicating mountain air, they ambulated in the deserted road, like vagabond souls. The turmoil in their blood, which they seemed so desperate to sanctify under tattooed divinity, gave away carnal predilections. Amongst the afflicted, was a creature of untainted flesh; A newbie perhaps. She had eyes like Lapis Lazuli and tresses of copper, that tumbled down her face. Her skin so pale, it radiated even in the faintest of the ambient blue light. She would impeccably befit the heroine of a vampire novel. And she’d seemed so very incongruous in her demeanour, with her conspicuously tattooed companions. She had very soon draped a fleece around, establishing some poise, which the camisole had been preventing.

The girl tried to console a lost calf, which had wandered away from its herd, but the marijuana didn’t pacify its trepidation. It bleated, running frantically from one spur to another, looking for a way down to the village. The rocky descend was a far cry for anyone, let alone an infant that was still suckling. Naïve, and intimidated, the calf eventually settled on the porch of a guest-house across the road, overlooking the village. While we were returning back from the walk, it had had seemed overly attracted to my brown corduroy trousers, which it fancied for a yak perhaps. In a rather playful spree, it had been chasing and clinging to objects it perceived as one of its kind. To escape the embarrassment, I sprinted into the gates of Pin-Parvati Homestay, our abode for the night.

I’d been watching the scenes unfold on the street below, from the custody the lodge, all the while secretively craving for an escapade. I was envious of the wanderers in a way, more for being restrained, than anything else. I might have soon, imagined wolves and fanged creatures leaping around. My mind has an innate tendency to get into a state of reverie, when my physical self is under some sort of confinement against my will. My wife sensed the grim, and made a rather dubious commitment to walk down to the river with me in the morning. Unlike in Tabo, she was much apprehensive about my venturing out alone in the dark in Mudh, fearing the ‘Ghost of the Mountains’. For the night the calf and I were in the same predicament.

The glacier in Mudh. Pin Valley has an abundance of these icy streams.

A hot meal of Rajma-Chawal (boiled rice, and soup of kidney beans) is always a delicacy in the Himachals. After dinner, my wife preferred to retreat inside. I filled two bottles from the kitchen with boiled water, into which I’d thrown in crushed garlic and ginger, and had those sent to Simon and Rachel. They were in the room, next to ours and provided the much needed company to my deserted spouse, during my clandestine escapades. The previous night, I’d had insisted that she must take a look out of the window. She was flabbergasted by the sight, and in reward, I had earned the liberty to venture out in the open. In Mudh, the restrictions imposed were rather harsh. There were enough reasons for her to be apprehensive.

Simon had appeared fine during the day, but with night fall would get into intense rigor. That was the second consecutive evening of his illness. A dose of Paracetamol did get his fever down the previous night, but that wasn’t good enough to alleviate his condition, nor our worries thereafter. He shivered, despite being under multiple layers of rags and blankets. The illness had kept us all worrying for him as we had only emergency medicines, and were days away from proper medical assistance.

What had appeared bewildering to untrained eye, were tell-tale signs of mountain-sickness. Three consecutive days spent in altitudes above 12000 feet, had taken a toll on their health, and I was the culprit. Our worries did appease, as Simon’s condition had improved later in the night, and I was much relieved. A post-supper stroll, was the perfect excuse for stargazing. To have the most out my temporary freedom, I took up the flight of stairs to the terrace.

The Seductress

Behind a diaphanous veil, studded with shimmering diamonds, she stood in reverent silence. Her necklace of a thousand strands of pearl, rolled down her bosom, while her silvery anklets reverberated in mesmerizing symphony. Her beauty unrivalled; She was the epitome of grace.

Mountains take on a very different appearance in the night. In the backdrop of a billion stars, the snow clad peaks, surrounding the valley gleamed under the moonlight. The constellations seemed embroidered in the fabric of space. The glaciers sparkled evermore in the astral light. Sound of the gushing river echoed in the valley, the harmonies even more pacifying in the absence of man-made cacophonies.

The Milky Way, spread in a north to south alignment, beamed from behind the ridge-line. Of all the constellations, the Scorpion could be most easily identified. But, I’d had to use an app in my cellphone to make out the more complex figures.

‘Are you trying to find a signal here?’, A voice infiltrated the silence. The girl, was obviously perplexed by the incongruity of my actions, and stood in an inquisitive stance.

‘I’m trying to find constellations’, I replied tacitly, not wanting to encourage a conversation.

‘Oh, wow!’, were her next words, followed immediately by, ‘isn’t is very cold out here…?’, in one unpunctuated sentence. I nodded in acknowledgement, for her overstating the obvious.

‘But, I’m enjoying it.’, I said, realizing that I’d been rude. Before I could turn toward her, she’d hoped to my side.

‘Are you an astronomer…? You know we have a friend in our group who also watches stars.’, ‘Is it true that there are Snow Leopards here, have you seen one…?’, ‘But how can you use your phone when there’s no signal…?’, ‘The dinner wasn’t very exciting, and we had to do with noodles…’, ‘Our bus leaves at five in the morning, and we’re heading for Shimla…’, and so on she babbled.

She’d appeared in to be in her late teens, but had the frivolous nature of a high school adolescent. Her chubby flushed face amplified her juvenile appearance and she shivered all the while she had been speaking.

‘Yes, there are Snow Leopards in the valley. But I certainly do not expect to see one here. If there’s anything that’s going to grab you by the jugular, it is the cold.’

Her already round eyes widened even more at my cruel comment.

‘Yes, my nose was bleeding this morning.’, she replied in a concerned voice.

‘Well, then you shouldn’t be out here exposed to the wind.’

Rejuvenated and Reunited

I’d fidgeted impatiently into the wee hours, longing for daybreak. A soft blue light entering the room through the frosted window, illuminated my side of the bed. In the partial darkness I’d geared up, unwilling to lose a moment, whilst trying to be as discreet as I could.

‘Please be careful and don’t wander away far.’, my wife mumbled the standard advisory, while still under the spell of an inebriated somnolence.

‘I will be back before breakfast.’, I hushed, and disappeared.

A blue haze still covered the valley. I walked along the brook following it downstream. At times I had to ford, carefully hopping from one boulder to another, for preventing my shoes from being soaked. I’d soon reached the wooden bridge. Crossing over it, I continued the descend further. The stream had grown wider as it neared its culmination, and I had to keep walking on the same side. The sound of its cascading waters gradually diminished. Overpowered by the rumble of the larger torrent, it had eventually merged with the thunderous roar of the Pin-River. Flowing at steeper gradients, the river formed turbulent rapids. Millions of gallons of white water splashed against boulders, shaping and sculpting huge rocks. Chiselling out its course through the mountains, the river raged passed the village, originating from the far interiors of the valley, making interwoven channels of fluorescent turquoise waters. Behind the silhouette of the ridges, the pale purple halo, transitioned into a vibrant streak of crimson and then into hues of gold.

As the shadows lifted from the slopes, the jagged rocks bathed in crisp sunlight, thrusted high in to sapphire skies. A plethora of colorful flowers embellished the hills, in shades of purple, yellow, and pink. As I’d moved up the trail, the melody of the stream re-emerged. Tiny passerines, sang and chirped, perching on the rocks, and at times whizzed in attempts to nibble on the bees, that hummed over the flowering herbs. With the onset of dawn, the village had sprung into action.

A herd marched across the bridge, led by the more experienced animals, while a boy and a girl trailed behind, droving any drifting juvenile. The largest of the animals moved up the slopes in ease unassisted. The younger ones followed, sprinting and wading. I’d tried to isolate one little calf, but there were many, that seemly matched with the image I’d had in my memory. I could only hope that every head had been accounted for.

Perennial snow on the distant peaks, form the source of the glacial the streams.
Cattle wading up a hill for grazing.
The glacial stream culminating into the Pin-River.
The wooden bridge over the stream, provides way for the cattle and villagers.

As I emerged on dirt road Sonu our chauffeur, waved me, while he was dusting the vehicle. The bikers prepped their machines, and trekkers loaded the rucks. The serenity had been taken over by rush hour like commotion. Buddhist prayer flags fluttered all around. From the Chortens to houses, to handlebars of motorbikes; Om-Mani-Padme-Hun resonated in the air and echoed in the canyons and ravines.

In my ephemeral excursion, I’d wandered away from the quandaries that’d hadn’t had me in a very peaceful state of mind the previous night. With the guesthouse in view, those worries loomed back and I contemplated what news was awaiting my arrival. Remembering the time, I’d committed for return, I hastened up the stairs, knowing I was late. The dining area was already full, and a few guests gathered on the porch outside, waiting for a vacant table. I’d spotted the three on a table by the window, sipping delicious milk chai.

And I sighed in relief…

Mudh being the last village in Pin Valley, servers as a base for trekkers of Pin-Parvati and Bhaba Pass expeditions.
The lodges and home-stays in Mudh are located on this road which is the last motorable point. The road continues further into the valley.

In a remote interior of Pin Valley National Park, is a pristine hamlet called Mudh. The village is spread on the banks of the Pin River, and is flanked by jagged mountains on all sides. Mudh is home to a native population of a hundred odd villagers, who are mostly farmers and herders. Their houses built of a rocky mortar formed by a concoction of mud and pebbles, having an identical façade with white exteriors and colorful windows. The village has few homestays and lodges, that double up as hotels in the summer months, when the influx of bikers and backpackers increase. Being the last village in Pin Valley accessible by motorable road, Mudh serves as a base camp for the Pin-Parvati Pass and Bhaba Pass treks.

From Dhankar-Gompa, Mudh is about 50 kilometers. The dirt road from the monastery meets the Kaza road at Shichlling. In a northwest heading on this road for about 8 kilometres, is the Attargoo bridge. The road runs parallel to the Spiti River hugging the valley floor allowing spectacular views of the conflux of the Pin and Spiti Rivers. A diversion from Attargoo to the south bank, takes one into the perimeters of Pin Valley. Travelling a further 30 kilometres into the valley one reaches Mudh. On the way are Gulling and Sangnam, villages having prominent human habitation.

The landscape is dominated by spectacular up-thrusting mountains. A distinctive characteristic of the Lahaul and Spiti region. The mountains protruding upwards form razor sharp ridges and near vertical precipices. The [Neoproterozoic – Cretaceous] rocks showing tell-tale signs of the [Orogenesis] of the [Tethyan Himalayas].
These layered mountains sculpted by millions of years of tectonic shifts, stand testimony to the [Precambrian-Cambrian] origins of the Valley.

The conflux of the Spiti and Pin Rivers at Shichlling. A view from Dhankar.
The road after entering Pin-Valley National Park, running parallel to the Spiti River on its south bank.
Pin-Valley National Park is a sanctuary for several high altitude exotic animals of the Himalayas. The Tibetan Wolf, the Tibetan Gazelle, Red Fox, Bharal, the Himalayan Brown Bear and Himalayan Blue Sheep are some of the species that may be encountered here. And the most illusive of all, The Himalayan Snow Leopard. Despite being a cold mountain desert, the valley has an abundance of flora and fauna, many of which have proven medicinal usage.
Sangnam is a major village on the way to Mudh.
There is no metalled road after entering Pin-Valley National Park. The dirt road came into existence only after the year 1987, with the establishment of Pin Valley National Park. The road continues for the entire expanse that leads to Mudh, passing through the most spectacular and pristine landscapes.

 

 

[Glossary of scientific terminology.]

Neoproterozoic – The period of geologic time from 1,000 million years (Ma) to 540 million years (Ma), it was the last era of the Precmabrian, marking the dawn of Cambrian Eon.

Cretaceous – The Cretaceous Period began 145 Ma and ended 66 Ma. It followed the Jurassic Period and was succeeded by the Paleogene Period. The Cretaceous is the longest period of the Phanerozoic Eon. Spanning 79 million years, it represents more time than has elapsed since the extinction of the dinosaurs, which occurred at the end of the period.

Orogenesis – Geological processes that results in the formation of mountains, due to structural changes in the Earth’s lithosphere (the upper Mantle and Crust) caused by tectonic shifts.

Tethyan Himalayas – The Higher Himalayan mountains spreading across Kashmir, Chamba-Bhadarwah-Tandi, Zanskar-Spiti, Kinnaur-Kumaon, Nepal, Sikkim-Bhutan and Arunachal constitute the Tethyan Himalayas. The Tethyan has extensive sediment depositions from the Precambrian to the Eocene periods. Around 200 Ma (also known as the Middle Permian Period), an extensive sea stretched along the latitudinal area presently occupied by the Himalayas. This sea was named the Tethys. Around this period, the super-continent Pangea began to gradually split into different land masses and move apart in different directions. As a result, rivers from both the northern Eurasian land mass (called Angara) and the southern Indian land mass (called Gondwana) started depositing large amounts of sediments into the shallow sea that was the Tethys.

The Earth’s continents continued to drift toward their present positions, having broken apart from the northern super-continent Laurasia and the southern super-continent Gondwana, giving rise to western mountain ranges of North America and the Himalayas.

Eocene – The period between 55 million years ago (Ma) to 39 million years ago (Ma), was marked by remarkable transformations in the biosphere that paved the way for present day life forms. The atmospheric conditions were set right for large trees and forests which eventually favored the evolution and sustenance of mammalian life.

Precambrian and Cambrian Eras – The period between 540 Ma to 490 Ma is marked by profound the evolution of multicellular organisms. The Cambrian Period is the first geological time period of the Paleozoic Era (the ‘time of ancient life’). This period lasted about 50 million years, marked a dramatic burst of evolutionary changes in life on Earth, known as the ‘Cambrian Explosion.’ Fossils in Pre-Cambrian rocks are of simple life forms such as bacteria, with more complex soft-bodied creatures appearing towards the beginning of the Cambrian. Cambrian rocks show large numbers of many different types animals, many with hard shells. The Precambrian Era comprises all of geologic time prior to 600 million years ago. That is the era that predated the emergence of life in the Cambrian Period.

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