Curse of the black tongue (Pindari Part-II)
Khati is the last village in the Pindari trek route. Although there is still atleast one wooden lodge available at Dwali and Phurkia, the amenities are minimal. It is thus advisable to reload yourself with the essentials like batteries, emergency food items et al, during the brief stay at KMVN guesthouse. Most of the youths in Khati work as porters, carrying grain sacks to higher points for tourists and KMVN guesthouses. Some own mules or horses and provide assistance to tired travelers. Money-order economy works as well, with a good lot of the young employed either in the plains or with Indian Army.
Pitamber, a porter by profession, walked up to us and solicited his services for the road ahead. Though we didn’t need his services, I chatted up with him to find more about the place as well as for the drinking company you require at such heights. The ‘ENGLISH’ rum was a worthy lure. Displaying muscular shins the size of my thighs, Pitamber squatted before the steel glass and narrated us many a tale about his carrying loads for various firangi teams. “Mein ek quintal uttha kar ek kilometer bina rukay-huay chalta hun (I can walk with a quintal-load for one km, without a break),” he said. Thick veins and huge meatballs bobbing out of his arms, it was easy to believe. Thankfully, the angelic devil refused to drink after half a glass of rum. “Ghar jaana hai (got to go home),” he said with a wink.
The day next we were well preapred for Dwali, thanks to a comfy sleep. While the trip from Dhakuri to Khati is like walking on a friendly plateau, with a few tea-stalls and trickle-streams thrown in to making it easier, the journey to Dwali was filled with surprises. The first one was a makeshift bridge (the real rope-bridge had been destroyed with the heavy snowfall last winter) and we had to straddle a thick, moss-laden lodge to inch our way to the other end. Often, uncleared debris from landslides (we were early in the season to avoid the rush and this was a just price) made us alter routes briefly. Besides, unbeaten paths posed directional dilemmas occasionally. However, at the end of the day, it was still a bargain. The path was devoid of human activity and doted by birds of unknown hues. Quietly, the valley sang.
Dwali is a an oasis for the tired soul. One full day can be spent here without moving as much as an eyebrow. This is the confluence point for Pinder and Kafni rivers, both gushing forth and creating a large sum-froth under a wooden bridge. Our team enjoyed the confluence only till my limbs revived; soon, I began to nudge others for, we had made Phurkia the target for the day. Blame either the scenic surroundings or their sluggish attitude but Rachs and Gau refused to budge ahead. “I come to a trek to enjoy and not punish myself,” Gau taunted. “Go ahead if you must. I am here. We shall not hinder your pace.”
If Gau (or anyone else) expected me to stop after this valid logic, I should apologize. A trek is as much an enjoying experience for me as it is a penance trip or a keep-fit regime. So alone I went ahead to Phurkia, with a heavy footfall and an increased load. Little did I know about Gau's black tongue.
I was infact a bit enthusiastic when a frozen track appeared on the way. The small glacier-like crossing before Phurkia was about 30-meter long, and I followed the footprints on the slippery slant. A big mistake that was since the original footmarks had melted out of shape, and the new deceptive marks betrayed me. I slipped down for about two meter viciously, before I stuck a bare hand into the ice to restrain the downward movement. Necessiity is the mother of all inventions. Hanging from a freezing hand, I began to hit my toe severely into the snow and made a foot rest. Before the first footrest began to slide, I hit the other toe and made another footrest of sort. After making 20 such rests and hitting my boot more than 200 times in the snow, I crossed the stretch. If I were not wearing a leather jacket, I would have bruises on my chest as war medals. I had to discard the sliced jacket after that trip (such is the sharpness of a icy sleet).
Muttering curses, I moved on and reached Phurkia a tad late than usual. Gautam’s curse wasn’t over yet. The lone dhaba-owner there had already put off his log fire and reluctantly agreed to provide me with part of his own food. More sweet talks made him help me with raising my tent. The whole night was spent shivering, thanks to the shoddily raised camp and a sudden fall in mercury — a worthy lesson for choosing my ego before friends.
(Meeting with the Pindari Baba and our race back to Delhi in the next post)