Duration : 25 Days
Grade : Strenuous
Best Time : March to November
Minimum : 2 Persons
Route Chart: New Delhi - Rishikesh - Joshimath - Lata - Dribugheta - Deodi - Ramni - Patalkakhan - Nanda Devi South Base Camp - Bholgara - Deodi - Dharansi - Lata - Joshimath - Rishikesh - New Delhi
The Nanda Devi Sanctuary in the Garhwal Himalayas of India is a unique geographical feature. A concentration of peaks connected by massive rock walls which dip no lower than 17,000ft/ 5200 metres form an enormous amphitheatre. The only exception is the point where the river Rishi Ganga which drains this great basin emerges to the west in one of the most spectacular gorges in the world.In this ring of mountains are at least twelve peaks over 21,500 ft/ 6500 metres including several famous names such as Changabang and Dunagiri to the North and Trishuli and Nanda Kot to the West and South. In the centre is the goddess mountain - Nanda Devi. At 25,643 ft/ 7816 metres this is the highest peak in India. Until 1934 this Sanctuary had never been explored by anyone. In 1983 the Indian government closed the Sanctuary. The delicate ecology of this hitherto pristine space needed time to regenerate after the inevitable damage caused by expeditions and shepherds who were also finding their way in.
You start with an acclimatization trek before arriving at Gangotri to embark on this trek which ascends to 14,294 ft/ 4463 metres at Tapovan. This acclimatization walk is a short Himalayan trek with the interesting objective of passing through the foothills and actual hill villages where the world-famous legend written by the naturalist-hunter, Jim Corbett's story of the 'Man-Eating Leopard of Rudraprayag' is based. The scenery here is unparalleled giving commanding views of the main peaks of the Garhwal Himalayas and taking you through lush terraced hills, pristine forests and tiny hill villages. The weather at this time of year is warm and sunny with clear blue skies.
We have been lucky to get special permissions for a British research group for study of Flora & Fauna in the core of the Nanda Devi Sanctuary. We feel that this would help in setting environmental guidelines for future groups. This group included Mr. Ian McNaugth Davis the president of UIAA, Mr. George Band of Kanchenjanga fame, John Shipton son of Eric Shipton, the first person to explore the sanctuary and Col. N. Kumar the leader of the first successful Indian ascent on Nanda Devi. We hope to be able to persuade the Indian Government to allow more environment / research groups into the sanctuary in 2007.
Day 01: Arrive Delhi
Meet on arrival and transfer to your hotel. After an overnight flight, recovering from jet lag by the swimming pool is enticing and if you have the energy to sample India, Delhi has a lot to offer. Overnight in hotel.
Day 02: Delhi - Rishikesh (Train)
We leave Delhi at dawn as the city starts to come to life, and transfer to the train station to board the 07.10 hrs Shatabdi Express to Haridwar, arriving there at 11.10hrs. In four hours we reach Haridwar which is one of the holiest of Hindu cities, it being the place where the Ganges enters the plains of India. We reach Rishikesh in time for lunch and after a well-earned siesta and rest you can explore the many Ashrams along the banks of the Ganges. At sunset, at Triveni Ghat you can join the pilgrims in a religious ritual of floating a little boat of candle and incense on the river Ganges. Overnight in hotel.
Day 03: Rishikesh - Joshimath (6200 ft/ 1890 metres)
We start early for the long drive upwards of the Ganges and Alaknanda rivers to Joshimath. We travel along an asphalt road that takes the pilgrims in buses and cars but many holy men still walk this route as a pilgrimage. The road is often tortuous but you get spectacular views of the Ganges and Alaknanda rivers and their steep banks and hillsides. We will stop at a convenient place on the banks of the river for our lunch before we reach Joshimath. Overnight stay in hotel.
Day 04: At Leisure in Joshimath
After our long drive yesterday we will take it easy today and give ourselves time to acclimatise and explore this town. Joshimath is an interesting little town. Really a pilgrimage staging post, it is perched on a steep slope several hundred metres above the river and is usually teeming with pilgrims preparing to go on the last stage up the Alaknanda gorge to Badrinath higher up. But there are important shrines here too, especially the Na Sing temple complex, and the temple and ancient tree under which the great Hindu philosopher Shankara gained enlightenment. Overnight in hotel.
Day 05: Joshimath - Lata (7995 ft/ 2437 metres/ 45 minutes)
While the pilgrims head up the Alaknanda gorge, we take the road leading east following the Dhauli Ganga River to Lata - a small village just past where the Rishi Ganga River meets the larger Dhauli Ganga. After a five hour drive we pass the village of Tapovan, just beyond which a hot spring erupts across the road. We are now heading where few travellers have been allowed for many years. Lata is our trail head and the dirt road continues north along the Dhauli Ganga to Malari and the mountains bordering Tibet. Shipton too camped here and in light shoes sprinted up Lata Mountain (3848 metres), a wooded peak above the village to get his first view of the gorge ahead! The camp at Lata is on the road side in an abandoned potato field. Camp at Lata.
Day 06: Lata - Lata Kharak (12467 ft / 3800 metres/ 7 hours)
Our first day's trek is a hard climb above Lata village to Lata Kharak. A Kharak is a summer pasture and often an area of grazing just above the tree line. The stiff climb will take us up through Rhododendron, Oak and "Chir" pine forest, emerging onto the grassland at just under 13,000 ft/ 4000 metres. As we start at around 8,200 ft/ 2500 metres this is a considerable gain in altitude and will be a test of fitness of the group. However, an early start and a slow steady pace will make it an enjoyable climb through Himalayan forests and our first opportunity to observe its diverse flora and fauna. Overnight in tents.
Day 07: Rest and Acclimatisation
The gain in height to that of a major alpine peak will be noticeable by all of us so today we will spend the day enjoying the views from the Kharak, and acclimatising ourselves. When Shipton and Tilman first came in the spring the ground was thick with melting winter snow. To acclimatise ourselves we will go on a two hour trek to Seni Kharak from where we get our first views of Nanda Devi and the formidable Rishi Gorge. Return to Lata Kharak for the night. Overnight in tents.
Day 08 : Lata Kharak - Debrugheta (10827 ft/ 3300 metres/ 8 hours)
Today we cross our first pass - Dharansi Khal at 13,943 ft / 4250 metres. It is part of a ridge coming down from the great Dunagiri range above and a watershed between the Dhauli and Rishi Ganga rivers. From here we contour round to reach the meadows of the Dharansi plateau. Due to scarcity of water we will not camp here. We walk across the Dharansi plateau and descend steeply to a beautiful grazing pasture at Debrugheta. It is a long descent of about 3 hours which ends at a stream. We cross over and a short climb brings us to our campsite. Overnight in tents.
Day 09: Debrugheta
This is our rest camp. Debrugheta is perched above the great gorge which Shipton described as "one of the loveliest spots it had ever been his good fortune to behold" and Tilman described it more graphically as "a horizontal oasis in a vertical desert". The pasture was used by shepherds but beyond this point locals never ventured before 1934. Overnight in tents.
Day 10: Debrugheta - Deodi (7545 ft/ 2300 metres)
We now make our way up the great gorge of the Rishi Ganga itself. Today is fairly easy trekking with plenty of ups and downs as the trail makes its way into the gorge. We cross the Rishi Ganga at Deodi on what Hamish Brown in the seventies described as a 'doddery bridge'!. This is our next campsite. In reality we have actually lost altitude going down the gorge. Shipton and Tilman crossed further up making their own bridge by cutting down trees with the assistance of their porters. Overnight in tents.
Day 11: Deodi - Ramni
Working our way up and contouring up the gorge on the southern bank, we reach Ramni and our campsite which is a small level area between the cliffs and the raging torrent of the Rishi Ganga. The camp is named after the Ramni River that joins the Rishi Ganga from the North from the Ramni Glacier flowing from Changabang. Just beyond our camp on the northern bank were Long staff's final camp and the furthest point reached by man until Shipton and Tilman. Overnight in tents.
Day 12: Ramni - Patalkakhan
This is the crucial stage of entry into the Sanctuary. Above Rhamani is the great box canyon i.e a canyon whose sides rise vertically from the waters of the river. Before this Longstaff and Graham had turned back but Shipton and Tilman with their three sherpas explored and found cracks and gullies across the rock slabs, often sheer drops of hundreds of meters to the river below. Eventually this took them above their "Pisgah" or Promised Land buttress into the Sanctuary. Today's trekking takes us into a different dimension and Hamish Brown commented that "one expects the spectacular and the difficult when climbing - not walking!" The trail has been blazed, but it will take nerves and determination on the part of all trekkers to win through. Depending on the weather conditions we could camp at a slab platform now known as Tilchaunani but if time permits a better camp a little higher and over some more rock slabs is at Patalkakhan. We are now almost at 14,763 ft/ 4500 metres and have entered the Inner Sanctuary. Overnight in tents.
Day 13: Patalkakhan - Nanda Devi Base Camp
From our camp Nanda Devi herself towers 10,000 ft/ 3000 metres immediately above us. For Shipton the excitement of being in totally unexplored country was unsurpassable as he said, "each corner held some thrilling secret to be revealed for the trouble of looking". Near the camp is the junction of two rivers that join to form the Rishi Ganga. One heads to the north of Nanda Devi, and up into the northern half of the Sanctuary. This is the direction Shipton and Tilman took on their first entrance. When they came back after the monsoon of 1934 they explored the southern half. Following the southern river that Tilman's 1936 expedition took we shall follow this route to our camp at Nanda Devi south base. Overnight in tents.
Day 14, 15, 16 : Exploration of the Inner Sanctuary
We now have three days to explore the Sanctuary. We have several options and hopefully the weather will be good. We can explore the glaciers to the south of Nanda Devi or head south to where Shipton and Tilman made their dramatic exit in 1934. Alternatively, we could cross the Rishi River and explore the Northern Sanctuary and view the tremendous North face of Nanda Devi. Overnights in tents.
Day 17: Inner Sanctuary - Bhojgara
After our three days of exploration of the Inner Sanctuary today we begin our thrilling descent. We will make use of a small campsite we passed on our ascent at a place where tent spaces have been cut out of the slope. This is a spectacular setting looking out across the sheer cliffs of hundreds of metres on the northern side of the gorge. Overnight in tents.
Day 18: Bhojgara - Deodi
Today we negotiate on our way down the now familiar but no less exhilarating slabs of rock to regain our more normal trekking ground at Ramni. We continue past our old camp back to Deodi where we crossed the gorge on our way up. Overnight in tents.
Day 19: Deodi - Dharansi
After having crossed the Rishi Ganga we retrace our steps contouring the gorge on the northern bank. Passing the alpine meadows at Dribugheta again, we make the steep climb up to Dharansi. Overnight in tents.
Day 20: Dharansi - Lata
Today once again we make our way over the pass and with the Dhauli Ganga again in view far below us we pass through Lata Kharak. Descending through the forest we will camp again at Lata. Overnight in tents.
Day 21: Lata - Joshimath (Drive)
We are met by our vehicles in the morning and driven back to Joshimath and if you have the inclination we will take a dip at the hot springs outside Tapovan. Overnight at the comparatively luxurious Uday Palace Hotel.
Day 22: Joshimath - Rishikesh (Drive)
Today we have the long drive back to Rishikesh but the hard journey is made pleasurable by the increasing warmth as we descend again into the foothills. Just outside Rishikesh we will stop and cross the Ganges in rubber rafts to camp on the silver sands on the banks of the river. Overnight in camp.
Day 23: Optional Morning Rafting and Overnight Train to Delhi
Today from the camp we will go white water rafting with fully trained staff. This is a wonderful way to wind down from our strenuous trek, gently floating down the Ganges with the occasional excitement of a rapid and passing temples set in subtropical forests. In the evening we drive to Haridwar railway station to board the overnight train to Delhi in our first class coaches. Overnight on train.
Day 24: Arrive Delhi
On arrival we will transfer to the Oberoi Maidens Hotel. Rest of the day at leisure. In the late evening we transfer by taxi to the airport.
Day 25: Delhi departure
We board our flight at Delhi airport for our flight home.