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Nanda Devi Pilgrimage
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"An audience with the sisters of Kumaon"
The sacred peaks of Nanda Devi 7816m and Nanda Devi East 7434m cleave the skies in a remote corner of the Indian Himalaya, locked in a sisterly embrace on the border between the ancient kingdoms of Kumaon and Garhwal in the state of Uttarkhand.
Our trek takes us from narrow gorges with rivers thundering far below, over snow bridges to high pastures, and the stone villages that were the homes of the pundits, the first real explorers of Tibet. And then to the peaks; we cross glaciers and crevasse fields to stunning views of the sisters, and their friends, Nanda Kot and Kat, and trek on precipitous trails to the beautiful pastures and unbeatable mountain views of Nanda Devi east base camp, where we spend a full day.
This is our ninth exploration of this stunning region in which we are rapidly becoming the experts.
Just a short email to say that I am thinking of you and to thank you once again for the fantastic time in India. ...
Anyway, what I really wanted to say was that I really enjoyed and learnt a lot from your history stories as I knew of most of the lecture content. You managed to teach a very amateur historian like my self a bit of history!
Martin Kear, Kinnaur & Nanda Devi 2007
I really cannot thank you enough for the opportunity that your trek provided for me. It has really opened up a wealth of options for me (both recreational and occupational).
Dr Romany Topsfield, Nanda Devi 2007
Thanks again for a good trek - you really seem to have a terrific knack at allowing independence on treks but also stepping in and being supportive/decisive when needed. I must admit, I was worried about doing the group gig as I'm a bit of an independent wanderer, but now would have absolutely no hesitation booking on another of your group trips...hopefully/probably/god willing/if my stars say so/if I haven't been eaten by a koala etc etc..in 09!
Gaye Kittel, Nanda Devi team 2009
Day 1- arrive Delhi
Joel will be at the airport to meet you, look for the Project-Himalaya sign. We drive to our hotel in Parhar Gang, the main bazaar of Delhi, and over dinner, discuss gear and our adventure.
Day 2 - Overnight train to Kathgodam
We have a full day in Delhi, and depart at 8pm for our overnight (first class) train to the foothills of the Himalaya, arriving in the cool dawn.
Day 3 - Drive to Munsiari 2100m
By 9 am we will be breakfasting on parantha and curd high in the hills. The road is incredible, through forested hillsides and with distant mountain views. We arrive at our guesthouse at the end-of-the-universe feeling town of Munsiari, where our staff, who journeyed up before us, have dinner ready in Mr Pandeys ever friendly lodge. This is the end; of the beginning!
Day 4 - Trek Lilam 1830m
At last - on the trail. A thirty minute drive takes us to the road head, where we meet our mixed team of horses and porters. A simple three hour walk today, but in these early days it is vital to cover up from the sun and drink lots of water: at least three liters a day. And your trek routine begins - you must carry snacks, water, sun block, warm and windproof layers, and gloves and hat. Your passport at all times for checkpoints, and of course, loose change for those trailside chai stops.
Our close companion for the next few days is the Gauri Ganga (river), and we descend to 1500m to follow it through hamlets. This section is low, and can be hot. An hour in the trail carves into the hillside, the first welcome shade. Then we climb gently to camp, and lunch, at Lilam, a scattering of houses on a hillside. Here you meet your home (s) for the next few weeks, your lightweight but roomy tent, and our dining tent.
Day 5 - Trek Bodgwar 2500m
After completing formalities at the ITBP checkpoint we climb to nearly 2000m on the wide and well made trails that reflect India and China's recent good relations; the border is open for limited trade. As we climb, take time to scan the opposite hillside. Breakfast smoke marks many small dwellings set among terraces carved out on the slopes, so reminiscent of the hills of Nepal. In autumn and late spring waterfalls arc out into incredible drops. After two hours of climbing with the roar of the Gauri in our ears, a welcome chai stall, we drink hot and sweet tea in the shade. Then we ascend on rocky trails into woodland. Walk quietly and you may hear the crashing noise of a disturbed troop of Langur monkeys. We lunch at the tiny Paryatak tea house set into a cliff, then ascend through a spectacular water carved gorge to our camp at a river junction.
Day 6 - Trek Rialkot 3000m
Up...on a well built trail to the clearing of shepherd camps at 2755m, with stunning high crags all around. Now the altitude will make itself felt, so go slow and drink lots of water. In spring the trail blazed by shepherds en route to the high pastures leads over snow bridges. In October a few remain, like huge grounded icebergs. Now we see the first snow peaks ahead, and we pass wayside shrines to the mountaintop gods. After three hours of climbing we see a seemingly insane trail high above; our route! This tops out to our first view of the 7000m snow peaks ahead, then a welcome descent to lunch. After this we have some gentle contouring on flood churned trails, and then we see the hilltop fort of Rialkot silhouetted against the peaks. Our camp, which we reach after a five hour day, is in the pastures beneath.
Day 7 - Trek Martoli 3374m
A lazy day. The sun hits our camp late, and as we have a 200m ascent, but a three hour walk, we can linger over our fresh coffee and eggs as the sun dries the dew on our tents. Then a steep climb past crashing rainbow hued waterfalls to the deserted old fort above Rialkot, before taking the left fork to the plateau on which Martoli sits at 3374m. This was once a vibrant trading post; now it sits patiently waiting for the trade to resume. Down valley we can see 5678m Shalung Dhura and 5000m Thamkau; our way leads west to the base of Nanda Devi east, peeking down valley above us.
Day 8 - Rest in Martoli 3374m
We are going high, and we need to let our bodies get used to the altitude, thus, a day to explore the area around this old trading centre, or to climb some of the small peaks around the valley. Joel has become an avid student of the old trade route and the people who lived here, and will take you to some of the lesser known parts of the plateau around the old town.
Day 9/10/11 - Trek Nanda Devi East Base Camp 4100m
We climb first to the temple to Devi, where we leave a bell as an offering, and then we move around wooded hillsides to the river junction of Lwanl, a small - deserted - settlement. The villagers come up in June through September. The headman of this village above the Shalung Gad made many journeys to Tibet as a youngster, when the current Dalai Lama was still in China. He stays here well into winter and makes regular trips to Nanda Devi East Base camp to collect medicinal herbs. The peak that we see to our South is 6881m Nanda Kot, with it's neighbors, Nanda Bhanar and Khani. we normally lunch in Lwanl, which is also where we make the switch from Horses to porters. Even though Munsiari villagers' are improving the trail yearly, it is still unsuitable for horses, so we take a lightweight porter team from here. The trail takes care and attention, and the calf high grass makes it harder. The route changes from year to year, and it seems to meander everywhere, so stay together, and follow Lobsang! An hour or so in we see the distant snowy wall that is the east wall of the legendary Nanda Devi sanctuary. We descend to the river, then climb gradually through the pastures of Nasanpanpatti and Ratangangal. Where we camp depends on where the water is - it varies from season to season. Sunset from these camps are memorable, watching the light on Nanda Devi with a cup of hot tea before another evening in our cozy dining tent. From these camps it is normally two days to the base of Nanda Devi East, with the last day a route finding puzzle; rocks, glacier, ice, streams, and hard work! But all worth it when we finally penetrate what we have called the 'East Sanctuary', the high walls of the valley open up, and the views are simply awesome.
Day 12 - Exploratory - Nanda Devi East Base camp
A full day here to really enjoy the remote beauty. Lots of options; wild life spotting, climbing the hillsides, or a stroll to expedition base camp - or simply sitting back and looking at Nanda Devi East cleaving the heavens...
Day 13 - Trek Lwanl 3450m
Another early start in the shadow of these mythical peaks, finding our way across streams and through glacial rubble on trails that need your full attention; ahead of us, at those times when we climb above the valley floor, is the Panchuli range, a feast of Himalayan peaks. Today we should be in camp by mid afternoon, at Moraine or Lwanl camps.
Day 14 - Trek Pachu 3400m
We retrace our steps towards our earlier camp at Martoli, on the route that Bill Tilman famously took after his 1936 crossing of Longstaff Col from the Sanctuary, in search of food and beer - the section in his "Ascent of Nanda Devi" is worth reading. We will probably try to lunch in Martoli, then head up valley to the little visited village of Pachu where we launch our next exploration into the Pachu Gad.
Day 15 - Trek Pachu Gad
Leaving early to take in the stunning views, we have a full day to explore the lakes at the foot of Nanda Devi, roaming the high places to take in the truly stunning views. Our camp today is in the high pastures beneath the sisters.
Day 16 - Trek to Rialkot 3000m
We retrace our steps, bypassing Martoli, to our earlier camp at Rialkot; by now acclimatized to the high places, breathing easily as we take in the lovely views all around.
Day 17 - Trek to Bodgwar 2500m
After the glaciers, the valley turning greener with the spring is welcome; as we descend it also gets noticeably warmer, and a trail that took forever on the ascent simply flies past!
Day 18 - Trek to Munsiari 2100m
An early start, as we have a long day, racing away from a chilly breakfast to meet the sun down valley, we pass the langur infested woods, the waterfalls and temples, and slog up the hill to where our jeeps await...The Pandey lodge, and hot showers - journeys end!
Day 19 - Spare day
For all the Unpredictable's
Day 20 - Drive Kathgodam and overnight train to Delhi
A beautiful drive with the scents of spring in the air, wind down the windows and take in those last mountain views. We return in easy stages, stopping for a picnic lunch en route. Our train to Delhi departs at 8pm, and we arrive with plenty of time to settle into our air conditioned apartment.
Day 21 - Arrive Delhi and depart
We arrive at 4am, so plenty of time to shower and nap before an 8am appointment with the Imperial hotel breakfast buffet.