Exploring ancient passageways of Nelang Valley

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Delhi-based trekker Ashutosh Mishra & his team set out to make the first civilian traverse from Nelang to the Upper Saraswati Valley

Exploring ancient passageways of Nelang Valley
NATURE’S WONDER: Trekkers gaze at the mighty, snowy peaks of the Nelang Valley in Uttarakhand which has quite a few historical trade routes
It’s been a half-century since mountaineering and trekking began to catch on among the general populace in India as a result of the first ascent of Everest by Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953. This summer, a civilian team undertook a path-breaking expedition. The Nelang Valley in Uttarakhand is an area around which a great deal of romance has grown for several reasons. For one, the Nelang Valley leads to historical trade routes and it was one of these ancient passageways through the forbidding mountainous terrain of the region that Heinrich Harrer had used in 1944 during his dramatic escape from being a prisoner of war of the British in India to spending seven years in Tibet during which he gave the child Dalai Lama a grounding in western thought and philosophy.

For another, the Nelang Valley was where legendary British explorer JB Auden had ended up while exploring the tributaries of the Bhagirathi in 1939. (John Bicknell Auden was the younger brother of the great poet, Wystan Hugh Auden.) All Indian mountaineers have heard of Auden’s Col, which leads from the left bank of the Bhagirathi into the Khatling Glacier and Kedarnath. It is named after Auden because he was the first person to cross it. However, before that pioneering crossing, he had spent considerable time doing some remarkable exploration in the Nelang area, trying to find a route to cross over to the Alaknanda Valley through Arwa Col (named by Auden). It was because he was unsuccessful in that attempt that he returned to the Bhagirathi’s left bank and made the crossing of the Col that was later named after him.

About 50 years later, Harish Ka­padia of the Himalayan Club, Mu­mbai, climbed the Col overlooking the Upper Saraswati Valley and named it Saraswati Col. Around the same time, in 1985, Delhi mou­ntaineer Romesh Bhattacharjee also did some exploring in the area. In the summer of 2011, an expedition from Bengaluru led by JP Gupta daringly attempted to cross the Arwa Col from the Alaknanda Valley into the Nelang Valley. Not only would the team members have done what Auden failed to do, they would also have been the first civilians to do it. However, they were unsuccessful due to hostile weather.

And so it was that, his imagination fired by the efforts of those preceding him, Delhi-based trekker Ashutosh Mishra gathered his band of fellow mountain enthusiasts with whom he has done several expeditions in the past and set out to make the first civilian traverse from Nelang to the Upper Saraswati Valley. Not only were they successful, in June this year – nearly 75 years after Auden – but they have also forged a new route from the Gangotri area to Badrinath. Until now, the lone route between these two areas has been the tough and dangerous trek through the Kalindi Khal. They walked from the eastern-most section of the Nelang watershed at Basisi West Glacier to the Mana Dhar, crossing Basisi Col (5,900 metres), and entered the Upper Saraswati Valley near Deo Tal, which is close to the famous Mana Pass through which Indian and Chinese villagers once traded.


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