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Walking the Saryu & Pindar Valleys

Cathy Cooper, 24 January, 2018
All of our Indian adventures are unforgettable, but photographer Cathy Cooper was particularly struck by the vibrant colours of the Saryu and Pindar Valleys – she even had to dull her images down in post production as they looked unreal!
 

From the moment I stepped aboard the early morning train at New Delhi station I knew I was on a journey of discovery. This was the first experience of a Village Ways holiday for me and my three companions. We had chosen this location in India for its remoteness and proximity to the Himalayas.

The first class carriage was basic but clean and comfortable. Breakfast was served along with a daily paper. The sun rose as we sped through the outskirts of the city and into the countryside. Six hours later we reached the town of Kathgodam and the end of the line.

A car was waiting. The driver took us to a restaurant for lunch where we had large dosas and lime soda, the bill coming to £5 for the four of us.

The next leg was a four-hour road trip climbing higher and higher to the Khali Estate in Binsar, a haven with an interesting history. It was perched on a tree-lined hill with circular towers to sleep in and gave us our first views of Nanda Devi. Here we relaxed on a sunny terrace before the next leg of our adventure.

In the morning after repacking to lighter bags, the journey continued. The road got steeper and decidedly rougher as it wound around deep valleys. There was much to see – small towns, people harvesting crops, and wildlife.

We stopped for a short break when our driver spotted a griffon vulture circling the skies looking for prey. It was the first time I had tried out my new zoom lens. I was so glad now that I had brought it with me.

The going was slow and sometimes looked impossible due to landslides, but our driver was excellent, and we felt safe in his hands.

The road finally ran out. We got out, travel sore, and walked up through terraced farmland until we reached Supi village and our home for two nights.

The house couldn’t have been in a better location, high up amidst pink blossom trees and with stunning views of the mountains. There were five rooms, each with a sitting area plus a separate dining room, but we always tried to eat outside in the sunshine. This was my first taste of the vibrant colours used in decorating the houses in this region, the blue especially.

The local people were friendly and welcoming as we wandered around the village the next day. Everyone talks about the colours of India and I expected that in the cities but not on remote hillsides miles from anywhere. The woman wore a necklace made of gold and black glass beads, a symbol that she was married. I bought a much cheaper version later in the village shop.

We met the local blacksmith and his wife. While he hammered the iron in the fire, his wife turned a wheel to produce air for the bellows. I asked him if he would make me a horseshoe as a keepsake.

All the houses had a stall on the ground floor to house the animals which were brought in at night to keep them safe from attacks by leopards. Cows and goats were very much part of the family and treated with respect.

Supi was a lovely and interesting village. I found this book in the house and realised there was so much more to this region of Uttarakhand. I placed my hand-forged horseshoe on it together with a mica rock I had picked up and a ball of goat wool which I had bought in the local shop.

The morning we left Supi it was New Year’s Day in the Hindu Calendar. All the children came to visit us dressed in their best clothes and carrying sticks festooned with flowers. We said our goodbyes and, with our two guides Raj and Pappu, took the trail to the next village in the Saryu Valley.

We passed through forests of deep red rhododendrons. The scenery was beautiful, and we saw no other people except for a herder and his goats who made us wait to cross a narrow stone bridge over the river.

In the distance, the villages looked so picturesque nestling up the sides of the hills with their typical haystacks and steep terraces.

The welcoming committee in Jhuni was in the form of a mountain dog who obviously hadn’t been told we were arriving.

The house was at the top of the village commanding superior and dramatic views of snow-clad peaks. This was the only place we had inclement weather. That evening a thunderstorm came over the mountains and the power failed. We ate supper in the dining room on the roof in candlelight while lightning struck all around. It was very exciting.

The next morning was bright and clear. Met these two cheeky boys on a walkaround, not so much a walk as a trek. The villages are sprawled over the hillsides with steps made of rocks between the terraces. It keeps you very fit.

As a cat lover, it was good to spot one sunning itself on a particularly colourful balcony. I have noticed that many of the cats in the mountain regions of India and Nepal are spotted like Bengals.

Unlike the mountain dogs, they are normally quite shy.

The farm animals here were part of everyday life, very relaxed and used to human contact. We spent a while watching these goat kids running around and jumping over each other.

I loved the way that the people and their houses were so traditional and then a satellite dish would appear attached to the wall. These and solar panels were widely used up here. Even the dish was painted to match the house.

After a quiet and pleasant trek from Jhuni to our next village, we were suddenly the centre of attention. The ladies of the village committee met us, placing a bindi on our foreheads and giving each of us a flower garland and a sweet.

Kal Jhuni had just finished renovating a house for visitors and we were the first tourists to stay there.

We had to dance all the way through the village and then a big party was thrown with music and dancing. It was interesting to see bagpipes being played and as one of our party was Scottish – very apt.

View from the new house balcony with the party in full swing below. As the photographer, I had to leave my dancing shoes off to capture the moment.

The next day we said goodbye to Kal Jhuni and set off up the steep track to our next destination, the tented camp.

We felt like celebrities as all the local children gathered around to say goodbye and shake our hands or give us a high-five.

Having a rest on a ridge and looking back at where we had travelled from. All over the hillside the rhododendrons were in full flower. There was a whole entourage with us to help with cooking, carrying bags and equipment. During lunch stop, the women plaited our hair.

As we ascended, snow started appearing on the ground in patches. It was quite deep as we got nearer to the top and the tented camp.

This must be one of the best views to wake up to, right in front of Nanda Devi. The tents were spacious with beds and a washroom. That evening we had curried eggs in the dining tent. Bedtime was announced with the arrival of hot water bottles.

Pakora tastes even better with a mountain view and a pot of ginger tea

Our excellent guides, Raj and Pappu. Both were knowledgeable and personable. They made the whole experience very special.

Leaving the tented camp in thick snow, we stopped at the Hindu Temple to admire the view for one last time before descending into the Pindar Valley.

Watching our steps on the icy path before entering the forest.

The reward for a long downhill was relaxing on a sunny terrace in front of the house in Dhur.

This mother and child popped up from the village to meet us in Dhur. The women were very friendly here, so I asked if two of them would sit on a roof top with me for a photograph. Roof perching seemed to be the thing to do in this region. It was lovely to see the old slate tiles which sadly are being replaced by corrugated iron.

I was pleased to see this sign and noted the point ‘Ask Permission and Use Restraint When Taking Photographs’. I hope I always do.

On the trail from Dhur to Karmi, we stopped at a teashop. Traders arrived with their pack horses. I am always interested in seeing the different bridles and harnesses they use.

Our last house of the trip was in Karmi. It was situated above the village as they all had been and quite on its own. I remember coming out at night and seeing the sky bursting with stars.

It was a fitting end to my journey in North West India wandering around the homesteads of the Himalayas and knowing that Tibet was just over the mountains. The next day was a long haul back to Kathgodam to catch the night train to Delhi. I had my lucky horseshoe and ball of wool with me and lots and lots of memories.

There was a lot of information to process. Photographs are always a good aide-memoire, but I also keep a journal when I travel.

Although I had been on trips with Inntravel previously, this was my first time with Village Ways.

The whole concept appealed to me. I was very impressed with the locations, the accommodation, the food and especially the guides. There was a real sense of independent adventure in places far off the beaten track but at the same time with the knowledge that I was being looked after every step of the way.
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