Kishtwar to Baltal

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Preamble: I am writing this at Dr. Masood’s home in Srinagar. I am fortunate in having access to computer. (Wednesday, July 13, 2011) It seems like heaven to be clean and tidy. Dr. Masood quickly decided I was too dirty as my clothes had suffered severely with all the trekking. So in this first rehabilitated picture you can see me in my kurta-pajama.

In these next few posts I am going to talk about my trek  from Kishtwar to Baltal which  was the longest and in some ways the most interestin of the 4 treks that I have done this year.  In an older email I mentioned that I had stayed at Dr. Bashir Ahmed Minto’s home in Kishtwar for two nights.

Day one -the 5th July I made an early start (5am) at Dr. Bashir’s suggestion. Wasn’t really sure why he wanted me to go so early but the long day which followed confirmed that it was the right thing to do. Actually early starts are normal as the best trekking can be done whilst things are cooler.

Already the bus was full so I caught a shared taxi. The road from Kishtwar to Akala gradually deteriates to a track after Palmer. Once you get to Akala you have entered the Wild West. Horses everywhere loading up with all sorts of goods, flour, rice, toilets, corrugated tin, sugar, you name it. Other horses have saddles and carry passengers. The horses looked to be in good condition. Martyr that I am I decided to start out and maybe pick up a horse on the way to Sonder my destination for that night. Sonder is supposedly 16km from Akala. (but let me tell you right now these are the longest kms I have ever walked)

Unfortunately in so much of India’s remote spots the government is building roads. And steep mountain sides and roads usually end up creating an ugly spectacle. But still there were many sections undisturbed as the road makers hadn’t got that far yet.

I had every intention of avoiding carrying my bag especially after my first trek over Jalsu Pass. But alas all transport looked loaded and no one was interested in a half leg. Actually the problem was probably that the horses traveled in convoys or say 6 to 8 horses with two minders so my little rucksack was of no interest to them at all.

The deodar trees always look magnificent. On the flats would be walnut trees too.  Obviously the perfect place for them to grow as they seem to be in the wild as well as the villages. Here and there army checkpoints, lots of razor wire and idle soldiers probably bored out of their mind carrying machine guns. You always know when you are approaching a dhaba as the rubbish starts to appear. Not much incentive to buy though as only often only sweets, softdrinks and basics. If I did stop I would usually end up buying a mango juice. Then I would suggest to the proprietor that we pick up the rubbish, put it all in a box and light it up. He would just look at me in amazement!

Struggling on I followed the river Marau which I would continue to do for many more days reaching Sonder just on dark (after 6pm).  On the way I join up with a family from Kishtwar visiting Sonder. But as we plodded on they slowed down and I rallied enough so that they were left behind. I don’t know where they stayed as there were no hotels in Sonder and the PWD or Forest Rest House indicated on my map no longer existed. In this area many of these rest houses have been taken over by the armed forces or the police or simply burnt down.

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