JADH GANGA VALLEY, 1985

R. BHATTACHARJI

WAY BACK IN 1968, the bus carrying people headed towards Gangotri went only upto Jhala. The Lanka bridge was a rickety foot bridge and the Jadh Ganga or Jahnavi river which meets the Bhagirathi at Lanka was spanned by a decrepit log bridge. From here one had an enticing view into the chasm cut by the Jadh Ganga. It was then that I was attracted by a quaint path hugging the mountainside, as it made its way precariously up the Jadh valley. This was the path to Nelang, where there had been a Bhotia hamlet prior to the Indo-China war.

In June 1985, returning to explore this luring valley, I saw a very different picture from what I had seen in 1968. Ubiquitous progress had been there before me. A massive steel and concrete bridge for vehicles going towards Gangotri now spanned the Jadh Ganga. The high and winding track clinging to the right bank of the Jadh Ganga had been replaced by a rough jeepable road cut through the gorge along the left bank, a brave gesture by puny man, but till now without any dependable permanence, for nature had effortlessly cracked up the road in several places. Thus we left the noxious diesel fumes behind at Lanka and entered the gorge environed by swooping granite walls.

We could not learn much of earlier explorers' efforts here,1 except that the last bid was an abortive attempt by a Calcutta team to Kalidhang (6373 m) in 1974. The reason for this lack of attention by mountaineers to this region has nothing to do with the natural barriers. The big obstacle is the 'Inner-Line permit’ which we obtained by tackling the babus big and small.

On 6 June we were in the forests of Bhairaonghati (3079 m). With a little bit of prodding from the ITBP, we got our porters and mules within a day. On the 8th, we set off under a sullen sky for our promised land. We passed fragrant forests and tinkling brooks. The earlier path on the opposite bank was nothing but wooden steps hammered into a plummeting rock wall high above the roaring Jadh Ganga.

We reached our Chaudar nala camp at Karmoli (3200 m) about 15 km later in a steady but gentle rain. The next morning when the clouds had been blown away we were pleasantly surprised to see a lofty Srikanta (6133 m) looking SW down the Jadh Ganga. To the SE was the Chaudar Dhar, hovering so near and high, that I missed it till my eyes followed a darting lamb up the sheltered glen we were camped in. It had a rounded and snowy high point of 5490 m and lesser but more imposing rocky satellites. Below them was a fissured ice-wall, and just an hour's march away, the Chaudar Bank drained by the Chaudar nala. This was a rewarding area to explore and beautiful enough to tempt us to stay a day longer on the excuse that our clothes had to be dried. Some explored the environs, while some led by Adil, explored the possibilities of getting rakshi. Both had to walk a lot and both were successful.
  1. For the earliest visit see H.J. Vol. XII, p. 27.-E
Photos 10-11 Fold-out sketch 4

It does not rain here much as this area is in the rain shadow. That is why we were surprised by the persistent drizzle on the first day. Perhaps it was only a baptismal shower as we did not have any problem with the weather from then on. The next day onwards, the sky was clear with just a cosmetic sprinkling of clouds to enhance the charm of the scene.

Our march to Naga was a short one. 3 km from our first camp we came to Dhumku (3245 m), the confluence of the Chorgad and Jadh Ganga rivers. From here we turned east, leaving the tree line and entering an even drier region. We could see the dramatic entrance into the Chorgad valley which lies towards Himachal Pradesh and which we had planned to explore but could not due to lack of time. There are granite faces and cliffs running along the Chorgad. Above the confluence of the Chorgad and the Jadh Ganga is a challenging rock peak, Chagle (5992 m), with a perfect pyramid for its summit and shining ice at its base. It is visible from the entire valley till beyond Nelang.

We passed Nelang (3450 m) from the south. Looking south from Nelang, one is struck by the overhanging glaciers of Kalidhang (6373 m). Kalidhang and its sister peaks dominate decisively all creatures and features around Nelang. The Dehigad Bank extends downwards from the Kalidhang and is drained by a stream which skirts Nelang.

2 km from Nelang, the left bank of the Jadh Ganga is transformed into a vertical rock cliff and the track crossed onto the right bank by a bridge below which the river is rushing through a deep narrow chasm. The valley also slowly narrows, vegetation becomes sparse, and there are fewer birds. The hill sides are scattered with wild rose bush. The tip of a white conical peak emerges above the ridge in the ESE, and soon vanishes from view. The Jadh Ganga receives few tributaries. Before Naga we pass one, Guli Gad, which drains the north faces of Chirbas Parbat (6525 m) and Matri (6721 m). This gad we later explored.

Naga (3600 m) nestles in a tight corner at the base of a mountain and between Nilapani Gad and Jadh Ganga which meet here. It was close to the river and how close we soon found out, when Sandeep, While playing volley ball fell into the swollen brine in his attempt to retrieve the ball. Luckily he was fished out before being swept away like the ball.

From Naga we had planned to go along the Nilapani Gad and then Lambi Gad from where we would attempt Sri Kailas (6932 m) from its northern face. We learnt however, that the track to Nilapani has a narrow and steep portion that the mules cannot negotiate, and the few porters we had would have to make a number of ferries. Hence we decided to follow the Jadh Ganga further north from here along with our mules and trusted friends, Man Singh, Paldan, Sherap and Dorjee from Nako in HP, and Devi Singh from Lahul. We had heard that it might be feasible to enter a nala called Baregudda Gad, cross the high ridge to its south, and -descend along the Nilapani Gad to Nilapani. Our muleteer seemed to know of this route and we thought we would use him as our guide.

On the 11th we moved north from Naga along the left bank of the Jadh Ganga. About 3 km from Naga we came to Dosindhu (3633 m), the confluence of the Jadhang Gad and the Jadh Ganga. After Dosindhu there was a steep ascent. Here we were struck by the sudden and dramatic change in the colour of the mountains from a dry brown to an unreal purple. The track crossed a high spur which had some scrub vegetation and a stream, and which served as a camping and grazing ground for shepherds. On descending the spur, the narrow river valley opened into a wide plain of boulders. Sonam (3920 m), a bleak, terribly windy place, is on this wide river bed of the Jadh, dominated by spires and needles and jagged ridges, extremely colourful in the setting sun. Looking back to the south is a massive ice and rock peak with a huge snowy hump of lesser height to its west. After much debating we concluded that this was Chirbas Parbat (6525 m) and the snowy hump was part of it. Closer, to the east of Chirbas, was a 6245 m peak, with a sharp long ridge running down from it into the foreground. To the west of Chirbas, and also in the picture were 6130 m and another high point. The significant absence of Matri (6721 m) from our view that evening was a mystery to us till the next morning when we climbed the next spur 2 km from our camp. Turning to take another look at Chirbas Parbat, we found that Matri had emerged just behind and to the SE of it, a ridge connecting the two. This magnificent view of Chirbas from here caused us to change our plans. The west ridge of this attempted-but-unclimbed-peak looked feasible to us from here. Once into the col, one would have to either traverse or climb and descend the white hump to get into the second col and then attempt the main peak. Moreover, Chirbas had never been attempted from this direction. From here on Chirbas Parbat dominated our wishful thinking and plans and we decided to return to it after exploring north.

From Sonam, the track continued north on the left bank at some height above the river. There were striking colourful rock features, of needles and gendarmes, steep scree slopes and plenty of rock falls. The wind was being funnelled through the narrow valley and was extremely strong. A turquoise lake was formed in the river where a stream from Jadhang (5290 m), joined the river. We had to wet our feet crossing a nala that joined the river from the east. On turning the corner from here we came across some stunning land forms in mudstone; a natural arch through which we passed. We crossed onto the right bank of the river, and soon after came to Tirpani, the confluence of the Rongmach Gad, Jadh Ganga, and another small dry stream from the east locally known as Rouguri gad. Here we crossed the Rongmach Gad and continued up the right bank of the Jadh. The Rongmach Gad being the larger of the two streams, our river seemed to have suddenly shrunk in size, and also changed in colour from blue to a clear water, showing the multicoloured pebbles in its bed. Just before Pulamsumda (4300 m), we met some shepherds on a small meadow who had come up all the way from Harsil for these small patches of very nutritious grass. We crossed the river onto the left bank, bounded over the foot of a spur, and there near the meeting of two fast and clear flowing streams was the alp, a little green paradise in the rugged rock mountains. A chilly wind made us feel uncomfortable, but the sight of Tibetan ponies galvanised quite a few of us into riding them. Thaga la (5030 m), from where Heinrich Harrer and Peter Aufschnaiter had escaped into Tibet during World War II, was only 24 km to our north from here and Tsang Chok la was KNE and even closer.

The next day we left the Jadh Ganga and followed its eastern tributary the Baregudda Gad to our next camp known locally as Rampratap ka Parao. The way was enjoyable as we bounced over turf and leapt from rock to rock, crossing the stream innumerable times to find our way up this nala. Our 4745 m camp that day was in the midst of bleak bare mountains, some of which had a sprinkling of a particular kind of green furze patch. When lit, tt burnt with surprising ferocity to produce a great sizzling and crackling sound and much comforting heat. The following day, 14 June, a group of us went with Mohar Singh our muleteer to recce the route to the south for crossing over into Nilapani Gad. Two other teams climbed to two high points, one of them being the one marked as 5265 m on the map, from where they could view ranges in Tibet on all three sides of them. The recce team meanwhile came across glacial moraine and a frozen glacial lake, they climbed a col and crossed into Tibet unknowingly, but returned with iio conclusive find of the route to Nilapani. Hence deciding to return by the same route to Naga, we set our minds on an ice-capped cone (5980 m) that we would climb the next day before leaving this region.

Our climb the next day was steep, over scree and sometimes rock; Some couldn't keep up and some others stayed behind to be with them in the clear, but cold and inhospitable terrain. Only Indrahath, Sandeep, Murli, Thapa, Gita, Amala and Devi Singh were successful to climb the 5980 m summit after fixing two lengths of rope over the last portion. The view of course was most rewarding. They could see Tsang Chok la (5350 m), Thaga la (5030 m).and much beyond, way into Tibet. Still further beyond intervening Tibet could be seen Raniso la (4055 m), Khimokul la (4557 m), Kinnaur Kailas (6474 m), Leo Pargial (6791 m) and some peaks of Chango glacier region that a few of us had explored in 1981; To the SE was Muling la (5584 m) and due south were Sri Kailas (6932 m) and Mana Parbat (6794 m). To the ESE and very much in the distance was a triangular peak that stood out highest among the ranges. From here we could also see the col Sandeep and Mohar Singh had crossed going into Tibet and the frozen lake just in the col of the peak we were on. Probably crossing the col and going south we would get to Nilapani. But the way looked steep and difficult and certainly impossible for our mules. Hence we returned to our Baregudda camp that night and then made our way back to Naga, stopping once at Tirpani (4125 m).

Now our sights were trained on Chirbas Parbat which we would approach through Guli Gad which joined Jadh Ganga on its left bank between Naga and Nelang. At Naga we lost a day trying to cross the swollen Nilapani Gad so as to get to the head of Guli Gad. At this time of the year rivers are always swollen and crossing them is always a problem. The next day we sent Murli, Adil, Prabhu and Devi Singh to cross the Jadh Ganga by the bridge 2 km from Nelang and return on the opposite bank to the confluence point. Prabhu stayed behind at this point to throw a line across on which the loads were ferried over the river. The majority took the circuitous route over the bridge and then the precarious way back over the cliff on the opposite bank. By evening the Guli Gad was a torrent and it was impossible for all the loads and a few of us who remained on its right bank to cross onto its left bank where the rest were. Hence much to the amusement of the others, those who crossed by the rope trick spent the night marooned and hungry.

From here on progress was slow. There was no place for mules here, our porters were few and this necessitated numerous ferries. The river being hemmed in by steep walls, we could not find any route along it. We had to climb very high above the river and traverse extremely steep slopes of loose rocks and scree. The steep gradient of the mountain itself and on top portions of landslid mountainside caused Adil to slip twice and give us anxious moments till he was stopped by humble proturbances. By afternoon we could see a flattish green patch up ahead on our route, but we were cut off from it by a few hundred metres where the mountainside had collapsed. Thus that night we remained on the steep mountainside having to cut out a little platform that could barely accommodate our tents. Water was far down in the valley. The wind was a menace creating havoc by raising clouds of dust.

The next morning we were more than glad to move camp onto the green haven we had spotted ahead after a steep descent to the river and then steep ascent. This little meadow camp had the traces of having been used by shepherds, probably some years before.

After following the Guli Gad a little more towards the SE, we turned off to the south along a nala that joined it. From this point our mountain came into view. We established base camp on the moraine at the snout of the glacier north of Chirbas Parbat at 4600 m. We were compelled to wait here for our hardware to come up with the loads and we chaffed at the delay.

Chirbas Parbat dominated our camp from the day we got here and so did the clouds. We were close to the northern side of the Zanskar range, and as it was the last week of June, the monsoon had set in bringing in clouds from the south every afternoon.

Eventually on the 25th we moved up the stream, turned west skirting the glacier and glacial lake at the base of Chirbas. Then climbing on the glacier, we camped on a rocky patch below and to the north of the col at 5550 m. The next day, Munmun, Murli, Sandeep, Dorjee and Devi Singh got into the col and spent the night there in a heavy snowfall. Their ascent further up the west ridge was blocked off by the steep rock face of the hump of Chirbas. (Photo 10) Viewing south from the col were Manda and the three Jogin peaks of the Gangotri region. The weather was getting hostile and it would have been unwise to linger on. As soon as our five members descended from the col we retraced our steps to base camp, and the next day, all the way down to the mouth of Guli Gad. That night we enjoyed camping on the grass among blooming rose bushes and little conifers.

The charm of this area lies not only in its mountains, but in the fact that one can walk miles and not meet a soul. There are no campsites to share and you yourself are responsible for the quiet around you. There is still a large part of Uttarkashi that is remote, and for that we have to thank the bullying babus who resolutely deny Inner-Line permits. May God bless their insensitivity, and may their tribe increase!

Members: Dipta Bhog, Sandeep Kapur, Gita Sahni, Sadhana Kaul, Jaideep Wadhwa, Murli Dhar, Vijay Thapa, Amala Krishna, Adil Tyabji, Munmun Chatterjee, Indranath Mukherjee, Y. K. Puri, Prabhu Dhandriyal and Itomesh Bhattacharji (leader).

Chirbas Parbat viewed from Jadh Ganga valley and view of summit ridge from west col (below)  (R. Bhattacharji)

Chirbas Parbat viewed from Jadh Ganga valley and view of summit ridge from west col (below) (R. Bhattacharji)




Views from Jadh Ganga Valley: Srikanta (6132 m) and Kalidhang (6373 m) (below).

Views from Jadh Ganga Valley: Srikanta (6132 m) and Kalidhang (6373 m) (below).