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When I first read about the Garhwal Himalayas as a young teenager, I had the nagging feeling that this was a forbidden world reserved solely for God-blessed climbers gifted with out-of-this-world abilities. Joe Tasker, my idol and inspiration in mountaineering, described two unforgettable adventures in the Garhwal Himalayas - the terrifying descent from Dunagiri where he and Dick miraculously stayed alive despite physical exhaustion, and the famous climb of the vertical face of Changabang where he and Pete bivouacked in hammocks on the face. The Garhwal Himalayas consist predominantly of 6-thousanders and some rare 7-thousanders, but undoubtedly they outshine other mountains in beauty and the marvellous shapes of peaks!
This journey offers a trek to a less familiar area of the Himalayas; it is more difficult than the treks to Everest Base Camp or Annapurna Base Camp. The conditions are more basic (we sleep in tents on higher plateaux and near glaciers), but the peaks are remarkable and views are mesmerising!
Garuda Peak is not technically difficult, but it offers panoramic views of some of the most stunning peaks not only of the Himalayas - Changbang, Nanda Devi, Dunagiri, Kalanka to name but a few!
Flight from Sofia to Delhi - the capital of India. Sightseeing time, depending on the flight schedule.
After breakfast, departure from Delhi to Haridwar and Rishikesh. We go to Haridwar by luxury train (4.45 hrs). From there we take a minibus to Rishikesh (1hr). Hotel check-in. In the evening we have time for sightseeing in Rishikesh, known as the World's Capital of Yoga!
We continue by bus to Joshimath (270 km; 10-11hr drive with breaks and lunch). Because of the numerous turns, the drive is slow and the average speed is no more than 30km/h. A point of interest today is the Devprayag area, where the two sacred rivers of Bhagirathi and Alaknanda merge, forming India's most significant, sacred and great river - the Ganges!
After breakfast we reach the village of Jumma (2500 m above sea level) in about 2 hours, followed by a 1.5-hour hike. This marks the beginning of our trek. Reaching Camp Ruing (2775 m), we meet our mountain team - porters, cooks, etc. We have a rest and prepare for the first night in tents! :) Throughout our stay in the mountains until we go back to Joshimath, we are provided with full board all day long.
In the morning we pack up and head for the village of Dronagiri (3600m). The trail is about 10 km long and will take us between 5 and 6 hours and 800 m in elevation gain to reach the next camp.
On day 6 we trek from Dronagiri village to Garuda Peak base camp (4330 m). The distance is again about 10 km and in about 6 hours we will slowly reach our destination. In the beginning we walk in a forest but soon we leave it behind to find our way on the foot of more and more amazing peaks. We can't get enough of the view! From now on we will trek in the area of the Bagini Glacier!
A day off, or in other words an acclimatization day! Having already crossed the 4000m notch, it is dangerous to strain our bodies and so have a rest in the camp. :)
Today one of our big dreams comes true - we get closer to the peaks of Changabang and Kalanka, reaching Camp 1 of Changabang (5300m)! Words fail us! We are surrounded by Gauri Parbat (6708 m), Saf Minal (6911 m), Rishi Pahar (6992 m), Dunagiri (7066 m), Trishul (7120 m), etc. We return back to the Garuda base camp (6 hr trek there and back).
“The totem from my dreams of the year past confronted us, every bit as difficult, as impossible as when I had first seen it. A year thinking about it had done nothing to soften its severity, nothing to prepare me for facing up to it again in actuality.”
Trek from the base camp to our advance camp (5000m) and back to the base camp (6-7hrs) – as part of our acclimatization exercise!
After breakfast we start our advance. In the early afternoon we are back in the advance camp at 5000 m (4 hrs and 550 m in elevation gain). We get ready for the ascent that will start before midnight!
“It was implicit that we would try again. Inevitably we would miss our flights home and Pete would be so far overdue on his return to the office that he resigned himself to losing his job. We had come so far and we felt so close to knowing whether the climb was possible or not that we could not bring ourselves to walk away in order to keep to a timetable. Parents and friends would be worried too but we had no contact with everyday life, no external stimuli to alter a decision. The mountain was our main stimulus and it prevailed.”
Night climb to Garuda peak (1000m elevation gain) to meet the sunrise on top! The ascent is not steep and has no technical difficulty, but still we are roped together. In about 5-6 hrs we are atop and greet the first rays of the sun with Changbang, Dunagiri and Kalanka in a life-changing moment!!! What follows is 1700m downhill (4 hrs). Knackered, we spend the afternoon in blissful nap in the base camp.
“The top was simply an end to the struggle upwards. Nanda Devi was clear for a moment long enough for Pete to satisfy his wish to see it. An advancing bank of cloud was bringing the bad weather heralded by the rainbow around the sun the previous day. No anthems played in my head; I only wanted to get down. The summit was just one stage in the process of climbing the mountain. I felt no ecstasy at our achievement nor pleasure at the panoramas on every side.”
Today we slowly descend to the camp near the village of Dronagiri. Ten kilometres will take 3-4 hours and at 3600m above sea level we will feel the heat again and the smell of civilisation after more than a week over 4000 m :)
Our last trekking day (from Dronagiri village to Jumma village), after which there will be a short transfer to Joshimath, where we will stay at a hotel and have a shower. This is also our last full-board day. Here we bid farewell to the cooks and porters; it is emotional as we have made friends and have been part of the family for almost 10 days. :)
Today, if the weather is good, we hope to see Nanda Devi - one of the sacred peaks for the Hindu. Nanda Devi (7821m) is the highest peak in the Garhwal Himalayas. We are back to Joshimath for the night.
“For over a month Pete and I had run the gauntlet with death and escaped, to return shouting our triumph. But now I was meeting another side of such encounters. This woman was telling me that her husband had played the same game and lost, as had his three friends. My words, coming from someone who continually played such a game, seemed facile. I fled out of the tent, away from the warmth and chatter, to look at the stars and feel the cool night air.”
Breakfast and drive to Rishikesh and Haridwar (270km; 9-10 hrs). In the evening, we catch a train from Haridwar to Delhi.
“For nearly two years I had been totally absorbed with climbing three mountains. Each one had represented something different, each one had been at that moment, in its own way, the greatest test I could conceive of. Each test had been passed and I was left bewildered. I was alarmed to have succeeded; in a way it would have been more reassuring to have failed. Instead success left me with an uneasy, unsettling questioning about where to go next; something harder, something bigger? Where would it all lead? What had I gained from the last two years if all that was left to me was an indefinable dissatisfaction? Was I destined to be forever striving, questing, unable to find peace of mind and contentment?”
Breakfast. Transfer to the airport. Delhi - Sofia flights.
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Up to 15th of May 2020: EUR 2 349
After 15th of May 2020: EUR 2 549
Price does not cover:
Booking and payment:
• mountain boots – at least 3-season (for the peak - winter boots)
• backpack (women: 40-50 l, men 60-75 l) and sleeping bag (-15 degrees)
• thermal underwear
• fleece and sweater
• trekking poles
• cabin and hotel clothes - a lot of pairs
• socks – a lot of pairs
• warm clothes (thick jacket)
• headlamp (with extra batteries)
• water bottle or vacuum flask
• outdoor knife
• UV-protection sunglasses
• other – personal stuff; a camera is not a bad idea :)
• ID documents – valid international passport