KMY Days 7 to 10: Over the Lipu pass and into Tibet (41/52)

The 17 Km walk from Budhi to Gunji (both  at 3220 m elevation) was the most beautiful of the trip. It was another early start with just a hot cup of tea – and the first couple of kilometers was a very stiff climb for which I  has to use Shera’s services. After the previous day’s experience I did not want to take chances, although the night’s rest and lots of pain killers had done a good job.  At the top of the climb at Chialekh, we stopped for breakfast and the ritual of the checking of passes by the ITBP. Only people with permits, including the locals, were allowed beyond this point, as part of the  border security procedure. And this is where the porters without valid permits were stopped –  and why at the start there was so much fuss about the validity of  permits.

Beyond this, it was gently undulating terrain through  Alpine pastures. Being August, the flowers were all in bloom and although no botanist, even I could count > 20 varieties.

The pristine Alpine pastures of the Upper Himalayas
With the Kali River in the distance
Amazing flora

Along this route is the village of Garbian, which can be called the “kheechad” (slippery, slidey, mud) capital of the world!! Fortunately, it had been dry and so we managed to get through relatively easily. We were not to be so lucky on our return journey – when many a brave and plucky walker found themselves sliding down onto the mud. At the village,  the locals were all out enjoying the sunshine and we enjoyed the local specialty, samosas.

The village of Garbian
Locals enjoying the sunshine – along with Purnata

The locals, for whom the terrain was so easy

After lunch at Keeli, we crossed the Kali River, along the right bank of which we had been walking for 4 days, for the first time and reached camp around 3 PM.

The Gunji camp is a nice one, although the accomodation for the women was a bit cramped. And here, late in the evening,  we got our luggage after 2 nights – only to find that it was soaked inside and out!! This was also where some of the  the luggage failed to reach causing a lot of concern! Fortunately since all my clothes were in individual cellophane bags, these were dry. My friend Purnata, who had not done this found that everything she possessed was wet.  It rained the whole night, and there was some tension about the wet clothes. However, we had a days stay at Gunji and the Gods were kind enough to give bright sunshine the next day which along with the low humidity, dried out all the stuff!

Gunji camp has an awesome location and on a clear day, as on the second day morning you get a wonderful close up view of the Upper Himalayan peaks including Annapoorna

The clothes drying factory
Sunrays on Annapoorna

Although a rest day, we still had an early start as the ITBP officers gave a final briefing and conducted a medical review of our test results. While most of us did OK, a few including a young man  in his early 30s had fairly high blood pressure (a known effect of altitude). By now we  were all friends and there was considerable tension that night as  we did not want anyone to be stopped from proceeding. However that did not happen and after a relaxing day at the camp, we were all ready to set off the next morning.  Gunji camp actually had a TV  in which Doordarshan was available through a satellite connection and we learnt that Sania Nehwal had won an Olympic medal. ITBP also provides satellite based telephone services at really low rates at every camp which allows yatris to stay in touch with their family.

The next day we walked from Gunji to Navidhang (4246 m altitude), a distance of 19 Kilometers. Halfway there is Kalapani, which is the source of the River Kali which we had been tracing all along, marked by  a Kali temple. It was the site of breakfast and the rest of the journey was uneventful too and I reached the Nabhidang ITBP camp around noon. By now you could feel the rarity of the atmosphere, although the gradual ascent over 4-5 days had helped. The Nabhidang camp is very basic with floor beds. From here you have the view of “Aum” parbhat – unfortunately there was not enough snow to make the full Aum. From pictures I know that it can be awesome!

The panoramic views en route
Leaning into the spring from which the river starts
The incomplete “Aum”

Then the next day we were up at 2 am for an early (!!) start – the 7 Km from the camp to the Lipulekh pass, which is at 4112 m was a tough steep uphill trek. The Chinese were very fussy that everyone should pass over the pass before 8.30 am China time – and that is 2.5 hrs behind IST. And the early start was necessary to ensure that everyone reached by 6 am IST  – and  we reached an hour ahead of time and had to cool our heels. Of course, it was still all dark and so we saw this stretch of the journey, only on our return trip.

The crossing over was very simple affair, and there is not even a stone to mark the border. The smart young Chinese official collected each passport and checked the identity, put all the passports into a brief case and marched off. Our passports had no visa stamp as the group visa was issued in the form of a letter, and was carried by the LO. As we passed over into Tibet, we greeted the 9th batch of yatris who were exiting out.  The visa system allows only 2 batches to be in Tibet at any given time – the 10th batch was at this time doing the parikrama.

And so we reached our destination  – Tibet…….

Our first view of Tibet