The much-awaited day of September 2, 1984, saw our team from the BOI Employees Trekkers and Mountaineers Association and under the leadership of P.R. Agnihotri setting out by the night bus from Delhi for Uttarkashi which we reached the next afternoon.
We were attempting the trek from Gangotri to Badrinath via Kalindikhal. The team split up at Uttarkashi. some making purchases and the others obtaining the requisite permits from the SDM’s office.
This letter task took us two days and we constrained further by the fact that the permit issued allowed us to go only up to Kalindi Pass and that too without a camera. To cross over to Badrinath necessitated permission from SDM Joshimath and so I hurried there on the 5th whilst the others moved on ahead. On the 8th after acquiring the permit, I hit Gangotri to learn that the team was at Bhojbasa. The next day I reached there at 10.00 a.m. and found Agniji waiting for me, having sent the others ahead with the porters. All this running around could have been avoided if we had submitted four copies of our programme with the necessary application to the IMF which would then have forwarded them to the U.P. Government and Defense Ministry. The former would then have issued instructions to the SDM’s of Uttarkashi and Joshimath and camera permits might also be obtained in the process.
After lunch at Bhojbasa, we set out on the five-hour route to Nandanban to join our team reaching there at 6.00 p.m. The Liaison Officer of the Japanese team offered us a cup of tea which energised us after our long tiring trek.
On the 10th we moved up to Basukital despite some of our teammates suffering from altitude sickness. The first leg of the trek was easy but the last bit was treacherous and risky because of the steep climb over hard ice strewn with rocks and boulders. Small mistakes here could cost us our lives. We reached Basukital at around 2 p.m. where two teams from Japan and Spain were camping. The condition of four of our members deteriorated and though they were given available medicines their condition worsened in the night. In view of this, Agniji declared the 10th a rest day. The next day whilst the sick members were acclimatizing and resting the rest of us along with the porters load ferried to the Suralaya Glacier. We reached after traversing for three hours across moraines and were welcomed there by a Bengali team. On returning in the evening we found only one member to have recovered. As we had to release the low altitude porters on the 20th it was decided to send the three sick members back with them to Delhi.
Accordingly, at noon we gave them a send-off- it being a sad moment for us but such decisions become unavoidable on the mountains. We postponed our onward journey as it was late by the time we lost sight of them. That evening it snowed, creating difficulties with the cooking. On the 13th morning source of water was frozen and this delayed our departure. We were now six, including the two high altitude porters, both young locals of Uttarkashi. Their services were essential to us as no detailed map of the route was available. We reached the Suralaya glacier (17200 ft) at 3.00 p.m. where it snowed in the evening. After dinner, we slipped into our sleeping bags, heard the news and weather bulletin on Agniji’s transistor and dozed off.
The thinning down of the team forced us to load ferry the extra items to the Seta glacier. A long walk of four hours over moraine saw us at the tri-junction of Seta, Kalindi and Chaturangi glaciers. The view of the surrounding peaks and ice falls was enchanting. So far we had stuck to the right-hand path after Nandanban but from now on we would have to go along the left side. The right side contains a magnitude of peaks, is still an unexplored area, and the Seta glacier flows down from here to join hands with the other two glaciers. On the left, Kalindi glacier flows down to complete the tri-junction. We started back at 2 p.m. and two hours later it began to snow heavily thus causing problems for our trek and allowing us to get back only at 5.30 p.m.
On the 15th we set out at 10.30 a.m. and reached Seta glacier at around 3.00 p.m., pitching our tents on the hard ice took about an hour after which we cooked dinner. From our campsite, we could see Rocky Kalindi and Avalanche Kalindi but the pass was not visible. It snowed again in the evening and the night was freezing cold with the temperature probably going way below zero. As there was bright sunshine the next day Agniji decided to cross the pass that day itself despite not knowing how much time it would take to reach it. We were ready by 11.00 a.m. as preparation for breakfast and tea took us a long time. We all roped up into two ropes, one lead by Agniji and the other by a high altitude porter who was reported to have done a basic training course. We crossed the Seta glacier and arrived at the moraines and went on for two hours more to reach the base of the pass. This is a depression between Avalanche Kalindi on the right and Rocky Kalindi on the left. Here we found photographs of two members of the Pune team who had died in a crevasse in 1980.
We now had to climb a hump and there were innumerable open and hidden crevasses with a danger of avalanches hitting us anytime as the name Avalanche Kalindi reminded us. Agniji took a zigzag path, leading the rope, and probing for crevasses. Still, two of our members fell in a crevasse but could be rescued instantly. After a long eventful walk over snow, we ultimately reached the top of Kalindi Pass at 5.30 p.m. at a height of 19510 ft. The view was marvellous but we could not take snaps of the ‘tiny’ peaks surrounding us in the absence of our camera permits. Within seconds the sun vanished on the horizon and darkness engulfed us. It was felt to be risky to go down in view of the crevasses and the distance on the other side of the pass. Thus we pitched our tents on the pass, ate biscuits and dry fruits and went to sleep. One HAP developed altitude sickness and screamed throughout the night- perhaps mainly due to exposure in the cold weather and winds.
The sick HAP refused to walk further but his condition demanded that he be brought down immediately. We shared his load amongst us – each carrying an average of 20 kg and persuaded him to walk slowly. Negotiating through the snow and hard ice we reached Arva Tal in two hours. We could have gone on ahead but keeping the porter’s condition in view camped there itself. For the first time after leaving Nandanban we cooked lunch, having lived on biscuits and chocolates in between. But we had to miss our dinner because of the heavy snowfall in the evening. The next morning (18th) we awoke to snowfall which continued through the day, We started out at 10 A.M. crossed two streams on the way, but were forced to call a halt at 4.30 p.m. because of the snowfall. We camped near a stream and ate noodles for dinner.
On the 19th we set out at 10.30 a.m. for Ghastoli. We had been told that after Arvatal the next halt is Ghastoli but continuing through the day and not getting near it worried us as we were left with rations for only one meal. At 5.00 p.m. we discerned the ten roof hutments that make up the border post of Ghastoli. Forty-five minutes later we reached there and our permits were scrutinized by the ITBP personnel. We were cheered by the jawans who offered us hot coffee and a delicious dinner at night after which they sang and danced to welcome us. Their hospitality moved us so much that even the sick porter recovered after dinner.
The next day after devouring the breakfast cooked up by the ITBP we set out on the 17 kms downhill trek to Badrinath which we reached at 11.00 a.m. ongoing via Mana Village. We had a bath in the hot water springs and caught a bus for Rishikesh on the 21st morning and on to Delhi which we reached on the 22nd evening. In all, it had been an exciting, interesting and adventurous trek.