Kailash: The days of Gunji

This post is part of a travel recollection from Kailash Mansarovar Yatra 2018 via Lipulekh. For a list of posts in their sequence please refer to the following link:

Kailash Mansarovar Yatra : The beginning…

This post is continued from the previous post…

I am sorry to sound dramatic, but Gunji is like the doorway to the fabled land. It was the first so called high altitude halt on our way to Kailash Mansarovar Yatra via Lipulekh.

We reached Gunji (altitude of 10600 ft) by an airlift by Indian Air force from the hilly town of Pithoragarh (around 6000 ft). The route in this relatively low altitude flight was scenic, flying us over valleys sleeping wrapped in clouds on the lap of snow clad ranges.

We saw the Api range of mountains as soon as we landed. It was the first moment of not believing and then making myself believe that I was standing in such a beautiful place.

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First look @ Gunji

The peaks glimmered and glittered in the first rays of the sun. Weather was clear. The range at the background of the azure sky looked like a highly photo shopped landscape, so beautiful, almost unreal.

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Picture perfect!

Gunji (3200 Meters)  is one of the larger camps in the region. It is also the largest village on the Indo-Tibetan border. There is a camp of Indo Tibetan Police Force (ITBP) here. The ITBP jawan and Doctors play pivotal role in this journey. The security and medical facilities on the route to and from Lipulekh pass are arranged by them for all the batches. Later, from practical experience we would find not only how competent they are but also how caring they are towards the yatris. The region is also considered sensitive, given its proximity to the border.

We were taken to the camp. There were some fibre glass igloos in the camp along with a few permanent structures. The ladies were given a hut with two rooms, six ladies per room. The rooms had the basic necessity of a bed with clean sheets and good bedding to combat the night chill. A single LED bulb did the job of illuminating the room during the time electricity came in the evening along with some additional sockets for charging of electronic devices. The camp had basic necessary amenities, and at this altitude, given the conditions, it was more than what we had expected.

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Hello Beautiful!

I was happy. Pleasantly surprised at the beauty that surrounded us. The Annapurna and Api range on one side, Kali river flowing by another plenty of places on the other side of the river that got our attention and needed short treks and a camp full of cordial and very attentive KMVN staff.

Oh, there was other fun stuff as well, which inevitably gets us the the story of Die-Moksh aka Diamox . Read on…

We were supposed to stay at Gunji for 4 days before proceeding to the higher camps towards lipulekh. Two full days were to be spent at Gunji, followed by a night stay in the nearby village of Nabi. Post our return from Nabi, the health check that made sure everyone was ok and was accustomed to the thin air was scheduled. Also, it was the check which, if failed, could send you home right from here.

The first day, just after breakfast, there was a briefing by the ITBP doctors. There was a blanket advise for the group to be on Diamox starting from that day itself. Diamox (Acetazolamide), a sulphur based drug, also a (mild?) diuretic was flowing in our veins from then on and before long, the nights were turned into days and the front of the toilets? meeting place for everyone at night! 😀

One of the yatris could not understand the name of the medicine and a gentleman with good sense of humour proceeded to make her understand that this pill would be providing her moksh (nirvana) without dying. Just the kind of dark humour I like… 😉

People were literally and figuratively pissed off at their newly found plight of being out in the middle of the night once, twice and the number got higher. But for some reason, despite sleeping less, people felt well slept, maybe due to the pure air out here.

Also, there was the story of Gunji mall. Did you know there were malls over here? No? 😀 There were some shops outside the camp, mainly the outhouse of the houses of the locals served as a small shop. But the variety of the goods sold there was enormous. They everything from pin to elephant…err…Maggie to LED bulb  😀

Also, the momo and samosas were to die for.

We were instructed to take complete rest and move slowly during the first two days. Also drink plenty of water, that resulted in plenty more roaming. 😀 When we were not doing that (which was not much) we sat in a group, watching the mountains, on the river bank – hearing the river sing.

I liked to look at the sharp rays of light coming through the mountains as the sun rose and at night, the stars, bright and brilliant trying to find known faces among them.

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Sunrise @Gunji

On one of the evenings we went into the village of Gunji for a walk. The village had layers of houses on both sides of small, slender alleyways.

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The village of Gunji, the largest village on the Indo-Tibetan border

Decorative woodwork adorned the windows and doors of the houses.

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Woodwork adorned window at Gunji, some of the houses are more than 100 years old

Later while speaking to one of the locals, we came to understand that some of the houses were more than 100 years old. The women sat soaking up the warmth of the dying sun, brightly clad and a heart full of smile.

Gunji Scenes
Lady @ Gunji

On the third day, we proceeded to the nearby village of Nabi, which was supposed to be a 3 KM trek. It turned out to be pretty hectic for some of the yatris. The path took us by the side of the flowing river, across a wooden bridge that clearly had seen better days.

On a trek across the river
On a trek across the river…

we saw flocks of sheep grazing nearby.

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Baaaaaaaaa!

The sky continued to be a bright blue with the rays of the sun burning the skin. The hills themselves were green with green patches and tiny houses on them at places, depicting human settlements and fields full of seasonal produce.

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Love, painted by nature

There was a part of the path that had canopy of trees overhead, cool and welcoming. On the side of the roads, there were small flowers in bright colours in full bloom.

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Azure

The slender paths were carpeted with the dried out leaves from the conifer trees. There was also a smell of herbs, the kind of fresh, heady smell that makes you dizzy and happy at the same time. Pine cones hung from trees on the side.

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When the sidewalks are as attractive as the road ahead…

It felt as if we were being welcomed pleasantly by the nature to her very own abode, the closest we would ever be, for the courage we had shown in dreaming of being here before we were here. 🙂

The first stop was the village of Rongkong. We were greeted by the locals who were present in the field at the entrance of the village.

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People from Rongkong assembled in the field just outside of the village

There was a bit of chai and then we proceeded further towards Nabi.

We crossed another wooden bridge across the Kali river and then hiked some more to reach the village of Nabi.

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Another bridge crossed!

I could hear a faint sound of celebration, sounds of drums as I neared a higher platform. And we were greeted by the people of Nabi with locals dressed in traditional Rung attire.

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In the mood of celebration@Nabi

There was song and dance that made us forget the strain of the walk till this place. Some of us joined the celebrations. A drink was served and we were ushered to the newly started village home-stay.

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The entrance of the home stay @ Nabi

Everyone from the village contributed in operating the home stay, aka Home stay Nabi. For now, only people from Adi Kailash and Kailash Mansarovar Yatra were brought here with plans to increase the footfall in near future. The village was also following the sustainable tourism model and were committed to keeping both the surrounding areas and their culture clean.

The village head was a lady with whom I interacted and she seemed just the kind of caring human being an effective leader needs to be.

We were provided common places for staying that had all of the ladies lodged in a big, comfy room. We were served a delicious lunch which was fresh from the oven.

But the star of the show was a pickle made by grinding a kind of leafy vegetable. “Chilchitti Ki Chatney” they called it. It was very tasty and was the most frequently exhausted dish during that lunch.

Post lunch it became overcast. We were getting back to our place of stay for lack of things to do. But there was a gentleman who saw us and asked us if would like to take a walk through the fields. It was just what we wanted.

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An afternoon @ Nabi

So he took us through the fields where black rajma, phaphar (buckwheat), several other types of spices were grown by the locals. There was a structure in middle of nowhere with some long poles of what seemed to be made of bamboos and a shrine of some sort. In between the overcast weather with the wind blowing continuously, it looked surreal.

I thought I would be visiting some places which would be beautiful to behold during my journey, but I was experiencing a place which felt beautiful.

The Rung people are unique for their culture and religious differences in this region. Where most areas have Buddhist influences, these people remain Hindus. Their culture is also distinctive. They are part of a bigger chunk of people known a Bhotia mainly belonging of the Indo-Tibetan trans Himalayan regions. As with the remoteness of the region, the people were mainly dependant on traditional ways of cultivation and border trades for their livelihood. Recently they have found tourism as another option for sustenance.

These people were a musical lot. The young boys and girls here had both musical sense and understanding of their culture. They performed beautifully.

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Beginning of the Musical night @ Nabi (Ritesh bhai singing Pal Pal dil le paas… 🙂 )

Some of the yatris also took part in it. Here, we got to know the fact about last names. Last names of people belonging to these villages are based on the name of their villages. For a person residing in Gunji, the last name is Gunjiyal, for the person from Nabi, it is Nabiyal. And from Rongkong, comes a Ronkoli! 🙂

This fact was the source of many, many more jokes when we were to become accidental Gunjiyals. But that would come later. For now, it is important for you to know that these short visits to the villages of Nabi, Gunji or Rongkong were not the last and there were longer visits to these places made by us at a later time. 🙂

That evening though, the song and dance lasted till late night, post which there was dinner and we slept as we were supposed to go back to Gunji the next morning.

We were up pretty early the next morning and went a bit out of the village of Nabi towards the Adi Kailash route. The road was dusty with streams flowing across it, at the same time, beautiful.

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Route towards Adi Kailash

And we spent some time roaming on the route before returning to our home stay for a quick breakfast and were on our way back to Gunji.

The road back to Gunji was a motorable one and took only an hour of very slow walking for us. We spotted some small shrines en-route this time.

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Route to Gunji

The trees with the colourful pieces of cloths wrapped looked pretty.

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A handful of Colours…

Later that day, we were called for our medical checks. There was a presentation by the ITBP doctors and then the health checks proceeded.

We were measured mainly for saturation level (SpO2) and blood pressure. My SpO2 stood at 96% but I was very anxious and my BP shot through the roof 😀 The doctor, however assured me that everything was OK and I was cleared for the next part of the yatra. What a relief!

Some of the people were instructed to take Diamox that resulted in dipping of BP to lower than average. Some still had very high BP and low saturation. But after some consideration, all of the yatris were rechecked and cleared by the ITBP doctors in the evening.

That night we went back to sleep as a happy group, eager to proceed further.

Next stop, the higher altitude camps, the origin of a fierce river and the road to Lipulekh… 🙂

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