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Sunday
, October 13, 2002
Travel

Darma Valley: Adventure & nature loversí haven
Tarun K. Roy

Fact File

Getting there:
Rail:
Nearest railhead is Tanakpur-282 km

Road: Motorable road is well-connected with different places. Tanakpur-282 km, Delhi via Tanakpur-634 km.

Air: Nearest airport is Naini Saini (Pithoragarh)-136 km.

Accommodation:
Pithoragarh:
Hotel, KMVN Tourist Rest House, Forest Rest House and PWD Rest House.

Dharchula: Hotel/Lodge, PWD Rest House and NHPC Guest House.

Darma Valley: Private Guest Houses/Rental Rooms, Panchayat Guest Houses en route to the villages.

Food: Simple vegetarian food in small hotels en route to the villages.

Best season
May-June or September-October.

THE Kumaon Himalayas ó popularly known as the Himalayan jewel ó are the cradle of lofty mountains, lush virgin forests, gushing wild rivers, crystal-clear lakes, frozen glaciers and high mountain passes wrapped in the scenic beauty of lesser-known breathtaking valleys. The Darma Valley is perhaps the most scenic and least known among these. It boasts of lush conifer forests, enchanting waterfalls, sparkling streams, majestic Panch Chuli Massif, alpine meadows carpeted with tiny wild flowers and picturesque villages rich in cultural heritage and mythology. It offers ample opportunity to trekkers for exploration in the Himalayas.

The Darma Valley nestles in the eastern-most district of Pithoragarh in the newly constituted Himalayan state of Uttaranchal. It borders Nepal on the east and Tibet (China) on the north. The gushing Dhauli Ganga river flows through the heart of the valley. It is encompassed by lush forests of birch, silver fir, deodar, pine and rhododendrons and abounds in a variety of Himalayan flora and fauna.

The valley is steeped in rich mythology. It is believed that after the battle of Mahabharata, the Pandavas had come to this valley and cooked their last meal on these five peaks of Panch Chuli Massif before leaving for Heaven. Panch chuli literally means Ďfive-pointed ovení and the Massif really looks like that if viewed in the mythological context. These five peaks were later named as Mt Panch Chuli I, II, III, IV & V, respectively.

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The Pithoragarh district headquarters, situated in the small Soar Valley at an altitude of 1645 m, was an important landmark of the erstwhile Chand Rajas of Kumaon. The journey between Pithoragarh and Sobla (131 km) takes about six to seven hours by jeep or car and is really enjoyable. En route, the picturesque subdivisional town of Dharchula (96 km from Pithoragarh) is an important camp along the Kailash Mansarowar pilgrim route, situated on the bank of the Kali river. Trekkers can halt here for a night.

The onward criss-cross journey to Sobla is 35 km along the upstream of the Kali river. The black colour of the water itself denotes the name Kali. The river demarcates the natural boundary between India and Nepal. The journey ends at Sobla, from where mules can be hired for carrying loads.

The Panch Chuli base camp
The Panch Chuli base camp

In earlier days, the entry of trekkers into the valley was restricted and allowed only on the basis of inner-line permits issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India. Now the entry conditions have been relaxed and one can travel without any inner-line permit up to the Panch Chuli base or Meola glacier.

The trek through the valley is magnificent and rewarding. A narrow serpentine path climbs up from Sobla along the upstream of the gorgeous Dhauli Ganga and passes through Dhar and Bungling village, a picturesque hamlet perched on a plateau. A collage of natural wonders and celestial fervour flank every bend in the valley. Trekkers may halt for a night either at Bungling or at Sela village. The motorable road to Duktu has almost been completed up to Bungling, which will save the walk through a 12-km stretch in future. The onwards trek of six km passes through forests parallel to the gurgling Dhauli Ganga and reaches Sela, situated on the left bank of the river (2,700 m). The main village is situated on a plateau about a kilometre across the river.

A view of Nangling village
A view of Nangling village

After a steep climb, one reaches Nangling (6 km), which offers an ideal nature trek for watching birds. From here, you may capture a lovely view of the snow-capped Mt Nangling. Baling is a further six km away, a scenic hamlet situated at a height of 3,295 m. Trekkers may halt for a night either at Nagling or Baling village. The gradual trek continues to the next tranquil village of Duktu (6 km) which nestles at the confluence of Duktu Nala and Dhauli Ganga (3,300 m). The first glimpse of the glorious Panch Chuli Massif on the horizon from here looks magnificent. When the sunís rays reflect on the massif, it looks like a majestic golden crown of God!

Each village in the valley has a rich culture of customs and legends. The politeness and hospitality of the villagers is pleasing and touches a trekkerís heart! Itís really admirable to find that each village has a primary school and post office despite their remote location. The villagers are conscious about school education and communication as the basic needs of todayís life. The post office and schools function for 6 months in a year. The Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) posts are established at different places along the valley for the security as well as welfare to the villagers.

The trek continues along the valley till the Lipu Pass, at 5334 m (Indo-Tibet border), one of the passes en route Kailash-Mansarovar pilgrim trek.

A gradual narrow trek diverts from Duktu and follows along the Duktu Nullah over the open and lush expanse of alpine vegetation towards the Meola glacier (5 km ahead). The hour-long trek from Duktu to Meola Glacier is pleasurable.

Blooms form a carpet of colour around the base camp
Blooms form a carpet of colour around the base camp

The Panch Chuli base camp, a splendid green alpine meadow with a charming waterfall, carpeted with tiny blooms across the glacier, is situated at the height of 3,600 m. Truly, itís the abode of God! But itís advisable for the trekkers to stay for a night near the Meola Glacier snout for proper acclimatisation before reaching the base camp (BC). Trekkers have to arrange their own camping gears or take them on hire. The ration/foods can be arranged either from Delhi or Pithoragarh for the stay at the Panch Chuli base camp. Experienced trekkers may climb up further to reach a vantage point and capture a panoramic view of the snow-clad spectacular Great Himalayan range, with the Panch Chuli Massif forming a majestic backdrop.

Adventure enthusiasts may also go in for para-gliding, rock climbing on the cliffs, climbing on the challenging Panch Chuli group of peaks or river-rafting on the meandering Dhauli Ganga. Gazing at these gorgeous sights, there is an urge to retreat to this haven time and again.

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This feature was published on October 6, 2002

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