The trek of the Milam Valley – On the trail of Nanda Devi

October 2012

Lonely Planet says that this trek is difficult. When studying maps and topography, we can be surprised: the average difference in height is small as the maximum altitude (4000m approx.) Indeed, many mountain walks lead us to altitudes above 5000m. But as we will see, LP is not wrong. This six-day trek to a minimum for which we spent 11 days sometimes becomes a real hell with collapsed and deflected slopes, tracks of loose stones on which we try to choose the aisles, when there, to avoid twisting ankles…

Our goal : to come as close as possible from the monster that is the Nanda Devi, a sacred mountain of 7811 m, by joining one of the base camps, east of the summit. A secondary objective is to cross the glacier Milam from its left bank before returning to the lower valley.

Background: Travelling with minimum weight to be flexible is our motto for this type of trip. To avoid excess baggage weight while permitting a maximum of autonomy for being at the center of events, even if taking some risks is necessary. The ideal period is autumn following the summer monsoon, especially long and abundant this year 2012 (there were reports of landslides due to flooding in lowland to mid September). October is also the month of migration of the inhabitants from the upper valley: as no more pastoral activity is possible in winter and since the trade route  was abandoned in 1962, the upper valley is emptied of its inhabitants for the six winter months. Many villages are temporarily totally abandoned.

Preparation: This trek was in our heads for several years because the range of time when it is made possible with a sufficiently clear weather is very narrow, from late September to late October. We used Google Earth, Lonely Planet and the Lonely Planet forum, very useful. We have not found any valid map on Paris because this region is virtually unknown there. The accuracy of the satellite photos was sufficient to create a marked route using GPS. As we shall see, this preparation is not sufficient because recent landslides have changed the track’s places sometimes on several kilometers.

GPS : the daily journey must be recorded for keeping the daily distances traveled. This has not been done this time.

This year we did not perform any special physical preparation outside jogging, walking and swimming. We are in good physical condition before leaving. Sylvie is a little tired.

Backpack: initial weights are 16 and 14 kg including in particular a 1.5kg tent, two sleeping bags -9 ° C so-called « comfort » of 1.5kg each and food for at least 5 days including dried ham, semolina, sausage, county, chocolate, instant coffee, dried fruit for 4 kg.

They are too heavy. We absolutely need to reduce weight for the next treks.

Access to the Milam Valley: The first part was made with Air India from Paris to Delhi 22:30. to 9:30. Flights with this company are always pleasant and punctual until now, with competitive rates. What more to ask for?

The train from Old Delhi at 16: 00 is a good alternative to avoid night buses starting from Ghaziabad evening around 22: 30. It stops after 7h route in Haldwani where is the bus station and jeeps. Jeeps are a flexible and cheap way to reach Munsyari from Haldwani. It does not seem possible to go there directly. One or two changes on the road are surely needed.

Without wasting much time, we reached Munsyari in 38h from Paris.

Travel and trek  daily

• October 6:

We may be accustomed to travel in this megalopolis but we are always overwhelmed by events. This time, we learn at the entrance of the new metro that it is closed for maintenance. More than 2 weeks after, it will still be closed. It is amazing to see a so recent work paralyzed in this way.

We arrive at New Delhi Railway Station at 11am to buy Delhi – Haldwani train tickets. Indeed, there is a special office in NDRS for tourists and tickets are issued on specific quotas. We know that a train leaves at 16:00 but booking in France on the Indian Railway website is impossible due to an obligatory No. Indian phone required! Upon arriving, we are told that the office was moved to Connaught Square and we stupidly believe it. In reality we are taken to a travel agency. The lost hour prevents us to book because the minimum delay is 4 hours before departure.

It is also good to anticipate a wait of at least 1 hour because the queue can be long.

We change euros in Main Bazar Street in order not to be caught in the mountain villages where our Western currencies must do the effect of Monopoly money.

Unless absolutely necessity, do not change at the airport because the change would make you lose 6% of the value.

We go to Old Delhi Railway Station considering to take a night bus at Ghaziabad if we can’t book our train seats. There, happily, we buy our tickets 136Rs/billet less than 2 € for 7 hours by train. There is a McDonalds in ODRS. It’s not that I like this type of restaurant, but we are happy to delay spicy food experience until it will be necessary.

The train leaves on time.  We enter a car by random. Controllers are kind and let us sit at numbered seats for which we have no right. But how could we know where to go when nothing is specified? Fortunately, this time, the train is not crowded.

The night is long on the hot and humid plain. For our picnic dinner we blend discreetly a fresh coke bought on the way with some Ballantine purchased at duty-free shop. We no longer feel the fatigue of travel. We only feel that our new adventure starts correctly…

We arrive in Haldwani at 22:30 as planned. We are on the border of the plain and the Himalaya’s foothills. This is probably why the railway line stops there. A ricksaw takes us a few minutes to the bus station and jeeps. Despite the late hour, we are immediately approached by touts. One of them leads us to the driver of a jeep that leaves just for Munsyari. Some travellers are already waiting. They are happy to see new passengers because the jeep only leaves when the car is full. We go without losing time. It will be impossible to sleep during the second night of the trip.

• October 7:

We are still in good shape when the sun rises and blushes the tropical countryside. We stopped several times to take a tchai at the roadside. We are nodding when the jeep stop at 8:30. The driver tells us that we are still 70km from Munsyari. However, he will not go on. He invites us to get into a new jeep whose driver tells us he will go at 10am for our final destination. The former one makes us pay his share, 650Rs from the 900 he wanted in Munsyari for all the way.

But at 10:00, no new client is present. I feel bad the situation. We really need to rest. I negotiate with the driver a price for an immediate departure. 1000RS. What a luxury! A long bench for each to lie down. We soon get to sleep, not without a bad conscience seeing three passengers crammed in beside the driver.

The air becomes cooler and we are seeing the first snowy peaks.

We arrive at around 13:00. We are looking for a hotel, walking through the big village that is Munsyari. Finally, it is next to the bus station that we find the best one: Pandey Lodge (350Rs) with a great view of the Panchachuli range from the large bay window of the room.

The boss tells us that there is no more authorization to be given by the police. A simple declaration just has to be made. We go to the barracks located few hundred meters from the hotel after a lunch of omelet, rice and coca. Formalities are completed in 5 minutes while we are on a Sunday !

• October 8: Day 1 starting altitude 2157 m, 1634m altitude on arrival

The sun rises around 6: 30 on a clear sky. A light mist covers the valleys and marks the first rays of the sun. We have prepared a package of unnecessary affairs for the trek to let it in the hotel to avoid needlessly burden in our backpacks. We leave at 8:00.

We have decided to walk from Munsyari because there is only 4.5km to the entrance way. A short walk to avoid additional transportation researches… We take the opportunity of crossing the village to buy a flashlight (80rs) because I broke mine during the trip.

Points are carefully recorded in the GPS and we follow our route without difficulty. The path downhill often crosses the loops of the road.

A woman stops us and tell us that the way to Milam is not in the direction we take and that the good track is overhanging. We do not believe her because GPS is formal in its indications. It must be a conspiracy to make us take a guide!

At 13h, as the path narrows and differs only intermittently, I go without backpack to explore the slopes heights. I cannot find anything and I come back, tired. After a quick picnic, I get carried away by the weight of the bag with which I’m not accustomed. I go out with a black eye that will not leave me for the trip. The left wrist is a little sore but nothing is really damaged.

We continue until we hit a huge cone of screes cutting the road. The blocks are unstable and take their source several hundreds of meters above us. Nothing indicates a path overhead. I choose to explore the area without the backpack. Progression, even without the bag is not easy. I find myself facing a vertical wall falling in the Gori Ganga, where I find an open gallery. On the other side of this gallery, a new cone of debris awaits us.

On my return, however, we decide to try our luck. The advance is slow and cautious. Each stone can be a trap. We find the true path to Lilam at above 16h, surrounded by a few inhabited houses. This hamlet has become a cul de sac and people look at us, surprised and compassionate. The track is increasingly steep but we are reassured. We arrive at 17:30, exhausted and unable even to enter in the village, we settle into the first guesthouse bordering the path. The water flows in abundance from rocks and our toilet with icy water regenerates us. Sylvie will be the victim of a greedy leech.

Our misfortune is a serious warning: preparation at distance, however accurate, cannot replace local search for informations and news before leaving.

The owner gives us a good dinner of chai chapatis omelette watered with a bit of local alcohol. We lie at 19h. Our lifes will be linked with the sun as there is not much to do in the dark and it takes advantage of the early morning, still the clearest period of the day. We sleep soundly.

The use of bags and sleeping mats is essential because the bed is a set of planks.

• On October 9, 2nd day arrival altitude 2322m

After almost 13 hours of sleep, our bodies have not forgotten the foolish efforts of the previous day. When we want to get up, our legs reject any effort. We stagger for several minutes before we can move in and go out of the shack. It will take two days to our bodies before they get used to the demands of the trek.

It is 8: 00. The sky is blue, but dotted with some clouds. We do not start until about 10: 00 after breakfast (chai, chapati and omelette). We double the village of Milam quickly.

If the GPS indicates a walk of 12 km, the real life will ​​learn us that nearly twice must be actually performed in difficult conditions. Indeed, the frequent landslides due to the verticality of the valley continue to destroy large portions of the path. They are most often deflected by difficult climbs and descents on the still stable parts of the mountain.

The notion of bird’s kilometer sees the day. And we would be birds to avoid unnecessary ascents sometimes requiring the use of our hands to go up!

Because late  departure  and frequent deviations, the night comes before we arrive to Boudiyar. We stop in a place overlooking the Gori Ganga and sheltered from the wind. The first drops surprise us when we finish setting up the tent in a wall cavity. I just have the time to look for 2 liters of turbid water in the stream for cookery.

The wood is abundant for the fire. The rain intensifies during the dinner (semolina, sausage and sweets). We see that the tent seams are leaking. The water pearl inside and pants Sylvie turned into mop. Bags and shoes are protected by their tarps outside. The rain thankfully stops at 22h.

The earplugs come to the end of the roar of the torrent, thunder and the sound of the rain on the tent.

• On October 10, the third day, arrival altitude: 2450m

We get up at 8: 00. The sky has been washed from clouds during the night. It will be a day of rest because we are close to Boudiyar. We take the time to dry affairs in the sun business and enjoy the scenery.

We arrive at the village after an hour’s walk. We go directly to the barracks positioned at the entrance. We are welcome by soldiers who offer seats and water. The procedure seems poorly implemented or very recent because the military are hesitant. It must also be said that there are so few foreigners on the way: I note on the register only one passage per day in recent weeks. Anyway, we are far from recordings with mandatory photocopy of passport and announced confiscation of cameras.

We have to investigate whether these flexibilities are implemented also for Sikkim trekking regulations (obligation to go through an agency, to be four or more trekkers, to have official guide mandatory with so many carriers and so on.) We never came to Sikkim because of these impossible regulations.

There is a guesthouse in Boudiyar, rustic and expensive (285Rs). The owner of the restaurant is very nice. We spend the afternoon sunbathe on the lawn. We make our first laundry in the brook.

The evening is exquisite with muleteers who try to get us drunk with local alcohol. I vacuum the bottom of their filthy jerry can, smoking a divine bidi: we will not be drunk but a serious headache awaits us at night! (oddly, my heart beats very slowly 50-60)

• On October 11, the fourth day, the arrival altitude: 3128m

It’s been a long time that the noisy traffic of mule on the road separating guesthouse and restaurant started when we go out of bed at 6: 30.

We let 4 kg of luggage including 500g semolina and books. We hope to be a little more comfortable in future ascents. The guesthouse owner asks us 300rs we negotiate with 100RS. We still have five days of autonomy, which is more than enough.

It is imperative to gain weight and to be more precise in the preparation of menus for next treks.

Muleteers offer us to take charge of our bags  to let them at Rilkot for 300Rs. We refuse. We’ll see how far we can go on our own!

It is a beautiful time and we walk a lot better.

We religiously open Bayonne ham and Comté for lunch at a shepherd hut where we order tchai. They will be tasted with 5 chapatis taken in Boudiyar.

We go through extraordinary gorges where a wonderful location for camping is possible (30 ° 14’8 .79 « N – 80 ° 12’57 .04 » E). Returning, we will stop there for a night if possible.

The environment has changed from the tropical vegetation to conifers and pasture when we arrive in Railkot 16h.

Railkot is abandoned by most of its inhabitants, permanently or for the winter period. Two out of three families have already gone. We are fortunate to find someone who offers rice dal vegetables and a place in his attic. We share it with an old Indian and some large mouse that preys on our backpacks.

• On October 12, 5th day, the altitude reached: 3416m

We wake up naturally at 5: 30. We are now in line with the sun. Our host does not really want to serve chapatis for breakfast. This will be a spicy Maggi. Must be adaptive! We start at 7: 15 without being able to freshen up: there is no water. On the way, we bump into one of many families who settle in the lower valley during the winter. Who will be there when we arrive?

The path has become easy because the valley widens.  We even meet a bulldozer! This is surprising and we must believe that local authorities want to turn the mule track in motorable road? We are concerned by the sky. The clouds have piled up quickly on the northern ranges .

The sun is not strong enough to warm us when we stop. At the level of Burphu, at around 10: 30, we take lunch in a small and friendly hut. This is our last civilized point because we will separate from the main road on the left bank of Gori Ganga, staying on the right side to reach the valley glacier of Pachhu.

On leaving, the owner pursues us because he is afraid that we’re taking a wrong track!

We lose a little in the fields but we arrive at Ganghar at about 15h after passing through two abandoned and walled houses villages. Bad weather prevails in the lower valley and the cold wind pierces us. The village was completely abandoned by its unhabitants as we expected. We sit in what can be described as the central square of Ganghar (30 ° 24’2 .38 « N – 80 ° 9’15 .00 » E). The water flows from a tap in a small fountain. Handy!

We are looking for firewood and we place a refuge in a small stone building to shelter us from the wind. The wood does not fail. The collapsed structures provide us with dry birch branches.

Following the installation, we explore the hill to find the entrance to the path that will lead us tomorrow at the base camp of Nanda Devi. We find it easily behind a small temple. It is a chance because we did not find any sign of it in the satellite photo of Google Earth.

Snow falls softly when we light the fire at 16h. We prepare a tea to warm us.

The night is cold and long. The two sleeping bags have been linked together. But the cold awakes us regularly.

• On October 13, the 6th day, the arrival altitude: 3954m

The sun rises at about 5: 30. The tent walls are lined with a thick layer of ice from our breaths. It falls in fine particles on our frozen faces.

The sky is completely clear and we can now see a dome of the Nanda Devi, standing as an invitation. I scrape the ice to avoid its melting with the heat of the sun coming. We rekindle the fire for breakfast (muesli and cappuccino galore!)

We are not starting before 8: 25 because storing the package took time. The path on the right bank we could also theoretically take seems more direct but also more dangerous with unstable screes. We don’t regret our choice: our way is very steep but correctly marked.

The snow appears on the trail. We see a lot of traces of a big plantigrade. They are as wide as my shoe print and twice shorter. Sylvie is afraid and wants already to go back. We have a strong feeling of isolation here. In the description of the area, I only read the presence of the snow leopard, harmless and endangered. It seems to be from a biped. It should not be a bear because we do not see a trace of claws. It would thus be a child yeti? Sylvie is not more reassured, but we continue.

Meanwhile, the clouds collect on the Nanda Devi massif. We arrive at 12: 15 on the plateau overlooking the Nanda Devi’s glacier. At its limit, an avalanche trail dug deep furrows, difficult, maybe impossible to cross with our backpacks. We decide to stop there. We are 1 km from the base camp.

We set up the tent in the last groves of rhododendron (30 ° 23’28 .78 « N, 80 ° 7’1 .81 » E). It must be beautiful in the spring. Dead wood is abundant and we have no difficulty in raising enough to protect us from the cold and for the cookery. We get the snow with a spoon to melt it because there are no water sources here.

The night will be difficult with our not too suitable equipments. I have 6 superimposed clothes layers. We are trying to protect us with survival aluminized blankets. Nevertheless, we shiver all night!

• On October 14, the 7th day arrival altitude: 3186m

The wake up around 5:30 rewards us for our efforts: Nanda Devi is revealed in a clear sky at daybreak. It occurs first in shades of gray and dark blue then domes become golden in the early sunlight. Finally, masses glitter with contrasts of white, gold, blue and black. We are stunned by this so awaited show. Breakfast will wait! We are rewarded a hundredfold for efforts of previous days and nights.

We leave at 9am to Ganghar. We decide not to continue to Pachhu then to Milam glacier because we think we have sufficiently suffered from cold. We have fully filled our main objective by camping at the foot of Nanda Devi. We strive for a minimum of comfort for us to recover from the ordeal. We miss a step adventure on tracks that may be erased, and on crossing a glacier that may be impossible but certainly for new incomparable shows. This is certainly what is called wisdom. Revising our agenda allows us a day of rest in Almora.

The equipment is essential to advance properly at high altitudes. We will review uncompromising before the next trek, probably to the Makalu base camp. We have to resolve the paradox between the weight and the quality.

The view is much clearer than yesterday and Nanda follows us down.

The arrival at 11: 25 allows us to wash in the site of the former camp and lunch quietly. We have still in profusion valuable Bayonne ham, chocolate and Aldi’s Comté. We lack a bit of bread. It is a strange feeling to be alone at the heart of this abandoned village, to be for a few hours its only inhabitants.

We choose the low road rather than the high one where we were a bit lost on the way. The path is clearly crossed by a few stones, indicating a dead end. We hope to overcome difficulties because we are lighter than convoys of mules!  All goes well until the track disappears into the void. We decide nevertheless to go on. Letting our bags, we go sticking to the wall. The exercise is relatively perilous. Sylvie goes to a wrong point at some moment and difficultly turns back.

The rope is a very useful element in this trek!

A truck strangely crashed into the ravine while there appears to be no road … Is the military’s intention to make a road, but to where? There is nothing strategic in the region unless to reopen the border with Tibet and seeming India’s irreducible enemy China.

We arrive at Burphu that seems dead city but we are soon taken over by one of the few people who leads us into his home. He offers a very clean room for 100RS in its traditional house. Lila, his wife is a fine cook and both are very welcoming. They count on us to advertise, what we will surely do! (Their coordinates: 30 ° 22’2 .29 « N – 80 ° 11’1 .72 » E)

They descend to Munsyari for 6 winter months, on November 10. They will return to Burphu in April.

It is in the course of this month a trek can arranged, well before the first monsoon rains. It is good to know!

Warning: in many guesthouses, there is no blanket. Even without the intention of camping, it is important to travel with a good sleeping bag.

• On October 15, the 8th day, arrival altitude: 2653m

We start at 8: 15 after a breakfast of roti (chapati with butter) well watered with tchai. Lila has prepared four chapattis for our lunch without being asked. We reach the river outside the village for our toilet because the water is supplied by jerry cans in homes.

The road becomes more difficult because of the ups and downs bypassing frequent landslides in the hills in the valley becoming very deep. In fact, the path becomes longer and more difficult with time. The several thousand year old Milam trade track degrades over time. If the military road is built, there will be no problem but the reason for the trek will disappear at the same time!

We have lunch with ending ham and Comté. The weather is beautiful up to 15 – 16h then a few raindrops announce the bad weather. Fatigue is feeling when we come to the great place planned for a camp when going up. Sylvie wants to continue arguing she remembers a shack at a short distance. I follow her, reluctantly. We arrive quickly but I don’t find the place very nice: there are rats, numerous empty liquor bottles and a big ax laid down. We put our bags and Sylvie begins installing the mattress on the loose boards. I convince her with difficulty to go back to our last night in the tent. (30 ° 14’8 .79 « N – 80 ° 12’57 .04 » E)

But night falls quickly and we set the tent in the dark. I found plenty of wood carted by the Gori Ganga but it’s now too dangerous to take water in it. I build the fireplace in a corner to be not too visible because we are totally alone and I stay impressed with the big ax.

it is 10 °C higher than in Burphu here.  The heat of the fire penetrates us enough for a comfortable dinner. We go to bed at 19: 30, crushed and fascinated by the verticality of the place.

• On October 16, the 9th day, the arrival altitude: 2450m

I wake up with the sunrise but I stay in my bag, hoping the arrival of the sun as it blows a cold wind outside. It seems that it will never come to the camp instead. I finally go to start the fire and prepare breakfast. I get turbid water in the Gori Ganga.

The water is really cold. Fortunately, the sun has come and I dry myself with delight on the burning sand. We enjoy the spectacular sight of these gigantic mountains licked by the sun, these corridors dug by the hand of man since immemorial times. Everything seems simultaneously massive and domesticated here, created by giants. We find here and there delicious raspberries that bring us vitamins that we lacked since several days.

We don’t leave before about 10:40, our record: we are close to Boudiyar where we will stop for the next night. We walk to a lighter step and jump from stone to stone rather than stumble over them. Is it because habit taken on chaotic paths or lightweight bags?

We reach Boudiyar by browsing 3 km an hour. A few drops of rain begin to fall when we find our favorite restaurant. We also find our bag. We will give much of the food because these provisions are useless in Munsyari and more in France!

Sylvie invents the world’s smallest pocket Rumikub by cutting squares of paper from her notebook. We will spend very good afternoons’ ends with this game!

We reach the kitchen just after two Rumi parties to warm the fireside. We are not the first.We spend a great evening with the mule owners with a meal of rice, vegetables (sibzi for Turkish sebze surely!) and dal with a very little local alcohol to avoid headache. The atmosphere is cozy. We are lulled by the gentle and joyful conversations that we do not understand a word. When I wake up, I stagger, and this time, it’s not caused by forced marches.

On October 17, the 10th day, arrival altitude: 1699m

The alarm rings at 6: 00 but it’s a good half hour that we were awakened by mule owners commanding loudly their animals. We start at 8h under a perfectly blue sky but it will take a long time to be warmed by the first rays of the sun.

Sylvie falls at the third running hour. Tired, she did not see that there was a vacuum along the path overlooking the ground of more than one meter. She falls into the loose soil and is more scared than hurt. She could kill herself. This is the second fall in the trek.

Shortly after, we see beautiful white gray monkeys clinging to the mountain wall. This is not a mirage, we really join the tropic regions. We decide to stop for lunch in their company, near a hut where a grumbling boy serves us tchai. We meet the second tourists group from the beginning of the trek, three Anglo-Saxon women accompanied by their guide. We will see their carriers following with a heavy caravan of mules. (We also met a couple to go traveling our way up to Martoli). We are far from the valley of Kumbu’s congestions of trekkers!

We arrive at about 15: 30 to Milam government guesthouse which is already closed for winter. An inhabitant offers us a nice room (285Rs) and food. We sleep well but are awakened by repeated blows in the door at 2am. No voice. I dreamed? I imagine a thief trying to enter into our room. Then footsteps spread on the roof. This is surely a monkey or a (very) large rodent. Sylvie, courageous, finally sent a furious blow with a stick in the ceiling. The individual flees without asking for his rest.

• On October 18, the 11th day, the arrival altitude: 2157m

Breakfast consists of delicious potato chips with chapattis and tchai. It cost us 250Rs for dinner and breakfast.

The last part of our journey consists as usual of steep ascents and descents which make pester Sylvie. We ask people we meet near a bridge, from which the deviation starts towards Darkot. All show a narrow path, impassable with mules. At some places, It is necessary to undo bags and use our hands. We will never understand where begins and ends officially the Milam path!

We are overtaken by a group of men. They seem to wait for us on an overhang. We imagine that we will need the complete day to reach Munsyari because we do not see the end of this steep path and we are not heading to Darkot, according to the GPS.

The group does not wait for us. They wait for a vehicle! We come on a rough track. We believe that we may have arrived at a place where jeeps can pass. An old lady with her daughter also seems to wait. We sit shortly before seeing a jeep loaded with many packages and an iron sedan chair on the roof rack.

The men take the parcels from the jeep. Among them, I see bottles of whiskey. The evenings are long in winter. We imagine that the sedan chair will serve to take down to the valley the old woman. This possibility suit us well because everyone could not enter in the jeep! But men seem to reject the option of sedan chair and begin to link pieces of bamboo. Grandmother will go down on a bamboo chair! The driver tells that he will take us to Munsyari. We load the bags on the roof after the sedan chair was relocated there.

The group takes from the jeep a last heavy package they install with difficulty in the bamboos. They say it is a « mantar ». We understand that this is a votive stone they want to take down into the valley. The grandmother will have both feet to follow!

Unfortunately, we do not have time to see our crew moving off as our driver has other races in perspective.

Here ends our trek to the valley of Milam.

We skim campaign to pick up passengers before joining Munsyari

Munsyari seems very noisy after the quietness of the mountain. After lunch at our Pandey Lodge hotel, we look for solutions to reach Almora, a small famous resort town in the foothills of the Himalayas between Munsyari and Haldwani.

The son of the boss find a jeep for us (350Rs * 2) in the evening. The hotel is not heated and we take our dinner in the cold, condemning the gate so that it does not open with the air currents caused by the icy wind. The Chicken curry warms us a little bit.

• October 19,

The alarm rings at 5: 30. Our bags are ready. We take our breakfast at 5: 50, only with toast and tchai because of the early hour. The taxi takes us to 6:20. We travel with a young Indian couple on holiday. They are editors in Mumbai and have abandoned their work to visit India as they have enough resources. This is the emerging indian middle class!

There are not enough travelers to pick up on the road and the driver must stop halfway for us to take another taxi. It becomes a habit! We have time and we enjoy fully the bucolic scenery during the pause imposed by the waiting. Everything is quiet and charming after the immense mineral of Nanda Devi range. Nanda Devi always follows us in our descent. We arrived around 15h in Almora. The jeep drop us because it continues further, probably to Haldwani. We pay 700Rs agreed with the first driver.

We go to the uptown as we were advised to find a hotel. We find a very nice one in the Lala Bazar (Ban Sal Hotel 500Rs 29 ° 35’56 .36 « N – 79 ° 39’34 .80 » E). In this district, the worlds of Islam and Hinduism are forced to live side by side. The marriage is not a love one apparently: when I salute an imam in his mosque by joining my hands on the chest as it is customary in India, he greets me with a very dry tone.

We only tame the city when we find a bar. It is tucked away in a side street. Only men are walking in these places and the owner of the hotel asks me to go there alone. He is unfamiliar with the character of Sylvie who goes with determination with me! (375ml of McDowell Indian 220Rs, very nice, a bit sweeter than Scotch whiskies)

• On October 20

We quickly make our last laundry. We head with GPS in the direction of the Nanda Devi hidden by the hill overlooking the city. We would like to say goodbye before joining the dreary plain. We take streets and tracks that lead us directly into a park where Nanda Devi discovers his massives floating in the sky through the pine forest. We must cross a fence with barbed wire surrounding a military place to raise enough. (29 ° 37’13 .85 « N – 79 ° 40’39 .80 » E). On this promontory, the view is superb. It is a tribute as it has to be to this mountain that made us suffer a few and dream so much.

After a lunch of momos, we go to the bus stand, fortunately close to the hotel. A bus leaves Delhi every morning at 7:00. We are happy to make the journey in one shot.

We visit this lovely and colorful town where the monkeys took their neighborhoods. We buy two indian outfits for Sylvie, a tablet for chapattis (90Rs) for exotic meals in Thimécourt and a cheap pair of sneakers (200Rs) for me but as we discover in France, both feet are the same!

• On October 21

The alarm rings at 5: 30 and the owner brings us breakfast in our room at 5: 50. What kindness!

When we arrive at the bus stand at 6: 20 bus has not yet arrived. Here’s one that comes at 6: 30 and as I ask the driver if it goes to Delhi, he looks at me like I was a Martian and shows me the sign on the windscreen, written in Hindi. « Obviously, it goes to Delhi!

The journey (331Rs * 2) is very long, especially on the first part of the journey. The kilometers indicated by the GPS are also bird km but this time not because of the numerous deviations but because of traffic jams. The bus rubs with handcarts as well as donkeys and pedestrians. It will just take 12 hours for the 330km to the station of Ghaziabad. The train does not go much faster but it is a much better way for legs to travel when it is not crowded.

The metro would allow us to go to Pahar Ganj but we prefer rickshaw (200Rs) to get some air.

A reel brings us into a decent hotel (600Rs). We find the famous kingfisher and fries in Main Bazar bars. Civilization is not so bad.

In Main Bazar, enter the first bar from NDRS to the left rather than in the second a little further on the right. The staff is nicer, better food and cheaper beer!

• October 22

This time we are woke up at 5am by incantations and ringing of bells from a nearby Hindu temple. Religions are at joy in expressing their rites and Hinduism beats Islam by their durations!

We are looking for a restaurant at 8am for breakfast. We waste our time. The neighborhood is still asleep, as if he had a hangover. We are far from mountains where life begins with and sometimes before sunrise. We head to a small eatery just steps from the hotel. The owner is very welcoming. He works with his father and his son. 4 buttered toast and tchai to 20RS for 7RS.

Sylvie doesn’t want to return to the Friday mosque because she received a stone the last time from a welcoming muslim. She has also to wear a hot synthetic djellabah. But the Friday Mosque is the most beautiful in the world with its white marbles and red sandstones. The brightness is also much better at the end of October. I propose, however, to Sylvie to organize ourselves another visit to complete our last day in India. A museum? Another monument? She cannot find anything to do and, finally, we left for the mosque. Ticket is now prohibitive (300Rs today for 100RS last year, free in 2000). But when you love it doesn’t count! Finally, as she is dressed with Indian clothes, the guards let her enter with no disguise!

We will then go shopping: a silver ring with a beautiful amethyst for Sylvie, jeans and a tea shirt for me. We find my usual patchouli supplier to whom we order his largest bottle (400Rs)

We take a great butter chicken for dinner (first bar) watered with abundant beer.