It was a warm and cosy night in Leo’s tent on flat grassland near temple above the village of Bona. We woke up at day break, packed up our gears and our host came to give us packed chapattis with jaggery and a bag of oranges and apples for the traverse ahead. We had a challenging target today – crossing three passes to reach Sungdom near the entrance of the Dharma valley: Darthi Khal, Dharti Kharak and Balsi Khal touching 3900m.
We started off by 7:30am following a nice rock path in the farmlands above Bona that gradually contours up above the side valley. We passed a couple of individual homes along the way before entering a native forest. Here the path hair pins up steeply till the top of a ridgeline. A big landslide had partially destroyed the path. The old path appears to be renovated in recent years and in use during summer by shepherds grazing high meadows.
The path climbs up further steeply and starts contouring Southeast to the Darthi Khal pass at 3450m a 1400m ascent from Bona below. On the North and West facing slopes we soon hit snow pulling down our pace. A wooden frame is put up on top of the pass with colorful ribbons and many bells. We enjoy chappatis with jaggery for breakfast on top. Crossing the pass one enters an isolated valley completely devout of human settlements.
After an initial steep drop, the path contours Northeast along the valley slope and hits the river quite high at 3100m. From here we climb up 700m on the opposite side to the Dharti Kharak pass at 3800m. The Southwest facing slope is mostly clear of snow except towards the final climb to the pass where we sink knee deep into the snow at this fairly high altitude in winter. A clear rock path, in some places recently renovated, makes it easy to stay on track even in the snow covered sections.
We have our lunch on top of the 2nd pass. In many places we encounter campsites of shepherds who graze the high altitude meadows in these desolate valleys. After a steep climb through snow we finally hit the pass leading us into another virgin valley completely uninhabited. The path drops down again gradually towards the upper stream at 3400m where we cross a broken bridge and the path hair pins up again 500m to the third pass Balsi Khal at 3900m,the highest yet in my winter traverse.
The path initially runs up gradually through Southwest facing meadows mostly clear of snow before hair pinning up more steeply towards the pass partly covered by foot deep snow making progress slow. We finally touch the pass by 3:30pm and enjoy a fruit snack break while taking in the mesmerizing views below. A small mandir is located on top of the pass. Looking East we see the snow covered high ranges of West Nepal.
A 600m steep hair pin descent follows through deep snow until the path starts contouring on the left side above the valley. We pick up the pace targeting the first human settlement of Sungdom before nightfall. The high ranges on the East turn yellow to orange to pink as the sun slowly sets in the West. The path continues to drop down into the valley till we hit Sungdom at 2400m after dusk, a 1500 drop from the pass.
I see some lights near the first houses of this isolated Hamlet where local villagers immediately invite us inside their home for dinner and night stay. The locals are impressed by our one day traverse from Bona across three passes during winter. we get invited in a cosy room in a mud home around a warm fire. Hot water to clean our feet followed by hot chai followed by fluffy wood fried chapattis with aloo sabji and lots of ghee along with some yummy buttermilk.
Overwhelming hospitality in this remote settlement. After dinner we are given a room with bed and warm blankets for the night. We dream off with the buzzing sound of the nearby stream which flows down the pass and valley below. Yet another amazing day across a beautiful 20km long route with 2500m elevation gain through some of Uttarkhands most remote regions.