It was a cosy night in the room above the road side dhaba at Chirbhattiya next to the Chirpatya Khal pass. There was a short hail storm the previous evening leaving behind a frozen white blanket on the farm lands. We came down to the ground floor for breakfast and tea. Two yummy aloo paratha s to power us up for the traverse ahead.
We followed a nice wide path to the Rajbonga peak at 2750m a 600m gradual climb along a ridgeline. Part of the path was covered by frozen hail which immediately started melting as the sun rays came through. On top of the peak we found a small mandir. The plan was to follow the ridgeline but unfortunately we could not spot any trail going forward.
So we came back to the Rajbonga pass before the peak where a clear path took us down into the forest and then contoured below the peak. It took us to a flat space where we the shepherds were camping during summer. From here I spotted a small trail that got us up to a small saddle along the main ridgeline where we found a proper path.
We could now proceed with the original plan to traverse along the main ridgeline through the Rajbonga reserved forest. The path contoured along the ridgeline, South dry grass on a steep valley slope, North lush green forest. Along the way we discovered a small mandir on top of a vertical cliff offering superb views on the valley below. The mandir was filled with offerings from pilgrims.
A frequented path took us down along the gradual descending ridgeline to the Pinad Khal pass. Just below the pass was a small hamlet. As per the Survey map we descended North from the pass looking for the continuation of the ridgeline trail. Unfortunately we could not locate the same and decided to head down into the Nallchami Gad valley.
The path descended through serene forest, initially chola and then opening up into pine forest. We could see colorful hamlets appearing in the valley beneath. Houses in all pastel shades amid the green terrace farms. We passed through the hamlets Shillpundoli, Pundoli and Malykot and then crossed the Nallchami Gad valley filled with green farmlands.
We entered the road side village of Chaunra where we dropped into a small dhaba for lunch after a solid 5 hour hike. Chowmin and egg buns recharged the body. Initial plan was to hitch a ride to Pauli and proceed from there. After a closer look at the map I spotted two more interesting traverses in the Rajbonga forest. So plan was changed and we crossed back over the stream to the hamlet of Jakh.
Locals were performing last rituals on a recently deceased person preparing to burn the body along the stream near a temple of same design as Kedarnath. Local kids were attending class on rooftop of the school beneath a shady tree. We climbed up in the valley to a newly constructed road which took us to Jakh.
From here a nice path climbs up along a ridge towards the Tola Khal, my 99th pass in this winter journey. The path took us inside a small side valley through pristine forest. We could see the remains of an old settlement in ruins. Here we lost the path and struggled through dense vegetation to get back on track.
We found our lost path on other side of the valley which hair pinned up to the pass above, a good 700m climb out of the Nallchami Gad valley. We reached the pass at 2100m altitude at 3pm and took a short break basking in the warm afternoon sun. We were surprised to find an inhabited hamlet of Tala just below the pass, a bit unusual so high in the hills.
A path took us down into the lush green valley below passing through fairytale hamlets of Guwar, Banjwari, Raragad. The settlements were tucked into an isolated valley cut off from the outside world. The path took us across a small saddle into the next valley were we got onto a newly constructed road below Banjwari. We followed the road for a short while before hopping across another saddle into the main valley below.
The path took us to Kuledi and finally to Piplidhar where we found a small shop cum dhaba which was about to close to attend a local marriage. The kind owner made us tea and Maggie before closing shop. Over dinner we socialized with a local villager who invited us to stay at his home as the night was cold at 1400m