J&K Spring 22 – Doda to Sikri Gali

We had a super comfy night stay in the house of our muslim host at Mangota village in the Kalmut Nal valley. We slept on a comfy matress in a carpented bedroom. The power went on and off but we could recharge our electronics overnight: phone, powerbank and GPS watch.

Everyone impressed upon us that there was no dhaba anywhere in the valley so we had to catch an early morning bus to Doda, 40km further. All share taxis passing by appeared full with people returning after EID. A friendly local offered us tea and biscuits. We finally got one for 300Rs, a bit overpriced but no other go.

It was a long ride contouring the valley slope on a mix of tar and dirt road. We could see hundreds of small settlements spread across the valley but no major village to get new food supplies. We finally got off at Khalbani opposite Doda in the Chenab river valley.

After a good search we found a small dhaba were we had yummy breakfast (desi chapattis and alloo). I estimated the next traverse to take us 4 days so we packed up equivalent food ration. 12 chapattis, jaggery, dry fruits & nuts, cakes and biscuits from bakery.

We were about to start and it started raining. The rain reduced to a drizzle around noon and we started climbing up a nice trail on the ridgeline above Khalbani. Target was to resume the high ridgeline between Chenab and Tawu river valleys.

We had to ascend a solid 2000m out of the valley along a gradual ridgeline to 3200m above. It kept raining lightly and we soon got wet beneath our rain jackets. Wetness, wind and altitude made us feel cold. At the hamlet of Bharata at 1600m a friendly local invited us for a cup of tea and biscuits

Further up at 1900m we passed the scenic hamlet of Saras after which we climbed up steeply through serene pine forest. The rain had finally stopped and the Chenab valley below was filled with clouds. We passed through the deserted farming dwelling of Dragga at 2200m.

A clear path took us to Dedni top at 2500m a pilgrim destination consisting of a small lake and sizable Hindu temple. Two guards armed with AK-47 checked our IDs and purpose of visit. They were assigned to protect the mandir given the communal tension between Muslims and Hindus.

We proceeded further up to the remote dwelling of Darad where smoke was rising up from one of the homes. An elder gentleman greeted us and invited us into a nice wooden home. Feeling cold we snuggled near a warm fire while our host served us tea and biscuits.

We bid goodbye and now climbed up further along the ridgeline through pine forest until we came into tge open green alpine meadows at 2700m. We hiked for several kms on the grassy ridgeline until we reached the base of a 3200m peak which we had to climb across to reach the Sikri Gali.

It was a fairly steep 500m ascent through open terrain until we neared the peak. Here the trail entered the forest and we got lost as it turned dark. For a while we tried getting back on track but in vain. The trail marked on the Survey map could not be located on the ground.

At 8pm we decided to call it even and resume our search in daylight the next morning. We pitched up our tent on a small saddle just big enough for both of us to sleep. The shepherds below had warned us abour bears on top so we lit up a nice campfire.

We settled next to the warm fire and gobbled up our rottis with jagery. In the Chenab valley for below we could see a thousands of lights in the darkness of the night. After a solid half day hike 15km / 2000m ascent we settled for a peaceful night at 9pm.