Trans Hima 2020 – 37 Kunjaun – Toli Tal – Urgam

Yesterday we camped in the forest opposite the Jolly Grand airport to catch an early flight for my friend. I hitched a nearby ride in a share taxi who took me all the way till Devprayag. From there it was a short ride to Chamoli Gopeshwar where I packed up some snacks for my next traverse to Toli Tal and the remote village of Dumak. Expecting snow on top of the Naola pass I chose to start at Kunjaun and cross over a lower altitude pass at 2800m to Toli Tal.

I walked and hitched a few rides to last village of Kunjaun at 1900m where I was hosted by Bhandari referred by a friend Mahesh who runs Shepherds of Himalayas NGO documenting and supporting life of pastoral communities. I indulged in yummy home made food and slept off below cosy warm blankets in the home. Next morning I left after hot chai. The lady of the house packed up some chapattis for lunch.

I followed a path leading towards the school above the village looking for the trail to the pass mentioned on my Survey map. Unable to find the mapped trail I continued climbing up till the final homes before entering the forest. A local man told me I had missed the main path further West but said I could also follow my current trail through the forest. Appears the trail on the Survey map was incorrect or inaccurate.

The trail climbed further up and eventually started contouring towards the pass that leads to Toli Tal and Dumak village. The trail eventually reached to a water point at the base of a vertical cliff and then vanished completely in the jungle. A while before I had spotted the actual path further west so I climbed down again below the vertical rock trying to connect to the main path.

I finally reached on the right track – a frequently used wide rock path hair pinning up to the pass at 2800m. The path now contoured above an intermediate valley before crossing a second ridge to drop down towards Toli Tal in a large open meadows at 2650m. The lake was half frozen and much smaller compared to summer 2019 when I first visited the same. From here the path drops down into a valley where it crosses a stream at 2050m.

From here a steep ascent to the picturesque hamlet of Dumak at 2450m. As soon as I entered one friendly gentleman who was weaving bamboo baskets invited me over for tea. Soon lunch followed and I was energized again after a 4 hour walk and a 1300m ascent. Hospitality in the remote places is beyond words. From here the path contours gradually up along the hamlets of Jangro and Jokuda to the Kundara Khal pass at 3000m. 

A new road being built has reached till Jangro. From Kundara Khal it s a 1000m drop to Urgam village which connects by road to Heylong along the Joshimat highway. Below the pass the rock path is partly covered by frozen water running across. The beautiful path might soon be no longer used due to the new road bypassing this route. The path descend through scenic serene forest until you pass through the first hamlets above Urgam. 

Friendly faces everywhere surprised to see an outsider hiking solo through these remote undocumented routes. The sight of colorful traditional built homes below the snow capped ranges of Joshimat is a treat to the eyes. I finally hit the road head near Urgam and walk along the hamlets of Bangina and Thana. It s 16km from Urgam to Heylong along the Joshimat highway and with no share taxi s plying I keep on walking.

I finally get lucky and hop in the back of a pickup van transporting materials and a few local ladies. He drops me 10km further from where I walk the remaining distance to Heylong in the dark until crossing the Alaknanda river. Hopefully to get a ride now along this main highway to reach Birahi village 30km downstream at the start of my next traverse. None of the vehicles passing by stops for this lone walker in the night. 

I finally get a ride on a biker who drops me 5km further near a small dhaba. I order some hot milk and am ready to settle down for the day when suddenly a lorry stops willing to give me a ride. I drop the milk and quickly hop in. Bright forest firest are visible in the dark night above the Alaknanda valley. By 8pm I reach Birahi where I have dinner after a long day hiking 30km with 2000m elevation gain from Kunjaun to Urgam crossing two passes. After charging my phone I find a peaceful flat spot outside the village to pitch up my tent and start blogging before sleeping of to the soothing sound of the stream below.

Trans Hima 2020 – 37 Kunjaun – Toli Tal – Urgam Yesterday we camped in the forest opposite the Jolly Grand airport to…

Posted by Peter Van Geit on Tuesday, 5 January 2021

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