Spent a peaceful night in my Bluebolt solo tent pitched up on a small flat field above the Birahi river near the confluence of the Alaknanda flowing from Badrinath. Woke up 7am and had breakfast in a small dhaba along the Joshimath highway. Packed up eggs and bread buns for the day ahead. Today s plan was to cross over the Baigna Khal at 2800m into the Nandakini river valley flowing down from Home Kund. An alternate lower altitude traverse compared to Kuari and Surya Ghat passes between the same valleys.
I was hoping to catch a ride to Nijmula 15km further into the Birahi river side valley. No luck tough, all vehicles were crossing in the opposite direction. Locals head out to towns / main roads in morning and back to villages in evening. Opposite direction / timing of the one-pass-a-day hiker. After a 10k road walk finally got a ride to Saiji which has several shops. Grabbed some lemon tea and bakery biscuits in a small dhaba before heading into the trail.
Before the next village of Nijmula a nice rock path hair pins up to the hamlet of Madura. It s a good 1400m climb from Nijmula to the Baigna Khal pass, initially quite steep and then gradually contouring up towards the pass. A group of elder ladies shared an orange. A few men descended from the path with miles, the only possible goods transport in this road less steep terrain. After a steep 750m climb is the village of Madura on top of an open, flatter ridgeline.
Bird’s eye views on the Birahi valley below which leads to the last village of Jhenji from where one descends from the Kuari pass. Madura is a fairly large settlement spread across the flat ridgeline. People are abuzz in their daily routine. A clear path now gradually contours up to the right below the ridge to the small dwelling of Hurung. From here a smaller trail climbs up to a small saddle revealing the hamlet of Taraktal on the other side situated near a small lake.
At the saddle a clear rock path proceeds upwards East below the ridgeline contouring towards the Baigna Khal pass. The path is clearly used by locals crossing over to the village of Ramni high up in the Nandakini valley. Exposed soil and plastic wrappers point to frequent use. The ancient rock path climbs up through a desolate shola forest with barren winter looks leafless trees, bark covered in moss. 1.5K before the pass it s time for a yummy egg burger packed up at Birahi. One of the best burgers I tasted so far.
Further up rododendroms are the dominant species which should color the forest in deep shades of pink, red and purple during spring. Finally hit snow at 2800m near the pass marked by two big piles of rocks. Chill out on the open meadow and take in the beautiful view on the villages and terrace farms on the other side. Forest suddenly made way now for civilization: roads, cell tower, new power lines. Development penetrates deeply into the mountains.
Descend along a water eroded rock path into the farm lands above Ramni village below made up of pastel colored homes. From here continue along a new road that contours high above the valley floor connecting the villages of Ghuni, Padargnow and Boora. A group of Nepali labors is setting up a new camp as they complete further sections of the road. At Boora get back into a path that descends into the valley towards our target Sitel village along the main road.
Darkness falls with another 1 hour to go. Lightening strikes like a sudden flash in the night followed by light rains. Likely to encounter fresh snow at higher altitudes tomorrow. Speed up and reach Sitel before the rain intensifies. Drop into the same dhaba which I visited during my trans Himalayan summer journey in 2019. Black tea and cream rolls are followed by rottis and sabji to recharge after an intense 34K / 2000m D+ hike.