The Himalayan Mountains, and a near death experience.

From this…

… to this. Deep snow fell overnight, turning a steep walk into a treacherous experience.

My mountain experience, step by step…

I flew from a very air polluted Delhi into crisp, clean air of Srinagar in Kashmir.

The glide path of my plane was through the snow covered mountains which was breath taking. At the airport we were greeted by a horde of heavily armed soldiers, and had to proceed through various check points. The state of Kashmir has been in dispute with India since independence 70 years ago. They claim their independence was agreed to when the English left all those years ago?

The fact that Pakistan and China are their close neighbours is not without some concern. Just prior to my arrival 11 people were shot, hence the heavy military presence.

As part of the package I was picked up at the airport with my bike still packed and taken to lake DAL and ferried to my boathouse for the week. Here I met my guide and cook Shaban, who was busying himself to leave for the mountains in two days.

Shaban, my guide, waving at the back, with his two assistants.

Now it needs to be said “This is a blog I should have read before leaving for the mountains”

I left early in the morning by bike and the plan was to ride to the base camp of Naranag where we were met by a group of gypsys preparing three horses for our hike up the mountain (at home camp). I left my bike at the base camp.

Preparing to start the climb up the hill.

At the summit the climb was difficult for me as only being cycling fit did not prepare me for the climb.

We arrived at our camp, a gypsy hut vacated for the winter months. It was a low structure made of stone and a root of huge pine poles covered with earth and grass half of the cabin was a stable, the other half consisted of an open area with a hole for the log fire. There was no furniture, only mats to sleep on. The horses were taken back down the mountain as there is no food for them on the top of the mountain.

Our camp, the gypsy hut.

Our first night was warm with two horse men and the guide and myself packed next to each other around the log fire. The next morning after a good breakfast of eggs and toast done on the fire, we set off for the two lakes some three hours away.

I had very sore legs from the climb the previous day. It started snowing lightly which made our hike interesting as I had never been in snowfall before. Little was I to know that this would turn into a nightmare nearly costing me my life.

On route we encountered a heavily armed patrol of Indian soldiers who wanted to know where I was from. I had to produce my passport (which I was told to carry with me at all times), before allowing us to continue.

The beautiful snow, which totally covered up the ground and pathway.

Cresting a hill the first lake Nundkol suddenly appeared. Now it is extremely difficult to explain how absolutely beautiful this lake and the surrounds were. The far end of the lake faded into the ghostly fog. The snow covered mountains made a magnificent backdrop to one of the most memorable places I have been to, yet scary. Left alone I surely would not have survived in the harsh environment.

The first lake. An exquisite sight to see.

The two lakes, Nundkol and Gangabal

I wanted to turn back at this point due to the deteriorating weather. Shaban convinced me to push on to the second lake Gangabal which was 20 minutes further on. There was now a sense of urgency.

And when we reached the lake Shaban stripped down and kept his promise by catching three brown trout using his hands by feeling under the large rocks. The aim was four fish (one each) but the fourth one was elusive, and I was prompting for us to get going.  Shaban quickly dressed and we off to the overnight camp.

Fishing by hand in the freezing water.

One of the catches!

To make matters worse, I was totally under dressed for the conditions, wearing only cycle shorts, short socks and too casual shoes. My top was adequate, with all my shirts and a jacket layered on. Cycle gloves left my fingers exposed and cold.







Thankfully after three to five hours walk we arrived back at our camp where the snow was 500mm deep. We dried our clothes next to the fire and cooked rice, veggies and chicken. The four of us slept next to each other on mats next to the fire.

The snow falling.

The snow building up on our jackets.

At first light Shaban woke me with the bad news that it snowed all night and with 1.5meters of snow we could be cut off from the outside world, for who knows how long?

The snowfall was so heavy that it slid off this tree’s branches.

Shaban had to make contact with the horsemen in the village and let them know what our situation was and ask if the pack horses could come to our aid. To do this he had to trek through the deep snow on his own to a vantage point where he could get a phone signal.

He was told that every effort would be made to get up the mountain to our camp. We spent the morning packing and preparing food for the horsemen when they arrived. The concern was that they had to get to us by 13:00 for us to make it off the mountain before nightfall.

To my relief they arrived at 12:30. They brought the horses into the hut and fed them maize.  The horsemen dried their clothes in front of the fire and ate a huge pot of rice and chicken. We put every piece of clothing on. Shaban asked how many pairs of socks I had on, I replied one, he said “Oh my god” which did nothing for my confidence.

The horses were now loaded and were used in the front to create a path for us to follow. My shoes were tied onto my feet using rope. This prevented them from being left behind in the snow.

The horsemen brought overcoats for us to wear.

After slipping and falling several times one of the horsemen suggested I change shoes with him. We stopped in a vacant gypsy hut and changed shoes. His boots were about two sizes too small which caused me to lose five toenails. A small price to pay for warm feet, I thought.

After six hours just before dark we walked into the village, much to my relief. And gratitude and thanks  to my guide and the horsemen.

The horses and horsemen, helping us along.

The end at last.



Leave a Reply