Glaciers’ Breath ll – Ganges Gangotri Update 3

The line is uneven. Random dark and bright spots lie along a long diagonal path that at times is nothing but some smudges in the sand. Our team is spread along a kilometer long portion heading south further into the Gangotri Glacier, but the concern now before us is a pathway that passes along a ledge of shale, sand, and that shoots down at a 50-degree angle into a plunge.

Gangotri

Some of the team has moved on ahead and some lie behind. Myself, Saurabh, Berinder and Uncle (everyone knows him as Uncle) wait for Debra. Berinder and Uncle both carry double loads so Saurabh positions himself behind them both as they slowly make their way onto the perilous route, ensuring that they find their grip.

What we've come for...to see first hand the grand glacier that is one of the prime sources of the Ganges River. The entire 'floor' is glacier and moraine and each strand of colour represents a different feed tributary glacier's stone contributions.

What we’ve come for…to see first hand the grand glacier that is one of the prime sources of the Ganges River. The entire ‘floor’ is glacier and moraine and each strand of colour represents a different feed tributary glacier’s stone contributions.

Kirti Glacier lies ahead; a short but intense series of straddling maneuvers for the team and we are keen to lodge ourselves further into the body of the glacier and camp. Saurabh and I wait for Debra and Purun before negotiating our way along the little crazy path. It is a journey that we plot carefully and Debra takes the walk in slow careful increments with Saurabh and Purun stationed like honor guards in front and behind her. At one point a small avalanche looks to become a bigger slide, before ebbing away. Our main goal is to simply pass this risk zone as fast as possible and not dally too long. Debra has been a remarkable force, given that this is only her second sojourn along such routes. She is entirely focusing on moments and never gets ahead of herself.

Karma - wise, calm, and inevitably one of the leaders on any of my sojourns in the mountains. He is also the tea master, which adds to his utter role in all journeys.

Karma – wise, calm, and inevitably one of the leaders on any of my sojourns in the mountains. He is also the tea master, which adds to his utter role in all journeys.

The porters do what they have done throughout the journey…plod and grind through any and every terrain with remarkable speed. Their technique is to take frequent breaks in between their near racing speed and they take delight in challenging eachother in short bursts as to whom has the most direct line when the pathways disappear. It is one of the risky games that they partake in only once in awhile as though to keep their ‘idle’ days from dragging them down.

A small but every increasing number of glacial lakes swell with meltwater. To the left are the 3 Bhagirathi Sisters' Peaks.

A small but ever increasing number of glacial lakes swell with meltwater. To the left are the 3 Bhagirathi Sisters’ Peaks.

Kirti camp, when we do reach it, is a little valley-pocket where glacial spring water gathers in the early months of the year. Now it is silt and sand surrounded by boulders. Karma’s kitchen tent is the first tent to be erected followed quickly by Debra’s toilet tent in its dull red canvas. Once the kitchen tent is up, tea is made and Karma can be heard singing and muttering his mantras in a kind of earnest joy. Everyone convenes around the tent as it is the place of joy and warmth and food…and his famed tea.

Crevasses will open and close in the course of a day

Crevasses will open and close in the course of a day

Our first morning an avalanche bursts down early morning across the valley. It is an ugly mix of dust and ice that creates thick clouds. The rumble is startling to us all and lets us know that we’re not simply in a grand expanse of beauty, but risk as well. Kirti Glacier is another landform that seems to deliberately deceive with stunning preternatural lines and while crisscrossing the ‘narrow’ span of the glacier tracking inwards, Saurabh and I pile up and down chunks of ice and massive stones for most of the day.

Glacier water runs towards the Gangotri Glacier

Glacier water runs towards the Gangotri Glacier from within the Kirti Glacier

Below there is a faint vibration of a deep river channel below us in the ice reminding us that though the ice is riven dark with stones and dust, we are trampling upon ice. Crevasses yawn and groan in the sun and we keep eachother in close view, well aware that these rifts in the ice can often disappear dozens of meters.

Rivulets tinkle past and from where we eventually end up on Kirti we can see Shivling’s exquisite south facing slopes, along with patches of ice which cling to sheer wall faces.

The incorrigible Berinder doing something he's not particularly fond of

The incorrigible Berinder doing something he’s not particularly fond of…

Returning to camp, Berinder can be spotted (his pink wooly still acting as a beacon) on a rock nursing a cup, and there is ever so slight a hint of relief that we have arrived intact. His pack is safe.

Debra has spent the day learning how to make one of Karma’s specialties. At night the moon’s light touches clouds as they race above us, though not a trace of that rushing air above touches our little encampment.

About JeffFuchs

Bio Having lived for most of the past decade in Asia, Fuchs’ work has centered on indigenous mountain cultures, oral histories with an obsessive interest in tea. His photos and stories have appeared on three continents in award-winning publications Kyoto Journal, TRVL, and Outpost Magazine, as well as The Spanish Expedition Society, The Earth, Silkroad Foundation, The China Post Newspaper, The Toronto Star, The South China Morning Post and Traveler amongst others. Various pieces of his work are part of private collections in Europe, North America and Asia and he serves as the Asian Editor at Large for Canada’s award-winning Outpost magazine. Fuchs is the Wild China Explorer of the Year for 2011 for sustainable exploration of the Himalayan Trade Routes. He recently completed a month long expedition a previously undocumented ancient nomadic salt route at 4,000 metres becoming the first westerner to travel the Tsa’lam ‘salt road’ through Qinghai. Fuchs has written on indigenous perspectives for UNESCO, and has having consulted for National Geographic. Fuchs is a member of the fabled Explorers Club, which supports sustainable exploration and research. Jeff has worked with schools and universities, giving talks on both the importance of oral traditions, tea and mountain cultures. He has spoken to the prestigious Spanish Geographic Society in Madrid on culture and trade through the Himalayas and his sold out talk at the Museum of Nature in Canada focused on the enduring importance of oral narratives and the Himalayan trade routes. His recently released book ‘The Ancient Tea Horse Road’ (Penguin-Viking Publishers) details his 8-month groundbreaking journey traveling and chronicling one of the world’s great trade routes, The Tea Horse Road. Fuchs is the first westerner to have completed the entire route stretching almost six thousand kilometers through the Himalayas a dozen cultures. He makes his home in ‘Shangrila’, northwestern Yunnan upon the eastern extension of the Himalayan range where tea and mountains abound; and where he leads expeditions the award winning ‘Tea Horse Road Journey’ with Wild China along portions of the Ancient Tea Horse Road. To keep fueled up for life Fuchs co-founded JalamTeas which keeps him deep in the green while high in the hills.
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