Trans-Himalayan Trails - Trekking routes and Traverses - Page 2

Trails

I began my journey at Munsyari, in the Goriganga valley in Kumaon. It was at that time more or less the closest a foreigner could legally go in that region to either the Nepali or the Chinese border. From there I walked around the edges of the Nanda Devi massif to Josimath. I reached Kedarnath Temple, a little further west, on a snowy December day in 1992. There I broke my journey. Almost four years passed before I was able to resume it, this time with Julia.

We set out for Gangotri, the source of the River Ganges, in the autumn of 1996 and reached the Sutlej valley in December, as the first snow of winter began to fall. The Great Himalaya chain - one of a series of chains that geographers discern in the jumble of mountains that make up the Himalaya- still separated us from our destination, the Indus Valley of Ladakh. The mountains proved impassable in the snow, so we travelled by bus down the Sutlej Valley and along the Beas Valley to Manali and tried again there. And there, too, we were stopped by deep snow. So we caught another bus to Dharamshala, where the Indian plains break like a still ocean against the Himalaya.

When we renewed our journey in the springtime of 1997 we decided to begin from Dharamshala. That meant tekking in succession across each of the lower chains of the Himalaya to place ourselves at the foot the Great Himalaya once more, this time in the Chenab Valley. From there we walked up the Miyar Glacier and walked over the mountains to Zanskar, and then to the Indus Valley in Ladakh.

Long journeys along the Himalaya have so far been rare.

In the same spring two Frenchmen - Alexandre Poussin and Sylvain Tesson - set out from Bhutan on a long, fast trek that ended in Tadjikistan 6 months and 5000 kilometres later1 . Their route along the Himalaya barely touched ours. From Western Nepal they walked to Mount Kailash and then across a corner of Tibet to follow the Indus into Ladakh, reaching Leh a few weeks after we had left for home.

A couple of years later Stephen Alter - an American writer brought up in India - walked some of the ground we had covered in the Garhwal leg of our journey. His journey was a pilgrimage to the Char Dham - the four places traditionally held to be the main sources of the Ganga. His wonderful book Sacred Water2 describes his journey.

Long journeys along the Himalaya have so far been rare. There are probably as many routes to follow as there are people wishing to follow them. A Great Himalaya Trail has in the last year or two been worked out through Nepal, thanks in large part to Australian trekkers Robin Boustead and Judy Smith.

The odd idea of tekking along the Himalaya is almost respectable now. It's a business model and a development strategy and perhaps, for Nepal, a political tool as well. The trail was worked out just as Nepal's decade-long civil war drew to a close. The Great Himalayan Trail Development Programme is led by Nepal's Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation and is backed by an impressive range of organisations, including the UN World Tourism Organisation and Britain's Department of International Development.

Robin Boustead and Judy Smith are also associated with an extended Great Himalaya Trail that runs the full length of the Himalaya.

Perhaps trekking the Great Himalaya Trail will one day become as commonplace as walking Scotland's West Highland Way.