Gerhard and Ines discover India
Successful expedition in the fascinating Miyar Valley - part 1 - the journey begins
Not just any expedition – but a life expedition
Climbing is something beautiful for me and my girlfriend, it simply makes us happy. Doing trips through the Alps for alpine climbing in the last year, we have often talked about how great it would be, to embark together on an expedition into one of the worlds great mountain ranges. How great it would be, to be able to see how far we could go as a couple climbing wise, experience a great adventure for our very own.
An undertaking free of pressure, free of a defined expectation an free of “we have to”. We were more thinking of a “life expedition”, an adventure, where we would try to give our best, where we would reach our personal mental and physical limits and maybe have to go beyond them.
Some when we knew that there was no going on for us in our lives, if we were not to find out, make this desire become a real event.
So we went into the process of finding an expedition destination.
What we were thinking of was a country “far” away, with “higher” peaks, granite rock, not too cold, and with an opportunity to climb various mountains and walls. After we had put together our requirements, and compared it with potential areas, it became clear that the Miyar Valley in Northern India was “our” destination.
Located around 36 degrees north, various peaks up to 6.300m, lots of first ascent possibilities on amazing granite towers and ridges and relatively uncomplicated access. Just what we were thinking of.
Despite our motivation to leaf our mark, we saw the expedition as an end it itself from the beginning on. It was to be something the we, Ines and I would share, whatever the outcome would be. We wanted to put ourselves in a position, so extraordinary events could happen, enrich us for the rest of our lives, let us experience a thrilling time, about we would maybe tell our children or grandchildren: “A long time ago, when we had been high up in the mountains in India….”
The „Miyar Valley“ - location and alpine history
The Miyar Valley is located in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh, at the border to the region of “Zanskar”. It starts north of the small city “Udaipur” and winds itself up for about 100km towards the “Kang La Pass” (5.350m), where you can get to “Padum”.
In the lower Miyar Valley two well known 6000m peaks are located, „Phabrang“ 6172m and „Menthosa“ 6443m. These peaks have been climbed by Japanese expeditions in the 60s and 70s. The upper Miyar Valley was discovered 1991 by the Italien Paolo Vitali. He had no practical information but a small picture of a geographical expedition, showing a small rock tower. In the course of this expedition he discovered the amazing side valleys, Takdung Valley, Chhudong Valley and Dali Valley with its amazing climbing possibilities .
In the following years more Italian expeditions follow. Massimo Marcheggiani, Mario Manica and Bruno Moretti, all of them providing us with useful information about the area.
From 2000 on one or two expeditions come into the region every year, achieving remarkable first ascents. We have benefited a lot from the information which were provided by Igor Koller and Vlado Linek, and also by Andrej Grmovsek. In particular Andrej’s first ascent “Shangrila Ridge” was a line, we desperately wanted to repeat, because it is such a beautiful, obvious line, that immediately draws your attention when you see a picture of the main Miyar Valley.
The Miyar Valley, a beautiful place
Before we reach the Miyar Valley itself, we are stuck with heavy rainfall in Manali. When we can finally leave, a big landslide occurs on the “Rotang La Pass” and we are forced to wait another three days right on the pass. After we personally inspected the extremely dangerous road work of the Indian Army, we realize that this is going to take another couple of days. So we organize a bunch of horses with “Baghwan”, who is the “checker” of our trekking agency, and shuttle all our equipment around the landslide. On the other side we soon find another minibus we can hire and off we are. Ten tiring and “bumpy” hours later, we arrive in “Urgos”, the last village about 30 km into the Miyar Valley and start of the trek to base camp.
I could write a lot now, about my impressions about this valley. But I rather want to quote Igor Koller here, who found beautiful words for this truly amazing place, which I have nothing to add :
“In the forty years I’ve spent roaming round mountains and cliffs, I have seen many beautiful areas, corners and valleys. I’ve seen even more in magazines, books and films. Nevertheless, I would call mountain valley of Miyar in Northern India a „Mountain Paradise“. Maybe because it is the most recent place for me to have climbed in. However, from many aspects it seems not to be only a subjective feeling. This valley has such manifold of natural features strongly influencing men. From the smallest detail to a complex whole, from lifeless nature through flora, fauna and people, from tourism and trekking to climbing possibilities. A valley with small red pebbles at the river bank, with exciting boulders resting on green meadows, with 1000 metre obelisks of red-yellow granite, with enormous ice walls and a number of unclimbed five and six thousand meter peaks. A valley where beautiful wild horses scud through the unspoiled nature, where one does not meet a men for weeks in some lost corners. A valley with a mystique of Buddhist atmosphere, that caresses and calms human souls. That’s Miyar Valley. A Mountain Paradise in the Indian Himalayas.”
The serenity of the mountains has been conveyed to the people of this valley, they are calm and express a lot of proud. Their religion is also coherent with the natural rhythm up here, they are Buddhists.
The people live of agriculture here, mainly potatoes and peas are cultivated up to a height of 3.800m. All work is manual, and the faces and bodies of the locals give clear evidence of that circumstance.
Life is simple up here, although the cell phone era has already arrived a couple of years ago.
In comparison to other parts of India, mere poverty can not be found here. Even the smallest villages have a school and the old people seem to be integrated in daily life, everyone lifes in great dignity here I found.
The villages are small accumulations of houses and small animal stalls, whereby many of the buildings are surprisingly new and relatively modern. You can see huge wood piles everywhere, and the roofs are covered with tall hey piles too. Winter is long up here, very long, usually from November until April the landscape is covered under a layer of meter high snow. All villages are isolated during that time.
In comparison to the touristy places, like Manali, one is seen as a guest here, not as a customer. We realize the difference, when our heartly “Namaste” is replied with an even more heartly voice and a respectful bow and the folding of the hands.
Trek to Base Camp
With our trekking agency and the horse men we agree to trek to base camp within three days from the village „Urgos“. On the one hand the horse men want to get paid as many days as possible, and on the other hand we wanted to acclimatize slowly and enjoy the beautiful valley. The trek however can be done in one day easily as well, being 35 km long you gain just 300 meters in height, there are just two short steeper sections.
So we have a lot of time to soak up the beauty f the place and undertake acclimatization hikes every evening. We set up camp on beautiful meadows, which are run through by small, crystal clear streams. In the middle of August you meet a lot of sheep and goat herds, some of them being 500 animals strong. Then we do regularly pass by small herds of free grazing cows, yaks and horses. They spent all summer in the upper Miyar Valley all on their own, and when it gets too cold and the snow keeps falling repeatedly, they hike down the valley to their homes we have been told.
On the first two days of the trek you already see a lot of nice mountains. But there are no real “rocky” peaks to be honest. So we are already very, very exited, when the “real” peaks are coming into view. On the third day the valley starts to bend westwards, and coming around this turn, we see the sun shining on the top of marvelous granite peaks. What a special moment for us, because it is now that the whole undertaking becomes reality as far as the climbing goes. Ines and I look each other deep in the eyes, start to smile and just say: “Now we are really here!”
The base camp is located at a picturesque spot , a lush and green meadow with two ice cold springs, and is surrounded by jagged peaks.
We unload the horses, put up our tents and celebrate the arrival with a real feat, made by our cook „Ram“ and his helper „ Balu“. We gobble down the tasty Indian food, because when we see all the peaks around us, it becomes clear that we are going to need a lot of energy in the next couple of weeks.
The sun caresses the highest peaks in a fat orange light, and we are – without seeing most of the peaks hidden in the side valleys – already enchanted from this landscape and the amazing possibilities.
Now we are in the middle of our adventure. The here and now, which we made possible through our preparations and our efforts, fills us already with a wide range and depth of emotions. We are thankful and curious at the same time, because until now, we have not climbed a single meter yet!