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Old 20th June 2012, 15:52   #1
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Default Soaring with the eagles : The ice road to Gangotri

Republic day on a thursday means a long weekend. A long time back, every long weekend meant a trip, but sadly, such things have reduced quite a bit. However, on the republic day of 2012, we had the chance again.
A long trip.

And to where else, the mountains of course.
When I opened up my image gallery, I realized that the last trip had been in feb 2011.

A year ago. One full year, and we had not visited the himalayas. Not even a run of the mill hill station.
And thus it was time to head northward.

As usual, the question arised. Where do we go now. We wanted the trip to be relaively relaxed(ha ha ha), so chitkul was out. Moreover, the snow deities had been extra generous, so it would be inaccessible.

So started the search for other options. Why not Uttaranchal this time? To tell you the truth, Uttaranchal strikes fear in us. You see, any "pilglrimage intensive" tourist destination is very dangerous, crowded, and with truly crazy traffic and crowds.

But then, we were told that the Dhams are closed. So no pesky pilgrims.
What next? Well UK or Uttrakhand, or Uttaranchal(I don't really know when the name change happened).

So the plan was set in motion, and I turned to a friend who now runs "Where Eagles Dare" an adventure trek/biking group. He had recently bought a place in UK, and was taking a group with him.

"Why not ride with us?" asked Tilak
"WE do not ride a bike"
"Well, we have a SUV coming with us, and a support Eeco, more the merrier"
"Where will we stay and all"
"I will arrange all"

And so a trip was born.
To where...?
Well Gangotri. The road was closed(3000mts above sea level in winters...). All the more reason to go there.

We got a lot more than we bargained for. For example, the eve of the trip, both me and my wife were running fever.
So far, so good.
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Old 20th June 2012, 16:16   #2
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Default Day 1:Destination Uttarkashi

Eagles are an adventure group. And adventure groups usually start early. 5am.
We are not an adventure group. And we do not start at 5am. Usually that is.
So 7:30am we are finally on the road.

The road in this case is a highway through hell. Well quite literally. Its poetic actually. To reach a heavenly place you have to cross the gates of hell.
These gates of hell are called Modinagar, Ghaziabad ... and countless other small villages and towns.

Lucky for us, the demons minions were still sleeping. Which meant we covered quite a distance unmolested.

The garrison of Meerutodor is bypassed by a brilliant superhighway, with occaisonal cows jumping around to hurry you to the maker.
However, without any holy cows riding on the bullbar, we covered pace briskly, as briskly as I would dare to flog the white elephant.

At 70K+ kms she is a bit cranky.
We cross the highway to hell, and post lunchtime we are in UK. Near chamba we stop for food at a dhaba, and I decide to call the "Eagles".

"You crossed us, by the time we realized it was you, you had already crossed". Anyways, we wait for them to join us, and start the journey to uttarkashi

I take just one pic on the way
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The roads in UK are very nice. Infact excellent when compared to HP, but the strech from Chamba to Uttarkashi is in shambles.
So progress was slow.

Its night when we reach the sleepy town of Uttarkashi. Well its not a sleepy town in "pilgrim season", but now, it was mostly empty.

This meant that we were staying in a nice hotel for a great price.
We had dinner with the group, and it was decided that everyone will start early. Well.... everyone usually does not include us... eh
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Old 20th June 2012, 17:05   #3
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Default Day 2 : #1 Take me higher

Breakfast is ready, and has already been eaten. But there is lots left for us. Nobody started at 6am though. And we started even later. Around 9 IIRC.

Our nice hotel
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The white elephant
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The other SUV team had to head back because a member got ill. Its the flu

"Kahan ho bhai???" An amused Tilak on the other side of the phone asks. Obviously he has never travelled with us lazy bums.

"We have started", and I am sure I heard a sigh of relief.
They are about 20 minutes ahead of us.


But they are on bikes, and the going is going to get tougher.
Around 11:30 we catch up.
The ice has begin
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The snow gods have truly been generous, and I swap lenses
Time for the telephoto
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The Himalayan Griffon vulture.
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Snow everywhere
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Its not truly sunny. Will it snow? Maybe not. Weather usually turns in these parts. Afternoon brings clouds, with go away by late night

We are near a place called Sukhi top, a high hill on the way to Harsil. Harsil is at a slightly lower altitude. And in this shot you see the road. Nice black top eh? Do not let it fool you, its treacherous black ice
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At sukhi top there is a dhaba. And at dhaba a decision has to be made. The bikes cannot make it. I am surprised that the eeco is making it!

The road is icy, its so slippery that bikes are slipping. Going forward is dangerous. Temperature is sub zero, and this means later in the day there will be even more ice as we cross harsil.

So bikes are parked, and we try to fit in as many eagles as possible in the white elephant.
Rest fit in eeco, and many will walk till harsil(downhill), and then they can be picked up again, since the destination(Dharali) is just few kms from Harsil

Its almost 2 and we are hat Harsil.
As you can see the road is ice. Pure 6 inch thick layer of hard ice, which makes even walking tough
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Thanksfully, snow chain laden army trucks have ribbed the ice, and we have some traction
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This is a small rivulet. It has frozen solid
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the Harsil city gates.
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At Harsil, we part. The "Eagles" will stay at Dharali, and we had plans of staying in GMVN Harsil if its open. So as we take the road downwards, we come across a small rivulet running on the road.

In my fear for the intercooler, I am too slow, and I realize that the wheels are spinning, but we are going neither forward nor backward.

Ice is not a nice traction medium. I see a rare site. All 4 wheels spinning. Usually its one forward and one backward wheel without traction.

As I walk towards the army camp on the roadside, I realize this ice is not even walkable.
Luckily no falls.

The Army guys ask what we need. Well I say... snow chains. Well they come with shovels, and try to crack the ice.

And it does not crack.
I repeat, I need snow chains.

"Well we have one for the trucks, with those almost 2 meter dia wheels"
"Will do".

With snow chains in hand, well, I hold half the chain, it weight 40kg! The Army guys chip in, and I throw them under the wheels.

Reverse gear, and we are out.

Now this springs a doubt in the mind. Do we go to the valley to a hotel which may or may not be open, or we join the eagles in the Dharali village.

We sure love solitude, but this incident with ice has shaken us. Its nothing like I have seen anywhere. Kunzum, Rohtang, Changla, all that ice was powdery offering traction. This thing is a solid lump, like an ice skating rink.

Its time to head forward.

We move forward, and I see tilak with his eeco coming from the opposite direction. Well he is not moving. There is a upslope and eeco wheels are just spinning.

We wave him by and reach the "hotel" or "guest house" or whatever.
The trekkers have their thermometers out, and its -5 degrees, at 4 in the evening.

Soon Tilak is also with us. The eeco cannot climb.
So we decide to head back, and get the walkers in batches.

Two rounds, and we all are at Dharali
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The snow dogs
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Its 5pm or whereabouts, and we are settled in. Well mostly. The room was desinged for pleasant summer season. So its cold. Very very cold. Wind howls, and even 4 quilts cannot warm us. WE both have fever too. So its time to pop combiflam and head to the comfort and warmth of the white elephant.

Why not go for a drive... A good idea?
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Old 20th June 2012, 17:20   #4
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Default Day 2 #2: Ice skating

The heater is on full blast, linkin park is ending the world, and the winds buffet the white elephant with every gust.
But we are cold. The heater on full blast is still throwing only lukewarm air. Its -6, and falling.
Its going to be a long long night.

So we decide to do some ice skating on the white elephant. I won't call it driving. Because going sideways is not driving. And thats what I am doing most of the time.

Sideways, correct, opposite lock, sideways correct opposite lock. The piled up snow on the road banks looks strong and protective, but I am in no mood to test the hypothesis. So speeds are slow. Its a 10-15kmph drift skating.

But the views are enough to calm the fears. Its... magical. There is the river Ganga. Still unviolated.
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Ice road
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A small "confluence" at dharali
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Ahead of Dharali, towards Gangotri, its even icier!
We decide to take a U turn. And here is the result. Turning a 747 would be easier I guess
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More ice fields
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Even the white elephant feels cold. Look at the engine temp guage. It refuses to touch half mark
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WE return to the hotel, and we are hungry
A shot of the village of Dharali
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Usually its a teeming with pilgrims village. But the Dham is closed, and the road is also closed. So its just us, and the cold. The biting cold.

Over hote maggi and eggs and soup and combiflam, we share travel tales by the fire. For the first time in my life I am too ill to take out the camera. The fire also feels cold. Fire and ice.

We retire to the room early, and try to sleep. How do you sleep in -8 in a room. Well its time to find out.

And the anwer is simple. You do not sleep. You just want the night to get over with.
And then... after a long sleepless night, its a cold cold morning.

Last edited by tsk1979 : 20th June 2012 at 21:08.
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Old 20th June 2012, 17:23   #5
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Default Re: Soaring with the eagles : The ice road to Gangotri

Thread moved to Travelogues section
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Old 20th June 2012, 20:12   #6
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Default Re: Soaring with the eagles : The ice road to Gangotri

WoW. What a wonderful sight!
Scorching in the summer heat, waiting for the elusive monsoon, those pictures are like a soothing balm.

Next time you hit out to the snow - can i book a seat in your safari?
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Old 20th June 2012, 20:35   #7
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Default Re: Soaring with the eagles : The ice road to Gangotri

What tanveer - you post such a brilliant log - my hands are paining doing F5 and i see nothing new!!

of course, must hide this from the wife else the 4x4 will need to be purchased soon!
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Old 20th June 2012, 20:43   #8
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Smile Re: Soaring with the eagles : The ice road to Gangotri

Some great snow pics, this place looks just OFTW. The snow covered road really calls for some expert handling. Did you encounter fresh snow fall enroute, any challenges that you would like to share
Waiting for more to unfold
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Old 20th June 2012, 21:02   #9
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Default Re: Soaring with the eagles : The ice road to Gangotri

Amazing adventure indeed, Tanveer. The landscape is just mindboggling. I am still wondering how you managed to drive through the snow laden tracks. Not sure whether you had snow tyres on your Safari. Looking forward to read more on this trip which should be visual spectacle as usual. This will be another gem from you as usual!!!Five stars!!!
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Old 20th June 2012, 21:19   #10
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Default Day 3 #1 : -7 degrees and rising

Waking up early was not a problem.
Well when you are not sleeping.. whats the problem with waking up?

It 7:30am bright sunny and cold. -7 degrees. It would only rise. So no worries.
Well I had a worry.

Will the white elephant start? Engine had been shut at -6 at 6pm the day before. And the night had been -8.

I take the camera, and walk to the car. Well, the door seems jammed. I give a tug, and it opens.
This is what is visible from inside
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It would require a lot of water I guess.
I switch on the ignition, the heater comes on, stays on for some time. And then I crank.
Wow! First crank and she roars. Sure the idle is erratic, and the clatter causes a avalanche on the mountainside, but the WE is alive.
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There you have it, idling at 1100rpm.
-3 she says, I guess residual engine heat.

The thermometer kept outside shows its getting warmer -6.6
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I let her idle, and venture out. Step into a puddle. Well on the puddle, since its frozen solid
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The cold morning
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Warm and nice, its time for plans now. Everybody wants to go to Gangotri. And the road is closed.
Well all the more fun.

So 5 of us pack in the safari, and proabably 10 pack themselves in the eeco. 4 people in the boot mean traction for rear wheels!
Yay, we will ride to gangotri!
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Old 20th June 2012, 21:22   #11
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Default Re: Soaring with the eagles : The ice road to Gangotri

Quote:
Originally Posted by laluks View Post
WoW. What a wonderful sight!
Scorching in the summer heat, waiting for the elusive monsoon, those pictures are like a soothing balm.

Next time you hit out to the snow - can i book a seat in your safari?
Well bangalore is not so bad now . Look at Delhi!

Quote:
Originally Posted by phamilyman View Post
What tanveer - you post such a brilliant log - my hands are paining doing F5 and i see nothing new!!

of course, must hide this from the wife else the 4x4 will need to be purchased soon!
I think I need to pay you a visit and show her the pics.

Quote:
Originally Posted by ADI_77 View Post
Some great snow pics, this place looks just OFTW. The snow covered road really calls for some expert handling. Did you encounter fresh snow fall enroute, any challenges that you would like to share
Waiting for more to unfold
No fresh snow. Only ice. as for challenge. Only one. How not to fall into Ganga
Quote:
Originally Posted by Fauji View Post
Amazing adventure indeed, Tanveer. The landscape is just mindboggling. I am still wondering how you managed to drive through the snow laden tracks. Not sure whether you had snow tyres on your Safari. Looking forward to read more on this trip which should be visual spectacle as usual. This will be another gem from you as usual!!!Five stars!!!
Thanks. I run continental cross contact A/Ts. They are okay in snow, but hopeless in ice.
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Old 20th June 2012, 21:37   #12
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Default Re: Soaring with the eagles : The ice road to Gangotri

Day 3 #2: The call of the ice road

About 30kms ahead of Dharali lies the Gangotri. At 3000mts+ altitude, it means a gradually climbing track.

The Eeco takes the lead. The road ahead is packed with snow, and it is supposed to be closed.
Well I switch to 2WD. If the eeco can do 2WD, so can I, eh.

But I do not have 4 people in the boot, nor are the conti's very new. Infact, the rear tires are nearing replacement, and on a gentle incline, I find the rear sliding sideways, rather than pushing her forward.

So much for adventurism. I stop, shift to 4H, and start.
kat kat kat kat.... like a machine gun comes the sound from front.
Rear wheels are rotating fine, but it seems the 4WD has packed up.

Darn! What now. I reverse a bit, then move forward... and 4WD engages. I am not shifting back now. Thats for sure! She will remain in 4WD.

We come to the haunted bridge, haunted by an englishman. I forgot his name. Maybe it was John. Or harry. I don't know. But in daytime it does not look scary, does it?
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See the tires? They are not sunk in. The reason is that this is not snow. This is 6 inch thick ice, slick as a skating rink

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We march forward. The scenes are breathtaking.

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And the road.. well its the ice road

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There are rare sections of tarmac, where the sun shines most of the day.
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ITs half past 10 as the gangotri range comes into view. Somewhere there, the Ganga originates
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On the mountainsides, waterfalls have frozen. They will run again, come summer
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And little before 11, we reach our destination. Gangotri. On the road which is closed.
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Old 21st June 2012, 10:31   #13
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Default Re: Soaring with the eagles : The ice road to Gangotri

What an awesome travelogue. I have been in snow clad places in foreign shores where sometimes I have had to deal with 3/4 feet of snow during snowstorms and I know it has a different beauty but this in India is truly mind blowing. I never knew that these roads are open at least up to a certain point where one can enjoy nature's cold beauty. I'm loving it. Please keep the pictures flowing and help me keep motivated to buy my own 4X4 soon .

Edit: A well deserved 5* rating for showing these views to the world.
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Old 21st June 2012, 10:35   #14
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Default Re: Soaring with the eagles : The ice road to Gangotri

Some really wonderful pictures tanveer. Enjoying your drive on icy roads.
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Old 21st June 2012, 11:15   #15
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Default Re: Soaring with the eagles : The ice road to Gangotri

Quote:
Originally Posted by laluks View Post
WoW. What a wonderful sight!
Scorching in the summer heat, waiting for the elusive monsoon, those pictures are like a soothing balm.

Next time you hit out to the snow - can i book a seat in your safari?
If 29-30 degree max is scorching, you really need the frozen soothing balm !

tsk, Great journey. I always feel sad for not having been to these places in India although been to even colder places elsewhere and having lived in the Rockies. Should be easier for you guys since its not that far.
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