To the land of snow
A Walk to the Milam Glacier on the edge of Tibet.
– Ahtushi Deshpande
A 24-hour journey in a UP Roadways bus is not the most comfortable way to get to Munsiyari, I realise, as I count the numerous bumps on my head the morning after. I had been rudely awakened, several times during the journey – most notably around midnight, when the bus followed in hot pursuit of a rabbit, the passengers cheering on the driver. (The rabbit was eventually caught, put in a sack and locked up in the glove compartment). But when I step off the bus in Munsiyari, all memories of the bizarre journey vanish – the five mythological Pandavas stand proud before my eyes, their legend forever ensconced in the five majestic peaks of the Panchchuli range. Situated in a remote corner of Kumaon bordering Tibet and Nepal, Munsiyari was once a bustling entrepot of trade. On a trekking trail north-west of Munsiyari is the Milam Glacier, one of the longest in the region. The four-day trek to the village of Milam at the end of this old trade route to Tibet is dotted with abandoned Bhutia villages. In the wake of the India-China war of 1962, trade came to a halt and the hardy Bhutia traders migrated to the towns and cities below.
I am eager to set off on the trek to the glacier. Mr. Rare, the KMVN (Kumaon Mandal Vikas Nigam) manager, is helpful and tells me that his father, Khem Nam, could act as guide on my trek. Khem Nam turns out to be fully 65 years old, a veteran of these valleys. We make a list of provisions and set off shopping at the Munsiyari bazaar, a stronghold of the Bhutia traders.