It had been our plan to drive non-stop until we
reached our destination, but at10pm we came across a military night-time
road block, and as there was no possibility of a hotel, we had no
option but to sleep in the minibus with the driver and his mate.
That night was not the most comfortable I have ever spent. In the
small hours I woke to the sound of scavenging foxes and local stray
dogs having a moonlit gangfight worthy of West Side Story.
Finally it was 6am. Ruefully missing our morning
shower and hot breakfast, we set off through the now open road block,
and arrived at Pithoragarh at about 9am. It is set in a wide, low
valley, surrounded by mountain ranges and is a very attractive village.
We located a small local hotel, which appeared to be staffed and
run by two 9 year old boys, but none the less efficient for that.
Soon we were ensconced in our rooms, simple but clean, with a glass
of the local "chai" (a kind of hot, sweet, milky tea -
delicious - and always served in a glass), and a bucket of hot water
apiece ready for us to take a welcome and much needed shower. A
glance through the thick and ancient hotel register revealed not
a single European name. The rate, incidentally, was £1.50/$3
We knew from our trekking map that the mountain
that we were looking for lay due south of the town, and from the
flat roof of the hotel we had a good view of the range of which
it formed a part, some 15 km distant. One peak, somewhat higher
than the others, was obviously our goal, and although the locals
knew it as "Thalkedar" rather than "Thakil,"
there could be no doubt as to its identity, or its allure, as we
saw it there for the first time, dark and mysterious. The map indicated
that there was a temple at its summit, and looking through binoculars,
we could just make it out.
At this point of the trip we were lucky enough to
make the acquaintance of a young lady, Miss Poonam Chaudhary, without
whose help we would have had a much tougher time of things, and
who rendered us great assistance. She was in Pithoragarh to investigate
the possibilities of tourism in this remote and beautiful area,
and with her contacts we were able to hire transport, guides, and
porters to aid us in our quest. It must be said however that Poonam,
along with everybody else with whom we spoke, was quite negative
about our chances of finding palms on the mountain. Yes, everybody
knew palms, and Phoenix sylvestris was not uncommon close to the
town. But enquiries about fan palms, even when backed up with photographs
of Trachycarpus, were always met with a polite but definite, 'they
do not grow here.'
We spent the rest of that day, and the next, in
and around the town. We were impatient to be on our way of course,
but there were arrangements to be made and formalities to be attended
to. We did make one excursion with some newly made friends to look
at some Phoenix palms a few miles distant. One was a most attractive
glaucous blue colour, but mainly they were just regular green (by
now common-or-garden) P. sylvestris, mostly trunkless, but nice
to see all the same.
The next morning found us up and ready to leave
by 7:30, when the jeep we had arranged to borrow arrived at the
hotel, driven by Alook, Poonam' s brother. We left the village behind
us and drove due south along quite a reasonable tarred road, across
the floor of the valley, towards our destination, which we now knew
as Mount Thalkedar, the name 'Thakil' not having been used in living
memory. After some miles, we began climbing. Up and up we went,
with the view improving by the minute. We soon saw the snow covered
peaks of the Himalayas, miles away on the far side of the town we
had left. The highest, called Nanda Devi, was the first to appear,
and others came into view as we ascended.
The road deteriorated and tar became dirt. It became
ever narrower, with hairpin bends and a drop of perhaps 150 metres,
centimeters away from the wheels of the jeep. We stopped once or
twice for photos and to admire the now stunning view. The entire
visible horizon from east to west was snow-covered peaks.