Ramche- A Pastoral Hideout in Nepal

Yajung glacier and the Base Camp. The Yalung glacier was right below the big mound where we had our Base Camp. The sunlight reached our camp first in the mornings and in the shadow the Yalung Glacier looked deep blue (sanjay austa austa)

The Mighty Yalung Glacier at the Base Camp, Kanchenjunga

(Published first in the Mumbai Mirror, July 2015)

One of the enigmas of travelling in the Himalayas is that the higher you go, the wider the valleys expand. The snow- eroded slopes are steep but even. There are vast vistas of space and everything is far out in the distance. The feeling is that of expansion rather than being hemmed in.

However, somehow all my trips to high altitudes have been shortcuts.  I have ascended up Himalayan heights ascending to an altitude of 4000 meters or   more, propelled by an aircraft.

So too with Ramche in Eastern Nepal where a Mi-17 helicopter dropped  me and two dozen army men  on a vast valley floor. Ascending so quickly from Taplejung -a shabby Nepali village-  I stood for several minutes,  gasping the oxygen depleted air in awe.

Who would have imagined this idyllic pastoral hideout up in these virtually inaccessible Himalayan heights? But as I explored, I found one vast valley tucked behind   another. Dotting them, herds of yaks grazed on the sparse short grass. Glacial streams snaked in the valley from everywhere forming a sort of estuary at the Ramche lakes.

Our camp at Ramche and the glacial lake. I took this pic on my trek on the mountain alongside our camp. The best way to accamatise to the high altitude is climb the mountains as high as you can and return to the base camp. This prepared you to make the final bid to the top. (sanjay austa austa)

Glacial lake and our camps, Ramche

Ramche at 4300 meters is far above the tree- line, with  treeless mountains. However bonsai version of rhododendron  grows thickly on  steep slopes.  It is an aromatic shrub, which the nomadic shepherds, the only humans who live in this part of the world, call sunpati. They use it for incense in worship. The other bush that grows on the mountains is juniper. The yaks don’t feed on the leaves of these plants -perhaps due their aroma; they instead nibble on short grass wherever they can find it.

The mountains themselves rise almost abruptly at the edge of the valley floor. Beyond them loom some of the famous Nepal peaks.

I was accompanying a team of hardy Indian Army mountaineers who focused on their goal ; summiting Kanchenjunga peak, had little time for mountain romanticism. For them Ramche was  just a convenient broad strip of land, perfect to land the helicopters on and to pitch tents and stock supplies for the expedition.

One  must rest at least a  day after a sudden jump from   low altitudes. But at Ramche,  with so many spectacular  bounties on display, I did not think I was any worse for  wear. There was a low mountain wall that ran along the length of the valley to the east.  No sooner we arrived , there was  enormous  curiosity on what lay beyond this wall. The Sherpas said there was a glacier.

Two sherpas i meet on the ridge on my walk exploring Ramche (sanjay austa austa)

Sherpas on the expedition, Ramche

This juniper-clad mountainside was a mere hundred meters tall but not sufficiently acclimatized,  I  was badly  winded by the time I  reached its rim.

But where was the glacier? Unlike Greenland, Iceland or Alaska, much of the Himalayan glaciers are buried under heaps of mountain debris.  From a distance you only see the moraine of  dry stone-strewn valley. But the Sherpas pointed out  to us the  snot-green glacial pools.  We were looking at the Yalung glacier. Even with our layman’s knowledge we could see that it was a glacier in retreat.  Further down the valley the mountainsides carried the scars of the once-flowing glacier ; lose earth and gravel was  scratched with layers exposed in lateral patterns.

But further up the mountains, which we climbed the  subsequent week, we saw the Yalung glacier spread out lavishly. However again, the crevasse-riddled surface was peppered with glacial pools, a sign that the glacier was melting faster than it should.

Himalayan glaciers present a big challenge to climatologists and glaciologist because of the inhospitable terrain.

“Compared to other parts of the world glacial monitoring in the Himalayas has not been done It’s a tough inhospitable terrain. The cost of study here is substantially higher. The glaciers are in retreat due to climate change but we need a lot of sustained research to estimate just how much”, says Ugan Manandhar, WWF, Climate and Energy Program Director.

Though the Intergovernmental Panel on Governmental Change (IPCC) has debunked the claim that all Himalayan glaciers will disappear by 2035, its  a fact that many Himalayan glaciers have a rate of retreat of over 10 meters every year.

When not climbing the Sherpas are gambling- Ramche. Gambling is a serious activity among the Sherpas after climbing. For most of them its a good pass-time on the mountains when they have to wait for days for the right weather to make a climb. (sanjay austa austa)

When not climbing, the Sherpas are gambling. Ramche

As we explored Ramche and its nearby areas we saw  glacier snouts spouting water from under them in broad steady streams..

Today, however, the Ramche lakes are innocuous beauties. They  are shallow and on a clear morning sky, they reflect the surrounding 7000 meter plus peaks in their blue ripple-less  waters. A magnificent sight especially when the grunting yaks ford across it in herds.

But should the glaciers melt continue at the present rate, it will be lakes like these that will spell disaster. Fed with unrelenting glacial water they will soon metamorphose into large natural dams. After a point their weak banks unable to contain the enormous water will break, wrecking unimaginable disaster in their wake.

How to get there: By Air: Fly to Katmandu. From Katmandu fly to Biratnagar. From Biratnagar fly to Sukhetar in Tapleyjung. From Tapleyjung one can trek up to Ramche.

By Road– Cross Nepal from Siliguri. Drive to  Tapleyjung 17 hours away. From Tapleyjung one can trek to Ramche.

SA 014 (sanjay austa austa)

Glacial lake and the mountains, Ramche

One Response to “Ramche- A Pastoral Hideout in Nepal”

  1. fine post,it is useful to me and others,please just keep it on….

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