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Week of 4.17.09

David's Journal from India: Day 10

Stuck in the Mud

It's a truism of hiking that downhill is no picnic either, and our last four hours of trekking confirm that. I had gotten to the top of Tapovan meadow, tired with occasional bouts of chills in the night from the altitude, but no muscle hurt. It was the long downhill trek that was an unfamiliar motion for my calves, thighs, and back and no matter how tight you lace on the boots, there's a friction on the downhill that is just plain aggravating.

Producer and cameraman Bill Campbell.
Producer and cameraman Bill Campbell.
We make it back to Gangotri town shortly before midday and while the sun is shining, the mood has shifted from our visit on the way up. Sadhus are more insistent in their interactions and now there are outright pleas for cash. Sultan, the porter carrying some of the camera equipment gets the scoop: The one and only road back out of here has been closed by a landslide. A thunderstorm that had simply pelted our tents the afternoon before produced a more catastrophic result much further down on the paved road into town. It happened at a place about an hour and a half's drive back, where the road switches back and forth through the same gulley as it descends toward the river. That means A single slide has taken out the road in four places and ain't nobody going anywhere for many hours.

Khem Singh, expedition guide.
Khem Singh, expedition guide.
That's okay for us, since we hadn't planned to go further than the tiny town of Dharali until the next morning anyway. The cut in the road means that the usual line of honking, clattering traffic of jeeps, minibuses and trucks has been silenced and our hotel takes on that warm atmosphere that descends on a place where folks get snowed in with nice beds and plenty of provisions. In Dharali, it is much too warm for snow, but the guest house has an alpine theme with cedar accents and posters of places like the high Alps of Austria. Conrad, selfless as usual, gives up his private room and bunks in with cameraman Thom so that an Indian family can also have a place to spend the night.

A rock and mud slide closes the only road out of Gangotri for the better part of a day.
A rock and mud slide closes the only road out of Gangotri for the better part of a day.
At this, the end of our trek on foot, the consensus is a bottle of beer might be in order, but that's a tough order in a town where folks don't drink. There's talk of beer on offer down the way in a Buddhist town. I find the idea that with Buddhism might come beer unfathomable. Still a beer would be nice. We have just spent five nights in tents, through sun, rain and mist, hacking through 11,000 vertical feet in altitude change and when it comes to abstemious living, we've already put in our time.

Over dinner, I fiddle with producer Bill Campbell's beat-up shortwave radio. The BBC says the key index on the Indian stock market has fallen on news that the country's inflation rate has soared to over eleven percent. This, all agree, has been caused by skyrocketing fuel and food prices. If left unchecked, the inflation could put a damper on economic growth which would cost much-needed Indian jobs. An economic downturn means less pollution out of factories, fewer trucks driving, fewer cars heading to and from work. That might help global warming but what a bad way to do it.

Visit "On Thin Ice" to watch the hour-long NOW on PBS special and learn more about global warming.
*Note: All photographs by John Siceloff unless otherwise credited.

Read Day 11: "High on Diesel Fumes"