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Mohammed Zaki (second from the right in the group photo) gathered with members of the expedition party and members of his family prior to embarking on the Khatling Glacier trek. The expedition was led by members of the Indian Army Adventure Wing, and covered a distance of 150 kilometers from Uttarkashi in the West to Kedarnath in the East, at an average altitude of 4,000 meters, in 11 days. According to Zaki, the expedition was an ideal way to explore the very best that the Himalayas has to offer. Pictured here are snapshots of the snowbelts, high mountain passes, meadows, and glacial lakes that Zaki captured on his camera.

This past summer, the towering snow-covered mountains of the Garhwal Himalayas that encircle the lush Gangotri Valley and its surrounding glaciers was home to Mohammed Zaki, professor in the department of computer science. While visiting his family in Hyderabad, India, he had the opportunity to participate in a civilian expedition that was being organized by members of the Indian Army.

The Himalayas form a mountain range in Asia, separating the Indian subcontinent from the Tibetan Plateau. Together, the Himalayan mountain system is the world’s highest and home to the world’s highest peaks with more than 100 exceeding 7,200 meters.

From June 25 to July 8, the team trekked through the Khatling Glacier region. The fact that Zaki’s older brother — a member of the Indian Army — would serve as the team leader for the 21-member group was also a motivating factor to encourage participation for the first-time mountain trekker. “It was an opportunity that I did not want to miss,” said Zaki.

The first part of the expedition involved a two-day 38 km round trip trek from Gangotri to the Gaumukh Glacier, at roughly 4,200 meters, which is the source of the Ganges River. According to Hindu legend, the mountains are the birthplace not only of the Ganges, but of many Hindu deities. The entire region holds special spiritual significance throughout India.

“The many streams and rivers of these mountains are tributaries to the Ganges River, a river of unparalleled importance in the history and culture of India,” said Zaki. “I cannot even find the words to describe the experience. It was beautiful. It was spectacular and unforgettable.”

The second leg of the journey involved a one-way 90 km trek along the ridge lines to the Sahastratal region, comprised of many glacial lakes, on the way to the Khatling Glacier, climbing to a maximum height of 4,800 meters (15,800 feet). For this leg of the trip, team members spent up to eight hours climbing per day, which was especially challenging since it was the monsoon season, which meant daily rainfall.

“At times, it was exhausting and challenging for me,” Zaki said. “We did not use special equipment other than regular hiking boots. It felt like we were a ‘band of brothers’ climbing constantly, and cut off from the rest of the world. At that moment, nothing else seemed to matter. It was the perfect moment to contemplate nature’s beauty that completely surrounded us, and where one wants to go.”

Along the way, Zaki photographed the charming villages nestled in the southern valleys, the colorful tapestry of wild flowers that surrounded the forested hillsides, the lush terraced fields, and giant snow-covered peaks.

“I wanted to remember the experience and share it with others. It shows a different side of me,” he said. Last month, Zaki shared his first-time mountain trekking experience with members of the campus community during a seminar that was held on the Rensselaer campus. In the near future, he says that he plans to continue exploring other regions of the Himalayas for as long as he can.
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Inside Rensselaer
Volume 2, Number 18, October 31, 2008
©2008 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
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