Well life is short and mundane urban life kills me , even with so many business travels nothing entices like spending some peaceful time in the lap of mother nature !
A small spark of trekking in mountains popped up not just for the adventurous experience but was pretty curious to know why mountains are always linked with humility. I have heard people say “they find themselves” by just trekking on mountains!! Curiosity built – and found a couple of resonating partners. Next step I divulged myself into serious research about trekking in the Himalayan range !
Himalayas always fascinated me since my primary geography classes while drawing a mysterious arc shape with triangles on the map of India ! As we all know, It is 2500kms mighty range running through multiple countries – India, Nepal, Bhutan , Pakistan and China!! It has worlds highest peaks with unimaginable heights !
My knowledge about trekking is very limited , other than the stories I have heard from my brother, a very regular trekker. I have done some jolly good hiking in San Jose during vacations and That’s it!
But, I was so determined I should do it no matter what happens – and if I trek it should be one that is quiet challenging !
So based on my research, I narrowed down to few choices and picked “Gharwal Himalayan range”. This range runs in the beautiful state of Uttarakhand with many high altitude summits including – Nanda devi, Trishul, Neelkanth, Hanuman, DunaGiri, Hathi Goda, kalanag etc ! It is lush with green meadows, endless forests and humble Rivers and so on !
Uttarakhand is known for Pilgrim centers also and popularly called as “Devbhoomi” (land of Gods) – Haridwar, Rishikesh, Badrinath, Kedarnath and many more is all just few hundred Kilometres away!
It has numerous popular tracks ranging from easy to most difficult treks. I contemplated between two moderately challenging treks.
1. Rupin pass
2. Pangarchulla summit
And Finally settled on latter to match my logistics and dates in summer!
Once I chose the trek, I started rating all the adventure camp organizers and settled with “Bikat Adventures “. They had mandatory life Insurance and emergency plans well defined. But best of all “backpack offloading”. 😁
“ Lesson 1 : Always check the Altitude and see how many days they take to reach it , sometimes higher altitude in less number of days without acclimatization is quiet dangerous and may cause severe sickness “
The fun part for any sport is picking up Gears ! I totally enjoyed shopping winter jackets, fleece, backpack, gloves,trek shoes and hiking poles which as usual was continuing till the last minute!
Most important part of the trek is preparing mind and body to adapt to weather and altitude! I did try endurance building by running for longer hours, climbing stairs and strictly following my Martial arts sessions ! But of all, the urge and thrill that I am gonna do something for myself after so many years, kept me going !
And I kept telling myself , this should be more of a backpack trip with minimal expenses.So, I booked flight tickets well in advance and picked the cheaper option with dual hop (not bad domestic fly after all) and booking at a decent hotel in Dehradun before and after the trek for just one night !
And well, I had to constantly hear mom say “ why do you have to push yourself so much ?” As part of prep, I learn to silently ignore that comment with a smile !
Well on the other hand, my Dad kept reminding me – “You are not practicing enough “ “ I have seen your Anna (brother) practicing , you are taking it light “ the comparison never ends even at this age 🙂 Blah blah blah !! Same universal response – Sweet smile 🙂
“Lesson 2 : Learn to smile more 🙂 – it works everywhere especially with your folks “
Tonnes of surprises were waiting for me as I started my sojourn to see Mighty Himalayas. First was the jet airways doldrums and my flight had to be rescheduled , resulting in unnecessary trouble and monetary loss ! Fine, this is beyond my control, whatever happens I am still ready to explore !!
May 18, 2019: Landed in Jolly grant airport at Dehradun in a small propeller aircraft from Delhi!
TRIO MEETS – My trek buddies and cousins Ms.P, first timer like me and the Doc , second time trekker and crazy solo traveler , met at Dehradun fancy Treebo Hotel. After initial pleasantries we decided to explore street foods of Dehradun at around 9 PM. Super spicy Momos grilled and mixed with some tangy and red spicy sauce ! It was heavenly, super hot 🥵 and yum!! I couldn’t stop licking the sauce !!! We binge ate that night thinking we might not get good food in the hills ! But, Spicy sauce woke me next morning at 3 am with a horrible stomach ache, Damn! Hot and spicy food and my stomach, they both never sync !
“Lesson3 : Street foods are awesome no doubt, make sure your tongue and stomach are in good terms with each other as your mission is not hogging“
Next day we were supposed to go to Joshimath, around 300 kms from Dehradun,a 12 hour drive! Other trekkers started to assemble and we started our drive in a “NoN AC Bolero car ” tightly packed! The car just swirled up and down between different mountain ranges on dusty and the most dangerous roads. In fact there were huge traffic jams due to landslides!! That was really a tough road journey, but unavoidable. If you have to trek then you have to reach the basecamp only by mountain roads ! Distance might vary though.
“Lesson 4 – Check the driving distance to base camp and make sure you are dressed for weather conditions !! Be prepared to eat on the roadside fast foods, pretty decent Dhal and Roti! But don’t try super hot street foods the night before 🙂 I ended up with severe stomach issues , but it definitely was worth for the food I had 😉!! “
Well , finally around 8pm we reached Joshimath, its a very small town with again religious connections, when we reached “Nandadevi place of stay” air was filled with some bad smell, Gosh, what a huge change from a fancy night stay the day before, the room had 3 beds and some dirty sheets just like the one in Indian Rails (ugly brown blankets and some ugly white/ brown sheets)!! Tears rolled when I saw the room, but consoled myself saying well I am on a backpacking trip and cant expect a Le Meridian or Renaissance!
I thought to my self, I will not use those sheets rather use my jackets for night. By the way, no heating system in the room. It was cold and all three of us curled in to the sheets:) dunno how it happened!
Its not that I haven’t faced bad winters, I have lived in cold and windy places always protected with heating systems and hot showers and warm sheets! What we face as winter is when we really get out of the house but with warm accessories! But cold night is different here, we are facing it without any sophisticated accompaniment! I cant really imagine winter in such places ! But people do live there and know how to adapt !
“ Lesson 5: Your fleece Jacket and woolen cap a sure thing to carry, and don’t forget your Vaseline /chap stick and moisturizer- this goes for everyone “
” Lesson 6: All white sheets in any hotel does not mean it is clean, but it does make you feel good.”
The next day morning we took a stroll to explore the town and to have some hot cup of “ Chai” (tea) . People around us seemed to be happy. They were not well dressed nor look dirty. For them trekkers walking on road is quite a common sight! But still they welcomed with a warm smile as we pass by!
Next comes another confusion, my trek leader dropped a bomb stating that our names were not listed for backpack offloading! What the hell?? – the whole point of me choosing these guys is cause they had backpack offloading. No way, I am not prepared to carry the backpack- few phone calls here and there and they finally agreed to carry ours without any trouble!! What a relief – “I am just prepared to carry my own body weight 🙂 nothing more!”
“Lesson 7: Backpack offloading – certain privileges you get in Indian trekking, if you wanna do it make sure you book it along with your package. Last minute bookings are quiet expensive and its difficult for organizers to accommodate and find mule carriers ! “
THE DAY 1 – REAL TREK
We started our trek from Joshimath and reached Dhak and our campsite near Gulling ! The walk was steady we gradually increased from 6000 ft to 9400 ft. It was some three and half hour walk with multiple breaks ! As it was the first day we didn’t push our limits and just went with the flow ! It really was a beautiful sight, small village roads, water sources and Cannabis and Rhododendrons grown everywhere ! It was tiring as we had to climb up but definitely not very difficult. We reached the campsite , and our tents were ready!
“Lesson 8: Make sure you dress light during daytime treks in summer , it is hot and don’t forget your third leg , hiking pole. It definitely does save you from unnecessary twist and fall ! Ankle length water resistant shoes definitely is an add on support but some good trained trekkers had regular Nike shoes and drifted beautifully in the track – I would say its all in the mind , and accessories are just to build your confidence “
Everything was exciting to me, the tents, mattress, sleeping bags , the stream , the shit holes and what not !
We relaxed had a short walk up the hill in the evening to acclimatize and had an interesting ice breaker session. Everyone was allowed to voice out their expectations from the trek ! It was fun getting to know each other !
And well, by then The Sun started to bid good bye and moon raised . That night was Buddha Purnima and so perfect round moon ! Words cant explain the beauty of the sky that night ! It was very cold , but I just sat there to star Gaze , thousands of stars spilled in dark sky with a majestic full moon flaunting to take all eyes attention towards it. I could not draw patterns with such innumerable number of stars, but was really awestruck ! I betcha no fancy DSLR cameras could capture that sight as my eyes caught it that night and stored in my permanent HDD ! – click ! Click !!
The first day trek experiences and many new discoveries, no network coverage, nothing else for my mind to wander about, I quickly retired for the day. All that could be heard was only the flowing water in the stream. It was not even water gushing but a very melodious flow of thin strip of water flowing down to reach the terrain quickly and settle !!! Absolute silence nothing else !!!!!!
“Lesson 9: Nights are colder in mountains even in summer , gear up and tuck yourself in sleeping bags and do not forget your headlamps and extra batteries – its pitch dark and your head torch is the only source of light. Luckily, in my case Full moon did shed its light generously”
DAY 2 FUN TREK:
Sun rose very early, again all my descriptions go well for a peak summer trek. The stream had only ice cold waters!
“Lesson 10: its too cold , so to brush in the morning with cold water is a challenge, switch to mouth wash. Don’t forget bath wipes/towels, as you cant shower until you get back to hotel – but you are very far away from pollution so you will stay fresh and clean, and you might have to repeat your clothes, remember we are on a backpack trip”
After breakfast we packed our bags and started our next journey to Lower kholera , our next campsite.
This time we had to pass through jungle, Pines, coniferous forest – not even birds chirped, quiet and green everywhere. My fresh mind was fully focused only on walking – relatively moderate terrain reached to 10600 ft Above sea level. It was a easy climb as the inclination was gradual. The sight was beautiful to look at and again we had lot of rest areas and selfie times !
We had to make our own tents that day and it was fun ! Food was never a concern we got hot food in such a cold weather and healthy as well – protein rich simple vegetarian to suit everyone s taste buds ! All my Malaysian co trekkers also enjoyed simple Dhal ( lentil soup) hot rice and Roti! And the tour planners made sure we are well fed including juice , chocolates, fruits and everyday desserts !
So everyday the Trek leaders gave us briefing about the next day and also how we should be prepared! Everyone’s ultimate goal is to reach the summit , which we all know is going to be tough . But the surprise came in when my trek leader started to explain about the summit. He mentioned about his routine which is like 30/40 treks per year and he still finds Pangarchulla summit to be challenging , stop …..what ? Did I hear it right ! This is my first time , how did they even let me choose this then ! But all that was etched in my brain is “ Focus on what you do , and do not hear negative comments. That will pull your confidence down- you are here to reach the peak and better do that and you can – its in mind not in your body “
“Lesson 11:Do not underestimate trek from first two days experience , that is just silence before storm – 18 hours is no joke “
We had to completely change our entire body routine and cycle for that epic day as it is 18 hour continuous trek ! So we were supposed to windup our day by 6:30 pm go to bed and wake up at 12:30 AM. We had to have break fast and start exactly at 2 Am ! We have to pack and carry our summit bag ( one day bag) with food and gears ! That is the plan ! We had to use spikes and knee length covers to walk safely in snow ! Yes after two days of green sights the next day is gonna be completely pristine white !
We ran over our last minute packing and went to sleep dreaming about the next day!
DAY 3 THE SUMMIT
Woke up at 12 AM and had hot Dhalia ( broken wheat porridge) and Noodles ! With lots of prep and many instructions we started our climb! I decided to stick to the guide and stay in front row ! We walked in a single file and with just head torch spreading its light!!! Its pitch dark and the elevation is steep and high ! Rocky , slushy, grassy, sometimes had to cross stream, slippery – all I could see is only ground and just darkness everywhere else. Unlike other days , we rarely stopped for taking deep breaths ! The team leaders goal was to reach on time and cover as much distance when it is dark !And when I turned back to check on my partners all I could see is head lamps marching !! We were all far from each other walking in our own Rhythms ! I could hear the leader & guides shouting “ chalo chalo chalo”( go go go). Loud and Rhythmic! Else Deadly silence- apart from my own breath and food steps!
And such mental blocks have never happened ! My mind just stopped thinking , just focused on my footsteps and breath ! Divine, it is a sort of meditation, our mind is royally cluttered otherwise , it compartmentalizes itself and does multi tasking , quite unnecessary but that is how we have tuned ourselves in the so called Urban world !
It was a steep ascend on a terrain, that was pretty confusing. With a slight sigh, I asked ” Where the hell is the snow?”, not realizing I would regret later for asking this! And after 3 hours of pretty steep elevation we hit the snow ! We had to again gear up with spike shoes and slightly change our stride! It was around 4:30 A.M and our leaders were happy we were well ahead of the planned time , they motivated us to keep up the same pace ! But trekking in snow is not the same , and now it started to dawn around 5:30 am , we could see the track better now and it is nothing but a dangerous one file line. You fall , you will role down the slope to hit the rock bottom valley. No Wonder they made us start in dark. Now the team slightly slowed down as we all could only imagine the consequences of even a small mistake !! We found the last source for water and filled up our bottles, additional weight in backpacks !
“Lesson 11:Remember to carry good one day back packs, and have options to easily pull the water bottle out, and always carry two full bottles at any point time especially in the snow”
“Lesson 12:Steep elevations are tiring and risky to climb, always follow the diagonal tracks it makes it easier and less breathlessness“
“Lesson 13:Signs of Altitude sickness include irritation, anger , frustration and hallucinations! But never use that as a weapon to fight with your partners or teams !! Trekking is a real team building sport – and you are as strong as your weakest person in the trek ! So go with the flow motivate each other and keep going !“
After few hours of snow we reached summit base ! Oh boy- snow snow snow everywhere , and what a sight when the Sun and Moon plays hide and seek !!
I stood there with jaws open ( breathing heavily) watching and wondering that whatever man made with high tech tools, is nothing compared to what nature has given us – click click my eyes only could capture this sight definitely not my camera ! It was a heavenly sight ! No wonder God chose this as his abode as per Hindu Mythology.
Blue sky wonder how to explain the color, does pollution free sight gives a better blue tint ! Whatever – this is a sight you can only enjoy when you trek , not when you drive not when you are in a chopper ! Every strain of trek is taken away by such striking beauty of Himalayas ! It is dynamic keeps changing its beauty for every hour – you can see green mountains, blue sky, white snow covered peaks, brown rocky mountains , perfect full moon ready to rest, orange streaks of light behind the mountains ready to pop out with just 360 degree turn of your body !
Well well we were happy to reach there and then started again , the peak , should I even say its the steepest of all ! As we started the most toughest part of the entire journey, mind says do it , body begs to differ, and legs completely not in my control. For every step a big gasp and yes the entire crew slowed down but another two hours and we will reach the summit, at this point just let the mind take control of everything ! Some people decided to stop here as they were exhausted and decided to stay satisfied by just seeing Pangarchulla peak !
Lesson 14:Layering is important when you climb snow covered places , two pants and two socks , full sleeves dry fit , fleece jacket and top of that down jacket , neck warmer snow Gloves with a liner could be good . Avoid thermals as you are active and might start sweating but it all depends on the place and weather conditions and your body capability to withstand cold. Remember not to fall sick when you are in the mountains so better cover yourself well and start stripping when you are sweaty.
I started to ascend in baby steps, following the track laid by leaders in a single file. I tried trying to be among the top trekkers somehow that gave me confidence that I can finish! Everyone did slowed down but definitely pushed their boundaries ! Yes , we all pushed our limits extremely, that is the entire goal of trekking ! I have done toughest runs, Martial arts – kalari building my flexibility from null. Though being physically fit and extremely motivated nothing was as tough as the summit climb especially for a first time trekker with absolutely no expectations!
The picture looks funny but it is 100 percent true , every time you see a peak , you will push ,huffle puffle to reach and then , holy cow few more metres to go and its not the end !
I read this quote somewhere and it made more sense to me that day !
” The way up to the top of the mountain is always longer than you think. Don’t fool yourself, the moment will arrive when what seemed so near is still very far.” — Paulo Coelho
This struggle continued for few more hours and the leaders motivations slogan “ chalo chalo chalo” Made everyone move .
But last 500 meters, I was ready to give up with eyes full , and my leader said – “ hey, its up-to you, but its just 500 meters” . Those words were quiet strong , and when somebody challenged me, how can I stop there. Yes, I am pretty competitive at times. So I pushed myself to the peak and reached well ahead of many people ! Ahead doesn’t mean anything as this is not a race, the goal is the same for everyone and it is just “completion”!!And in fact it is a team driven sport! Even unknown person gives hand when you slip and makes you walk with a smile. And then waits to match the pace as you have to be in a single file !
Super elated, But barely could I move , just sat there to watch everything around me, only Mountains of different shapes and size and colors too ! What a sight !! Call this boasting, I don’t care . I was too damn blessed to be there to see such a sight and felt like God!
Last year same time I cruised with my Family in the Mediterranean, it was just dark blue sea everywhere and sky ! And we were just a small dot, in the middle of the ocean ! This year I am surrounded by majestic huge Mountains and I am just teenie weenie dot in front of Mother Nature ! Talk about a lesson in humility!!
Well, everyone who reaches the top should either descend gradually or fall from the peak 🙂 !! Summit view is ultimate but we cant stay there long to enjoy, there are people behind you to reach the summit and go further ahead too !
THE GRADUAL DESCEND
That is it. We clicked few pictures and started the descend ! Descend may sound easy. But you can easily lose control, and hiking pole comes in very handy. We had to slide on some steep slopes as much as it was fun, the butt got totally numb, sliding down 🙂 By now sun has done its damage to snow , the melted snow has become ice and its slippery ! So descending should be done with unwavering focus especially in the icy snow!
Lesson 12: Land your heel first with spikes which gives firm grip to go down. Also use your poles at this time to avoid losing control and topple over ! Ankle injuries are quite common while descending.
Lesson 13: Try to wear a Ponchos or water resistant pant while you slide down, which will avoid wetting your pants and its such a dirty feeling as it will not dry as well !
It was a never ending walk back to the base camp, and that is when we know which all tough terrains we crossed during that 2 AM dark trek, it was very tiring and exhausting but legs kept moving and after 16 hours we reached our camp back and well we did complete it in 2 hours ahead of the planned time !Kudos to the entire team !!
Everyone was tired to even have their dinner. I slid comfortably inside the sleeping bag and slept in no time !
DAY 4: DESCEND FURTHER
The next day I woke up with my face fully swollen and gosh was not ready to walk around without my shades and cap , I guess when you push your limits so much , there are some small side effects, my face and legs were swollen so much and it was too damn stiff! But return was fun listening to music, talking , more photo sessions , taking breaks to munch nuts and finished in no time.We reached Joshimath hotel and whatever room brought tears when I saw the first time looked like home! The bed was so comfy and bathroom was the best, nothing to complain, hopped in and slept like a baby !
That is what mountain taught me, Humbleness , Still a very long way to go though! But I am definitely a new person after this sojourn, when I pushed my boundary, I also did push my pride and ego a lil far away !
Just remember that we are almost invisible small creature amidst such huge creations/ in the world.
In spite of so much hurdles and tough times , I was able to complete merely because of my drive to reach the peak, support by co trekkers and leaders Motivation. I definitely did learn to smile at small things, appreciate nature, enjoy a simple food. In fact collecting dropped chocolate wrappers on trek path to trash, doing our own stuff and many many more countless lessons learnt ! Its been almost a week and I am still not out of it!
As Frost says,
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep
And miles to go before I sleep
Mountains are calling me again – I am just holding myself until next summer !!
Thanks to my amazing trek partners, Ms. Priya Raj Ponnambalam (ECHO) and Dr. Niranjan (50 percent)
PC: Dr. Niranjan
Thanks to Bikat Team and local guides – Ajay, Ashish, Summit King, Himanshu, Visto, Ayushman and the Kitchen team !
See you all soon !