Incessant snowing in the last four hours. Climbing alone in this knee deep snow with 75 degree incline all the way to the distant peak. Heavy load on my back. Worsening weather.
Perils of a lone trekker? Maybe.
For me this is what really happened (well almost)…
Day 1: 10th April 2012: Delhi to Dehradun to Sangam Chatti
6 a.m. at Dehradun station:
It has been a comfortable and uneventful train ride. I don’t know why this wandering mind expected it to be eventful even after looking at the passenger list (Don’t we all?).
Have I been reading too much of Grihashobha and Manohar Kahaaniyaan?
But I just love these cute trains rides.
But wait!! What is this monster of a contraption? Mahindra Maxx – my designated “cab” to drive me to Tapas’ place.
Tapas Biala is this really really young Doon school grad who along with other passionate travelers have now co-founded Rustik Travel, a sustainable experiential travel company. He is organizing this trek.
It will take ten minutes to reach his place. I am told. The confused driver is completely lost takes one hour as I unwillingly see sights of Dehradun in that process.
This is the same vehicle in which I will be driven to Sangam Chatti via Uttarkashi.
Tapas welcomes me with this news.
It’s a 6-7 hour drive through the winding hills. He adds.
With the obvious trepidation I climb back into the Maxx.
It’s an uneventful but a typical “mountainous” drive to Uttarkashi.
My internals are all shaken up. Fortunately, I have not thrown up. I have been thinking positive all along. I had to.
As there had been only negative news.
The original plan of doing the Har-ki-Doon trek has been cancelled as the road to the starting point (Sankri) has been blocked due to a landslide.
The people in the group couldn’t make it due to various reasons and so I am the only (brave??) trekker left. At least the cook (Pasant) and the guide (Vasudev) will be there along with me. Ratio of 2:1 (two support staff to one trekker me) a bit tilted but is ok.
I am relieved. But when we reach Sangam Chatti, I hear that there are three porters who will join us.
5:1 it is now. Some of my trekker mates will be laughing at me when they read this (I know you are Sarav :)).
Well, anyways, I was looking for a simple n’ easy (read luxurious) trek and that’s what I’ve got. Dayara Bugyal Trek – not so touristy only a few trekkers come here…road less traveled and all.
Heh!! High-five with myself!!
And we have camped today right next to the Ganges fresh from its release from its origin Gangotri (Gaumukh) only a few miles up above.
I have decided that I will trek in the day and leisurely read (from my new kindle) and listen to music in my tent.
Have I spoken too soon?
It starts to rain. Heavily.
I ditch my tent, which is getting soaked. So I shack up in the hut with my new companions. I sleep…well…amidst the beedi fumes listening to the expert opinion on the symptoms of AIDS by Vasudev and the rest.
My jaw drops.
Do I need to worry???
Day 2: 11th April 2012: Sangam Chatti (1800 m/5900 ft) to Morsuna (2400 m/7900 ft)
I quickly dismiss that thought. It’s a new day. I have other things to worry about esp. in the morning in the outdoors. I find a good place hidden away (hopefully) across the river. I ensure that I follow the Leave No Traces (LNT) principle.
After breakfast, we pack up our stuff and start walking. There is this dog that was a tad bit friendly the earlier day starts to follow us. This dog is a friendly companion to the trekkers. I am told.
I am not too sure. I have had some scary experiences in my other treks (read Pindari Glacier Trek).
I stay close to the guide. You know just in case.
The trail gradually ascends through the green forest as we walk on the soft blanket of fallen leaves on the moist forest ground. We pass through the quaint villages where women are working hard (its always the women) in the fields of wheat, ragi and assorted vegetables.
The kids (as cute as ever) in the school uniforms are upto their usual mischief. I hear girls singing the local rhymes.
Kali kali, Anaar ki kali,
Badi hai achhi, khai humne machhi,
Machhi mein kaanta, papa ne daanta……
In four hours with a few tea breaks, we reach the camping site at Morsuna. Tata Adventures has been organizing treks along this route and have maintained the camping sites well.
A flat patch of grassland covered with trees and two kitchen huts.
The sun is shining. I get into the comfortable tent and the cosy MEC sleeping bag. I start reading.
Have I spoken too soon?
It starts to snow.
Around 6 p.m. it stops. But it is cold. We have our dinner and discuss stuff – bit about the awesome Garhwal, home to the Char Dhams, source of two major (holy) rivers – Ganga and Yamuna and the beautiful trekking routes in the region. We discuss types of trekkers – the hard core ones to the sloppy and dopey ones.
The guide is doing all of the talking. I wonder which type of trekker I am classified as and I sleep on it.
Day 3: 12th April 2012: Morsuna (2400 m/7900 ft) to Dayara Bugyal (3500 m/11,500 ft)
Ram Bahadur, one of the three porters is new to this work. He wants to head back. So it is decided that today, instead of camping mid-way at Gagoru ( 2-3 hours from Morsuna), we will directly go to the Dayara Bugyal top.
It will take six hours. I estimate.
And this way, Ram Bahadur could climb down to the other side the next day and reach his village.
Always accommodating. Me that is. *Halo on my head*
A bit of a stretch in this luxurious trek. But hey not a problem at all. I have done tougher treks before. I think about the tough Stok Kangri climb and Everest Base Camp trek I did the previous year.
This will be a walk in the park. Heh!
We start walking and the dog who camped with us follows. I am reminded of how in Mahabharata a dog follows the Pandavas in their pilgrimage of death.
Did I read death???
The trail is similar to that of yesterday’s through the green moss covered forests inclining gradually.
We stop mid-way at the Tata Adventure camp where some fifty of the trekkers stopped for the night.
I thought this was not a known trekking route. Road less travelled et al.
Well it is, as I realized later that this is the last time I will be encountering “humans”. The camp leaders tell us to take a different roundabout route as there is a thick snow cover (from yesterday) in the usual route. And yes, the dog joins this group on their way down.
Now I am missing him.
We wait for our porters. Vasudev, the guide would be in his fifties and his years of experience as a guide can be reflected by such mature decisions of the group to be together while trekking. He has seen enough expeditions gone wrong.
As we start walking, the climb begins to get tougher. The incline is getting steeper. I keep my eye on the altimeter, which indicates how rapidly we are gaining altitude.
The forest seems to have ended as we start walking on the snow. I am panting. We take a break as I dig into the packed lunch.
Soon we are on the way as we see at a distance (quite a distance I’d say) the peak. It will be snow walking all the way.
I have hardly covered any distance and I am tired. My stamina sucks. Need to start my marathon training when I get back.
I take measured steps as I anchor my hiking pole and dig in my toes into the ankle deep to climb up. While going down it’s the heel, which needs to be anchored in. A trick I learned from my high altitude climbing the previous year.
We are nearing the top. Vasudev is walking effortlessly in front of me. Pasant has already gone ahead and is nowhere in sight. We could see our porters (two tiny figures) down below.
Wait, did I say two?
Yep. Two. Weren’t there three?
They are shouting, which only Vasudev seems to understand.
He informs me that the third porter, Ram Bahadur (because of whom we decided to cover this distance) couldn’t handle it and has turned back dumping the load.
Vasudev asks me to wait at the top while he runs down to carry supplies dumped by the runaway porter.
I wait impatiently at the top. Its beautiful as I capture the pristine snow capped peaks all around me. However, its frikking cold as I feel the wind chill. I cover myself with an extra layer of fleece and munch chikkies and biscuits.
The remaining two porters led by the gaunt Vasudev carrying the heavy load of supplies (read food and fuel). I volunteer to carry Vasudev’s day bag along with mine. After all, the destination is not too far away as Vasudev shows me the pine trees at a distance.
That’s where we will camp. He says.
Piece of cake!! I say.
It’s only half an hour away. He adds.
Never trust a guide on the mountains when he tells you ‘its close by. Only half an hour away.’
We are still walking. And with the extra day bag I am feeling the load.
My shoulders, back, legs are giving away as I trudge along slowly.
So much for trekking alone and introspecting along the way kind of ambitious plans I had. My mind is blank. I want to reach the campsite fast and get into the warm sleeping bag.
Vasudev has already walked ahead and the porters are behind me at quite a distance. There is no sign of Pasant, our cook. And I am famished, starving, yearning for a bowl of hot soup already.
I finally see a couple of huts below near the pine trees.
I run down, carefully though, as the melting snow has made the mountain slope slippery, as I or rather my bums realize from the impact, couple of times.
I am almost there. I can see the huts some ten metres away
But where the F@$& is Vasudev and everybody else?
I hear voices. Thankfully, not in my head this time.
Vasudev is perched at a mountain top up ahead shouting and vigorously waving at me. The same ritual is being performed by the two porters perched at the other mountain top behind me (from where I came down).
I understand this sign language much to my frustration.
This is not the campsite. I have gone the wrong way.
This means that I have to climb up again.
After a huge round of silent expletives directed at Vasudev, I start walking towards him.
I finally reach where he is standing and he “clarifies” that the campsite huts are behind the pine trees, he had showed and NOT next to them. He emphasizes.
I throw the day bags on the snow covered ground.
I take a monkey Kung fu posture (inspired from the cult movie – Snake in the Monkey’s Shadow).
Heeeeee !!! Yaaah !! I shout as I jump while landing a Kung fu chop on his neck.
My super famous (ahem!) kung fu chop does the work.
Vasudev falls to the ground.
Errr…!!! Nothing of that happens!!!
I am too tired to even crib.
I leave him there as I walk towards the “huts at a distance behind the pine trees”.
It has started snowing heavily. My feminine flowery umbrella is out. My shoes are completely wet. We finally reach the huts and get inside.
Phew!! Made it finally!!
But wait. It’s not over. Pasant is nowhere to be seen.
More expletives. From all this time in Hindi and audible.
One of the porters, Birender volunteers to walk down to another cluster of huts nearby to look for him.
Birender comes back with good news. Pasant is in the other cluster of huts.
The bad news is that the word “nearby” in the mountains means exactly the opposite as I have already discovered the hard way as I walk with the two day bags in the heavy snowfall.
I have decided to use my super famous kung fu chop on Pasant now.
I do nothing of that sort yet again. I just enter the hut. Take off my wet shoes and socks. Sit next to the fire and drink piping hot tea.
Oh!! This is nice and warm.
I look around. The hut is actually meant for shelter for shepherds and their flocks and had been used well.
I ignore that fact as I move closer to the fire.
This is Dayara Bugyal and there is small temple kind of a structure adjacent to our cluster of huts.
There is a point next to the temple where mobile signal is active.
I quickly do my round of texting and Facebook updating.
Many rounds of tea followed with hot soup and awesome dinner to a famished soul is like manna from heaven. I relish the experience.
There is chatter all around. Everybody esp. Vasudev is talking a lot. He tells about certain young politician (potential PM as he is looked upon as by a few) with his bro-in-law, and a certain FM’s daughter with an attachment to the bottle who have done this trek. He talks about the politicians, the crooked sadhus and babas with disdain and contempt. This seemed to the mood amongst various people I met in Uttarakhand.
I am tired. I want to get into the sleeping bag and crash. Vasudev proposes that we sleep in the kitchen hut. Its pretty large actually and yes warm because of the kitchen fire.
I make an excuse about the smoke and Carbon Monoxide poisoning and stuff like that. No one is convinced.
The hut doesn’t have a door and there are enough outlets for ventilation.
I insist as I see a rat yet again in the far end of the hut.
I move in to the adjacent hut and quickly curl in to my sleeping bag. I quickly doze off after being assured that there aren’t any “wildlife” in the hut.
Day 4: 13th April 2012: Dayara Bugyal Top (3800 m/12,500 ft)
I wake up and I quietly venture out for the morning ritual. It has snowed the entire night and everything with covered with thick layer of snow. I see paw marks which seem to be in a straight line.
Which four legged animal could walk in a straight line like that? Definitely not a drunk one (sorry bad one :-))
Its Bagheera. Came in the night. Vasudev says.
Now being a fan of Rudyard Kipling’s Jungle Book, I was immediately taken across to the magical world of cute animal characters till Vasudev repeats nonchalantly in English.
One part of me is experiencing frustration having missed out capturing Snow Leopard on my camera. The other part is horrified as the paw marks are all around our huts.
It is the latter part, which prevails.
To clear it out of my mind we go up for a hike to get a better view of the mountain peaks. The light is very bad and sky is overcast. So we decide to return in the afternoon. This time around the sky has cleared as I go berserk with my SLR.
There are multiple Bugyals (or meadows as it means) around and all are covered in snow. There is a lot of skiing happens in the winters. I am told. And this site is a prospect for a skiing resort to be built in a few years.
As I look around at a distance I see beautiful snow capped peaks – Bandarpunch, Kalanag (or Black peak), Chidbasa-Kali Dhang, Srikanth, The Gangotri group -1, 2 & 3, Jaonli, Draupadi Danda, Khatling.
After dinner I decide to crash. Vasudev, who is sleeping in the same hut decides to join me later.
He joins two hours later and till that time I am wide awake, keeping a vigil at the door for a certain four legged animal. And boy am I glad to see a two legged one.
Day 5: 14th April 2012: Dayara Bugyal to Barsu to Pala
We decide that if the weather clears up then we will descend in the afternoon. However, there is no sign of clear skies so we start walking down. As we walk down in the snow I see a lot of pugmarks. Snow leopard, foxes seemed to have roamed around this are in the night. As we descend down the mountain the leaves covered ground is visible and the surroundings are green and not snow white which I had got used to in the last couple of days.
In an hour we reach Nagtal (a lake), which was supposed to be our camping site as per the original itinerary.
We meet shepherds and goats along the way down.
We continue our journey down and soon we see a small lake surrounded by a quaint hamlet. This is Barsu village.
After a tea break and some bit of confusion waiting for Vasudev, we make our way to Pala village, where we stay for the night.
We stay at Vasudev’s relatives’ place. The hospitality is oozing from the hosts and they are particularly apologetic of not been able to get any liquor as it was a holiday that day. However, the food is amazingly fresh and delicious. All of it is fresh produce from their fields.
The village has concrete houses with electricity, dish antennas etc. I switch off the light as I lie on the bed and introspect …something, which I wasn’t able to do in the past few days.
2 minutes later I am fast asleep.
Introspect, my …!!!
Day 6: 15th April 2012: Pala to Uttarkashi to Mussoorie
I wake up early and witness an interesting event.
My hosts take me to the temple where two men are holding the village deity “Someshwar Devta” all covered up, in a palanquin. Village elders seem to be talking and cribbing to the deity instead of usual ritualistic worshipping I had expected.
The deity talks back. My host tells me.
This is definitely a very very old custom.
There are customs like Polyandry in some places, which might have been continued from the time of Mahabharata.
I realize that the entire region is seeped with history, religion and mythology. Each place here has a mystical story to tell.
Gods have roamed this place and many believe live “nearby” on the mountains.
Hoping to come back again soon for some more of the Mystical Mountain Hop.