The Himalayan Sojourn.

26th Sep, 2009

“The good shine from afar
Like the snowy Himalayas.
The bad don’t appear
Even when near,
Like arrows shot into the night.” — Buddha

It was the winters of 1998. The D-day, the Finals at the Annual Sports Day of KV 1, Bhubaneswar, and I was competing with the National level stalwarts of Eastern zone, in my school at the 100m sprints. I was in 9th std. and my rivals were seniors from 10th through 12th, all steady on their mark. There blows the whistle and I shoot myself out from the mark. I could only see the winning thread at the end, ahead of me but none of my rivals. 11.1 seconds and I am the little champion leaving them all behind. That was an achievement, a true sense of accomplishment for me!

11 years down the line, I could never feel the same level of accomplishment until I saw the Himalayas, until I saw them too close; I breathed the mist on them, touched the snow on their peaks….

Ever since I landed in Bangalore, time and again I used to hear those frenzied trekking stories from my colleagues who make it to the Western Ghats. Deep within, had always wished to go for a trek, but had been apprehensive about lifting weights while climbing hills, thanks to my shoulder dislocation in my graduation final year.

The Prelude:

When the world was reeling in the pain of economic downturn, I was fortunate enough to get a fabulous New Year gift: a better paying job, in a leading CRM product-based company. But then more responsibilities, strangulating deadlines, long working hours, skipped lunches and cervical pains. “For heaven’s sake, I need a break now!”, I said to myself. It already had been a couple of years since I met my ex-colleague Ram Mahajan, who was working in Delhi. Finally, made up my mind to meet this big time trekker, a worshiper of the Himalayas, a native of Himachal and who’s also a staunch devotee of Vaishno Mata. So, planned my leaves, booked my tickets and off I vanished from this IT hub to New Delhi, in the wee hours of Saturday morning (5th Sep).

Meeting a goodwill friend after 2 complete years has always been gleeful.

Visit to Vaishno Mata:

Boarded a train to Jammu the same night and reached Katra next morning at about 11am. We, however, decided to commence our pilgrimage at 5pm. Until then winded up in a rented lodge. It took 5 hours to reach “Bhawan” which is 10 km uphill. Since, it was Ram’s birthday on 7th, so the darshan at midnight would be a good idea. It was cold at the mountain top and we were in sorts. The ice-cold water shower (water right from the mountains) at 11:30pm in the night before Mata’s darshan was an entirely amazing experience. It was 1:00am now and after darshan, we went 2 km uphill again to Bhairo Baba. Legend has it that your pilgrimage would not be ‘complete’ if you don’t make it up to Bhairo Baba. Finally, landed up  on the ground i.e. walked downhill all night and reached Katra early morning at 6am. Our legs were not willing to carry our load anymore. Went flat on bed for 3 hours but then we had got miles to go. Booked tickets to Pathankot. The ride was too exhaustive, the bus rickety since AC buses came to no avail. On reaching, again boarded a bus, this time to Gagal (Himachal Pradesh) in Kangra district since the last Dharamshala bus had left by then. From Gagal to Dharamkot, the latter being our basecamp, we made it there though a cab. Finally there, at the hill station, in Dharamshala. This place records the second highest rainfall in India. As per localites, it has broken the records of Cherrapunji now.

The Great Himalayan Trek:

Great things are done when men and mountains meet. — William Blake

A fresh Tuesday morning, the sun’s rays dilated over the green mountains and a breath-taking view from the king-size windows of the guest house…. what a start to the morning!!

As usual, Ram got up early and asked me to make haste. “Trust me man, will get ready in no time, but please let me sleep for some more ”, I pleaded him. Now this ruthless guy wouldn’t listen to me and asked me to get ready immediately for we need to shop for our groceries, food and everything that is essential for survival in a place where you don’t find any vegetation or habitation. The next door had a German guy who was staying with his girl friend since a couple of months already, and who claims to have sold all his businesses, shut down all his book stores and come down to India for a vacation. Incredible!!

Now my friend Ram cannot just resist from talking to foreigners and he went on and on an on. I, meanwhile, was done with my morning chores and it was his turn to take a break from the “firangi-chat” now.

Holy shit!! It started pouring now. And here comes the pretty Israeli lady Isabelle, who stays two rooms away from ours, at the guest house.

Oh man!!  Ram’s going to go nowhere now (I wondered, seeing the lady). A short intro with her and she left thankfully. Just when we clicked few pictures of the landscapes around the vicinity and got ready to make a move, Isabel came over again, this time with Aon (her Israeli friend) who wished to talk to us.

However, the chat came to an end and we made a move to the town, Mcleodganj. This town has mostly Tibetan inhabitants who have taken refuge and have finally settled down. The “Spiritual Las Vegas” as my friend Ram aptly christened it, for it’s crowded with Israelis. I, myself, was stunned to see more Israelis and firangs than Indians. We roamed through the town and explored the Tibetan handicrafts. Now, when you are in the land of Tibetans, “Momos” cannot go unsavory. And for a big time foodie like me, I gorged on them like a hungry beast. Seriously succulent and deliberately delicious!!!  “Kya yeah saaf hai” (Is this food hygienic), a voice came from a man who was beside me.

With shock and awe, I surmised “Sorry???” He reiterated, in Hindi!!! Yes, he was speaking Hindi. He was a French guy, who had such fabulous accent neutralization that I was simply taken aback with his pronunciation. Never heard such fab hindi for any “firangi” till now. A French guy taking Hindi lessons in JNU, with a Sri Lankan girl friend in Holland, meeting two Indian guys in Mcleodganj, one who’s from Delhi and the other from Bangalore. Wow, a genuine instance of Globalization!!  Asked if long distance sucks, he soulfully utters, “Pyar hai to sab kuch hai”. Simply astounding!!

It was nightfall already, our guide, Kuldeep (alias Kulu), arrived with a pretty long list of groceries and food to be bought from the local store. Kulu was supposed to take us to the mystic Naag Dal lake, as we did not know the route. The shopping was over with a Royal Stag and Old Monk added to the list. The whiskey could not last more than a couple of hours thereafter but we saved the Old Monk for the night stays at hilltops. Save the best for last. 😉

A brand new day, a brand new Wednesday morning! We are fully equipped, with our back packs and rucksacks loaded with sleeping bags, mattresses, groceries, medicines, toiletries, et al stuffed to the hilt. The trek kick started to Triund which was 7 km uphill.

We started off at 9 am in the morning, clicked photographs on the way, took a couple of breaks in between to rest our jaded souls, paused a while for the rain to subside, and pushed ourselves again. Our friends on the way were fellow foreigners trekking back from Triund, mules that were employed to carry loads to sundry cafes on the ridge and flocks of sheep/goat and few villagers.

So, the mission for the day was accomplished. We reached Triund, a beautiful ridge laden with mist with the Dhauladhar ranges faintly visible since the weather was too cloudy.

Albeit we were exhausted by then, but none of us had it on our faces. And the very reason being the scenic sight of the Himalayas our eyes were experiencing. We were at an elevation of 2843m/9358ft from the sea level.

At the mountains, when it is way too cold and the night is ferociously dark, none other than Old Monk can give you a better kick and warmth. At the moment, it’s the best friend of all. We would call it a day now and retire to our beds at the guest houses in here.

Dawn breaks for Thursday morning, and like a cock, my friend Ram would be the first one to get up and wake me up but this time to catch the clear sight of the Dhauladhars, free of mist. Indeed, the sight was just inexplicable. I have never seen the Himalayas as closely as I was seeing right now.

For a moment, when Ram said, “Bro, do you see that peak? That is where we are heading”. Immediately, I got a chill down my spine. I thought to myself, “that mountain is so naked, so rocky, shiny, no green grass even, so steep and this guy is talking about climbing that mammoth one!!! God save our souls.” I just wish there were no hailstone showers when we land up in there for at such heights the size of hailstones are big enough not to fit your palm. And nothing just comes to your rescue when you get them hailing from the top, right on your heads.

But then there was the staunch faith of Mata Di’s pilgrimage, and her blessings are definitely with us, I sighed. So, we would definitely make it to Naag Dal lake on the other side of the Indrahar Pass. Soon, we had our porridge and Maggi for breakfast and got going.

The next stay was at Lahesh caves through Laka Got. From Lahesh, we would be heading to Indrahar Pass and thereafter to Naag Dal lake. After 2 hours of trekking, now we reached the last café in the area, ‘The Snow Line Café’. We met a dutch lady Mariette, who came all alone from Mcllo heading for Naag Dal but couldn’t find the way so came back. She had spent the night in the café and would be heading back to Triund today. After clicking a few photographs, we headed for Lahesh through one of the most pristine scenic beauty that would leave you astounded with shock and awe. We were at the foothills of Himalayas, of “The Majestic Dhauladhars”.

We met Gaddi Shepherds on our way up, who are the known for their courage and acclimatization in the Himalayas.

They scale through the toughest routes and put marks for other fellow travelers to identify the ways. For no wonder many have come and gone and few never returned back. As Ruskin Bond rightly says, “Mountains chooses its own climbers”, one has to follow the norms and be very pure in his heart and soul when he is climbing the Himalayas. In these places, Nature is King, and misplaced bravado might lead you to your final breath in here. The shepherds warned us that the way is too treacherous to Naag Dal and it’s pretty inaccessible that side. Taking those suggestions into consideration, we kept going. The final 900mtrs were way too tortuous and exhaustive. They were damn steep, completely rocky terrain and pretty inaccessible. One had to be utmost careful and had to concentrate on the footsteps. With a 16 kg rucksack climbing uphill, is definitely an “uphill task”. My breaks started to be frequent but as my friend aptly said, we are subjecting ourselves to the odds of nature.

In Muhammad Ali’s words, “It isn’t the mountains ahead to climb that wear you out; it’s the pebble in your shoe”.

And honestly, the moment we reached Lahesh Caves, the ecstasy was evident on our faces. Soon it was nightfall, and if twilight was a phenomenon then it should be experienced here on top of Lahesh Caves. We were now at an elevation of 3560m.

At this moment, I felt I am on Seventh Heaven. And when you are in 7th heaven, you do not really have to search for Cloud No. 9.

It was cold Friday morning 4 a.m. The temperature outside was in negative degrees. The weather looked really bad. It was certain to rain with the black clouds hovering. I wasn’t feeling all that good because of a pain that had crept on my lower abdomen (had a surgery last year). I, unfortunately, had to pull back and stayed on the caves as the path above was even steeper. Ram and Kulu headed for Naag Dal. Me and John (porter) after a couple of hours walked down to Triund. It was raining consistently but we never stopped. We walked down continuously for 4 hours in the rain. Ram and Kulu also reached Triund in the evening as they couldn’t make it to Naag Dal Lake for the path was covered with fresh snow and it was damn slippery. Ram was pretty disappointed since he had already been to Indrahar pass before and couldn’t make it to the lake. The evening was delightfully colorful. The sky had to offer us a kaleidoscope of hues at Triund.

Finally, we trekked down to our base camps on Saturday. Bidding adieu to the Himalayas and Mcleodganj, we boarded a bus for Pathankot where we caught a train at 2200hrs to New Delhi.

At 9am Sunday, we were at New Delhi. I couldn’t thank Ram anymore than saying, “It was never possible without you my friend. Thanks for the time”. My cousins were waiting to pick me up for one day out with them in Delhi. We went for a long drive and guzzled 2 bottles of beer each.

Time was running out and my final destinations were minutes away. We quickly got momos packed and had it on our way to the airport. Parting from my cousins with a hug, I was soon seated in the Airbus 360. Finally at Bangalore, the IT hub, the pub city, the garden city at 0030 hrs, my long mesmerizing journey came to an end.

I do not know how to give a final touch to this piece but all I can say if I die tomorrow my soul would always be glad to have had a visit to the Incredible Himalayas!

“Whatever is the Truth cannot be said.
Whatever can be said is not the Truth.”    — Tao

Last but not the least, here’s a naïve film shot by me on Triund showcasing the Dhauladhar (Himalayan) ranges.