This might sound a little incredible but I have been craving to see the Himalayas since the time I witnessed the Scottish Highlands in my last trip to United Kingdom in March this year. May Day falling on a Monday created a perfect long weekend to escape to my comfort zone – the lap of Mother Nature! In fact, close physical proximity with the mountains, jungles, streams and other natural elements have a profound effect on my spirit. It creates a feeling of extreme content and gratefulness towards my cosmic journey and that makes everything worthwhile.
On 27th April, an assorted ad-hoc group of five people were ready to conquer Kuari Pass and get back to the plains to get conquered by routine in five days! Err.. A last moment dropout left only four to embark on the trek. Kuari Pass being an easy-to-moderate Himalayan trek, these trekkers hadn’t expected anything but a smooth trekking experience. But then, life surprises you in unexpected ways!
I took an evening flight from Mumbai to Delhi and then scampered to Kashmiri Gate to catch the 11:00 pm Volvo to Rishikesh with my co-trekkers – Pramit, Manish and Arijit. The bus reached the destination on time at 5 am the next day. Thereafter began the perilous 10 hour journey to Joshimath, where we had to rest for the night before starting the trek on the next morning. Our guide was Sohan Singh Bisht whom we respectfully christened “Sohanji”. Apart from exemplary guiding skills, he had a quirky a sense of humour which he used on people from time to time!
The next morning after a quick breakfast of wholesome and delicious Aloo Paratha from a roadside hotel we boarded a vehicle arranged by Sohanji and got dropped off at Dhak village. The trek started from Dhak with the mesmerising views of the Garhwal mountain ranges. I am really poor at identifying names of mountains. Nevertheless, with help from Pramit and Sohanji and observing their shapes, I gathered that the snow-capped ridges of the Pangarchula, Hathi-Ghoda and Drona Giri all lay right there for us to feast our eyes on. It was a gradual ascend without much drama and we first stopped at Tugasi village. A glimpse into local life, a click here and there with the kids and a refreshing tea later we proceeded towards Gulling. Our first camp was to be at Kulhara which was a steady up-climb via the oak and rhododendron forest of Gulling. We had our lunch at Gulling under the forest trees and by the flowing stream ( so awesome right!!) and managed to reach Kulhara by 3 pm. Even Sohanji was impressed by our performance!
The next day was the famed “Pass Day” and the plan was to start at 4 am, reach Kuari Pass and trek further up towards Pangarchula Peak mini ( Don’t go by the word “mini”; it stands at 4300 m!!). The climb to Kuari Pass was pretty much manageable and we were at the Kuari top by 9 am. We knew the next leg to Pangarchula is a steep climb and we braced ourselves for the same. The 10 Kg backpack made things twice as difficult. The body complained incessantly but the mind was unrelenting. After ascending for about a kilometre we noticed dark clouds hovering over our heads, probably with disapproval. The weather changed within minutes and snowfall accompanied by rebellious winds hit us. This soon catapulted into a snowstorm. Sohanji said we must descend as quickly as possible. Because, if the snow starts accumulating at gargantuan speed, we might lose our way altogether. Panic ensued. Sohanji held my hand firmly and started descending with me. Unable to keep balance (blame it on the anxiety and unsuitable shoes), I grazed the ground every now and then. The unforgiving cold bit into my hands(I had removed my gloves to get a better grip), the snow blinded me and slippery ground made every step difficult. Notwithstanding the circumstances, we continued our descend towards Kulhara. By the time Kulhara was in sight, I had slipped and plunged into the snow ten times, though none of it was fatal! (thanks to the cushioning on the derriere! :P) . The snowstorm continued raging for the next 2 hours, almost sweeping away the tents. We were dripping with water from head to toe but managed to keep a grip on ourselves. The stove in the ‘Kitchen Tent’ provided some warmth while Sohanji’s stories on black-and-white fairies raised my temperature more. As per Sohanji, the black fairy of the Garhwal mountains pays a visit to people who sleep alone in their tents for some unearthly purpose. By the virtue of being the only woman in the group, I had an entire tent to myself and no prize for guessing that the story was directed at me! Only by evening the snowfall reduced a little, leaving us relieved, but still apprehensive. Without much ado, we quickly finished our dinner and retired for the night.
A clear sky greeted us on the morning of Day 3. The decision to descend to Auli via Tali was taken and we started the downhill trek at 8:30 am. I cannot describe in words the beauty of nature that unfolded in front of our eyes during the day. The cursed snowstorm was a blessing in disguise because its culmination had spawned an immaculate bright day. The majestic snowy peaks of the Garhwal mountains revealed against the backdrop of a vast blue sky with puffy white clouds dotting it’s infinite form. At Tali Lake, the most splendid view unfurled itself through a panorama of tall mountains, dark jungles, snowy peaks, drifting clouds and their reflection on the crystal-clear water! Next came the 1.5 Km ridge walk to reach Gorson Bugyal where the copious Rhododendrons in full bloom reddened the white-n-blue canvas. Being able to watch Mother Nature in Her full glory made me feel blessed! It’s a rare privilege which probably only Her truest loyalists get to experience and we had been granted that. The trek ended at Auli from where we opted for an exclusive mode of transportation – the Chairlift to get to GMVN and packed up for the night in their dormitory.
From Auli we had to catch the 4:30 am bus to Rishikesh the following morning. By the time we reached Rishikesh, exhaustion had crossed normal levels. Nevertheless, we managed to explore Beatles Ashram admiring the quirky and spiritual graffiti all around the place. The evening was spent by the sacred Ganges watching the holy river engulf the big blinding blaze. We took a local bus to Haridwar to catch the Nanda Devi Express to Delhi at 12:50 am.
The four days of myriad life experiences were over in what seemed like a jiffy, leaving an insatiable desire to go back to the mountains again.
Here’s the photo story: