Incredibly beautiful snow clad Mountains. Dewy grass to walk on. Crisp, cool air to breathe. Camps with bonfire underneath a starry night - an experience of trekking to 12000 ft to boast about.
This is what a Himalayan trek is.
But for me, well, it was more about survival the first time I trekked.
I was one of those people who never ran, never played outdoors, never really loved any kind of physical activity – and I was supposed to go on a Himalayan trek for a four credit course during my MBA. At first, the idea didn’t quite stir any kind of emotion in me. My assumption (a very wrong one) was that the trek will be more like a trail (believe me, most of non-trekkers can’t imagine what trekking 3000ft. in two days actually feels like). The preparation advice did mention a minimum requirement of physical fitness – able to walk/jog/hop/crawl 5 kms in 40 mins. Huh. Child’s play. I did a quick calculation – a month prior to the trek I could easily walk about 1.5 km (on an inclined treadmill) in 20 mins , so that somehow adds up to the required fitness level. Who cares anyways, it’s a trail!
I got ready with my backpack, my shoes, my trek gear with a group of 45 students heading to Kedarkanth trek. After a rickety bus ride from Dehradun to a little town with one guest house and about four odd shops called Sankri, we unwinded in that chilly evening.
The plan was to reach Juda ka Talaab camp the next day and Kedarkanth Camp the second day, when we also conquer the summit. The third day, we would return back to Sankri. A pretty simple and straight forward trek.
The day started really early at about 5:00 AM. A look up at the sky and I could see International Space station like a bright star hurrying across the sky. The milky way was a perfect, diamond bracelet-like band and I quickly spotted most of the constellations I knew about.
A Trek to remember
An elderly man with his grand daughter , Sankri
We started at about 10, taking a quick detour to Sankri, quickly realising that it wasn’t just one guesthouse & 4 shops town. It had a pretty laid-back atmosphere where the locals would engage in farming during non-winter seasons and in winters, when all supplies from cities would be cut-off due to snow, life would pretty much be stagnant. Mobile network was sporadic.I got a chance to interact with an elderly man basking in sun with his granddaughter. We talked about farming ,children’s education, difficulty of waste management in the mountains and how recent influx of trekkers have changed the landscape. Life in the mountains is difficult, but it's wonderful to see how the locals have made it so simple.
The trek started, and to my surprise, it wasn’t some flat gradually sloping easy trail – it was more like climbing stone stairs! Within a few minutes of trekking, my feet hurt terribly, I was gasping for air and had a terrible pain in my head. No, there weren’t any snow clad mountains or dewy grass – it was hot and it was difficult (at least for me, I could see others trekking happily). I took breaks about every 10-15 mins to sit on a damp, moss covered rock, only to be called out and start walking to keep up the pace of the whole group. With every excruciating step my mind kept yelling why did I sign up for this!? Few hours later the way gave into open meadows where we enjoyed our sandwiches, only to realise that we had an hour or two more of trekking still left for the day. I swear, I really wanted to go back that time.
After two more hours of somehow climbing (definitely not trekking) I reached the campsite at Juda ka Talaab, (my very first time in camps) I threw my bag-pack, got myself a sleeping bag and crawled inside my tent to get some sleep. But no! we were supposed to do some “team building activities” like cooking with nothing but a matchstick, utensils and one potato, one tomato and one onion. So there I was again, with no rest at all, dragging myself for the task.
Cooking at Juda Ka Talaab
Juda Ka Talaab
Exactly that was when I first realised looked around the campsite. The lake was pitch black, with shrubs of every colour surrounding the evil-looking water body. The golden sun rays bounced off it to fill the meadow with a beautiful, warm light. As we struggled with starting our fire, the smell of burning wood from other teams’ make-shift chulha filled the cool air. After some struggle and some help from kitchen staff, we were able to light the fire and fry our star-shaped potatoes (the dish was later named as Trishulam Nakshatram following our team’s name, Trishul and in accordance with the weirdly cut potatoes). Strangely, we landed up being second.
As night set in, my headache went from bad to terrible. A quick check of oxygen showed I was terribly low on it. After taking an advise to drink lots of water and Diamox, I went to sleep. If my day was bad, night was terrible. I could constantly listen to footstep-like sounds crushing of dried leaves and howls of distant animals. And then my worst fear came alive – Diamox makes you pee (that’s what they said) – and it was 2 A.M. God forbid if I was to walk alone in that pitch darkness towards the toilet tent, I would rather sleep in my own pee. But somehow I gathered courage and got out, called out few of my friends in other tents to check if they would accompany, but in vain. Then I lit up my torch, pointed it towards the toilet tents, and no! there were many, many cows having gala time sitting there ! Their eyes sparkled in the light giving them the scariest ever look. That was when I decided - behind the dinner tent is where I go.
A view from trek back to Sankri
The next day went the same – huffing puffing and crawling to Kedarkanth base camp. I was very happy when we reached there because it took us only three hours and I was perfectly prepared to eat and take some rest. This campsite was exceptionally beautiful. Perched on top of the mountain, with clear views of our summit and a breathtaking open landscape of mountains to one side and forests to the other. I found a perfect spot on a rock almost hanging off the edge of campsite to sit and absorb the beauty.
As we started our summit climb, I had made peace with the fact that it’s not going to be easy. I have literally been on all fours, clinging on rocks to crawl my way up. I wish I could boast to be one of the firsts to reach the summit, but that wasn’t possible for that day.
When I reached the top, I finally realised why people trek. Hues of blue identified themselves with the hundreds of mountains , with few being lit golden by the sunlight. As we nibbled our “chana” in the cold and chilly air, we caught a glimpse of a Himalayan Griffin flying above us. After an hour or so, we headed back to our campsite.
The next day while I started my trek back to base camp, I realised that I had completely fallen in love with the (terrible) experience. It felt so painful to think that from next day I’ll see so many people around, my phone will be buzzing, Instagram will be popping, news will be yelling, and I will be fussing over insignificant things. At that point in time, I realised what makes trek so special. It’s not the views or the fresh air or the climb, it is the sheer absence of any distraction, having only one objective – the summit. To not have to care about little things which blow up in our regular lives, but to just ensure your health and happiness, be supportive of each other, talk to people like we would never do in cities. It was the space mountains give to our minds, space to think more clearly about our goals, where have we come and where should we go. It’s the fact that you’ll get up, pack your bag and leave the camp to not return there again. It’s the feeling that everything is truly temporary.
That night at Sankri the blankets didn’t feel as warm as the sleeping bags, and I missed the occasional distant howl. I knew I was coming back again.
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