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- Created on Thursday, 07 March 2013 18:30
- Published on Thursday, 07 March 2013 18:30
- Written by sandhya uc
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A Trek to the Valley of flowers
Priyanka Mitra - August 25th to 30th 2012
24th August, Thursday, I rushed through work somewhat absent-mindedly. I could not much hide that known telling smile that told everyone else around, about my excitement and anticipation of the unknown… that day I didn’t even fight with the auto-walah who refused to give me change, on any other day he would have had it, I tell you!
It was pouring when the craft touched down on the capital. We were stranded inside for about half an hour, before collecting our luggage. And then I was on my way to the ajmeri gate side of New Delhi Railway station, through the good old, dark and deserted roads of Gurgaon and Delhi. Traffic had thinned by then. I bumped into my colleague Ankita, right outside the entrance, who had reached Delhi the same day morning. We were to catch a train to Haridwar, the same night at 11:55pm.
In some time we were joined by Richa, Ankita’s friends from Chandigarh. After a quick introduction, what followed were… pringles, jalebis, photos, and giggles.
Through the mail strings that were exchanged in the last few days before the trip, we got to know that some of our fellow-trekkers were boarding the same train, but did not get to meet them until next morning, the 25th day of August, upon reaching Haridwar at 4am.
Moumita, our group leader called me, we gathered at the waiting room and met Moumita and Anurag for the first time. After exchange of minimal greetings, I, Ankita and Richa went back to snoozing. One time Anurag woke me up to guard his luggage while he went on for tea all by himself. Little did he know, that even in the middle of the deepest sleep, I would not have mind a cuppa!
In some more time we were joined by Shweta, Ranjan Ji, Chaitanya and Anshul. Pleasantries were exchanged, groggy and dazed we sauntered towards the car around 6am, we were headed to Govindghat, or so was the plan!
The morning shone through cloud and mists while our sumo roared away into smoky bends. The whole time went in gasping and gazing at the sudden Himalayan beauty that greeted us through the drive. Rest of the time went into some futile captures, swapping of seats, and a delicious breakfast with maggi, aloo paratha and tea, for the famished souls.
Through the drive we got talking…wonder why almost always when people meet for the first time, they get discussing work… GE, IBM, Unilever, Syntel, and dotcoms!
Monsoon befriended us right from the onset… We could not make it to Govindghat, because of roadblock due to rock fall. We broke for the night at Pipalkoti… We were 9 of us, with 5 girls making for the majority. Two dorm-like rooms provided us with shelter and hot water, that night. While Shweta successfully negotiated the deal for Rs.20 per bucket, Ankita shammed smiles and pouts for the camera….
By an hour and a half, we girls were ready for dinner, by then our male counterparts had washed, dined and retired. We binged on some idli, maggi and adrak chai. On our way back to the hotel, Ankita went chasing a cute pup down the alley, until his mother showed up with a far-from-friendly look!
Looking back, I realize how precious my sleep, that night was, for sleepless nights stole in without warning, through the next few days! 26th day of August, the following morning we started early for Govindghat. Upon reaching we met Dinesh Ji, our guide for the trek. We were advised to leave excess luggage behind, and soon it was time to hit the road. On the way some of us picked up these walking sticks, which later proved to be really useful. More bonding happened with the fellow trekkers on our way up. The plan was to offload the luggage with a porter, but before long we learnt that local porters had gone on a strike to oppose the launch of helicopter service by Deccan, on the same route, from Govindghat to Ghagharia.
That day turned out to be the longest and toughest of all. We started by 9:30am and didn’t reach until 7:30 in the evening. Had it not been for Dinesh Ji, who carried my offensively heavy backpack through most of the way, I would either not have reached at all, or would have only reached after midnight. Half way through the way we luckily found two porters, who agreed to help me, Ankita and Richa, with our luggage. Tired, aching, wet, we staggered along somehow, as Dinesh Ji kept encouraging us to what seemed like an illusory lunch!
Illusion turned to reality as we gorged on roti with dal, aachar and chai, around 3:30 that afternoon. Cold from the newly gained height and soaked to the bones, that hot sumptuous lunch provided magical relief. We continued the expedition, with renewed energy. The climb got steeper hereon. Rocky, wet, uneven roads made for the remaining part of our journey. Each time Moumita, slowed down under the weight of her two (omg!) rucksacks, Anshul cheered her unfailingly. Strangers in the morning… friends by daybreak… my feelings later found expression through Anurag, “you make some great friends through such travels”, he said to me and Chaitanya, as we stood chatting, in the balcony the next night after dinner, overwhelmed with the beauty of what we had just seen and in anticipation of the morrow.
Climbing up, Dinesh Ji pointed to us a sight that for a few moments stole our realities away. A soft inverted curve comfortably nestled between two ancient fortresses likes mountains that, as if, stood guard to this paradise. That in fact was the valley we all had come to visit from across regions, our primary reason for this whole undertaking. To be able to reach it and to believe that it was our next destination in the trek was nothing short of incredulity. I suspended my disbelief temporarily, and tried to soak in as much beauty as possible. My mind, like an eager child rushed to collect as many poppies from the bush, as those two little hands would permit, and looking upon the borrowed treasury, I find, I have just as many or little as two or three buds in my basket. The green-ness of the meadow that also acted as the helipad, soothed the eye with a veil of calm and exuberance at the same time.
A kilometer before Ghangharia, the porters returned our luggage. They could not have gone any further, as they were supposedly on strike! That one kilometer, as was in the beginning of the trek, now aggravated, with the fatigue and cold, seemed like atleast 10 more. It had darkened by then. Darkness and silence in the mountains have an entirely exquisite yet eerie definition. I measured my steps more carefully and gradually realized that I have entered the town, as the open meadows and woodlands that were bordering the road so far, started getting replaced by makeshift stables and shuttered establishments. The darkness continued through the length of it with a few people here and there. By then, I had lost sight of Dinesh Ji and the others. The battery of my phone died from cold and exhaustion. I did not know the name of the hotel we were supposed to be at. Choice less, I stood at a turn, trying to rejoice the feeling of getting lost in mountains, but my head and back (aarghh!) hurt terribly and would not let me! A glimpse of fluorescent from a distance, told me Moumita was coming in my direction. She was also lost and understandably not in the least amused. I almost knew we were headed to some wrong direction, and decided to check with a local, who confirmed my doubts saying that was the way up to Hemkund Sahib! Wonder what it would be like to have trudged on with that backpack for the rest of the night… We reversed our direction and met Shweta, at a medicine shop. We learnt from her that the strike was being continued at Ghangharia, and that we were about to go shelter less, but for the Gurdwara that night.
Those few days, life was all about raincoat, walking stick, bottles of precious water, and a destination….
Dinesh Ji, resourcefully accommodated all 9 of us, and also himself along with Mahipal Singh, his 18 year old assistant, at the Gurdwara. We went to the Gurdwara, and found Anurag, Ranjan Ji, Richa and Ankita, on the lowest rung of the bed. I could not say if they were merely lying there or sleeping! From a distance they looked like clothed logs. Shweta, Moumita, Anshul, Chaitanya and I had to negotiate with the middle rung of the three-tier bunk bed while Dinesh Ji and Mahipal ocuupied the one on top. My stubborn backpack would not bend into the space available, I had to stack it in horizontally by my head. By this time, I felt my head splitting into two equal halves, the back pain shooting up, and my unprepared mind not being able to adjust to a situation as this, gave me away. It now shames me to think how inflexible and unaccepting that was. Had I accepted the situation with a little more poise, a crocin 650 from Chaitanya would have done the magic. As Anurag would later put it ‘travel is a leveler’, puts a lot of things to perspective.
With three blankets and three layers of clothing underneath, I made an attempt to sleep. Around 10:30pm Chaitanya and Shweta woke me up. All of them were done with dinner barring Ranjan Ji, Dinesh Ji and me. I knew my headache worsens with hunger, so I decided to get some food. Roti and dal were served at the Langar. It is an extraordinary arrangement at such a remote altitude with everything else shut, not even one person goes hungry or shelter less. Thereafter I did not sleep too well. Chanting for Gurbani started at 4 in the morning, by 5 someone tugged at my blankets saying “Kambal Jama Karo” and I woke up to the reality of my surrounding.
Dinesh Ji hurried us to freshen up and resume the trek to the valley, on the 27th day of August. At some of our request, he supportively gave us a room at Hotel Pritam, where we were supposed to be staying otherwise. We crept in stealthily through the medicine shop, which led us to a dingy room and further into a courtyard which was lined by rooms on one side. The whole mission was performed with caution so as to not raise any eyebrows through the strike. The water felt like ice inside the mouth, we tidied up somehow. After a quick roti, sabzi and chai at the langar, we started for Bhyundar valley.
The roads twisted and turned around the mountains, tripped in places and rose again while the glacial river, Pushpavati rippled past in its own pace. These narrow mountainous roads were almost uniformly skirted by myriad colored blooms in dense thickets. A lot of time went into admiring and capturing the wilderness here. It was an easy, relaxed, pretty path, which did not call for much rigor either. Ankita, Richa and Chaitanya were about me and Anurag, while Moumita, Shweta and Anshul strolled up along with Dinesh Ji. I assumed Ranjan Ji must have reached the destination and won his self-announced Marathon by then.
What many of us might have noticed from the first day was Shweta’s climb. Chaitanya named her the ‘Queen of Sheba’ because of the crowning raincoat that intensified her gait. Very aptly named, this queen, I noticed, graced the mountains and meadows, with every step she took. She walked in unison with the mountains. Perfectly poised, ready for more beauty, composed and self-contained, she came along. Sometimes when I looked back, there she was every bit lost in the surrounding splendor with an unfazed gaze afar.
While crossing the make shift tin bridge with Anurag, we dutifully and unsurprisingly posed for each other’s camera. After all where does one get roaring rivers and foaming cascades every day? Plus the additional responsibility of profile pic.s! Resplendent in red, he beautified the surrounding green and white a little more.
It was time well spent with some new friends, new conversations, posing for and sharing pictures and cherishing every moment of togetherness…
The entrance to the valley is marked by two huge rocks. We rested for a while before moving on. Pink of the crowding dog flowers, White of the clouds and Green of the Himalayan pasture made the valley astounding. I will not even attempt to capture that in words, you know what I am talking about already! And sometimes when the clouds cleared, an all-pervading azure smiled down on the meadows. The clouds tricked us throughout. The shining peaks of Rataban and Kamet were visible for minutes before the clouds decided to drift in again. After walking for a while we found a clearing where we decided to pause and wait for the others.
Slowly there were more colors all around. Richa’s unmistakable blue raincoat, Moumita’s fluorescent jumper, Dinesh Ji’s vibrant turquoise track suit and the ruby red Anshul. We got busy doing what we do best. Each captured the other, sometimes single, sometimes hurdled together. Ankita’s oh so (Read Oh No!) awesome ‘titanic’ pose, would found expression in almost all the pic.s, had me or Richa not have dissuaded her. Sometimes she was incorrigible nonetheless! While all of us were still marveling and basking in the glory of the valley, Ankita pretty much decided her future thereon, “Get me a local guy, who I can marry and settle down here. It would be the most AWESOMEST (coinage-Ankita) thing to do!” Indeed indeed indeed!! While you said it Ankita, we all secretly wished for similar fantasies. The only words one could voice were …I wish….! Amidst all this, Mahipal hurriedly went to search for the self-proclaimed champion. He was nowhere in sight. After sometime both of them came back though.
I had rarely or perhaps never seen so much of beauty together. I will try and express the feeling through Plath, “I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery – air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, this is what it is to be happy.”
It was not impossible to believe in the myth of Sanjeevani Buti growing right here in these meadows. The surrounding aura was such that it cleansed the senses, relaxed the mind and purged our souls.
We spent considerable time walking through the meadows, cheeks brushing against impregnated clouds, mind besmeared with hues unseen hitherto, it was such magnificence, such glory, that despite our aching limbs, we did not want to come back. The vision is plastered to memory now.
While all of us would want to go back, and some of us will surely do, Anurag has another reason to return to the grasslands, he has left behind a bottle… Talking of bottle, I recall how we stopped both times, while going to up and returning, at one of those shining mountain streams to refill our bottles and because we had nothing else to contain it with, we drank the elixir directly from the stream.
Anurag and I joined Shweta at the entrance of the valley, we sat there waiting for the others but after a while the cold became unbearable, and we decided to trek back. We took it easy, actually very easy while coming back. Since the trek that day was not that long or rigorous, we had time to spend. It was also because we wanted to stay a little longer in this heaven, somewhere the fear of not being able to come back any time soon, tarried us. I knew then how badly I would be missing it. I suffer just the same now.
Did we ever imagine… winding slippery roads, gurgling brooks, stoic mountains, lush meadows and stash of colors would be our reality, so what if short-lived ?!
On coming back we were greeted with a happier town. Life had crawled back, strike had ended! All of us called home after around 2 days, at Rs.10 a minute. We feasted on a sumptuous lunch soon after. Happy, having seen the valley… happier, having eaten well, me, Anshul and Chaitanya sat with chai and gulab jamun, discussing my aspirations of joining a bschool and the impossibility of it! All this while, madame leader was missing. Dinesh Ji found her after quite some time. Later we learnt that she had fallen in love with the valley a little more than the rest of us, and so she had decided to stay a little longer…
That evening was well-spent with massage, a short film on the Bhyundar Valley and her flora, priceless buckets of hot water at Rs.50 each and Dinesh Ji’s story of the trekker who, “baithey baithey nikal gaya” for having defied medical advice to get to Roopkund.
It was decided that me, Anurag, Shweta and Moumita would take mules to get to Hemkund Sahib the following day, while Ranjan Ji, Richa, Ankita and Chaitanya would trek. As much as we tried to persuade Anshul to stay back with us, by then his legs had given away, and his mind had drifted back to Delhi!
After a delicious dinner, we tried to get some sleep, as next morning called for a higher, tougher and longer expedition. I kept staring outside through the window, trying to tell the rain from the darkness… both the attempts went in vain. Chai arrived at 5am, morning of 28th day of August, what absolute luxury in the mountains! We often tend to overlook these small but priceless efforts that others put in to make life easier for the rest of us. Mornings are grey in the mountains, but a happy shade of grey they are! Shrouded in fog and cloud, we headed for breakfast. Some group photos were clicked, goodbyes were exchanged with Anshul, trekkers started their journey and we mounted mules (mules?!! how unheroic, does that sound!) Shweta and Anurag trotted off while I and Moumita followed close;y. Despite a million warnings to not let go off the mules, ten steps down, the horse-man let the beasts be, not much choice there, inevitably I had to dismount.
Some people I met on the way, seeing me trekking, openly voiced their doubts about my ability to make it to the top. Unnerved, unsettled, I dragged myself somehow. In a while Dinesh Ji’s voiced reached me from the back, “aram aram se chaliye…” I have no qualms admitting, I would not have been able to make it that day but for him. The trauma faded away into the silent clouds that accompanied me up the rock-strewn road. Dinesh Ji’s extremely comforting company, my first view of wild cobra lilies (chaitanya you will always be remembered at the mention of this singular flower!), those ancient trees, the skin of which were used for writing in earlier days and some very pretty birds made it, as Ankita would call it, the most AWESOMEST journey, and wonder of the wonders in some time we caught up with our very own marathoner. The remaining journey went on smoothly, barring the delay caused due to the precarious roads made slippery by rain and dung. Hemkund Sahib, being a holy place in India, was not free from the regular ingredients of devotion, packets of Lays chips, mazaa bottles and the like!
Richa, Ankita, Chaitanya had taken numerous short-cuts through the trek, we met them a couple of times, once we even took pictures together at the wondrous Hemkund glacier, but they were mostly ahead of us. Anurag, Shweta and Moumita were way ahead with the mule. During my last kilometer, I met Anurag, he was on his way back to Ghangharia, with the intention of traveling back to the paradise again, time permitting.
My body went numb at the temperature atop. An emerald lake half visible, a melodious chant from somewhere afar is all I could take cognizance of. I met Dinesh Ji a few steps ahead. He guided me towards Mahipal, and I went into the the gurdwara along with Richa, Ankita, Chaitanya and their new friend Vikas. We sat there for how long, I would not know. Hurdled in a blanket, numb against my own skin, I sat trying to gauge the severity of the beauty around. Delicious halwa Prasad, dripping with ghee (thank god, I did not mind the calories), dry fruits and then khicdi, kheer and chai, restored my energy level. We went for a darshan of the Lakshman temple, and sprinkled holy water from the lake, to fulfill the quota of blessings that we had come for.
The rainy sunless sky made for a cold, throbbing weather. We had to brave it with layers of clothing and rain-guard. The view from the top was surreal. It took only a moment to wrap the whole valley up in vapors of mystery, which was otherwise perfectly visible right down to Ghangharia, from where we had started.
Starving, we ran straight to our eatery, where we met Anurag and Shweta. It was almost evening by the time we returned. After a hearty meal, we went back to the hotel for some more massage and conversations. After much speculation, Badrinath was decided upon. While Ankita, Richa, Shweta and Moumita rested, I participated in the discussion of what started off as the nomenclature of Roopkund, but soon hiccupped into the non-accepting nature of Bengalis, the problematic South Indians and the virtues and sobriety of the jat-land, up north! In an attempt to defend my brethren I pointed out that after all, sometimes everyone likes to be in the company of their community, to which Anurag promptly replied “except Biharis”. Conversation dwindled into North-eastern parts of the country, and eventually to Bengalis and their semblance to the inhabitants of Assam. I stole a shy look through the mirror, at my new found Assamese features, and left the room! The day concluded on maggi and chai!
Tel maalish, garam chai, gulab jamun, aloo paratha and a workshop of raining memories …
It was the 29th day of August. I woke up at 5am, to Shweta’s shrill quest for bed-tea, piercing the surrounding silence of the dawn. Chai in the morning, chai through the day, chai at sun down, chai by night fall, I was a happy soul. As usual, Ranjan Ji vanished from sight even before we could begin the trek. In clusters we trekked down, until we all met again at the same dhaba, where we had stopped for lunch on our first day of trek. On the boulders, in the middle of the mighty Alakananda, we feasted on aloo paratha yet again, with dollops of melting butter and achar and some freshly brewed tea. Unanimously we agreed that to be the best and most exotic breakfast of our lives! That was the last we saw of Ranjan Ji, in our trek, as he would already have left for Rishikesh, even before we would have reached Govindghat, that day afternoon. Hesitantly we walked back, taking numerous needless breaks.
Upon reaching Ghangharia, Dinesh Ji arranged for a sumo to take us to Badrinath, with Mahipal as our guide. After freshening up, collecting our remaining luggage from Hotel Ganga, and a hearty lunch it was time to bid adieu to Dinesh Ji. Good byes are never pleasant. We reached Badrinath within the stipulated time. For a change, the men shopped for new clothes, while we girls continued to the mandir. Anurag, Chaitanya and Ankita proceeded towards the hot spring, while Richa, Shweta, Moumita and I awaited their return. We were blessed with an amazing darshan, without any crowd, as is otherwise the case in these holy places. Gratified, we returned back to Ghangharia, dropped off Mahipal, said one last good bye to Dinesh Ji, and moved on with the intention of covering as much distance possible before Haridwar.
Trapped in the circle of life, we were confronted with yet another landslide exactly at the same place where we had encountered the first one. To worsen matters, we did not stop for tea anywhere since breakfast. I tried to mention once, but Anurag shushed me into the gravity of a situation marked by landslides and delay! That twilight saw us returning to Joshimath for a night-hault. Ankita, Chaitanya, Anurag and I checked out hotels in turns, before finally deciding upon one that looked good enough for those few hours of night, for we were to resume our journey early next morning. Like most other days of the trek, the scene in our room comprised of shampoo and shower, with buckets being replaced by geyser. Another meal with many cups of tea, and we passed out for the night, it had been a rather long day!
And I was secretly thankful for all the landslides, rolling boulders, singing away time through the long waits for the roads to re-open and those unscheduled turn of events…
Next morning, on the 30th day of August, Anurag woke us up by 5am, after his morning stroll to Shankaracharya’s math, after which the town was named. Traffic had queued up due to the roadblock, the scene did not look very favorable. We gulped down some tea quickly and recommenced the journey. We stopped for breakfast at Pipalkoti, where we had dined on our first night and then did not stop until lunch at around 3pm. Through most parts of the journey Richa and Moumita had ipods for company, while Anurag, Shweta and I did well with the live concert by Ankita and Chaitanya. They had songs for every occasion, even for the landslide! And a few times, in the middle of nothing, Anurag turned back from the front seat to share his disbelief of Ranjan Ji’s sudden departure. We found it weird that he did not accompany us to Badrinath, as he was one of the initial enthusiasts while planning for it. A rift between South and North of India, had an unreasonably serious effect on him. The mountainous landscape gradually receded in the background, as we approached Haridwar. We rushed to the ghat, but missed the aarti by minutes. Nonetheless we sat on those pious stairs silently for quite a while. I cannot explain the reason for this silence. Sometimes one just tries to listen to that inner voice, and what better place than this! After a quiet conversation with Anurag about the history of these ghats, we took turns to worship the temples and proceeded to find rooms for Chaitanya and Moumita, who were staying back that night in Haridwar.
We stacked our luggage in Chaitanya’s room and freshened up a little. Richa, Moumita and Ankita chose to stay back and rest, while the rest of us went wandering in the busy bazaars of the temple town. Shweta treated us to chat, puri and sweets. And when I lamented the end of the trek, Anurag comfortingly added, “and every bad thing comes to an end too…” agreed Anurag… just that it lasts a little longer every time!
And finally it was time to go…. We said bye to Moumita. Chaitanya was evidently upset. All of us had bonded very well, within such short time, and whenever was a good-bye easy!? Two rickshaws headed to the sleepy station, unhurriedly. Ankita and Richa with Shweta perched on the driver’s seat went in one, while I and Anurag followed in another. While Anurag shared his tentative plans about some more trips, treks and NGO, I kept on wondering about the ephemeral but eternal moments that call for joy and grief in equal measures. Upon reaching the station, Anurag directed me to the ticket checker and I managed a confirmed ticket for the journey back to Delhi. We parted where we had first met, completing yet another circle!
My story cannot end before I talk about some of these friends I made here on this trip, all of who contributed to the making of such a fond memory. Chaitanya was the oldest 22 year old I met. Seemingly upset at the world still calling him a boy, he in more than one ways established his maturity and spirituality that befits, as right said by his father, a 62 year old. We girls, especially Ankita and Richa, did not let go off many opportunities to remind him of his boyishness. Taking all that in the right humor, he came across as an extremely level headed person, with knowledge and experience expected beyond his years. Anurag observed his maturity and humility with which he tackled the situation when a vocal battle was announced on his home state of South India. Chaitanya, my help in the Gurdwara, comforted me with the cutest south-indian hindi accent, “tuje kya chaiyye muje bol” (with the t as pronounced in toy and j in japan) handing across a crocin 650 to me. Yet again Anurag could not stop expressing his wonder at seeing Chaitanya sitting meditatively at Joshimath, in Shankaracharya’s cave, such depth and calm of mind at 22, repeats the question again and again…22 or 62? I am yet to find that out…
The other member of the mutual admiration society was Anurag. He and Chaitanya were most impressed with each other. Amazingly well traveled, extremely knowledgeable, he spoke about those nuances, which one doesn’t acquaint with, unless delved deeper. I shared some time and a lot of beauty with him, while walking through those green corridors of Bhyundar. Now whenever I remember the valley, he shows up alongside!
I shared my pace with Anshul, Shweta and Moumita through the initial days of the trek. Anshul came across as a constant source of motivation, whether to Shweta feeling nauseated with the climb, or to Moumita braving the ascent with two bag packs or to my futile wishful attempts at GMAT. I owe him a special thanks for the gulab-jamun, that we shared that rainy afternoon to celebrate the withdrawal of the strike.
Moumita was the lost leader of the trek, both literally and figuratively. She was with us and not. She lost herself in places anew, made newer friends and charmed them to click fancy photographs as well. I still wonder what that propulsion had been that thrust her to complete a 13km journey at record speed, putting even the mighty Mahipal to shame! Languidly she would stare out of the window, lost in melody unheard to the rest of us. When the rest of us could not stop cribbing at the price of hot water, we had to pay for cleaning up, this beauty, would play spa with it. While all of us are carrying forth memories of the valley within us, she might as well have left a part of her wistful self, there. (Remember, the extra time she spent in the valley!)
Richa was the early-bird among us. She would always be ready even before the others would wake up. Our room every morning was a nosiy scene of continuous repeat alarms, with mostly Richa trying hard to wake the rest of us up. While Shweta and I would shake ourselves out of slumber with difficulty, Moumita would straight dive into prolonged meditation, and all this while till about all of us were ready Ankita would continue sleeping, happy soul that she is! Spirited to the hilt, Richa won the marathon every day, without running one consciously.
Anki-panki as fondly called in office by the others, and Mata Ankiteshwari, as she calls herself, is an animated package of effortless entertainment. She is blessed with a calm that is rarely disturbed, whether at landslides and roadblocks or at not carrying confirmed train tickets. Even numbers and targets cannot do the magic! Jokes apart, her company and spontaneity soothe the likes of me.
Ranjan Ji reminds me of his commendable fitness at his age, he would put many of us to shame.
It would be most inappropriate to not mention my highest regard for Dinesh Ji and my sincere appreciation of Mahipal, Arjun and his team. Most excellent arrangements with detailed attention to our best and smallest comforts, kept us happy and healthy throughout. It was way more than value for money. We could enjoy the trek so much, because of the support extended by Dinesh Ji and rest of the team. Extremely hospitable, cheerful, patient, amicable and principled Dinesh Ji proved to be the best guide ever. Not once, did we see him complain, not even in that trying night of strike, he remained perfectly composed and used his best resources to rescue the situation.
This trek would obviously not be the same without any of the above mentioned experiences and people. And that we cherish the memories of it so much goes on to show how wonderful it really was. True to our promises, we have exchanged numbers, mail ids, travelogues and pictures. We are also sharing virtual space with each other. That is adequate source of memory for the rest of our lives. And I have still stored some more in fallen leaves and dried petals that I have brought back with me, from the valley of flowers.
- Parent Category: Blogs
- Created on Wednesday, 06 March 2013 18:30
- Published on Wednesday, 06 March 2013 18:30
- Written by Arun Nayak
- Hits: 608
Photography tips for the Chadar Frozen River Trek,
Zanskar, Ladakh, January 2013
The Chadar trek occupies a unique position among all treks in India. The trek essentially is a flat walk on the frozen Zanskar river (60 kms from Leh) and happens in a narrow window of mid Jan to mid Feb. The sheet of ice that covers the river is called as Chadar (Blanket of ice). The constant sub zero temperatures (daytime -10 to nights -25) poses challenges that test one’s fitness and the very ability of clicking a picture. Photographers often return with an awe-inspiring collection of pictures that tell unbelievable stories. I just returned from this trek and have compiled some suggestions
PLANNING YOUR TRIP
- Plan your trip around full moon – The Chadar in moonlight is visual poetry. The moonlight also provides excellent light to give you fascinating pictures. In absence of moonlight, it is very difficult to obtain any worthwhile frame an hour after sunset
- For your flight landing into Leh, try to grab a window seat in the left row for a better view of the mountains as the right side gets the bright rising sun that can make the mountains look hazy.
- Trekking upto Naerak and climbing to the village above takes 6 nights/7 days of trekking and gives zillion photo opportunities
- Do not get over excited at Leh – Leh is at an altitude of approx 11500 ft. It takes atleast 2 day to acclimitize and avoid AMS(Acute Mountain Sickness) which can potentially end your trip even before it starts. The beauty of Leh, Ladakh can cause you to get excited and make you run around sightseeing and clicking almost everything that you see. This exertion can lead to AMS. Discuss thoroughly with your tour leader ways to avoid AMS.
- Observe the moon rise and moon set times each day to plan your pictures. When you reach the campsite, observe for potential composition ideas with respect to the direction of moonrise
- Hire a porter to carry your equipment, tripod etc if that’s possible. The porter costs typically Rs250/ day. The tripod metal becomes freezing cold and it is literally painful to operate with frozen fingers. So plan the entire shot well before you open out your tripod
- Do not wander off the trail in your zest to click pictures.
EQUIPMENT SELECTION and EXPOSURE
- Cameras do function well at those temperatures but carry enough spare batteries –Most DSLRs and compact zooms function just fine. Preserve battery life by keeping them in a fleece jacket pocket on you through day and night from the very moment you reach Leh. Night photography sucks in lot of battery so do carry enough batteries. I had a 5 yr old Nikon D80 and carried 4 batteries for a 7 day trip. There are no charging points once the trek starts beyond Leh. Its better to carry individual batteries than battery packs that make the camera heavy.
- There is not much of wildlife that would require a telephoto lens. So you may choose to leave it behind. A wide angle lens with a decent zoom (18-135mm, 18-200 mm) would be adequate for virtually all your shots. A wider lens would be even better. A full frame camera is useful but can become very heavy to carry around
- Filters are not really needed - The walk has long patches in shaded valleys making filters redundant. If you have to use ND filters, carry the ones that can be held in front of the camera rather than screwing them on. Changing and operating filters with double gloved hands is difficult at best.
- Carry an Extreme card, remote control – Especially for night photography, for faster writing speeds use an Extreme card. Typically night exposures last more than half a minute in ‘bulb’ range. Even in moonlight the exposures may range upto 3 minutes on average. A regular card takes 3 minutes to write a 10 MP RAW file of a 3 minute exposure. Longer writing time equals to more battery usage and more exposure of the camera and yourself to biting cold. The battery typically shows lesser charge at night in the open. Warming the battery next to a fire actually increase its life Typical exposure settings for a night shot in moonlight are ISO 800, f/6.3, shutter speed 180 sec+.
- Learn to use the remote control well before you begin the trek and plan your composition and exposure settings well before you click. There is absolutely no scope to fumble with long exposures at -25 degrees.
- Use gloved fingers – Remember that the camera becomes extremely cold to direct touch. Try to click with gloved fingers all the time as far as possible.
- Prefocus your lens to infinity before night sets in and switch your camera and/or lens to manual focus mode - If your lens does not have the infinity marker for manual focusing, prefocus your camera to infinity in the evening. Autofocusing is virtually impossible and frustrating at night. TIP You could use a bright head torch to shine on a far off object to try autofocusing if necessary.
- Use +1 eV compensation with evaluative (matrix) metering for the pictures clicked in the shaded valleys with the sunny sky above
- Use shade White balance in the shaded valleys to get the right saturation of the mountains. Using Auto white balance could render “cold” blue images
- Wrap your camera in a warm muffler or two or if possible keep it inside your sleeping bag at night.
- The camera has virtually no condensation on its glass as the temperatures at ALL time are virtually below 0. Camera care would involve using a lens cap and a dust blower at best.
- Keep your poncho/raincoat handy only for heavy snowfall. Mild snowfall that can be brushed off with your hands does not damage the camera
- Do not venture too close to the edge of the Chadar. It may give away landing you and your equipment into the water
- The porters often light a campfire to warm themselves. The fire throws interesting warm hues onto the mountains and trees.
- Colourful tents with torchlight inside also makes wonderful foreground.
- Star trails can be recorded with exposures above 180 seconds
- orters often travel in a single line pulling their sledges makes for interesting patterns.
- Look out for trekkers or porters wearing red jackets. They offer striking contrast to the scene.
- Ice crystals on the Chadar make interesting patterns.
- Look out for snow leopard, fox, bear pugmarks.
- Try to capture the life of the porters and villagers in tents, caves, villages, traveling on the Chadar, etc
- Ladakhi summer portraits may be cliche but portraits in winter with cold burnt faces against snowed out backgrounds are certainly not.
- Parent Category: Blogs
- Created on Thursday, 29 November 2012 18:30
- Published on Thursday, 29 November 2012 18:30
- Written by sandhya uc
- Hits: 590
An Ode to Goecha la --- An amateur's trek diary
By Nagendra Kumar, 28th April 2012 - Goecha la Trek
1. Introduction Goecha La, The southeast face of Kanchenjunga, the world's third highest mountain, is viewable from the pass, which is also a base camp for those aspiring to scale the mountain. 8 days of trek takes you to a roller- coaster ride of picturesque mountains, valley and pass and leaves behind nostalgic memories of the trek. I got the opportunity to trek with the help of my senior colleague who is in to some real trekking, it was his careful research and dedication that he could shortlist Indiahikes among numerous trekking organisers available online, luring the trekking enthusiasts like us. Since beginning we could realise that Indiahikes is the authentic one in the business, established for trekking enthusiast like us and not for minting money. Otherwise, who else would take you to such a lovely destination and 8 days trek in such a petty fees with 5 star arrangements en route at that altitude.
2. The trek to Goecha La starts in Yuksom, where the motor able road ends at an altitude of 1770 meters. Yuksom a sleepy small and beautiful town located in West Sikkim and birth place of Indian bollywood star Danny Denzongpa. Our journey started from NJP (New Jalpaigudi) which is located on a chicken neck of India and arguably the biggest city of north Bengal. It’s a gateway to north eastern part of India and well connected by rail/road/air from Kolkata, Delhi and other major cities. NJP is a railhead whereas, Siligudi is the main city. One can get cab/taxi/shared taxi/bus to Darjeeling, Gangtok and of course to Yuksom. NJP Railway station has a waiting room and few hotels/lodges also nearby with an approx. Tarrif of Rs 1ooo. Last minutes gear/purchases if not equipped properly could be done at Cos Mos or City centre malls, which are quite nice.
3. We were picked up by shared Sumo/Trax organised by Indiahikes from NJP itself and we set course to Yuksom around 1000h on 28 Apr 12. After an drive of an hour or so the hill journey begins, soon we leave the road leading to Darjeeling/Gangtok and continue on left towards west of Sikkim, We reach Yuksom after approx 8-9 hrs of drive via Jorthang and Legship and not to miss picturesque view of hills and Rangit river which almost followed through our route, seemed out of the world.
Waiting to begin a new saga
4.18 of us reached Kabur Lodge, Yuksom around 1630h. The last member Imran reached Yuksom at 0130h early morning on 29 Apr12, after 30 plus hours of road journey from Kolkata after flip-flop of breakdown of bus etc. One can imagine how desperate he was to get there. The lodge was located around a kilometre and half, ahead of Yuksom town. Incidentally, Yuksom is the last town in west of Sikkim, I mean where road ends.
Briefing to conquer the world.
5.We were served a much desired hot cup of tea after half an hour. We enjoyed our tea from terrace of our lodge with a fantastic view of sunset in between the mountains. After an hour or so we all got together in dining hall for a briefing by our trek coordinator Brahma, the opportunity was utilised to formally know each other and included Gumma Rajnish, Vaibhav Lahane & Nagendra named as three musketeers,Bhushan Chitaley nick named as Horse for his stamina, Biraj Saikia better known as Dark lord, Dr. Simran Gupta the young lady, Prashant Purandare & Monica Purandare known as cute couple, Kumar Samarth Gupta & Saswati Dash better known as love birds & Chatter box another name for Saswati, Nilavra Ghosh the blue sac as we called coz of his typical pronunciation of his name in bangla, Devraj the Golu, Soumya Bhattacharya Mr. Know all, Raktim & Manas the doc duo, Dayalan the silent man, Imran Ahmed the love bite, Sudeep the hunk , and Samar Nayak alias Lance Nayak Ram Sakal Yadav. Incidentally, we three of us were the only ones who were from armed forces and it was going to be interestingly for us. Ours was a healthy heterogeneous group comprising three ladies, four doctors, young eligible bachelors. 5 ½ Bengali (Simran a Punjabi married to a Bong) and rest of us all the parts of India, it was going to be fun.
Early morning tea at local shop in Yuksom
6.The night at Yuksom was pleasant and morning alarm was raised by chirping birds and rooster at 0430h. Most of us got up at 0500h by then it was bright day, After morning rituals we went for early morning stroll and had tea at local shop surprisingly which was open early morning for people like us. Any trekking expedition in Sikkim requires approval of govt. of Sikkim which included appearance of all of us at Yuksom police station and who can forget Constable Padam Singh Chetri, the only son of India who gave nice moral lecture on patriotism and national integrity. Our trek started at 1030h a bit late (courtesy Padam Singh Chetri).
Camp site at Tshoka
7.Day 1, Trek to Sachen. Our trek started with a bang and full josh with two hanging and one concrete bridges we reached our first destination Sachen at around 1400h . The first one to reach were Dr. Saikia and Bhushan, followed by us trio. Some of us trickled in till 1630h that included Saswati and Samarth. Saswati had a black out probably coz of lack of hydration. Dayalan lost his goggles en route which he had hanged on his T shirt. A sumptuous lunch was served by our cook Mr. Vijay and party. After lunch we all went to our tent which was also a first experience of being in arctic tent like this for people like me. No sooner we hit our tent one could hear different kinds of noise of snoring from various tent, which was an indication that all of us were tired with day’s workout. Evening tea call was given at 1700h most of us went down to have tea along with it were served hot Pakoras. Then began the round of antakshari which was aptly complimented by torrential rains joining the rhythm. The dinner was served at 1930h once again a bow to cooking staff who could manage finger licking food for all of us which included piping hot soup, noodles, fried rice and stir fried veg. Hats off. It continued raining till
Early morning stretching
8.Day 2, Trek to Tshoka. Even after sleeping for ages we were wide awake by 0500h. Morning tea was served at camp site only; thereafter we did our stretching exercise, by the way packing our sleeping bags were nothing less than a stretching. After a tasty breakfast of Pan Cakes and rice pudding, we set course to our destination by 0730h. Today’s trek was a gradual climb for an hour then a steep descend until you reach a hanging bridge, thereafter it is a continuous climb for an hour and half and you reach Bakhim. Here one can relax a while with a hot cup of tea or noodles from a local shop and not to forget the Haunted trekkers hut which is close by regarding which locals dare not to speak. Bakhim to Tshoka is gradual climb for another hour and half and you reach Tshoka, which gives you a amazing first view of Phandim peak. Today also Dr. Saikia and Bhushan were first one to reach in 4 hrs closely followed by we trio. By this time the fellow trekkers have named us three Musketeers since three of us (Rajnish, self & Vaibhav) used to be walking together with constant pace. Tshoka is one of the biggest location en route to Goechala where one can buy some useful winter clothing/kitting. Tasty momos, noodles and tea is available one can also get beer but it is not advisable to have it once you are on climb since it dehydrates your body. Sumptuous lunch was served with soup and popcorn. It rained in afternoon for an hour which was followed by clear sky and panoramic view of peaks, Yuksom and Pelling city. In the evening our chef surprised all of us by preparing Birthday Cake for Samarth which was amazing. The cake cutting was followed by
rounds of songs followed by dinner.
The snowfall at Tzongri
9.Day 3 Trek to Tzongri. We all got up at 0430h to experience our first sunrise at 9600 feet. The sunrise was nothing great but the view of peaks after sunrise, especially Pandim was breath taking. We were given packed lunch today. Today’s trail was difficult as well as beautiful at the same time, as it had steep climb amid blooming jungle of Rhododendron, supposedly and surely one of the beautiful trails for trekking in the world. Upon reaching Phedang one gets a reward of breath taking view of meadow and Pandim peak smiling at us.
From Phedang to Tzongri it is another 2 to 2 ½ hours climb. As usual Doc and Bhushan reached ahead of us. During this trail Devraj blacked out in between, coz of AMS. He wasn’t taking the prescribed Diamox medicine; he was recovered by the sweeping act of Brahma and Amit, our trek coordinator. The moment we reached Tzongri snowfall started, the helpers somehow managed to pitch our tents amid snow fall. It was an amazing life time experience. Samar went crazy as he was dying to see the snowfall since beginning of the trek. Snowfall continued till 1700h, it was 3 inches and gave a amazing view of the camp site and surrounding hills sow covered. By the evening the sky was clear and we all came out and got mesmerised with the view of snow covered mountains, trees and cliffs and captured it forever in our cameras.
Panoramic view en route to Thansing
10.Day 4, Trek to Thansing. The day began little early at 0400h with most of us leaving the camp to trek to Dzongri top for sunrise and early morning view of Kala top, Pandim peak, Kanchanjunga and other peaks, we skipped the trek to catch up with our sleep and secondly we were to follow the more or less same direction/route to , hence we couldn’t have missed much. After the breakfast our trek begin at 0800h to . Once we crossed the hill adjacent to Dzongri top, we experienced we have reached in a different world altogether. We were at 10,000 feet approx and mountains appeared to be of our heights. It temporarily instilled a feeling of mightiness in me before we moved further and encountered another climb and a never ending steep descend, I came down to mother earth and realised how trivial we are in front of the gigantic mountains, gushing stream and mighty sky. The steep descend tested the strength of our thigh muscles and took us to Kokchurang which was in a valley sort. Trekkers hut surrounded by tall pine trees and fresh water stream nearby was a scene of bollywood flick from eighties. After a rest for a while, once again we moved ahead and crossed to wooden bridges, stones and climbed further for an hour and half to reach Thansing. Once again doc and Bhushan reached ahead of us. Thansing was located in a valley with amazing view of snow covered mountains on one side and barren ones on the other side. The other side gave you the telescopic view of Pandim peak. It was windy by the time we reached; actually it was Gail with chill factor penetrating the bones. After quick lunch all of us confided to our tent and came out only in the evening by that time the gail had subsided but the temp was 2 degrees. The tour coordinator was contemplating to hit the Goecha la in the night itself so that we are there by early morning, but later on, he decided that we will move further to Lamuney and camp there before going to Goecha la.
View from Lamuney
11.Day 5, Trek to Lamuney.Lamuney was just 4 k.m. from Thansing, hence we started late around 0930h. Dr Raktim and Dr Manas decided to camp at Thansing only as they wanted to take rest and enjoy the scenic beauty for some more time. Hence, rest of us moved further to Lamuney and reached there in 2 ½ hrs. The moment we reached Lamuney it started snowing heavily. Our porters were still on the way and there was no shelter, few of us had umbrellas. We all cuddled up in three umbrellas to save ourselves from the heavy snow. Meanwhile, Brahma arrived and cheered us up to visit Samiti Lake. I wasn’t feeling great and had mild fever therefore, I decided not to climb Samiti and rather take some rest, Devraj and Nilavra also followed my suite. By the time our tents were pitched. While, we took some rest in tent our friends were hiking to Samiti amid snowfall. The entire team came back by 1600h to Lamuney, I was told the the view of Samiti was breath taking with blue water surrounded by fresh snow. The heavy snowfall continued compelling us to confide in the tent but, Brahma, Amit and Pemtuk served us tea and lunch in our tents only which was so touching, even the used plates were picked up by them. I was moved by the concern shown by the Indiahikes team at that altitude under difficult conditions serving with love and affection piping hot tasty food. Hats off!
Kokchurang after the snowfall
12.Day 6, Trek to Goecha la & back to Kokchurang. We were supposed to leave to Goecha la in the wee hour, but snowfall continued till late night delaying the movement; however the team set course at 0400h. Since I had fever in night, without taking a chance; I decided to take rest, and my colleagues also decided to give me company and decided to be together. I was moved by their concern, as they were so close to the destination and fit to climb, yet they decided to give me company. We all came out from our tents at 0700h as we could see the bright sunlight on snow covered mountain ahead of us. The view was breathtaking, amazing, fantabulous and what not. We captured the beauty in our camera from all possible angles with all sorts of poses. Later on, we realised that Saswati and Samarth have also dropped out. So, all five of us had some lovely time together with hot tea and breakfast in sub minus temperature. The team came back by 1000h after touching Goechala point 1 via Samiti Lake, except Bhushan and Sudip who decided to touch point 2, poor Pemtuk accompanied them. The journey back to Yuksom commenced same day at around 1130h, we were supposed to halt at Kokchurang the entire team reached by 1600h, it had started snowing by then. Later on we thought that we took wise decision of not to climbing Goechala as it gave us time to recoup and enjoy the beauty in solitude which others couldn’t, for them it was a long day. In Kokchurang we were accommodated in trekker’s hut which was by far cosy then the tents. All nineteen of us were divided in three rooms, lunch and dinner was served there only. The evening was spent gossiping and leg pulling Devraj who offered to cook chicken dish for all of us upon reaching Yuksom. The entire recipe was discussed in detail with each and every ingredient required for cooking few of us even named it as ‘Chicken Golu Masala’ as Devraj was given nickname of ‘Golu’ by fellow trekkers. This was one of the memorable evening for all of us as after Sanchen this was the only place where we all could gather under one roof and had a gala time, otherwise we were fighting the extremities of nature on rest of the days. For Imran Ahmed the night was more memorable coz of the Mice who bit him on his lips or rather smooched him, he was seen consulting doc in the morning for anti-rabies vaccine till someone joked that you don’t require anti-rabies for love bites.
13.Day 7, Trekking back to Tshoka.After the breakfast we all set course to Tshoka at around 0700h, the days trek was long approx 15 k.m. bypassing Dzongri. The trek for today was difficult after the snowfall, the snow had started melting and the path became slippery. It was a gradual climb of 3 hours or so and crossing 3-4 mountains till the time we reach Phedang, thereafter it was a steep descend for 2 hours or so. It had started drizzling making the descend more difficult for us. It took good 5-5 ½ hrs to reach Tshoka for doc, Bhushan and us for rest it was 7-8 hrs trek. After reaching Tshoka, we chilled are throat with ‘Hit and Densberg’ beer from local brewery of Yuksom owned by Danny. Every sip of beer gave us sense of achievement and pride that we have earned it. Rest of the lot reached Tshoka by 1700h. Most of us were tired that day and slept early without much of activity in the evening.
14.Day 8, Trekking back to Yuksom.Today’s trek was also long as we had to cover the double distance. After breakfast the first lot of trekker left the camp by 0730h, we reached Bakhim in 1h 10 minutes record time by taking short cuts. Without taking a break we continued descend towards third hanging bridge and reached there in 2 hrs. Thereafter it was a steep climb for half an hour or so, after that the trek was more or less gradual descend. Our lunch was planned near third bridge after Sachen, but we reached the destination by 1030h and we weren’t feeling hungry therefore we continued without wasting our time there or may be sense of completion was setting in us. We reached Yuksom around 1230h as usual doc and Bhushan were there to welcome us, they reached about ½ an hour before us. We took a cold shower under the sun, a shower after 8 days of sweating was worth it and gave me tremendous satisfaction. Immediately after the shower, we hit the shop behind Kabur lodge and ordered ‘Khichdi’ for us meanwhile we pampered ourselves with chilled beer. The ‘Khichdi’ was awesome. Nothing else could have satisfied our hunger better than ‘Khichdi’. After the delicious ‘Khichdi’ we ordered ‘Thumpa’ local wine delicacy made from fermented maize, ideal for tired trekker like us, oh! It was heaven. All the trekkers arrived by 1630h and in the evening on the insistence of everybody Brahma organised a party, the highlights were Beer and Old monk for drinkers and soft drink for ladies & easy goers. Devraj was suppose to cook chicken for us but none of us were in a mood to test his culinary skills, he was sidelined by Brahma to do some petty stuff while chef Vijay prepared some real delicious food including chicken for us. Later on, it was revealed that Devraj’s skill were utilised for garlic peeling and onion chopping. We ate, drank, laughed, taunted each other, to make the evening memorable forever. Then Brahma gave a vote of thanks from Indiahikes to all fellow trekkers and distributed certificates to all of us. It was a nostalgic moment for all of us, to top it all Brahma presented a cake on successful culmination of our trek prepared by our star chef Mr Vijay. I was the lucky one to get the golden opportunity to cut the cake coz despite being ill I completed the trek and the team spirit shown by colleague. It was such a touching moment which instilled a sense of achievement in all of us, I heartfelt gratitude to Indiahikes for giving 8 adventurous memorable days in our life which we will cherish forever.
Important tips for successful trekking
I want to share some of the tips for high altitude survival which I found to be quite useful during trek:
Start working out at least a month in advance specially cardio and if you can practice with a haversack with 7-8 kg nothing like it.
Familarise yourself with trekking route by asking others/ guide know your body limit and maintain your pace accordingly. There are no extra point/reward for reaching first to destination.
As far as possible keep your backpack as light as possible. Don’t carry unnecessary stuff which increases weight of your back pack. If required don’t hesitate and feel ashamed to ask for porter in advance to carry your backpack, remember you are going there to enjoy the nature, there are enough mules to carry your extra load rather than being one.
Eat light and at frequent intervals rather than stuffing yourself, carry mixed dry fruits in your pocket to give instant energy.
Compartmentalise things by keeping stuffs in jute bags and mark it for your convenience. Loose stuff could be kept in zip pouches e.g. personal kit, extra batteries, medicines etc.
Anti bacterial powder is must to maintain personal hygiene. I used to literally take bath with it before and after completing days trek. It prevents you from stink and protects you from germs.
Carry baby wipes rather than carrying huge roll of toilet papers for morning rituals I found it to be more convenient in using and carrying.
Don’t hesitate to start Diamox in advance as advised to avoid embarrassment and inconvenience at later stage. Remember AMS can hit anyone no matter you belong to Gama family or family of Superman.
While using sleeping bags provided in a trek, never enter in sleeping bag and zip up, it is inconvenient and claustrophobic rather lie down flat on your back and use the sleeping bag like a quilt, it gives you enough room to turn on sides and easy to get out while going out for loo in middle of night.
Stretching may sound stupid, but If you do our stretching in the beginning and end of the days trek it will help you in climbing, relax your muscle and relieve you from days fatigue.
Keep drinking water/fluid in small quantity throughout the day coz in high altitude with little physical activity one gets dehydrated very fast.
Feedback for the Goechala trek
The trek was ideally designed for the beginners like me and the distance was ideally distributed. First break at Sachen is mandatory for trekking enthusiast and beginners like me else one start hating it if you make him walk for 14-15 k.m on day one.
I found, on the D day of Goechala you require to add one more day for the trekkers to enjoy the nature and appreciate the beauty. I did enjoy and so did Raktim and Manas when we spoke to them. Otherwise it is a long tiring and toughest day for trekker coz there day begins at 0330h and 24 km nonstop walk till the time you reach Kokchurang and by then day is over, you hardly get time to breathe even where is a time to relax and enjoy at “the”point for which we all slogged.
Indiahikes presented a ‘good show’ in all the departments despite that it was their first trek in Goechala. The entire staff was humble and courteous. Specially I would like to mention Pemtuk who was like a guy with magic wand one can see him guiding the trekkers enroute, entertaining them with local stories and songs, providing physical help to the one who are at the verge of collapsing, encouraging and cheering up everybody with his innocent smile, helping in erecting the tents, other sundry jobs and finally providing room service sort to each tent with tea and food with in inclement weather. I would also appreciate Brahma and Amit who whole heartedly looked after each and every one specially during snowfall at Lamuney, Brahma himself went to each tent to give food and tea and later on collected the used plates also from the tent, I was moved with this kind of dedication, hats off and salute to each and every member of Indiahikes.
- Parent Category: Blogs
- Created on Thursday, 21 February 2013 18:30
- Published on Thursday, 21 February 2013 18:30
- Written by Nandita Singh
- Hits: 638
Trekking in the rain
Nandita Singh who recently trekked to Goechala with Indiahikes writes on how one can be equipped for trekking in the rain.
- Parent Category: Blogs
- Created on Sunday, 26 February 2012 18:30
- Published on Wednesday, 08 August 2012 18:30
- Written by Arjun Majumdar
- Hits: 7469
I give below a guide on how to choose a trek. Some of the treks in this list are my personal favorites but I have tried to be as unbiased as possible. I have also given a ready reckoner guide that you can download as a pdf to get everything in one place.
Two, trekkers (especially those who have done a Himalayan trek before) love the lofty heights of the Himalayas. The higher the altitude the thriller the trek is. Again, not all treks in this list go very high even though they are pretty. This is another factor that you need to think about.
Rupin Pass in Himachal: The trek to Rupin Pass is like a master musician playing out a concert. It starts with a murmur and ends in a crescendo – leaving a trekker delirious. This is a trek which can be repeated number of times without monotony setting in. The surprises on the trek are its highlights. Every day and every hour the scenery changes, sometimes so suddenly, that you need to look back just to check your bearings. The campsites of the lower and upper Rupin water fall are something out of movie sets. This is the only trek where you cross a river multiple times over snow bridges. In September-October the snow bridges would have melted, but the greens and browns of the meadows open up more.
For me, the pass crossing is the best among all our treks listed here. It has so much adventure and thrill thrown in that your heart doesn’t stop racing until you reach Ronti Gad, the camp site on the other side.
The Rupin pass trail has tremendous variety – in fact so much that I feel the trek is too much of a good thing for a trekker. Trekkers expect all treks to be like the Rupin!
On the other hand, the first two days of the Rupin pass trek are long (over 10 kms). To those not fit, the days can seem long and heavy. Also, getting to the base of the trek is a long road journey, sometimes bumpy – though the scenery makes up for the tiredness.
The Rupin pass trek for its thrill and variety gets a score of 4.5/5 from me.
Goecha La trek in Sikkim: A few things stand out in my mind about the Goecha La trail – and they are definitely the attractions as well. First, are the Rhododendron lined trails. If you get there in the first week of May when the Rhododendrons are in full bloom, the money you pay for the trek is worth its weight in gold. Next, are the sights of some of the world’s highest summits. Mt Kanchenjunga is so close that you can almost touch it. Mt Pandim and Kabru are a stone’s throw away. In no other trek in India do you get so close to major summits as you do on the Goecha La trail. Sitting by the blue waters of the Samiti will leave you mesmerized for a long time. Add to this, the exciting climb to the Goecha pass in the dead of the night gets your pulse racing (16,000 feet).
On the negative size, the trail is a national highway. Scores of trekkers take to this popular trail every day. Often you may be jostling for campsite space or a spot in the trekker’s huts. The trek does not have great meadows or clearings. Snow is very little on this trek even though it climbs to 16,000 feet.
Though it is a very high altitude trek I recommend it highly for first timers. The highlights of the trek make it extremely romantic. I give the Goecha La trek a score of 4/5.
This is the only trek in our list which doesn’t have any flip side.
This trek is perfect for first timers looking to taste high Himalayan adventure. I give Roopkund a score of 4.5/5.
Kedarkantha summit trek in West Uttarakhand: First, it is actually a trek for the winter. From the Chirstmas week of December until the first week of April, the upper slope of this trek (above 10,000 feet) is under several feet of snow. The snows start melting by the middle of April so timing the trek is important.
I love this trek for its terrific campsites and superb forests. Nestled in clearings, surrounded by either thick pine forests or a cover of snow, the campsites are straight out of picture postcards. I also love this trek for the fun of scaling a summit. The thrill of climbing to a highest point, even though easy makes it a complete package .
On the flip side the trek is short – four days. Physically, it won’t challenge a trekker who is used to more rigorous conditions.
The Kedarkantha trek, for its picturesque setting is a personal favourite and I give it a rating of 3.5/5. Take a look at 12 great photos of this trek in the photo contest here: Kedarkantha Photo Contest
Hampta Pass in Himachal: There’s lot of misconception about this trek. Many imagine it to be easy – just because it is suitable for beginners. It is not. The trek is moderately challenging. The long pass crossing on snow over the Hampta pass can wind anyone (depending on the amount of snow). The descent is particularly steep, almost like a cliff hanger. That’s where the fun is too. Hampta Pass has one of the best pass crossings in our country (if, again, you time it for snow). During the end of May, when snow lies wall to wall on the valley floor, the climb from Balu-Ka-Gera onwards, is a treat for the heart and soul. September onwards the moraines are exposed and a different kind of scenery opens up. The view on the other side of Hampta pass, almost over a cliff, is another world.
Two other attractions make Hampta pass a very hard to miss trek. One, its proximity to Manali allows you a lot of sightseeing opportunity before and after the trek. Two, at the end of the trek, an excursion to Chandrataal is almost a must do (provided the roads are open). To see the emerald blue waters of Chandrataal people throng to it from far and wide. But with the Hampta pass trek you can hop over to Chandrataal with not even an extra day in your itinerary.
As cons, the trek starts with a lovely pine and maple forest but the forest don’t last long. The meadows and clearings are pretty but not very large. After the pass crossing, it is generally a narrow trail over scattered boulder zones.
Though the trek is ok for beginners, do not discount the fitness required. The Hampta Pass trek gets a 3/5 from me.
Kashmir Great Lakes: Kashmir is vastly unexplored even by seasoned trekkers. It is only recently that the Kashmir great lakes trek has opened up. The buzz surrounding the trek is worth the talk. Simply put, the Kashmir great lakes trek is the most beautiful trek on our list. The trek runs into lakes after lakes, seven of them, all alpine, all turquoise blue, all of them surrounded by green glades.
All along the trek runs in and out of meadows and vast open plains, each of them uniquely different from each other. What steals the heart is the distinctly European setting of the whole trek with its maple trees, snow lined meadows and variety of colours.
Add the chance to throw in a sightseeing trip to Srinagar, Gulmarg, Phalgam and a stay in the house boats of Dal lake. With these added attractions, it is a complete adventure in Kashmir.
The only flip side to this trek is that there is no high point to get to. So the thrill of climbing to some point isn’t there. Just for this minor blip, the Kashmir Great lakes trek gets a 4/5 from me.
Note: Trekkers ask me if this trek is safe. There hasn’t been any report of untoward activity on this trail for many years.
Stok Kangri summit trek in Ladakh: There is no doubting that this is the most glamorous trek in India. In fact, when I did the Stok Kangri trek I was wondering whether I was in India – it had so much international feel to it. You are always bumping into international teams trying to make their way to the summit. At the Stok Kangri base camp, there could be over 50 tents and in all likelihood you’ll be the only Indian team attempting the summit that day.
Stok Kangri is also India’s highest trekable summit – which gives it the glamour. At almost 20,100 feet (6,125 mts), the trek climbs to dizzy heights. It takes a big effort to put a feet in front of another as you near the summit – so thin is the air. Yet, with all its energy sapping moments, the summit climb is an adventure of the highest order.
Even without the adrenalin pumping climb to the summit, the trek has a lot going for it. The trail snakes through the heart of Ladakh and within a span of few days a trekker gets to experience everything that Ladakh has to offer – barren landscape, jagged ridges, desert meadows, multiple coloued layers of mountains, deep canyons and blood red water in streams.
A note: there is a tendency to underplay the altitude of the Stok Kangri summit trek with a 5 day trek plan from most operators. It is dangerous and worse, you don’t get to see Ladakh. Do the full trail from Shang.
This glamour trek of Ladakh gets a score of 4/5. Add on Pangyong lake side trip to this trek and you can take the score to 4.5.
Chadar Frozen River Trek in Ladakh: If Stok Kangri is the most glamorous trek in India, the Chadar trek would a very close second. The frozen river trek in Zanskar in winter is supposed to be one of the toughest treks in the world. It is easy to see why.
Travel magazines worldwide show incredible pictures of Buddhist monks walking bare feet on the frozen river. The Discovery and the National Geographic channels have both made films on the Chadar trek. Suddenly, Chadar is a difficult but a glamorous trek to do.
The truth is that the conditions on the Chadar trek are something that is not difficult to beat. The extreme cold can be countered with multi layered clothing and a fit body. When I did the Chadar trek, I did not find the conditions as harsh as people described it. Along with me were 17 other trekkers who felt the same. Take a look at this video to get a better idea of the conditions: Chadar trek – busting some common myths
If you take away the cold and the harshness of the terrain, Chadar is not a difficult trek. It is an almost flat walk with some ups and downs. The terrain rarely makes you go breathless. But what Chadar has in its favour is its very unique experience – everything about it is unique: the scenery, temperature, atmosphere, the frozen river, sledges, unusual camp sites, caves and the ever changing Chadar. So unique that it has to be experienced. Simply put, Chadar is not a trek, but an experience. The trek stays in your mind for a long long time.
Just for its uniqueness, I give Chadar a score of 4.5/5.
The ready reckoner here will help to plan your treks better. Download the pdf if you want to study the chart together with a friend.
For you questions, comments and debate about the choice of summer treks, use the comments box below.
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