Welcome to the Himalayas- Pangarchulla, manifestation of beauty

We all sat huddled together in the cold in a large enough tent to accommodate 20 of us. The wind howled outside as we played a game, everyone rejoicing and in a hearty mood. I stood up and went outside. The rain drops fell on me as I looked upon the mountains from 11,000 feet and felt a contentment and bliss never felt before. The beauty of the place wrenched my heart. For a moment I stood transfixed, looking into the mountains’ snow. I felt warm droplets roll on my cheek. I came to know that these were not rain droplets racing down my cheeks. But they were something that leapt out of my heart as true as a song does when I am happy. The trek leader, who had come out to see to something, saw me, stood by my side and his voice resounded, “Welcome to the Himalayas.”

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In this I will be giving an account of my trek, just a small documentation of my own.

Before the trek, a small detour had been taken by me and my friend, Ruchir. As we were staying overnight at one of the holiest and religiously throbbing place, we thought of roaming around a little bit. Haridwar, even though 10 at night, was alive with tourists. The ghat was still illuminated and people still came and washed themselves in the water. On the banks of the ghat, we sat and had a deep conversation on the utility and meaning of human life. How it should be lived, how religion is being used as the string to make the puppet dance. What better place to have this conversation! As I talked about this with him, I came to know that even though people may not be equipped to read and understand philosophy, everybody has their own ideas and principles about life. We sat and listened to the river gushing by our feet and the toll of the bells of the temple. After this we went out and had the local food and the food served, especially a sweet dish, Gulab Jamun, was so delicious that it melted literally in our mouths. With lightning in the sky dazzling our eyes, we filled our tummies with a glass of lassi.

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The day our travel for trek started we got up early and went to Haridwar railway station. We met all the people and got into our vehicles. The journey started with a very humid atmosphere. We perspiring in the back of the vehicle, tried to keep the conversation on, but the journey itself was a whole day long. The journey started in the morning extending to evening, making us all sick of vehicles. But in the midst of all this rain came, descending on us a pleasant cold. We traced the Ganga starting from Rishikesh to Josimath from our vehicle. The trenches and curves through which the river flowed, a dazzling marvel. The way the mountains created a path so right and beautiful for the bountiful river to pass, made me envious of people living there. The day was otherwise unproductive except for the time when we stopped for tea in the midst of rain and we could see snow capped mountains in a small scale while the Ganga was flowing under our feet. We arrived at Josimath at 7 and were immediately greeted by our trek leader with a generic joke about Guajaratis. We were given hot tea and a briefing about the difficulties in trekking and how to let the body cope up with it. The end of the night came and all went to sleep with sheer enthusiasm for the next day.

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We started off in a vehicle in the morning to Auli which is about 14 kms away from Josimath. There we started our trek slowly, moving forward with our heavy backpacks. As we stood and looked back from 8200 feet, we saw mountain hidden behind clouds. The clouds brushing past the mountains and we stopped for rest at a place. The place was a small stall like shop. They served tea and being an Indian, drinking it became a necessity. DSCN0202.JPGWe pushed forward and made to the next resting spot, from there a forest started. A peaceful silence had descended on us and everybody moved through the forest quietly. A temple came to sight in midst of the forest. A small symbol of the deeply rooted faith in our society. The temple had that kind of an aura to it even the grand and lustrous temples of India couldn’t compete with. The trees, old and some moss covered were looking at the new pack of trekkers and showed us how the good trees were felled by humans even though there was a law protecting the forest from these things.

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The forest ended and we entered the Gorson Bugyal Meadows. The beauty was scenic and such elegance was showered upon us by nature that we stood there breathless, unable to take in so much beauty together. My friend said to me that he may cry any moment with joy over the wrenching beauty of the place. I was listening to his raving but my eyes had already watered up. The beauty transcended on us like something we had never seen. Living in a city maybe considered a necessity in today’s metropolitan life but the simplicity and the beauty can never be matched. We sat down in the meadows, opened our lunches in the middle of nowhere with just mountains and vast meadow to accompany us and ate heartily the biryani that had been so greatly made by the staff. Our hands freezing cold, dug into the hot biryani and the warmth was felt by each and every one as morsels of rice went down to the stomach.

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We started again, a little rejuvenated with food, towards our campsite. Then it started raining as we were ascending. We walked through the edge of mountains, where on one side it was rock Solid Mountain and on the other side a 1000 feet drop. The rain had made the path very slippery. While we struggled to keep our balance, the trek leader and accompanying leaders were walking as if they were born running on the edges of the slippery mountains. Even though our trek leader kept on boosting our spirit by telling us only half hour more, people were starting to get weary of the trek. In between a campsite did appear, figuring it is ours, everyone rejoiced. But the dream was soon shattered by our trek leader as the real campsite was still at least an hour away. A mirage seen by our mind laden with wet clothes and a heavy backpack. We walked on, wet and tired but still in a constant pace. Finally, we reached the campsite. People stood in one tent large enough, protecting themselves from the rain and exhaustion of walking. I stood for a second inside but didn’t find any meaning it because we were already wet and there was no point in standing inside instead of enjoying the beautiful campsite. The campsite was covered with trees from all the sides, a sole small opening in the middle where the branches of the trees made a circle. I stood there in the rain, a deep sigh came out. Rain and nature blended beautifully in my eyes as I stood marveling. The staff arranged our tents and we all went to our respective tents. We kept our clothes to dry inside our tent by using some kind of a tether, thanks to our tent mate, Ankur. The staff and the trek leader came personally to each and every tent to give tea and some food. Even though we had walked for 11 kms in ascension, they prioritised our comfort over their own. A massive respect for these people formed in our minds. Even though initially I thought they lacked management, they showed me otherwise by arranging everything so nicely in the rain, for our comfort. We gathered in the big tent, Dining tent, and had our dinner. Woke up in the morning to find that the rain had cleared and the campsite had developed an ethereal beauty, basking in the sunlight, filtering through the branches of the trees. The sun’s beams flirting with the droplets of rain remaining on the leaves. A group of people who were with us, left as they were saturated with such hard trekking and one of their members fell ill. We thus left our first campsite with an arduous day behind.

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The second day of the trek started and the whole day went relatively easy. We stopped at places to take rest, during which a conversation sparked up on the national pastime and passion, Cricket. We walked through the forest, with birds chirping and the eternal question hanging on our heads, “Who is better, Sachin or Ganguly?” The whole trek was easy and no rains came in the way. We reached the camp site talking about comics, superheroes and cricket. Our campsite, Khullara (11,200 feet), was a vast ground located in between the mountains. As we reached near the camp site, we could see many peaks like Dunagiri (23,000 feet) and Changabang (22,520 feet). Dunagiri, being historically important, as it is said that it is the mountain that Hanuman uprooted and flew away with. The vast ground was used by our trek leader, an avid fan of cricket, to gather all the trekkers in the vicinity and play cricket. Cricket, at the height of 11,000 feet. NEVER imagined doing that or even being a part of that in my life. The locals were such good players of cricket. Even though I have very little knowledge about cricket and its workings, I could see the genuine strokes that were made by them with bat made out of a tree trunk, not even having a proper striking face.

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It started raining after a while and we all gathered in the dining tent. We all played Mafia, an indoor game involving complex characters and one person playing God/host. We all huddled together as it was raining outside and strong winds blew, making our tents sway. But it didn’t make the rejoicing spirit that everyone had gained, waver. During the rain, I went outside and stood for a while with hands in my pockets, mountains in front and the dusk behind me. As I beheld the view, an urge came into my heart. A deep desire and an unquenching thirst. To stay at this place till I am tired of the view, till I am tired of nature. It was a time, when I was immersed only in myself; no one else mattered for that moment in front of the nature.

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On the third day, we were supposed to be moving to a different campsite called Gelgarh but due to bad weather and chances of hail storm, the plan was abandoned. So we stayed at our campsite. While the trek leaders and others continued to play cricket, I went on a hike with a trek mate. Just a short hike down the campsite of Khullara there was a meadow, from the middle of which a stream passed which was highlighted by white stones on its way. We walked alongside the stream with a childlike wonder as it seemed like a landscape straight out of a fairy tale. The stream flowed from the meadow while a single tree stood in middle of the meadow. We sat in silence, a word not being spoken, just wind brushing our cheeks. The day was shortened otherwise as summit climb was to be started at 1 midnight. We all ate and organised our backpacks. Then for 4-5 hours, we slept.

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The day for the summit arrived. We got up at 1 and as soon as anyone came out of their tents, they were awestruck. The night brimmed with stars, stars nobody had seen in their city life. The sky looked like a toy for a child, bright and colorful. People just stood outside, in the freezing cold, not caring about their bodies but totally immersed in the dazzling star light. The trek started and the night was windy. Fingers soon became numb as we reached near Gelgarh campsite; we were relieved that we had stayed at Khullara only. There was already a group of tents raised there, probably someone going for Kuari Pass. We walked on and reached a place from where sunrise could be seen. The sun coming out from behind the Dunagiri, the rays shooting across the sky, creating a show meant for our eyes only. We stood there and waited for the sun to come out and show itself. That was a morning not meant to be forgotten, but stored in the folds of the mind, reminding us of the aesthetic view.

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The ascent started and as we trudged on, we reached a place from where the Pangarchulla started. It was populated with huge boulders which had to be crossed to finally reach the base of Pangarchulla. It was a kilometer stretch covered only with rocks. The snow from previous day had melted, leaving the stones a little slippery. Very carefully, we moved ahead, all thanks to the trek leader and accompanying leaders. They helped each and every one of us cross the boulders too high or steep enough for us. As we covered the main part of the boulder section, everyone got tired and wanted to stop right away. Energy was low and so was morale. But Tanmay would not take no for an answer and wanted to take everyone up. My friend fed up with hunger, took out an apple and ate it in middle of the climb, a phenomena that is rarely seen.

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We trudged on and reached to the part where the rocks were covered with fresh snow. We walked carefully with micro spikes, helping us stay balanced. The snow was fresh, thus it made the going all the more difficult. Every step we made took our feet into the snow till our whole leg was buried in it. We walked in this manner, everyone’s shoes filled with snow and feet numb.

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We finally reached the peak’s low point and were only 100 metres away but couldn’t climb up to the summit for the weather wasn’t good. We all had lunch there, sitting at a peak, 14,700 feet above and looking at the Garwhal Himalayas with tired yet joyful eyes.We started descending, during which came the hard part. Descending in snow was difficult and arduous. The snow was fresh making it difficult to walk over it without slipping or getting your leg stuck in inches of snow. If one may slip he or she could get injured by the jagged ends and irregular rocks. But as difficult as it sounds it was that much fun. We literally slid on the snow, bumping our feet and hinds on the rocks. We again reached the boulder section. The toughest and painstakingly slippery part in the whole trek. But while returning the rocks were dry and less slippery, letting people make a fast retreat. In the middle of that, snow fell and we all stood trying to catch the flakes with our mouths and hands. We completed the boulder part and two of our people had grown tired. One of them, being middle aged had knee problems while the other had a fever going on for a while. Carrying the body seemed like drudgery to everyone, but reach, we had to. After some time the team split up, people who could go fast went ahead while the rest stayed behind. The last people were little sick, making them go slower. Tanmay waited for everyone at a spot so that he could help, but soon a radio call from the camp site made him go faster and reach the camp site to help the trekkers who were sick. He covered the entire distance in about 10 minutes while every other person was clocking it at 45 minutes. The stamina and speed of these people made me wonder about my own health. I and another guy were the last people to reach the camp site as the guy was feverish and couldn’t walk fast. We were greeted by the staff with hot tea and roti rolls. They hailed all of us for reaching the summit like we had done a fine achievement when we knew they could do the climb in 4 hours for which we took almost 14 hours. All tired, silently had dinner and went to sleep.

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The next morning everyone got up and packed their bags and unhitched their tents. The descent started. Everybody was happy in some way that previous day’s ordeal was over and now the descent was the easy part. But from my heart, I felt sad. Seeing the Khullara stadium empty, leaving the view that I had grown accustomed to, even if only for a few days, filled my heart with melancholy. A particular moment keeps coming on in my mind where the trek leader, Tanmay, told us about the true mountaineering spirit, how he and his brother went to a mountain where his uncle had died of an accident, how even though denied permission from family they went up and reached the summit and how the thrill and the bittersweet taste of happiness amalgamated with sadness from the death of their beloved uncle. The descent otherwise was quick and from there we went in a vehicle back to Josimath, to our rooms. That night, we had our last briefing. A briefing that encompassed laughter, joy, sorrow and most of all welcomed the trekking spirit in every person in that room. The trek leader’s jokes and the sarcastic comments made by Amarbhai were remembered by each and every one of us. The room filled up with felicity, every light shining a little brighter in eyes of people who had shared an experience together never to be forgotten. As people left the room one by one, the room at last stood empty. I stood looking at the depressed cushions of the chairs and the uneven manner they were left in. I went to the room, had a hot bath at 11.30 of the night, went out on the porch and sat. One of the people came and sat with me, told me to never stay in one place for a long time even though it makes you sad. Because moving on is what keeps life going. No matter what the situation is. And at that moment, the silence of the room came gushing into my heart as I stood transfixed, for the trek had come to an end.

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