I am an avid trekker of the Sahyadris, but had long yearned to trek in the Himalayas as well. Freed from corporate constraints while between jobs, this calling was finally answered. You could melodramatically say that the Gods themselves beckoned me to their abode – Har Ki Dun – the valley of Gods.
Traversing a different terrain and conditions came with its own learning curve. I committed blunders throughout the journey that exposed some hard truths as well as embarrassing lapses in common sense. The Himalayas humbled me in their inimitable and subtle style, and also bestowed upon me a new perspective and outlook.
Reaching Sankri, the Base Camp:
Various thoughts flowed like the river Tons, that was by our side on the road from Mussoorie to Sankri like lack of fulfilment from the earlier job, squabbles with friends and uncertainty about what lay ahead. However, the infectious jolliness of a Gujarati family of trek mates snapped me out of such gloomy contemplations. I drew a smile on my face and resolved that, for now, I will only enjoy the trek.
Having prior trekking experience and habitually going on long walks, I was (over-) confident that I will be able to trek with ease. I had very coolly scrolled right over the fitness recommendations. Also, I had listened intently to my relative, the only source I had relied onto gather information about trekking in the Himalayas, and followed him to the T. What could possibly go wrong? All will be well.
Just then, I realized that I had forgotten my fleece jacket in Mussoorie! I knew I would have to brave the cold by layering up with the garments in hand. I braced myself for the discomfort and remained cheerful.
We caught up with other trek mates on reaching Sankri. Post our introductions and briefing, we retired to bed elatedly. Aunty from the Gandhi family was a physiotherapist. On learning that I am not hiring a porter, she asked with concern as to whether I will be able to carry my own bag. I was slightly confused and affronted at her doubt of my capability. But I shrugged it off, told her that yes, I will haul my own luggage, and went to sleep in joyful anticipation. My dream was finally coming true the next day.
Days 1 and 2: Taluka to Chilurgad and Chilurgad to Har Ki Dun
And what a fine and fun start it was to the trek! The driver indulgingly allowed us to travel from Sankri to Taluka on the roof of his jeep. Giggling at every jolt and turn and sparring with leaves of overhead trees, we reached the mouth of the trail. River Supin received and accompanied us towards our destination for most of the part.
We climbed natural stairs of boulders, trudged through green forests, crossed bridges, witnessed a number of charming mini-waterfalls and played with goats. The chattering and excitement soon wore off. A sense of solemnity and calm took over. As our breathing became more laborious, it made us focus deeply on every step we took and soak in the surroundings.
Another sensation also slowly creeped up on me – an excruciating backache! While I remained enchanted by the beauty around me, the pain was like an unignorably annoying pebble in the shoe. These first two days were mostly an ascent. I kept pitifully asking the guides, “chadhai aur kitni hai?”. Like every mountain guide, they always said, “bas aur thoda”.
In every adventure activity you undertake, at some point a small voice admonishingly questions the reason for undertaking such an endeavour in the first place. How comfortable and pain free I would have been had I just stayed at home, being watching a TV show. A reality check had hit me. My fitness was not what I imagined it to be and that I should give it due attention.
Soon the ascent was over. For real. The forest faded away, gusts of cool wind kissed us, and the majestic Har Ki Dun valley unfolded before our eyes like a dramatic revelation.
I found the answer to my “why did I come here” question.
Among the mountains flanking the valley, we beheld Swaragarohini - the mountain the Pandavas climbed to reach heaven. I did not feel inclined to seek heaven too, though. I felt like I was already there.
Our campsite at Har Ki Dun was nestled between gigantic peaks. It was as if the Gods had gathered around us on reaching their dwelling, asking if it wasn’t too much trouble getting here. I chuckled and said, “no, just a slight backache from the bumpy ride!” :D
I asked Aunty to teach me some exercises to soothe my agony, and she very kindly obliged. That’s when she revealed the reason for her apprehension in my ability to lift my bag. She had suspected that my core was probably not very strong, and sweetly recommended that I strengthen it before going on a trek next time. I thanked her sheepishly and duly noted her advice.
Day 3: Excursion to Marinda Lake
The sun was shining as brightly as my happiness at having to carry only a day pack today. We were going on an excursion to Marinda Lake. Plodding on that brown trail, getting charmed by pink flowers hanging from trees and observing subtle changes in the scenery as we gained more altitude. Today will most certainly be a cake walk, I prophesized.
However, the mountains humbled me yet again. Blindly relying on my relative’s advice, without doing on research of my own, I believed I could do without a down jacket. As we climbed higher, the wind got stronger and chillier. My shivering was comical and sad at the same time.
But just as the mountains reprimand you, they also reward you in equal measure. As we neared the lake, the surroundings went on increasing in their vastness, as if I was shrinking physically. I came to a sublime and resounding realization that the world IS. SO.BIG.
My mind reminded me that I had not dwelled on my troubles. I started in that direction, only to find nothing waiting for me. In the face of the massive expanse that enveloped me, if not my body, the enormous boulders of my burdens had certainly been reduced to mere granules.
All will indeed be well, I felt. This time, with conviction.
Marinda Lake was a pool of exquisitely coloured water, spilt at the feet ofan interestingly shaped, hugerock. Pensive appreciations of the setting were interrupted with someone starting a snow fight. Exhausted, all of us later posed for silly pictures, smiling whole-heartedly, with not a care in the universe.
Days 4 and 5: Har ki Dun to Osla and Osla to Sankri via Taluka
In the spirit of owning up to bloopers, I now admit that I had thought it would be a good idea to wear ankle socks with trekking shoes.My intellect had obviously turned its back for a second. By the last two days, my silently and respectfully protesting shoes bites had turned violent and out rightly called me a doofus.
We started our return journey on a slightly altered route, this time through the intriguing little village of Osla. The strenuous lives of the people put a city person like me to shame, and their happy-go-lucky attitude, despite the inconveniences they faced, made me envious. Wooden houses with intricate carvings, built in a location as inaccessible and hostile as this, was an astounding architectural feat. I was also surprised to see solar panels mounted on the thatched roofs. Then again, this was a village that had a temple dedicated to Someshwar. Fascination turned into dispassionate acknowledgement of the way of life here.
I entertained the prospect of forsaking city life tolive in a village like Osla. The people here led difficult but wholesome and content lives. But to be cut-off from the rest of the world? Given my upbringing, such isolation was unfathomable to me. I shuddered and moved along.
My trip to the heavens was over. I was to once again re-incarnate into an urban dweller, with a clean slate.
I could not escape the consequence of karma, though. My backache had aggravated to muscle atrophy. Three months of wearisome sessions of physiotherapy sensitized me to the gravity of staying physically fit. But I also underwent shopping therapy by purchasing quirky long socks and a lively red down jacket.
Despite the well-deserved kicks on my caboose for under-estimating trekking, I had fallen under the spell of the Himalayas. I visit them regularly, now. In their midst, blaring dilemmas are silenced and the colourful, all-consuming petty worries lose their charm. The mountains are an emphatic and liberating reminder that we are just a wave in an infinite ocean. All we have to do, is savour the ride.