" Because all I will be is a memory someday "
October 2015. Nariman Point, Mumbai
Over fifteen months had passed since the college had last ended and the wild and free animals within us were tamed and chained in the zoo, which otherwise is known as the corporate cubicle. It had been more than seven months since I had even talked to him, but then that’s how bros are. We don’t need to talk or meet more often. One meet is more than enough to plan a Legen - wait for it - …..
The decision was made just a few minutes after we met.
- 2-3 Weeks off from work.
- Some trek in Uttrakhand.
- Backpacking North India.
Called up another bro, back in Chennai. Without any hesitation, he too was in. This was our first - Yes first trek ever in life. (Hadn’t even done the simple ones near Pune in Maharashtra). And here we were planning to trek in the Himalayas on our own! But then what else do you expect from emotionally charged bros who were meeting after ages?
Stairways to Heaven
The bro from Chennai could not make it because of the floods and heavy rains in the East coast of India. It was a difficult decision for us as the most experienced guy in the gang had dropped out. The tickets were booked, parents flawlessly convinced and urge to break free from this mundane life that led us to Delhi via Duronto Express on the
11th of December 2015. After reaching Delhi the following day, we quickly rushed to the cloak room on the railway station to get rid of our heavy trekking gears. The next train - Nanda Devi Express was due midnight and we had close to 6 hours to kill. We braced the streets of Delhi, walked up to Rashtrapati Bhavan from India Gate, ate chat, parathas, sweets, and cookies on the streets of Delhi.
12th December 2015. 5:45AM.
The cold winds of North welcomed us as we walked out of the Dehradun railway station. We were looking for a ride to a small village called Purola, from where our trek guide would join us. With hardly any tourists or trekkers to share the ride, the cab seemed to be an expensive affair (~6000 INR). So, in the end, we decided to hop into the stingy state bus which took longer time but cost us little more than 450 bucks to get there.
We picked up Prakash, at Purola and got into the only cheap option left to us - a private bus from Purola to the base camp, Sankri (located at 6000 feet in Govind National Park, Dehradun). Accustomed to Virar local in Mumbai, I was used to sharing my seat with people but this bus journey also taught me to share my seat with a GOAT! - Yes, a freaking Goat sat next to me for close to 5 hours!
Sankri hosts as the base camp for many treks in the Govind National Park. Kedarkantha and Har-Ki-doon being the most famous ones. Legend says that the Pandavas walked on these very trails of Har-Ki-Doon to reach the heaven. Though it was only Yudhishthira and a dog that ascended to the door that leads to the heaven - Swargrohini- A steep snow clad beauty that can be viewed from the top of Har-Ki-Doon.
We being the devils weren’t looking to enter the Heaven but just enjoy the Stairways which lead to the heaven.
We started our trek from Taluka with Prakash and another solo trekker who became friends with us the other day. Shivering in the early cold weather, I had worn almost all the layers I had carried only to shed them off when my body started sweating just a few minutes into the trek! There were some very steep climbs but overall it was a pleasant and a leisurely hike. The solo trekker had some back pain and decided to return back to the base camp to avoid any further damage to his back. We reached, Prakash’s house in the small village of Osla at the height of 9000 feet and 14 Kms away from Taluka. It took us several sore muscles and an entire day to reach there. The village had an elusive charm. It looked timeless - as if it had been standing there for ages. Some say the villagers are the descendants of Kauravas. The ancient temple of Duryodhan still stands tall to corroborate this claim!
Har-Ki-Doon was still 12Km and 3000 feet hike from Osla. The weather had taken a turn for worse and villagers warned us not to trek in this weather. The inclement weather had forced several trekking groups with sophisticated gears than us to return back. We decided to leave things to fate and went into a deep slumber to rest our aching bodies. I woke up at midnight to answer the nature’s call. I walked out of the house in pitch darkness only to be lit up by the milky way! The uncanny silence and the chilling winds were both eerie and beautiful. For a moment, I forgot the purpose of my outdoor visit and just stared at this engulfing Sky - so humbling and so divine it was - words will fall short to describe that feeling.
A road less traveled
14th December. 10:30 AM
Indiahikes and other trekking groups usually take around 6 days to summit Har-Ki-Doon. With fewer resources and no luxury of snow tents or fuel, we had to shoot for Har-ki-Doon without any halts or night stays. We began pretty late, thanks to Wagle, who seemed to be constipated that day! We started to trek under the scorching sun and snow clad trails at around 10:30 AM.
2-3 Kms into the trek, I was panting and seemed to be burned out. Every step seemed like a mile. We settled down at a deserted Dhaba, which is otherwise beaming with people in the summer. A call had to be made, if we wanted to return, it had to be now. With no medics, satellite phone or any means of help, it seemed obvious to respect the mountain and go back. It was a difficult choice to make but after some debate and discussion, we decided to just ascend for next 30 minutes, settle down there for some time, have lunch and return back to Osla.
It sounded perfect, but little did we know what lie ahead of us. 20 minutes later came a steep and curved climb covered with fresh ice. Just narrow enough to allow one person, it was a 1000 feet fall into the chasm on the other side. With no crampons, ice axe or sturdy trekking poles, it seemed like a suicide plan. The weather had not only frozen our limbs but also our brains and we attempted this with a wooden stick and our guide’s help.
Phew, we survived and the view after the treacherous climb was so breathtaking that the adrenal rush in me told me to continue the trek even if I could barely walk - one inch at a time!
14th December. 5:30 PM
Days are shorter and even more so in the mountains. The plan to continue hiking was turning out to be a disaster. I was slowing down Wagle and Prakash, who were also carrying half of my luggage by now. Time was running out, any mishap here could be fatal. The sapped out mind and body also knew this and was already operating on its survival mode. With hand gloves lost and jackets stuffed inside the bag (had removed heavy jackets earlier as it was warm in the noon), the frigid winds were now chilling our bones. But there was not even time to be wasted in removing a jacket and another glove. Any further delay could cost us our life.
14th December. 6:30 PM
After 8 hours, 12 Kms and 3000 feet we reached Har-Ki-Doon ( at ~12,000 feet altitude) in near darkness. Prakash gathered some firewood and ice for cooking while Wagle and I put our feet straight into a fire like a BBQ. The first-degree frostbites had made our fingers numb. The sweat in the socks was also frozen. We just kept quiet and stared at the fire while Prakash was melting some snow to cook maggie. It was the closest that we had come to death and this very feeling that we were alive was both satisfying and infuriating. After what seemed like an eternity, I broke the silence -
” Don’t you think this would be a hell of a story for our grandkids someday? “
15th December. 8:30 AM
If there was any wise decision we had made in the entire trek than it was the decision to descend down and not take rest at Har-ki-Doon. Just four hours after we left the place, we could see the very place we were taking selfies at, to be shrouded in the mist and snowfall.
15th December. 1:30 PM
The descend was quick and less taxing. We met a young shepherd, barely 9-10 years old around 5 Kms away from Osla. Little concerned, we asked Prakash to talk to him, but the boy ensured us that he is fine and his father is on his way. Seeing another person after so many hours filled us with a hope that the home is not so far now. We kept our bags down and started taking selfies again. After what seemed like a long photoshoot we realized that the guide was not in the vicinity. We called for him, yelled only to hear our echoes back. Although we hadn’t eaten much our stomachs churned badly. This was no good place to get lost.
Luckily we remembered the place we met the young Shepard. We went back looking for the boy and were lucky enough to find him at that very spot. He guided us down the hill where Prakash was waiting for us. Although it wasn’t far, it surely wasn’t an easy and obvious trail and with the loud river gushing by, it was next to impossible for him to hear our cry for help!
We finally reached Osla by 3:30 PM. Called up our parents after 3 days into the wild. We were glad to hear that we were the first tourists who summited Har-ki-Doon that winter. Even the Indiahikes camp was canceled and rescheduled due to bad weather.
Down and alive
16th December. 3:45 PM
After another day of descending we finally reached Taluka by tea time! The heavy snowfall that had started at Har-ki-Dun had finally reached Taluka where I experienced my first ever snowfall. Saying that we were lucky would have been an understatement now!
Oh, forgot to mention we finally took a bath on this day after almost 5 days!
The journey didn’t end here. This was followed by
- 2 Days exploring Dehradoon.
- Going half way to Mussoorie, just to have food at a restaurant having rating of 4.9/5.0 on Zomato.
- Going to Rishikesh. Free fall from 300 feet height - Bungee jumping. (Still can’t forget how the guy butt-kicked Wagga)
- Haridwar. Attended the vibrant Ganga Aarti there.
- Checked in at a cheap hotel in Agra at 4:30 AM. Visited Taj Mahal after a nap. Got kicked out early morning,4:30 AM the next day, in this cold winter as the hotel had “24-hour check-in policy”. Now I know why they built a mental hospital in Agra.
- Finally back to Delhi. Visited the historical places and of course hogged on the street food of Chandni chowk!
Things I’ve learned from this trip
I know there are people who would have more crazy stories and experiences to narrate but then I am not here to sell my story. I am here to just share an experience that has made me value so many little things in life which I used to take it for granted. It saddens me to see that the next generation would hardly even get a chance to see the true beauty of our nature, although I am sure what I saw was hardly a fraction of what it used to be some decades ago. It is up to us to preserve our mother earth.
Sitting in a comfortable couch with every possible amenities a click away, we are cribbing for pointless things and there I saw people in the village of Osla, hiking for miles even in their illness to fetch water. Traveling and meeting people, hearing their stories has made me value my life more. I feel even more gratitude for things which I did not perceive, forget about appreciating it before!
I remember cursing myself when I was completely drained and exhausted, promising myself never to go for a trek again, and here I was six months later on another Himalayan trek with my Mom (again a first-time trekker !). I wonder at times why do I hate it but in the end, I end up loving it more than ever. That is when I remember that
” We are animals in a true sense and the wild will always beckon us. “
Still waiting? ………DARYYYYYYY TRIP!
Feel free to contact me if you are planning a trek to Har-ki-Doon and would like to know more about it. Contact Prakash Rana if you’re looking for a personal guide. He conducts many other treks, some of them with his father too. Happy trekking and exploring :)