Sunday, September 7, 2014

Kuari Pass - My first Himalayan Trek

"The Mountains are the best medicine for an egoistic human. Once a man comes to the mountains, he has no choice but to surrender and let go of his ego"

Kuari Pass - My first himalayan trek

The months leading to the trek – The Preparation :
It all started when I saw a five week gap between the April and May release in my client’s release calendar. Having cancelled my Kedarkanth trip owing to an accident, I had an IndiaHikes voucher and suddenly a trek to the Himalayas seemed a lot more realistic.
The next step was to get my leaves approved in office. I decided that I would take 7 days leave in total and approached my manager telling him about my plans. He looked at the calendar few times to make sure that there was nothing in between and immediately agreed on the condition that I give a proper handover and make a checklist of things to be done while I was gone.
It was then that my friend Gopal walked in and I told him about my plans and casually asked him if he wanted to come. He immediately agreed to it and seemed very excited about it. There arose the problem. I was not sure if both of us could get our leaves approved. We immediately spoke to our manager about it and he seemed quite apprehensive about it but nevertheless wanted to help us. He asked us to send an email detailing our plan and I sent that out immediately. Finally in the evening, I came to know that both our leaves were approved and we were good to go.
We booked our tickets from Chennai to Delhi to Haridwar and reserved our spot on the Bagini glacier exploratory trek which was supposed to begin on 26th of April.
We drew a checklist of items that we had, that could be sourced from others and the ones that had to be brought and a week prior to the trek, we were all set and ready to go.

On the Wednesday before the trek, we received a mail from IndiaHikes saying the Bagini trek had been called off due to some local issue with the villagers and that we would have to do the Kuari pass instead. All of us took it in our stride and did not let it dampen our spirits.
Gopal and I took the 5 PM flight from Chennai to Delhi and took the 11:30 PM train from Delhi to reach Haridwar where we met Mansi our first friend on the trek.

Day 1 –
After a brief visit to Har Ki Pauri ghat in haridwar, we assembled at the Haridwar station at 6 AM where all of us got introduced to each other. The 18 of us got into 3 separate Sumos and off we started towards Chepna which was about 260 kms away.
I slept happily for the first few hours waking up only to have breakfast at Byasi. We continued to motor our way passing through 4 different prayags . Prayags are places where 2 rivers join. The first one called the Devprayag is where the Alaknanda and bagirathi join and from there on it goes by the famous name Ganga. The subsequent prayags are Rudraprayag, Karnaprayag and Nandaprayag where the Alaknanda is joined by Mandakini, Pindari and Nandakini respectively. The raasthe (hindi word I learnt for route) though being rich in history was made boring and strenuous by the continuous holes and bumps. Not to mention the old hindi songs that kept going on the music system. After a very long 8 hours travel through the prayags stopping enroute for lunch and chai, we finally arrived at Chepna (20 kms from Ghat) where we could spot the first camp site that was ready for us. The sight of the yellow tents against the green and brown background of the mountains bought into us a sense of initialization. At last, our trek had started.
We assembled around our tents where Ravinder, our trek leader, addressed us and instructed us on what we should expect for the next few days and how we should be absolutely disciplined, punctual and not have any timepass talk with the guides or him. It was all too formal and strict for me. All my earlier treks were totally chilled out and we never had any such instructions. I thought this was going to be like some military camp and he was going to be the strict officer. Thankfully he turned out to be a chilled out guy later on! It was probably protocol to sound strict on the first day just like all teachers do on the first day of school. Once the briefing was done, we retired to our tents and dozed away.

Day 2 –

First camp site seen in the background
We woke up at 5:30 in the morning and after finishing our morning rituals we assembled for breakfast at 7 and started our trek. We walked through a fairly wide path that took us from 1500 metres to 2900 metres through the villages of Ghoni and Ramani. It was a very tiresome climb and I found myself out of juice halfway through the climb.

The clear views of Mt. Trishul kept me distracted from the treacherous climb. I finally reached the campsite at Fuda at about 2:30 in the afternoon which was a big expanse of grassland amidst fern topped trees. The scorching sun and the pangs of hunger triggered my migraine and I slept through the rest of the afternoon in my tent. We went to the ridge nearby in the evening for 270 degree views of the snowcapped massifs and saw the sun sink behind the mountains. We spent the rest of the day talking away and post dinner went early to bed.

2nd Campsite:

Day 3 –
This was a day of steep descents. From our campsite at Fuda, we initially climbed steeply to 3100 metre which was the highest point for the day and started descending. It was a very monotonous descent through a forest and even though the trail was wide and marked, the loose stones and even stones demanded our full concentration.

We reached a small water fall halfway down the descent and I wasted no time in getting myself a bath. The brain freezing bath was so refreshing and rejuvenating that all tiredness vanished the instant I put my head under the waterfall. We continued our descent and by the time we reached our camp site put up in a village called Jhinji Pani, it was almost 3 PM and to our dismay we found that the campsite was put up in a ground which was probably used by the mules for their pooping business. It was a very mediocre campsite with absolutely no views of the mountains or valleys whatsoever. The saving grace for the day was the limited views of Beether Toli, Neelkant and Chaukamba peaks on the way and of course the tang that I served everyone as soon as they arrived at the camp site. I don’t remember another instance when I was thanked so much.

We spent the evening playing Dumb C with movie titles. A must mention is Mayuresh’s acting of Honeymoon Travels Pvt. Limited. We weren’t able to light a very big camp fire that night so all of us retired early.

3rd Campsite:

Day 4 –
Owning to the steep descent the previous day, few more backpacks found their way to the back of the mules. We continued the descent from where we left the previous day to the base of the hill where we could hear the Jhinji River roaring down the valley. The force was such that it threatened to sweep away anything that came in contact with it. As soon as I saw the hanging bridge which we were supposed to use to cross the river, I jumped in excitement. It had been on my wish list for so long to walk across a river on a hanging bridge.

The best way to enjoy the experience on a hanging bridge as I found is to sit on the edge of the bridge, hold the rails and put your legs down facing the river and sway along with the bridge. We then started our climb. Having descended so much, we had to climb an equal amount and it was starting to get very tough around midday. We halted at another beautiful waterfall to have lunch. The gentle water falling from a height of about 15 metres was the best shower anyone could get. After having a quick bath and yummy lunch, we set out, ascending again. An hour later when I was almost tired and exhausted, there was a flurry of excitement among the trekkers who were in front of me. They had spotted the campsite. Where I asked frantically? They pointed in the air and said there. As my moved my eyes in the direction they pointed, I saw the yellow camps perched high up on the mountain. Why the fuck did the campsite have to be that high.

The yellow dot just below the saddle was where the campsite was put up
Coming back to terms with reality, I started climbing slowly and steadily towards the campsite. Every time I looked up, the camp site looked back mockingly and it looked farther each time. Finally I reached the campsite at about 2:45 PM. The views of Beeter Toli from the camp site were nothing short of magnificient. We spent the next few hours playing A R Rahman songs which perfectly blended with the mood we were in and started with our signature Dumb Charades.

4th Campsite:

Day 5:
The previous night, I found it very hard to sleep. I kept having nightmares and woke up often. Every time I woke up, I was sweating badly and feeling very thirsty. Later in the morning Ravi explained this condition as sleep hypoxia, a condition where the breathing rate goes down and then comes back to normal. That explained the sweat and the thirst! We then started walking along the ridge of the mountain where the trail was very gradual along beautiful meadows. After a while we reached a point from where we could see a beautiful water fall in the valley below. The trail to the waterfall was literally non-existent due to a very recent landslide. The challenging descent was the highlight of the day. Once we reached the valley and looked up, we couldn’t believe that we had come down this way.

The most adventurous descent of the trek

After spending a while at the falls, we continued to ascend for an hour before we had lunch. The delicious maggi for lunch and the power nap helped me recharge and I covered the rest of the ascent pretty quickly. The camp site for the day was Lower Dhakvani from where we would attempt the kuari pass the next day. Evening flew in a jiffy as we sat around the campfire, roasting almonds and playing dumb charades. Only this time we enacted brands ranging from Ferrari to north indian masala brands which I cannot recall. That night, sleep hypoxia played spoil sport again and the next morning I woke up a bit grumpy.

Campfire roasted almonds !
5th Campsite:

Day 6 – Kuari pass –
Day 6 of our trek was supposed to be the most important day. For this day, we had travelled over 40 kms over treacherous terrains. We were to cross over Kuari pass – the mission of our trek.
I started ascending towards the pass pacing myself slowly. It was one of the longest and steepest ascents of our trek. At first I was at the back of the group, walking slowly but never stopping in between. Determined not to stop, I kept walking while others took a break.

Kuari pass is the saddle seen in the pic
Finally towards the end of the ascent I was just behind Kunal and Gopal who had already reached the pass and were shouting in glee. Their faces irradiated a degree of happiness that I had not seen before. It was as though they had seen something very beautiful and enlightening. Not wanting to waste even a single moment, I started running and once I reached the pass, I wasn’t able to catch breadth. It had probably stopped. The entire world froze before me. My heart might have skipped a beat. Hell, it might have skipped a dozen. The beauty of the snowcapped mountains and the valley below was one of the most beautiful scenes I had ever seen. It was so intimidating that I surrendered before its might. At that point, nothing ever mattered to me. All that I had achieved so far seemed very small. At that point, I just sat down and wrote 

“The Mountains are the best medicine for an egoistic human. Once a man comes to the mountains, he has no choice but to surrender and let go of his ego”

Even more wonderful was to see the faces of my friends who were reaching the pass. Chinmayi, the most expressive among us, was all tears. Once the feeling sunk in and it was time to move, the guides briefed us on how to tread in the snow. I was very excited about walking in the snow but I soon found out that it was very difficult and a pain in the ass - literally given the number of times I fell down. We crossed the pass and had lunch at a dry spot. Post lunch, we had lots of fun sliding on the snow and descended down to our next campsite at Kulara. The campsite offered stunning views of the majestic Drunagiri peak. As we sat around the campfire, it suddenly started drizzling heavily and there was a heavy breeze which forced us to stay inside our tents. We then had a quick dinner and retired early. That night I slept well. I had probably acclimatized to the altitude.

6th Campsite:

Day 7 –
The last day of our trek was pretty laid back and we walked slowly along the ridge to reach Auli. The walk on the ridge was along a narrow trail. The mountain side was so steep that if we stepped out of the path, we would land directly in the valley 200 metres below. Gopal and Mansi, who were acrophobic, were having a tough time as they were walking slowly and others had a good time watching them.

Post lunch, the weather seemed to turn tides. It started drizzling now and then and the sky behind us looked black and threatening. We could see bits and pieces of the beautiful Nanda Devi but the clouds were still blocking most of her. We hoped we would be able to see it before we completed the trek.
Finally by late afternoon, when we had almost reached Auli, the clouds drifted apart and the gorgeous Nanda Devi appeared before us. It was as though she decided that we deserved this gift for the days of toil that we had put in. Words and pictures are not enough to describe her.

The magnificent Nanda Devi as seen from Auli
And we finally descended to Auli where we checked in to a small hotel. Post a quick hot water bath, we had beer and dinner and finally slept off. It was difficult to imagine that it was the last night of our trek. And even more difficult was to imagine the journey to Haridwar ahead of us.

Day 8 – Farewell
The long drive back to Haridwar was more enjoyable this time now that we had bonded a lot over the past 6 days. Gopal and I planned to get down at Rishikesh as we had plans to do bungee jumping and river rafting before heading back to Delhi. As we neared Rishikesh, we found it very difficult to imagine that we were going to part ways. When we got down at Rishikesh, all our trek mates hugged us and bid us farewell. To me that was a very emotional moment. It was as though I was bidding farewell to my family. It was a lifetime bond that got sealed at the Kuari pass trek. Finally we parted ways after discussing about how to share our photos and experiences.

Day 9Go, Let Go, Jump! Read about my first bungee experience here.

This is my experience from my first himalayan trek. Am sure you must have had a mind blowing experience as well. Do share !

Photo credits -- Few pics are sourced from others members of this trek. Thanks guys ! 

1 comment:

  1. Mind-blowing!!! Dude, if you plan to this place for 2nd time, do let me know :)