On the way to Dhaula, we were joined by a group of 10 excited guys from Chandigarh, who were staying at a campsite nearby. They were a part of our trek team as well. This was a very varied group ranging from 18 through 52 years. I will share details of the trekkers a little later once we meet the other group members as well. After introducing each other and loading up on chocolates and bananas, a dozen of us reached Dhaula a couple of hours later. We checked out our campsite and moved into our tents. We were also introduced to some of our support staff members. The rest of the group members who were on their way from Dehradun Station met us later that evening. This was the first time we got to meet everyone; the entire trekking group was present. After an introduction and induction speech by the trek leader, we were taught how to use our sleeping bags and an hour later, found the training pretty helpful as we snuggled into them to end Day 1.
Day 2 was the first day of the trek for all practical purposes. We walked around 12km that day from Dhaula to Sewa. This was a tiresome activity. We ascended only a couple hundred meters and some hours later found ourselves on the banks of a magnificent river. This was our campsite for the second day. We slept by the lush greenery and a meandering river. Life seemed good once again. All through Day 2 most of us spent time getting to know each other. Each of the 25 of us had a story. Everyone seemed to come to the mountains with an agenda to drop off their baggage. If there was one point that stood out vividly, it was the diversity in this group. We had, amongst us, an army major, a dedicated trekker who had completed her doctorate in Computer Science from France, an inspirational guy who ran a school in Chandigarh and a Goldman Sachs employee who spent the better part of the last decade in NYC, while also following his belief in Astrology. We also had a couple of mid-aged men. Ironically, they were among the fittest people around. Here’s hoping I am able to emulate their physical and mental toughness a few decades later. Geographically, all coordinates of India were well represented. Chandigarh had healthy participation, followed by other big names like Mumbai, Bangalore and Kolkata.
The next day was as excruciating as the previous one. We covered 14km through uneven and rocky terrain under the harsh sun. The last hour was a bone breaking and muscle tearing uphill climb to Jhaka, a small village in the middle of the Himalayan valleys. Jhaka, at 8900 feet is popularly called the hanging village and is quite well known for its concept of home stays. A home stay is typically when travellers stay along with villagers in their huts and experience their culture. However, in our case, the home stay at Jhaka was in a fly infested wooden house atop a stable. This was something that came as a shock to most of us. Some of the trekkers got ticked off by this and found their way to another home stay. But, if I were to think in retrospect, this event also was an experience in itself. We had three mules with us till Jhaka who carried our supplies and luggage. Since the terrain gets very difficult after Jhaka, the mules were released and we got a group of porters who physically carried supplies – food, tents, haversacks and even an LPG cylinder. Jhaka was our last point of contact with civilization. This was also the escape route in case someone wanted to leave the trek. The last 2 days were very difficult, both mentally and physically. 3 out of the 25 trekkers decided to part ways and opted for the escape route at Jhaka. The rest of us relentlessly decided to carry forward not knowing what the next few days had in store for us.
Day 4 started with nice parathas and chole. Note that the word ‘nice’ is used in the most relative way possible – in comparison to the food we were fed this far. Parathas and Chole came as a welcome change after the last few days of rather ordinary vegetables, dal and rice. We started from Jhaka towards Saruas Thatch. A ‘Thatch’ is a meadow: a flatland within the valley of the mountains often frequented by grazing cattle and blooming flowers. The next day we moved from Saruas Thatch to Dhanderas Thatch. Day 4 and Day 5 were more about acclimatising ourselves to the height and thin air. By the end of Day 5, we had reached the foothills of the Lower Rupin Waterfall at over 11,000 feet. Some wonderful scenes welcomed us to this cold meadow. Bright yellow flowers lay the path, while white and black cows grazed alongside the icy river water. Just when we thought the steep ascend was behind us, we were tormented with another training session on how to use cramp ons. Cramp-ons are simple elastic bands with spikes that you clamp over your shoes. This helps you maintain grip on the snow. The training was particularly helpful since we learnt alternative methods of walking on the snow, using the ice axe, walking sticks, etc. At these altitudes, the temperature is very erratic. We would get glimpses of sun, rain and cold winds all within a span of a couple of minutes. By this time, we had reached single digit temperatures, but would have to wait another day before we could experience sub-zero temperatures.
The trek on Day 6 was merely 2km long. The thought of this excited everyone. I can safely say that every one of us could use an easy day. However, that was not to be. By day 6, there were no more treks. It was time to hike. We hiked vertically from the lower waterfall to the upper waterfall amidst beautiful scenes. Around 5 hours later, we completed the 2km distance and setup camp in what could arguably be one of the most beautiful locations the Himalayas had to offer. At the end of Day 6, we had reached the Upper waterfall – Do not get misguided by this. There was hardly any water here. Everything was in the solid form. Ice and snow for as long as your eyes could behold. Tomato Soup and Maggi kept us warm. After some dinner, we moved into our sleeping bags early for the long last day. A couple of the trekkers had watches that showed vectors like temperature, altitude, distance etc. That night, the mercury dipped to -3 degrees.
The last day of the trek was finally here. We started early at 4am. Not too many people slept that night. The biting cold wind, coupled with thin air and lack of oxygen triggered the insomniac in each of us. Most of us had a red eye at the next day. After our morning rituals, we set out to conquer our final frontier – The Rupin Pass. At 15500 feet, the Rupin Pass is higher than any European summit and more than halfway to Mt. Everest. The last climb was very difficult. We had to mount a near vertical 75-80 degree incline. Our cramp ons definitely helped. In a dramatic turn of events, I managed to slip and slide down a considerable distance. Luckily, a rock in the middle broke my fall and brought me to a grinding halt. As I saw the rest of the team tread forward, a sense of failure stared straight into me. With the help of some of the support staff I was able to cross these hurdles and some nasty moments later, found myself in close proximity of the pass. I could see the top.
Mustering all my courage together, I made the final dash to the top. The sense of accomplishment on reaching the pinnacle was unmatched with any other feeling of satisfaction. Here we were. 22 strangers who didn’t know anything about each other, yet there was this strong force which binded us together. 22 of us came with our own history and stories, however, at this point, no one thought about anything except living in the moment. It was indeed overwhelming. A few pictures later, we got ready for our downward descend. We had a long day ahead since we had to make our way to Sangla, 20km away. We slid down steep snowy slopes to aid the descend – Fun. After walking for over 10 hours with the river by our side and a herd of goats and sheep, we eventually reached Sangla in the evening. We had descended from 15500 feet to just under 9000 feet in one day. This was quite a feat for amateurs like us. The trek had officially ended – so had our ability to walk. That night, whiskey and rum gave some respite to the pain in our knees and feet. The worst was behind us – or so we thought.
The next day everyone made their way to Shimla, the closest town with good connectivity to the bigger cities. Sangla to Shimla was a 10 hour drive. Unfortunately, owing to a local wedding, all the tourist cabs were occupied. We had to settle for a camper pick-up truck. We were seven of us in that vehicle. With seating only for 4 people, at least 3 of us at any point of time were atop the truck. This was pretty exciting. The twisting Himalayan roads provided the ideal rollercoaster experience for each of us standing on that truck. This car/truck stalled over 3 times with gear box worries. Once this issue was addressed, the truck would overheat every hour. The sense of adventure didn’t seem to leave us at any stage. This tormenting journey ended in Shimla at around 10pm. Once this ride was complete, we needed an overnight bus that would take us from Shimla to Delhi. In the absence of seats in any of the Volvos, we were forced to squeeze into a non a/c state bus. This state transport (ST) bus started at 11pm. The next morning, we reached the Delhi Inter State Bus Terminal at Kashmere Gate. Over 20 hours after we left Sangla and a dozen mosquito bites later, we were finally in the capital. Everyone split at this juncture and found the way back to their respective cities.
This trek is all about challenging oneself. May it be with the lack of oxygen on the pass, the flies at Jhaka, or the nasty bus experience to Delhi. This was never meant to be a luxury outing. If it were, we would be better off in a cruise liner than in the Himalayas. The only reason we choose to go ahead with a trek like this is to see the other side of civilization. Drinking water straight from the river or attending nature’s call on the mountain side is something I could never relate to myself. The value of toilet paper and hand sanitizer was never appreciated this much. I would recommend a multi-day trek to each and every one of you. I’ve made some good like-minded friends and I’m pretty sure they are here to stay. Such treks are all about self discovery and testing your limits.
It is not as much about discovering the mountains, as it is about discovering yourself!