Here we were, Day one, ready, geared up and all set to go as we assembled outside the guest house near the trekking path at 8.30 am.
Almost all of them had trekking poles except Jogen and me. Luckily the trek leader Venkat gave us spare trekking poles the previous night when we asked for it.
I can’t tell you how thankful I am for that trekking pole. I have a history, in fact a long history of accidents and injuries and chronic pain.
From falling into a 20 feet ditch from a bike and breaking my arm in a remote place in Indonesia to somersaulting from my bicycle and falling hard on my knees, the list is endless. I have a bad knee problem due to years of running on hard tracks. In addition, I was diagnosed with early arthritis years ago, a genetic pass on.
There are days in my usual routine life when it’s a challenge to climb steps and I run a cafe that has only steps all the way up the hill, equivalent to 5 floors going up and down every day. So I knew to an extent what would hurt me and what would not.
When Pankaj told me I didn’t need support and I was strong enough, I became quite convinced . Later I realized I needed to listen to my own instincts, If something doesn’t feel right, it doesn’t.
There are certain basic rules in trekking. One had to be with the team no matter what. Yes we had people with an age group starting from 18 – 66 years with different kinds of fitness levels.
Some were former athletes, some were super fit, some were sloppy, some were experienced trekkers but in the end ,we all had to be there for each other.
But to really want to be there for each other doesn’t happen just like that. It happens over a period of time as one slowly starts connecting with the others.
Sometimes with one person, sometimes with a group of them, it slowly happens. And this was Day One of the trek. We were still new to each other.
A certain kind of bonding was slowly and surely happening.
Rudra and Bhim were walking together, Kishore was the loner moving ahead yet very helpful when needed, Pankaj was following his own path checking on Jogen once a while, Jogen was making friends as he walked along, sometimes with the trek leaders, sometimes with the others, the couples were anyways with each other.
There were the friends, the Ahmedabadi group of four, the quiet guy Saikat with the DSLR camera, a brother sister friend combo, the duo who would always be together no matter what, the older gentleman Krishanu with a big smile, the trek leaders talking intermittently with the group and somewhere in between was me, looking back towards Jogen if he was ok and looking ahead.
Before we set off, Pankaj and my concern was about Jogen. More so from Pankaj as they were friends for more than 40+ years and they knew each other too well.
Jogen has Parkinson’s and he had signed up for the trek totally egged on by Pankaj but now Pankaj was really worried for him and justifiably so, yet at the same time I really wanted to tell him to let Jogen be and I did, once a while gently..
I was getting stressed out in between them initially. I didn’t know then, I realized only when I took a detour on my own after the trek.
We are always in that moment then, not really thinking about the toll it takes on our body, mind and emotions. The after effects and dissection happens only later.
It was a trek of 3-4 kms to Deorital. You think it’s nothing right? What kind of a trek is this when it’s ONLY that much?
Well, my friends what can I say as we started walking up on a solid ascent with the hot sun blazing down on us.
The first trek itself were steep ascents. We just went up and up and up. I clearly recall all of us panting at one point or the other no matter how fit one was. Some hid it well, others just let it out.
This truly required a team effort. To not walk up fast and overtake someone like a competition or to show off. To not overtake the trek leaders and the guides, they had that experience with them.
To keep our egos aside and not gloat over who is younger, who is more fitter but just go together. To not criticize certain rules that we had to follow. Well that would take some time too.
What can I say about the scenery? As we puffed and panted and stopped in between sometimes, we would watch the beautiful scenery in front of us. Each scenery showed a different picture and meaning.
As we trekked up and saw the massive Himalayan ranges, can you imagine what it does to us?
You are gasping, panting out of your comfort zone and yet one look at it calms you, soothes you because you know this is worth it and there’s lot more to go.
Manojji would stop and tell a story or two on Kedarnath, the massive Nanda Devi mountain. These were stories that came from the mountains, their folk lore and I came to respect them as time went by.
Sometimes there were pathways, sometimes none but we had to keep moving on.
My knee pain was showing up but first day right? I didn’t want to complain, didn’t want to ask for help, didn’t want to show it. Yup it happens to all of us. The EGO is right there.
As long as I was ascending it was great but I was getting petrified of steep descents as that would kill my knees.
Finally we reached Deorital.
Deorital or Devrital as the locals call it is because according to legend, the gods and goddesses (Devi) resided here. And truly when we started approaching the campsite, what we saw was beautiful and this was just the beginning.
A clear fresh Lake, a big meadow so to speak, the massive Himalayas in the background and pretty Camping tents. What a sight it was as we walked towards it!
You would think we could get into our tents and relax right? No way were our Trek Leaders going to allow us to sleep.
So the next thing after Lunch was to participate in group activities. We all scoffed at it in our minds am sure when they announced it. I remember thinking let me be, can’t I just be alone for a bit? 🙂
So Devang yup the same one with all the enthusiasm he had on a hot afternoon gave us a game to play.
So we would have to introduce ourselves with a name and add an adjective to it. But that was not it, we not only had to do that but repeat the other names and adjectives that came before us. There were 27 of us goddamn it!
And let me tell you what that game did to us. It slowly broke the ice as each one went along and used an adjective that described them and tried to remember others.
I also came to know a wee bit of their side I think. From funny to witty to their nature.
Serene Seema, Jazzy Jogen, Rebel Rudra, Wanderlust Ridhi, Rockstar Raghu, Wireless Venky, Smart Saikat, Cool Kishore, Hot someone,Nature loving someone, Mind blowing someone, the list went on and on. See? I still remember some of them even though it has been a month now 🙂
There was another activity but by this time I was done. I just wanted to read a book alone and yet at the same time I couldn’t help myself watching all of them playing virtual Basketball with shouts and laughs and more. The trek leaders were egging them on and participating wholly.
A team was forming. The dots were slowly connecting. Slowly the smiles appeared as we looked at each other or crossed our paths because every name had an adjective to it and for me, that’s how I remembered them throughout the trek.
That evening before dinner we went for a small mini trek and yup our legs could now take it. That group activity opened us a bit more as we slowly started talking to others.
Here is where I stop and say something a bit.
I am a big foodie and I love cooking, it’s therapeutic and makes me happy. I see food as a remedy, a panacea. It binds people, connects them. So anywhere I travel, I search for food, I try my best to go to those kitchens, to those people who are the reason behind it.
This time was no different to me, So I went up to Venkat, the trek leader and seriously pestered him to take me to the kitchen as I wanted to assist.
I truly wanted to spend time with the local team there sitting with them, seeing how they make it and maybe I could support a bit?
I remember every time I saw him I would ask when can I go to the kitchen?? and this started right from the time we arrived at the camp site. He finally gave in and took me in the evening to the kitchen tent.
I saw 5 pairs of eyes confused, wary as I stood inside the tent. All local guys busy making dinner and here I was an outsider wanting to ‘help’.
It took just a little bit of time for them to warm up to me. And I totally give that credit to FOOD.It bonds people big time. Making it, eating it, it all happens just like that. Everyone loosens up because we are speaking the same language.
Bhupinder ,another trek guide would make lots of jokes, made me listen to Garhwal songs, asking me questions, what movies do I like? Was I married? Which city am I from? Is it hot there? What do I eat usually?
Manojji regaling me with stories and legends of his village and the local festivals. Stories of Rohini Bhugyal and Roopkund. And how can I forget a terrifying ghost story he told me and it happened at one of the treks!
That late night when I had to answer nature’s calls in the dark with my head lamp on, I was chanting mantras and trying hard not to think about it and failing miserably!
Pratap the shy guide would only blush and smile but later he sang as I insisted I won’t leave until I listen to one Garhwali song. Ankit the cook sang along with Pratap. It was fun!
As I finished assisting them in whatever little way I could, I told them I am coming again to pester them tomorrow. I wanted to assist and spend time with them.
Manojji said you can come any time. It’s good to see people from the trek interacting with us like this. Dil ko accha laga.
I was overwhelmed. In fact, I had to thank them profusely for letting me into their world just a little bit..
As I went back to the tent to join Pankaj and Jogen, I looked up and saw a beautiful sky, the mountains looming large around us. The lake, the trees, the joy one experiences seeing it…
Tomorrow would be a big Day as we would be tested, quite hard.
It would be the longest one – a 14 km trek to be precise..