14 kms ahead…
Our destination was Chopta. We would camp there until we finished our entire trek.
We would be trekking through the Forest, Meadows, steep ascents to steep descents all in one go.
We were warned repeatedly that there would be no water source for 10 kms. None.
Each one of us carried 2 water bottles and we had to make do with it. We had to sip regularly but also conserve and what a lesson it was for us that day.
I mean we take water for granted don’t we?
Just pick a bottle from the fridge, chug it, waste it, throw it. Let the tap run, leak, who cares? Buying a mineral water bottle at the restaurant or at a shop and throwing it just like that even if there is quarter of water in it..
Now here we were, having to manage with 2 bottles of water for an excruciating 10 kms.
As we got ready to leave Deorital camp site, Pankaj spoke to the trek leaders if he could start moving ahead first as he had Asthma problems and he would be halting quite a bit, so it’s better he starts off first.
Then the trek leaders let Jogen go ahead along with Kishore, Krishanu. This was to give a head start for the older people. I joined in too and Rudra joined his father for sometime.
So here we were, the first step out of the campsite and we were at a steep ascent. We kept on ascending for the next 1.5 hours or so.
How was it? I was wondering when would this end..
Up and Up and Up. Hot Sun, breeze sometimes on and off, we were just ascending through jagged rocks, stones, sometimes zig zag, sometimes straight up and we had to keep going.
Kishore was like a force as he kept on moving ahead and I followed behind. It was motivating because you need someone ahead like a support to look at. It helped a lot when we used to talk intermittently, briefly pause, look behind and we see the groups.
Smaller groups were forming, in one line, but bonding was happening, now we NEEDED support of each other. No longer was it each one to themselves.
I would look back, see Jogen sometimes with Bhupinder, sometimes with Devang, sometimes with Venkat and would feel relieved.
Krishanu would be struggling behind us and we would wait a bit, smile back and tell him he could do it. And am telling you all of us did that to each other at some point of time. It happened sub consciously.
By taking help, we lifted others up. By offering help, we motivated each other. It was happening seamlessly. There was no YOU and I, there was US.
Sometimes we would go too far ahead and we would get a call from one of the trek team shouting Wait! Don’t go ahead, let the rest of them come to a distance and we would wait, chat, watch the scenic view in front of us, the moment we saw our folks, we would go ahead again.
Groups were changing, one person hanging out with someone would later shift to someone else. It was all so natural. I truly believe the competitiveness in us that existed initially gave away finally..
Sometimes I would see Saikat ahead and then with us, as he stopped to take pictures with his DSLR, some other person would take his place. I would slow down a bit and Rudra would be walking ahead with Pankaj.
During the entire process, no matter how hard it was, how tough and painful it was, one was there for the other in some way, the groups would become smaller then turn bigger.
I do remember a couple of stopovers like that.
The first stopover after more than an hour of steep ascent led to a beautiful scenic point where Manojji showed us Sari – the Base Camp! It was surreal.
Another major stopover was in the forest in middle of a nice shaded clearing and there was an altar, a small temple in front of it with red flags. Bhupinder told me that whatever food they would be eating, they would leave a small offering there. I saw them as they offered a portion of their apple at the altar and ate the rest.
We all sat down at various points and just took in the scene.
Manojji coolly climbed this measly branch of a tree like an acrobat and sat on top of it. Following which ‘Rockstar’ Raghu decided to climb up too. More on this guy and his amazing voice later!
Bunny as usual was joking around, walking around with this Big Stick.
What’s it you ask? I don’t know what he did with it, but every day with this bamboo like stick, he would do something creative with it and walk with it proudly. Like a pretty flower or some leaves but every day it was something new. I would look forward to seeing what would he decorate the stick with the next time.
Rudra was bonding big time with Pankaj and as he used to put it, Pankaj was ‘The Man’. Idolizing someone who seems so unlike their parents. They become ‘cool’ because what they see is the side they want to see and vice versa. It was all very interesting, the group dynamics.
Then there was Pooja & Amit. I really didn’t get a chance to interact with Amit, but yes later I had some beautiful moments with Pooja. An awesome girl and very soft.
As we were waiting, the trek leaders were pacing back and forth ,there were a couple more that were still yet to come.
We heard somebody got injured, a sprain and one other person just wasn’t able to walk but still continuing slowly at intervals. This was Mayank and Omshree.
Let me tell you one thing about Omshree. She is amazing. A mentally strong woman behind that petite build. I would get some time to spend with her later. Mayank was another person I would get to know.
Such an interesting mix of people whose true strength comes out in situations like this.
Jogen found a friend in 18 year old Ridhi. She loved walking with him and gently looking after him throughout the trek while he spoke to her. Jogen finally found a trekking partner.
Serene Seema would quietly wander off, pacing her own steps, no competition with anyone or anything, stop when she wanted to, keep walking in her own bliss. As Bunny rightly put it, she was a true Wanderlust. Chalking her own path.
In between all this was Devang, Venkat, Manojji, Bhupinder, Pratap pacing back and forth talking in their walkie talkies checking quietly on everyone, keeping count, going back when someone slowed down keeping their cool all the time.
How do I remember all this? How can I not? It stays etched in your pool of memories..
After the break, what was scaring me the most, in fact almost leading me to a panic attack was the descent.
Yes steep descents for two and half hours before we could reach our Water source. The place where we would take a lunch break. One bottle and more was already over for all of us. It was a test.
Saviours come along when you least expect it.
My legs were killing me, truly killing me and the descent was very steep, slippery because of wet leaves and I was feeling quite helpless because even though I wanted help I didn’t want to disturb anyone. I took Kishore’s help for some time but later I felt I was halting him so I stopped doing that..
Until then I did not speak to Bhim at all but as he was moving forward, I was right behind him, I kept my ego behind and asked for his help. My knees were giving up big time, I can recollect that unbearable screaming pain in my knees even now..
He just helped me throughout and I mean throughout. He offered it with no fuss. You have no idea how grateful I am for that. To just blend in and do that.
There was another aspect that struck me. Whenever there was an obstacle like a dead branch or stones, he would not just shove it aside, he would make an effort to move it away so others would not face the same. These things don’t go unnoticed. It’s caring, it’s being compassionate.
Most of us would just toss it a bit aside and move on. The need to forge ahead, whether one is a loner or with a group sometimes is so high that one does not really think about whose coming behind, but this man was doing it every time.
And Yes he showed me the ‘Ambareesh Walk’ that would actually help while descending! What’s that? That too is reserved for later 🙂
Finally we reached our lunch spot as we descended all the way down. My knees were a goner but what a beautiful sight it was as we stopped at the water source – Akash Kamini
Spring water, Beautiful Waterfalls cascading into a brook. We rushed and drank water with our bare hands. At that time, filters, purified water all these questions don’t even cross your mind. Water is Life…Energy Source…
The group took their own space, their own corners and rested up.
Fatigue was hitting us and 4 kms remained, mostly descent followed by a slight ascent. But now it didn’t matter, ascent or descent we were all tired. The food we packed as lunch in the morning was cold but did it matter? We gobbled it up.
But tiredness is for mere mortals like us I guess because I saw Devang the trek leader taking the bridge as support and doing push ups!! I was like stop it dude, I am gonna collapse just watching you!
I finally wrapped a bandage on my left knee, I couldn’t bear it anymore and Pankaj the thoughtful person he always has been tied the bandage and kept telling me I will be fine.
Conversations happen and how as people interchange, as one goes off and other replaces that person.
We were closing in to our destination. So near and yet so far..
At one spot 4-5 of us reached this beautiful and I mean beautiful meadow, ‘Bhugyal’ as it’s called in native language. We just flopped our day packs down and rested until the others came. When the guide would say ‘Rest’ we would. It was bliss.
There was also something funny I recollect now. As we started walking up slowly, Rudra and Pankaj were in front of me and we saw three pretty Latino ladies smoothly and effortlessly crossing us and ascending.
Immediately Pankaj said I am going to follow them as he started increasing his pace, maybe they will point us out in the right direction with a wink and smile, I told him to take Rudra with him because that’s the only way they would be impressed enough to talk!
After some time as I treaded up I saw Pankaj taking a breather and I asked what happened?? He laughed and said I couldn’t keep up their pace, only Rudra could 🙂 These moments make me smile big.
As we were climbing up the last ascent before we would reach a motored road, Venkat was egging us on. Come on, Come on, just there, just there. I remember asking him several times, Are we there yet?? like a freaking annoying teenager.
We started speaking about my Café. He was very interested in knowing how I set it up and when I told him, not now please when am dying walking the whole day, he said he had a restaurant too in Hyderabad and told his journey.
It’s unbelievable what people go through in the journey of life. Each one has their own dose of pain, sadness, happiness, pressures, no less no more.
As we reached the motorable road that would lead us to Chopta, we all yippeeeed one by one! And yup Bhim pulled a fast one on some of us when we saw Vehicles parked at the road, he said we are done, the cars have come to pick us up to take us to the campsite, I was like really?? And Venkat nodded a big NO.
Then came the Ahmedabadi group of four, immediately all of us jumped in and said come fast, the cars are here to take us to the camp site and one of them fell for it big time, he rushed with his backpack as we egged him on and tried to open the vehicle door when the driver came and said it’s not for YOU! We hooted and laughed!
I was really happy when I saw Jogen. He did it! It must have been an exhilarating moment for him.
As we started descending towards Chopta, it was 5.30 pm, we saw one of the prettiest sights. Looming Large mountains, our tents in rows with all encompassing meadows and openness..
Nature is truly the Biggest Drug…