Snowfall, Heavy Snowfall as we were trudging up towards Tungnath.
We were able to walk as it was fresh snow but what do you do about the freezing temperature and body going numb?
It was a paradox really. On one hand was this breathtaking landscape around us.Spectacular and I mean truly spectacular views and on the other hand was us getting tired, snowfall everywhere and snow inside our gear.
We were late.. This we knew.
Just reaching up till Tungnath was a hard task. The weather was not helping as we were heaving, panting, oxygen levels were low, unbearable cold, wet all over and the temple was not in sight.
Through it all, Devang was motivating us. No shouting, no frustration nothing, just saying Shabash Shabash, you guys are doing a great job and the others in between standing and smiling and making us move on..
In between I saw Manojji, and he smiled and said, aap sab logon ne barf maanga to dekho kya hua (You all asked for snow and look what happened) ! 🙂
At one point, I thought we were reaching Tungnath, but it was abandoned small homes, almost like a small village. It was closed and locked up during winter season. It would reopen for the summer when devotees would visit Tungnath temple, the highest Shiva temple in the world.
But right now, not a soul in sight except us..
As I was trying very hard not to think of the possibility of getting injured, breathless and get panicky, I heard a chant.. Yes a Chant..
I saw Krishanu the older gentleman who was by now almost down and out. He was tired, looked defeated and someone holding his arm tight and supporting him and walking. It was Kishore..
Like a warrior he was walking at a pace Krishanu could handle, supporting him with his hand around him and chanting Shiva Mantras.
You have no idea what went over me then. It made me stronger as I followed them , behind them as I took in the mantras. It was calming me down, making me feel better and that sight where I saw Krishanu head down holding on to him for dear life and Kishore forging ahead..
I thought of my father and how it all made so much sense to me..
My surname, my father’s name Gangadharan (Shiva). For years I avoided Himalayas, I brushed it away. I didn’t want to face it, didn’t want to face the pain.His last wish was to visit holy temples with me and one of them was the Himalayas, Kedarnath.
I was extremely close to my father, knew him as this silent strong man who gave me everything and more and what I am today, my beliefs on life, on people was solely due to him. I missed him so much.
I was crying big and I mean big.. When we stopped at this small shelter just before Tungnath, I went over to the only person who could understand.
I ran to Pankaj and hugged him crying loud.. He only said, Yes this happens, you are confronting something very strong so let it go, cry it out, don’t hide..
It was a cleansing and I had to experience this in the holy of holiest mountains…
As we moved ahead from there, we finally saw the temple.
Yes, Finally Tungnath! As we saw the dome and the gate, the entrance completely covered with snow. It was ethereal, it was divine. I am sure most of us could feel that divine energy in our bones, our skin, our blood. No words can explain that moment best..
As we entered through the gate, those snow covered bells were rung by our group members. In that freezing cold, we were all together in this. Come Hail, Snow, storm I am with you Quote came to my mind. We were in it together.
The snowfall was strong and getting stronger. The temple was closed. No one. The area was deserted and totally covered by snow. We only had the verandah, the portico as a shelter. All 27 of us shivering and freezing literally.
We huddled together, used the techniques of keeping our arms under our armpits to keep warm, jumped up and down on the spot but nothing was really working.
Pankaj was giving dry fruits and passing it on as much as he could. We were totally numb,frozen and looking at the heavy snowfall. I remember Mayank shaking his head and saying this is it, I am not going up there, I can’t take this anymore.
I remember my toes stopped moving.. I was shit scared. Was it a frost bite? Snow got inside our clothes big time. My hands were aching like hell, an unbearable pain and I didn’t know what to do with this pain and it was so cold everywhere.
How will we climb the Summit??
I saw Devang and Venkat having an intense discussion. Then Devang finally saying Guys let’s wait for 15 minutes and see if the snow subsides, if it does then we do the summit. We can’t stay too long.
The snow didn’t look like it will subside at all though.
So within 5-7 minutes, Devang said Congratulations I am so proud of all of you. You made it to Tungnath! With those words, all of us knew the Chandrashila summit wouldn’t happen.
He said something significant, The Mountains won’t go anywhere guys. It’s too risky to do that today. We made it till here. Be proud of yourself.
He also asked who wants to do the summit and quite a number of them said YES!! but we had to do this as a TEAM, together. One for all, All for one. Period.
The snowfall was increasing and the decision to stay for 15 minutes changed to LET”S MOVE NOW!
And hindsight I feel that was a really wise decision. Because you had this group from different age groups and levels and it was their responsibility to ensure EVERYONE were safe even at the point of irking certain people in the group.
I remember as we slowly started walking back, there was a mix of disappointment and all those emotions.A little bit later Bhim said, yes it’s disappointing but hey we got snow! Who would have ever expected that??
And it’s so true, beauty was everywhere, divinity was everywhere and it was not just inside the temple or at the summit. We focus so much on the destination that we forget the journey, the moments.
And this journey was showing us all.. To be in the moment, to be right HERE, to not focus on the past or the future, LOOK AROUND YOU, it was screaming at us!
As we were walking back, I was chatting a bit with Bhupinder and at one point he said stop here and look back.. I turned and what I saw was one of the most awesome views I will see for a long time.. There we saw the Chandrashila Summit covered by the snow storm looking out of this world.
So near and yet so far..
Life is like that, isn’t it? Some times certain things are unattainable and that’s the beauty of it.What you covet you might not get it but you will learn something else in that process and that itself is a new journey, a new path..
As we were walking back we saw the Himalayan Monal bird! The national bird of Uttarakhand and seen very rarely!
Imagine how lucky we felt when we saw not one but a couple of them! A multi colored bird in that white snow standing out in it’s magnificence. There was nothing to be disappointed about anymore.
I looked back and I saw the ‘boys’ yes the boys Bunny & friends, Rudra and Bhim taking pics, selfies in that cold. I smiled big, life and it’s little pleasures.
As we started descending, slowly the groups disbanded, as in each one was in their own group, own zone, in two’s, solo, sometimes stopping and some walking ahead. The group by now had their own pace.
I could see some people way ahead of me while I was walking, it was also raining as we descended. Pouring rain as we were getting through the snow covered mountains and walking towards the plains.
Venkat and Bhupinder were walking with us and when they got a message from the walkie talkie, Bhupinder went back to be with some other group.
And I remember this throughout the descent. The team was all around. Pratap was upfront, Venkat here, Devang was the last with the group and Bhupinder in the middle.
All the time they were checking each other on walkie talkies, who is with whom? It happened all the time. Each team member knew where they were.
That’s when I asked Venkat, tell me honestly could we have made it to the summit? He said let me tell you the truth. It is difficult. Ascent maybe some of you but descent would have been very dangerous, fatal. We cannot risk that. We have to think of everyone.
It was true, being in this position as one who wants to trek we only think of ourselves, only the self, but they are responsible for everyone there and a collective call was made.
I clearly remember the voice from Sari Base Camp asking Venkat on the walkie talkie,so what happened as we descended. Venkat told the whole thing as it is. And he said Yes we made a call to descend, no summit trek. And I remember the voice that said, ‘Good Call. Keep it up Guys’.
The descent was getting better but my knees were getting hit hard again.Raining, slippery and a couple of times I almost slipped and if it wasn’t for Venkat, I would have fallen hard on my face. I truly am thankful for that.
I remember halting quite a number of times as my knees were giving up but we had to keep on going.
I realized Venkat is an introvert,a man of few words but if one pushes and prods or spends some time, he opens up a bit. He spoke about his love for mountains, how he got hooked onto it, about India Hikes and how he feels uncomfortable when he visits home even for a few days,he wants to get back to the mountains. He said that goes for all the trek leaders.
And it’s true! Imagine being in the mountains, in it’s pristine atmosphere, away from all the stuff we call civilization and when we get back to what we call home, it doesn’t feel like home anymore.. How can it?
I looked back and I could see the splinter groups, stopping by, taking in the scene and some just walking ahead.
It looked like forever as we started descending but what a landscape…
Every descent was showing something else around us. The rocks, the mountains, the steps as we looked back, what a journey it was…
I felt a tinge of sadness as I looked back and saw the snow capped mountains.We were going away from it as we were descending to the plains.Felt a stab in my heart like I am losing something precious.. Like I won’t get to see this again for quite some time.
We finally saw the steps and the bells at the entrance.. Yup the same bells we rung those early hours that day, everything seemed so different. I asked Venkat, did we come up the same way? Everything was so different and looked as if it changed.
Something deep shifted inside me. It was not that it looked different, I was different now, I CHANGED… A big shift inside me.
The world didn’t seem the same anymore. Only when one changes do they feel the change.
We stopped for Chai at the entrance waiting for the others to turn up. It was still raining, pouring and it was such a comfort to be in that Chai Dhaba.
I remember sitting close to the ‘Chulha’ – fire and warming my hands. Then we saw one of Bunny’s friends walking down, seeing us and stopping. He joined us. I think his name was Sandeep I am not sure but he was really quiet throughout the trek. Not saying one single word to the entire group.
So I was surprised when he started talking. A pleasant surprise. Maybe this is was him in this environment. Opening up with raw nature around you. He was smiling and speaking and I was like what?? Where was this person hiding all these days?
Maybe the mountains do that. Get that deep recess inside us out, yup the same one we keep avoiding or sometimes we are not even aware it exists.
It lies dormant as we are so caught up with our daily mundane routine, people, negativity, pressures of having to run and run and run and think this is only life and then this happens..
We were descending towards the campsite.. It was pouring rain as we saw our tents..
It was still morning, still the same tents there. But those 5-6 hours were like the journey of a lifetime.. We did something more than just trekking..
What a journey…