The sun hadn’t risen yet there was a clarity about the entire atmosphere. People were up and about as I started ascending from Gaurikund.
The whole of Gaurikund seemed like a big steep ascent, as it was on the edge of a mountain. As I started, on either side was the bustle of people and homes. Very narrow lanes. There were guest houses, temple bells signifying the start of the holy pilgrimage and a major pit stop for Ponies.
So those who would take the ascent using the ponies, this was the place. Negotiations, bargaining, shouting was happening there. The ponies caretakers telling their price and the families asking for discounts, packages and all.
Here is the thing, once you decided to walk, there was no way you could get a pony midway or if you got too tired. No one would stop and give you a ride.
I crossed the pit stop and started eating my first energy bar. I already was feeling hungry yet wanted to take it slow. It was a trek truly and my previous experience of trekking helped quite a bit.
I crossed the hustle and bustle of crowds and started moving forward and after sometime there was only the path, ascending in every way and a spectacular scenery unfolding next to it and I mean spectacular.
Those enigmatic Himalayas beckoning and tempting to come closer to them while the ridges and the gurgling, gushing, flowing Alaknanda in between. It was like she was talking to us..
I remember at every point her moods and flow changed just like ours, how we felt during the journey. From sheer ecstasy to happiness to wonder to exhaustion.
A couple of things one had to be cautious about while walking and ascending and this I also feel is a part of trek training. It’s all about endurance and patience.
It’s NEVER about rushing up, running up or walking fast. It was all about conserving energy, walking at the same pace and resting for just 2 minutes, STANDING and resting and again going forward.
The next was LANDSLIDES. As I looked up and saw the mountains that followed us as we walked up, you never know which rock would come tumbling down and I am serious about it.
It would be sudden, it would happen in seconds and there were enough WARNING SIGNS, BOARDS and specifically areas around where it usually happens.
So one had to ascend and zig zag their way to it, pacing but looking around, looking up and being aware. The monsoon season had just started so there was no other choice.
And most importantly WATCH out and I mean really WATCH OUT when you hear the jingles of Ponies either from behind you or coming towards you.
Granted they were controlled by their caretakers BUT most of the times they would be pacing and trotting fast and a collision with them would spell serious injury. I missed them a couple of times narrowly.
And this is common because as one goes further the path becomes narrow. The best advise I was given was to stop and step aside and NOT towards the open ridge side but towards the mountain side. I have seen it with my own eyes, people falling and getting injured.
At one point, going up I saw the Helicopter Pad point. So here would be the pick up and drop off to Kedarnath. A huge one and a mind blowing visual surrounding it.
I started observing my fellow trekkers/travelers. And yes I was the only Solo one.
I would see guys in 3-4 or simple families mostly fit walking or sanyasis/sadhus – young and old, or just 3-4 guys with 2 girls walking up. There were the aged who would take support and slowly walk up. At very few times I saw very young children.
Sometimes the man would decide to walk up and let his wife and kid take the horses. It was not just about a vow it was also financials. Later I would come to know even the Ponies were quiet expensive and for middle class and below income families it was just not possible, the only choice was to walk up.
I was already admiring the pony caretakers taking the pilgrims up. They were doing this every damn day. To and fro – a solid 38-39 kilometres. And they would do this for 6 months.
Some of them were as young as 16 years old. You would even wonder if they could handle the ponies. In this region where education was so minimal, it was not surprising to see them so young already taking on the rigors of life.
The new path was breathtaking, a lot wider than the older one as I was told by many locals. At one point we could see the devastation of the older route, it was like an entire mountain got chipped off, like someone took a Sword and cut it off ruthlessly.
I crossed 5 kms by now and the layers of clothes were getting onto me. The air was getting thinner, I could feel it. It was cold getting colder yet I was sweating like hell.
I stopped by and started removing those layers with a vengeance. As I started putting my jacket, fleece sweater, gloves into my day pack, I started seeing what I call familiar faces.
Yes familiar because in some way we all became known and familiar as one crossed the other or when one stopped for some time.
I saw those 3-4 guys who smiled, acknowledged with a nod, we were all in this together. A mixed group of two guys and a girl waved back saying chalte raho!
Some of them were brave enough to come forward and ask me if I was doing this alone. And when I said Yes, they gave me a thumbs up sign always 🙂
During the entire journey I saw humans, just humans who encouraged each other, there was no caste, community, language nor economic status. We were all bound by this faith and human spirit.
And that’s when I met this family who would become my travel companions and so much more in every possible way..