It was freezing cold the next morning when I got out of the tent. Aching bones and tired body, that’s exactly how I felt. Lack of sleep added to it. The water in our bottles to drinking water kept in barrels, water in the basin to wash, everything was frozen!
Teeth was chattering and if we removed our gloves, our fingers went numb. No way was I gonna brush my teeth! A few brave ones did like Semal, Chetan and Karthik while Archana cleverly used the lukewarm ginger tea to brush her teeth. I borrowed Arun’s Listerine and gargled, that was enough!
The good part was not packing our backpacks or anything, we had to eat and set off to Maninda Tal. Tal means a lake and it was frozen, but I thought it would be just a lake, how wrong was I!
The good part about this was there was no ‘summit trek’. By that I mean, no waking up at 2 am, stuffing ourselves with food at 2.30 am and set out in pitch dark at 3 am with lights on while its still raining! I had done that twice and was relieved that we would start at 8 am.
It was a short 3 km trek or so they said but believe me 3 kms in the mountains is something else.
Sharon and Shweta were in the front and we could see Kadambari heavily breathing, it was not a good sign, Tanmay put her up in the front. I banded up with Archana, walking along talking about our experiences, trekking, running. Ashish was obsessed with sliding on the snow, so any mountain filled with snow, he would wonder if he could slide 🙂
Sharon was giving up and Shweta was panting but Tanmay would lead them on, slowly goad them on and we would be behind them, stopping whenever they did. For all the thoughts if we would see snow, boy did we see it!
After the ascent, we came upon a ridge, such a narrow ridge I tell you and filled with snow, one slip and you are a goner. And this was old snow which was slippery and your foot could go deep inside. My foot went down like that a couple of times, Raghu helped me cross the narrow ridge and slowly we started seeing another change in the landscape. It was massive again!
Rocks, Moraines surrounded by Vast Mountainous landscapes… Where were we going??!
At one point when we took a break, I saw Kadambari, holding her head and sitting. A terrible headache which is a sign of AMS(Altitude Mountain Sickness).
Tanmay cheered us on, Surinder said just a little bit further and they weren’t kidding!
Suddenly we felt like we landed into this outer space, filled with snow, everywhere! And I mean everywhere! Vast Mountains covered with snow and a lake that was frozen. And I mean a Snow Wonderland! Just 3 kms away and a different world altogether!
I looked around and couldn’t believe my freaking eyes, I didn’t want to take pics immediately, I just wanted to take it all in.
It was freezing and I mean really freezing cold dipping at Minus and so worth it! To walk on ice, snow and just look around! We were so close to the Glacier! If I thought this would be the only time I would get to see a Glacier, I would be so wrong about it. I would get another chance to be there during my second leg of the journey.
Finally when I took my phone out, the damn thing froze but what are friends for! Chetan took some pics of me in the landscape and I was happy! Vidya and me took a couple of pics and we took in the surroundings.
Tanmay said another team that came two weeks ago couldn’t come up here. The Har ki Dun campsite was filled with 2 feet of snow, it was terrible for them. They all had to sleep in the dining tent and took turns to dig the snow through the night,every two hours!
As if by cue, suddenly the weather changed, the wind chill cut through and it was freezing even more. Surinder and Jyotsinghji literally hurried us up, like let’s go let’s go and rushed us out! But it took a good 25 minutes before we could be pushed out. Who wouldn’t want to stay on here..
Others lingered on while we slowly made our move back, Archana led forward along with Omkar, Gaurav, followed by Raghu. I started walking with Surinder as he told about his village that was below Sankri, his 3+ year old son and where all he trekked.
He also freelanced on his own and he would take up assignments with Indiahikes as and when he could. In fact he told that Har ki Dun could be done in 4 days flat and not this extended. We spoke about Rupin as that was the next one I would be doing in May. He even led Rupin and Supin treks.
The vista changed back from freezing temperatures in snow filled landscapes to ridges to rocky moraine and slowly we made our way down. I just couldn’t believe that just a few kilometres away, there was this paradise! How mind boggling that was!
As we reached the campsite, my immediate reaction was it’s so peaceful and quiet here and Surinder immediately said Yes I understand, sometimes it’s good to just sit quiet, to take it all in after what we experienced.
Raghu and I sat on a rock at the campsite and I remember him saying so peaceful it is here, with no one at the campsite.
It was true, a strange beautiful calm had set in. Though it was good to group up, solitude is something else.. To be with oneself, in silence is a gift. Archana joined us later and she started humming a song and I joined in as we sang some old 70’s songs. It was bliss, sheer bliss.
Slowly, the others started walking in and it was still afternoon. We had a whole day to rest up. The weather was changing like rapidly, a few minutes of sunshine to a few minutes of cutting wind chill, we so wished it wouldn’t rain.
Kadambari got hit by first stage of AMS, her oxygen levels went down to 69 so Tanmay immediately put her onto Oxygen cylinder and she would stay put in the tent.
Vidya and I lazed in the tent and chatted up about life, relationships, ourselves, it was awesome bonding. The beauty is that the mind and heart is open, so open amidst the surroundings. We laughed and laughed and god knows over every silly mundane thing!
In the evening, when we all assembled in the dining tent, it was freezing. I got a bad cough as my throat caught the wind chill. Yet we all banded together and played something or the other. It helped with so many people around, we were warmed up.
The previous night Tanmay had related a terrifying incident at Goechala trek he lead in 2016, where a teammate oxygen levels dipped to 39, yes 39 where survival chances are very low. I remember us listening in rapt attention as he narrated it all…
Through all of it, I saw the spirit of the man struggling to survive and the entire team who made a decision to go back for his sake and it didn’t matter they spent so much money or time to see the summit. It was humanity.
Tanmay showed a video made by one of the hikers about Goechala and I share that link here, because you must watch it. It’s the sheer beauty of it and team spirit.
I was entranced by it. So will you.. Kudos to Dhaval Javal for such a beautiful video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O9ZLZIkECAQ
When I saw the video, I had tears in my eyes, I still do when I see it every time and I see it at least 2-3 times a week.. Something happens to my heart, to be there, to be in it.. Mountains do that to you don’t they?
Finally it was time to retire and promptly Tanmay and Raghu joined us in the tent. Sharon was with Vivek and Kadambari was recovering now. We chatted up for some time and slowly turned in for the night.
It was a beautiful day and it was time to head back and none of us wanted it to end that soon..