It was a beautiful morning when we woke up to the gurgling stream next to us. There was no hurrying up either.
Archana and I chatted a bit over chai as we took in the surroundings. We saw the two Bhutiyas at our campsite. The whole night they were barking in intervals, looking up towards the mountains. There must have been some animals and they could sense it.
Tanmay told us not to take down the tent nor pack the sleeping bags. The team had to air the sleeping bags outside and another group would be coming next day so the tents were left as it is.
I was wondering as to how much the trees, the mountains must have observed over centuries, watching frail human beings wandering, exploring wearing their invincibility mask initially and finally surrendering to nature..
I loved the word ‘Zala’ and would hear it frequently from Archana, it was a Marathi word and it meant move, or let’s move. She would always use it once we were all set for the trek, she would even tell the dogs to move, Zala! she would say and I began to use it too:-)
Today was extra special because Tanmay decided he won’t lead the trek, he would be a team member like us and the responsibility went to 4 guys.
Raghu would lead in the front, Saish would be the the last one to make sure everyone was safe and the boys Gaurav and Omkar would be in between, watching out and motivating everyone.
Not only that, all four were responsible for making sure breakfast was served on time, getting the food, reminding us to pack our stuff, allotment everything.
Saish and Raghu would run back and forth and serve breakfast and only ate in the end. Omkar and Gaurav would remind us to clean our tents and if we packed our lunches, if we ate and all.
When we saw the packed Lunch were Pooris and Aloo Bhaji, Half of us carried only curry in our boxes and Half of them only pooris, that way we could all share from each other. This might seem small but it was a big thing for me, we were in it together.
Finally it was time to leave and we did with a big three cheers to the entire team and set off with the faithful bhutiyas walking with us, they became a part of us now. We were going back and no way was I gonna rush myself.
I made up my mind that I would try as much to be among the last, with Saish’s group. I wanted to take in the surroundings, listen and observe everything around me. It was the last day for us, the last day when I would be in the Garhwali region of Uttarakhand, tomorrow I would travel towards the Kumaon side.
It was an all descent day and I made sure I had my knee bandages on, it was painful yesterday and I knew today would be even more strenuous. Poor Arun was feeling it in his left knee too, the descents kill you and if you don’t have strong knee caps you are done for.
Sometimes I would be on my own, sometimes Vidya would join me, when we took a break I would chat with Archana or Swapnali, then with Ashish and sometimes with Arun. This is the beauty of treks, you are like this traveler hitting your own miles and chatting up with different people.
Shweta who was quiet most of the time started talking more, she was tired and sick during the trek and now she was getting better, she chatted openly. Sharon still had all those symptoms and there were times when Tanmay would literally drag her by the hand and make her walk.
The dogs were always with us, always. The male and female. Sometimes in the front, in between, they were our companions and I couldn’t believe they walked almost 30 kms with us.
At a point when we took a break we spoke about our careers, what do we do, our respective home cities, the culture and frustrations. Arun knew Telugu, Tamil and Malayalam as well. He was truly multi-lingual. I asked him as to why there was an increased feeling of being a Kannadiga in people I met. I saw it in Roopkund trek and I saw the same here.
He softly said, Swapna imagine you are a Kannadiga and you meet a North Indian in your home city and he arrogantly says I don’t know Kannada only Hindi, speak in Hindi, how does it feel? Here we were being attacked for not knowing Hindi then what about them? Staying in Karnataka and not knowing Kannada?
He stated an incident where a north Indian woman spoke rudely to a female bus conductor who knew only Kannada. The woman’s post went viral where she degraded her and the language and the bus conductor had no means of defending herself. He said these feelings in us have increased over the years. He did have a point. Being proud of our language is beautiful and no one has the right to degrade it or the people.
We carried on our trek and at one point there was a very steep descent and I mean very steep. The mud was dry, loose and slippery and my knee was killing me, I sat down exhausted, panicking until Shweta came forward and said Swapna take small baby steps, Come! We held onto each other and came down and this is the thing that touched me the most.. When I said a big Thank you to her, she simply smiled and said It’s Teamwork, we are all in this together.
We sat near the same stream which we passed 5 days ago for lunch and shared our stuff with the dogs. By now I wanted to walk even slower. So I started walking with Saish, Tejas and Ashish with Chetan and Karthik clicking pictures of the surroundings. I wanted to take a Rhododendron flower as a memory and as I was saying this loud, promptly Vidya searched and picked up a beautiful flower and gave it to me 🙂
We spoke about music, The Beatles, Rick & Morty on Netflix, classical music, stories behind certain songs, it was awesome.
Throughout the trek, all four who were assigned did their job so well. Omkar was caring enough to stop when we had to answer nature’s calls and would tell others to wait and give us privacy. Gaurav would go back and forth and check on everyone. Saish and Raghu would co-ordinate with each other through walkie talkies and make sure everyone was safe.
Tanmay was one heck of a trek leader. I knew that anybody who would lead me on future treks, I would no doubt compare him/her to Tanmay, it was inevitable.
I remember the final kilometres so vividly even now. Ashish and I were slowing down purposefully, seeing the mountains around us as if it was the last time.
Saish was so chilled about it, he didn’t hurry us up, he walked along with us. There were moments of silence and peace with Ashish when we both looked up and beyond the mountains. It was like a Goodbye..
Finally we reached Taluka village as the whole team cheered everyone. The dogs were still with us. Finally it was time to load up our backpacks and get into the jeep and a few of them still had the energy to get on top and just when the jeep started it’s journey, it happened..
The Bhutiyas started running after our jeeps and it was crushing us, crushing us to pieces, Archana almost teared up, How could they survive running after us like this…
It was a strenuous rocky 1 hour drive, the dogs were panting and running.. It was unbearable to watch as all of us felt so helpless. We even thought of taking them with us but the dogs at Sankri wouldn’t leave them alive, they were all territorial.
The female gave up but the male was panting and running, we were in tears watching him.. Then Tanmay got down from the jeep, ran towards him, gave him a hug, held him and whispered to him gently. It was truly heartbreaking I tell you..
It worked because after a few minutes we saw him stop and watch us until we could no longer see him. That picture of him at that moment is something I will take to my deathbed.
Finally we reached Sankri. 24 souls reaching base camp. We were tired and energized, there was a new glow in all of us, a camaraderie, we were a family, we stuck together, all of us.
Tanmay as promised gave us Rhododendron juice! It was absolutely delicious. Saish would pronounce Rhododendron as Rhodododdendroooo 🙂
We were ribbing each other, telling jokes as we ate delicious bread pakodas. We decided to have chicken that night. Indiahikes as a policy didn’t permit Non Vegetarian food in the kitchen so Saish, Tanmay and a few others banded up to buy the chicken, get it cooked in the village and get it to the base camp.
Vidya, Ashish and myself went around the village, giggled our way and had quite an adventure! While I can’t tell you what exactly happened, all I can say is that we got lost, my finger got caught inside a door and by the time we found our way to the hostel it was a pitch dark night 🙂
We all had dinner together in the Men’s dorms. It was an awesome moment. Tanmay spent a good 1.5 hours giving us certificates. We were so dead tired and we had to keep ourselves awake. He was truly a people’s person, I was surprised as to how much he could remember each and everyone’s quirks and nuances, their personalities and what all we shared during the trek.
He wanted us to stay awake the entire night but it was impossible, all the ladies nicely left the dorm on some excuse and it was only Vidya and me now with the guys. We played Dumb Charades and hilarious movie names came out.
The highlight for me was Saish making 14 year old Gaurav enact a C grade movie title, ‘Pati Fauj mein, Biwi Mauj mein’ (Sorry I just cannot translate this!) The poor kid had no idea how to enact this 🙂 Only Saish could come out with such bizarre titles I tell you!
We all crashed for the night. Like Dead logs.. Tomorrow each one of us would go in different directions, back to our lives not knowing how much we have shifted on the inside..