We rose up to a slightly chill rainy morning, day 1 of our trek and Prerana and I already had our bit of scare last night in the guest house. The previous night I slept off really early while Prerana went for a night walk with the rest of the group. We had also discussed that evening as we checked in that there was a creepy looking old man who seemed really drunk staying in the room opposite ours. Prerana mentioned he ‘checked us out’ from head to toe and it was really creepy. I knew what that meant. Women travelling, that too in northern part of India meant a high alert for us and we had to watch out, this was something sadly to say ingrained in us right from the day we are born. It is a reality.
But we had no idea until that night what were his intentions. We were deep in sleep when suddenly our door banged open at midnight with this drunken man walking in slurring something! We woke up with a start and immediately our instincts kicked in, we started shouting at him. Prerana was softer, but I yelled at him saying get the hell out of here! How dare you come inside! The door lock was not working properly and I don’t know what he thought but that arsehole took a chance. I remember us waking up and ensuring we bolted the door properly before we could get back to sleep. I hoped this would be the last of such mishaps.
As we woke up for our Chai and getting ready, Prerana told Akshay about this man. He immediately informed the owner of the guest house who took his case. These things had to be reported. That creepy old lech with his ‘Beta Beta’ lines cannot get away like that. Rajeevji was quite concerned and told me that we should have woken one of them up. Who knew? As I was going up and down the floors getting ready, that creepy fella smiled at me saying Goodbye Beta and all that shit, I completely ignored him but all I wanted to do was give one solid punch on his face so he wouldn’t do that to any woman again and he was pissed drunk in the morning itself.
We were set for our day. It was raining but tolerable, a gentle pitter patter and no downpour yet. It was going to be a 11.3 km stretch with the initial 2 kms on a motorable road and then we would detour up to the mountain trail. We started walking and Prerana was ahead with Pawan, the guide. I remember her telling me how she always was in the front of the group in her previous treks and how she put pressure on herself and pushed herself every time. She was also an athlete which meant competition, not with others but more so with herself, where she had to keep pace with her own self, keep pushing, keep moving. Later she would learn in this trek how to let go in every way, to not beat oneself up but to know when to pause and rest.
I started walking with Rajeevji as we conversed. I came to know that he ran the best school in Himachal, the Doon Valley school in Nalagarh. What fascinated me was not about him talking about his school, but his vision when he started it. It was his humility that came across. He had never planned it that way, but step by step, destiny, his vision and hard work all came together. Particularly during the lockdown and present times, every school was doing online classes but they went one step ahead and were conducting yoga classes online every morning for the parents! This was refreshing, truly.
Siddhant was ahead as well as Aritra as always. We were not that scattered but as it was the first day, each one went at their own pace on the road. The Bhabha river was gushing next to us and it would remain so throughout the trek till we touched Spiti valley. Finally we reached a point where we would ascent and folks, that first day is always a huff and puff day no matter what. The body has to get used to the shock of ascents and so we did, slowly pacing our way up through wet jagged forest trails in the rain. It was raining throughout that day.
We stopped, we paused, we looked around, took a deep breath, and slowly we picked up our pace. And let me tell you unabashedly, this was the fittest group in all the treks I have done so far. And I don’t mean just physically, Shantanu was a big guy so was Siddhant and Aritra, but their physical and mental fitness was something else, they never lost pace and it motivated me. In the usual treks, there are always a few who completely slow down, but in this trek everyone kept that pace through the trek which helped each other. And no, no one was competing from day one which is a first! I realise in hindsight that each one had their own struggles and burdens to carry, some revealed and some kept deep inside but carry on we did as a team.
The paths as we traversed was breathtaking and breathless at the same time. We kept ascending in the rain until Santoshbhai said now we were in the forest and the ascents would not be so much, and then it happened! It started pouring! Hard! And we enjoyed it so much! Our rain jackets/ ponchos didn’t help one bit and yet we were all joyous with smiles, standing together when it poured hard then again moving on.
From day one, snacks were shared, banter started with laughter followed by a quiet solitude, we were a team from day one without knowing it. Akshay was regaling us with his sarcasm, Ronak was full on enthusiasm with his quiet best friend Bhuvan, the boys were jam packed with bags! First of all was their big backpack and they were carrying another smaller one filled with food! Radhey I must say would be the prankster, pulling everyone’s leg, sparing no one. Later he teamed up with Akshay and took Prerana’s case left, right and centre during the trek 😊 You think this gal kept quiet? She gave it full on every time to both! It was truly a fun group.
I must also tell you that this trek is full of river crossings and I lost count of how many times my shoes and feet got totally wet thanks to these crossings. and there were also river crossings barefoot in the coldest of temperatures of which I will share later.
We all kept pace so well, we didn’t realise it until Akshay stopped us saying, look we are way ahead of time to reach the campsite, the mules and the kitchen team hadn’t even reached there yet, we crossed them, what were we gonna do there?! And we kept that pace throughout and I remember Kadakbhai, the kitchen team head telling me on one of the days, you guys are pacing ahead faster than us! This was again a first at least for me.
But the rains weren’t stopping either, so we had to do with whatever shelter we had under a small canopy of trees, we also ate our packed lunch in the rains laughing away. It was a different experience. There was also the Trek the Himalayas group coming in following us, so for the next 3 days we would always bump into each other camping close by.
Mayur with his insta stick camera quietly clicked or recorded moving images and used words in Hindi I didn’t know existed! His usage of pure Hindi in conversations would spin my brain! Siddhant and Deepanshu would respond with more Hindi words, I felt like I was in a ‘pathshala’! Too much for a South Indian like me 😂 I don’t remember a single word now, but throughout the trek he would use Hindi for simple things, and an amazing thing about him is he would use the word ‘Mitra’ ( friend) followed by the name to everyone and it caught onto all of us. And of course Rajeevji was called the ‘Guru’, the ‘Bhagwan’ showing his benevolence to all of us, how could you not smile to that? Mayur in his way infused a lot of cheer and positivity in us, he was the mediator, the non confrontational guy who preferred being nice than being ‘right’. This was for me the best quality he had.
As we reached the campsite, it was a downpour, and I mean proper downpour and we all had to pitch in to set up the tents. While the kitchen team hurried up to set the dining tent, we were struggling, soaking wet and trying to pitch the tents. Akshay was firm in teaching us no matter what to us all, to not only learn but set it up at every campsite. That’s when I noticed Aritra’s helpful nature, he is a very caring guy. He not only set up tents, he was running around helping us all struggling in this rain. Behind that technical know how was a boy with a big heart.
I think we had all prepared and packed for this trek with two trekking pants and two shirts because that’s how it works, we pack light. Except our Benarasi babu who packed in extra pants, shirts and shorts to boot! 😁 Prerana and I were already panicking, we had to change into the only other dry pair we had and what if we get wet in the rains tomorrow again?? We all carried our wet soaked clothes to the next campsite and you don’t wanna face that situation!
I remember a now hilarious situation where I had to answer nature’s calls and the toilet tents were not yet set up, I had to use a rock as a cover BUT I freaking couldn’t unbutton anything because my fingers went totally numb because of the cold and there I was, standing and struggling for 20 minutes being neither here nor there getting drenched by the minute. It’s a situation I wouldn’t wish even for my nemesis!
We finally got into the only pair of dry clothes and got into the dining tent as we assembled together for our Chai. It was still pouring and Akshay said that if it goes down a bit, we could get out and do something together. I remember everyone including me asking if Siddhant could give us his extra sets of spare pants and when he said his waist was 37, we lost hope, how the hell would that work for us!
Akshay congratulated the team on our first day of the trek and being ahead of time, in his usual sarcasm which honestly I can’t ever reproduce here, not possible at all. His Hindi, his slang, his face all that has to be seen. And much later Mayur mimicked the perfect impression of Akshay and his reaction to any questions we would ask 😁
Here is where I stop and reminisce with a lot of warmth in my heart. Here were trekkers with love for the mountains in their heart and soul, who happened to come together, nay, destined to come together, and in this I also include Akshay because without him the circle would be incomplete. He was meant to be with us in this journey and it was meant to be that he had to meet up with us. Period.
He would slowly nudge us to go deeper within, to ponder, to reflect, with self, with the others, and this went beyond Indiahikes, it’s who he was. He sensed the energy of the group from day one, and gently steered us towards our inner journey, the reason why we do what we do, why we come back again and again.
To be continued… ♥️♥️
Pic Credits – Ravi Patel and Prerana Mallya