I woke up early morning, excited and nervous. Today afternoon I would be at the pick up location where the entire group would be driven to the base camp. Unlike other treks where we had to assemble at 6.30 am to drive to the base camp, this was a huge relief going in the afternoon. The base camp was just 3-4 hours away so I had plenty of time to relax.
I was already getting a hint of the vibes in the WhatsApp group of this trek. Loud. I mean people were talking to each other one on one but in this group! Like am here, where are you?? We are sightseeing, we are in a boat, we are jumping, on and on and on. I was dreading but at the same time I knew what I would do, be silent and seek my own solitude. Judge me all you want, I care a damn but trekking is not a picnic and each one needs to respect the other’s space. I didn’t get that kind of space during Sandakphu trek but thankfully I had a few who connected and resonated with me, this one looked like a lost cause!
I told Lateefji I will have late breakfast as I knew lunch would also be delayed, the vehicle would stop en route somewhere on the way to base camp and it would happen easily past 3 pm.
I was having chai and sighing big and then I heard something..
Some voices.. a shikhara was coming close to my houseboat and some people coming, oh well other guests were bound to come in, weren’t they? And I did get my solitude and peace aplenty. It was good I was going off.. And what happened next almost got me a stroke!!!
Whom do I see? My buddy Bhim walking in with the biggest smile! OMG!! OMG!!OH MY EFFING GOD!!! I almost reeled and fell back seeing him! It is a feeling when I still think about it, it gives me jitters!! Ecstatic happy jitters!!! 😁😁
The rogue that he is!! He didn’t even let me onto this! I hugged him hard, jumped up and down and punched him innumerable times!! He only said, You didn’t think I would leave you alone on this trek huh??!! Gosh it was a mixture of shock, happiness and anger!!
But how?? When?? What???! Well if you think it was all a big surprise from the start, it was not. But right after the rituals Bhim realised he wasn’t needed and he could still make it to the trek! Of course he lost lotta money on the original scheduled ticket, which btw we both are notorious for, changing plans and booking, rebooking the whole thing! Once he knew it on Friday night, he booked a ticket for late night Saturday, had a bloody long layover in between and here he was! Sleepless and happy! 😁😁
Believe me, if I wasn’t still so pissed at him, I would have bawled like a baby! He was like, now you can’t be angry at me for the next two years!! I told him, he just scraped through, kind of made up for all the anguish I felt these past few days, and I had every right to continue being angry at him!! Man this was something! Let’s say, this was one of the few brightest moments of the trek😁
We caught up on our lives over breakfast and loads of Chai. I truly wished he experienced the house boat like I did these past 3 days. But yes, we would be back post the trek, he would get to experience it later.
Bhim didn’t have Shafiji’s number as I had done all the bookings. So he called our common friend Pankaj, got Shafiji’s number, told him about his arrival and to let it be a surprise for me! The cheek of it all! So that’s the surprise Shafiji mentioned last evening. And all I thought was I will get to eat some special Kashmiri fruit or something😂
Lateefji smiled and said he knew about it too last evening and he kept mum! Wow!! The whole one and half day of spending time with Shafiji and Lateefji and not a word! This was probably one of the best gifts I got!
After Bhim freshened up, it was time to make a move towards the pick up location and out of the houseboat. We had also kept our extra luggage, like a clean pair of clothes behind. You have no idea how precious that is, especially after you go through the grind of trekking!
Bhim was echoing my trepidation about the group yet we thought let’s give them the benefit of doubt. Just one day into trekking and everybody’s wind goes out. And Mountains do that to you, strips you bare. Little did we realise that even the mighty Himalayas are no match sometimes to human cacophony!
Musthtaqji drove us to the location and sweetly gave us a packet of snacks to carry for the trek. Wishing us luck as we got down, he promised to pick us up in 8 days.
So here we were and already mini groups formed! Bhim and I sighed and looked at each other, the vibe itself was weird. Women with heavy make up and jeans as if we were going on a cruise, what was this? Reminded me of Sandakphu girl gang who actually applied make up every day before getting out! And that too in the dead of winter so they could look good in photographs! It gave me shudders but yet the heart keeps saying na na it’s all fine, and Aaaalll is Welll 😊
Then I saw our trek lead, a woman trek lead at that and I was delighted! What a welcome change this was. In all my years of trekking, I never had the privilege of being led by a woman and naturally Bhim and I were pretty happy. Her name was announced in the WhatsApp group the same day and Bhim did confirm it was a woman’s name. Krupa Vyas.
I was also in touch with Tirth- our trek lead when Bhim and I did Deorital- Chandrashila again in April 2021. We were messaging and staying connected and he was leading batches of Tarsar Marsar and Kashmir Great Lakes. Luckily he just finished one batch and he was in Gagangir base camp. It would be good to see him even if it was for a few minutes. I had anyways made up my mind to request Krupa to stop for a bit at Gagangir. It was worth a try.
As usual it was not starting on time and the transport guys were losing their minds. Let me add here and it is very important. Indiahikes was on a roll with KGL trek by having batches 6 days in a week with a capacity of 25 to sometimes 30 per batch!! Bhim and I were pissed off! Totally!! Not in COVID times! And let me tell you Kashmir Great Lakes is not a walk in the park, it was categorised as Moderate – Difficult trek which also meant that if you have never trekked in high altitude, this is not the trek to start with.
But good heavens, Indiahikes was packing in batches like flocks of sheep for Kashmir! And why is this so important?? Because every batch faced the brunt of it. You will know more on this. If you want me to understand that to make up for the lost summer season this year when second wave of Covid hit the country, they were adding batches, it does not justify this especially when they keep crowing about ‘sustainability’.
You cannot and I repeat must not take newcomers for a trek like this until and unless they are absolutely fit and know what they are coming in for. And a group every day except Friday! It would be a mela, with chaos. And it was, with the transport guy tearing his hair out. That guy was getting hundreds and I mean hundreds of calls from people with requests/demands for pick up from airport to sightseeing and what not! Which meant that most of them were thinking like this is a tour.
It angered me more I tell you. What was this fuck up?? The line that, ‘Everyone must trek’ holds true when you also put in the effort to get there. Everyone only sees the beautiful mountains, the landscape, the end product, but do you know what it entails to get there?
To put yourself to that moment means preparing for it, thoroughly, getting fit, eating right, you budget yourself, you give up something to buy that plane ticket/train ticket, you save up hard to pay for the trek, a whole lot of small sacrifices happens to get there. And for what? Because YOU want to do it for YOURSELF and not for an Instagram pic. Period.
Anyways, Bhim and I decided we would get into the last van available. As it is the mini groups rushed like cattle to put their luggage in the vehicles they wanted, we could wait.
There was the last tempo and we got in waiting for the last two trekkers to arrive. And arrive they did, a brother sister duo with a bad attitude from the start. More on that later! Krupa sat right behind me and I introduced myself and requested her if we could stop for a minute at Gagangir base camp to meet Tirth. She said they anyways had to make a short stop there to pick up the oxygen tank. I was delighted! I called Tirth and told him we will meet him!
How do I describe the journey? The brother sister were a pain in everybody’s arse. I don’t want to elaborate more except that when one has an awful attitude from the start, you know this is trouble and will definitely pull down everyone’s energy. Bhim and I would intermittently sleep on and off hoping not to miss Gagangir.
Finally we reached Gagangir and as we got down with Krupa, the driver rudely shouted at us as to where we were going?? We told him to wait, as even our trek leader got down! And there he was, Tall Tirth with a big smile hugging us! We had such a fantastic time with him in Deorital and you realise age has nothing to do with wisdom. This 22 year old could double up as a Zen Master and of course with a lot of Masti! 😁
The driver kept on shouting to come to the bus so the moment we got in, he started driving! We were like hey!! Our trek leader is still in the camp! The idiot was in no mood to listen and he kept saying she is getting down here! Arre!! Until everyone shouted at him saying She is leading our group, how can we leave her?? Then only he turned back, a kilometre into the journey with Krupa having a perplexed face asking what the hell!! as the tempo came back!
What was the freaking hurry? In 2 hours we would reach the base camp! Anyways after that, we kept joking to Krupa, maybe she could have taken a shorter trail and joined us midway into the first day of the trek 😂
After a nice vegetarian lunch we were reaching the base camp with the whole lot. God Save us..
To be continued 😊