So here we were, a motley crew in Shitkadi base camp. A few trekkers taking gps location had walked half a kilometre away from the base camp until the team recalled them back. One couldn’t blame them because the drivers abruptly dropped all of us on the road and scooted off. This was annoying because of all the treks I had done, Uttarakhand, Himachal, West Bengal, the drivers were friendly and open. Not the Kashmiri drivers, again that ‘outsider’ thing was seeping through. They didn’t want to talk, nor make a conversation.
One can look away but one shouldn’t either, it is a fact. I remembered one of the trekker’s words during Sandakphu . Revathi had done Kashmir Great Lakes in 2017/2018, I don’t remember, but she clearly said how horrible it felt being treated as outsiders. And that time remember, Article 370 was still in place with all the privileges to Kashmir and with the rest of India having no say in it.
I admired her when she bluntly said, ‘ I am not going back there ever giving any business to Kashmir when it’s people don’t acknowledge themselves as part of the country’, they want employment, they want business but they don’t want us.’ I also remember a few years ago post a trek I was in Delhi metro waiting for the train. And there was a Kashmiri guy, government employment mind you, working in Metro services and on a video call with some foreign chick, I was sitting right next to him and he was loudly clearly telling her, No I am a Kashmiri, not an Indian, this is not my country! Really??! Then why are you even taking a job that is from the government of India?? And let me tell you he told it so boldly and loud, the rest of us standing there, heard it and not a peep came out of us. I could feel the helplessness. This is intolerable, placating a community in the name of Secularism is disgusting.
Anyways.. right when we settled into the base camp and showed our reports and what not to Krupa it was time for snacks. And here is where it slowly started. When we went to pick up our snacks, the local guides grimly were serving very little of it and mumbling, don’t take more! What??! This was big news to me, considering how much Indiahikes overfeeds it’s trekkers. They were Kashmiri’s, reserved, unsmiling not saying a word. The vibe itself was tight and closed. Bhim and I reassured ourselves considering how the day was going, that it will take them time to open up, let’s see.
One incident after the other was happening now. One of the solo trekkers who reached base camp had to go back that same evening as he had an emergency call that his daughter had an accident and she was serious. That dampened the mood big time. With Krupa having to arrange logistics and all there was no time for introduction or any icebreakers or even sitting and chatting and introducing oneself. We were in no mood either. Krupa then popped in and said do ‘dinner with a stranger’ which means sit with someone you don’t know and have dinner.
The mini groups had already formed so much nobody was sitting with a stranger! Bhim and I took a corner happy to be in silence. Then I saw a guy facing those mini groups and not with them, so I thought why not? and introduced myself and asked as to what was his name? He said Rajendran. Then Bhim commented how come he was introducing himself as Raj to the others? He said it’s because they were all speaking in Hindi and he knew it would be too long a name so he shortened it to Raj. We politely told him, that people should make an effort to know your name just as he was making an effort to know theirs. Our identity is our own, so is our name, if one can’t pronounce it, it’s on them. I could notice he was a loner, a quiet guy yet trying his best to mingle, and to me that is something.
Don’t mind me, Hindi is a beautiful language but so are the rest. All I noticed was that most of them were speaking in Chattisgarh Hindi, Bihari Hindi whatnot with not a sense of asking if others were understanding it. And Rajendran didn’t understand Hindi much. During the trek I remember reminding a few times for others to speak in English atleast when he was around but to no avail.
And this is what happens when big groups of 25 come together, mini groups based on language/ community when the very idea of trekking is to dismantle all that.
The next day we were all set to go to Nichnai. The first day itself was 11.6 kms with a steep ascent for 3 hours. But the cacophony was too much, just too much. There is one thing as being excited and the other just rambling away. And ramble loud they did. I decided to be at the front to escape all this noise. And yeah most of them started fast in the first 10 minutes, but then you know mountains happen 😊
One can’t keep rattling away to climbing steep ascent at the same time.Bhim and I finally got some peace as we were in the front. The steep ascent honestly didn’t seem that steep to me, more so now that I think, just two weeks ago I had done Pin Bhaba and my body got used to it. It was strenuous like it always is on the first day but it was not taxing.
Our guide was Shaukat Bhai and Anwar Bhai both from the Gujjar community – the shepherds. Reserved and polite. It would take them time to open up. They were like men on a mission. Going up and about! When I look back, the pace that Shaukat bhai took us on trails, we would never have paced the way we did. Highly instinctive and intelligent, he made sure we were ahead of the crowd of other trek groups. These things only come to you once you finish the trek.
As we started ascending, the scenery opened up vast and unlike anything I had seen before. Kashmir is different, so different and breathtaking I tell you.. The mountains, meadows, skies is unlike anything you have experienced. If you are a Trekker and been to other Himalayan states and then you see this, you will be gobsmacked because it’s indescribable ♥️
I tried to make a conversation with Shaukat bhai, sometimes we tend to patronise or be over friendly to the locals which is the least anyone should do, so I would just ask brief things, nothing personal. He was racing ahead and so was I , keen to be with him than with anyone else. Bhim was caught in a conflict whether to be in the front or behind, he tried back and forth and he realised that being the last was equally noisy . There was one particular couple from Pune who when I think of it didn’t shut their mouth since day one till the trek ended, and I mean 24/7!
I mean here we were in front of this expansive scenery and when we looked back, most of them were not looking around to what they came for, instead gabbing about Dal lake, picnic, food! And I didn’t ‘overhear’ them, the open scenery also meant their voices could reach a kilometre away try as much we wanted to escape. Bhim nodded sadly and said Dude, 7 more days with this! Then I reminded him that we both had a habit of zoning out noise a couple of days into the trek, which we usually did so we got to give it time!
We also had to carry our original identification card at all times because during the whole trek there would be the army lining us up, checking thoroughly our ids with the list of names given.
I also saw a trio, a young guy with two girls, they were all cousins and to my horror and later to Krupa’s horror, wore gym pants and sneakers like a walk in the park!! I didn’t know whether to be amused or shocked! How could IH take them on like this?I mean jogger pants with sneakers you would wear in a city park for strolling! 🤷🏽♀️
I also witnessed a tender moment and I am not sure if anyone saw that. As we reached to a point, Shaukat bhai reached to a point and there were a bunch of huts with sheep. I saw an elderly couple with a younger woman coming towards him with a small packet. From his backpack, Shaukat bhai took out 3 small peaches and gave it to her, while she gave a small packet of something. Then I understood this was his home, his wife, and the couple were his parents. Those 3 peaches were what he got in the morning.. We all got to carry some fruits as it was a long day and he saved it up to give it to his family. And I saw his tiny kids waving from afar maintaining a protocol. I have no words to express what I felt.. The little things people do.. This is love, quiet, silent with small sacrifices..
I simply asked him if this was his home, he smiled slightly and said Yes. I don’t know if anyone of you will understand the significance of this moment.. This is the majority of India people, not the urban cities with apps and deliveries, they have no idea of ‘intolerance’, JNU politics, lutyens mafia, Every single day one topic ‘trending’ the next forgotten, fighting over whose side you are with a drink in your comfy sofas or saying it doesn’t concern me, let’s stay away from it. This is true India..
We reached a checkpoint where we showed our identification card on our list, we had to wait it out, so we sat down. The army btw was respectful telling us to relax a bit. We saw other trekking groups, if you could call them that behind us. Boy, this was a mela alright.
The brother sister duo were struggling to say the least, in fact the brother who called himself a mountaineer which we would know that evening was huffing and panting and his sister with all her attitude looked like the wind was knocked out of her. It became so bad that Anwar Bhai was pulling her arm to walk ahead throughout! And if you think that humbled them, no way. They were making every excuse why they were struggling like bad shoes which were Indiahikes rental shoes btw, to saying, you didn’t mention we had to walk this much, you didn’t tell us we had to ascend! Wow!
In fact that sister had not one bit of respect or thankfulness towards Anwarbhai for being with her, she was like a spoilt kid complaining and yelling. All she was carrying was one small day pack. But what happened next made me wanna slap Bhim!
Her energy was pulling everyone down and our man goes to her and says should I hold your day pack?? And she doesn’t say Thank you and just gives it to him and walks off like he is a servant! And immediately Bhim regretted his decision telling me I don’t know why I did that knowing her attitude!! I saw RED! I mean RED! It’s one thing having empathy but one has to be worthy of it. Bhim oh Bhim, this confusion and conflict that runs within him for years. Always the rescuer to fucked up unworthy ‘victims’ and then regretting it and repeating the pattern again and again!
I had enough and I walked off. You might think this is small, it is not when you see one of your closest friends doing this time and again and in the process you tend to only side with your friend, your judgement is biased, but I know my flaw now, one cannot only blame the girl, my friend had a pattern too, equally to blame.
He was smiling and trying to ease the situation saying you can’t be angry with me after the surprise! I asked him one question, Do you truly want to carry her bag? He said No! Then I said, then have the balls to give it back to her, politely. It was so difficult for him to do that. But he did. But this is the thing, and I tell it from my own experience. Sometimes, the best help is to not help, to step back and let people make their own journey. And I say that holds true even for the ones you love most, you got to let people figure out and fall. Sometimes the biggest obstacle for them will be that you are ‘rescuing’ them from falling. But fall they must so they can learn.
We reached a Dhaba point, and after all the talks at orientation by Krupa to please not order packaged Maggi, the group went ahead and started stuffing themselves, while Bhim and I ordered Kahwa tea without sugar. The network was still working and people were on their phones. I smiled and wondered how much is actually there to talk to families/friends/spouses/lovers when you spoke to them a day before? Was I the only odd one out who disconnected once I was in the mountains? So many attachments…
I sat all the way down and took it in. The meadows, the trees and praying fervently for silence. Bhim joined me and we were looking at each other and smiling. Non stop talking by the group 😊 Were they even getting a bit of what they were experiencing? The gift of what nature offers? Oh well..
It was a long day but after the first 3 hours of steep ascent, the body got used to it. For the next 7 days it would be like this. All packed lunches with a whole day trek and no respite. Hell even the only ‘shorter’ day was scathing!! More on that later.
We were reaching Nichnai campsite and I could already see some faces all set to turn back. We had to set up our tents and people were groaning! I was trying hard not to laugh looking at them, what were they expecting? An all expense paid vacation with tours on a bus? 😂😂
Bhim and I were already making bets on who would go back 😂😂 and let me tell you we got 100% right on the people we earmarked! During snack time, Krupa, Bhim and I started chatting up, we had a lot in common which of course was the love for outdoors. Krupa was a health freak like me, we exchanged views on food, habits, she shared about her lifestyle. And she gave me so many tips I tell you, I can’t thank her enough.
Then she mentioned that the brother sister duo had the gumption to ask her to get a horse because the girl couldn’t walk anymore!! Seriously?? She also had the nerve to say, You cheated us, all this wasn’t mentioned on the website! Wow! And when I looked at that girl, not one bit of guilt, just loudly telling everyone, ‘ Haan haan ascents aasaan tha, mera shoes ka problem hai’ 😂 She was just going around blaming everything except her fitness, the fact that she didn’t prepare for it!
Krupa said if she continues like this, I will send them back, and I don’t think she will last either. She was pulling everybody’s morale down, the rest looked like angels compared to her. You think this is drama and shouldn’t be told? Well people this is a blog, a blog where I write about everything I experienced, the good, bad and ugly, so don’t expect me to cover it up with niceness. That’s not how I function.
More drama follows! To be continued 😊