I am taking a detour from the usual way I write detailing each day to encapsulate two days of the trek? Why you ask? Because I am running out of time to finish this and honestly the best way to write about this is in a summary.
As I have reiterated before, the group was no great shakes to begin with and all the games what not we played at Satsar campsite wasn’t getting me excited either. Yes Krupa was a people’s person and she tried to bring everybody together but Bhim and I was already far gone out to connecting with the group. Bhim still managed to joke around with the lawyer group and played some coin tricks which he usually did in treks with a few others, atleast he was making an effort, I was not even trying, why force myself when I am not feeling it? Something in the group was missing and we both knew that.
Every evening in the tent we would groan collectively, amazed at the sights and nature we experienced that day and feel irritated by the din of the group. Our patience reached it’s limit by the fourth day. We were just not able to take in the views without any noise and chatter constantly around us.
The next day was what they said a ‘shorter day’ and the only day we wouldn’t have to carry a lunchbox but let me tell you it was anything but short! Traversing through endless meadows felt never ending and it was. The meadows in Kashmir are to be experienced. It is a whole new world of its own. And as I said at the beginning, none like it in the world and I am definitely not exaggerating in any way. Yes there were groups, lots of them but slowly we could find our groove to zone them out and by we I mean, Bhim and me.
Intermittently we would talk to Anwar bhai who opened up about the Kashmir situation which was a revelation by itself. He was from Gujjar community and he hated ‘local Kashmiris’, as he clearly stated, they were a bunch of lazy drugged out lot that wanted to be part of Pakistan simply because of religion and he hated it. He said, I am Hindustani, I am an Indian and I don’t belong to that Pakistan! We, from Gujjar community don’t like what Pakistan are doing to ‘our country’.
He explained in detail how the riots worked and with 60% of youth addicted to hard drugs, mind you not ganja, but hard drugs resorted to stone pelting, anything as long as they got money to buy drugs. In raw blunt words he said, if ever Pakistan took over Kashmir, Kashmiri women would be raped, mutilated and become slaves to the men there. He praised Modi for his efforts, how governance was better in Kashmir now, it had become transparent with farmers getting subsidies thanks to policies by the central government. Yep his entire community considered themselves Indians. As simple as that.
The ascents and descents over the trail was getting to us. I had my own challenges, my monthly cycle had started the day before and it was painful to say the least. The tiredness and cramps were getting to me but walk we must. At one point when there was an army check point, I told Krupa I needed to answer nature’s call now! Initially the army refused but the moment they saw Krupa was the trek leader they took us to a far out site that seemed like another mini trek filled with boulders! I remember Krupa and I walking, dead tired and wondering where is the spot! As we were walking back, we saw the army kitchen, the army guys called out to us and we had a nice friendly chat.
Believe me of all the treks, I felt totally dissatisfied with the food this time, ditto with Bhim. The stress and pressure of 6 batches every week was reflecting on the kitchen team. None of the kitchen teams had any respite, the moment one batch ended, next day they were onto another batch, it would definitely reflect on the quality of food.
Though we reached the campsite around 2.30 by lunchtime, the trail was punishing with blazing Kashmir sun and I thought the sun in Spiti when I did Pin Bhaba pass was the worst! This was no less.
All I wanted to do was lie down, the cramps caught up with me, my stomach was churning and Bhim the friend he is tried his best to make me comfortable but what could he do? It was long trails every day and I was dreading the next day.
The next day would be all the way to Gangabal then to Nandakol campsite via Jaj pass- the last pass of this trek, but the trail was filled with huge boulders for the first 2 kms in ascent, and if you think these damn boulders would end, no way Jose! The entire trail was boulder filled on all days of the trek, it broke me literally. The moment I saw boulders I groaned, it was endless!
That evening away from the campsite the guides took us on a mini trek, and yep filled with boulders to show us one of another beautiful pristine lakes up and away and yes we could touch it, have a dip and swim in it! And Bhim did just that, had a terrific swim in the super cold and chilled waters while Sanskar and I were content dipping our legs in water and challenging ourselves as to how many minutes we could do that!
Later I remember having some nice moments with Bhavik and Sanskar and us including Bhim having lassi at one of the shepherds huts near the lake. Let me also add something important here. Usually the mountain dogs are friendly but not the Kashmir ones, especially the ones with the shepherds, at every trail we were given several warnings not to drift and risk being bitten by them. This was new to us. They were aggressive, distrustful of anyone new, and were not friendly, they kept a distance just like the local Kashmiris 😊 Krupa said maybe their temperament was like that because of so much violence in the valley, who knew?
My back was killing me that night so Krupa gave me a pill to get me to sleep and I told her no way could I trek through the long day without medication. My monthly cycle was heavy and painful more so because of the physical stress I was putting myself on this trail. And am so thankful I took a pill that morning as we made our way through boulders. Using hands and legs we traversed our way and let me tell you the boulders were huge, it was not a hop skip and jump, it was all ascent plus the effing crowd, the groups from other trekking companies/guides.
One thing was true, the entire team understood the gravity of the situation that we had to be the first to make the move, to start trekking early before other groups did, and so we did, each and everyone of them, un-pitched and packed the tents, helped others, got our backpacks ready and set out before anybody else and that gave us a big advantage over others.
After the gruelling Boulder ascents and trail we could finally ascend closer to Jaj pass, it was unique because at its highest point, we could see the twin lakes of Gangabal. Oh what can I say.. as we reached towards the pass with fog and mist enveloping us, if this was paradise we died and were in heaven… There were other groups closing in but we got lost in the view. We sat down and finally Krupa spoke. Gently she said, can we please be in silence for sometime? Don’t talk or chat but just be with yourself?
Most of us did that except of course a few who just couldn’t keep silent. Yet for a few minutes the whole group became silent and then you realise silence means confronting ‘yourself’, it’s easy to avoid reality by constantly talking, moving away from yourself, but silence meant being with you, all pretences gone, it was bare naked and that is what scared most people.. As she began to give us postcards to write on which by now has become a norm for Indiahikes, which is truly wonderful , it was emotional for most of us. She also played a poem from the movie, ‘ Zindagi na milegi Dobara’. It was just right.
Bhim broke down, I had tears streaming through with a mix of happiness and gratitude, even the loud couple got emotional with the guy crying, finally in some way the Himalayas got through all of them, it broke them even if it was for some time, the effect of which no one knows then, but it causes a ripple inside and changes you, you are never the same again ♥️
Bhim wrote something for Krupa in the postcard and gave it to her just like he did for Tirth in Deorital. If I had to share what I wrote in gist, that day I finally found myself in every way. My life was taking me to hitherto unexplored areas within me and it told me who I was. I loved my solitude, loved being by myself, and it was time to break a pattern.
Bhim’s life too was taking a detour and it was significant for both of us. It was clear that he wouldn’t trek for quite some time to come and we wouldn’t travel together like this either, it was bitter sweet and beautiful. Some journeys end beautifully and this would be our last one for some time or who knows the last one ever. Life keeps changing and change is good.
I remember showing Krupa what I wrote because I understood exactly the turmoil happening inside her, an intense passionate girl, I knew what it meant when life kept hurling lemons at you and in your most vulnerable moment you feel the need for an anchor. Women who go against the conventional norm of marriage, kids, ‘settling down’ face battles every day. And there are days when you are at your lowest and wonder when will it end.
What I felt at that time was, she needed to read mine and I did tell her to read it, and when she read it, we both cried and hugged hard. She was not alone in this, I was there too, we were battling on our own. Women got to support each other, society has for years been pitching us against each other like competition but no, one had to break the shackles and understand the only way we could ride together as women was to be there for each other.
After a considerable amount of time, it was time to descend all the way down. We would get to spend lots of time at the ethereal Gangabal lake on our way to the Nandakol campsite.
To be continued ♥️