We reached the guest house at Joshimath around 4 pm and it was shivering cold. With our monkey caps and sweaters on, our tiny group settled in the rooms.
Meenakshi was really nice. She had motion sickness and all she could do was to just sleep through the drive until we reached the base camp and she actually apologised for being so silent throughout the trip. I could totally get it. Trek leaders lead so many groups day in and day out, motion sickness or not, they needed to gather themselves and be in solitude for some time before they could start all over again.
Garima and I shared one room. A cosy warm one on the ground floor. Pakodas and hot chai was being served. It was a lovely atmosphere with the team there.
As we were snacking I remember chatting with one of the senior team members of Trek the Himalayas. A very nice guy, I asked him about the ‘Char Dham’ yatra the staff were currently exploring. It was on their Instagram posts as their crew were exploring the old routes of Kedarnath, Badrinath, Gangotri and Yamunotri via trekking. It was exciting for me and this was something I would be truly interested in doing. He said that they had just finished the routes and now had to write their reports. This was in collaboration with the Uttarakhand tourist department to see if this was a possibility, to trek through the 4 routes. And he did say that they were here and he would introduce them to all of us.
Joshimath is a major town, a break point to the pilgrimages of the Char Dham. It is a busy bustling centre with no dearth of winter clothes or trekking equipment if one wanted to buy them.
All nine of us ventured out as we had plenty of time before our orientation with Meenakshi. A few were shopping, exploring and just walking around. It was getting very cold, winters were something else here. No amount of layers could stop the cold air whipping our faces, it was a prep for tomorrow.
At one point, we saw a temple, a beautiful one below in the village, so Avishek, Dhairya, Shivam his friend and myself asked directions and went to the temple. It was so magnificent, Narasimha- One of the Avatars of Lord Vishnu temple during sunset, against the backdrop of Himalayas. All of us earnestly prayed in front of the shrine and were interested in attending the evening ‘Arati’( prayer) but we had to get back to the guest house. We made a promise that we would attend it once we finished our trek.
Here is where I stop and tell you how pleasantly surprised I was with my trek mates. They were carrying their faith, their devotion and showing it openly. Why do I say this? Because today liberal means you can diss faith and religion and that’s called ‘open minded’. No folks, open minded is also the ability to have your identity, your faith with you, not be ashamed of it, have pride in it too.
Once we assembled at the guest house, Meenakshi started the session and what a straight forward session it was! She was to the point! She explained everything crisp and clear about the next few days. What Trek the Himalayas covered and what it didn’t. No long drawn lectures, nothing. Yes she stressed on factors like fitness, on Altitude Mountain sickness etc., but I must tell you what a relief it was to see a session that wasn’t bragging about the organisation and how they started it all Blah blah blah. It was so unlike Indiahikes and that was a relief.
She and another team member informed us that the latest weather report predicted bad weather in the next 2 days or so, so we had to be prepared for changing the route on our way back. Usually after Kuari pass would be done, we would take the route via Auli- a place known for skiing, back to Joshimath. But if it snowed heavily the route would change. They told us with heavy snow Nanda Devi might not be visible.
My motivation for doing this trek was to get a good glimpse of Nanda Devi.. She was more than a mountain, a summit, her grace, her energy, her presence, fuelled the existence of the people of Uttarakhand. She was a goddess and for me, the state of mind and heart I was in, I wanted a Darshan of her, the all encompassing mother and Devi. Maybe her presence would make my heart a little less heavy..
Looking back I remember what the senior member told me, when I told him that all I wanted was to catch a glimpse of Nanda Devi and he smiled and said, ‘ You never know how and in what form she will show her presence to you’. That’s the energy of the Himalayas..
To be continued tomorrow..