I waded my way to Livfree hostel by 6.30 am for the pick up. Since that was the location for quite a few treks with Indiahikes I went asking around for Pangarchulla group until a driver pointed me out towards them.
A bunch of guys were laughing and joking around, and I introduced myself. The names didn’t register immediately which usually is the case. I was intrigued by one gentleman, B N Shah aka Bhadrakant Shah, he had been quite vociferous on WhatsApp group and what happens is we automatically form our preconceived notions based on that. Honestly I was shocked to see a tiny older man hair tied in a ponytail with an ever smiling face! This was the man?? Seriously??
I also got introduced to Biswajyoti Pal or Paul as we later knew him as, a Bengali originally from Meghalaya who later I would know was so South Indian and Bangalorean to boot, he could put other South Indians to shame and a rare Bengali at that who didn’t like to eat fish and loved his Dosas and filter coffee! 😁
I got talking to ‘Shahji’ as I would call him or Shah Sir and it was really pleasant talking to him, we discussed various treks as well as one common thing we had, arguing with trek coordinators 😊 He rightly observed that most of them are tuned into cut, copy and paste answers as they deal with so many treks. And as I was talking came walking a storm!
A beautiful bright lady with the most gorgeous silver coloured hair. With a big smile she asked Pangarchulla? A Tamilian and settled in Bangalore, she was a powerhouse. Vivacious, extrovert ever smiling and let me tell you an absolute positive person. We hit it off instantly. Chandra was her name, and true to her name she was just that. Shining her rays throughout. She had finished running a half marathon last week and was still sore and yet managed to come onto this difficult trek.
What I love best about this woman was she absolutely had no qualms of saying as it is. Frank, laughing all the time, exuberant, gosh we need more people like that in this world, don’t we?
As I made my way through the group, Aditya from Australia, Vijay from Mumbai, Bala from Bangalore, Abhinav, my heart felt good. All of them had done treks before which meant there were no newbies and Pangarchulla is definitely not for newcomers. It would test even the most seasoned ones but we would experience that later.
And just before we were about to get into the tempo came a big strong Biker guy, another guy with the name Aditya whom we would call Baba! An absolute biker who transported his bike from Pune to Delhi, and rode all the way to Rishikesh and he would ride to Joshimath and pick it up post trek to again ride into the horizon. He fit the bill of every biker guy you could think of. The hair in a tiny knot, full beard and formidable! But our Baba was something else too, a cheerleader, friendly, very very kind and helpful.
A few others were sitting in a bolero, and would follow us to Joshimath. Most of us exchanged briefly the treks we did, and what was refreshing was that no one was showing off as to how many treks one did, it was more of sharing memories, hard times, the good and the bad, that’s it. We discussed other trek companies too and I remember Abhinav being shocked when I told him my last few experiences with Indiahikes was among other things, bad food. Chandra faced the same so there was a lot of discussion on it, I only hoped this time would be better.
Paul and Vijay had trekked Gaumukh Tapovan on different dates and the pictures they showed took my breath away. Both were in awe, and yup this was one of the few, maybe the only one where you could see Mt Shivling all the way from the base to the peak! Pictures speak a thousand words and when I saw it, I instantly knew I would do this trek, soon. Isn’t it wonderful how one trekkers experience inspires you to do it too?
I remember Paul saying, I am not much for religion and all but when I saw Gaumukh something shook inside me, it was spiritual it was divine, there is something so above us. His words still ring inside me about Gaumukh and I thank him for that.
In between napping and chatting we reached a place to stop by for Chai. Paul, Chandra and myself were craving for a beverage and now it was anything chalega( anything is ok). But the moment we sat down and saw the Bolero group guys ordering for breakfast, we didn’t waste time and did the same.
And at that time I could finally see the only other lady besides me and Chandra sitting in front of us. Priyanka. Quiet, introvert, and listening in. She was an endurance runner and has an incredible story. Encouraged by her daughter’s coach and her son, she took up running 5-6 years ago and went from strength to strength. Coming from a conservative Marwadi family, a homemaker with kids, her husband and kids were her strength, they supported her in every single way. Marathons, half marathons, gruelling endurance runs she was doing it all. At 38, for the first time in her life she travelled alone ever for a trek to Kedarkantha and never looked back.
And later as we three shared the tent and I also got to trek with her every single day, let me tell you I thoroughly enjoyed every moment with her. A quiet strength, grit and determination and a laughter that was amazing. Priyanka if you ever read this, I didn’t get to express it then, but you have given me the best of my experiences trekking with you. 💕
Slowly but surely we moved on from Breakfast to the famed DevPrayag where the confluence of rivers happened to lunch. I remember Vijay, Chandra and myself talking passionately about topics that was controversial and certainly would not be liked by ‘woke folks’ or activists.
I vividly remember Aditya ‘Aussie boy’ as we henceforth call him, singing old Hindi movie songs in his beautiful voice and saying with pride how much he loved India and had respect for defence forces, His maternal grandfather was in the Navy and the values instilled in him was strong. A 26 year old and the youngest in the group he was the ‘Sunshine’ of the group. So you see, we had a moon and sun in our trek group! 😁
After a super long day, we finally reached Joshimath, and all the memories from December came rushing back to me. That time when I came to Joshimath for Kuari pass, my heart was broken, I was a nervous wreck tightly wringing all my emotions of the loss of a loved one. I remembered that evening, it was freezing cold, a few of us went to the temple that was below the town to seek blessings and I was pleading to release this pain inside I was carrying. And this time..
I felt very emotional, I could hide my tears behind my glasses looking at Joshimath, so much happened since then and here I was, back again in 4 months. It seemed long and short at the same time.
As we got down, Nishant welcomed us. A tall dark guy with a shy smile, and leading us to the guesthouse. The guesthouse was quite away from the town, almost isolated, I wondered why until he mentioned in the orientation that Covid cases were increasing in Joshimath and it was best to stay away from it.
We sat down for snacks and our orientation started. And this is where the magic of Nishant happened. He was mature, experienced and finally a Trek Leader in his early 30s, who said openly he didn’t want to talk about the start of Indiahikes and all that jazz as most of us had trekked with the team before. He came right down to the point. Crisp, clear and straightforward. Shah Sir had trekked with Nishant last December for Kuari Pass.
Nishant was working as a Chartered Accountant with Tata Steel, an out and out Jamshedpur guy, he was also associated with different associations due to his job with Tara Steel like Wildlife conservation and Research.
He had a major accident when he was on the bike with his friend, he lost his friend and he was bed ridden with broken bones and a spine that still gave him problems with no hope. The doctors said if he walked that was enough. A national level sprinter, he decided to do more than just walk. he slowly made his way into the world determined to get out of it. And one day he decided to do Nag Tibba a 3 day trek in Uttarakhand and it was the most excruciating experience he had reminding him of the accident, the loss of his friend, his broken body yet he made it and when he reached the top, he broke down in tears and that was it. There was no going back.
What do you say to what you have read just now? For every negative story we keep seeing every day there are a thousand more positive and real stories happening around us, truly in every way. This was just more than inspiring, it was the human spirit, a gentle soul determined to do something beyond what was expected.
That story and so many other things Nishant made us experience in this trek, I am indebted to him for life. So many.. There are very few times when I feel blessed to have met someone like him, it’s all Karmic.
As each one of us introduced ourselves and why we were here, we truly were a motley crew. Mahesh sincerely said he had no idea about Pangarchulla and his friend Shiva signed him up along! Aussie boy had come all the way from Sydney for the trek, Nischal – a strong jawed handsome guy came with his college friend Ujjwal, and who by the way would be called John henceforth! More on that later 😊 Shah Sir took voluntary retirement and had already done 4 treks in 8 months, a young 62 he was raring to go.
Baba of course was Baba, Jai Maharashtra was his motto, Chathrapathi Shivaji ki Jai was his slogan with a big smile and being the protector for everyone 😊
Of the 16 of us in the list, there were now 14 as the two friends tagging with Mahesh dropped out. But as Nishant said there were 18 of us, including Nishant, Surajbhai from Uttarakhand, Khemraj from Himachal and of course our Yoda, our Guru Uttamji from Himachal who would quietly and silently break our egos of having done so and so treks into humility, teaching us lessons of life every day.
To be continued ❤️❤️
PHOTO CREDITS IN THE PICS: PAUL, ‘ JOHN’ NiSHCHAL AND ADITYA AUSSIE BOY