At the orientation last evening, Nishant had given us a pleasant surprise. Instead of taking the trek route from Tagisi to Gulling top which would have been barely 3 kms he decided that we would take the route from Auli to Tali and it would be 10 kms, an out and out ascent. Well nothing about Pangarchulla would be ‘easy’ or giving us a respite.
We were very happy because for us Auli was this fabled region after hearing so many stories of it being a magnet in winters for skiing.
There was also another key member to our team. An enthusiastic and bubbling with energy, Pritish. Hired by Indiahikes to document this trek. A brilliant photographer, his goal ultimately was to become an expedition cinematographer. He would be with us throughout the trek, not just clicking pics and shooting moments of our trek but being the core of our team, a backbone, quietly helping us in every way. And I must say he also became the unofficial photographer for most of them. Patiently clicking pics of trekkers posing 😊
We got set and as fellow trekkers were clicking the usual pics before the start I looked around me, here goes! 2022 begins with this trek. Again and again and Again!
Except Priyanka and Baba who offloaded, all of us were carrying our backpacks, and this is the thing ok? And I can vouch for this, as the days went by most of us felt our backpacks getting heavier! Maybe it was our tiredness, or the psychological effect of the hard days.
We started our trek with an ascent and ascent it was going to be through and through, crossing through civilisation, cows and sheep we made our way up. The panting doesn’t stop does it? The first few hours wrings you out no matter how fit or how prepared you are. In the end we are all city folks with our huge egos carrying our so called identity or whatever we identify with and the moment we reach the mountains it’s all thrown away by her like a scrap of paper and that’s what we are, like the KANSAS song’ Dust in the Wind’.
We were slowly making our way step by step from steep ascents to wide open meadows and as I looked back I saw Chandra struggling, a bit. She was fit but I could see her face pulled down, thinking it as being the first day I made my way forward with Priyanka, Paul and Baba walking side by side. We were all a fit group, there was no doubt about it and believe me that makes a lot of difference in difficult treks like these. Time is of the essence and with the Himalayas and it’s unpredictable weather, the key was turnaround time.
As Nishant said, we need to make sure we reach camp at a turnaround time, that would help him and his team to plan the next day and finally the D day summit.
And just like that.. In less than an hour we got the breathtaking sight of the Goddess herself- Nanda Devi! Magnificent, ethereal, resplendent and enigmatic. Paul from the very beginning told us that the big reason he was doing this was to catch a glimpse of her. This was his motivation. And when we least expected it, she showed herself. Paul went over the moon, how blessed and lucky he was, to see her on the first day, in all her glory.
Just the sight of her, seeking her blessings was enough fuel for me to move forward, whatever tiredness I felt was ebbing away, I was charged. Most of you know by now how the landscape of the divine Himalayas are, yet.. Every single time it feels new and different with a familiarity that one calls home. I feel it every time, looking around, the skies, the massive Himalayan landscape surrounding us as if to give us a hug with the trees, the birds and no form of human settlement..
As we slowly trudged our way up chatting, sometimes in silence I saw Chandra trying her best to move forward, what was happening in there? Nishant told us it was a gastric problem, she has been getting burps, stomach filling with gas and guys it’s the mountains so the pain and problem increases as we were in high altitude. It’s very unpredictable, there was no denying her fitness but her stomach was not taking it. Later as we kept moving kept trudging and reached a lunch spot, Chandra’s was pulled down totally. She had severe acidity, the burps were not helping, but she had to eat, otherwise she would not have any energy to reach the next camp.
Meanwhile new nicknames were propping up in our group! Nishchal and Ujjwal looked like twins, tall lean bearded bald and with Aditya Aussie boy joining them while trekking, they looked like one!! So out came the tag ‘John & friends’ and why? Paul later told me that Nishchal’s voice exactly ‘sounded’ like John Abraham! I only wished there was someone around who ‘looked’ like John Abraham 😝
It was a super long day, and the first day of 10 kms and steep ascents was like a jolt to the body, it felt like it was never ending. With Surajbhai in the front, and Uttamji and Khemraj at the back, we kept moving along. Why do we do this? I keep repeating and answering it every time I blog, because that’s how it is. No matter how much pounding this body and mind takes, what Himalayas gives us back is priceless. It’s not tangible, none of us can explain what it does to us, just like a therapy workshop, it grows onto us, and we carry it back with us to our cities, changed, looking at the world and people differently and we are not the same anymore.
And then? We go right back into the mountains again, seeking and exploring more within. For some it’s a break, for some it’s passion, and to be honest I have rarely met anyone whose life hasn’t transformed a bit after trekking in the mountains.
And yup there is another side too. Trekking in Himalayas has become another ‘bucket list’ another Instagram worth story to show off. To take 10000 pictures and show what you experienced which others didn’t, but then my friends what happens when the music stops? When you have done all that posting, from every social media app to WhatsApp groups to friends/family then what.. There is silence, and there is only yourself. And you can’t escape it.
Anyways I had to write this, because when I first started trekking to what I see now, there has been a huge change, for the better and for the worse too. That’s how life is..
Finally we reached the campsite of Tali exhausted, dropping our backpacks and waiting for some hot beverage. Chandra by now was drained. She told us she threw up twice. And she had no altitude sickness, her oxygen levels were on par it was her stomach that acted up, then she mentioned she was sipping a pre-workout protein powder once she started walking. It still didn’t strike us till the last day that could have been the culprit. Protein powders especially in high altitude don’t digest well at all. And she had whey protein powder which even in most people causes constipation and bloating. It revolted inside her system. Maybe that was one of the main reasons.
But one solid thing we learnt this time was there is no rhyme or reason why it happens to certain people. I have seen in my previous treks, the fittest of all being struck by Altitude Mountain sickness at 8,000 feet. A shocking example was what we heard before the start of the trek. Abhinav, yes Abhinav who did 12 treks with Indiahikes suffered whole night with diarrhoea, fever, body pains and opted out on day one! And More such harsh lessons would be lashed out to us in this trek.
As we took in our accommodation in our tents, Nishant clearly said usually there were two in a tent, but in no way would a single person occupy it, we were like why? And out came snippets of supernatural phenomena witnessed by the locals, by IH teams themselves. We would not get the full load of stories but what little we heard was enough. Especially tomorrow’s campsite was severely filled with stories, sightings and bad experiences by trekkers.
Chandra, Priyanka and I got into one tent and we also got the luxury of one more tent just for our backpacks. It was so good, that it became a backpack dumping and changing room for us, we were privileged!
What I liked about Nishant was that he didn’t force us to band up together to play some silly games, just with our energy he guessed we bonded on our own, he left us plus as far as I am concerned I loved it that he didn’t go to every person who was trekking and asking their stories which is drilled into all Indiahikes Trek Leaders. He gave us our privacy. He would quietly join us in the dining tent and be an observer as we joked, spoke debated on everything under the earth.
The next day was going to be the shortest as well as the ‘easiest’ as Nishant put it. In comparison to what we would go through, yes now in hindsight it would be definitely easy! Chandra decided she would offload her baggage for one day tomorrow and see if it helped. Uttamji had carried her backpack for sometime and she was already feeling guilty about it. We assured her that this was not her fault, her stomach was not reacting well in high altitude. And I could already see the shock in her face. This is a gal who did Rupin Pass and that is a damn tough trek. How could this happen to HER?
This was a lesson unfolding not only for Chandra but to all of us. The Himalayas decide, that’s it. You have no choice but to bow to her because all she is doing is showing us time and again how insignificant we are in the universe.
To be continued on Monday ❤️❤️