That evening before we met up for dinner, I bumped into Krupa and it felt so good meeting her. Sensitive, warm, and very open she was one of the senior most Trek Leaders in Indiahikes. Being a woman and a Trek Leader and dealing with challenges was definitely harder than how men do it, and it’s a fact whether you like it or not. It is a man’s world and I saw how she took on everything during the trek. Right from the Kashmiri guides who brushed her off being a woman to handling the army at checkpoints, everything.
As we caught up on stuff for the little time we met, she told me we can spend some more time once we reached Tapovan base camp. She was the slope manager for Kuari pass and Pangarchulla and last minute she had to take on one group as a TL fell sick.
It also started getting cloudy on and off, with some hailstone showers, and we were like oh no! On our minds was Pangarchulla! But Nishant assured and prayed that it better happen now than on summit day!
So what was the plan for tomorrow? We would start off for Kuari pass at 8 am and hopefully reach by lunch time. It was an ascent and an ascent but with better weather conditions. This was a test for all of us, because not only would we do this trek but the same night/ early morning we would set off for Pangarchulla. Nishant was not telling us the timings for summit day, first things first Kuari pass. And were we glad we didn’t have to carry our backpacks!
In the morning we were all set and ready, even last night at dinner, there were full on one liners on NIMSDAI and how Pangarchulla would seem to him, and Nishant was like keep joking on Pangarchulla and it’s right waiting for you, ‘ Aaja beta Aaja, tume dikhati hoon’( Waiting for you to teach you all a lesson!) So that morning before we started, in a circle we prayed to her, apologising for our jokes and asking her to grace us.
We set off, over and above ascent, steep ascent through the forest, and it’s a wonder how the body remembers everything. When I trudged my way up in deep snow in December it seemed excruciating and by now the body was so attuned to the ascent I truly started enjoying it. I am a total out and out ascent person, it’s something I look forward to sheepishly, I cry about it but it puts me in a complete meditative mood where it’s all blank. And this was fantastic weather, sun was shining, flowers were blooming and everything was so welcoming.
Even as we saw the ascent all the way to Jhandi top, it still seemed welcoming with the massive mastiff of mountains surrounding us. The memory was coming back to me, that knee deep to sometimes hip deep snow that Anshulbhai and I traversed making big steps one at a time for the others behind us only to see it wiped away in seconds because of trailblazing winds and snow! How times change.
Chandra was going very slow, and struggling super hard now, just reaching Jhandi top was too much for her. As I saw her pale face, to be honest then and there I knew tomorrow would be a no go. But you convince yourself hopelessly that it will work. There are times when you push, and times when you give up fighting against what your body wants to do, this was that time.
Nishant was with her and he knew best and within minutes it confirmed what I realised, she was heading back to Khullara. We made our way to Jhandi top and the view was mesmerising, because it was clear skies, we could see the entire mastiff of the Himalayas surrounding us. I bowed to the small temple, here in December I was looking at the stormy Pangarchulla and decided I would do it, and she got me here again. This was a blessing. We had another 1.5 kms to ‘Kuari pass’, very narrow trails with lots of hard ice and snow in between. For a few of them like Paul it was their first trek walking on snow, it was exciting and thrilling, as we navigated our ascents, keeping 30% of our body weight on the mountain side and moving forward. Quite risky and lots of slips kept happening.
We had reached a high point where it was the ‘official Kuari pass’ and let me tell you something busting a myth! All trek groups regardless of the organisation you trek with ends at this top which they call ‘Kuari pass’ BUT the actual pass is another 1.5 kms ahead and because of unpredictable weather conditions and very tricky trail, no one goes there. So when Surajbhai asked us does anyone want to go there? Who would say NO? Nishant murmured ok as we had to get back to camp to take some rest for summit day, he was more worried about that. But we were a crazy bunch and off we went to the actual Kuari pass. And yup who says it’s easy mate!! An exhausting thrilling trail and we were there! The Actual Kuari pass.
It was exhilarating and rejuvenating! The landscapes looked even more magnificent at the pass. And also out came the jokes! A ‘Pangarchulla team’ trekked to the actual pass. And whenever any IH team would take a pic at the top posting on Instagram saying Kuari pass done, we would comment saying NO BOSS, WRONG ONE! 😂
Even for Nishant this was the first time he came to the actual pass. The last time he tried the weather was so bad he turned back not realising he was just 100 mtrs away from the pass.
After our celebratory yays and lots of picture taking scenes we gingerly made our way back to the top where all groups stopped. The top had a steep narrow ascent up and the only way to go up or down was in a single file and to wait for our turn for the other groups to leave. Priyanka and I echoed the same, god knows how are we gonna descend from this top but first let’s do this ascent!
There were other groups, it didn’t matter, I had resigned myself to take in what comes. I didn’t even feel like taking pics. I am not saying this to make others feel bad about clicking away, it’s just that in the past few years I have moved away from clicking pics where I am in it. The memories matter more to me, and the biggest way I am doing this is writing my blog and that was enough.
We descended just fine and made our way back to Khullara. The moment we reached the campsite I saw Chandra walking around, her face pulled down. The smiling face was gone, she was not herself at all. My heart went out to her. I know how isolated one feels when you see the entire group finish up something.
And as we sat for lunch, she was in a corner staring and I asked her a couple of times are you ok? There was silence.. and.. then she broke down.. Baba was next to her, as she controlled her tears, he held her and told her it’s ok. I went towards her, and little later Priyanka joined me as she broke down.
Gosh I know what it does to you. I held her and told her to let it all out, no point in keeping the pain inside, it feels like a rejection, you doubt your ability to do it. And ever smiling happy Chandra let her defences down and cried. It was about time she let it out. She kept a brave front despite the stomach issues consoling herself it will be ok every day, but it’s the Himalayas, it’s high altitude nothing is predictable. And Himalayas was teaching Chandra to accept her circumstances. It was not a I win I lose situation.
My heart broke as I held her and Priyanka was beside her when she said, I was waiting for you two to turn up at the campsite, this is what sisterhood is all about. We women have to band together. We work doubly hard in everything that we do in our life since we are born to prove that we are worthy of it. Time and again, every time. Chandra’s life is not easy, neither is Priyanka’s nor mine. I thought do the men in the tent know what all it took for us to reach here.. to go for a trek, to do something beyond convention, to walk hand in hand with the men equally, to be at that spot sacrificing so much..
With due respect, I am not berating men, that’s not the point. I want you to understand putting yourself in our shoes. You see, nobody will ask you when you come on a trek if you have a 2 year old kid or children, oh my god who will take care of your family if you are a man. But we have been asked multiple times in different ways and that’s the difference.. this is the truth.
I sensed the entire mood in the tent, I only wished besides Baba others too would come up to Chandra and sit with her, but I also understood how difficult it must be too for the others. Here was a woman, a happy smiling woman all these days becoming vulnerable and crying in front of them, men wouldn’t know how to handle or confront it.. They have not seen or experienced how sensitively it can be handled. My respect for Baba went up more, because behind that machoism was a guy who didn’t hesitate to open his arms and hold Chandra as she cried out.
Honestly this incident has been in my heart for quite some time and I had to let it out. My love for Chandra went ten fold because all our lives we are told not to express our emotions, only show happiness. But the mountains made her open up, show her vulnerability, and to me this is a show of strength, not weakness.
To be continued..