As I get ready to write this, I have a big lump in my throat because as I visualise what happened next, words are not enough, honestly I can’t even put 10% into writing what we experienced. This is a frail attempt on my part to recollect it all..
In pitch darkness, under a beautiful moonlit magical night with freezing temperatures we made one heavy step after the other. It was so freezing cold as we grunted huffed and puffed to every step I stopped feeling anything inside.. My hands were frozen and so were the feet, the body goes into a state of shock and numbness, and then you know what? The mind, it’s only the damn freaking crazy mind that can make you or break you. It’s that mind which will tell you to give up or push forward. It’s that damn mind that can take you to the finish line or stop where you are..
We had our microspikes on to walk on hard ice and every step was such a technical ascent, we could hear the sound of pick axe as the technical guide kept carving ‘steps’ a small foothold to let us climb it painfully. I thought I did difficult and tough treks but Pangarchulla is the god of Indian treks, nope not even Goechala comes close according to Bala and Shiva who did it. This was different and damning difficult in so many ways.
The weather hadn’t acted up yet but it was seriously cold and freezing. The water breaks seemed like torture now, yes serious torture ass our hands were shaking to reach the bottle and sip. We forced water into us. What was this? Nishant kept shouting, don’t sleep! Don’t feel sleepy! He had warned us at the briefing, if anyone felt sleepy, it could be tiredness but was also one of the early signs of AMS or worse HAPE, and I remember Paul murmuring why am I feeling sleepy now? Most of us were by now, I was blinking my eyes hard, shaking my head vigorously to repeating inside, NOT NOW, SLEEP CAN WAIT.
And then came the excruciating stretch of boulders on the most beautiful moonlit night. With rains washed away and snow here and there, and water and sprinkles of ice on slippery boulders, this was a whole new ball game. Using our whole body we took one step at a time not stopping, several times my leg got stuck into snow when I slipped, so it was for the others. And we kept going.
There was deadly silence now except for the voices of Nishant, Uttamji, Khemraj, Surajbhai and another kitchen team guy Mukesh who joined us. And then we heard on the walkie talkie Surajbhai was carrying, it was Nishant.. He slipped on the boulders, his ankle was twisted and probably a ligament tear. Oh man.. then what you ask? Nishant came up, not a word, it’s as if his injury didn’t exist and kept motivating us all over again. Just no words about this incredible man.
When I recall that time, those moments fleetingly, all I felt was this nice meditative blur, like these voices were from far away, calling me, sometimes it felt like we will keep going forever and ever and there is no more duality of emotions- neither happiness or sadness, no tears or laughter, a state of transcendence, not even looking up at our goal, it doesn’t matter anymore. I still can’t pinpoint this after so many treks. What happens to a human being while pushing towards extremities.
And then.. Priyanka mumbled I need to talk to Nishant, immediately I called out for Nishant. I could see her pale face very tired and she simply said I feel nausea, I feel like vomitting. Nishant quietly gave her pills- a steroid form of tablets that would instantly kick her into action in 20 minutes. In my heart I was going No No Priyanka, don’t give up, we are gonna make it. And the brave gal that she is, she got up and started trekking. I could hear her groaning with heavy breathing at every step, and I just kept pace with her. No way was I going to leave her side. I don’t know how to explain this, but when you see one of your mates zapping out, you forget your pain, your struggle, your focus now remains on making sure they keep going. All through I remember I was silent keeping an eye on her and hoping that she won’t give up and she didn’t.
At what seems like a haze with a very steep ascent, the team shouted, we are reaching ‘ Baby Pangarchulla’. this was the ‘smaller one’ and after this would be base camp at Pangarchulla. As we took a break at the baby Pangarchulla thoroughly exhausted none of us cared about the time, the weather nothing anymore. Everything vanished. Even the dipping temperatures didn’t matter, we would keep going, simple. Priyanka murmured helplessly Arre Yaar, isko hi Pangarchulla summit samajke end kardo ( Let’s call this Pangarchulla summit and end it all)
I looked around our small group, the energy we all had now to hold onto tight was purely mental and emotional. Physically the body had given up long ago and that’s a fact, but the complicated brilliant mind kicks the door, takes over you and it’s upto you what you do with it.
Surajbhai shouted here it is we are reaching base camp, we were at the bottom of the formidable looming over us Pangarchulla peak, we had to really push HARD. And as we looked up briefly, it was the steepest ascent I have done. All technical climb. But at that time it’s all blankness and you just follow instructions.
After one point I don’t know how or why but it was Priyanka and me in the front with the others behind. Where was Paul? He started lagging behind saying my energy is getting sapped out, he kept going, yet I could see his face draining. And for me that was really hard not seeing Paul in the front, ahead of us. You see what Himalayas does is breaks you inside, from patterns, from habits you formed. It tests you to the maximum. I was so used to seeing Paul with us all these days, not seeing him in the front pulled me down. It is a deeply personal yet collective energy going on here.
And from that point on every step became heavier as Priyanka and me lugged on, I kept telling her softly whether she heard it or not, let’s keep moving, maybe more to myself, to this mind, to this sleepy eyes, to the body in a heightened state of shock and numbness. The final push would take us an hour and half. As Khemraj or Uttamji would keep making steps, one step at a time we kept our foothold, one painful foothold at a time.
This ascent, on snow on the body keeping straight at the most steep ascent I have done will be with me for life, a memory I might remember on my deathbed when it’s my time to go. Why you ask? How can I express this?
Pangarchulla, her grace, her ability to pushing me to let everything out is what I call divine. That’s the only word that comes close to it. It was a penance, it is a penance for me. Only she decides as to who can see her. It’s just the way she is. There is no reason why that happens but she takes every ounce of everything that you have and says even after all that do you want to see me?
Surajbhai shouted Shabaash Shabaash just 30 more minutes, And then it happened.. I saw Paul sitting face down saying I can’t, my energy is gone, I can’t move further.. My heart broke seeing him, at this point at this time when it was so near, he was down and out. Tears welled up in my eyes as I saw Nishant rush upto him. He firmly told all of us to keep going, no stopping now. Oh Paul! Baba like a trooper was egging him on, but he was a No go. This is for me the most heartbreaking moment of the trek 💔
From darkness.. and then there was light as Priyanka and I saw the last push, the small temple with the flag flapping ahead of us at the top, so near and yet so far with Uttamji telling us bas, thoda aur( a little more), each step became like a strong thumping heart. And then, our Baba shouted out, Come on Priyanka do it for your kids. And we heard those boom voices of Vijay and Baba egging us. This was the ultimate team spirit.
And at 5.20 am we were there. Priyanka bowed down in front of the small temple shrine and I went in next and prostrated in front of her magnificence. As I write this I am crying unabashedly because of all the treks I had done, nothing has evoked such strong emotions out of me as this one. And every time I go back to the moments I cry, it’s unexplainable..
What happened next were tears, that charged energy of emotion and tears from everyone, it was not joy it was not sadness it was not exhilaration of reaching the summit. No it was not that. Priyanka broke down and we hugged hard and cried shamelessly, and I mean shamelessly, no holds barred crying loud. We let out everything that was simmering inside. How can I tell this? It was not just reaching Pangarchulla summit, it was everything that we went through in our lives that led to this moment. And she with her blessings got us to this moment.
Vijay cried unabashedly hugging me as we both cried and him saying what is this yaar 13 souls, 13 strangers came together to do this. Nishant cried, oh man he cried full on hugging each one of us. I saw Pritish with his camera crying hard. Aussie boy came rushing crying as we hugged each other. John & friends, Baba cried with hot tears as we hugged. Uttamji came up to me and said ‘ Sher nahin rote’ ( A lion doesn’t cry, be brave)
I end it here for now, the pictures thanks again to Pritish who captured the essence of our ordeal, our path towards the divine grace of Pangarchulla 🙏🙏 To be continued..
DIVINE PANGARCHULLA- PHOTO CREDIT – PRITISH BHANUSHALI