8 reasons why you should travel alone, trek the Himalayas and sleep under the stars
Yes. I trekked the Himalayas. With a bunch of people I had never met before. And it has been amongst the best things I have ever done.
“You are just too inspired by yeh jawaani hai deewani. Or Queen.” This was the most common response I got from friends / family when I told them I was going all by myself to trek the Roopkund peak. So to clear the air, I wasn’t inspired by any of these characters. Because there was one fundamental difference between the lead characters of these movies and me. Unlike them, I wasn’t running away from anything (bad breakup, studies). I was and am at a point of life where I’m happy where I am. I took this trip for the thrill of doing it. Just that. You don’t always need a backdrop story.
And since I am not too good at descriptive documenting, I am going to list 8 reasons why you should do it.
1. Friends Galore
Photo courtesy : Bharathan Raghavan
I had to spend 4 hours alone at midnight at the Old Delhi railway station due to a delayed train. With “A Walk in the Woods” (Bill Bryson novel) in hand and my backpack tightened to my shoulders, I silently spent the first 2 hrs next to a smelly guy on an old station bench. Just when I was losing my patience, I saw 3 middle-aged guys with a trekking rucksack on them. With a thank you prayer in my head, I approached them hoping they were in my trek group (the trek group was to meet at Kathgoddam where the train was headed). Turned out they were not. Embarrassed, I turned around to return to my seat. I don’t know if it was out of courtesy or genuine curiosity when one of them asked “So, is this your first trek?”. And that was the opening to Pandora box full of stories. Stories of the most amazing treks they had been on. Stories of camping and star trailing and animals in the wild. Stories ranging from outright funny to epic trails. I don’t remember how those 2 hours passed. And this was just the beginning. During the course of the trek, I made friends with a scientist. A HR manager. A lawyer. A couple of history grads. A whole lot of engineers. Die hard photographers. Bloggers. A guy who looked exactly like Alan from Hangover. And special mention to the Honey Singh fans.
2. Hygiene woes – whatever!
As much as I hate to admit this, here it goes. I did not bathe for 6 days in a row. Skipped brushing for 2 days. Survived without a mirror the entire week. Had soup, tea and dal in the same bowl before washing it (we had to wash our own utensils). And a few more but since I guess you’ve already reached the “ewwww” stage, ill leave it to just these. This is what you are brought down to when either the taps are frozen or if there is water, it would be cold enough to numb your hands. Did I mind it? Absolutely not. Like they say “When in Rome, do as the romans do”. In the mountains, you follow the law of the mountains. Survival of the fittest. Nothing else matters.
3. The Water Therapy
We city dwellers underestimate the healing power of water. In cities, the solution to every illness is antibiotics. In the mountains, solution to every illness is “Drink more water”. And trust me, it worked. Every single time for most of us. Have a headache. Drink water. Cramps in your legs. Drink water. Low oxygen levels or high pulse rate. Drink more water. I am taking the therapy back home :)
4. Sleeping under the stars
On most evenings of the trek, it was so foggy that we never really got to see the stars. Then it happened one night. We had to start early next morning and were put off to our tents by 8 pm (no sign of any stars until then). As much as my trek leader pestered me to, I had avoided having too much water all evening to avoid waking up at night to pee (the toilet tents were atleast 150 meters away from sleeping tents and it went close to 2 degree Celsius at night). But my urinary bladder decided to act funny. It woke me up at midnight. I pulled down my sleeping bag. The cold was killing. I pulled it back up and lied down. No way was I going out in that dark cold night. The pulling down and up of the sleeping bag happened for about an hour when I realized I could no longer hold it. With all the courage I could garner, I got up, found my torch and opened the chain of my tent. It was almost like creaking of doors in horror movies with the only noises outside being that of the dog barking somewhere close by. I got out shivering, found a corner and finished my stuff. It was then while walking back that I first noticed it. It was the most beautiful sky I had ever seen. Zillions of stars. I gazed at it like a small kid. Lost in its vastness. I do not remember how long I stood watching. All I remember is when I finally squeezed myself back into the sleeping bag, I knew I was sleeping under the stars. I slept like a log.
5. Meet the Weirdos
You always end up meeting these characters anyplace you go. Especially when you are alone. Like a 55+ uncle I met in the train who had to tell me his entire life story. He later even went to the extent of asking me my salary and marriage plans. Then there was our 20 something taxi driver who drove us from Kathgoddam to base camp and played heartbreak songs for 3 hours straight. And then there were normal guys who ended up doing weird things on the trek. Like a trekker who used to unpack and repack his entire bag every night. Or the early morning discussions on which tent made the loudest snores at night. And the best one ever – a fellow trekker who had to crawl out of the toilet tent at night because the chain was faulty. As much weird as all these stories sound, looking back, they do provide for the best laughs.
6. The endurance test
I was nicknamed Eveready (batteries). Thanks to my red rain jacket and supersonic speed. However as much as I loved the climbing and hiking we did everyday of the trek, I still felt something amiss. For once, I wanted to stretch my limits to something I had never known. And it happened on the day before the last day of the trek. We had a 3 hour trek to do from Bhagwabhasa to Patar Nachauni after a nice heavy lunch. I was looking forward to a nice easy walk down the hills after the difficult hike we had in the morning. But Bisht Ji, our 47-year-old trek guide and a mountain pro who leaded from the front had his own plans. I still do not know what got into him that day, but he was literally running through the mountains. And I and a fellow trekker were adamant of not losing sight of him. The moment we used to come in a 10 feet distance to him, he’d move faster. That day, we both managed to complete the trek in 1 hr 15 mins. I was breathing heavily and my legs felt numb for a few minutes. But it was still the most satisfying day. I had passed my endurance test. Just for the record, when I finally got my red jacket off and wore my black top, my nickname had changed to Duracell.
7. The Summit happiness
It was like passing CA exams all over again. When you finally reach the Roopkund peak after 5 days of hiking with rains, hail and snowfall, there is a sense of satisfaction which overpowers every other feeling you’ve been through in the week. The mountains humble you. Even holding the skeletons found in the Roopkund lake and posing for pictures with it make you feel elated. 16500 feet feels closer to heaven.
8. The call of Solitude
I have never been afraid of being alone. Rather, I have always glorified solitude in every sense of the word. I’d take walks around the campsite. Read my book lying on the grass. Kneel at the small Roopkund temple and have my moment before everybody else arrived (Perks of staying ahead during the trek). All these little things gave me immense joy. During those 8 days, I do not remember once thinking of home or friends or things going on at office. And mind you, I wasn’t running away from it. I had no reason to. It is more like how my boss later put it in words for me; it’s about belonging completely to the place you are at. I did my justice to the Himalayas.
After completing 500 miles on the Appalachian trail in “A Walk in the Woods”, Bill Bryson wrote “We had grounds to be proud. We were real hikers now. We had shit in the woods and slept with bears. We had become, we would forever be, mountain men.” Me??? A mountain woman, perhaps.