Life can change into a live hyperlapse when you ascend from 700 ft to 14,000 ft above sea level.
The journey began from New Delhi, the hub of all the activity in this country of 1.29 million people, and we all have our reasons to take a break from it. Stories of backpackers from the quiet corners of the Himalayas are not new, but I was at Chandratal. The crowd of backpackers that I saw in Old Manali was now lost somewhere on the winding roads that led us to this lake. For hours my eyes were set on the majestic blue lake, the ripples and the play of clouds on its reflecting surface. Ever wondered how just a sight can be so therapeutic and satisfying? But in hindsight this story is more about my backpack and a magic tool that saved our lives.
I was at Chandratal with a friend who had enthusiastically said yes to a plan we both had little idea about. We were at Chandrataal with a bunch of travel mates from Manali. The light was slowly fading and the winds around the lake were growing stronger. It was now time to run to the camps that were pitched 4 kms away from the lake.
Now let's talk about our adventure of running on high altitudes with a backpack.
Like most novices on a trip, I had never been careful with choosing my travel gear, but this one experience was enough to bring me back to reality. A Futura 32 Deuter backpack deserves special mention for all the right reasons.
In the past I've trekked with backpacks picked up arbitrarily sometimes from local markets, the army cantt and at times from stores just for the heck of possessing good brand names. I have to thank my lucky stars for the saviour of a backpack I had on this trip. Surprisingly, I was way ahead of the other members on our run back to the camps. Honestly, this speaks less about my physical fitness and more about the importance of good travel gear. Two days later with a working mobile signal and a few hours to kill, I spent some time to learn what exactly was so right about this particular backpack I carried that changed the high altitude experience for me.
The Futura series hiking packs come with Air Comfort Open Back Mesh Backpacks. Now that's a keyword for travellers who cluelessly browse through the product details in search of the right backpacks. Talking from my experience at the high altitudes, this solves the common problem of shoulder and back sweat during treks and short hikes.
On a regular day on the road, the hip fins on this backpack are usually tied at the back, but while scaling high altitudes, the physical effort of carry the heavy load is drastically reduced when the load was transferred from your shoulders to the hips. Trekkers around me carrying backpacks of different brands, shapes and sizes helped me compare the utility of this product on the go. I had additional loops on my backpack to position the tent and mat perfectly. There were loops on the sides for something as primary as a hiking stick and bungee chords that take care of additional things such as a cooking kit.
I reached the basecamp that night before the stars quickly filled up the night sky. My friend and I strategized this long run well and kept exchanging our backpacks several times. With the right gear on my shoulders, backpacking for once went beyond the physical challenge and a good backpack made all the difference.
On reaching the campsite, I placed the backpack and boots outside the camp, only to wake up the next day to see mist covering my entire gear. The shoes had to be dried up in the sun before we could move ahead to Kaza, but my backpack survived just like all the other times.
Life on the road throws newer tests at your free travelling soul each day. Beyond the poetry and the philosophy about travelling await challenges you've never faced before and probably would never face in the near future.
Long story short, our car broke down that morning at the basecamp near Batal.
Flat tyre is not the end of the world and our smiling driver knew this well. But only when it took him too long to repair, did we realise that we had no car repair tool kit in the car or anywhere at the base camp. The driver who had been struggling to get the tube out now started asking us for help.
I carry a knife in my backpack at all times, keeping in mind the safety precautions women travellers need to take in this incredible country. During the last few months, I had raised my game and bought a Leatherman Wave, the world's bestselling multi-tool kit. I was not really sure how this little tool in my pocket could be of any help in this scenario.
During the past few days on this trip, the two knives and a saw did prove their utility for outdoor cooking, opening cans and pitching tents. It was now time for the true test of this king of tools. The driver scooped out the deflated tube using the blunt blades of wood/metal file and later fixed the hand pump with a wrench.
It's an amusing confession that while buying the Leatherman Wave, I noticed the unbelievable 25 years warranty and I bought it as a mere collectible and now it has a permanent place in my backpack.
I don't know for how long my adventures on the road will last but 25 years is a long time and I'd love to possess this special something till the very end of this journey.
It's interesting what journeys can be about. For some people new places come as a vision that inspire and for others it's about a constant loop of effort, learning and achievement through experiences that only the open roads can offer.