It was one restless night. I spent most part of my night turning and twisting, fidgeting basically, trying to find the most comfortable sleeping position. I tried to think of sunshine and the warm sandy beach. Pina Coladas maybe. The cold clearly was making me hallucinate.
Here I was, cocooned into my terribly restrictive sleeping bag, on a bed of dry grass matted loosely on the floor of a cave. Yes, a CAVE! It was the last week of December in Himachal Pradesh. I looked at the fresh snow outside. It was so pretty. It was then that my thought was disrupted by a noise that sounded something like a snore. Next to me was this guy who I had met on Tinder a while ago and this was our first trek together.
If this was a Bollywood movie, we would have been singing a romantic song and dancing around the bonfire in our cave, in skimpy clothes probably. But the reality was, IT.WAS.JUST.TOO.COLD. Basically too cold to do anything. While he was happy, cosy and asleep in his sleeping bag, I was in a terrible state.
His profile on Tinder said something like, “lawyer by profession, pahadi by heart…etc. etc.”
We had met and spoken a couple of times. But city conversations holds ones attention only until the next notification. He seemed like a mountain boy. A trekker. A dog lover. Nature lover. A complete outdoorsy boy. *Absolutely my type*. I saw one picture of him, where his sunglasses, cap and buff covered most part of his face but I swiped a right anyways.
So far, so good.
I am a firm believer of the saying that if you want to know someone, travel with them or even better, climb a mountain with them. If you are not pushed off the cliff or if you do not push the fellow off, and somehow manage to come back alive and unscathed, maybe, just maybe, it means something. (I have done this with my best friend too, you can read that story here, https://www.tripoto.com/trip/bf-or-bff-test-the-love-with-the-triund-trek-257895
Days after the fateful swipe, here I was, on a lesser known winter trek to Kareri lake. While most trekking enthusiasts head to either Kuari pass or Har Ki Doon in December, we wanted to spend some time alone. Just the nature and us.
It was December. In the middle of the night and in the midst of my fidgeting, I looked out of the cave, at the sky. The snow was glowing and cottons of clouds were loosely scattered in the dark blue sky. This was the only perk of staying in a cave, you don’t need to get out to get the gorgeous view. It was there right in front of you, like watching a movie on a large projector screen! But I won’t lie, it wasn’t easy.
For me, this was taking the “getting out of your comfort zone” to an ENTIRELY NEW LEVEL! This was just too primitive. I would have liked some body warmth but cuddling with the Tinder boy was not an option. But he looked so warm that for a split evil second I imagined myself as Leonardo Di Caprio in Revenant. *you know where he climbs inside a horse corpse, to keep himself warm during a snow storm.* Oh well. I was hallucinating.
If you ask me, Kareri is a perfect date trek. Not too long. Not too short. Just long enough to get to know each other and yet short enough if you have had enough of each other.
The first day of our trek was quite smooth, we had playfully hopped crossed the quaint little Kareri village, glided through green fields, waved out at the lovely village folk and stopped at some amazingly clear pools.
Once into the forest and for the next 3 days, we saw no one or met no one. Not a shepherd, not a villager. With no connectivity and no contact with the outside world, we were on our own in the lap of nature.
At hindsight, this now sounds a little scary, yet exciting!
We were quite self-sufficient. We had our sleeping bags, tent, mats and food. More or less everything that we needed to survive for the next few days on our own. I was so accustomed to trek in an organised way where someone would carry and pitch your tent and keep the food ready. This was a completely different experience. Here we could stop when we wanted and where we wanted. If we fancied a spot, we could just pitch our tent and spend time there. No questions, no debate, no rules.
That night we decided to stop at the caves near Liyoti. These caves are generally used by the shepherds but at this time of the year, it laid abandoned.
We spent the evening just exploring the area, gathering wood and setting things for the long cold night in the cave.
I survived that night.
The next day, I had unusually puffy eyes and my usual morning scorn. Such a contrast to the boy’s happy pink face. I was hoping that he wouldn’t see me this way but that was quite inevitable. I think trekking or just being out in the wild brings out one’s real face. Nature brings out the person you truly are. No concealer or farce. I thought to myself, if he can like me in this state, and not go incognito post this trek, he is definitely not one of those shallow boys.
That day we changed our plans, instead of camping at Kareri lake, we decided to make it a day trip and and camp at somewhere en route our descent. He suggested we drop off our bags at the cave and trek upwards. My first reaction was, “What if someone takes our stuff?” He just smiled and said, “If someone has climbed all the way up here to steal, he probably deserves to keep our stuff more than us!"
I don’t know if it was his confident tone or his calm exterior or perhaps his sense of humour, my otherwise hyper- worried- untrusting soul was assured.
We started our trek for the day. I walked behind him as we climbed higher towards the lake. It was intimidating for me. This guy had successfully completed some of the most difficult treks in India like Stok Kangri and Pin Parvati etc. and on a scale of Triund to Pin Parvati, I was Roopkund. Sort of a novice.
I huffed and puffed and tried hard to hide my fatigue while trying hard to keep up with him. But he would always walk along, no matter how slow I was or how many times I stopped to take really random photographs, especially of my boots! Once in a while, he would also turn around and give me something to nibble on. Now this might seem trivial but when you have sweat freezing midway, your limbs jammed and are completely exhausted, these small things tend to magnify. *Guys, I hope you are taking notes.*
On the way we stopped to catch our breath, drank from the clear stream nearby, ate a chocolate, sat on random rocks and listened to sound of the birds. Somewhere between exchanging our travel stories, I think, I was beginning to like him.
So far, so good!
Finally after 4 hours of hike, we reached the lake.
I had seen pictures of the lake which was taken in the summer months. A green blue lake with meadows lined with sheep. But what I saw now was so different. It was frozen and stunning!
At nearly 10, 000 feet ASL, Kareri Lake (also known as Kumarwah Lake) is a high altitude, shallow, fresh water lake south of the Dhauladhar range.
From Kareri village we had trekked about 13km in the last 2 days. Most of this trail was along the Nyund stream right upto the lake. Though this trail is easy in the summer months, caution needs to be taken while trekking it in winters since certain portions are steep, snow covered and the weather, highly unpredictable.
Kareri lake is also the base camp for Minikani and Baleni pass treks, but we did not go ahead or camp at the lake. Instead we offered a quick prayer at the temple near the lake, soaked up the beauty and the warm sun and made our way back.
When we had decided to do this trek alone in the winter months, almost everyone told us it was impossible. But sometimes, just sometimes, you have got to take those ‘calculated risks’. Chances are they will be worth it!
That day we made a long descent and camped out in the forest.
Over the glow of the bonfire, some warm soup, conversations and not-so-awkward silences, we became friends.
We are not on Tinder anymore but thank it with all our heart for helping us connect, which otherwise would have been difficult for asocial beings like us!
Last year has been full of trips and treks. And next week we are going on another winter trek!
So far, *sigh* soooo good….
*Disclaimer- All characters and events in this story are real. Any resemblance to any person dead or alive is purely intentional. :)
Route of the trek:
Dharamshala/ Mcleodganj to Kareri village via Ghera (there is a motorable road to Kareri village now), Ghera to Liyoti, Liyoti to Kareri lake and back to Liyoti (we descended further and camped at the forest above Kareri village).