Kedarkantha- A magnificent winter trek.

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Photo of Kedarkantha- A magnificent winter trek. by ARONEE KAR
Day 1

It’s 2:00 in the night. I am sitting at the window as the train is wheezing past sleeping villages covered in darkness, but for the little flickers of light here and there in the distant small huts, like fluttering fireflies. I have an alarm set for 4 tomorrow morning. And right now, I am looking outside, staring at the deep dark night, trying to fathom the last 6 days of my life, spent somewhere in the Himalayas, in a no-network no-electricity zone.
This year, I decided to take my very first trek, alone. Being a girl, the first challenge you face after taking the decision of venturing alone onto unknown territories, is convincing your parents. And over time I have realised the only way to do it, is by being completely honest with them. They agreed, disagreed , again agreed and disagreed and then agreed finally, with necessary, never-ending parental advice. So anyway, after a lot of research, I picked the Kedarkantha peak(12,500ft) of the Garhwal Himalayan Range in the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand, for my first trek.
I flew down to Delhi from Kolkata and then took an overnight train to Dehradun. The trek to Kedarkantha started from Dehradun. It was a 10hr long drive to Sankri, through Mussoorie , Nowgaon, Purola , Mori and Naitwar. Our tempo car started climbing uphill, twisting and turning at every point, passing through picturesque landscapes. Sunlight peeped in through the tall trees , the naked mountains stood guard on either sides, like huge giants ; the Tons river gurgled its way down the mountain slopes. We passed pretty little villages on our way, waving at the excited boys and girls, who would line up along the side of the road, as soon as they heard a car approaching.
We reached Sankri at around 6 in the evening.

The meandering mountain trails to Sankri.

Photo of Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India by ARONEE KAR

The beautiful mountains and the pale white cotton-candy clouds seen from my hotel room in Sankri.

Photo of Dehradun, Uttarakhand, India by ARONEE KAR
Day 2

I had the day free. So I woke up , had my morning tea with a cup of hot maggi and decided to take a stroll down the village roads.

Sankri is a quaint village on a hilltop, made of folklores, happy little girls in pigtails & little boys with the warmest smiles. I walked around, made friends with the local people, played hide-n-seek with the little girls. Even though I am a bit of a loner, strangely enough I developed a sudden, unexpected bond with one village girl in particular, named Diya. She showed me around the mountains, took me on secret trails, told me all sorts of stories- about the starry nights, the cattles grazing on the fields, about the wild flowers in bloom and the once-in-a-year local fair with her favourite merry-go-round. Being a city-bred girl, I watched fascinated. Life here existed in its purest, most beautiful form. Every stranger I met, had a welcoming smile on their face and the little boys had their own particular brand of big-bear-hugs to give out.

My little friends in Sankri. From left to right – Lisa, Diya and Ayush.

Photo of Sankri, Uttarakhand, India by ARONEE KAR

The momo-hut’s Bollywood wall of fame.

Photo of Sankri, Uttarakhand, India by ARONEE KAR

The candy shop didi, who took me to her home and made me a glass of the most delicious red-mountain-fruit juice I have ever tested. She had told me the name of the wild berry, which I can’t seem to recall right now.

Photo of Sankri, Uttarakhand, India by ARONEE KAR

The mountains and the morning tea.

Photo of Sankri, Uttarakhand, India by ARONEE KAR

The momo-shop’s Bollywood wall of fame.

Photo of Sankri, Uttarakhand, India by ARONEE KAR

My little friends in Sankri. From left to right – Lisa, Diya and Ayush.

Photo of Sankri, Uttarakhand, India by ARONEE KAR
Day 3


Next day I woke early and started for our first camp site, Juda-ka-Talab, accompanied by my guide. We walked through meandering forest trails lined on both sides by huge pine trees, while the sun peek-a-booed through the branches. Who knew what lay nestled between those trees. Maybe , there was a little hamlet ,with a babbling brook cutting right through it. A grandma ,sitting by the fire place in her wood hut, knitting and narrating tales of times long gone- of adventures, misadventures, of dark nights & the morning sunshine. Between the Pine trees, somewhere , the magic Faraway Tree might be standing tall, home to Silky, the pixie and Moonface, the goblin. Or maybe, right now George, Dick, Annie, Julian and Timmy-the famous five were camping here, in the wilderness, in their caravan,with the gypsies. Who knew. The possibilities were endless.

Oh by the way, did I forget to mention ? I had my own Timmy following hot on my trails, right from the start of the Trek at Sankri. Two others joined later ,on the way. I named them Sheroo and Bhaloo.

Evening at the campsite came with hot soup and bonfire. The evening smelt of beautiful sunsets, snow and the stars. The night came with a blanket of stars twinkling overhead and a sudden drop of temperature. Sleep eluded me that night. The biting cold and the thrill of camping in the wild for the very first time in my life, kept me awake. After tossing and turning in my sleeping bag for a while, I gave up. I got up and took out my phone. The network had already gone dead by then. I got my headphones, went outside in the cold night, sat down under the stars and put on some romantic music. The moon shone down on the blanket of snow covering the ground. The lake, Juda-ka-Talaab on one side of my tent gleamed under the moonlight. On the other side of the campsite, the deep dense jungle ,lined by the pine trees, held the mysteries of the nights, between them. I sat there in complete silence for I don’t know how long, listening to my favourite songs on loop. Magic had befallen on my little world.

My faithful companion throughout the trek- Bhaloo

Photo of Juda Ka Talab, Supin Range, Uttarakhand by ARONEE KAR

Evening tea in the mountains.

Photo of Juda Ka Talab, Supin Range, Uttarakhand by ARONEE KAR

The Juda-ka-Talaab gleaming under the first sunrays of the day.

Photo of Juda Ka Talab, Supin Range, Uttarakhand by ARONEE KAR

All smiles.

Photo of Juda Ka Talab, Supin Range, Uttarakhand by ARONEE KAR

Evening tea in the mountains !

Photo of Juda Ka Talab, Supin Range, Uttarakhand by ARONEE KAR

The picturesque forest trails from Sankri to Juda-ka-Talaab.

Photo of Juda Ka Talab, Supin Range, Uttarakhand by ARONEE KAR

The Juda-ka-Talaab gleaming under the first sunrays of the day.

Photo of Juda Ka Talab, Supin Range, Uttarakhand by ARONEE KAR
Day 4

The trek to the Kedarkantha Base Camp , the next day, was short, relatively easy but spectacular. We got our first view of snow. Blankets of virgin snow stretched for miles on end. Every direction I looked , it was sparkling white- a blank canvas, the sun used a myriad of colours to paint on. The night saw little sleep and the temperature had gone way below zero degrees. The most difficult part was lying inside the tent , curled up within the sleeping bag and the liner, and contemplating whether or not to answer nature’s call, for 2 hours straight. It entailed getting out of the sleeping bag in the freezing cold, blindly frisking for the torch and the roll of toilet paper in the pitch dark of the tent, putting on two extra layers of warm clothing, slipping my feet in the cold shoes and walking for five minutes to spot the toilets in the dark. Even inside the tent, I would wake up every 20 min, to find my hand or feet or sometimes my nose peeking out of the sleeping bag, frozen stone-cold & numb. Never having been exposed to that sort of cold before, the persistent thought I had was if I would be able to make it through the night, alive. I barely got any sleep that night ; partly due to the cold and partly due to the excitement of climbing to the summit the next day.

Enroute Kedarkantha Base Camp from Juda-ka-Talaab.Of mountains, solitude and peace.

Photo of Kedarkantha Base Camp, Singtur Range, Uttarakhand, India by ARONEE KAR

Of mountains, solitude and peace.

Photo of Kedarkantha Base Camp, Singtur Range, Uttarakhand, India by ARONEE KAR

The absolutely stunning sunset, with a hell lot of light drama.

Photo of Kedarkantha Base Camp, Singtur Range, Uttarakhand, India by ARONEE KAR

The cotton-candy sky, the tall Pine trees and the endless ranges. My kind of Wonderland. Wouldn’t take much to fall in love, in a place like this.

Photo of Kedarkantha Base Camp, Singtur Range, Uttarakhand, India by ARONEE KAR

The mountains!

Photo of Kedarkantha Base Camp, Singtur Range, Uttarakhand, India by ARONEE KAR

Setting up our camp at the Kedarkantha Base. The most beautiful (and deadly cold) place I have ever spent a night at.

Photo of Kedarkantha Base Camp, Singtur Range, Uttarakhand, India by ARONEE KAR
Day 5

It was the summit day. I was up by 3 am. After a cup of steaming tea and some hot popping popcorns, Pramod bhaia helped me get into the crampons, gaiters and spikes and we set off by 3:30 am for the summit climb, with the snow trail lit by torchlight. Stars twinkled overhead ; the dead silence all around, in the dark of the night was broken only by the frequent whistles of Pramod bhaiya. And then, as luck would have it, the weather Gods decided to bless us with the first downpour of snow. That’s the thing about the Himalayas. The weather changes by the minute and you have absolutely no clue what you’re going to get next. The snowfall felt surreal. Maybe , we existed in a little Snow-globe , someone up there played with. One tiny jiggle, and everything started swirling inside the globe. The dancing snowflakes fell relentlessly , transforming the forest into my Winter Wonderland. Sometimes all it takes for love to fall in place, in this snow globe world, is a slight swish.

We started speculating if we could possibly make it to the summit , if this weather persisted, as their was fear of a snowstorm. We decided to push on. It was around 5 in the morning. Every direction I looked, huge mountains stood guard. There was not a soul to be seen or heard. It felt lonely. Magnificent , but lonely. Sweet melancholia. The sort that swallows you in conscious, intentional unhappiness, that perversely makes you happy.

The last few hours were testing. It was a 60 degree steep climb, with a deep ravine on one side, going all the way down. I had ropes with hooks tied to my waist. We would cut steps into the hard packed ice and snow with an ice axe,to help our ascent and to arrest our descent should we fall. We would use the trekking poles to keep us steady and to find snowbanks and holes in the path, that had become hidden. The fresh snowfall had made the trail much trickier. And the relentless cold winds made every small step, challenging. We pushed on, one step at a time. With every step, I got to know a little bit more about myself. I realised it was not the body you got to tame, but the mind. The faith in yourself is what keeps you going. And then after a gruelling ascent of 2 more hours, I took that one final step. I looked down. That’s when I understood. That’s when it all made sense. I was on top of the world. Seemed like it, at least. I looked around. We had a 360 degrees view of the Swargarohini, Kalanag , Bandarpooch peaks, the Gangotri, Yamunotri Ranges, the Rupin range and the Harki-dun valley range. It was around 7 in the morning. I watched the Sun rise in all its glory, from behind the sparkling snow-capped peaks. It was the most beautiful sunrise I had ever seen. The peaks of the mountains were resplendent with the changing colours of the sun-from blue to pink to orange and finally golden. I looked around at the endless, huge mountains, the coloured sky and the valley below, the formless pale nebula-clouds against the backdrop of infinity. The loneliness I experienced, the beauty of that solitude coupled with my sudden overwhelming surge of emotions left me a little out-of-depth. Time had stopped for me. I was in God’s own land. No rules existed in this part of the world. Everything in the universe seemed to have come together to cast a magic spell on our little world ; the kind of magic that wants to be held in the palm of the hand, defying all the laws of physics.
It was 24th of February,2018. The day I conquered myself and my fears.
That was the first night in 4 days that I got some sound sleep. For, I had found myself.
There are a thousand tales (not always told by idiots) waiting to be told, within all of us. There lies the strength of a thousand Suns within us. There are a thousand versions of us. We just need to delve within our own selves and find those. One step at a time.

We started early for the summit. It was still dark then.

Photo of Kedarkantha Summit, Bandiyar, Uttarakhand, India by ARONEE KAR

The snowfall transformed the woodland into a dale straight out of fairytale. And in my head , we were all characters from the story.

Photo of Kedarkantha Summit, Bandiyar, Uttarakhand, India by ARONEE KAR

The snowtrail lit by the sun peek-a-booing through the branches.

Photo of Kedarkantha Summit, Bandiyar, Uttarakhand, India by ARONEE KAR

Footprints on the snow.

Photo of Kedarkantha Summit, Bandiyar, Uttarakhand, India by ARONEE KAR

We woke up to this sight the next morning. Our tents, completely covered in snow, looking gorgeous.

Photo of Kedarkantha Summit, Bandiyar, Uttarakhand, India by ARONEE KAR

The sun weaving his magic spell.

Photo of Kedarkantha Summit, Bandiyar, Uttarakhand, India by ARONEE KAR

Summit, at last !

Photo of Kedarkantha Summit, Bandiyar, Uttarakhand, India by ARONEE KAR

The euphoria of having reached the summit, finally. My victory photo.

Photo of Kedarkantha Summit, Bandiyar, Uttarakhand, India by ARONEE KAR

Light Drama in action. !

Photo of Kedarkantha Summit, Bandiyar, Uttarakhand, India by ARONEE KAR

Sending Love and palm-full of Magic your way, straight from the mountains.

Photo of Kedarkantha Summit, Bandiyar, Uttarakhand, India by ARONEE KAR
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