Having trekked in the Sahayadris for over a year now, Bhavini, my wife, and I had heard many stories of trekking in the Himalayas. The majestic mountain range had been a place of wonder for many years and we always wanted to explore the stunning vistas that Himalayan treks had to offer. Now seemed to be the right time, and so we set off in search of the "Perfect first Himalayan Trek". This turned out to be more difficult than we imagined. The Indian Himalayan region spans across multiple states viz. Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Sikkim, Arunachal Pradesh, Assam and West Bengal. Each state has its own set of publicized treks and local gems that we wished to explore, however, we could choose just one due to the constraint of time and budget. Moreover, there are many trekking companies who organize treks in the Himalayas and choosing the right one involved doing detailed trip reviews and cost analysis, even though not much information was available especially for the local trek operators. How we resolved the problem of choice is detailed in this post. In the end, though we zeroed in on Stok Kangri Trek with YHAI - Youth Hostel Association of India.
Stok Kangri, at a height of 20182 ft. (6153 m) is the highest mountain in the Stok Range of the Himalayas in the Ladakh region. The peak summit was on my radar for quite some time as it offers a non-technical foray into high-altitude mountaineering, and it is the first peak above 20000 ft. that every mountaineer looks to conquer. However, the difficulty level of the summit climb is highly underestimated. We too would have made the same error had we decided to summit, but the YHAI arranged trek was only until the Base camp of the Peak. This, in hindsight, turned out to be good. I always thought how difficult could it be to climb mountains, after all, it just takes putting one step ahead of the other. I was wrong, it is indeed difficult. This is due to the rarefied air in the atmosphere, that makes breathing difficult. Even a nominal gradient while ascending seems to be a task, and I found myself having constant headaches whose severity only kept increasing with the increase in stress. In addition, you get hit by other symptoms of AMS ( Acute Mountain Sickness ) viz. fatigue, dizziness, loss of appetite, and difficulty sleeping ( thankfully, I never had a problem sleeping ), which makes the mountaineer's job tremendously difficult at high altitudes.