They say it is a calling...

2nd Jun 2014

They say it is a calling! The Himalayas called me, and I came, all the way across continents and oceans from the other side of the world. It was a different dimension to this world; the Himalayas 

Photo of They say it is a calling... 1/14 by Siddarth Kannan

are so beautiful and majestic.

Truly a masterpiece by any mean, this mountain range is as they say in the books, infinite. Where you set your eyes, there were peaks and peaks above those peaks until the clouds felt ashamed and covered the peaks above the peaks. The 50 deg Delhi heat didn’t deter any of us from starting this journey into an unknown bliss.

Day 1, June 2 2014

I wasn’t able to land myself a tatkal ticket in the one train that goes to Kathgodam from Delhi. Kathgodam is this small town on the foothills of the Himalayas in interior Uttarakhand. So I and two other guys on the trek, whom I’ve never even spoken to in my life before, booked this bus ticket to Kathgodam from Delhi’s Kashmere Gate bus stop. My “e-ticket” said the pick-up point would be Gujarati samaj. Taking the Delhi metro at peak hour evening time with my backpack was pretty awesome, but as soon as I got out of the Metro Civil Lines station, I knew this wasn’t where I was supposed to be. The station’s exterior wore this deserted, empty look and no sign of any buses. And some broken hindi conversations with auto guys around brought me to this conclusion that the buses used to start from this place in the early 2000s. Tech update issues, and there we start the Himalayan journey, a bumpy auto ride to this crowded Kashmere gate bus station where no one has heard of  the bus company through which I had booked my bus online. Somehow managed to find this random corner office where this agency was located, and went to find out to my joy that the bus was delayed by 2 hours due to less occupancy rate. They were “bus pooling” us with other bus agencies. Backpack and I sat in the sweaty office thinking if this was a bad idea, especially the body being used to the luxuries of the west for over a year. Bus came, got in and found to my joy that the bus was full of people with backpacks. At least I wasn’t the only Himalayan trekker in the bus, some solace.  Night’s sleep was weird. A chai stop at Moradabad’s Shiva Tourist Dhaba was fulfilling with a post -midnight chai. Early morning blues caught up with frequent stops to take in locals who wanted to free rides to the next town. And the bus stopped, just like that, at this town called Haldwani. The bus conductor told us three guys to take an auto as no other passengers were going upto Kathgodam. Whatte customer service! And our auto, oh the auto, the auto which couldn’t pull three guys with their backpacks uphill on a straight road for more than two min. Every two minutes it choked and stopped. And the auto guy was sweet and extremely apologetic about the condition of his auto, which was at least heartening to see, instead of him being rude like those bus guys. 

Photo of They say it is a calling... 2/14 by Siddarth Kannan

Finally we reached Kathgodam on the morning of 2 June, where our jeep ride to Lohajung, our base camp, was waiting. Lohajung, at 7000ft, is apparently the highest documented hill town in India. The jeep journey was long, 9 hours long, and the winding roads get to your head after a while. Some Gharwali music with the Kosi and Pinder River for company and my failed attempts at hindi conversations with the drive kept me awake and sane. And also, my friends, who had come by train, were with me in the jeep. So the five of us kept each other entertained. Aloo paratha for breakfast and roti and bindi fry for lunch was the only solace to our swirling stomachs. And then we finally reached, the mighty Lohanjung base camp, where the mist and the sunset combined to give a spectacular view of the snow-capped mountains of the Himalayas. Dinner and a trek team briefing ended our day 0 at the Lohajung base camp. Exciting days were ahead and you could almost sense that excitement in everyone.

Day 2, June 3 2014 – Trek to Didina

Photo of They say it is a calling... 3/14 by Siddarth Kannan

Getting up to the Himalayan sun rise has its own feel to it. Especially when all you can see from your door step is mountains and the sun and bright blue sky. The water was too cold for a bath, but the thought of us not getting the luxury of a bathroom for the next 8 days made us bare that biting cold water bath, which actually turned out to be quite refreshing. Breakfast was bread, jam and lemon tea, and the team was ready by 7 am to start the trek into the Himalayan jungles. Made my first friends in the team, couple of guys from Kerala and my Malayalam kinda impressed me! 

Photo of They say it is a calling... 4/14 by Siddarth Kannan

Two hours into the trek we were all catching our breath, not just because of the trek but also because of the view. The Himalayas was starting to reveal itself to us. Water was being filled in the snow melt streams running down the mountains and rest was being taken under the trees’ shade; life was slowly getting awesome. By 1.30pm we all reached Didina, our second camp. We had climbed 1500ft, and apparently this was just for starters. But the trek to Didina helped us gage our stamina levels and our pace accordingly for the rest of the trek. I was quite surprised with my stamina levels and happy too. Lead the pack until the end. This camp was the last place where we would be staying with civilization, and we took a walk around the village in the evening, when the rain had mellowed down for a bit. Oh yes, the rain. The clouds had arranged themselves together to give us an evening spectacle, hail and cold rain with winds. Now picture this, Himalayas all around you, the sun setting on the west and the rains coming in with fog from the south east. And you.

Photo of They say it is a calling... 5/14 by Siddarth Kannan

They say once in the Himalayas, always in the Himalayas. I sure am still there.  The clouds gave us some respite to walk around the village and we discovered that the village was smaller than we imagined. It probably had a max population of 100 and the sweetest part was the whole village lived like a family. Apparently there was a marriage happening in a sister village, Kuling, and the whole of Didina had gone to celebrate the wedding. I wish I could have a marriage where the whole village celebrates! Anyways, the goats and cattle were the only ones we could say hi to before returning to camp for dinner and bonfire. The dinner was chaval and dal and chapatti, something which we would need to get used to for the rest of the week. Bonfire was epic; we actually collected the wood for our bonfire from deep in the forests. It was almost like what I had read in books coming true in my life. And we dried our rain-wet clothes in the bon-fire and had awesome conversations. The beautiful part about these conversations was we all didn’t know each other before this trip and we didn’t start off with our life history. Instead, we all connected on so many topics of mutual interest and realized that we all shared a wavelength with the Himalayas being a vital connect to the links. With the fire slowly running out of wood, we decided to crash for the day and recharge ourselves for the following day’s trek uphill, the time being barely 8pm.

Day 3, June 4 2014 – Trek to Bedni via Ali Bugyal

The trek was quite hard this time, with angles of almost 70 deg uphill at points.

Photo of They say it is a calling... 6/14 by Siddarth Kannan

By this time we had all formed trek groups within the team based on our pace and I had this girl from Stanford/Harvard schools and a guy who had quit his job to trek the Himalayas, and the trek leader who was a local, Kundhan ji, with me , since we were leading the team in terms of pace. And so we trekked, with a lot of effort actually, uphill and went on to the first rest point, Ali Bugyal. Suddenly the terrain changed from jungle and rock to meadows. There were actually wild horses running around and we got a glimpse of the mighty Trishul, Lord Shiva’s home, from there. Life just didn’t stop getting awesomer on this trek and I was lost for words. Simply put, it was like a symphony orchestra painted into reality by nature. SO beautiful!!

Photo of They say it is a calling... 7/14 by Siddarth Kannan

We all had this very refreshing local juice called Buransh(Rhododendron) which lifted our energy levels after the tough climb up. We had scaled another peak today, and this time 2000 ft more. The next three hours would be an uphill walk through the meadows to our camp for the night, Bedni. Bedni was the most beautiful camp site in the trek, with the camp right below the mighty Trishul and also having a spiritual story to it.

Photo of They say it is a calling... 8/14 by Siddarth Kannan

The Bedni Kund is where Lord Shiva married Parvati and the lake is aptly located at the base of Nanda Devi and Mt Trishul, the heavenly abode of Parvati and Shiva respectively. The locals revere this place as the starting of Shiva’s house boundary. You can actually feel that vibration, a different vibration. I’m not kidding, you really can. Everyone did. This camp also had a nice patch of flat land where we all played cricket! Surprisingly, there was an army camp put up right next to our tents. There was a training exercise happening in the rocky hills nearby for the Indian army. We felt really proud seeing them train in these harsh conditions. The visit to the Bedni Kund was after tea, and we were in for a surprise blessing. Apparently, according to the locals who came with us, after a long time, Shiva opened up his house for full view, meaning the clouds cleared up completely during sunset. So there was the sun setting on the west, with its huge reddish-orange ball form, and Nanda-Devi and Mt Trishul with its three majestic peaks on the east, directly taking in the rays of the setting sun. And then there was us, right at the bedni kund, looking at this spectacle with teared up eyes and weak legs ready to give away. The positive vibe was evident, believers and non-believers felt it, and there’s nothing more to say actually. It was a phenomenon which I was blessed to experience. A silent prayer and wait until the last of sun’s rays left the sky marked our return back to camp for dinner and a good night’s sleep. 

Photo of They say it is a calling... 9/14 by Siddarth Kannan

Though we were all immensely satisfied and filled inside the heart, we knew we had an expedition to continue and the next day marked an important day in this expedition, a climb of 3000ft and half of it over snow, which meant more energy required. So we slept, in sleeping bags and yellow tents and the cold wind sending chills which we hadn’t experienced before!

Day 4, June 5 2014 – Trek to Bhagawabhasa

The divine place had one more surprise for us. As we got onto the trail for our 8 hour trek to the next camp, we crossed Bedni Kund and a Lord Ganesh temple. Legend has it that this temple is home to Lord Ganesh’s escort, the mouse without a tail. And the locals have given the name Mith to this mouse and there is actually, in reality, a mouse that resides here at this small rock temple that doesn’t have a tail. And while we crossed this temple, someone shouted “Dekh, Mith” and we all stopped and turned to see that divine mouse, actually not having a tail, peeping out of the temple, nibbling something with its hands and looking at our group. And then, just then, it paused, and went back in. Well, no one opened their mouths, the Himalayas were just too magical to even exclaim in joy for these happenings. We just continued a smile in our hearts! And there we went, climbing steep mountain trails and there was the first sight of snow. For those who had never seen snow, this was ecstasy. But it was actually ice, frozen to an extent that didn’t make it so visually attractive. And so we climbed on, onto a peak that seemed farther as went higher. This peak was called Kalu Vinayak. And as all Himalayan peaks, this one had its own story which I shall not talk about here. The hike got quite treacherous with the trail getting slippery and narrower as we got closer to the peak. There was this stretch covered with half melted ice where we had to cross with heals hitting ground first with every step. One wrong step and it was a fall down the valley, and no one took this lightly. The trek leader informed us the next three hours of the trek would be similar and anyone who was feeling that their concentration wouldn’t last should pull out then. It was with quite a stern tone that he told this and there was a pause I’m sure in everyone’s thoughts. But we climbed on, the summit in our heads like food would be in times of hunger!

And we reached the last rest point of the day, Kalu Vinayak.

Photo of They say it is a calling... 10/14 by Siddarth Kannan

There was a very beautiful idol of Lord Ganesha who greeted us at the peak with the sound of the conch blown by locals and the wind howling a cold welcome. And we had a half hour stop over there before we headed to Bhagwabhasa, which at 14000ft was the highest camping site for our trek. From this point on, it was full on. We reached Bhagwabhasa with quite some difficulty and the slumped into our treks for resting our legs. This is when the trek leader shouted out to shut the tents and get out. No one was allowed to sleep or rest until night fall.

We were at 14000ft, the air was thin and the weather was so cold that three layers and a thermal jacket wasn’t enough. And the body needed to adjust to this sudden change in weather, air pressure and oxygen levels. Sleeping would just delay that process and the following day’s hike to summit would be in jeopardy. So we all reluctantly pulled ourselves up and came off to the clearing area where we were all briefed about the following day’s climb to the summit. The trek leaders left no stone unturned in letting us know of the risks involved and the importance of timing and discipline. Stop meant stop, not an inch more on any side. And we were to leave by 4 am the next morning and return to camp by 11 am. This was to avoid the snow melt as the sun fell on the icy slopes we would be trekking on. Melting meant lesser traction and more danger of slipping. The briefing being done, we were left with a lot of time to explore the camp site. There were snowcapped Himalayan peaks as far as the eye could see and our summit was covered behind thick clouds which threatened cancellation of the expedition for the following day because of heavy snowfall. We would know only at 3 am. 

Photo of They say it is a calling... 11/14 by Siddarth Kannan

Day 5, June 6 2014 – Summit Day

3 am looked like 3 am, no kidding!! Pitch dark and so cold, it took us a while to even think clearly. And then, that’s when, I looked up. The Milky-Way Galaxy, in all its glory, right across the center of the dark sky was staring back at me. It was one of those “Your Universe” encyclopedia pictures I had seen in my primary school days, it was exactly that. So beautiful, like someone had cast a spell on the sky to arrange the stars in a line!! Trust me; I have never seen anything so beautiful in my life, ever. My breath got to me and I realized I needed to breathe. I had actually stopped breathing for I don’t know how long, looking at this magical spectacle. Snapped back into reality with people talking near me, I started getting ready for the trek up to the summit. We had to wear crampons for this particular part of the trek as the snow was quite hard due to the cold and shoes were not going to get us on to the summit, at least not us first timers. And there were locals who had come to guide us through the hike up and down the summit, as it was a risky and hard climb up. A short distance and close to 2000ft, which meant steep climbs and continuous concentration. We were all given out dry ration for energy uphill and a Mahaveer ji, our local trek lead for the summit asked us all to line up asap. And so, at 4.45am on the 5th of June, 2014, we started our final climb up to the peak where the Roopkund Lake awaited us. The legend behind Roopkund is that Goddess Parvati stopped here on her way to Shiva’s house - Mt Trishul - which stood majestically behind Roopkund, to look at her beautiful reflection in the pond. And hence the name Roop (Beauty) Kund (Pond/lake)!Mysteriously enough, there are hundreds of skeletons beneath the lake which have not been dated even today and the locals believe it was the army and contingent of a King’s parade who fell into the lake in a deadly blizzard thousands of years ago. Back to the present now, where we were all headed in one line uphill, treading along the slippery trail carefully, trusting our crampons to give us that firm hold on the ice;

Photo of They say it is a calling... 12/14 by Siddarth Kannan

 it was getting brighter as the sun’s rays started getting into the peaks and we could see the Himalayan mountains shine in everywhere around us with the snow reflecting the sun. It was a beautiful sight to watch but our concentration had to be on the next step forward as each step was to be taken with caution. With a lot of uphill climbing, we finally made it to Roopkund and the lake was completely frozen, with icy blots making up the surface of the lake.        

Photo of They say it is a calling... 13/14 by Siddarth Kannan

All that fatigue, all those headaches, all those risks and everything else seemed invisible to our body and mind as the heart took over completely. We were happy, very. And there were moments when I just looked down at the lake and up at the sky and just shut off my mind completely. A lake with a lot of vibrations, I would say.

After a half hour halt and taking all the mandatory selfies with the lake, we started our descent. It would be a three day descent to our base camp at Lohajung. And the most intensive day would be today, with us trekking all the back to Bhagwabhasa and then starting immediately after lunch to Patar Nachauni, a camp below the Kalu Vinayak peak which we scaled on our way up to Bhagwabhasa. The descent was quite tricky with the snow melting quite a bit and our legs and crampons giving away quite often.  The trick was to use our heels at an angle so that the ice wouldn’t give way beneath us. And that wasn’t always on our mind, was it. A sudden loss in concentration and you would be slipping away down slope in the steep hill. There were quite a few who lost balance and tumbled down hill only to be saved by the locals who with the help of ice axes and practice, stopped the steep fall down slope.  It was quite scary everytime someone lost balance. Somehow, we all made it to Bhagwabhasa in one piece after a lot of close calls. The snow was melting quite fast. We had to leave asap to the next camp as half our descent involved walking through snow i.e. upto Kalu Vinayak peak. I had developed a headache suddenly, possibly from I don’t know where. And my trek companion throughout, Nruthya, gave me company for a non-stop random conversation ranging from six lane highways to stage shows to silence. Kept my mind occupied and we reached Kalu Vinayak, which was a rest point for us. At least we had crossed the hard part. We knew it was down-hill from here on and without any snow, so we just had to tread the trail with caution for loose stones. Other than that, this called for some music and group trekking! Nruthya and I joined our friends from Kalu Vinayak on and A R Rahman and Metallica and the likes gave us company while we laughed and conversed all the way to Patar Nachauni. The sun was setting slowly and our energy levels were setting too slowly but the company of each other kept us going and the collective effort was so beautiful that when we reached camp, we could hardly feel the fatigue. The camp had hot chai and chips waiting for us and we all crashed right outside the tents with our bags as head rests and the grass as our beds. Oh, the bliss! Our heads were angled to look at the sun setting in the peaks in front of us and the snow melting into a water fall along a crevice between two mountains. And there we all lay, until sundown when the wind got chilly and our tents called us in with the warmth.  A torch light, cards and six of us tucked into a tent that hardly fit three, was our post-summit chill out activity. As the stars started popping up, our eyes started closing automatically and we knew our bodies were tired from an 11 hour trek.

Day 6, June 7 2014 – Descent to Garoli Patal

This was the descent to the Jungle camp. A camp, right in the middle of a jungle, literally! It was 1500ft below Bedni, a campsite of ours on the way up and the descent would be leisure today. The trek lead Kundhan ji asked us to get there at our own pace and just stick the trail. We got our last few glimpses of Mt Trishul and after some silent conversations with the mighty Shiva, we climbed down into the jungle, headed to our next camp, and our last campsite for this trek. 

On reaching, we knew at once that this would be an experience of a kind. With the jungle all around us, we all wandered off on our own, at least I did, to just be with nature and music and breathe in every moment that I was given. I consider myself very lucky for such conversations with nature, something I have always yearned for. The day ended with stories at the bon-fire and we all slept together in the dinner tent, just because it was our last camp night together and we would each be off on our individual life journeys soon.

Photo of They say it is a calling... 14/14 by Siddarth Kannan

Day 7, June 8 2014 – Trek to Lohajung

We knew today would be our last day of trekking the Himalayas. I walked as slowly as possible, taking in each step into my body and each sight into my heart. A dive into a snow melt river, Neel Ganga, on the way to Wan refreshed not just my body but everything metaphysical about it too. And finally, Wan; where there were vans waiting to take us to our base camp Lohajung. It was finally done, the Himalayan affair, a love affair which took me to emotions beyond comprehension.  

The Himalayas are magical, and they have a life of their own. It is almost like a different dimension to this world.  Our 7 days felt like a life. They say it is a calling. The Himalayas called me, and I came, crossing continents and oceans. I can’t think of a better love story even if I wanted to!

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