We made our way further through the main street of Ghangharia, passing other pilgrims and trekkers as everyone prepared for their day. In about 15 minutes we'd passed the town and were steadily ascending the mountains, as the sun peeked out from the peaks (no pun intended!). I sidled up to Vikram, who explained that it was common to have splitting headaches at altitudes above 10k feet, until you acclimatise - in the interim, it is a good idea to take aspirins (or any paracetamol), since these are blood thinners and help in the circulation, thus mitigating the effect of the altitude! Great help, if only I'd known the previous night, It would've saved me the torture of what I'd gone through! I still couldn't explain how I felt refreshed and strong, despite a 14Km climb the previous day, and no sleep at all in the last 24 hours, with another 12 hours to go before I'd get any rest at all!
We steadily kept plodding onwards. If the start of the trek to Ghangaria last morning seemed steep then, it paled in comparison to this morning! Some of the parts were virtual 45+ degree ascents on loose mud paths with nary a foothold and sheer drops on one side. The day was dark and gloomy, besides being very cold (we later found that the day temperature was around 5 degrees, and the only saving grace was that there was no wind to add to the chill factor!). As we climbed on, my thigh muscles started burning with the exhaustion and lack of oxygen. Soon, I'd also developed a stitch in the side. A quick glance at the team showed everyone to be in their own form of private misery, except Vikram, who patiently led us on upwards into the mountain. After about an hour or so, I hit my second wind, and from then on at least stamina wasn't an issue. I remember feeling a sense of pride when I glanced down to see Ghangaria far away below! Here we were, in our fancy trekking boots and insulated gear, weathering all that the great Himalayas could throw at us, and plodding on to our goal, undaunted.....when we suddenly passed an old couple. The man, a Sardar, would've been around 80, and the lady a couple of years younger. He was dressed in a salwar kurta, with rubber slippers on his feet, while she was wearing a salwar kameez, dupatta tied around her waist and BROKEN PLASTIC CHAPPAL!!!! No jackets, no sweaters, no shoes (forget trekking shoes), and all their worldly possessions in one cloth bag that the lady was carrying slung over her shoulder! Their entire being was focussed on the climb, as they gamely put one foot before the other, and kept muttering 'Waheguru' under their breath, their belief giving them the strength and fortitude to go on. We said a cheery 'Waheguru' to them as we passed, humbled by their sheer grit and simplicity. any sense of pride I'd felt quickly dissipated. There was a little tea shop at at the next turn, more a lean to shelter with a couple of stones doubling up as benches. We halted there for a warming cuppa. In about 10 minutes, the old couple caught up with us, and graciously accepted our invitation for a cup of tea. It turns out they were from Gurdaspur, and this was their 8th visit to Hemkunth Sahib. When asked how they'd manage in their basic clothing, they just smiled, shrugged and said 'Waheguru di meher'. Faith truly is great!