This is a mind game, I told myself, every time I faced a challenge during my trek, weather it was walking with a swollen ankle or trekking with diarrhea. If it wasn’t for my stubbornness, I would have returned home half way between the trek with full of regrets, for this trek was not an easy one like I anticipated and it required a lot of mental strength than physical which was very aptly proven by Biswas ji, a 63 year old man, who taught us that age is just a number and that, will power triumphs all physical boundaries.
“We have done it. We have reached the pass!!! Yaaaaaaaay !!! Wooooohooooo!!!” Was my reaction when I reached on the top. But the ultimate reaction was given by Biswas ji when he screamed out loud with his hand up in the air and his face dripping with every emotions he went through in the past 6 days. Seeing his state of “Brownian motion”, all of us, too jumped and joined in shouting.
Everyone has their own way of processing the joy they felt. Some enjoyed the accomplishment in solitude while others smiled their way in, coyly participating in the continuous hugging which was taking place.
I was speechless, in awe of the moment, because I had summited this 4690 m peak, because I had done it after four and a half hours of relentless climbing in the hostile weather conditions. I was freaking cold, my nose and lips frozen, I was tired, I was gasping for breath but none of this stopped me from smiling, none of this dampened my spirit. I wanted to reach the top. Which I did, and I cannot feel more proud.
“Life is a journey and not a destination”. These words from Aerosmith’s song “Amazing” rang in my ears. And I blanked out the unpleasant destination, as the enjoyable incredible journey flashed before my eyes. The view from the top was amazing. ‘Magnifique’ I finally managed to say, as I looked down in a 360 degree angle, staring at the precocious milky offsprings which stretched as far as the eyes could see.
I could go into poetic superlatives about the majesty of the mountains, the taste of the sweat dripping from my brow on the brutal climbs or the thundering power of the rain echoing around us at night from the comfort of my camp, but none of it will justify my experience, the emotions I felt and the internal fights I put up with my body to accomplish this tremendous task.
Day 1: Drive to Base Camp: Dhaula
Our trek started six days ago, when we drove from Dehradun to Dhaula through the peril roads. Apart from deriving the masochistic pleasures of this road trip entailing excruciating bum pains, excessive diesel fume inhalations and the usual throwing ups, any roadie would also get to see the most varied and beautiful landscapes and sceneries along the way. Our base camp was situated in nomans land far far away from civilization without any means of electricity and mobile network. It was a total cut out from the outside world. A huge barren land, adorned with halogen shaded tents facing the rapid gushing Rupin river in the middle of the forest made the journey totally worth it.
After the customary quick introductions (as I quickly forgot the names) with the group, the Expedition leader Abhirup got down to the serious business of briefing, which soon gave way to light hearted repartees and jokes from the group. This would soon become the tone of the evenings in the days to come.
Day 2: Sewa
Distance: 11 km
Time taken: 6 hours
After embarking the beginning of our trek with a group pic, we started our journey towards Sewa at 8 in the morning. It was a huge ascent, gaining an altitude of roughly 600m in a span of 6hrs.
Accompanied by Yashpal our guide, we started our journey on foot from our base camp, darting across the Rupin River on a wooden bridge. The path to Sewa was an upward journey on a rocky terrain. To add to the misery, it was very hot. The only saving grace was the amazing panoramic view of the overpowering mountains, the mighty Rupin river and the green patches of land which provided little or no comfort from the raging sun.
Over the course of next few days I bonded with the fellow trekkers.
There was Bagwat, a very jovial and friendly guy, who were one among the few that I had initial conversation with. He always made me feel special so I have a special place for him in my heart **wink wink**. Then there was Shailender, the photographer whom all of us were more than happy to be friends with (common who doesn’t want to be photographed **evilness**) and Tushar, the cyclist who happens to be very fit and drives on his bicycle to office every day (isn’t that great?). We call this group the Siemens group.
There was Nilesh and Sumit from Pune. Nilesh seemed to be a very shy person (atleast to me) and very much lost in love with his fiancé. Everytime he gets a network the first call goes to her. And then there is Sumit who seemed very friendly and helpful, walking around with a camera around his neck. If it wasn’t for him I couldnt have justified my Rupin Pass album, with all those scenic beauties I missed to capture on my camera while I was busy getting through the trek for the day.
Then there was Gaurang from Mumbai who striked me as a very intellectual person with a very clear understanding of matters. He will be my go to guy for drinks and cocktails. Also there was a trio from West Bengal that included a 63 yr old uncle and his daughter Sunanda and his son in law Atanu. Hats off to uncle who managed to finish the entire trek without anybody’s help and kudos to Sunanda for completing the entire trek with the backpack on (I couldn’t imagine doing it!). And I can never forget Atanu for the mirror trick he made us do in one of the games.
Also there was this IIT duo, Ashish and Priya (btw Priya is a HE) the youngsters of our group. Priya thought me how to walk the walk without breaks and Ashish, whom I have multiple names to describe was one among those who never got tired of the walk. I wish I had that kinda stamina. ***Green fumes of envy, fortunately invisible to others, gushed out of my ears*** He was on a road trip from past 30 days. He informed me. ***More green fumes gushed out*** He planned on going to Kalpa and Shimla after the trek. A great guy. I immediately bonded with him as the fumes disappeared.
Then there were Mr Subra, an avid trekker himself and Mrs Subra, soft spoken and Altophobic, both from Bangalore, Parjanya who I describe as stares with no talk guy, Sagar the photo guy who must have managed to imprint on atleast half of the overall photos, Puneet who is on a Himalayan trek spree and Rachit who were one among the close friends I made in this trek.
And last but not the least my friends Ramesh and Anima who accompanied me on this trek.
We reached Sewa exactly at our lunch hour and after relaxing for a bit we fueled ourselves with rotis and sabjis and dal chawal.
This day and the next were by far the worst days I had during my entire duration of Rupin Pass. I fell victim to diarrhea and I found myself rushing to the loo every 5-10min. This continued for the next day too after which I started getting better.
Day 3: Jiskun
Distance: 11.5 km
Time taken: 6 hours
Today was by far the worst day of my trek. A gruesome 6 hrs walk on inclined terrain, on under constructed road, dry and dusty without any comfort of shade from the merciless sun that shone high up with just one aim to drain us of energy.
I barely survived this day. The only words running through my mind was “One step at a time”!
With a zillion number of breaks and curses and promises to never do this again, I reached Jiskun by noon on time for lunch. Every step taken hereafter was an effort in itself. For a moment I doubted if I would be able to survive the entire trek or should I be wise enough to go back home. I gave myself a days’ time to decide and plenty of rest to recover from this fatigue, which worked like a charm as I got better and almost perfect by the next day.
Day 4: Uduknal
Altitude: 10100 ft
Distance: 13.5 km
Time taken: 7 hours
Today was one of those days were we walked for almost 7 hrs. But unlike any other day I started to enjoy this routine. It was fun to walk the trail and find happiness in nature. Today we walked within the forest boundaries that helped us from the fierce sun and as we started gaining altitude, the cold breeze provided us comfort. This day, was by far the longest day of our trek. We traced our path towards the camp by walking along the banks of Rupin River. There was a time when I could see the camp from a distance and the destination seemed very far away. It took us a solid 2 hrs after this sighting to reach Uduknal camp.
After 2 days of homestay, the tents were a welcome sight. They gave us a sense of being in nature. As much as I was happy staying in one, the feeling dint last long. As I crawled inside my cramped tent into the uncomfortable sleeping bag, the nature decided to test my abilities to fight cold. It started raining heavily and I could hear each droplet of water pounding against my tent sending in cold shock waves. I was juggling between sleeping and finding warmth inside my sleeping bag. My heart was pumping hard to provide me warmth. Overwhelmed by the constant tumult inside my head, I sat down to meditate. Taking deep breaths is difficult at high altitude, but it helps me calm down and accept the situation for what it is. I finally manage to sleep despite the cold and shivers, to wake up to a sleepy morning.
Day 5: Lower Waterfall
Altitude: 11700 ft
Distance: 6 km
Time taken: 4 hours
This was a 4 hours trek gradually ascending along the Rupin River. It was this day when we had the first sighting of snow. The walk was serene and peaceful. It was by far ones of the best days of my trek. Before we knew, we were at the lower waterfall camp relaxing along the Rupin River.
Today we had a round of technical session were our instructor Raj, thought us how to walk on snow. I listen to Raj’s instruction to “Dig your toes to climb and use your heels to descend,” as we practice on a hill near base camp. The Forclaz shoes have a soft inner layer, and an outer, rock-like layer that lets you dig your foot into snow but still doesn’t provide a decent grip for amateurs like us. I almost fell multiple times if it weren’t for the hands that I grabbed here and there to break the fall. I couldn’t decide whether I find this practice exercise fun, annoying, or worrisome.
Day 6: Upper Waterfall
Altitude: 13100 ft
Distance: 4 km
Time taken: 3 hours
It was a great morning to wake up to. There was a slight chill in the air. After a sumptuous breakfast, we started off. Today’s path took us through the snow ridge which we had to cross. We put on our micro spikes and readied ourselves to walk over it. The walk was quite challenging as the risks were high. One wrong move and we could find ourselves slipping into the waterfall that forms the origin of Rupin River. We had to cross a couple of challenging snow patches after which the walk was a straight uphill ascent. There were highs and lows, with opportunities for bouldering as we trudged along.
As we reached the camp, the view was one among the best till date. Tents adorned the ground along the banks of Rupin River and then it was all snow. As part of acclimatization we went for a walk exploring the region. We played in the snow and bombarded each other with snow balls. By the end of it all of our hands were frozen and it took me few minutes to get the blood flow back.
Day 7: Rupin pass | Ronti Gad
Distance: 6 km
Time taken: 10 hours
Wake up call.
Tea Time that I skip to grab another half an hour sleep.
I wake up to get dressed and pack my bags. I dress in layers to beat the cold.
It’s 5.00 a.m. when the full moon shines like a flashlight flagging-off our expedition. Getting ready to scale over 2,000 plus feet in the next several hours we don our gear, which consists of multiple layers of clothing, micro spikes, torch and a backpack with water and food. As the time goes by the sun starts breaking in and our surroundings are more visible now. The climb to the pass begins here and it is hard not to be aware of the milky whiteness encompassing us. I feel both nauseous and heady with appreciation for where we are.
Soon, the sun is out, shining brightly against a deep blue sky. White clouds move at a leisurely pace, and they seem to be the only things moving besides us. Everything else is still or subtle. Cool winds blow on and off. Our shadows dance against the white surface of the snow as we keep plodding on. We are quite alone on the entire range this morning. I get a sense of being lost in time.
The walk on snow feels safe. Excitement builds in. Just like Jadoo from Koi Mil Gaya, we crave for “Dhoop” for some warmth. As we move forward, the mountains removed yet another veil, revealing a small range of mountains in the foreground. As I stretch my eyesight to find the Rupin Pass, I find few porters at a distant climbing the pass. They started along with us and they have almost finished the climb while we are atleast 2 hrs away from the pass. We walked in straight line praying every now and then, asking the mountains for permission to climb her shoulders and provide a safe passage.
Jitender and Yash, our technical guides, made a walkable path for us. Using iceaxe, both of them lead us higher and higher. I resume my mental counts to climb slowly but the gaps between counts become longer as I took time to catch my breath. The thin air and rough weather make it an exhausting exercise, demanding every ounce of stamina. The responsibility of the interdependent climb makes the mind even more alert and focused.
After four hours of steady climbing, we reach the pass roughly at 9.20am. Realizing that I achieved what I strived for the past few days, I’m enveloped by a sense of gratitude. I sit down and blissfully absorb the scene around. But the precious few moments escape all too fast and we decide to descend so that we can reach Ronti Gad by noon.
Going downhill, the powdery snow makes it easy for us to slide rapidly down several hundred feet. We hold the trekking poles like a scooter handle and use our legs to slide. I feel like a 2 yr old again. Our group had separated and I can see others in the distance as small specks on a huge sheet of white. I still find it hard to believe that we are all alone for hundreds of kilometres all around, an impossible occurrence in cities.
The sun has made the snow loose and powdery, making sections of the track more treacherous. My leg keeps dropping into orifices two feet deep. I use my walking sticks to dig myself out and keep going. I fell face on at couple of places when my micro spikes got entangled. But still I was felt happy and mesmerized with the beauty.
As I descent, I no longer see Rupin Pass. It got lost among the thousand other passes. It sits still while we keep moving. These transient images seem to reveal something about how life keeps on changing, and yet it never really does.
By 2pm we reached Ronti Gad, thus marking a happy end to our very long day.
Day 8: Sangla
Altitude: 8800 ft
Distance: 12 km
Time taken: 5 hours
I wake up to find myself completely rested. I had a good sleep. And the thought of going back home boosted my spirits. We leisurely had our breakfast and started our descent to Sangla at 7.30. The walk was again a challenge. 12km walk with the gruesome sun high up, loosing almost 4000ft was a challenge in itself especially for the knees and calf’s and toes. After some frustrating descent and the irritating walk inside the Sangla village, we made it to the final spot where a comfy bed and a bathroom to bath were our trophies.
Its one of the ironies of mountaineering, that grown men are happy to spend months preparing for a climb, weeks rehearsing, and honing their skills, and atleast a day attempting to reach the summit. And then, having achieved the daring goal, they spend just a few moments enjoying the experience along with few other equally certifiable companions who have little in common other than wanting to do it all over again, but a little higher the next time.
This journey woke me up from within, and made me reflect on everything differently. I perceived the short shelf life that our bodies have for the many possibilities this world offers. Encountering various people in remote India allowed me a glimpse into the magnificence of the human condition. It appeared foolish to trap myself into imaginary little boxes. When I returned, I quietly went about doing the things that I knew my heart desired but didn’t insist on because of pointless fears. That’s why I started climbing mountains. That’s how I’m here. And that’s why I will keep climbing mountains.
As I write this post, I am overwhelmed with what we had just achieved.
It was definitely all about the mind. All about the team. All about the support staff.
As for me, I have a leg adorned with blisters making me walk like a penguin. Nothing to worry about. I am actually proud of it and will adorn this “battle scar” for the rest of my life (sadly it will not leave a mark). It will always remind me of this amazing experience.
Till then…climb safe…if you reach the top never forget the bottom where you started from as you are bound to come down eventually…in life as well.
Just enjoy the journey !!!
This post was originally published on 'I & My Flipflops'.