Thursday, December 29, 2005

Hitchikers Guide to the Mountains

Day 0 - 19th Dec:
Bought the pending trek items from Delhi. Some woolens and trekking boots. The shoes are the most important thing. It needs to have a good soul :-) Almost missed the train, again. This time was at the wrong station :-) Managed to reach the other station well in advance and caught the Jammu Tawi train at night. Was travelling alone. Decided to make friends along the way. However a friends brother who I had not met before was also coming for the trek. So I would make atleast one new friend. Slept through the journey.

Day 1:Its cold, very very cold. Have to get down at Pathankot which is in Punjab. It arrived at around 8 in the morning. The buses in Pathankot had signs which warned people of unattended items which could be bombs. It also mentioned that you should look under your seat to make sure no one has left anything behind. It could be a bomb!!! Pathankot is a big military base. My mom later told me that someone told her that Pathankot is at the border where there is a lot of bombing :-) She then got all paranoid and stuff. I had switched my mobile off since it was running out of battery. She phoned a lot of my friends in bangalore who finally managed to allay her fears :-) From Pathankot I got on a bus to Dalhousie. Reached base camp around 12. Was supposed to arrive the previous day but I don't think I missed much as the actual trek had not started. Collected my sleeping bag and other essentials. Got acquainted with some of the folks at base camp. However since I arrived late I shared a room with trekkers who were to start a day after us. Met Raoul, my friends brother. Raoul is in his fifth year at BITS Pilani. At night we were forced to showcase our so called talents at the campfire. It was not an actual fire just a solitary candle burning in the middle. People sang, performed a skit, joked, made fools of themsleves and then it was my turn. Well I can't sing, can't tell jokes, can't errr... well I can dance. Oops... not alone..... I managed to pull up 4 other guys up with me, Raoul, Saurabh, Sandeep and Shobit, but since we were taking too long to decide the song we sat down :-) As I said I was not the only one, everyone was making a fool of themselves. Whatever it takes to break the ice I say, whatever it takes.

Day 2:
The sky was clear. It appeared like an artist's canvas, with subtle shades of blue and orange and yellow and purple. We packed our lunches. After a good breakfast we were off to our first destination, Kalatope. There were 50 people in our group which I felt was too large for a trek. It should be 10 max. Our group leader was a criminal lawyer practicing in Delhi. However as we moved along the group broke into smaller groups which maintained their respective paces. There were about 6 of us in our group. Raoul who is studying. Sandeep who is practicing law in Delhi. Doing stuff in IPR in addition to other fields. Saurabh from Baroda who is studying and working. Then Brahma from Hyderabad and Lakshmi from Bangalore. Both are working in IT. The first stretch was along the road which was not fun at all. So we decided to climb up the surrounding mountainside just for kicks. Lakshmi and Raoul led the pack. A few of them were a bit dangerous for me so I decided to be an observer. After our lunch break the route was more scenic without the tarred road. The path got a bit narrower where we had to go in a single file. Reached Kalatope around 3-4ish. It was to be the highest point in the trek. Well over 6000 feet above sea level which is not very high at all. Lakshmi Raoul and myself decided to take a short hike into the forest. We explored some alluring paths and came to a consensus that it would be nice if we could make the hike early morning with torches. So we made plans for the next morning and decided to go to this place where we got an amazing view of the sunset. There was also this whiff of grass in the air. It reminded me of the smell of grass you get at rock shows. Why you ask. I dunno maybe its the feeling since both made me a little high :-) The night sky was crystal clear. It was peppered with millions of shining dots. And as you looked toward the horizon you couldn't distinguish the stars from the lights sources from some houses way below. That night the temperature went below zero. It fell to about -4 at night.

Day 3:
The hike thinghy didn't happen. We and our big plans :-) Anyways after natures call in the wild and all that we were off to Khajjiar. This route was more like it. We were enveloped by thick forest cover for most of the trek. Our knees began to ache as they had to bare the brunt of the sudden uphill and downhill climbs. Along the way peoples imagination resurrected a black block of wood into a bear :-) Well we were trekking through bear land but it wasn't a bear. We broke for lunch after we crossed the first mountain. We ate along a stream in the valley. It was beautiful. Cold but wrm at the same time. One of the trekkers got bit by a scorpion. After a good lunch we were hungry for more. It was a tedious 1 1/2 hour climb uphill. We zig zagged through the never ending ascent. I began to perspire quite a bit but it felt cold. Finally panting we reached the top. Phew. The remaining path was smoother. We had another mountain to cross. At one point there was this tree which grew sideways out of the mountainside. Lakshmi was like,"Lets go". The gang carefully climbed onto the tree and I volunteered to capture their exploits. Finally we reached Khajjiar around 4ish where we descended into this huge open field, the size of 3-4 football fields. It was surrounded on all sides by tall pine trees. There were a few horses grazing in the field. And just sometime around then it started to snow. You could taste the soft flakes while they brushed against your face. It sure felt like heaven. After filling our tummies we proceeded towards the guesthouse. This time we decided to have a campfire, a real campfire. You know like with some real wood :-) I went in the woods to collect some twigs. I had the torch while the other guy carried the booty back. On the way down I missed my stepping and then clung on to a tree for dear life. Finally when I managed to put some light on the situation I realised I was just 2-3 feet above ground. But I could have sprained a few things. Two Navy guys told us about their encounter with a bear along the path. The were ahead of the pack and sometime after lunch realised that a bear was following them. It did so for about 20-30 mins. G.V. Bhushan who is a Commander in the Navy then told us about his Basic mountaineering course experience which he did when he was 19. Its a 20+ day course where at one point you are left in the jungle for 2 days. He said he was petrified as a guy of 21 years was killed by a bear sometime back during the training. A knife is more of a liability in the jungle he said. Its the fire and your survival skills that get you through it. At night there was some star gazing with a studing astronomer as a guide. The Navy guys told us that they would be leaving early next morning as they wanted to leave basecamp the same day. It was 22nd and I also wanted to be back in Delhi by 24th night for midnight mass. One by one members of our gang decided to join up with group leaving early.

Day 4:
Our small group started early in the morning. We could see the snow capped peaks in the distance. The scenery was covered in a blanket of blue mist. The path all along was downhill. We passed through a couple of villages in the mountains. There was no tree cover above us, just the rising sun. Saw some eagles at close range along the way. It was amazing to see them soar through the sky. At some places the surface had loose mud. It would not have been a path we would have taken, had it snowed. We met a lot of children in the small villages along the way. After some knee beating downhill stretches we reached Mangla. We broke for tea and then headed off to Chamba where we took a bus back to basecamp. The bus journey to Pathankot was cramped. The conductor who was sitting shot gun would go to collect the ticket money from people every now and then. At one point he had to go back by putting his footing on the seat rests. His feet didn't touch the ground :-) When we reached Pathankot we enjoyed a hearty dinner. Saurabh stayed back at Pathankot to catch another train later. The five of us then got on a train to Delhi that night.

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