It was just before dawn when we recalled for the seventh time that we haven’t got a single hour’s sleep. It broke our hearts to set foot on the Himalayas in the morning with a soul trapped in a drowsy sleepless body. On the previous day we hitchhiked our way up to Munsiyari, part of the Pithoragarh district, Uttarakhand.
It was really late that we could only manage to get a tent and a few blankets. We knew that without sleeping bags and stuff it would reek hell inside a tent. Being the hardcore nomads we were, it was nothing. We had to survive the freezing night despite the lack of amble gear. We set up a bonfire, cooked some noodles; wrapped around in our blankets, playing country songs in the background, we watched the distant snow caps glimmering in the moonlight.
Oh, “what more can the heart of a man desire?
Pitiful old winter
The frozen sky was torn apart by a golden shine into an ocean of orange with purple reefs. We were a long way from home to be welcomed so gloriously by the mighty mountains. Our hearts were jumping around like a jackrabbit, overwhelmed by a content soul.
We set our backpacks, collected our minimal gear, started heading down from the ITBP helipad plot. We waved thankfully to Mr. Pandey for helping us find Mr. Surendra S. Panwar who guided us in setting up all our vital gears and also getting a trekking permit.
All the locals were advising us to get an escort guide, seeing a group of boys in the early twenties. Not to mention our spirits brimming with driven adventure, we decided to set out for the mountains on our own.
An adventure begins
Each step was to be taken with caution, descending from Chilamdar to the valley bridged by woods and crystal clear waters of the mountain. It was about 13 kilometres to our first camp at Babalidhar. At a certain point of our hike we realized that it was not the spirits of adventure that surrounded us but a heavenly silence.
Getting away from the grasp of the fake chains of civilization, our souls grew heavy, wiser, but uncertain. “ where are we?”.
Our bodies were tired, drifting through the rocks of time. This time it was different from our most recent Himalayan experience on our bikes(Manali-Leh). This was another realm. We were literally participating in nature’s struggle in the art of creation. “Respect.”
The sunlit path
We kept no record of time or distance. A few Sherpas were giddying in a hurry with their donkeys trailing back in the opposite direction. The sun was giving up on us when we encountered a huge ascend zig-zaging it’s way to the top. The air was void of any kind of human interference. It was only the trail luring us to wander. With shaky legs we managed to climb, what we thought to be last for the day. It took a long time than we imagined. The sun was gone. The only thing we could see was the immediate steps revealed by the flashlights. To our surprise, it was not done. Now the trail began to descend on its own; independent with pride. Our breaths were pacing magically with the lucid air. It was cold. Our backpacks anchored upon our weary feet like it was forcing its own way down the trail. It was really tiring. We sat down for a while in the midst of the dark woods. We said nothing to each other. The woods were communicating.
The wind carried the sound of running waters which suddenly latched on to my ears. I thought of this as a reminder of how the woods treated our presence. They wanted to make us realize the vital role played by them in the eternal struggle. An eerie piece of the good life.
Taking in the moment, we walked again, just to find that the trail split into two; one went up and the other ran down. We were panic stricken at first, only to realize how peaceful was the calm that succeeded the fear. Our minds were blank at that point of time. We settled down again thinking of our previous night, including which, would be the fourth sleepless night after we left from Kerala. It was dark and it was beautiful.
A sense of content accompanied when one of us heard a slight clinging of a bell from somewhere. At first he thought it was his mind playing games. Astonishingly, this time the sound was louder surprising all our ears at once. The sound came from a short distance from the trail to our right which ran down. Almost all of my mind was accustomed to the silence that prevailed, pulling me back from treading again. But it was not just me that was hungry and tired.
We stood up and followed the “bell-clinging trail”. We could see these orange flashes from afar. Gradually, as we approached,the flashes grew larger into a golden aura that flickered in the middle of the forest. The camp!
It was so alluring just to watch the little camp huts lit by yellow oil lamps amongst the woods clothed by the freezing winter. The sight was enough to warm our hearts.
An exaggerated reminder of who we are compared with the nature set in to lighten our souls. My soul had grown.
Dream of a wanderer
The vast glory of the pale winter sun spread in its magnificence. Today we were welcomed by an enormous space guarded by a graveyard of mountains and valleys. The beauty of the iced peaks courteously gifted us with an unforgettable manifest of the universe.
This new day began with an air of happiness and a hand drawn map of our trek path (given by Mr.surendra S. Panwar). Nahardevi, it was to be at the end of the day. The unknown trail revealed itself steeply descending with zigzag rock-built stairs leading to an iron bridge connecting one valley to the other. The path was lined with arrays of bamboo in an irregular fashion of ups and downs. A few army men were heading to their outposts at Bogadiar in a hurry.
Gradually, the terrain ran down into a trail that was even surfaced. This continued for about an hour. Each of us were separated for at least a hundred metres for the whole length of the trail. This point of the hike was enriched with solitude that made me immerse myself into the soul of the world. I always had a thing for the mountains. This seemed to be a mind-blowing, self-building one. The trail, the summits that were visible, the tear-like waters running aside, even the air were teaching something. I was not just living the moment, I was understanding things; things I don’t even remember now. I know my brain did not perceive anything other than the tiredness of my feet, but my soul, it was knowing everything. It was nothing of the world. The message was from the creator.
lanes of the soul
Not so long ahead, we could see a small group of buildings presumably a military camp. We regrouped, rested for a moment and resumed the walk. The place was bogadiar where we had to get our permits checked and the registers signed. We had some biscuits and tea from Mr. Sunder Da’s hotel. We conversed with him for a while where he asked about our place, Kerala. We shared with each other stories and folklores of both the lands.
Sundar Da’s people
We bid him our goodbyes and moved on to one valley to the other. This time it was a partly broken wooden bridge. The waters were blue in colour contradictory to what we had seen before. we collected enough water in our bottles and sat down dipping our feet in cold running water, watching how the clouds embraced the mountains.
From here on the trail became interesting. It took us on to heights where we could see the tops of parallel mountains and then deep below real closer to the waters. The hike was a bit difficult as we had backpacks that weighed enough to pull us back while at the steeps. But we kept on looking at the huge mountains and its values we longed for
It was dusk and the skies turned a little from red to purple. Today’s climb was almost over. Nahardevi was colder than the other camps. The guy at the camp said that the temperature was dropping by the minute. In fact, we felt the shift in temperature very swiftly. it was time for us to set up the tent. It was set up behind a rock as the wind from the valleys were too strong to hold the tent in place.
Valley of the wind
We climbed upon the big rock behind us which revealed a colossal view of the valley. We had our cups of coffee and sat there for a long time contemplating the immeasurable generosity of the universe; the Creator.
The early birds of the morning awoke us as if it was on purpose. There is always something farther than we think. In fact, there was. Yesterday was only a precursor of what lay ahead.
The trail took us along the valley so close to the timeless drops of water. It was a freezing morning with long lost winds bathing us with stories. The most fascinating thing about these mountains is that everything you see, feel and hear is something new. Something that you have never known before; like a resurrection.
Time and tread was never meant to beat the pace of the soul. At certain points of the trail, the depths of the valley could not even be assessed. It seemed to be limitless. For a person who was afraid of heights, this could give heart aches. Luckily, heights excited me.
The trail was more of yellow grassy slopes, pistah coloured skies, narrow rock stairs and a small waterfall that fell from a great height filling a small pool of water. Even though it was exciting, some parts of the trail were a bit treacherous. We had to pass a steep slope climbing across a huge pile of rocks as maybe the trail would have been lost in a rock fall or a landslide. We had no idea where it led us. But we kept climbing.
The winds were very strong that we had to tilt our bodies to the safe side in order to keep us from falling into the depths. Cautiously following the trail we settled down for a while on a valley which seemed to be a big dried up river. Resting our backpacks on the grey soiled ground, we took out our mattresses and lay there for a while watching the cold Himalayan skies. The sun couldn’t be spotted. There were no clouds. It was like in its purest form looking down on us.
There was only a small stream to cross in order to get to Rilkot, our next camp. Each of us took our own trails to the stream and beyond as the river bed was so vast. The stream was only about 2 metres wide. I threw over my backpack to the other side of the stream and jump-crossed it. I looked around but I couldn’t find the others or my way to go. I just walked in the direction of a small tower visible in the distance. The river was to be abandoned. The trail narrowed again as I stepped on to the rock paved way leading to a small mud wall where I could spot my friends waiting for me.
Rilkot was way more different than the other camping areas. It had much more human settlement; it was the only place by far where there was a telephone facility and it was much much colder. As per the information the temperature was minus 5 degree Celsius. We had to wear two pairs of thermals and gloves to stand the cold. The man at the hotel warned us that the temperature was going to get worse in the following days and all the shops were to be shut down in two days. He said it would be better if we stopped the trek here at Rilkot and turned around. This news was disappointing. We didn’t have any other option than going back. To be frank, we were heartbroken.
It was one of our long term dreams to trek to Milam glacier and we came all the way from Kerala for this. We thought either it might be too late to turn back or wait for the next time. Of course we would have made a run for it but it was too late. It was too dark to walk our way and also the last truck to Milam had already left. If we don’t make our way back the next day, our supplies would surely run down as we carried only just enough money for food, which is of no use if the shops were to be shut down. Our food was mostly biscuits that we packed from Munsyari. Yes, we decided to turn back.
They watched us
The mountains gave us a farewell gift. It was the sky. A sky so full of stars that we have never seen in our entire lives. It looked like an ocean, bluish-green in colour. My soul was trembling with content that I wanted to take a dip in that ocean and live there forever. I can never forget what that sky looked like. Immersed in that spectacular vision, that little bonfire warmed our bodies. At that moment I knew who I was. We looked at each other and thought,
“let’s get lost again.”