Har Ki Dun - The Valley of Lord Shiva
Day 1 - From Taluka to Seema:
Trek begins with a ride to Taluka from Sankri where we had spent the previous night. Jeeps are the only mode of mechanized transportation between these two points. There is no road for the better half of the journey, but that doesn't stop the drivers from zipping along the treacherous path. It is insane how they zoom around hairpin curves without a second thought. Taluka is smaller than Sankri, but it seemed too modernized to be called a village. In small shops with thatched roofs they were selling all kinds of consumer products-Maggi, soap bars, toffees-but no mineral water bottles. After a cup of tea we heaved our rucksacks and began the real journey.
Har Ki Dun Trekking began with a stretch of cemented track. I remember it quite distinctly because it gave me the (absolutely wrong) impression that the rest of the trek would be similar to the first kilometer. But it would not have meant what it means had it been a trek on a cemented track all the way. It was as if the rocks which ached my soles at night, made an impression on my mind as I gingerly found my way over them.
I had exhausted my energy after the first two or three hours. So I don't recall much of the scenery. Wherever we went we had mountains on one side and a steep river valley on the other. If you slipped, you would end up in the river. The real question then would be whether you would drown to death or freeze to death or freeze and then drown.
On Day One my emotional state was intimately connected with the track we were walking on. If the track ahead of me was plain, I would feel at ease. If it rose steeply, frustration grew steeply in my mind and I had an existential crisis.
But the moment of reckoning came, ironically, towards the end of the Day One, when we were very close to our destination-Seema. We had been walking for the past six hours and our guest house was nowhere in sight. The night was approaching rapidly as the sun had set beyond the mountains. Of the nine members of our group, four had some lead over the rest five, of which I was one. The five of us had a guide with us. His name was Chaen Singh. He and I were leading the way in the falling darkness. I could barely see beyond ten meters now. The track was a bit tricky so Chaen Singh left my side and went back to help the others. It was then I felt a wave of doubt. As I stood there, miles away from home, disoriented, dependent entirely on the guide, like a blind person is dependent on his stick, I asked myself what the hell am I doing here. I felt vulnerable and suddenly all the horror stories about people getting lost in the woods came rushing to me. To make matters worse I saw a light bobbing up and down in the distance and growing brighter every moment. I was sure it was the panther Sushant mentioned last night. Of all the things my mind could have done, it reminded of a random clip I saw on NGC in which a lioness pounces upon its prey even before it has stopped breathing. Funny how our brain works.
Lucky for me, it wasn't a man-eating panther. It was just a guy-which makes so much sense since felines are not known to own torches.
When we reached Seema, we were welcomed with hot tea and delicious pakoras. As we sat around the fire and ate, I decided to not to go further. I felt broken in body and spirit. My legs hurt. My back hurt. I had not expected this trek to be this tough. It was so tough! The climb was tough! The ice was tough! The cold was tough!
I told Sushant I won't go any further. I would spend the next two days here at the guest house at Seema. I didn't care about what anyone would say or think. I didn't care if anyone teased me or pulled my leg for it. I simply couldn't endure this trek any longer. Neither would I complete this trek nor would I go for any more...EVER!
I had said all these things and more, and then repeated it a few times before going to bed.
Day Two (part one) - At the top! From Seema to Har Ki Dun: A good sleep is therapeutic. No sore feet. No backache. No cranky Adi. When I woke up I felt so charged up that I was the first to freshen up. I strolled out of the guest house and took in the first sights of Seema.
Seema, I was told was an extension of a (relatively) bigger village called Osla. It was just a collection of buildings, of which our double story yellow guest house was perhaps the biggest. The cook told me there was a Shiv Mandir nearby. I could also go down to the stream, he told me. It had nothing else. Nothing. Else. It was then that dawn of realization hit me. What on earth would I do for two freakin' days while the others went to the top and came back?! I would go insane!
When the guys woke up and came down, the conviction to continue only grew stronger. As we sipped warm morning chai, standing on the porch, six guys and the guide took upon themselves the task of, according to Amandeep, brainwashing me. And as he later observed, it did not take much time. In about an hour's time, I was struggling with a steep climb on my way to Har Ki Doon!
The first couple of hours to Har Ki Doon were especially enjoyable. Walking slowly on the well-treaded track, I absorbed the view beholding me. The mountains were imposing. Since it was the dry month, they were devoid of a forest cover. The bareness added to their grandeur and made the mountains look dead, mummified. The river flowing through the valley was the exact opposite. You could hear it gush, especially if the currents were fast, as it made its way across rapids and small waterfalls. It was lively, sounding young and energetic, unlike the desolate mountains. (It is quite ironic since geologically speaking Himalayan rivers are older than the mountains).
But my personal favorite part of Day Two was the stretch across the flat plains. You wouldn't have expected it all, more so because it lay right after a very steep climb. You're standing at the base and all that you see, as you throw your neck back, is boulders-nastily angled. You ask the guide where the track is(twice) and he finds your questions amusing. The climb drains you and you're panting hard, you're sweating and as you haul yourself across the last tiny bit of the stretch you realize it was worth it. Lush green plains! You are mighty relieved! You haven't seen the land so flat in the past two days! You wonder if you can talk Sushant into camping here but before you can actually he orders everyone to start walking again.
Everyone started walking - I didn't.
I confess. If this trek was an exam, I passed only because I cheated. I was on a mule for the rest of the journey. I think it is cheating(and I am not proud of it either). I nursed my ego by telling myself that since I hadn't cheated in any exam I ever wrote it was okay to cheat here. (I know it's a screwed logic, but..ya know).
The mule was officially christened Audi by Ankit. The ride was an experience. Embarrassing and disgusting(when the mule in front of Audi would pause to poop-apparently mules do that a lot.), but a legitimate experience.
After lunch, we made quick progress and on Audi, I was quite ahead of others. When we were an hour away from our destination, the sky clouded.
"It's snowing", the guide announced.
Where?! Where?! Where?!
I turned my head around wildly. The first snowfall of my life! I expected it to be dramatic-like when it rains, with thunders and all. But snowfall isn't like rainfall. What you see is air around you being filled by some really teeny weeny white particles-like very fine white dust in the air. But in few minutes, you see there are millions and millions of them floating merrily in the air. They settle on your cap, on your gloves. They stick to your eyelashes and you try to catch them on your tongue. And only when your sleeves are covered with a white powdery substance are you convinced that indeed it was your first snowfall!
I got another high when I finally set my eyes on our destination. Har Ki Doon was here! An enormous valley in the midst of enormous mountains. The view was stunning. The brown lifeless hills had given way to white ones. The sheer size of the valley was mind blowing. To realise that we were the only human beings for many, many miles before us...was a humbling. At Seema I had said-there is nothing here. I don't know how to describe the nothing of Har Ki Doon valley. There was so much of space and so much of time that it would be really easy to lose track of both.
Our guest house was located atop a rather flat place. It comprised three structures-kitchen, main house for sleeping and an office space. I got down from Audi and walked a few paces towards the edge of the flat place. A few more steps down and I would have been walking in the cradle of the river valley. I didn't. I was scared but not of slipping and getting hurt.
I was scared of walking down the valley and getting lost-getting lost in the timeless beauty. Having lived in a city for all my life, the quiet of Har Ki Doon had a calming effect on me. I could have spent hours staring at the valley-the trees, the twisted tracks of mud, smoothened rocks. The guide told me it was a British who discovered this valley. I wonder what drove him to this edge of the world. How intense the spirit of adventure would have been in him to make him walk for so long, to bring him here...so far away from any civilization.
Two mountain chains wound around the valley. From where I stood I could only see for a few kilometres. The mountains turned west, out of sight. There would be a world beyond that turn I thought. A world as beautiful as this one... existing, flourishing... waiting to be discovered. I can only imagine...
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