Tuesday, January 29, 2013

On reaching KedarKantha Base camp

At this moment I was only happy that there were just two more nights to be spent in the sleeping bag. Morning when I came out of the tent to pour in some hot tea into my cup I realized that it wasn't me alone but the whole team had a similar plight the previous night. One would say I could sleep for only two hours while the other would sulk for not getting sleep even for a minute.

I had no other option but to make some deal with my heavy bag to stop it troubling me further. JP Sir had a huge army bag which was to go on Mule. So a jacket and couple of extra clothes of mine perfectly got fitted into his bag. And my back was much happier after this. By the time we could start our next day’s trek, 2 of them in the team had decided to go back to the base camp. My stomach was upset from last evening which dint let me eat Chole-Bathura for breakfast. I had to sustain with my energy bars and fruits. Since it was only me & Suma as women population, Bharti was extra sweet to us. She could very easily make out if even one of us had not come to the dinning area. She would call out for us loudly if she doesn’t sight us around for while… :D That was very nice of this lady.

It was very late like 10:00am we started the day’s trek. It was an easier climb than yesterday. And with the lighter backpack and smooth walk on snow we reached Kedarkantha Base camp. The tents were laid on a flat surface and everything around you is just snow. The Christmas celebrations were evident in all the tents with a santa cap on all of them. And a snow man beside our tents. There was enough sun to keep us warm till dusk. The camp leader of this camp, here comes the most impressive person in this trek, Raj Mohan Ji. Its difficult to describe him but he was a synonym of qualities like Dynamic, quick, sharp, strong, humble & lots more. I only remember when he started to speak & he went on & on till we completed the trek. His voice was in the background almost throughout from now on, even when he was not around. He gave us instructions on using the crampons and basic facilities available at the campsite. Bharti was in high spirits to make another Snow man in the ice. The ice was as dry as sand, it was difficult to make even a small snow ball forget a man standing with a huge tummy. We then decided to make a snow mountain and dressed it like a man. And then started the snow bullets bombarding on us. We played till almost the previous batch left the camp after their successful summit.

Just when I was ready with few more fresh layers of clothes, I heard RajMohan ji calling for us to assemble on the snow. I could not afford getting my clothes wet, I quickly pulled out few layers and was back in 2 mins. We all cursed and wondered what on earth was he making us do on the snow now. Will he make us slide or yet another snow man ???? Unfolding the surprise he went on to demonstrate how to save ourselves from avalanche. Interesting! I was now hiding myself behind the tall guys for not becoming his subject. Unfortunately my tiny stature made it convenient to conduct his experiment on me. Even before I could realize, I was sleeping inside a sleeping bag covered all over with thick blanket of snow. The moment my face was covered my mind started racing to get out of it, my mind shouted inside my head to just throw away all the snow pressed on me right away & get out of that bag. With great difficulty I held back my otherwise reactive mind to stay calm for a while and very politely told Raj Mohanji to keep my face uncovered. I am dead Claustrophobic. Recollecting that scene even now makes me uncomfortable. A little while from then, I realized how warm the ice can actually make you feel inside this Igloo. I was the “Igloo-women” of our batch.

They struggled to cut down a tree to feed the fire. I almost felt dead waiting for fire to be put on, I took refuge inside the kitchen tent. Once again, his experiences in Indian army, stories about the life in army, siachen and several other stories kept us listening to him with amazement. Raj Mohanji would go on. We assembled around the campfire again after dinner for few more stories. And then most of them decided to catch bed and compensate for yesterday’s loss of sleep. Few of us had no hopes of getting any sleep and we preferred to stay around the fire than to stay stagnant inside the cold sleeping bag waiting for another night to get over. Sitting around the fire was an awesome pastime. Exploring everybody’s hidden talents. Ha ha J I had strong plans to kill Danny at the end of the campfire session for teasing me about everything I was telling. Shimoo would go silent the moment I asked him anything about Jaguar. I kept eating his head and he begged me to spare him. In between these conversations, JP sir would choose to share his experiences on his past treks. Shubhoo tried to make an excuse and get into his tent but he wasn’t let to break the campfire promise. We fixed the time to get into tents as 10:30PM but the interesting sessions, stories, discussions, arguments & what not, forced us to extend it till 11PM.

The tents were set with sleeping bags and all we did was to drape the two layers of sleeping bags on us and waited for the sleep to conquer us. To my surprise, the sleeping bag almost felt like a cradle and I dozed off in no time and slept like a baby.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Journey to Juda ka Taalab

At a very relaxed pace, the whole team assembled near the tea shop at 8AM. Few among us moved their backpack on Mules to the higher camps. It was obvious that I would carry the backpack myself but this turned out to be a bad decision later during the trek.

As a part of green trail, Me & Shubhojit carried gunny bags to pick up plastics thrown on the trails. By 8:30AM we started our first day trek to the next camp. One strange thing during the trek was there was one dog who would join us in every batch. It seemed as if the dog community in Sankri had decided to send one of their representatives with us for every batch. Snowy was incharge of our team :P He was really a sweet dog. I had never seen a dog so polite and quiet. He always led the team with a winner’s spirit.

Today’s trek was mostly a climb so turned out a little difficult more because of my heavy back pack. I managed to stay ahead with small steps but every step charged heavy to my shoulders. I blamed myself for carrying some many clothes but meanwhile felt that the temperatures would demand them. I was wrong. It was a costly learning.

By this time we knew each others pace and aligned accordingly. The sweeper group wasn’t so slow in reaching our rest point. We peeled out oranges and bananas while resting on the first few patches of snow. We took another pit stop 15 mins before reaching the camp, near a frozen lake. Bharti became an easy target for all the snowballs. One huge ball of snow which missed Bharti came and landed right on my left part of head and I was like “Where am I? & Who am I??” for a second. By early noon we had reached Juda-ka-taalab.

Don't miss to see Danny & Shimoo flaunting their accomplishment :P

  Ten tents pitched on patches of ice. And the lake (hence the name JUDA KA TAALAB) was adjacent to the camp right next. A picture perfect place for all the cameramen. We were hungry and as promised by the organizers, we had paneer subzi for lunch. Delicious food never lets you stop eating. May be the cold also demands more. Post lunch, our cameras were out clicking the beautiful pictures of the camp site and surroundings. One side of the lake’s bank was covered with snow completely while the other was still dry. We sat on the grass embracing the sun shine. With time the sun moved down and the very next moment you would feel cold forcing you to move up the mountain where it was still sunny. This game continued till we reached almost top of the mountain and finally when we saw the sun on the tip of those tall trees we surrendered to settle down trembling in cold. Provided we humans could climb with ease, I’m sure all 30 of us would have been clinging onto 30 tall trees till the sun was gone.                                                      
                                                                   - Above photo clicked by Kunal Shinde


This is when I actually got to explore our trek lead. Bharti had a story which I so much wanted to hear. At one moment I felt she is speaking of my future. Brave women with lots of dreams and passion, yet a long way to go. I admired her for the – “think different & dream” attitude. At the end of this conversation I was in a totally feel good state of mind.

When we were back near the campfire, the rest of them were already around the fire enjoying a hot cup of tea. We then thought of quick activities. JP suggested that we play “Dog game” which made the group go LOL for a long time. Memory game with our names and then prefixing it with adjective came in next. The major activities after the day’s trek was to sit around the fire and warm up. With night fall we were comfortably seated close enough to feel the warmth of the fire. Every hour we checked the dipping mercury levels in the thermometer.                                        

This was when almost 50% of us were cursing ourselves for taking up this trek during this mad winter. Most of us made strong promises not to repeat such blunders in future. Few imagined how otherwise they would been sleeping like a baby in their cozy beds back home. Such was the night’s cold. It dipped till -4 degrees that night and the cold breeze added so much to worsen the condition. The tents were not better than outside, few had plans to sit around the fire till dawn than to go sleep in the cold tents.
                                                            - Beautifully captured by Kunal 

This night I hardly must have slept for an hour or two. I could not move my body as the sleeping bags dint let us. I would feel suffocated if I cover my face while if I don’t my nose would freeze in cold. My toes were frozen the whole night not letting me catch sleep. This was worse than what I expected. I wasn’t felling any good that night till my alarm started at 5:30AM. I realized that I was sleeping only now. I cursed for not keeping it in silent, I dint want to move my hands out of the sleeping bag. And finally it was another day. 

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Bangalore to Sankri - Kedarkantha

No wonder Himalayas is always my top choice when it comes to spending a long holiday. It’s more than just trek or travel or holiday when I am in Himalayas. Sarpass opened a plethora of peaks in Himalayan range to my to-do list. This time I was in Himalayas not for answers to my questions but for a quieter mind. On a lighter part, this trip was not just greeting a new peak in Himalayan range but also to meet and make new friends.

With Aravind’s suggestion to go with Indiahikes and a little browsing for other information I was convinced to do a winter trek in kedarkantha, near Dehradun with IH. It was initially me alone, Suma joined at the last minute. This time there was bear minimum things to shop and everything except one thing fell in place. The winter cold brought second thoughts about my survival in the trek. I had never before experienced negative temperatures. I was worried and at the same time thrilled. Fitness was'nt a big concern as the daily trek distances was short.

Few things I greatly appreciate about IH, they initiated mails to share our contacts and our cities. This was a great relief for me as I was traveling alone. Bharti, our bubli beautiful trek lead had kept us well informed of the DO’s & Don’t’s for the trek with a series of mails. I remember receiving a mail few days before our trek telling the snowfall in Base camp and the discussions regarding the higher camps getting tougher to reach. With all these correspondence, we knew well in advance how to prepare for the situations far there. They responded quickly for all our queries, small, big, serious or stupid.

We flew to Delhi on Sunday afternoon. The capital was burning hot with the protest against the Gang rape happened just a week back while the temperature soared low and the city was dark by 6PM. With a pre-paid taxi we both safely landed with our luggages at the NDLS railway station. I had skipped my noon lunch for some stupid reason which made it more difficult to bear the cold. We walked around the station and found a small shop and had hot parota with dal curry. For the next one week I knew we would be having pretty much the same menu. I was preparing myself for it.

Back in the railway station we waited in the entrance for close to 3hrs till JP(read as JayPrakash) joined us. Those 3 hours probably will always remind me of what is Delhi’s cold. We restlessly watched the display board for our train till it finally showed up to reach the station on platform 14. We moved to platform 14 and parked our luggage near S3 coach where JP joined us. In no time Charming Chaitanya & Vasuki from Bangalore exchanged greetings. Followed by Prakash and his brothers Ananth & Srikanth. It was a sense a safety and at home feeling to meet them before we boarded the train 11:55PM to dehradun.

I must mention about this city – Dehradun. When we were kids, we played a game called Business which had a list of cities to which we moved our players. And one of the places on this Business was Dehradun with a RestHouse. While playing this game I still remember wondering that one day I would truly visit these places. So As soon as I got the train at this city I recollected those memories with a child-like smile on my face. It was just that I am playing the game of life this time. Or may be some one else playing a game with me as a player.

As soon as we reached outside the railway station we realized almost all trekkers heading towards KK trek were traveling in the same train. There were 5 Cabs waiting for us in front of Grand hotel just outside the station. 6 of us in each cab started our day journey towards Sankri, our base camp. We passed via one of most famous hill station Mussoorie. Once we crossed Mussoorie there were endless number of mountains we crossed. The drive was extremely scenic with mountains growing on after the other as we drove along the mountains. There were valleys running between the mountains. These snow-fed rivers were almost dry at this part of the year as it was winter. We could hardly see thin line of water flowing between the rocks on the far mountains. At certain places, the roads connecting two mountains were under construction. The curvy roads made our stomach experience a rollercoaster. At few points the driver stopped letting us click pictures. Unless your stomach is not angry about the drive, it is one of the best roads to enjoy a long drive listening to some soft music. I enjoyed watching those mountain ranges till lunch time and post lunch I dozed off. The scene was the same endless mountains even after I was awake. At few places the contrast of sky and the mountains were magical. The sky was clear blue at times and little later small patches of cloud scattered in the sky. Blissful scene to watch. Our cabs was the last one to reach Sankri.

Our accommodations were arranged in SwargaRohini hotel. The room was cozy little kingdom for the night. After quick fresh-up we went around the place. This place was again surrounded by mountains. Sipping a cup of hot tea, we stood watching the sunset behind the mountain far on west. We met Rahul & Bharti who informed us to gather for briefing. The room was filled with 30 excited trekkers along with the organizers Rahul & Bharti.

A short round of introduction about IndiaHikes organization and about each of us. It was dinner time and I missed the count of hot chapathis I galloped. The night sleep was sure to come in that soft bed.