Jun 13, 2009
Trekking as a hobby is adventurous and exhilarating for the sheer excitement and the thrill it offers. Hard core trekkers enjoy and entertain themselves in the toughest terrains devouring nature’s pristine beauty overcoming challenges and risking lives. Himachal Pradesh is the best destination for adventure and trekking activities in the mighty Himalayas. Parvati Valley is one of the beautiful valleys as far as trekking is concerned.
It was the absolute thrill and the excitement that attracted me to the Himalayan Trekking Expedition – 2009 organized by Youth Hostels Association of India with its base camp in Kasol just 10 kms from Kullu Hill station in Himachal Pradesh. This wonderful experience has left me with a hangover from which I am yet to come out and a life time experience that cannot be forgotten. What made it even more exciting and thrilling was the company of like-minded group that shared an enduring passion for trekking and the fun associated with it.
PREPARING IN ADVANCE
We were a group of 12 Mangaloreans who decided to put our trekking passion to test when we booked our tickets for trekking in Sar Pass, considered to be one of the most difficult and challenging treks offered by Youth Hostels Association of India (YHAI), over the years. YHAI conducts Sar Pass expedition every year for the last 39 years for one month period in April-May and there is a mad rush of enthusiastic and seasoned trekkers. This year YHAI Sar Pass expedition was between April 28 to May 31st and we were to report at Kasol on 11th May as SP-14 team. We booked our tickets mid January as we wanted to book our train tickets three months in advance considering May being a vacation month. The preparation for the same began then onwards in right earnestness.
The first hunt was for Hunter’s shoe as we were required to practice using the shoes to avoid blisters considering the gravity of the cold in Sar Pass. While some could lay their hands on them others had to get them from Bangalore and Mercara because they are the best bet in the steep valley and the snow as against the highly priced branded shoes. We were also required to be equipped with warm clothes including thermal wear, woolen clothes, woolen gloves, socks, monkey caps, rain coats, rain sheets, toilet papers, tissues, petroleum jelly, sun screen lotion, cold cream, camphor, dry fruits, eye gear, lunch box, safety pins, nylon rope, medicines, polythene bags etc., to deal with life in tents, the extreme cold conditions even while walking in extreme steeps and snow.
ALLURE OF KASOL
A team eight left Mangalore for Delhi on 9th May by Rajdhani Express and boarded a bus to Kasol which was also booked in advance. We reported at the base camp Kasol on 11th morning and the remaining 4 members joined us there. The base camp is situated along the mighty and turbulent Parvati river surrounded by beautiful green fast rising Forest Mountain with tall, old pine trees and the snow clad mountain facing us. We reported, subsimitted our documents, got our id cards, tents, blankets and rucksacks. Just as we reported there was a scary news awaiting us at Kasol. The camp was agog with rumours that two trekkers from SP-1 had died during this expedition due to hypothermia. Though it dampened our spirits initially we took it in our strides and were determined not to be swayed by such incidents. Usually there are 60 members in each team and with some last minute cancellations and abstentions there were 53 members (17 ladies)in our group.
In the Mangaloreans went to Mannikaran, which has the world famous hot spring and refreshed ourselves in the hot water. We visited the famous Ram temple, Sri Surudwara Sahib temple, went shopping to arm ourselves with warm jerseys which allayed our earlier fears. In the evening there was a symbolic camp fire where our seniors SP 13 put up an entertainment programme. The first three days are spent at the base camp acclimatising which includes getting up at 5.30, going for exercise for an hour hour, followed by breakfast. Second days itinerary included trekking up the nearby forests with blanket-filled rucksacks and water bottle. Here we chose our group leader, assistant leader and I was chosen the environment leader. We chalked out plan for evening programme and began our practice in right earnest. 2 hour orientation in the afternoon gave useful tips for us clearing our doubts and it is and this is a must for trekkers. In the evening we put up a good programme of entertainment and we familiarised some Kannada words to our group.
CALLING IT HALT
Third day it was a fun session that included rappelling in the morning and rock climbing in the afternoon apart from the morning exercise, to prepare ourselves to strenuous trekking ahead. Later we prepared our rucksacks with one pair of extra clothes, warm clothes & essentials required for highter altitudes for 7 days. Despite the advise to keep it light weight rucksack turned out to be a heavy load on our backs. A slight fever to one of the youngest members from Mangalore team Ekatha, was a worrying factor for Mangalorean team but we hoped for the better. We deposited our other belongings at the base camp and were all set for the D Day.
We were lined up to leave at 8.30 am fully armed with our rucksacks firmly at our backs with packed lunch. Wearing those clothes, eye gear and with a big stick in our hands (which is of great help) I must say we resembled like people descending from extra terrestrial regions. After arriving at the bus stop it was noticed that Ekatha had high fever. There were three doctors in our camp and it was decided that Ekatha stay back along with her mother Shobha Pai to avoid risk to life. It was a big blow for the Mangalorean team as it separated the Pai family. With hardly any time left to decide Ekathas father Subhash Pai was torn betweeen taking a decision of staying back or going ahead with his trek. Finally we said goodbye to mother-daughter and proceeded. But the absence of two members stunned us and their void was felt through out. Nevertheless it was a wise decision to leave Ekatha back and proceed.
We baorded a bus from Kasol and some members sat at the top of the bus enjoying but their hearts pounding as the bus meandered its way through the narrow edge of the road with Parvathi flowing with full gusto closeby. We had to duck our heads when the approached telephone and high tension wires. It was an altogether different experience as our cries reached a feverish pitch whenever the driver manoeuvered the bus through the breathtaking narrow edge.
THE JOURNEY BEGINS
From Unch Dhar we began our trek through Shilla Village involving steep climbs and wet terrain. The villagers set up makeshift tents offering tea, omlete and noodles on our trekking path. This arrangement was available even at 13,800 ft. From Unch Dhar we trekked about 5 kms of arduous path to reach our camp site at Guna Pani which was about 8000 ft. For the first time after many years we used the vast terrains of nature to attend natures call.
At the highter camps also our days begin at 5.30 and surprisingly it is quite bright at these places by 4.30 am. Our next destination was Faul Pani about 9500 ft involving 6 kms of steep trek. Faul means shepherd and panni is water. However, it is made up of thick green forests without any scope for the suns rays to penetrate. Our tents were arranged in a slopy area and we had to trek for everything from going to fetch drinking water to attend natures call. It was quite chilly but still we had camp fire inside the tent that helped the group develop a close comaraderie, though some preferred taking rest.
As we moved up trekking becomes more and more dificult and if it rains which is common, it makes trekking miserrableAfter 6 kms of difficult, high gradient and tiring trek one is waiting to arrive at the camp site - Zirmi Thatch (11,000 feet). The YHAI welcome banner was like sighting an oasis in the desert and soon the tiredness melts away as we are awestruck by the splendour of nature. All the 15 ladies were hurdled into one tent with their rucksacks and as we heard the story of a bear frequenting the area we slept with fear in our minds. Despite the of the trekking we had enough energy to exhibit during the camp fire in all the 7 days of trekking at higher camps.
From Zirmi it was a 5-gear trek that looked never ending as the climbs became steeper and steeper. Slow and steady pace was required to get acclimatized. On this way we first encountered our blush with snow. 6 kms and 7 hours of trekking took us to a beautiful destination of camp site Tila Lotni overlooking the milky mountain covered with snow just a few meteres away from our camp sight. The trek clearly tests the endurance and energy levels of the trekkers. On reaching the site one but forgets all the hardship came on our way. The breathtaking beauty of the camp site is seen to be b believed as nature in its myriad colours at its glorious best.
TOWARDS THE GOAL
Our next day began at 4 am to get ready to depart by 5.30 as usual with packed lunch as we had to cross Sur Pass, the highest trek in our journey, before the snow starts melting. We were assisted by four guides enroute our trekking journey. Finally we were heading towards our goal of reaching towards the Sur Pass climbing the steeps and keeping those first steps in the milky while snow gave us those thrilling moments. On reaching higher altitutude breathing becomes heavier and some grasp for breathing due to rarified atmosphere with less oxtygen. That is when the camphor we carry comes in handy due to its oxygen content. Once this hurdle is overcome we reach Sar Pass, our destination. What awaits nature lovers is the magnificient view all around giving an impression that the snow filled milky peaks are at a hands distance. The ectasy, the thrill and the joy of conquering the toughest terrain overpowers us as we reach the top. The entire day is spent prodding through the snow in the slopy terrain. The lunch session is spent playing in the snow throwing snow balls and creating snow man.
Crossing the 70 degree snow filled peak was a challenge and risky as a slight slip can slide down the trekker upto 100 metres down or more. We are asked to move in the path created by the guide to be followed by those at the back. Despite some precautions some of our fellow trekkers slipped and had their shreiks would unsettle others. But the guides are quick to move down like snow men and get them back. One of our friends Vijay Lanke had slipped down almost 90 meteres and said he really gave all hopes of survival.
After our struggle with the snow we reached the other moment we were waiting for i.e slides of kilometeres at a stretch. As it is difficult to walk down the steep gradient we are helped one by one by our guides on the technique of sliding. The right way to slide on the snow is sit on the buttocks with legs held up straight, using elbows as brakes with ruck sack to the back as usual. As we reach the bottom on sliding we could see the streams coming out from under the snow. This stream is icy cold one has to be careful not to put their feet in this even by mistake.
WORTH THE TROUBLE
After the longest and most thrilling part of trekking of about 9 kms via Sar Pass (I think it was more than 12 kms) with our shoes and clothes wet we reach our camp site at Biskeri Thatch (11000 ft). Known as the Switzerland of India its mesmerising beauty is unmatched. During our jouney down we could see the valley filled with beautiful colourful ground level flowers. We soon got into fresh clothes to avoid health risks. Our wet shoes were kept for drying and we had our usual welcome drink, tea and snacks and soup followed by dinner and fire camp.
The next day we trekked for another 10 kms mainly downhill to reach the last camp site namely Bhandak Thaatch. We passed through some of the lush green forests of breath taking beauty and calmness. Except for the occasional chirping of birds and the musical sound of the stream it was calm and soothing to tread on the clean lush green environs. As we were approaching our camp it started drizzling and we had to wear our rain coat and pull out our rain sheets. Strong winds and the slight drizzle greeted us as we reached the camp. The biting cold conditions sent a shiver down our spines. But soon the skies cleared and after our usual drinks we played ‘fire in the mountain, run run run’ with everyone participating in full zest. It was the most enjoyable moment we had and since it was our last night at the camp the camp fire had an emotional tinge.
For 11 days we were completely cut off from the world affairs and in the course of our journely there was a feeling of timeliness. All trekkers were so jelled there was a feeling of being one family. It did not matter they were from different strata of the society, different regions and professions. What mattered was the bonding.
Being our last night together we bid goodbye to one another then and there and during our final trek down hill from Bhandak Thaatch to Barsheni & from there by bus to Mankaran or Kasol. It was time to refresh again to remove all the accumulated dirt of 7 days in one go. Most trekkers left the base camp after reporting and collecting their hard earned certificate while others moved to the hotel for merry making. After refreshing we were not in a mood to go back to the tents.
Mangalore team continued our fun for the next day as we headed to Kulu for river rafting. The 14 km long river rafting in Parvathi river was soothing and fun after that 7 days of gruelling trekking. Words are not suffice to explain the thrill associated with it. After rafting for 6 kms river Parvati meet river Beas and we rafted for another 8 kms. That we were in our full strength of 12 added to our ectasy. And from there we were back in Delhi and the group disbursed moving in their preferred destination.
YHAI treks are conducted professionally and are environmental friendly. Fire camps are conducted without burning fire and trekkers are not to litter their pathway with wastes. Camp leaders are appointed in all higher camps and there are one or two guides to take us to our next destinations from each camp. Most of these camp leaders are volunteers who brace hardships to make our stay comfortable.
Utmost attention is given to our diet as more energy is burnt during trekking and camp leaders ensure we are spoiled with regular supply of energy food soon after our arrival at the camp which starts with welcome drink, tea cum snacks, soup, dinner followed by bournvita to end our day.
The trek no doubt left us exhausted. But nothing compares to the rewards in return with those vivid and everlasting impressions of an enchanting trek and a sense of fulfilment linger on!