Saur Tal Trek - A Commercial Trek
It was the year 1993, when – on the suggestion of one of my friends (who has left hiking long ago), I had undertaken a trek to Pindari glacier, and I can surely say – I was hooked, and I fell in love with the outdoors! That, and the following couple of years, I was a regular on the Himalayan treks, with the same group, which had organized the first one. Essentially, it was a commercial venture, where – for a month – a group of 30 – 40 people used to go for a trek which was moderate, and which gave a good idea about what it takes to hike in the Himalaya.
Yuvaan, all packed up at Camp 3...It was very cold..
It was after a gap of 24 years that I was going on a commercial trek. Last time, my dad had sent me; this time - I was taking my son along, so that he gets the feel for it. Although, he has done two treks already (GHNP
), he had told me that he has gotten hooked. I will be taking him for such treks for a couple of years, after which he would be free to go all by himself.
Fast Forward - To 2017
The excitement of going on a himalayan trek, which was all built up over the past few months, doubled when the entire group met at the Pune airport at around 9:30 am. The flight was at 11:40 am, so we had to kill some time. Killing time at the Pune airport was nothing as compared to the time we had to kill at the Delhi airport.
All packed and ready to go at Pune.
Delhi-Manali-Delhi buses ply everyday, and it’s an overnight journey. The drivers leave from one end, and after an overnight journey, they rest for the entire day. So, the driver was supposed to arrive at 5 pm, but he arrived around 6:30 pm. And, we were at the Delhi terminal, trying to spend our time from 1: 40 onward. The ATS staff shooed us away from one location, while we could sit tight in the second location. There was no point in going outside, as it was real hot outside.
Leaving for adventure...
Once we got to know that the bus has arrived, we proceeded towards our 13-14 hour journey to Manali. IN fact, we were going to a place called Prini, where the base camp was set up. It was on the 5th/6th seat that I and Yuvaan were sitting. It took the driver almost an hour and a half to get to the outskirts of Delhi.
About at 10 pm, we stopped for dinner on the way to Chandigarh. After a sumptuous dinner of Rotis, Dal Makhani and Paneer Butter Masala (which we regretted later), we boarded the bus again.
It was just an hour into the travel, when Yuvaan woke up and calmly told me - “Baba, Ulti (Vomit)!”. I immediately tried looking for a plastic bag but couldn’t find one. I took out my handkerchief, and Yuvaan vomited in that! Of course, being a cloth, it wasn’t able to hold the vomit, and was all over the place.
I shouted out for help, and somebody handed me a few polythene bags. As everybody else was asleep, I shouted out to Kedar, and asked him if he could tell the driver to stop the bus. After much persuasion, the driver stopped and I was able to go out and wash my hands.
Lemme push it baba...
In the bus to Manali
As there was a vacant seat on the front row, I told Yuvaan to go and sit there, while I sat on the third row. I handed him a couple of plastic bags, just in case he felt nauseated again. The driver’s friend, a girl slept in the passage between the seats, and was making it impossible for me to reach out to Yuvaan, in case he felt nauseated again.
Board, on which lives depended...
And, to my horror, the poor chap had a tough time managing himself, when he felt bad. I was on the third seat, but when I went to help him out, I almost lost my balance. I had to balance myself, while at the same time helping Yuvaan out. I asked the gentleman sitting besides him, whether I could sit with Yuvaan, but he flatly told me that he felt equally nauseated sitting at the back of the bus. So, I had to pretty much stand there, monitoring Yuvaan. Later on, the gentleman sitting besides me on the 5th seat decided to go sit in the 1st row, so we got to sit together.
A few minutes later, I noticed a milestone - Manali - 119 km. With the driver speeding as if he is in an F-1 race, that too in the Himalayan ghats!
Resting place of Jamadagni
I was literally praying to god for giving us a time-machine which could transport us directly to Manali. Both of us dozed off, and woke up when the driver stopped at his fixed location for the morning tea. Yuvaan had woken up, and I told him to come out of the bus and catch some fresh air. After a few sips of soda, he was as fresh as ever.
Base Camp - Prini
The bus halted with a jolt. With pretty snow capped mountains all around we were told to get down as soon as possible. In 5 minutes, we had to gather all our belongings and climb up the trail to the “Prini Base Camp”.
ON Acclimatization Hike
We were all being greeted by the staff at the camp, and within no time - we were allotted tents. I, Yuvaan, Kedar and Sameer were in a tent. With no sleep throughout the journey, I thought of catching up some sleep in the afternoon. But, with the gap between lunch and acclimatization hike being small, there was hardly any time. The base camp had power sockets to charge one’s phone / mp3 players / power banks or whatever. The scramble to plug in your charger and leave your phone dangling (as if it was on a ventilator) was maddening. I also joined in, but realized that the charging was quite slow.
Towards base camp...
Within no time, it started drizzling, and we wondered if the acclimatization hike would happen. But the base camp organizers were quite firm on their plan, and they distributed ponchos to us, which we could use that day. So, here we were with our group leader - Inderdev aka ID, marching us up a trail for height gain. ID had taken an idea about who all are going to carry their own backpacks on the trek, and he told them to get their packs along. The trail wound up, cutting a long-winding road at places, and we all were hiking up,all suited up in long ponchos. We all looked like enlarged penguins, walking in line, one step after another, sometimes in slushy mud, and sometimes in a small stream running on the road. For some reason, I was remembered of the song - “We don’t need no education”, by Pink Floyd, where all students wore a mask, and are marching in a line, waiting to be ground in a machine.
Something in our tent at Base Camp
Briefly, we halted at the samadhi (resting place) of the great saint - Jamadagni. It was told to us that if somebody went close to the samadhi with shoes on, then an immediate fine of 3000/- would be slapped on that person. With multiple people asking - “how far are we going to go?”, we hiked up a steep trail to stop at a point where ID told us to take a break. Some people had gotten really tired and so the return journey began. I was told later that this was the route for the “Hampta Pass Trek”.
The incessant rains hadn’t stopped but we were greeted by a cup of hot soup when we returned. The rains had really brought down the temperature, and it had become freezing cold! I called up Manasi and she was concerned for Yuvaan. I told Rupesh and Amit and told them to bring a few extra layers, as it was so cold (4-5 deg C) at 6000 ft, I couldn’t imagine how cold it would be at 12,000 ft. All packed up (separate packs for the trek and the expedition), and after having a hearty dinner of chicken, we all dozed off. Sameer’s snoring was something I learnt that I had to get used to, as most probably we would be sharing a tent even on higher camps.
Khemraj Thakur, who served as an instructor when I did my basic course in Mountaineering at the institute in Manali, was a big man now!
He was the main point of contact for Kedar, who had arranged the trek for the group of 33 people from Pune. He came to meet Kedar and I went up to him to say Hello. He gave us a stock of the reality by paying that the forecast was “rainy” for that day. However, the next few days were going to be nice and sunny! Post breakfast, we all again donned our ponchos and started walking down towards river Beas, which we had to cross, in order to get on the trail towards Camp 1. The kids and a few participants were packed off to the trailhead in a small bus, as the walk to the trailhead was about an hour. It was a good decision, as their energies were conserved for the steep ascent on the trail.
Yuvaan and Shubhra
A few minutes on the road, and we hit the trail. We were told that the kids had already gotten a headstart and were way ahead of us. The trail wound through a village, where the locals were looking at us as if we were from some zoo, all animals dressed in multicolored clothes. While greeting a few locals, we left the village behind, and got on the main trail, which had gotten quite steep. As we ascended, snow capped peaks started greeting us from across the river and the valley in between.
About an hour into the climb, we took a break and had our frooti and energy bar. Due to the rains, the trail had gotten quite slippery, and quite a few people had gotten their butts soiled.
A few breaks later, we heard voices of kids at a few hundred meters above us! The kids had gotten really ahead and they seem to have climbed really well. We all slowly hiked up and I and Yuvaan had our first experience with hiking poles. Although it took more effort for the shoulder to pull the entire body up, with the backpack on, I was sure that it was easing the pressure on our knees.
Indrasan and Deo Tibba!
The first campsite was called Klount, and gave us a great view of the ranges across the entire Manali valley. The usual routine followed, with the welcome drink, followed by tent allotment and lunch. At all the campsites, lunch usually comprised of Roti, Dal, Rice and mixed vegetables, along with salad and pickle.
Playing at Camp 1
Sometimes, it was accompanied by a dessert. ID and his entire team had planned an activity at each of the campsites. The activity planned at camp 1 was multi-vine.
KK giving his Gyaan...
Kids were made to put on a harness, and walk on a tight rope, by holding pieces of rope hung from above. Kids had fun doing this activity, and the elders had fun cheering them from below. A few of the adults also took part in this activity. The activity at each camp did a great job of having all the kids face their fears, when it comes to the outdoors. ID and his team used to give a good demonstration of all the equipments that were going to be used. So, everybody got a chance to understand the function of a rope, a descender a carabiner a harness etc.
All at the waterfall near Camp 1
A good hike of about half an hour before the activity gave us a good glimpse of the revered peaks like “Shrigan Tungi”, which is said to never allow any climber to climb it. It is considered a holy peak, and people worship it in this region. The walk ended near a waterfall, where everybody took pictures in various poses. In the evening, Yuvaan played a game of swords with Arjun, and was making some structure with Shubhra, a girl he had made good friends with. From the campsite, we could see the Prini village way below, against a backdrop of snow clad mountains. And, the tents were full of clothes getting dried, which had gotten wet during the last day’s hike.
Dinner consisted of egg curry and banana pudding as dessert, which was really tasty. A campfire was lit, around which everybody sat and sang songs. When the fire was about to die, Yuvaan quickly brought a plate and fanned the fire back to life! A few jokes were cracked, and after a good glass of hot drink, everybody resorted to their tents, all packed in layers, to enter the sleeping bags which were provided. The sleeping bags which were provided weren’t good at all, and the zipper kept on opening all the time! The zip used to open up every now and then – whenever I turned on the side. I was more concerned about Yuvaan, as I didn’t want him to fall sick on this trek.
Sleeping like a baby....he was so tired...
So, every night – I was making myself doubly sure that he is not exposed to the cold outside, which was going to get worse, as we climbed higher altitudes.
Klount to Dudhu DoghThe next day, everybody felt fresh, and we were a little happy to see some sunlight.
Shubhra and Yuvaan, ready to go to Camp 2The kids posed for the cameras while the breakfast was being arranged and served. After having a sumptuous breakfast of parathas and tea, we set off for the second camp called Dudhu Dogh, which was a 500 m climb. Initially, the climb was through a dense forest, where we all were constantly being monitored by the massive Indrasan and Deo-Tibba behind us – in short, they had our backs!
Green trailAfter the forest cover ended, we were out in the open, but the trail was through green meadows, however they weren’t flat. The steepness continued for some time, and somewhere during the climb, Neerja asked me if she could take my backpack.
Neerja, carrying my backpack It was probably Sameer who had placed a bet that Neerja would not be able to carry my backpack. It was close to 20kg, as it had all mine as well as Yuvaan’s stuff in it. It was a good acclimitization hike for me, which was preparing me well for the upcoming Gangotri-III expedition, immediately after the trek. Neerja carried the backpack for quite some time, proving it to Sameer that she still has it in her. Then, probably inspired from Neerja, it was Shashank who asked me if he could carry my backpack.
Hike upThe slope was steep, and he was a strong chap – young, energetic and full of enthusiasm. The climb up the bugyals was pretty, with us having left the treeline below, and witnessing sweeping vistas of the mighty Dhauladhar ranges behind us.
Shashank, carrying my backpackWe reached Camp 2 after a couple of hours, to be welcomed by the local staff there, who served us with hot Rasna (an energy drink, to replenish the salts). After having our drinks, we all gathered around Kedar, who started telling various interesting stories from his outdoor forays all these years. Although there was sun, still there was chill in the air. So, all were huddled up in their jackets, and were listening to Kedar with rapt attention, as if watching a movie in a theatre.
Kedar (KK) and his stories! And, Boy Kedar was a master story-teller. He, and his experiences with places, people coupled with short anecdotes which made him learn new things all along, which he implemented in his future sojourns. He has an extensive experience of trekking and wandering in both the Sahyadri as well as the Himalaya.
Hide and Seek...After a while, everybody decided to play a game, which involved hiding behind rocks, trees and shrubs while one person tries to identify and catch them. The game is called “daba-aispice” in Marathi.
Candid...It was amazing to see how the kids still had energies left in them, to be able to run up and down slopes, while the main person tried to identify them. This went on for some time before the “Soup-call” came with a whistle from ID.
Towards Camp 2Warm soup in that chilly weather, at about 10,000 feet was something one should experience at least once in his / her lifetime. The spent energy during the previous game was replenished, and a surprise awaited everybody – activity, which was planned at all campsites.
Hungry...They had planned a session of Rappelling for all the kids at camp 2. It was about 50 feet rock, where the team of guides had placed protection on the top, and each kid rappelled – after having faced their fears at the top, when you see the cliff going below, in between your feet.
Shruti entertaining the kids...There was also a safety rope, which was held by ID, in case a kid lets go of both his hands and feet.
Food to feed all...On top of it, Kedar was up there, pumping up the enthusiasm of all kids, before they took the leap of faith onto the rock face. Shubhra, Gautam, Nikita, Shriya, Yuvaan, Arjun – all the kids took turns and had a nice time.
Rappelling...Shashank was the one, who had an earlier memory of having slipped while rappelling, and wasn’t even thinking of trying.
Nikita, after having rappelled.But, everybody in the group cheered him up and pushed him to overcome his fear, and do it. And, respecting everybody’s cheering – he went ahead and did it.
Amazing view...He confessed that on the top, he was sweating profusely, but Kedar from the top and the rest of the gang from bottom pumped him up, to go ahead and do it.
UsAnd, once he had successfully done it without hurting himself, he was a more confident man, beaming with happiness – of having overcome one of his greatest fears! That day, we all witnessed sheer will can help one overcome one’s weaknesses, and it was a lesson for all the young kids out there.
Posing while Rappelling
Enjoying...The patch where rappelling was being done was again about 500 feet below the campsite.
Shruti having fun...So, it did take effort for everybody to go down and cheer their kids, as well as come up, once the activity was done. But, once we were back – we witnessed one of the prettiest scenes – sun was going down, and the staff had started cooking dinner.
Nice Frame...The smoke from the fire rises against the backdrop of the tents with blue plastic sheets on it, with tall dark green trees behind.
At Camp 2It was just a treat to the eyes to watch this scene. The kids were hungry, and they ran towards the kitchen to ask them if the food was ready.
While the food was getting ready,
Gang of Three!Shruti took charge of a couple of kids, and entertained them by asking them witty questions, making them answer in equally witty ways. The kids were enjoying the conversations, and Shruti had them splitting in laughter, every five minutes.
Amazing Camp 2!Post dinner, everybody resorted to their respective cocoons and had a good night’s sleep after having climbed about 500 m, followed by a rappelling activity.
Dudhu Dogh to Laangha ThachThe climb from Camp 2 to camp 3, which was named Laangha Thachh, was about 600 m, a little higher than what the kids and the group had done the previous day.
Instructions before leaving for Camp 3As we climbed higher and higher, we witnessed spectacular vistas all around us.
Close-up of Indrasan and Deo-Tibba!To the east, we constantly had the company of Indrasan as well as Deo-Tibba, while on the North; we started seeing the range beyond Beas Kund – which consisted of peaks by the name of Manali, Kshitidhar, Ladakhi, Friendship and Hanuman Tibba.
Yuvaan posing...We also started getting glimpses of the higher peak behind these five – Makerbeh and Shikarbeh, both post 20K, and technically challenging. One main attraction presented itself while we were climbing towards Camp3 – Snow, and too – easily accessible!
Everybody falling in line...In one of the patches on the trail, due to it being in a forested area – snow had stayed on, from the last snowfall. The kids got excited and started throwing snowballs on each other.
Chat with KKWithin no minutes, adults also joined in. And, what resulted was a riot of fun, excitement and adventure – to be able to stand firmly on the snowslopes, and hold your fort, while attacking all other parties which were going crazy! Slides on the snow, putting snow in somebody’s shirt, and making huge balls, to attack each other – all of this ensued for about half an hour to one hour before ID and Kedar shouted out to everybody, to get moving.
Tiger and Tiger!A steep climb awaited us, and once we were done with it, we were at the third campsite. This campsite was, by far, the best we had had until now. The campsite was perched on top of a mountain shoulder / arête / flank, which was quite broad. But, the views it offered were magnificent. One could just sit on one of the rocks, and keep on marvelling the beauty of nature, which lay spread in front of him, like a huge platter. A mountaineer would go crazy just seeking the peaks jutting out in the sky. Tiger, who had accompanied us, was so tired, and probably so lazed out by the afternoon sun, coupled with the chill in the air – that he instantly dozed off! Different people were engaged in different activities – a majority were busy taking selfies, some were busy modelling while other took their pictures, and kids were busy running up and down the snow slopes (as if the day’s climb had not been enough for them already).
Posing....Just before the Snow field...The view outside our tent was excellent, but there was one problem at this campsite – hardly any place to go for nature calls. If you go up, you probably will be visible to everybody, and if you go down the way you came up the previous day, it involved a significant climb after you’ve “offloaded”. The usual routine of lunch was followed by tea in the afternoon and we all were called to fall-in, for the activity of the day. To be frank, I just wanted to sit and enjoy the vistas, but Yuvaan had to go and do the zip-lining that the staff had planned, so I had to go.
The entire group at Camp 3 Plus, both Shruti and Devaki weren’t in a mood to go, so they requested me to look after Arjun and Nikita in their absence. The zip-line was fun, and all kids enjoyed it.
Last of the Sun...on its way down...On everybody’s insistence, Bahubali also took a shot at it, and although it was difficult to stop a large guy as him, the staff managed to do a good job!After we returned to the campsite, we witnessed a great sunset, with the last rays of the sun kissing the tallest peaks goodbye, before the vista got shrouded in the dark of night. Temperatures dropped rapidly, and the stars came out in full glitter, making the sky all starry.
Tiger was TIRED!Those who had the energy and guts to sit outside, could witness the starry spectacle, which others huddled together in the equipment tent for a session of chit-chat. On this campsite, the staff had given out feather (down) jackets to everybody, and as expected – there was none for Yuvaan’s size.
SkyscapeSo, I packed him up with whatever I could – 2 layers of socks, 2 bottom layers and 3 – 4 top layers! I even didn’t force him to wash his dishes that day, as the water from the pipe was a direct melt from the glaciers above, and it froze everybody’s hands. The chat session was headed by Kedar, and people sat on a combination of mattresses and down jackets, to listen to the stories being told while sipping on the hot drink that was being provided in the tent – which was a luxury!
Peaks in front of us...Meanwhile, Jaydeep’s wife (Rashmi) wasn’t doing so well, and already had been feeling nauseated, with a slight headache and loss of appetite – classic symptoms of AMS. Kedar advised against taking any medicines, and decided to wait it out.
Zip lining...However, late at night – she started feeling really crappy, and decided to take medication.
Shubhra, all dazed...We all were concerned whether she would be able to make it the next day, as the next day – we were supposed to go to Saur Tal, and then onward to Camp 4, which was going to be a long day.
View from tent at Camp 3A round of cards, chat sessions, hot drink – and everybody was off to sleep, after having a hard day’s climb, and an equally hard day ahead of us!
Sun on its way down...
Laangha Thach - Saur Tal - Mahili ThachThis section of the trek involved going all the way to Saur Tal, and then going in a different direction towards Camp 4. Saur Tal was a lake, which was frozen at this time, and reaching it involved a significant climb to reach a plateau, after which one has to descend a little bit, and then again ascend towards the lake.
Our Camp 3 Site!But, reaching that plateau itself was a hard task. The climb immediately started as soon as we left the camp, and this took a toll on a few people, Saket being one of them. He was a guy in his tenth standard, had been on a few treks before, and was quite optimistic about this trek. But, on this stretch, as soon as we started – he started feeling weak, had to draw long breaths and had a bad headache. Rashmi (Jaydeep’s wife) on the other hand was feeling fine, and had taken her being well in a positive spirit.
Yuvaan, contemplating...This spirit, supported by Jaydeep, was enough for her to push herself beyond her limits, and finish off the entire trek. Saket was really struggling on the first climb, when Kedar stopped and checked his O2 levels and his pulse.
Towards Saur Tal and Camp 4He noticed a drop in the O2 levels, and thus gave him half a Diamox. Slowly but steadily, Kedar and Shruti were pushing Saket on the first as well as the second climb. I told him to concentrate on his breathing pattern, which has helped me immensely in the mountains. Taking breaks every 10 minutes, we somehow reached the plateau, where a couple of people from the group were waiting for us.
KK checking on Saket (O2 levels)
KK Assisting Saket..Another guide, who had done all his courses from the institute in Manali (including MOI), was with Rashmi and Jaydeep.
The group at Saur TalHe was an expert at climbing, and had climbed a couple of peaks in this region. Rashmi and Jaydeep were at the end, and coming up slowly and steadily. After the second climb, the route went over a hump, before reaching the plateau. On the plateau, there were two choices, either climb down and up a small valley (on snow), to go see the frozen Saur Tal, or stay on the plateau for some time, and go in a different direction towards Camp 4.
Man is so insignificant in front of Nature...Couple of people chose to stick around on the plateau, but a majority of the group members decided to go check out Saur Tal. And, Tiger – our beloved companion was also one of them.
The groupAfter the two hard climbs, it wasn’t easy to go down, thumping your feet in the snow which had softened up considerably, making it difficult to have a good foothold. I and Yuvaan had hiking poles, which helped immensely. Once we were at the Saur Tal, everybody took a long breath of fresh air, soaked in the views which were available to us almost 260 degrees, and then the photography-mayhem began!
At Saur TalI am almost sure that in that 1 hour or so that we were there, at least 1 to 2000 pictures must have been clicked. Selfies, close-ups, portraits, group pictures, pictures with
Saur Tal, Frozen!Tiger, pictures of mountains around us, all the shutterbugs were going crazy. And, it was justified, as there are very few places where one gets to witness a 360-degree panoramic view, all around!
Tiger - Handsome Guy!After everybody was content with the fact that they have made it to the last destination on the trek, and were ready to head back, the group started moving towards Camp 4. Camp 4 was named Mahili Thach, and altitude-wise, it was at the same level at the Camp 3. However, the climb up to Saur Tal had to be reversed – in short – whatever goes up, has to come down. So, we all began our descent. Kedar gave a good idea of not climbing down the gradual snow slope we had come up – rather – slide down the slope. So, the group divided itself into groups of 3 and 4, and they all zoomed past each other on the slopes. Some had their ponchos, which they used, while others slid down in their pants itself which led to them having wet bottoms for the remaining part of the trek.
Gautam and his friend.The soft snow wasn’t helping, but one thing was good – it wasn’t even knee deep. So, ankle deep snow was comfortable for everybody, but it did wet their shoes and socks completely. The descent to Mahili Thach involved two descents; the first one was relatively easy, but this descent ended onto a ridge at the end of which there was a big rock face, which needed to be negotiated.
Tiger's Side Profile.The group members who were ahead of all – including Yuvaan successfully negotiated that patch with ID (later they told me that it was thrilling), but it would have been a problem for the entire group to take that route. So, we all were made to circumvent the ridge, and walk up a snow slope on which steps had to be cut for people to take support on. On this route, Sameer and Kedar literally dragged Saket, as he was very tired, and couldn’t have walked by himself. Kedar was confident that he was feeling good, as we were descending and decreasing altitude always helps getting over the AMS symptoms. After negotiating the snow cut steps, and moving further – we could see the fourth campsite. However, it was quite a distance away.
Rock patchOn the way, all of a sudden, we came across huge boulders, and 1 single vertical rock, which seemed to have some significance. Later, at the campsite, we learnt that legend says – these boulders and the vertical rock dated back to the Pandav era, and it was the time when they tried to create a bridge in this region, to connect different parts of the Himalayan range. And, the vertical rock was where they began this project, hence it is still revered by many in the local villages around.
Hiking in heaven!While descending, I realized that the hiking poles played a major part in our knees not getting taxed. Had we not got them, the load that the knees have to bear is quite a bit, and I am told by multiple people that if we want to extend our life in the mountains, we better use poles, otherwise there is going to be immense wear and tear of the knees and legs, in general. I was glad I started at the late age of 39, but Yuvaan has picked up this habit at the tender age of 9!
Step-cutting and climbingI, Sameer, his daughter Jui, and Devaki were slowly descending towards the campsite, when I saw kids running around at the campsite. It came as a shocker, as we had expected that after such a strenuous day, they would sit and relax. But, to our surprise / horror, they were running around, playing hide and seek.
Step cutting...They were compelled to play because this was one of those campsites, where there was ample space for them to do whatever they wanted to do. All the previous campsites were kind of cramped up, with no space to play and run around.
Camp 4, tucked in a corner...We all reached the campsite, and were welcomed and greeted by a hot refreshing drink as well as hot food, which was getting served.
Going towards Camp 4One specialty they were serving was a traditional pickle made in their local spices, which added the much required zing to the food, which kind of – had started getting repetitive. I was wondering – how am I going to sustain similar kind of food for the next 15 days, when I head to Uttarakhand, after dropping off Yuvaan at the Delhi airport. There is a limit on the variety of food that can be cooked and served high on the mountains.
First sighting of Camp 4It should be something that can be sourced easily, plus should not have problems getting cooked, and at the same time – should be nutritious enough, to provide energy to the trekkers and climbers who throng the mountains. The lunch was a little delayed, as people trickled in at the campsite at their own pace. And, this was the reason there weren’t many people interested in the afternoon snack.
Kids at Camp 4Snacks were pakodas, and they tasted great with hot tea. The tea session later resumed inside the kitchen tent, where discussions ensued on many topics, some outdoor related, some spiritual, some philosophical.
The group at Camp 4Adults were engrossed in discussions and litres and litres of tea were getting gulped down. The pickle was a big hit during dinner as well, when more people in the group realized its “awesomeness”.
Mahili Thach to MalahBy this time, people had started looking forward to being a part of “civilization”” again.
Camp 4And, that is exactly what was planned – a phased entry into civilization. Our camp 5 was the last camp, which was nothing but a bunch of tents pitched in the middle of an apple orchard, which was owned by some people in the village next to our campsite. For all practical purposes, we were camped inside a village.
On the way to Camp 5Before leaving camp 4, everybody took pictures of the entire group with the backdrop of snow clad mountains. When everybody was packed and ready to leave, we were given “energy pack”, a combination of an energy drink, some chocolates and dry fruits. We started descending towards camp 5, after which we knew that the next day – we would be in Prini, bang in the middle of civilization.
HerdThe last campsite was a pretty one, but with a village so close by, it was difficult to find a spot to answer the nature’s call. Also, there wasn’t any space for kids to play. So, Kedar invented a good solution to this. He took games which involved a majority of kids, could be conducted in a small space, and were fun!
Break time...This involved people mimicking famous personalities, girls doing a catwalk and kids doing multiple acts which were massively entertaining. Then, soup followed and it was found that one of the members of the group is an excellent singer.
Break at a villagePallavi sang her heart out in one of the tents, which was jam-packed with people, and music was being provided by Shailendra.
Village ladyOld melodies of Kishore Kumar, Lata Mangeshkar and Mohammad Rafi lighted up the dull evening, and by the time the singing session (everybody was singing in chorus, for songs which were easy to sing), dinner were announced.
VIllage schoolWhile the adults listened to, and sang songs, kids kept themselves entertained by playing cards. This all ended after dinner, when all were told to go off to sleep.
Wedding Plans..I and Yuvaan were given a single three man tent, as there were enough tents to accommodate everybody. Yuvaan was playing with Arjun and Nikita and Shubhra, who were together in the same tent, along with Shruti and Devaki.
Local temple villageAll of them being females except Arjun, and also their tent was cramped up with so many people, so I advised Yuvaan against going in their tent.
Baba, here too!He readily agreed, and we both dozed away into a night which wasn’t as chilly as the previous ones.
Malah to PriniAll along the trek, I had gotten more tired of planning (clothing, layering), packing and unpacking my backpack, which I had done like a zillion times already!
Our tent at C5So, on this morning, I was happy about one thing – that I will be packing this backpack for one last time, but then – my expedition would start immediately after a day of dropping Yuvaan off. Post breakfast, we all took the already carved out trails by the village folks.
Waiting for school bus...There were junctures where there were chances of getting diverted onto a different trail altogether, so ID and his team made sure that somebody from their team always used to be present, just in case somebody lost their way.
VIllage schoolIt was a fun hike down villages, where we stopped by old watermills still being used, witnessed a local marriage being conducted, saw school kids going off to school (after ascending / descending about 500 ft daily), and witnessed ladies doing their share of hard work in the fields. Tiger could be us only until a village, where a gang of dogs chased him away, and we never ever saw him again.
You start seeing civilization againWhen we hit the road (Chandigarh-Manali Highway), we stopped at a bus stop, for a local bus to pick us up, and drop us off at the bridge from where we had to walk to the base camp. One bus stopped for us, and we all somehow manage to get onto the bus, with a majority of us standing all along the way. The walk from the bridge to the base camp was a tiring one, but had to be done. Like at the start, the kids didn’t get a chance to get picked up while returning, but had to walk along with us.
Last spot befoe boarding bus.
First view of civilization...We reached the base camp within half an hour, and those among us (majority of the females), who had their OCD triggered, went to look for the place to take a bath.
In the bus...After everybody was done, I and Yuvaan took a bath with not-so-hot water, and got freshened up to go the Manali market, for a sumptuous meal, to celebrate the treks completion. Couple of folks gorged on the momos and thukpa at a place suggested by Kedar, while we waited for Sher-e-Punjab to open its doors, which was going to be at 7 pm. It was Bahubali’s birthday, so a cake was bought for him to cut, when we reached the campsite, but nobody was available to carry it. So, in a funny way – Bahubali himself was lugging the cake around, looking for people to help him with it.
Momos...Meanwhile, I called up Sameer, who was missing all this while, to ask him if he would be interested in eating at Sher-e-Punjab, to learn that he and a couple of people were having fun, already a couple of pegs down! We rushed towards them, and they were gracious enough to include us in their “act”, which only doubled the fun.The drinks were followed by a sumptuous meal at Sher-e-Punjab, where I had had food way back in 1995 (during Beas Kund trek), 2011 (during Kshitidhar) and multiple times, and it had never let me down. Gladly, everybody liked it, and as a result of our delay, we had to take a special taxi to go to our campsite.
Gang at ManaliWhen we reached the campsite, we learnt that there was a cultural program that was arranged for us, along with a special treat, and this was followed by the cake cutting of Bahubali.
Temple in Manali MarketWe missed it all – but we enjoyed the fun that we had in Manali market, besides shopping for Yuvaan (new hiking boots and a jacket).
White Water Rafting
The day after our enjoyment at Manali, where Yuvaan had a great shopping spree, we had a choice - whether to stay at Prini, or go 40 km one-way, to Kullu, and do white water rafting. Initially, I was very hesitant, and wanted to just rest at the campsite, as I had a good solid expedition ahead of me. But, the kids were very enthusiastic, with Yuvaan being one of them. So, I had to go with him, and I must say - I enjoyed every bit of it, and it would have been a big mistake, had we not undertaken that ride on the rapids!
We were segregated in various groups, and once we were assigned a raft, we were supposed to do what the instructor tells us.
Shruti and Arjun
The instructor was from Nepal, and had extensive experience on Class 5 rapids, so these were like baby steps for him, although these were Class 3 by themself.
By god’s grace, nobody from our raft fell in the river, and we all finished the 1-hour ride with a constant state of excitement, with pumping adrenaline throughout. Every boulder we negotiated had a huge wave splashing on us, and the water was cold like hell!
Back to Prini, after river rafting...
The instructor didn’t know that one of the members of our raft was a mountaineering instructor, and used to scold him multiple times for not following the instructions. It was funny, but hey - we had to do what we were told to do, otherwise, we would have toppled in freezing Beas, and would have had hypothermia by the time our destination arrived. Nobody remembers how many Maggi everybody ate, and how many coffees everybody drank, one we were in dried clothes, after having arrived at the final point.
Great People Makes for Great CompanyIt was after a long time that I had done a trek with so many people, in a large group.
All teenagers and Yuvaan!This group consisted of an interesting mix, who all gelled with each other very well, and never during the course of the trek did any conflict arise. This was highly unusual, considering everybody’s background, mindset, ability to face adversity, and experience in the outdoors. Although this was an organized trek, I am sure it must have done its bit in getting the “real person” out of everybody, at least once.
Modeling for the photographer...Kedar, being the main organizer and the group leader, was the connecting thread between everybody.
Sameer Posing!He was leading from the front, and always ready to help out to anybody and everybody, be it somebody who has been trekking with him for the past couple of decades, or somebody who is with him on this trek for the first time. He had the vast experience of having travelled, trekked and climbed all around the world, which made him a natural with people of any kinds. His affinity towards kids and the reverse was equally true, as I saw it that Yuvaan liked him a lot.
Now, the photographer becomes model for a second photographer...Sameer was working in the management of the Times Group, and had been trekking with Kedar for the past couple of years. His experience in the mountains showed in his handling his daughter, Jui and similar-aged kids in the group. Jui and Sameer had met me a couple of times on the ARAI tekdi, where they used to practice for this trek.
Jui, Nikita and Shubhra playing in Snow...Initially, both of them were present, then only Jui used to come, and sit along with a friend. Always ready to pull somebody’s let, his wittier side kept the group lively throughout. Neerja was one more widely-travelled girl, who had funny incidents to share, when she took tourists on international tours through a local travel agency. She was the one whom I first mistakenly considered to be Kedar’s wife, then his daughter – a comment on which Kedar was aghast, as she was probably less than half his age. Dheera was Neerja’s friend, who also travelled far and wide, but had taken a break in her studies, just to “think” what to do, but she had plans of going for graduate school to the US.
Hard Laughter!I always admire such people, who can afford to take a break to think. Then, there was this gang of guys and girls (Aadit, Shriya, Shalvi, Shashank etc.), who were typically interested in what their generation is interested in – they knew the latest numbers which were doing the charts, the latest movies, their reviews, double-meaning songs (which they made us listen to once in a while), and on top of everything – they somehow had managed to probably get (I don’t know how many) battery packs, because all of them used to watch movies, series, songs etc. on their cellphones, at ALL campsites! Here I was (like most normal people), trying to optimally use my sole battery pack so that my phone stays alive, but looking at these guys,
KK....I was shocked! Till the very end, I didn’t know how many battery packs had they got with them.
Master Gautam Karve...And, they had one poor guy, Saket, at their disposal, whenever they felt like pulling a leg. Saket was a simpleton, who had just appeared for his tenth standard exams, and was awaiting his results. Everybody liked taking potshots at the poor guy, who was so gullible that he believed anything that people told him.
Having a good laugh...But, it is commendable of him to have finished the trek, considering his situation during one of the legs of the trek. Same goes for Rashmi, who was so unwell at camp 3, there were talks of how could she go back, but her determination, stamina and attitude helped her in finishing the trek with everybody. Same goes for her son – Anshuman, who also never gave up, although at certain places, he was almost on the verge of throwing in his hat.
YoNot to forget the support both of them got from Jaideep, Anshuman’s dad and an extremely bright and intelligent (IIT-IIM combination – period) and caring husband who himself had a witty sense of humour.
Jaydeep...the brainy guy.In the group, we had a “trekking family” – the Karves, who probably could be considered an idol for any family wanting to start venturing into the outdoors! Harshad serves on a director level position in a global multinational while Pallavi on one hand, did social service by teaching underprivileged kids, and on the other – deeply immersed herself in all forms of art – painting, singing, designing etc. last year, they celebrated their son’s – Gautam’s birthday on Rajgad, where a bunch of his friends were invited to hike up the fort, and a treat awaited them once they finished the trek! On one hand, we had Gautam, Arjun and Yuvaan being the youngest trek members, on the other hand we had Salunkhe and Mukund kaka, who had been trekking for the past couple of decades, and had vast experience in the mountains.
Salunkhe Kaka....One day, I met Salunkhe kaka on the tekdi, and learnt that he had just ran a half marathon in Pune. At his age – that was quite commendable. Also, not to mention Shruti and Arjun who had a couple of treks under their belt, and Shruti was all set for a cycling expedition across Europe, immediately within a few months of the trek! Then, there were first-timers like Devaki (a language expert who runs her language academy) and her daughter Nikita, who experienced a Himalayan trek for the first time, but totally loved it, wanting to come back again. Also, not to mention Shubhra and Shalmalli, two young girls (sisters), who had come to a Himalayan trek, all by themselves, and their parents had trusted Kedar on taking care of them. Their effort, attitude and eagerness to come for a trek by themselves must be applauded! An anomaly which we all got to see was the father-son duo of Shailendra and Aditya.
ShubhraUsually, parents are the ones who care for the kids, and look after the well-being of kids, from all perspectives – food, nutrition, cold, clothes, layering, packing, unpacking and taking care, in general. However, in this case, we had it in the reverse direction. Aditya had done a couple of treks already (despite being in 5th standard), and it seemed that he had gotten his dad (Shailendra) along, for his first “experience” at trekking. Right from – Did you eat properly, have you layered yourself properly, how much water did you drink, why are you not wearing your gloves, where is your balaclava, did you have soup, to why are you carrying water, give it to me – I will carry it – Aditya looked after his dad, at that too – at such a tender age of 10, with utmost responsibility and care, which was rare…
Himachal Pradesh to Uttarakhand
As Yuvaan had suffered so much while going to Manali, I made sure he was given a pill of Avomin even before we embarked on the bus. He slept like a baby all throughout the journey; he didn’t even get up when I tried to wake him up for dinner at the same place where we had stopped on the way to Manali. When we reached Delhi, I had to wave him goodbye at the delhi airport, as I had to take a train to Dehradun.
The trek ended with good memories, but I felt a bit sad to have left Yuvaan all by himself at the airport, as I was proceeding for my expedition to Gangotri - III.