After many successful and memorable road-trips in the Himalaya, both my family as well as Om’s family
were looking for something new – a new experience.
He himself is an adventure junkie, with many treks and the MLK (Manali – Leh – KhardungLa) successfully under his belt. His wife, Shruti regularly works out, and has developed a liking for marathons. His son is a good friend of Yuvaan’s, so they had company for each other.
My cousin, Rohit and Prasad Ganpule had gone on a bird-watching trip to this place in Himachal Pradesh (HP). Just the year before that – Prasad had visited Switzerland, and he vouched for the Tirthan valley of HP, which, according to him – was prettier than Switzerland!
He showed me a couple of photos and videos, which surely looked surreal. I took his point of contact, contacted him, and the plan was fixed – a 6-day trek in the Great Himalayan National Park.
Great Himalayan National Park
This being the 1st trek for Arjun, Yuvaan, and Shruti – it had to be planned perfectly.
Yuvaan looking at the beauty around
I had the bitter experience of taking Manasi, my wife on a trek which was completely barren and isolated although it is a haven for mountaineers. The bareness and thin air left a bad taste in her mouth regarding Himalayan treks, and it took a bit of convincing for her to agree to come on this trek. And, as I was going to join all the others after my expedition,
Up goes the trail
I didn’t take a chance of planning everything myself – which I would’ve loved to do.
View at start of trek
The person who had assisted Prasad and Rohit proved to the best person to plan our trek.
Stop on trail
We told him of the
number of people, paid him half of the amount in advance, and when we reached the place – the team was ready to come with us, and assist us in the trek. Little
did I realize that it was a full-blown 5-star trek (the 5-star refers to the service provided).
With the group
Statistically, about 9 to 10 thousand cars travel from Delhi to Manali in the peak season. Out of those, around 10 cars take a turn at Aut towards Gushaini.
Out of those 10 cars, about 2 – 3 come towards Gushaini, and the remaining go to Banjar and further to Shimla via Jalori Pass – a pretty scenic route. So, on route to Nagni
at night – we felt as if we are lost somewhere.
We indeed got lost twice, and were fortunate enough to be able to reach our guy on phone, and with correct directions – reached Naagin. Our arrangement was made in a homestay, where we could sample a few local items like the pickle etc.
Nagni - Pekri - Swar
After a heavy breakfast, we met our team of cook and porters at the homestay.
Loops to come up to Pekhri
They were 11 in all – which I thought was quite big a team for us. But, they had kept 2 people extra, just in case there is a need to lift the kids in our group.
On the way to Pekhri
Rains come in
A quick recap of the equipment needed, and we were off in a car. The car takes you about 5 km to Gushaini, the last major town in these ranges, before the national park starts.
Loops to come up to Pekhri
From Gushaini, the car climbed up 9 km to a place called Pekhri, which is the last stop for a bus that travels from Gushaini to Pekhri – once a day!
Om, taking pics
The route was so treacherous that Om having cycled MLK, compared his 21-loop (Gata Loops)
with the ones we were constantly winding through. The turns were all hairpin turns, but the driver managed them with great manoeuvrability, on some patches
– while speaking on his cellphone. We reached a milestone which said – Pekhri – 0 km, where the driver took a U-turn, to start the return journey. And, this is
where our trek started. Ramesh – our guide for the trek showed us the trail and we all started on it, without waiting for the team to assemble and join us.
Ramesh told us that they would be coming later, after distributing the loads (which included backpacks, kitchen tent, personal tents, food, fuel, stove and
their stuff). It indeed felt nice to walk with a day pack on – as the main concern this time was to keep a check on the kids. Although we had made them
practice on trails near our home in Pune, this was different, as we all were at an altitude.
We passed through farms on which garlic was being grown, and the locals were busy sorting out the good ones from the bad ones. And, as soon as we crossed the farms and the village, the rain god started bestowing us with showers.
Manasi, hiking up
Awesome Place to take a break!
Although not very heavy – they were intermittent. As soon as we waited to get the kids covered in raincoats / ponchos, the rain stopped! It went on to become irritating, as the kids could not understand as to what to do. So, we permanently made them wear ponchos, which would save them in case of heavier rains. While we were kind of cursing the weather, as it was dampening our spirits, we could not ignore the vista in front of us.
Tirthan Valley all clouded up...
The clouds had descended in the valley we had hiked up from (over Pekhri village), and were gathering in the deeper valleys of the national park. The route which we took was visible and before we could pause for a moment and appreciate it, clouds came in, and everything was a whiteout in no time! The green mountains, with the brown mud track, looping all the way up from Gushaini seemed like a painting, which god certainly must’ve taken some time to paint! Houses were perched atop steep slopes, with their respective farms besides them.
Manasi on the trail
Just the thought of somebody falling sick in these remote villages, and the hurdles of taking them to a hospital (nearest one was in Kullu, with a primary care centre in Gushaini) made me shudder. Silently, I wished well to all the residents of those villages.
The incessant rains didn’t show any signs of slowing down. So we all decided to take a small break in a house which was on our way. The rustic house was used for storing stuff for people in the village and was built on an edge of the mountain which we were climbing. The clouds around us, clouds filling up the valley in front of
us fast, made the rustic house in that atmosphere look extremely pretty. It was indeed a very calming experience. We all had our packed lunch, which consisted
of parathas, frooti, Cadbury and a banana! The kids had a nice time climbing the internal stair of the house, as well as running around the area, but with caution – as a single slip of foot could prove fatal. The rains subsided for a while, and we set off towards our first campsite – Swar. As soon as we left the rustic abode, we witnessed one of the prettiest scenes ever – clouds had accumulated in the valleys of the national park, and the ridges of the valleys were piercing through the clouds, in an effort to reach the river bed.
The (almost never-ending) consecutive ridges with clouds reminded me of a similar scene back in 1997, when the sky changed its temperament instantly, and while I was climbing from Maliadhor to Dhakuri – I witnessed one of the prettiest spectacles – a combination of clouds, sunlight and deep valleys playing with each other.
After a couple of photos, we walked through the highest (elevation) village in that area – Lakcha. It was nicely nestled on a plateau half the size of a football field,
with houses close to each other, and a trail running through it, for trekkers to carry on. The villagers seemed a little bewildered, looking at the kids (Yuvaan and Arjun) – all poncho-clad, hiking up and beyond the village. One of the houses had a balcony facing the valleys of the national park. I wondered how lucky the residents would be – to wake up with such magnificent scenery every day!
Grandma at Lakcha
About an hour’s walk from Lakcha, and we reached the campsite. We were told by Ramesh that this was not Rangathar, but an intermediate campsite, which they decided to make camp at, due to the incessant rains showing no signs of ceasing. The tents were erected within no time, the sleeping bags were allocated and off we were – in our respective tents. The sleeping bags had gotten a little wet, but there was no choice for us. We just prayed that the rains stop, as it was making the temperature plummet with it. It had gotten real cold, and we all were doing what we were NOT supposed to be doing – snuggled in our sleeping bags, in our tents! This activity is known to be the starting point of AMS. Although we weren’t at that high an altitude, it was quite high for the kids – we had climbed up from 1500 m to about 2200 m, a climb of about 700 m, which was quite a tough one for the kids.
Campsite at Swar
A shout from Om for all of us to come outside rattled us. I managed to somehow shed the cozy environs of my sleeping bag, and stumbled outside my tent – and got a feel for what the campsite had to offer! It was a magnificent campsite, with snow-clad peaks towards the east, a green meadow in front of our tents, and the best part of it – there was a double-rainbow behind our tents, which was the icing on the cake! I called both Manasi and Yuvaan out, and within no time, we were greeted with a bowl of hot soup, along with papad. Shruti and Arjun also managed to come out, and Om clicked a wonderful photo of both of them wrapped in a shawl, in front of their tent – with the double-rainbow behind! Classic picture, it is. Although the rain had stopped, winds had picked up, and the sun was going down. And, in
the mountains, when the sun goes down – cold picks up.
The setting sun gave us a magnificent view of the sky, behind the tall trees on the west of our campsite. We got all covered up in layers, after which we were served with a mid-day snack, along with tea. Carrymats were laid down, and both the snacks as well as the tea were served piping hot. I thought to myself, “This was indeed heaven – with family, in such a landscape, being given service like this.” It can’t get better than this. Although all the wood had gotten wet, the porters were hell-bent on getting a campfire started, to provide the much needed warmth to all of us. They tried and failed multiple times, but in the end – succeeded.
We all had a sumptuous dinner on carrymats right besides the campfire. The dinner included rotis, subji, dal, rice, salad, pickle, and I couldn’t believe – dessert! Yes, we were served dessert on all the dinners during the trek. The kids loved it, and as we all sat around the campfire, trying to warm ourselves up, Manasi started with a famous old Hindi Bollywood (Indian Film Industry) song. I joined in, and after a while Shruti and a couple of porters joined in. The worries of the “wet” day were over, and we all regaled in the warmth of the fire, our clothes (socks, trousers, jackets) getting heated just enough to get that “wow” feeling. After a few songs, we all retired to our tents. This was the first time Yuvaan was going to stay in a tent, on a carrymap, and in a
At home in Pune, Om had given a few rehearsals to Arjun about how it feels to sleep in a sleeping bag. None was given to Yuvaan. Our stuff on one
side, me in the middle and Manasi on one side – was the pattern we followed throughout the trek. Yuvaan would literally “move everywhere” in his sleep, and
I had to get him to a straight position, place him in his bag, but at the same time make sure that he doesn’t get inside the bag, and get suffocated!
Swar - Kundri
A loud zipping noise woke me up, to see one of the porters at the door of the tent with tea for us – yes – bed tea!
Campsite @ Swar
We both went out, and bright sunshine greeted us. No more rains. I and Om placed whatever we could – on our tents – to dry up.
Clothes, sleeping bags, carrymats, backpacks, socks, shoes, caps etc. Yuvaan and Arjun woke up, we all did our morning chores. A toilet tent was set up by the porters, which none of us used, except for Yuvaan – who hated taking a dump “inside” the tent, so he used to sit on the commode outside the tent, while taking in all the vistas around. A yummy breakfast of porridge, omelette, bread, butter, jam, coffee, tea and bournvita later, we packed up to go to the next campsite – Kundri.
Breakfast @ Swar
The previous day, we had climbed about 700 m, which was quite tough for the kids. We were at an altitude of about 2200 m, and for a minute my heart sank (for the kids), when I was told that the next campsite was another 700 m high – at 2900 m.
Col or Pass - high above
A continuous climb for kids of this age probably wasn’t good, but we didn’t have much of a choice. Besides, the kids never complained! Throughout the trek, Yuvaan didn’t even bother to find out where his dad and mom were; forget about walking with them, holding their hands. He was always at the front, with Ramesh. Ramesh was pretty amazed at his stamina and speed, as he literally sped past everyone, with Ramesh holding his hand. This happened the previous day as well. I accompanied Manasi, who hiked at her slow and steady pace, and we usually were the last to reach the campsite. As compared to that, Arjun was constantly with either Om or Shruti.
Yuvaan - Don't slip!!!
They helped him around climbs, trees, and descents. Om used to pep Arjun up once in a while, and also used to give him water to keep him hydrated. This was good, and I wanted to do the same, but without Yuvaan by my side, I told Ramesh to give him water all along the way.
The climb from quite steep, and we were supposed to cross a pass, which would take us to another valley, beyond the one we were climbing up from. At the pass, we took a much needed break, while gorging on our packed lunch. Shruti had a mile headache at this point; both Om and I told her to drink more and more fluids.
Porters and kids
Reached the pass!
At this instant (and many more in the future days) I could see her in the same situation I was a week ago – overanalyzing every minute signal you get from your body. It is understandable, as the “usual” dose of “what all can happen in the mountains” is fed to each and every person who is going for the first time. I feel, one should be on the lookout for critical symptoms, but overanalyzing has a serious detrimental effect on your confidence, in general. And, the moment you lose confidence in the mountains, you are gone! Shruti drank a pack of frooti provided, and we all munched on the parathas which were given, along with the Cadbury.
The View was awesome!
The view of the valley in front of us was spectacular, with its grandeur not fitting in a single span of view. After a couple of photos, we took to the trail. It winded through a forest, without much elevation changes, before we reached the highest point of the trek – where Om’s altimeter read 3473 m.
The valley and the place where we camped
This was the highest that these little kids had been to, so a customary click with the altimeter was inevitable. So, in all – we climbed from 2200 m to 3473 m, and the kids were perfectly OK – we were so glad.
Through the tree!
From here, we were given a choice, whether to descend down to a campsite which was visible, or walk for another half an hour, to go to a campsite at a slightly higher elevation. Keeping in mind, the kid’s condition, we decided to descend down about 100 m (same distance before I quit in the expedition), and set up camp there. Luckily, the campsite also had a live stream of water, which would have been a problem, had we chosen the higher elevation campsite. As usual, Yuvaan and Ramesh reached first, followed by Om and Arjun. I and Manasi made it along with Shruti, who took it easy, as her knees hurt while descending.
Kundri Campsite (below)
Kids with the altimeter
To our surprise, the porters weren’t there yet! Their speed is supposed to be much better than that of the “clients”, but it took another 1 hour for them to reach the campsite. Ramesh, our head cook – Daleep, and all of us wondered – what happened? We later realized the reason – a couple of girls from nearby villages were hiking up, to collect some herbs, amongst which one was Naagchhatri, which is supposed to have tremendous medicinal value. Forget about the herbs, it’s the rule of
the world that whenever young guys and gals cross each other’s paths – sparks are bound to fly. And, it doesn’t matter if it happens in a swanky mall in a major city or the high altitudes of the Himalaya!
The shepherd's home
The porters arrived an hour and a half late, and Ramesh gave them a piece of his mind. All the stuff was with them, so the afternoon snack and tea had gotten delayed. We didn’t care about it, as we were soaking in the beauty of the campsite. The green meadows on one side ascended to the pass from where we had come, and beyond our camp, there was a thick forest – huge, tall trees populating the deep valleys. Beyond the valley, multiple snow-capped peaks welcomed us, and gave us a magnificent show during sunset.
The actual plan next day was to move to another campsite called Marhani, but Ramesh himself felt – it would be too much for the kids. So, it was mutually decided to stay at Kundri for two nights, with one day as rest day for the kids.
They had already climbed almost 1900 m within a span of two days! The good part was that – they seemed fit and fine. But, a rest day was required. Om and Manasi also ended up using the rest day, while I and Shruti walked to the next campsite – Marhani.
Om and Manasi Relaxing
Om lazed it out by laying in the sun, on a carrymat, pretty much doing nothing, while Manasi took the opportunity to read up on a book she was currently reading.
On the way to Marhaani
The walk up to Marhani was pretty, with the final campsite one of the best I have seen till date. There was the customary shepherd’s home, built of slabs of stone, to be used by anybody who comes this way to graze their herds.
It was such an inviting place that one would certainly feel like spending a night in that house. The approach to the house descended through green pastures, and wild flowers, and the backdrop was an entirely different mountain range.
Shepherd's home at Marhaani
Ramesh told us – had we decided to come further, we would have made camp here.
Soaking in the beauty
Actually speaking, the campsite wasn’t that far away from Kundri, and the kids would have easily walked for one hour. The problem would have been the next day, when return journey started – they would have had to walk from Marhani all the way to Rangathar, which indeed was quite a distance, and it would have been hard on their knees, as the descent from the pass was quite steep.
Lunch @ Marhaani
Me and Shruti
Customary clicks at the campsite were followed by the packed lunch session. Cheese sandwich, frooti and a 5-star! Wow! After a while, we started the return journey, and reached Kundri well in time. In the middle, Ramesh paid his respects at the local temple that was built by the villagers. The locals here were known to be ardent devotees.
Shruti - Posing
The nice walk was rewarded by tea and pasta! OK – the pasta was locally made, and was far far away from the subtle Italian taste, but what else do you expect at this altitude.
Breakfast @ Kundri
The completely Indianized pasta was awesome. Manasi and Om were all refreshed due to the rest, and kids were playing – sometimes inside the tent, sometimes outside.
Campsite @ Kundri
Arjun was used to playing with his superhero characters, but Yuvaan was not used to it. All he wanted to do was – to play outside, dig up earth using a locally made tool, play with wooden sticks, erect the kitchen tent, participate in lighting the campfire and so on and so forth.
At one instant, Arjun was busy playing with Superman and Spiderman, inside his tent, while Yuvaan was persuading him to come and play outside. By playing inside the tent,
Yuvaan and Arjun
Arjun was also getting rest automatically, but it seemed like Yuvaan didn’t need rest. I tried to play with him, running around with him, and digging with him – but he didn’t want that. He didn’t want to play with me, but with Arjun.
Yuvaan running around
The situation turned bad, when Yuvaan started crying as to why Arjun wasn’t playing with him. I tried to console him that Arjun was tired and he needed rest, so he was inside the tent, but Yuvaan didn’t seem to get convinced. It got worse when Arjun came out in the open, but went to the kitchen tent area along with Om – to see the local porters play cricket. I tried telling Yuvaan to do the same – to go and watch the cricket match, but he didn’t want to. After much persuading, he came along, but his heart lay in playing in dirt!
Arjun Posing near his tent!
I felt very bad that day. I thought hard about what happened that evening. It was due to the fact that we didn’t live in a society (houses / flats) that Yuvaan had never played cricket in his life! Arjun is used to playing cricket with his friends in his society, Yuvaan doesn’t have friends! Arjun seemed quite dependant (and attached) on his dad and mom, while I started wondering – is Yuvaan attached to us? When we both go out on conferences / seminars etc, people at home tell us – Yuvaan didn’t ask even once about our whereabouts.
He seems to be comfortable with the fact that his parents are not around, and he can take care of himself.
At home, I see him playing all by himself quite a lot of times. We both try to engage in multiple activities with him, but there is a limit to our energy levels, and it just can’t match his. So, when we get tired, he plays by himself.
That could be the reason that he never ever trekked with me and Manasi, but always used to go ahead, and he wanted to come first. I explained to him that in trekking and specifically in the mountains, there is no competition, and one should not compete with anybody. He just nodded his head and went ahead with his way. Is it good that he is becoming independent so early? Why doesn’t he feel the need to be with us? Why didn’t he play with me the other evening?
Pic with the local group
I could see that the intensity with which he invited Arjun to play with him was not the same from Arjun’s side. For Yuvaan – Arjun was his “only” friend, while I guess, for Arjun – Yuvaan is “one of his” friends. So their attachment towards each other was highly lopsided.
After watching the game of cricket for some time,
Om did a great job of involving both the kids in a game of cricket. Arjun was up to the mark on his knowledge – he knew how to hold a bat, he knew what a “four” and “six” were, while Yuvaan didn’t have any idea whatsoever about these things. Maybe, we were failing somewhere as parents, I thought. Honest to god – it saddened me to the core.
Fielding @3473 m
Cricket at Campsite
Manasi and Shruti came along, and they helped those village belles prepare rotis. The girls had come in search for Naagchattri, but when I asked them about it – they kept mum. Ramesh told me that farming it and selling it was illegal, as it wasn’t allowed in the national park rules.
Having fun in the warm kitchen tent
They were a bunch of hardworking girls, who had come all the way from a village called “Naahin” which we were going to pass on our way down. Because of the physical activity the entire day, we decided to take some rest in a tent near the kitchen tent. Also, as the sun had gone down, the cold winds had picked up, and temperature dropped. As we chatted away in the tent, the kids dozed off.
Cooking el natural!
We had our dinner in the tent itself – they served us everything in the tent, including custard – which was the dessert! I honestly felt a little embarrassed, but we couldn’t move out. Campfire was lit post dinner, and we warmed ourselves up. A strange thing happened there – all along the day, there were at least 5 – 6 bulls that were grazing and roaming around the campsite, making weird noises once in a while. During the campfire, pretty much all of them started making those noises – up somewhere in the forest. The porters borrowed our headlamps, and ran towards them to check whether they were charging towards our camp or what. Also, there was a possibility of a leopard(s) in that area, making his kill. It was indeed terrible noises, and we all were a little scared. After warming up enough, we retired to our tents, amidst the noises – praying that the night passes peacefully.
Rangathar - Riverside Campsite
Instead of going down the same way (Lakcha to Pekhri and down to Gushaini in a car),
Descending into Lakcha
we preferred a different route – we decided to descend via Lakcha – Naahin – Shalinga – Talinga. Ramesh had told us that the route was a beautiful one, with the trail winding down farms of wheat, garlic and flowers. The only hitch was – it was a descent – all the way down to the river. At the riverside campsite, we would be on the trail that goes into another valley (towards Rolla) in the national
park. The descent was surely going to take its toll. I hoped that the kids stay safe and their legs are not overburdened.
We left Rangathar, and approached the campsite where we had camped on the 1st day.
Wheat and Barn
A group of 4 Indians were camped there the previous night, and they had just packed up to go to Kundri. It felt good to see the 3 guys and 1 girl team heading up. As I always say – it’s hard to see females (that too Indian) in the mountains.
The river below!
One of the guys asked us a few questions regarding the route etc and we headed to Lakcha. While coming, we had seen Lakcha in clouds, then we saw the town in sunset (from Rangathar) and now we were seeing the village in bright sunshine. I took a few photos, and then proceeded with filling up our water bottles at Lakcha.
School at Nahin
The houses in the village were painted bright green and blue, and it added the necessary dash of colour to the group of otherwise old brown wooden
houses. An elderly woman, probably in her 70’s or 80’s stared at us from the porch of her house. I don’t know what she must have been thinking, but when we smiled at her – she returned the favour. Her porch was just a couple of plants put together, which ran all around the house. No railings, no nothing – just open to the magnificent view of the Tirthan valley in the front.
Would love to study in such a school
Just a bit out of Lakcha, our trail deviated from the usual trail, and we started walking on
an even smaller trail, which winded sometimes through lush green forests with streams running across, which had to be jumped over.
And, sometimes, the trail
cut across farms owned by the villagers nearby.
It was so pretty, with the golden wheat crop springing up to the waist level, along with occasional farms of garlic and other vegetables. Once in a while, we came across dilapidated farm-houses, which must’ve been used years ago, to store the farm produce. Each of these broken-down barns kind of tells a story of how they stood firm, while time proceeded.
Stairway to Heaven
Yuvaan, as usual was with the porters and the guide, who were pretty much flying ahead of everyone.
After Lakcha was the village called Nahin. The village had a main square, where people gathered and chatted away. After a quick break, Ramesh invited all of us to his uncle’s house, which was being converted into a home-stay.
The warmth of his uncle, along with the splendid view of the valley and the river from one of the rooms was enough for a thought to cut across our minds – to stay a night at this place. Howsoever nice it was, we didn’t have time, and so we bid him a goodbye
and left for our river-side campsite.
Almost after a gruelling 9 km descent through villages called Lakcha, Nahin, Shalinga and Talinga, we reached the river-side.
Local temple - Shalinga
Little hiker and mom!
At the end of the trail after the Talinga village was a bridge, which helped us cross the river. The small patch of green at the other side of the bridge was selected for setting up camp. Manasi and Shruti were relieved by the sight of running water.
Local Wild Flowers
Although, they were warned that the water was extremely cold, still – they decided to take a mini-bath over there, cleaning up the last 6 days of sweat and salt off of the bodies. The boys had a nice time throwing pebbles and rocks in the roaring river. The half-dip in river was followed by a nice cup of tea and snacks.
While we soaked the sun, the cook and the porters got ready for the last meal – the last dinner while on the trek.
Villagers in Shalinga
The next day, we were supposed to walk back to Gushaini, spend the night where we stayed while coming, and the following day – back to Delhi.
As we sat by the campfire, among the discussions of return journey, we chatted on what a beautiful trek this has been, both physically as well as emotionally.
Walking towards riverside campsite
With star-studded sky overhead, the river gushing at its full force, the beauty of the glimmering lights of the villages in a distance, the serenity of the place and its environs rubbed on to us like nothing before had done.
Arjun and his mom
Campsite at riverside
Dinner got over, and with genuinely happy feelings, we retired back to our tents.
Local Medical Unit at Gushaini
The following day, a short 4 km walk to Gushaini, followed by a jeep ride, and a stay at Panki’s place was a perfect end to the amazing trek that we had been on.
At Riverside besides Panki's place
With Panki Sood.
The evening was very well spent (reading, having coffee, lazing around, taking photos etc.) near the riverside,
Snap of a snap being taken
which is just behind Pank’s home. Getting inspired from this trek, we all decided to come back on such treks every year.
Great view and friend
Now, it’s something to be seen if we keep up to the promise we gave ourselves!
Temple in Gushaini
Yuvaan with Dileep - the cook!
On the trail