7-8-9 was the call I believe, wake by 7 , breakfast by 8 and leave by 9. Well, we almost did.
The trek on this day was expected to be moderate one with some ascent to kalkatiyadhar.
The beauty of the trail continued through the trek as usual. Huge valley, swargarohini in front, sun shining brightly above and a gentle breeze to push us along.
On the way there were multiple spots where the icy mountain water flowed under a man-made bridge (of sorts) and create perfect spots for photographs(not to mention delay the trekking time).
On the way we stopped for some hot tea at a shack and another round of photography. Part of the group started making snow angel, another one climbed up the rocks to get a better view of the valley (read selfies), akhil got busy making a snow man and karthik,..well, meditating. The hot tea and biscuits made the pit stop all the more enjoyable.
After tea, it was journey as usual for 2 hours. Some time near lunch, we stopped at another shack, this time we had wider menu of offerings, boiled eggs. Most of us were not in the mood for lunch but boiled eggs would go well with pulao, sort of egg biryani combo. The boiled egg was ok but the pulao so not good.
From the shack, it was ascent for about 45 minutes to 1 hour. The lunch made it slightly more difficult than expected but it was fine. A little past noon and the camp site came into view. Most of the group was like “that’s it”? Kalkatiyadhar is the most beautiful campsite of the journey for sure. Surrounded by mountains on all sides, it was stunning to say the least and were awe struck in its glory for almost an hour. After allocation of tents, it was time to “kill time”. Anant had brought a frisbee along; as yes, frisbee in the mountains. Not sure something I would get to do ever again.
We split into two teams and the frisbee was all over the place; brought back old child memories really. Atleast 1 out of 10 shots went flying down the hill but thankfully the drop was not down all the way to the valley floor and we got back our frisbee all the time. Rest of the group separated to make “snow angels” ..again. In the mean time, we found the group from early morning coming down from the mountain. Komal enquired with the group about their trek. Almost two later and post sufficient “frisbeeing”, it was snack time. Don’t quite remember what it was but more importantly it was time to get the gear ready for the evening photography.
Evening was stunning, the sun lit mountains changed color from orange to glowing red. It started to reach freezing temperature very soon and undoubtedly it was very difficult to even click the camera button the views were worth the risk of getting frost bit (well not really but you get the point).
Since we were in a valley, the winds rushing into the valley made the evening colder. Soon we huddled into our tents and layered up and got ready for dinner. Dinner was the usual; dal, rice and sabji but I was excited for what came next, astrophotography with my new Cam and lens. My god it was freezing and quite frankly being surrounded by the mountains was sort of a disadvantage, the view was blocked on all the sides. Karthik got busy with his shots as well but screwed up his infinite focus point and spent an hour getting that right. I never got to see his photos , so no idea how they panned out but I was fairly happy with my shots.
Rest of the group got busy playing word games again , 8 huddled into a single tent. Rest of the group called it a night. It was a going to be long trek the next day.
A lot had been spoken about osla, the most beautiful village enroute to har ki dun and today would be day we would make it. Our planned stay would be the guest house in osla. After our usual morning routine, we were off. The route to Osla is a beautiful one indeed. The swargarohini peaks are visible in the distance , the trek itself is easy for the initial part and then gradually picks up in ascent on the way to Osla. After the initial trek down and crossing a glacial stream, one gets a beautiful view of the mountain far away.
After we cross the stream, we climb higher for most of the trail. Not much to say about the trek specifics but overall it lasted for 4 hours or so with hot lunch planned at the guest house. We reached osla by 2 p.m or so; kids on the way asked us for ‘mithai’ , unfortunately did not have any on me. Osla is a small village, about 9,000 ft above sea level. It is famous for a Someshwar Temple. Some people say it is the temple of Someshwar Devta (an avatar of Lord Shiva). The architecture of this temple is a wonder in itself. Kids were playing cricket next to the temple, some of the trekkers joined in in fact. Rishi almost lost the ball while trying to do a cover drive.
After reaching our lodge, it was just time to soak it all in. The cabin again was two floored, I decided to camp in the first floor again which fit about 13 people or so. The sun was warm and the courtyard overlooking the entire valley, a view to die for. Its enough to forget all the troubles in the world ; that I did. Put on my sun glasses , put my chair at an optimal location and dozed off; as peaceful as it gets.
After an hour or so, the sound of lunch bells woke me up. Lunch was good as usual and I napped a bit more after that heavy lunch. Venkat invited us all for a tour of Osla.
First up, it was the someshwara temple, one of the only temples in india where duryodhana is worshippped. The villagers of osla are quite proud of having this temple, given its uniqueness. Venkat explained the origins of the temple to the group while I got some shots in. Right next to the temple, the kids were at it again, playing cricket. Venkat took us further into the village, a old lady was busy grinding grains. Many members of the group tried their hand at it, which ended up being quite the laugh for the rest of us. The old shacks where animals sleep in the winters, storage facilities for the harvest, the large tumbler which serves as the ‘washing machine’ up in the mountains. the sneek peek into the life of the villagers was something of an eye opener, a simple life is a good one.
It was almost evening, the small shack selling tea was abound to attract the group. Good day biscuits, hot tea and the setting sun, a better evening could not have been asked for. The group huddled together for some fun chit chat as usual; I was ok just taking in beauty of the setting sun.
Late evening, as usual the group engaged themselves in group word games; I couldn’t wait for the darkness. I was hoping to get some night shots in finally. Would I be lucky? Well the below shot answered my prayers. In all fairness though , we were surrounded by mountains and stellar shots of the night sky was not possible, the beautiful mountains themselves were blocking the view. Regardless, I was totally happy with this shot.
After a freezing night of photography, it was time to call it a night. By the time I got back, folks were still busy playing mafia etc. I joined in and ended up playing early morning. We pretty much lost track of time and got so engrossed in the game our voice echoed through osla village.; Subhash came and requested us to keep it down. Well that pretty much broke the group out of trance and we decided to call it a night.
So trek on Day 3 was supposed to be a easy one, travelling to gangad, a pretty well known resting spot for trekkers on the way or returning from har ki dun. Largely down hill, the most difficult part of the trek but starting the day ‘efficiently’. Apparently there was only one toilet at the camp, for 22 people. Yeah, ‘subah subah lambi line’ it was. Like the cold subzero temperatures did not create enough difficulty as is. Somehow we managed I guess. By 8.30 a.m or so post breakfast, ready we were for gangad.
By 8.30 a.m or so, we were all ready, well more or less, komal excluding. She was beginning to set the precedent to ‘late utho, late chalo’. After lot of screaming from venkat ,by 8.45 a.m we were off. This was the day when there would be significant trekking in the snow ,start to end ; although not the slippery kind (verglas) ;so no cramp-on’s yet. Regardless it was decent one in terms of distance atleast , about 6 kms or so.
The initial part of the trek went slightly uphill for 30 mins or so as we left gangad behind, visible from the top of the hillock we covered. As we trekked on , lost sight of it and continued on the snowy trail. Well, the view itself did not change much; huge mountains on the left gave us company for the entire journey while we navigated a pine forest 2 hours into the trek. Venkat warned i.e requested the group to keep in sight and huddled together as much as possible to ensure that predators i.e bears are kept at bay.
Crossing the pine forest took little more than hour and we rested at a point while venkat enthralled us with stories of the life of people in the mountains. (The things they eat, hunt, sell etc). After a quick energy snack break, it was to move on. After an hour of walking through the beautiful pine forest, it was time for next rest point, a temple. Here we rested for half hour or so when the group decided to play with the snow and take snaps as usual. Within the temple itself , venkat was helping some of the wounded people from the ‘bear incident’ of the day before. The sun was high up in the sky in the noon but the light was warm.
From here, it was mostly downhill. At many spots it was very slippery with the verglass and I fell down quite a few times. After crossing a small rivulet-bridge, the route turns flat as gangad comes into sight in the distance, a beautiful village nestled on the face of a mountain. As we trekked down hill , our homestay came into sight. A super cosy place with enough lodging for atleast 30 people. By the time we reached, lunch was almost ready and so were we. The upper floor seemed comfortable, so I grabbed a room in the upper floor with the balcony. Satyendraji joined in and we still had place for one more.
Lunch was basic as usual. A small shack next to homestay serves hot tea, noodles, omlette and what not to the trekkers. Hot maggi in subzero temperature is basically heaven, so how we resist? We had less lunch and more of that junk, but this once it could be excused. While sipping on tea, komal developed an apparent ‘crush’ on another trekker (not in our group) and a whole conversation ensued which was obviously hilarious with harmeet nudging her on to confess her feeling to the tall dark stranger.
One batch of fun activity done, it was time to move to the next one, the usual group games. Huddled in the lower cabin under the warm blankets, MAFIA was on as usual. But before we could start, venkat suggested something better , Get to know each others names before the games; for once people agreed. The game was simple, each trekker was expected to associated an adjective with his/her name and every other trekker is expected to remember the adjective and the name. And so we did , the ones that I remember
Killer Karthik, Rocking Rishi, PM pratil, Adventurous anant, sweet srishti, amazing akhil, Great gaurav, viceroy vaibhav, adriot amritha, amicable apoorva, natural neha, sitarist sparshard, krazy komal and Hi harmeet. There were few more names and can’t remember them all. Anyhow after reintroducing ourselves to the group it was time to get back to murdering people in the game. Cant remember much about the game specific but it was fun overall. By the time we completed, it was already late evening and the temperature plummeted sub zero.
The groups was not dismayed that though; we just continued playing !. It was not until dinner that we finally decided to give it a break and be done with the games for the night.
After a hot dinner, we had some time to kill. Venkat called us all to the lower cabin and took a class on mountaineering, the 8 thousanders and trekking in general. It was the first time that I felt that time was right to get some astro -shots done. Went behind the cabin on the first floor and get some. While the shots came out ok, there was too much distraction in terms of stray lighting from the village, overhanging wires and poles etc. So I decided to kill the pics and call it day while significant part of the group continued playing group games.
#Sankri to Datmeer#
Trekkers with Indiahikes drive from Sankri to Taluka (12 km, 1 hour). Taluka is a small village with concrete houses ; the beginning of our trek. Venkar provided the customary introduction and we were off!! Tony taught a native song with lines of “maja maja maja” ; rest I don’t recall. 😦 .
Next to the forest guest house, the trail descends to the river valley of Thamsa and continues through a series of forests, while the river remains on your right. The descent in pretty steep and I fell down and hurt my finger, a wound which would serve as reminder throughout the trek. More than my finger , I was concerned about my camera. :).
This shepherds’ trail goes along the river on a level walk. Around 10 minutes into the hike, spot the first cemented bridge over a small stream. Another 15 minutes of level walk will have you reach another bridge, this time, a wooden one. These two spots are conducive to fill up drinking water.From here, walk uphill for 15 minutes till you see a small clearing next to the river. You can set up an emergency camp here if need be. We took a couple of snaps here with the beautiful view of thee valley.
Another 10-15 minutes later, you’ll come across a spot where you can climb down to a tributary of River Thamsa. Look for a wooden bridge to cross this river, which is just below Datmir village. After crossing the tributary, you’ll reach a camping ground in a couple of minutes. From here, facing the inner part of the valley, locate two trails, one moving upwards and another going straight ahead. This served as our lunch spot. I think we had pulao on that day. With the warm sun hitting our face and temperature in lower double digits..we were finally in the mountains. The group decided to spice up the trek with a game of UNO. I navigated the camping grounds to spot a place for photography. Find I did but not very optimal is terms of location, not to mention the sun was too bright. Even my ND10 filter was not provided much benefit. I gave up and packed my gear back. By the time all this was done, it was already time to go.
Amongst the two trails, we took the trail which went up. This was the way to datmeer. The other trail directly leads to har ki dun (and is the trail we would take on our way back). So anyhow , the next part of the trek would last us atleast 2 hours or so and was moderately difficult due to the steep gradient. It was fun though; I got to know harmeet too was in VLSI domain , working as fabrication specialist as part of ISRO; an exam which I could never clear. At the end of the journey and climbing maybe a thousand feet, we were finally at datmeer; a snow covered town perched on the face of the mountain. The town was sparsely populated, many villagers shift to the valley where the temperature is more ‘manageable’. The view was amazing , we were all camped at the first floor.
As is the routine, we were allocated rooms, 3 rooms in all. 2 for the gents and 1 for the women. We quickly changed into our thermals and sipped hot tea and pakoras as we watched the sun set behind casting the red hues on the mountains in front of us. The temperature in the night falls pretty steeply; the entire group snugged into a one room and decided to play group games. I think game was named contact or one of its variant, but whatever it was , i dozed off in the middle; others seemed to enjoy it though. Of course someone had to suggest mafia subsequently and that led to two very interesting games of mafia which was incredible fun as usual. I obviously wanted to get some shots of the evening sky but unfortunately it did not look all that impressive. So got back inside and joined the italian murderers again. Within no time , it was already dinner. Hot chappatis, subzi , rice and dal was usual. I wasn’t really in the mood for dinner, a light one would suffice for me. The night sky looked impressive for sure but there was too much junk blocking a clean view. Poles, wires, houses and the like. Not to mention, early in the evening we were informed that it would be dangerous to go out , a bear apparently attacked and killed a villager somewhere nearby. With nothing to do, a part of the group went to sleep. Of course part of the group was very much awake and continued playing some variants of group games. It was light’s out for me.
The cab was scheduled to pick us up at 7 a.m,. Man, was it cold but we couldn’t possibly miss out on the last bath before the 8 days of arduous journey. Modern tech aka geyser helped us out here. Whatsapp was already buzzing with messages with people already at the meetup point, while we were busy heating water up for a bath; yeah. that’s us alright, late as usual. Anyhow at the very least, the messages nudged us to hurry up with our morning routines and catch an OLA cab to ISBT, the meetup point. Atleast half of the group was already present at the meetup point by the time we got there. We met our first trekker, JD, a pretty experienced trekker and traveler in his own right. By the time we were done with our own ‘introductions’, the driver honked to get us into the bus.
9 of us huddled into 1 bus , akhil, vaibhav, karthik, sparshard, neha , anant, shrihsti and satyendra and yours truly. Rest of the group , not sure who were present, got into a jeep. Whatsapp indicated that rest were seriously late due to train delay and would arrive much later. It was going to be a long ride ahead.
After quick nap of an hour, we reached mussorie and time for breakfast. It was already pretty cold in broad daylight. And what is awesome when its cold ? Maggi, paneer paratha and tea. It was pretty crowded in there but the waiter was pretty quick to get our order. The hot veg maggi and parathas were absolutely amazing. We took our first trekkers photo before taking off again.
The view on the way was amazing ; passing by a beautiful river canyoning through the mountains but it gets same after a while. So we did the only we can; slept. Somewhere midway we stopped for quick snap by the river before pushing off again.
2 hours late, we stopped for lunch at purula at a tiny restaurent. Folks ordered their last non-veg people of the week and gorged on an entire chicken I think. I stuck to my veg variant as usual but the food was fantastic. The bill was only 200 per head. At the end our meal, we were in for a surprise; i ended up meeting prajakta (from my previous sandakphu trek) who too was heading to kedarkantha for her year end trek. A very pleasant surprise indeed.
So anyhow , by this time i was already quite exhausted (not really fan of bus travel) but our destination i.e sankri was still 2 hours away. Finally after a hard day’s travel of 8 hours, we were at sankri by late evening. The temperature was already touch single digits and it was time to layer up after getting our rooms allocated. We were holed, up 5 in room. With some liquid down our throats and warm food in our bellies, the group introduced itself during the briefing session. Our guide for the trek would be venkat , assisted by co-guides subhash and tony. As usual the junta was split between bangalore, delhi and mumbai; almost an equal split as a matter of fact.
Me, karthik and Nikhil woke up early in the morning to get some shots of the much anticipated sunrise; it was freezing cold outside with the wind. We braved the cold to witness a once in a lifetime shot.
Totally worth it ! The big 4 visible at a distance with a sea of clouds separating us or the sleeping buddha glowing under the morning sun; the pictures don’t do justice.
And what better way to start a trek than a breakfast of champs ; Pancakes,Jam, bread and egg. And we were off !
We were to trek 16kms today to sabargram which also happened to be the only tent camping experience during the trek. This day also turned out to be the best day of my trek since I ended alone for 3 hours with not a soul in sight. The initial 3 hours are on a semi-motor able road leading to the meadows. Due to the group size, again we got separated ; only I hadn’t realized until much later that I was that last one. I walked for 3 hours , on the motor-able road and the beautiful meadows taking shots of the picture perfect landscape and enjoying the solitude.
Somewhere midway , I found karthik and chirin waiting for me and apparently I was the black sheep; the last one in the group. :(. Vivek was angry with my pace and I had to hurry up. Chirin found us a short cut, albeit a difficult one; after half hour of super brisk trek, we ended up overtaking the group. A few yaks greeted us at the check point.
While the solitude was totally worth it, the price was 20 seconds of rebuke from vivek. After this point, I was forced to be in the middle of the group for the long way ahead.
The trek got reasonably difficult from this point and from a particular junction, it was almost up at 45 degree angle. This stretch took a toll on us.The sun blazing away to glory did not help either. A short distance from here we finally halted at a beautiful valley for our lunch; khichdi and apples it was.
This was a much needed rest; a few dozed off under the warm sun while rest finished our lunch. Sabargram was still 4kms away !
After almost 2.5 hours of trek , we finally reached sabargram. Preetha was already at the spot and sketching away while rest were higher up atop the hillock. Small lodges at this point would serve as the dinner room but our tents were pitched higher up. So this wasn’t the end of our journey; just great !
Another 10 minutes of walk and finally, we arrived at our destination. Naman, Karthik and others who arrived early helped Buddha bhai to pitch the tents while rest were just relaxed in the tents. By the time we arrived at 3.30 , it was already time for tea after a mandatory round of stretches. The view of Kanchenjunga is spectacular, after we were only 60 kms away.
The bad news was that tea point was again 10 minutes trek down; like my knees hadn’t suffered enough already. The plan was to finish dinner and come up only in the night. So off we went again. Everyone huddled into the dinner room ; sri kishen opened his bundle of snacks as well; cashews, pumpkin seeds and wasabi mix. We still had hours to kill and what better way than singing songs; especially when we had super talented singers like prashanth and mahita in the group. Time just flew by and it was already evening; I rushed to the top of the hill again to get some shots of the sunset.
After dinner and the final hike up, it was the most important activity of the trek; the astro shots with the lighted tents. The shots came out fantastic to say the least, at least on camera LCD.After some delightful shots , it was finally time to get some much needed rest.
So today was the day where we would finally hike up Sandakphu; this is challenge we were all here to complete after all. After a short walk of about 1Km on the windy road leading to sandakphu, the tea house is finally visible atop the sandakphu, far away, 6kms i.e. The trek route again lies on the border of India-Nepal.
At certain junctions, there are small shacks offering refreshments. The trail from here to Sandakphu is a steep incline of 4 km and zigzags up the hill. One can choose between two routes here – the left one which goes via Nepal and is a longer trail with a gradual ascent, or the more popular shorter route with a steep ascent. We chose the steep one obviously.
Midway a tower post gave some wonderful view of the valley.
All along the route, there was a semi motor able route leading to the top running parallel to the trek route which is steeper. The top seemed closer atop every small hillock but seemed far away after every descent; why was the mountain testing us ?
All along the way, the views kept getting better, with clouds playing hide n seek from behind the mountains; sometimes engulfing the valley; other times disappearing without a trace.
The mules carrying supplies, luggage raced past us at many junctions; for once it seemed the mule was having a better time than us. After 4 hours of trek, we finally reached a point where sandakphu was within reach.
Well, almost within reach. It was another 500 meters at least fro this sign post; when the incline is at 45 degrees, that’s a lot.
At this point, there is another ‘short cut’ leading to the top with a even steeper incline; me, Nikhil,Yash and kushal decided to give it a shot in hopes of cutting our trek time.
The “stairs” were covered in a thin sheet of ice and it was very slippery; so slippery that yash decided to turn back. After much struggle, nikhil managed to hike up but I had underestimated the hike; the gods of friction abandoned me suddenly and with the gravity assist , I ended up hitting my head on the ice , on the ground, and slipped about 2 meters. In all fairness , i thought that this is the end. Can’t continue with a bloody head right. Thankfully, while I did hit my head bad and lost consciousness for a few milliseconds maybe, I was able to regain balance and give it another try, only more carefully. Kushal, right behind me, learnt from the folly of my ways and managed to safely trek through the slippery passage and quick 5 minutes walk, we were at the top of sandakphu, FINALLY !
It was a gorgeous sight with a crystal clear view of the sleeping buddha in clear daylight.
A traveler’s lodge served as a rest point / tea break joint where we snacked on some hot tea and Good Day cookies. Temperature here was -2C in broad daylight. Heck, we managed to get a good mobile signal here as well; a lot of trekkers called up their homes. I called up my work buddies to inquire on the state of the chip I was working on; I was trekking in the mountains at a very critical state of the project.
Thankfully everything was fine. After some light snacks, it was time to move on. Our tea house was another 1.5 kms and this time the walkway was flat.
The tea house is run by a pleasant aunty and we all checked into our dormitory; all the guys in one and the women in another.
We were provided with additional sleeping bags & liners since blankets cannot be washed in cold icy waters. Almost immediately , lunch was served; the usual course. After lunch , we had multiple options. Behind the lodge, there is a nice place to take good shots of valley; one can spot the clouds being held hostage by the high mountains.
Some of us scouted the area for good photography locations, for eg, the top of hill behind the tea house while other huddled inside the observation room to play dumb charades ; made more fun with Hot cauliflower pakodas served with tea, i gobbled at least 6 of them. Soon enough it was sunset time already and half a dozen of us rushed to the top the of the hill to view the sunset; it got pretty crowded up there pretty fast and we had to jostle to get a proper shot through; made worse by the biting cold and the fact that we had to remove our gloves to get the camera settings correct. The sunset was breath taking for sure, the red hue over the clouds with glowing horizon; it was magical to say the least.
After a quick dinner, a lot of us assembled to take shots of the milky way; it was the first time in the trek that we had a clear night sky. Actually it was the first time that many of us were viewing the galactic core; so surely a definitive moment of many of our lives. The shots came out pretty decent and definitely gave me more inspiration to upgrade my camera before my next trek.
A final shot of sandakphu before hitting the sack and I called it day.
With a lot of difficulty, we (Karthik,Nikhil,Me) managed to wake up early in the morning, before sunset, in the biting cold, to get some shots of “The sleeping buddha” with the morning glow on the Kanchenjunga peak. As it turns out, from our locations, the sunrise was obstructed by hills; but the morning light was just warm enough for a good shot. By the time we got back, most of the group was already awake.
Vivek arrived in some time to take BP reading of the BP patients , namely Karun, Karthik and Naman while rest left for breakfast. The breakfast was hot poori, sabji and pulao. I ended up eating lots this morning, (shouldn’t have).
By 8.30 a.m or so , everyone was already raring to go while some engaged in morning stretches. Day 3 journey would comprise of 14 kms of trek which we were expected to finish in 6-7 hours. A motorable road passes through this area which takes one to nepal. We obviously took the non-motorable trek route and reached Gairibas after a few kms walk on a flattish terrain. The sun shone brightly over the multi colored hills.
The trek itself is just on India-Nepal border ; to the right is India and to the left nepal.
This is the also the day where we enter the singhalila national park, officially; since we paid 100 INR per head for the cameras; also the day where nikhil dropped his lens was stuck without a proper viewfinder for rest of the trek.
The trek us through a dense forest and for the very first time during our trek, the 4 great mountains along with everest were visible to us, at a distance of course.
All of us stopped here for a customary round of photography. From here, the trek went downhill which brought us to some stunning meadows and a majestic view of the entire valley.
From here, we were also able to spot in the distance, the long route which we would take for the rest of the day.
The rest of the trek to the checkpoint was downhill for a good 1.5 hours or so through a pretty dense forest with the trail made by / for trekkers ; I ended up pretty much along for this part of the trek ; almost concerned that I wasn’t lost. We finally reached Gairibas at around mid day for a well deserved break. Garibas has some refreshment stalls and shacks to refuel. There were atleast 100 tourists/trekkers here on that day. I am not sure whether we were on the Indian or the Nepal side.
Here we were treated to some hot momos courtesy Indiahikes , 6 per head with super spicy chutney. It was veg version, so karun went and ordered the chicken version and most like that one better. Some just dozed off for 15 minutes by the road side meadows and rest enjoyed the refreshments before what looked like a pretty intimidating hike back up to our lunch point,kaiyakatta.
This hike to kaiyakatta was a steep one, almost 2kms and tiring indeed for most of us; made worse by tourists going up the hill in a landrover and probably thinking ,” What’s wrong with these people, why walk when a jeep is available ?” That thought definitely crossed our minds. We tried to take a couple of shorts cuts, steeper , but with the hope that it would cut our travel time. Well, it did but not by much. At the very least, I remember Yash, Nikhil and me struggling through this part. Finally after 2 hours or so, we reached Kaiyakatta. Atleast 10 trekkers were already reached before us.
As lunch was getting served, Siddhika & co. took a cake to celebrate; never really saw lunch time as celebration but as long as cake is there, who am I to question. Turns out Siddhika was getting a year old on that day. So all of us joined in to celebrate her birthday as well; “maybe I should give this a shot next time”, came to my mind.
Anyhow after a hot lunch and happy occasion, it was the next and final leg of the day’s trek; the walk to Kalipokhri, which was 4 kms away through the misty forests.
As usual, due to the long distance, group was significantly split up which was a good thing. The misty weather provided a perfect opportunity to trek alone in nature. The sun shone in through the mist at a distance which was a wonderful sight.
After 2 hours of walk, we finally reached Kalipokhri, a bean-shaped black lake surrounded by waving Buddhist prayer flags. Kalipokhri translates to Black Lake. Another 5 min walk and we were at our tea house for the night, pandim lodge.
By the time me and kushal reached, the main dorm was already completely occupied; it turned out to be a good thing though. Me and Kushal ended up in a smaller room with kamlesh; with an attached bathroom. Phew, that would our mornings much less hectic. By the time we were done settling down , we were called for the post-trek stretches. It was difficult on this day; the tracker was showing almost 14kms of walk and I sure could feel them in my legs. By the time we changed into our thermals for the night along with additional 3 layers , it was already evening tea time. Most huddled up into the dining room by the kitchen, it was nice and warm. Preetha and Sonakshi got busy with sketching while the rest just enjoyed the warm tea. There wasn’t much to do for me either since the moon was up the sky making night photography impossible again.
As we went about discussing our interests and hobbies , sonakshi was in the line of fire. The group forced her to sing, which she did, pretty nicely might I add. Her singing sped up the kitchen folk and served us dinner at 7.30 p.m. I wasn’t hungry but there was an interesting dish to eat; squash, a local vegetable. I had never heard of it and decided to taste it at least. Soft and sweet, I ended up eating 3 chappatis with it. Srihita did not like the taste much I guess, she wanted noodles for the night. And what better way to prepare noodles when you have the Instant Gas burner kit. Srikishen got the setup ready in our room and whipped up a hot bowl of noodles in no time.
By the time he switched off the burner, it was time to hit the sack.
Early mornings are always difficult, when the temperature is the single digits, more so. After a hot breakfast , we assembled at the courtyard for the first day of the trek. Our guides were buddhaji and chirin. Buddhaji was from village close to jaubhari and so was chirin. The first thing vivek taught us was to how to tie a shoelace such that it never gets loose during the trek. I managed to get a loose variant of the method to work for me. We were also given a set of eco bags to collect garbage wherever found all along the way.
The initial 5 min trek from the base camp to the ‘main road’ got most of us panting, it was the beginning of the journey after all.
The initial trek was up a concrete path up next to the main road. Across the road, a trail going up the hill to Upper Chittrey. This is a steep climb of 3 km, through a thick forest, and takes about 2 hours to reach.
All along the way, we were surrounded by tall pine trees and Rhododendrons waiting to bloom. As we proceeded through the forest, the group fragmented. I decided to stay either the forefront if the group or the trailing everyone to ensure some good shots. As I realized on the first day, I wasn’t fit enough to lead the group; I decided to trail the group in the future and stay somewhere in the middle , alone.
Towards the end, the trail required a steep uphill hike but the views it presented were breathtaking. Darjeeling was visible on a hill top far away.
The sleeping buddha was visible to us for the very first time from atop the hillock.It was breathtaking.
Here a motor road going upwards; a little below, towards the left, is the Chittrey Monastery with Buddhist prayer flags fluttering in the wind. This is Upper Chittrey, where we took take a break with hot tea and biscuits. Nepal is just downhill.
From here, the trail gradually went uphill. There are steps cut into the mountain at certain locations to help locals and trekkers climb through the forest until Lamyadhura. This was a difficult one for me for sure and between taking shots, taking quick resting stops and trekking again, I ended somewhere in trailing lot. All along the way, we could see the motorable road next to our trekking route with land rovers taking tourists up to sandakphu and phalut. It was another 3 hours of trek by the time we reached Lamaydhura, a small village with a handful of Tibetan families that run a small tea shop. It is a cozy place to take shelter , enjoy a lunch/tea. I bought a packet of chips and a snickers bar to keep my mind occupied.
The trail from Lamaydhura to Meghma is a 3 km hike up a steady incline. It also has some leisurely walks over grassy terrain and motor roads. This is the easiest gradient of the day’s trek. Chimal and magnolia trees are scattered along the route.
As we departed from Lamaydhura, the weather suddenly turned cold and mist took over the hills.
Many of us reached out for ‘warm clothing’ before resuming the trek at this point. Somewhere along the route, sri kishen took out his ladoos over a hilltop and that provided some much needed relief and energy.
Some of us ended splitting up, one group including myself ended up taking the motor able route unintentionally while another group took the “trek route”
After about 2 hours of walk, we reached meghma, our lunch point; finally !! . There is a monastery here which was closed on that day.
The tea house here is run by a small tibetan family who cooked up some super delicious dal, chapati, Cabbage curry and rice for us. Hot omelettes , made on order, were totally amazing when the temperature is a cold 2 degrees outside.
After a hearty lunch at meghma, we are off for the final leg of the journey, Tumling; an almost flat walk which takes about 1.5 hours. The misty evening added an eerie tone to the trek; I loved it.
The road from Meghma to Tumling was covered in mist and we passed through a number of small villages on the way; overall it took us about 1.5 hours or so to reach tumling.
We finally ended the day at Tumling lodge. The temperature was already touching almost 0 ; we were shown our dorms as soon we arrived. All the guys huddled into one room and all the women in another. After arrival, vivek gathered all of us for the mandatory rounds of stretches (& massage).
As evening approached and weather turned colder, we all made base in the lodge near the dining area and decided on play a game of Name tagging while sipping on hot tea and pakados. The game is to associate a tag with the name of the person and try to recall the tag-name combo of the entire group , all at a time. We had Madmax Mahita, Stupied Soham, Perfectionist Pooja, Kinetic Karun, Killer karthik, Notorious Niranjan, Yummy Yash and Naughty Nikhil from the ones that I remember. It was fun until we all of us ended up recalling all the names. Mafia was suggested next; the game most played in all treks. Prajakta wasn’t all that enthusiastic about it; she was fed up of mafia on all her previous treks, she had been on many. Rest of us were reasonably excited I suppose. Niranjan was god for the first round and as bad luck would have it, I was killed in the first round Mafia , Darn it! Mafia had this round. Karun was made God in the second round; this round was fun since I was part of Mafia along with Kushal ; I was about to be kicked again but begged the villagers to spare at least a round; they fell for it and I survived the gauntlet some more until my ruse was up ; I made it all the way to the end until being nabbed by the villagers.
A good 2 hours were spent playing the game and it was already time for dinner. It was the usual again, chappati, dal, subzi and rice. After a hearty dinner and tiresome day , it was time to retire to the cosy dorm for well deserved rest. But the night beckoned us !
It was super cold outside. The ones with the DSLRs, me, Karthik and Nikhil bravely ventured outside to try our luck with the night sky. It was a very bright moon lit night; the sleeping buddha was visible at the distance under the moonlight but the stars definitely weren’t. An exposure of 30s was creating a day light effect. The shots actually looked quite interesting; so I decided to go for them post a reduction of exposure time.
A final shot of the sleeping buddha exhausting 1 bar of my battery and we were off to bed.
Our last day was finally here; the initial part involved the trek back up to samandan and then begin the trek down hill. On the way it was all up this hill and down that hill, pretty much the entire route. On the way we passed sone beautiful streams ; unfortunately there was no time to even photograph them since the most of the group had raced on ahead. Quick snaps and again on the way.
After almost 3 hours of trek we reached our checkpoint to have snacks and tea;it was a pretty wonderful sight.
Thankfully , from here on it was completely downhill. On the way , me and kushal discussed everything from stocks, origin of jp Morgan and corrupt CAs of india.
After almost another 3 hours of walk, we were finally down , back to civilization. It was almost as if the bridge personified the end of the journey and was there to greet us; But was it the end of the walk itself , not quite. Another half hour of walk on the tar road and we were finally at the lunch point. Mobile signal on my phone after 7 days; wow. Messaged family that I was on my way !
The lunch was hot rice with curry and soya chunks; the soya chunks were some of the best I have tasted in my life. Cabs were ready to depart by the time were done. We thanked our guides vivek, Shirin and bhuddha ji, a final goodbye and we were off ! It was a race against time now; we were supposed to reach railway station by 8 p.m and the train was scheduled to depart at 8.30 a.m for a dozen of trekkers. It was close but thankfully the train was delayed,as expected from the Indian Railways. It was me,Karthik, Kushal and Prajakta who were staying back at siliguri. After dropping off Yash & nikhil who were with us in the jeep, we decided to indulge ; some hot pizzas from dominos awaited us. Cheese burst, Lava cakes and coke; what a way to end the night. Waiving final good byes to Prajakta and Kushal, we ended the night.
The trek memorable, the group wonderful and landscape beautiful; I couldn’t have wished for a better way to end my 2018.
The trek group meet up point was the NJP railway junction. The cabs would pick us all up and get us to jaubhari, our basecamp. After a ridiculously mini complimentary breakfast at the radha rani lodge and half hour of searching for the meet up location, we finally met up with the entire trek group. Sri kiran and mahita were there with their 8 year old daughter , sri hita. Most were from Mumbai including rahul,siddhika, kamlesh, darshan, kushal, soham, karun, pooja ; We along with niranjan, sonakshi, yash, nikhil from bangalore; Srikiran family from Pune ;naman from Kolkata; prajakta from hyderabad and preetha from Seattle. The customary introductions revealed something rather funny, the youngest member of the group , sri hita, was also the most experienced trekker of the group. This was her 4th high altitude trek and had been on over 40 treks on her life..of 8years ; Incredible achievement !. In all, we had 4 vehicles and 20 trekkers, and we were off ! We left at about 11 a.m or so the estimated time to jaubhari is about 4-5 hours.
I was with prajakta, naman, kushal and darshan in the cab. As we made our way through the well kept army camps at bagdogra and proceeded to jaubhari, the discussion in the vehicle was mostly around our past treks, our regular(boring) day jobs and potential difficulty of this trek. Prajakta was already on 7th high altitude trek, Kushal had been to kedarkantha and it was a first for naman and darshan.
2 hours into the drive, we stopped for lunch at Nesang’s Gorkha Cafe at Mirik. The weather had already turned cold and we were hardly at 5000 Feet; many scampered to get their jackets from their packed luggage on top of the jeeps. The Cafe is nice but it takes a while to get the order though. Me , Nikhil, Darshan, kushal and Naman got ourselves a table and decided to order some hot Thupka’s , veg chowmein and hot tea (excluding naman who did not take tea). The lunch took forever to arrive and the discussion at the lunch table was again around past treks and adventure sports; (and how we would never risk sky diving at Mysore).
The thupkas and chowmein, when it did arrive was totally worth the wait. Hot soup soaking in veggies and thin noodles, tasted heavenly in the cold weather.
After a hearty lunch, we proceeded on to jaubhari. By the time we reached, the weather had turned gloomy and it was already cold. A nice cup of warm tea and biscuits provided much needed relief (and internal heat). After settling for our dorm rooms (7 in 1 room) , the setting sun brought the entire group together in the courtyard sipping tea while preetha sketched away to glory.
Some of us managed to take some snap in the midst and post that huddled together in the dining room to meet our trek leader, vivek , and get our initial formalities done ; including submitting our medical certificates. Well, the medical check up sprang up a few surprises, Karthik, Naman and Karun were the BP patients of the group and would be closely monitored throughout the trek.
The dinner was phulkas, Dal, rice and a subzi along with banana mash for dessert. The hot food on cold winter night was something many of us were experiencing after a long time. (and of many it was a first time). The water was ice cold and washing tiffins was a big time head ache for sure; its all part of the himalayan trek experience though.
After dinner, I went out to take a look at the night sky for some potential shots; it was a bit cloudy. The warm dorms with thick blankets beckoned; I was done for the day.
The Planning Phase
As usual, planning for 2018 year end vacations started 4 months before the actual end of the year , I was already done with my year plan of 1 international trip i.e Vietnam; so now it was time for the yearly himalayan trek. After much deliberation and going through multiple treks with karthik including kedarkantha, brahmatal and sandakphu; sandakphu it was.
The trek looked a bit intimidating for sure, 81Kms in 6 days; and some days it was a difficult 21Kms in 1 day. I hadn’t done some like this before and this was going to test my limits for sure. I decided to take it up nonetheless; after all life is all about pushing limits. The trek required us to reach Bagdogra and then move pretty close to darjeeling for the base camp. After much searching, we landed tickets at about 12K per head, kinda expensive but bagdogra being a small airport , not many flights fly to it. The trek itself costed us about 9K; pretty economical for the life time experience in the mountains. As such we booked our flights at pretty convenient times; leaving BLR at 3 p.m post a nice good night sleep and leaving bagdogra at 12 p.m (again after a good night sleep post a hectic trek). Spice jet though managed to screw everything for us, we propose, spice jet disposes. They pre poned both are flights to 6.30 a.m and 9 a.m :(.
The 4 months to trek were quite exhausting; and not in terms of the preparation for the trek. Corporate workload,,sheesh… Barely managed to squeeze in some time for the morning stamina runs; 5km in 35 mins was the mandatory target as per Indiahikes. 1 week before the trek , i managed to achieve the target but would have liked to be much fitter. Apart from this, there were some mandatory purchases; last trek to chandrashila I had a winter jacket which itself weighed 800 Gms adding to excessive weight. Apart from this, my backpack was torn, my head lamp was screwed , thermals were torn , woollen cap was missing and needed another set of gloves. So had to purchase a nice down jacket along with a dozen other item. So finally my 70L backpack had the following items with some space to spare.
|Fleece jacket/1 Warm Layer|
|3 T shirts|
|Notepad & Pen|
|Extra Paper Napkings|
Thank god I packed everything over a period of 1 week. The last week before the trek was especially hectic and I pulled 3 all nighters before the trek ; not the best state to be in before a 81Km trek.
Day 0 (Reaching the base camp)
I was stuck in a mandatory meeting till 10 p.m and had to leave for the airport at 2 a.m. Managed to book a cab via OLA but was definitely concerned whether he would show up; had happened before.
After about an hour of sleep, was up and ready by 1.30 p.m or so and , thank god I received a message that the driver was on his way. The trek was on !
Before leaving , made my mandatory call to karthik to ensure that he was up; it would take two to make this trek a success at our end. Now unfortunately (in a way) there was no traffic at all on the way to the airport; which meant I was at the airport early, 3 hours early. With nothing to do,binged on some sitcoms on youtube eating up free airport WIFI bandwidth.
Karthik managed to reach by 4.30 a.m or so ; so we had some time to spare. Subway SW at the airport always managed to rescue us from our early morning hunger; albeit at an expensive price. 300 Rs for a sandwich is a lot but that’s how airport prices are unfortunately. We managed to kill about half hour gorging on the sandwich and then proceeded to check in. The flight was again late by some delta time but that’s expected I suppose. 2.5 hrs of disturbed sleep and we were at bagdogra; we expected it to be cold but it was actually pretty warm. We managed to negotiate with a rickshaw driver for 200Rs for about 10Kms which is actually a lot but we were too tired to care (lack of sleep). The lodge we booked, radha rani lodge is located very close to the NJP railway station which happened to be our pick up point the next day as well; the rooms were decent enough.
After a quick checkin and freshen up, late breakfast was on the cards. Right outside our hotel, a local sweet shop selling hot freshly made radha ballabi’s caught our attention; the reasonable crowd at the open cooking station only aided our decision further. Took us almost 15 minutes to get a table actually ; a right decision it was. Freshly made hot pooris with hot potato curry on a cool winter morning; just wow ! I managed to pop in a Kala jamoon as well ; how could I let go of a local delicacy.
A tea stall was next on the list; located 25 meters from the breakfast joint. The hygiene conditions of this particular tea stall were definitely questionable ; we went for it nonetheless; we were on vacation after all :). So after a hearty breakfast, it was time for the mandatory nap; and nap we did for 4 hours. The reset to our tired brains also made us realize that there were a bunch of items still left to be purchased; towels, deodarants, some light snacks etc along with the dinner of course. I recalled a nice little bakery, mio amore right next to our lodge; it was lit up with lights in the evening and looked very inviting. The idea was to have a snack only, it ended up as the dinner. We ended up purchasing brownie, cakes, hotdogs,burgers and what not. Dinner first, trek essentials later!
Back in the room and a good hour spent on gorging on baked delicacies. The night was still young and we decided to meet up with some trek mates, if at all possible. Kushal replied on the WhatsApp group with his location 2kms away, too much effort we decided. After purchasing some of the remaining trek essentials and an hour spent on binge watching BBT back in the room, it was time to rest our bodies and minds for the last time, properly, for the hectic but exciting journey ahead.
We woke up early in the morning at about 2.30 a.m, had quick breakfast and got ready for the trek. The India hikes staff packed some tasty poha for us for the “after trek” party on top of the chandrashila peak.
We met up with the small group of 4 people which left us at Deoriatal at the main road in chopta and got ready for the 4 hour early morning climb. It was freezing outside but Jude advised us to only wear 2 layers of clothing; the body generates a lot of heat when trekking up and 2 layers of clothing suffice even in sub zero temperatures as long you are trekking up.
I quickly made to the front of the line ; under normal circumstances I am behind since the best photographs come after the location is devoid of people.But this day was different since it was night and there was nothing to photograph really.The trek up comprised of multiple rest breaks every 20 mins or so. It took us about half hour to cross the clouds layer and in about 3 hours or so, we reached the legendary tungnath temple.
The last part of the trek from tungnath to chandrashila peak is known to be quite a difficult one due to the steep gradient..and if that wasnt enough, I developed a pain in my left knee…and the sun rise was only an hour away when I did. After climbing up some more and with the daylight creeping in, the top of the peak became visible; it seemed very far away and there simply wasn’t enough time. All of us in the front of the line including shwetha, apoorva were incredibly tired as well but we had to continue on and fast; missing the sun rise after coming so far would be devastating to say the least, especially for a photographer. Sangamesh took a short route up and was the first one to reach; infact he was barely visible from my location.
So it was race against time; i tried to hurry but as I did the knee pain only worsened and I had to take a break every 5 mins or so. I had the slow down but the sunrise wasn’t about to. Felt like giving up a number of times but the thought of the beautiful sunrise kept me going. Finally after 40 mins or so I finally reached the top and just in time as well.
This shot made all the pain totally worth it ! Only about 5 or so made it to the top on time. The rest of the group continued making it to the top slowly after and entire group was at the peak in about 40 mins or so after sunrise.
We were at the summit for about 45 minutes or so. It was quite cold and the wind made it even worst !. How cold? Well for one thing, the drinking water in the bottle was frozen !. One of the group members did a mistake of removing his gloves and..well..his hands froze, sort of..Jude quickly made a fire and warmed his hands ; else it could have turned into something serious! This incident apart , the group had a lot of fun taking in the breathtaking view with a lot of selfies and shots. We had the poha party as well of course ! Overall the summit climb was truly amazing and made the entire trip totally worth it.
After soaking in the experience, it was time for the long trek down; of course I quite ‘concerned’ this time due to the knee pain. But there was nothing to be done apart from bearing it and trekking down. The legendary tungnath temple looked absolutely mesmerizing; shrouded in the misty clouds with the faint light. I wanted to go in and have a look around the temple courtyard but Jude forbade me since I had my shoes on; I couldn’t have possibly gone bare feet on the icy floor. So I just got this shot , made a quick prayer and was on my way down.
On the way down, I was last due to increase in severity of the knee pain. Only Sandeep, Swaroopa and Jude to keep me company. It took me almost 3.5 hours to reach down. While trekking down, met many people who were on their way up to Tungnath temple including some trekkers who got awfully scared when I told them they were only at the half way point. Many school kids too had trekked 10-20% up the trail to play with snow or just rest in the meadows. There are some stall serving tea and refreshments at 15% mark and we rested there for like half hour or so, just reminiscing the past few hours.
Post reaching the camp it was time to pack up as soon as possible for our long 6 hour trip back to Rishikesh. Before saying the final good byes, the group sat in a circle and each one of us was asked to describe our trek experience. I can confidently say that everyone was overwhelmed and wanted to go on future himalayan treks again. As for me, I made some good friends for sure, people who I can count on future adventures. 🙂
From the beautiful meadows of rohini bugyal to hustle & bustle of the chopta town; it was finally time to reach civilization again ! The trek from rohini bugyal to chopta is an easy one and the overall distance is about 3-4 kms and comprises of reasonable ascents & descents.
As usual up & ready by 9 a.m and we were off post breakfast ! The IndiaHikes crew packed some delicious Aloo paratha and pickle as lunch.
The trail took us through some amazing snow clad grasslands; i was actually bit concerned since my shoes weren’t water proof but thank god I did not face any issues. What was amazing is that the snowy terrain and dry grasslands were alternating;I had never seen such a mix of opposites before in my life !
Post half hour or so , the trail leads through the grass lands and fairly dense rhododendron forests. We found this “interesting spot” midway and stopped for photo shoot. The trek guides mentioned that the skull is always seen at a different locations by every new trek team. Hmmm….
Post an hour or so, the trek descends down to a waterfall; this spot known Akash Kamini, a rivulet coming from Chandrashila. The sound of the water fall can be heard from quite a distance away and rivulet itself can be seen from top the ridge which one needs to descend to reach the spot; combined the awesome feeling really pushes you into moving as soon as possible!A concrete bridge allows one to cross the rivulet to the other side and it is a hike up the trail again. We stayed here for at least 45 mins or so with the entire group busy taking selfies, group pics, couple pics and what not ! Apoorva lost her expensive sunglasses here and it took a herculean effort to locate & take them out.Jude in fact had to get his feet wet in the icy cold waters to get them out!
After spending 45 minutes or so here, we started the uphill climb again through the dense forest. We reached an open grassland and it was time to take some rest and have our packed lunch (Aloo paratha with pickle). The entire group decided to take quick nap under the warm sun.
After quick nap, 10 of us decided to play Mafia (again). The game was really catching on !. After the game it was a fairly easy trek through the forest terrain again; the path was well traversed and laid out in front of us.
After an hour or so, we finally reached the point where trek trail meets the main road. The entire valley is visible from this point. Seeing the sight of motor driven vehicles after 3 days was interesting to say the least.
After 45 mins walk on the road, we finally reached the point from where a 20 mins trek down from the main road leads us to the camp. Another trek group was already present there. We had some nice warm lemon tea and did a quick round of stretching.
Jude asked all of us to sleep early since the next day, we were supposed to wake up at 2 a.m to start our trek up Chandrashila Peak. I tried to get some night photography done in the late evening but my battery bar was down to 1 now. :(. I tried getting some done using Sandeep’s camera but it was canon and I was simply not sure how to make it work for long exposure photography without draining its battery completely. So I finally gave up on my thoughts of capturing the star trail and went to sleep waiting eagerly for the next morning. >>Day 6
Waking up at 5 a.m in the morning has always been the stuff of nightmares for me; but when you are trekking, especially in the Himalyas with IndiaHikes and Jude as the trek leader, you don’t have a choice. (Not to mention the shared bathrooms). Sandeep, my tent-mate was up even earlier and was ready by 6 a.m in fact. Drowsily, I got some lemon tea to wear off the drowsiness, freshened up, packed my stuff and grabbed some quick breakfast. It so happened that a few people were simply not comfortable sleeping in the tents. So at least 6 people opted out of the trek and decided to meet up with the group at Chopta Base camp and directly trek up chandrashila on the fated day. Meh, their loss!
The trek from deoriatal to rohini bugyal was a long one, almost 8 kms in fact. India Hikes staff packed some tasty pulao for us in the tiffins. And we were off. The trail took us through some pretty tough terrain but the ever changing scenery kept us on our toes.
A particularly difficult stretch was the climb up one the hills and reaching the mid check point.
The campsite of Rohini bugyal is a breathtaking one. It is located on a open plain in the midst of mountains.We reached the campsite by 4 p.m or so immediately after reaching the campsite , we were treated to some tasty lemon tea and some super hot pakados which tasted absolutely yummy in the cool weather with the sun on its way to setting behind the mountains. Jude set up the binoculars and pointed to the himlayas pointing out the kedar dome and gangotri.
Meantime, a part of the group got hold of some snow and started playing some “snowball”.
Others had to get their BP and oxygen saturation levels checked to ensure that they were “ok” to continue the trek the next day.
Others started playing cricket under the setting sun, probably one of the best games of cricked of their entire lives; I mean how many times does one get chance to play cricked at 10000 feet.
Post the quick round of cricket, we still had some time before dinner and that’s when the group decided to play “MafiA”, a supposedly super interesting game which I had never played before. We were ten people and damn!, we had awesome fun for almost 2 hours. (I won’t go into the details of the game).
Post Mafia and some hot dinner, I spent some time looking at the beautiful night sky. The stars were all up and shining in full glory. Off to sleep again to wake up early in the morning.
Deoriatal, which happened to be the next campsite is located about 3 kms trek uphill from Sari village. Deoriatal is famous for the beautiful lake at a location where Mount Chaukhamba is visible in its full glory along with the garhwal himalayan mountain range.
I woke up by 5.30 a.m and most of other members of the trekking group were awake by that time as well. We followed tri-time rule as strictly instructed to us by our trek leader,Jude; as in eg. 6-7-8 implies wake by 6 a.m, have breakfast by 7 a.m and get ready by 8 a.m. Of course the time would change everyday based on situation but we were all instructed to follow whatever time was provided to us, lest missing some critical check points along with way.
Sari was the last location where we would get to charge our electronic devices and everyone in the group was busy trying to get plug points while packing up for the day ahead. This was also the opportunity to offload our baggage to the porters which many of the members did in fact. We quickly had our hot breakfast; potatoes, idli, tea and cornflakes (There were a few other items as well). Some trekkers purchased additional items like ponchos, trek poles etc for the trek. Ramya for e.g purchased her poncho from Indiahikes at Sari. All said and done, we were a bit late that day and Jude was not happy. It was almost 9.30 a.m in fact by the time last of us got ready. Ah well, it was the first day and so we got excused.
We assembled on outside the base camp and Jude gave the itinerary for the day and some quick tips on how to acclimatize fast to the altitude. Apart from our 12kgs backpacks, we were also asked to carry “eco bags” as a part of the special Initiative by India Hikes. All the trekkers were asked to collect trash (waste wrappers, plastic bottles, waste paper etc ) on the way in order to keep the trek trails clean for the future which is quite wonderful. As far as the actual trekking is concerned, we would have one member from IH in the front leading the way, one in the middle and other one at the very last.
And we were off…Stairs just off the main road leading all the way up to Deoriatal lake.
The trek from Sari to Deoriatal is essentially walking up a 150 storeyed apartment since it is “staired” pretty much the entire stretch. In fact there are a few schools along the way and we found many school kids on the way to school, being morning time ; this difficult climb is a everyday thing for them. The view itself remained essentially the same throughout the climb, the only difference being we were climbing higher up the mountain and panoramic view was expanding with every step that we took.In the far distance, Chandrashila peak is visible and the entire valley with Sari village nestled in the middle is a sight to behold.
Multiple shacks along the way sell a variety of snacks including noodles, biscuits, tea/coffee, chocolates etc. We were allowed to purchase the packaged items but recommended not to eat anything else . (Eg Maggi noodles). The route from Sari to Deoriatal is famous since it leads to the pristine lake on top of the mountains.
After about 2-3 hours of trek, we finally reached the deoriatal campsite. As we neared the campsite, we caught our first glimpse of snow; No, it wasn’t snowing but hey, there was decent amount of snow on the trek trail and that it was enough to make the group ecstatic.
The forest cleared way to an opening and Oh My!! What a view ! We had finally reached Deoriatal Campsite. The deoriatal lake with the mighty chaukhamba mountain in the background took our breath away. As a matter of fact there were a lot of school students already present there and playing with the first snow of the season.(At that location i.e).
The camp site was located in the open ground; many tents were pitched and we were treated to some lemon juice as soon as we reached the camp. In parallel, we got the ourselves a tent as well. I was bunking with Sandeep that night. While I wanted to get some photography done immediately, Jude called us for some stretching exercises. We formed a circle and got those done in 5 minutes or so, but wait !; he was not done yet. Next up were few quick “mind games” involving some quick thinking and recalling the names of everyone in the trek group. We were given a 15 mins breather during which we managed to capture a couple of more shots and slipped into some comfortable footwear as well.
And and it was lunch time already ! Hot rice, Chappati, Sabji, Dal, Papad and an awesome view by a beautiful lake. What else is needed ? We were advised not to sleep in the afternoon regardless of how tired we were in order to ensure that we would get proper sleep in the night. So more of photography session it was !. In meantime , some one took out a pack of UNO cards; it had been probably 10 years or so since I had last played UNO. After a quick training session, we played two round of UNO amongst at least 8 people. I lost both the rounds !! We were about to start the third round and that’s when jude called us for a evening trek to a nearby location at 4.30 p.m. Phew ! I was saved !!
Supposedly this evening trek offered an even better view of chaukhamba from a particular viewpoint. So a part of the group left for the viewpoint. It wasn’t much of a trek really, i mean we were at the viewpoint within 15 mins or so.There was a viewing tower there from where almost the entire gharwal himalayas range was visible including the Kedar dome and gangotri.
We bookmarked this place to get some awesome evening sunset shots before we left. A 5 mins walk via a shortcut and we were back at the campsite again.Another quick round of UNO, some evening tea and it was sunset already.
As decided, three of us trekked up via the short cut to the viewing tower and took caught one of the most breathtaking sunset of our lives. You never get tired of it, no matter how many times you see it.
Here we met up with another group of photographers. One of them wanted the sunset shot so badly that he actually trekked all the way from Sari to Deoriatal twice since he ran out of battery charge last time. All in all, truly worth it. It was late evening by the time we got back to the campsite and awaiting the stars and the night sky. Jude called us out to have some hot dinner as well. Again some hot rice with Dal, Roti and sabji. I really wanted to get some proper shot of the night sky with the stars; something we don’t really get to see in the city with all the light pollution.
After dinner, Jude called us for an awesome session on star gazing and astronomy. He had a pair of binoculars and helped us identify many constellations , stars and even locate the Andromeda galaxy using the binoculars. This was probably one of the best part of the trek and quite enlightening for all of us as well.
Post the star gazing session, I borrowed Jude’s tripod and tried to get some shots of the night sky; but alas ! Just after taking my first 30 seconds long exposure, my battery was down to 2 bars. And I had another 2 day of trek left! . It was simply not worth the risk losing shots of Chandrashila peak. It was getting quite late as well. So I packed everything up and went to sleep, hoping for a brighter next day (and praying that the camera battery lasts the trip).
Day 2 started very early for us since the tempo traveller was scheduled to pick us up from the haridwar railway station at 6 a.m for the 200km, 6 hours journey to Sari village which was the first base camp for us trek.
We were kind of late though..you know..its because of the cold. 🙂 . Well, we managed to reach the station by 6.30 a.m and found the tempo almost immediately and..located another group of trekkers heading for the same location and part of our trekking group in fact. I had read that the window seat on the right side of the bus is good for scenic views on the way,,so I conveniently located myself towards the middle of the bus on the right. Having said that, I was simply too tired from less sleep on the previous night and just fell asleep instead. I woke up after only an hour or so after having passed rishikesh and the tempo had already started on the meandering roads of the ghat section. The twisting and turning is such that it really sucks the energy out of you even if you are just sitting inside the vehicle.Anyhow, at about 9 a.m or so , the tempo stopped at a really cool restaurant located on the road off the mighty Ganga river. Well, it was cool in every sense of the word, the location and the temperature, it was probably 8 degrees C or so which is actually not so low in the absolute sense but it was for us since we, as in people from south India, rarely experience this kind of temperature.
Hot Paneer Parathas & Aloo parathas served with curd & pickle along with some hot tea was a super awesome breakfast. We had actually planned not to eat a heavy breakfast since it is always advisable to eat light when travelling but the breakfast was simply too delicious.
We were our way again at about 10.15 a.m or so and the group, feeling very bored started played Antakshari. I am not much of a singer , so I moved to the back of the bus and dozed off..again. After about an hour or so, I was woken by hustle in the bus; we had reached the legendary Devprayag. Devprayag is the location where Alaknanda and Bhagirathi meet to form the mighty Ganga. It is in fact a holy place for the hindus since Ganga is considered the holiest of the rivers in Hindu Traditions.
5 minutes and a couple of snaps later , we are en route to Sari again. Somewhere midway, about two hours from Sari, we stopped at a restaurant for lunch. I was still so full on the breakfast that I decided to skip lunch for some more snaps of the location.
2 hours of winding roads and we were at the beautiful village of Sari. Sari is nestled in the mountains and comprises of about 100 homes. India Hikes group leased a 3 floored house here as a base camp for trekkers going on the deoritial-chandrashila trek.
Our trek leader , Jude, greeted us as we got down from the tempo. We were allocated our rooms in 10 mins and asked to come down to get some tea. During tea time, the India Hikes staff recorded our blood pressure and oxygen saturation level. People above a certain threshold of blood pressure(BP) and oxygen saturation(OS) are not allowed to go on the trek; the lower the BP and OS, higher the chances of AMS and other associated mountain sickness.
After some tea, we were called for a 45 mins briefing from our guide, Jude. The trek itinerary, the campsites, the expected behavior during the trek and everything related was told to us. Most of the members in our group were first time high altitude trekkers which was has its positives and negatives (Eg. the group walks slowly but then again sometimes too slowly). We were a group of 21 , the youngest was like 13 and the oldest was in 40’s.Immediately after the briefing, hot food was served to us. Rice, Rajma, papad, Rotis and sabjis, all freshly prepared and tasty. It was quite cold at Sari; many of us got into multiple layers of clothing that night itself. And the water,,,yikes !! It is like nails are driven into into skin every time you touch it. So anyhow, after dinner, we had only like an hour or so. Our group decided to have some fun playing cards; I learnt a new card game in fact. (I forget the name now). By 10.30 p.m or so we were tired enough to fall asleep but still very excited for our first day of the trek.