Thursday, February 27, 2014

Winter Adventure - Kuari Pass Trek

December 14, 2013

Crushing toes, painful knees, sore shoulders and loud thumping of heart is all that I feel. I wipe the drop of sweat that rolled across my forehead and start walking again. A few steps later I am left gasping for breath. All I can hear is beating of my heart and occasionally a chirp of a bird or sloshing sound of flowing river. I lift my head to look around and the grandeur of the Himalayas fills enough energy into me to carry on walking

This was how I spent most of my days during the recent trek to Kuari pass. I had done a small trek to Manali long time back (when I was in Std 10) with friends and the memories of we 5 friends spending cold nights in a tiny tent and all the fun that we had always lingered in my mind.

So, when I heard of Kuari Pass trek, the urge to do the trek was so strong that within a span of 3-4 days I made all arrangements which includes booking the trek with Trek the Himalayas(TTH), booking train tickets (i was lucky here as getting train tickets of a journey which is just after 6  days is very difficult), purchasing all necessary clothing, footwear, backpack required for a winter trek.

The day finally arrived. I left for Haridwar on 12th Dec and after a 35hrs train journey reached Haridwar station on 14th Dec at 3.30 AM. A cold jet of wind greeted me as soon as I stepped out of train and this gave me an indication of the kind of weather to expect in coming 6 days.

The entire group (of 12) had assembled by 7 AM at Haridwar station, and started what I would describe as a gruelling 9 hour journey by car from Haridwar to Joshimath. The reason why I call it gruelling is because or the bad roads and constant twists and turns over the Ghats. At one point I felt like throwing out but thanks to sweet cheap candies which helped me to control my senses.

On reaching Joshimath it was refreshing to see a nice cosy little guest house where our trek leaders were waiting for us. We divided ourselves in 2 groups and occupied the rooms that were allotted to us. I took a quick hot water shower which helped me to relax and get rid of the tiredness because of the long car journey. I also knew that this will be my last shower till next 4 days. A small introduction session was followed by a brief talk on what to expect in next 5 days. 

Taken somewhere on the way to Joshimath

Winter Adventure to Kuari pass - Joshimath to Chitrakhana (Day 2)

December 15, 2013

<< Winter Adventure - Kuari Pass Trek (Day 1) Chitrakhana to Tali top (Day 3) >>

After a pretty patchy sleep I was awakened by the sound of “Bed-tea”. It felt like heaven to be
served the tea right on the bed while you are still trying to find a perfect warm spot inside your blanket. I was up quickly as most of the time I was worried about completing morning chores rather than completing my sleep. I decided to take a small walk around the place to see if I could get few good photographs, as the sun was just out and the entire landscape was slowly getting lit by soft morning light. Distant snow clad mountain peaks slowly turned golden reflecting the morning light and this sight left me spell bound.

Sun kissed peaks turn golden during morning hour


Joshimath village being lit by sun

An hour later we embarked our journey which started with a 20 minutes drive to Dhak village from where we started on foot. The view of snow clad Drona Giri peak left me amazed and i was just wondering what would it take to reach there and what would it feel to be there.

With such a scenic view in front of us we hiked with great enthusiasm and constantly chatting and praising the beauty of the Himalayas and that how fulfilling it is to start your day in lap of nature as compared to starting your day in a dingy office cubicle.

Starting point of the trek

Sunlight piercing through canopy

Just about 20 minutes into the hike and slowly all the chatter slowed down, almost vanished and most of us who had started together were now separate by almost 10-20 yards, and all I could hear is loud thumping of my heart and sound of heavy breathing. “Welcome to the Himalayas”, I said to myself.

One thing that I have realized during this trek is that even though you start off with your friends, at some point you will be all along, completely by yourself, probably talking to yourself or motivating yourself to take a step forward and that is the beauty of any trek. You get plenty of time to spend with your self which otherwise is so difficult in regular course of life.

For a first time trekker like me, especially the poor kind of physical fitness that I have, it was a real challenge to do those steep ascents and that too carrying the 5 kg backpack of mine with a half kg camera slung around my neck.

This will be a good time to take a detour and to mention a bit about carrying your own backpack. Especially for hikes across the Himalayas at an altitude where even a speck of dust might seem like burden carrying a backpack which is almost 5-8 kgs is a real challenge. Most of the trekkers prefer to carry their bags, but if you are of my kind (read it - first timer and not extremely fit) then make sure that your bag is extremely light. Anything more than 2-3 kg is going to kill your shoulder. If you have too many things to carry than better opt for a mule or porter who can carry your bags.

Coming back to my hike, I had no option but to lug my bag pack. Slowly and steadily stopping for breath every 20-30 steps I kept moving.

Today's trek was mostly assent. We started from Dhak village and were supposed to reach Chitrakhana (campsite) by 2 PM. Total distance of the hike was about 4-6 km and the gain in altitude was 700mts.  We climbed up moving from one village to another and I wondered how those local people survived at this altitude and under such harsh conditions. When passing through one such village I struck a conversation with a local lady.  During the conversation I found out that most of the people here are self sufficient, they grow their food and many of them resort to cattle grazing to make their living. The slopes that we were scaling for thrill was something that they scale daily to earn their living. No wonder they were so fit, at some places I saw women who were well past 60-65 yrs and still carrying huge loads of wood on their back and whizzed past us.

Soon we left all the villages behind and now all we came across was occasional uninhabited house. The climb got steeper and the only way to encounter it was to walk diagonally to avoid putting too much of strain. My body had already given up and now its just the mind that was taking me forward. I was getting super hungry. A bar of snickers in my pouch came to rescue. Few of the fit trekkers were way ahead and seeing their tiny figures makes me feel that there is still  much ground to cover. After about half hour I lost their sight as i reached an overhanging cliff. I thought that I have lost the trail and frantically searched for any shoe marks and gave a loud call in case someone is near by. “Good. Good. Good.”, is what I hear. Its our trek leader. This fills me with a rush of energy and I almost race towards the direction from where I hear the sound. In no time I see bunch of colorful tents and fellow trekkers resting. Phew, I made it. At the end of the hike we were at the altitude of 3100 Mts.

The campsite side was an amazing place, which gave a panoramic view of all the peaks of Gharwal, Nanda devi peak being the tallest of all. Getting the shoes off those stiff legs, laying down under the sun and gazing at the towering Himalayas is an experience that I am unable to pen down in words. You have to be there to experience it. By 3.30 - 4 PM we settled down and now had absolutely nothing to do. Well its hard to imagine that after 3.30 in afternoon you have absolutely nothing to do till bed time. No emails to reply, no status checks, no phone rings to answer….

View of our camp site

Sun was going down behind the mountain peaks quickly and it was getting a lot colder. We all started gathering dry wood to feed the bon-fire. In coming few days collecting firewood became a regular chore after the hike was over. Suddenly you realize how important these simple elements like fire, flowing water are.

Relaxing  and keeping warm with bonfire

For most of the days we would retire to our tents by 9.30 PM but sleep was hard to come by. After a tough hike one would imagine to have a good sound sleep, but that was not to be. Trek leaders had mentioned that it was common not to get sound sleep as body is not accustomed to getting sleep at higher altitude.

<< Winter Adventure - Kuari Pass Trek (Day 1) Chitrakhana to Tali top (Day 3) >>

Winter Adventure - Kuari pass trek - Chitrakhana to Tali top (Day 3)

December 16, 2013

<< Joshimath to Chitrakhana (Day 2) Tali camp to Kuari pass and back (Day 4) >>

“Good morning, Bed-tea” is the call which wakes me up from my half sleep. Billu (trek helper) hands me a hot cup of tea right inside the tent. I am up quickly and while still snuggled inside my sleeping bag, I savor the hot tea till 15 minutes, after which I pack up my sleeping bag and get ready to move out.

Couple of guys have already re-ignited the bon-fire so I quickly find a comfortable spot near the fire to keep myself warm.

Dinesh (Our trek leader)
By 8.15 AM all the morning chores including breakfast is over and we are ready to start the hike towards the next campsite. My legs and shoulders are bit sore and I am brooding of handing my backpack to mules. Dinesh (on the the trek leaders) flatly refused and encouraged me to carry on with backpack, and I reluctantly agreed. Today’s hike was majorly across the woods. Instead of large open meadows as yesterday today we walked across vast cover of pine trees. We also spotted patches of snow at various places which was really exciting because most of us had never seen snow before.

The climb was really steep and it was lot colder. If i had to sum up today’s hike all I would say that it was just climb, climb and more climb. We reached Tali lake top by 2.30 PM and it greeted us with an unobstructive view of snow clad mountains. They seem to be much bigger now!

Taking a detour at Tali top to climb a small hill

Trekkers enjoying the view of mountains while resting

Ready to make a move to lower Tali camp

Helping hand

Patches of snow often seen on places under shade
The campsite was few 100 meters below the Tali lake top, which was a patch of land surrounded with pine trees and patches of snow. It felt as if you are living right inside the woods and that made me feel really good.

After a bit of rest we go back to our daily chore of collecting firewood and in no time we had bon-fire ready. A variety of topics like politics, cross culture, science, arts and many more were discussed around the bon-fire. We also heard some interesting stories and experiences from our trek leaders.

<< Joshimath to Chitrakhana (Day 2) Tali camp to Kuari pass and back (Day 4) >>

Winter Adventure to Kuari pass - Tali camp to Kuari pass and back (Day 4)

December 17, 2013

<< Chitrakhana to Tali top (Day 3) Tali to Joshimath via Auli (Day 5) >>

Yes, its the summit day and also the most strenuous one. The night was pretty cold and the frozen water in my bottle which I had accidentally left out of my tent indicated it.

Today’s plan is to do a 5km hike (400 mts gain in altitude) to reach Kuari pass, spend some time there and then hike back to the campsite. So in all a strenuous 8-10 kms of hike for the day. Since we were returning back to the campsite we did not have to carry our backpacks and that was bit encouraging as till now my backpack has really bogged  me down.

We packed our lunch and started at 7.30 AM. After a short hike up in the woods we reached the alpine meadows of Khullara, which were covered with typical brown grass which generally grow above the tree line. As the early morning light peeped through the mountains the grass turned golden in color and I went into a photography frenzy. “Aage aur bhi aacha view hai” (There are more better views further) is what Neeraj (trek leader) told and asked me to keep moving.

Passing through meadows of Khullara

Divine light

Soon we reached a patch which was covered with ice and a slip which almost proved fatal made me realize that stepping on ice is not a good idea. Neeraj explained that soft snow will a give good grip but never step on ice.

For some reason I found today’s hike to be less demanding, maybe because I was not carrying my backpack. Soon we reached Khullara top which gave almost 270 degree view of all the peaks way from Nanda Ghunti to Chowkhamba.

Further hike brought us below the Pangarchula peak and now we took the trail towards Kuari pass. We see a man-made bridge damaged by a landslide and covered completely with ice. Neeraj informs us that the bridge was part of the trail to Kuari pass and now that its no longer there, we will have to take some other trail to get around the bridge and he pointed to a steep, rock laden patch of hill which we will have to climb up to get over the other side. He was up in flash and few of us were struggling to find proper support to move upwards. To add to the difficulty there we few patches of ice in between which we had to maneuver. We had to climb up about 100 feet and then again climb down about 50 feet to reach the spot which otherwise would have been very straight forward had the bridge not broken down. For me this was the highlight of the trek. Though this small patch was really scary, once though it I gained lots of confidence. Kuari Pass was now stone throw distance and we there in no time. I felt a sense of achievement on reaching it and not to mention about the amazing view which is enough to pump energy into dullest of person.

Return hike was not very eventful, except for the fact that sun was going down quickly and the entire landscape which was bathed with soft evening light looked ever so beautiful.

<< Chitrakhana to Tali top (Day 3) Tali to Joshimath via Auli (Day 5) >>

Winter Adventure to Kuari pass - Tali to Joshimath via Auli (Day 5)

December 18, 2013

<< Tali camp to Kuari pass and back (Day 4) Back to Haridwar (Day 6) >>

The summit day is over and now its time to wrap up. Today's schedule is to hike across the beautiful meadows of Gurson back to Auli, where a car will be waiting for to drive us back to GMVN rest house at Joshimath. I am already dreaming of getting a hot shower. Morning starts with usual call of bed tea followed by delicious breakfast. The lunch was packed and we will be having it en route the hike. We are told that today it will be an easy hike involving couple of steep ascent and then its mostly decent.

As usual we started at around 8.15 AM to climb up back to lower Tali and then taking a trail towards Auli. I preferred to walk alone and enjoy the amazing views of the famous Nanda Devi sanctuary. In fact, for me this trail had best scenic views till now.  At certain places the trail was very narrow with deep valley on one side and it felt as if one was walking at the edge of the mountains. This was a thrilling experience.

From Tali top

Small lake on Tali

Enjoying view

Meadows of Gurson

Last point after which we descend to Auli 

Soon the trail closed into the woods and finally we could see signs of human habitation, we quickly descended across Auli ski resort and by this time my knees were almost turned into jelly. There was an option to get down via a rope-way chair and few fellow trekkers did try that out. I continued on foot and it took about half an hour to descend to the place where the cars were waiting to drive us back to GMVN rest house at Joshimath. During the half hour drive to the rest house I reviewed the photos that I had taken and dozed off for a while.

The trek is over and I was already thinking of worldly pleasures like hot shower, proper washroom, cushioned bed, blanket,TV (India Vs SA match), cellphone etc...but deep inside I felt a bit sad thinking of what I have to leave behind.

<< Tali camp to Kuari pass and back (Day 4) Back to Haridwar (Day 6) >>

Winter Adventure to Kuari pass - Back to Haridwar (Day 6)

December 18, 2013

<< Tali to Joshimath via Auli (Day 5)

Time so say goodbye to the Himalayas and head back to Haridwar. We all boarded the cars to start the gruelling journey back to Haridwar. The only thing that was different on the return journey was that hardly anyone spoke. May be we were too tired, but I think that most of us would be reflecting and thinking about those wonderful 5 days that we had spent together in the lap of nature.

As we were approaching Haridwar and leaving the grandeur of the Himalayas behind I really felt very nostalgic. It was the same feeling that kids get when summer vacation is over and its time to go back to school. “Vacation is over and time to get back to madness of work.”

Returning back to unenchanting plains from this amazing escape to nature makes me sad, but then I tell myself “Not yet…”, I will be back soon with new energy and on a new Himalayan slope.

Signing off for now with some of the pictures from this most memorable trip.

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