Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Epilogue (Sar Pass trek)

Day 11:

The day we took leave of Kasol, and the Himalayas, and begin our journey to our boring, monotonous, daily life was today for some of us. We woke up that day quite late and went to have breakfast in the hotel where we were joined by all. Remember Nikhi and I wanted to go to river rafting earlier, but didn’t, we had decided to go on day 11(today) and by now everyone wanted to do it too. So in a way it was good we didn’t go then ‘coz now we went with the whole gang :D. The para-gliding got left out though :( Boohoo :’(.

So morning we discussed our plans and I wanted to buy something from Kasol as a souvenir. Problem was we were all lacking money, we had brought some cash and got ATM cards but but but there are no ATMs in Kasol!!! You have to go upto Jari for that. So with what money we had, Keerthi and I went to the Kasol market to buy some stuff. I got a nice cosy shawl :) and I don’t remember what he got :P and after that he went in search of Ashwyn for some photos and he didn’t join us in the rafting. Nor did Pranav and Kalpit.

By the time I left Kasol, I had fallen in love with it, it s so beautiful and so nice after all. It was a place I could now reckon with. Sometimes, when I look back, other than the obvious feelings I get of returning there, and the Himalayas, I sometimes feel like I should settle down there or in Grahan eventually :).  When I told this to Keerthi later, he was kind enough to suggest an alternative profession for me :P. Kasol has the 2nd best hashish in the world and there are a lot of people selling this illegally(maybe) over there. So he suggested that I settle in Kasol and sell hashish for a living :O :O :O. And when I told Shyam about my ideas, he said that he would need a free supply of hashish when he comes next for trekking :P. So if you ever find me in Kasol, I would definitely not be selling anything :P. I think I should probably settle in Grahan and teach at the school there (Like Amir Khan in 3 idiots opening a school in Ladakh :P). Anyways that’s for future to decide :) :) :). Back to where we were.

We had missed the bus and we booked a vehicle to go to a rafting location in Bhunter (There are several). Since Jai and Rajni uncle didn’t want to do rafting and as the vehicle only accommodated 9 people, Nikhi, Naveen, Shyam, Nirav, Sandeep, Chatur, Yugi, Vikas and me set off. I slept through most of the journey and we withdrew money at Jari and finally reached the rafting location. We kept our luggage including the cameras and mobiles and took only Sandeep’s camera along so we hardly have any pics of the rafting. We had 2 rafts – Nikhi, Sandeep, Yugi, Naveen and Vikas got into one and Me, Shyam, Chatur and Nirav got into another. I don’t remember the level of rafting but it was not a difficult one. We went and the chilled water splashing on you rapidly is an awesome experience. I guess this was the Baes river. Rivers Parvati and Baes combine and then the water flows as Baes river. I can’t describe the rafting experience, you have to experience it yourself to know it :).

As we rafted, we chatted with our guide or boatman or however you describe him. He is the strong guy who does the actual oaring and has full control. We just do it in some parts as per his directions. He was a nice guy and he told he takes part in rafting competitions :). He said he was from Nepal and he asked us where we were from. For this Chatur gave such a fundoo reply that I still laugh when I think about it :D :D :D. Chatur replied “Bhaiya hum upar se hai, Sar Pass se”. Hahahahahhahahahahhahahaha Chatur had made us natives of Sar Pass just like that :D :D :D.  At one point we could get into the water. I don’t know to swim but wanted to get in the water too. So, trusting my life jacket, and the guide I got in holding the rope. If I had found the water chilling before, it appeared warm compared to what I felt now *Burrrhhhhhh*. I came back in the raft along with the others and now no more felt a chill when water splashed :D. We soon reached the end point which is a distance away from the starting point.

After having delicious pakodas here, we set off again but not in a raft this time but in  the back side of a transportation tempo :O. It was a extremely bumpy and Shyam the Sherpa hung out of the van for most part of the journey :D and here too, they drive like crazy on the narrow roads :D :D :D. Awesome :D. We reached the starting point, where we met some of our fellow SP22 mates who had come for rafting too. We bid adieu to them, changed(you have to get dry :P) and set off to find our boarding point for bus. We got into a local bus(but missed out sitting on the roof top because there was place inside to stand :( :( :( ). The one thing I remember was the songs being played in the bus were of Hindi movies of the 90s. It reminded us all of the school days since these were the songs we grew up listening to :). We finally reached the boarding place which was some hotel. Keerthi, Sudhakar, Manju, Ashwyn and Neeloy were already here, each with a  colourful long beaded string from some part of their hair and Keerthi with a colourful goatee :D :D ). We had dosas there (inspite of my protests ) and soon the buses arrived.

Sandeep, Nirav, Shyam had decided to go to Manali. Initially, Nikhi and I had this plan too, but we had to collect her luggage from her friend in Delhi and since I had not seen Delhi before, we decided to spend the next day in Delhi before returning to Bangalore the day after. We later learnt that going to Manali would be a waste because it was spoilt with the tourism and we had seen the upper Himalayas. So they bid farewell to us and Keerthi and Naveen got into their bus for Delhi and Nikhi and I got into ours.

As we left, we were not just leaving the Himalayas , but also a bunch of very good friends. We of course stay in touch :P thanks to social networking and mobiles etc etc but it still isn’t the same as up there in the mountains :). Thinking of the days spent there, always brings a big smile to my face :).

Thats all folks ;)

Miles to go before I sleep - Part 9 - Back to Kasol

Disclaimer: This is not an instruction on how to do a Sar Pass trek. This is more about the experience of doing it. Each group and each member of each group has their own memories. These are mine :)

The preceding parts:
Part 1:
Part 4:
Miles to go before I sleep - Part 7
Part 8:
Miles to go before I sleep - Part 8

Return to Base Camp:
Day 10:

Woke up that day thinking we are returning to base camp today. It was mixed emotions. You don’t want to leave the mountains but you want to return back to civilization too and have a bath(It had been 6-7 days since last bath 
:( ). I remember having noodles for breakfast that day. We formed our lines, took the counts(Our number significantly reduced since many people had left the previous day) and we set off again, chatting, laughing, joking, the usual. We met some locals on the way, there was a man who had his baby tied to his back, saw some animals. One moment Naveen would be behind us and next, he would have reached ahead of us due to his superb trekking skills :). And walking along, we finally reached some civilization.
Back to civilization
We had to stop to let them pass

We had to walk through it to reach the Barshani Road head. I found walking on the roads irritating, I preferred the uneven earth. We were too tired by the time we reached the road. The plan was to travel via bus to Manikaren(17km) and then trek to Kasol Base Camp(5km). We decided not to wait for bus and booked a vehicle to take us directly to Kasol(We were too tired!). After we sat in the vehicle, about a 100 meter away was the parked bus and near it we saw the people who had reached earlier, amoung them Shyam, Yugi and Kalpit. I remember Shyam saying to us, “Saalo main tum logon ke liye bus chod ke yahan khada hu aur tum log mujhe chod ke jarahe ho” :D. We waved to him and left. Riding along we finally reached Kasol. Needless to say the accompanying scenery was good, but now that we had seen the higher Himalayas, this beauty looked quite ordinary :O. Its all about perspective after all.
Base camp again

When I saw the base camp, I felt like I had come back home :), even though we had stayed there for only 3 days before we lelft, and this was my 1st visit to the place. Maybe it was the return to civilization and the crowd :S. Reached base camp all sweaty and dirty, after some time we were joined by the people who came in the bus. After doing the formalities, we chatted with the Field Director, our batch mates and now we were the ones giving advice and tips and tricks to the batches going next day :D :D :D. It feels great to do that. We are after all experienced now :P.
Lunch point in base camp

We soon had lunch and now the temperature of Kasol felt quite hot contrary to the cold we had felt when we had come here. But then again, that journey had been from Delhi up to Kasol, and this journey was from Sar Pass to Kasol(13800Ft to 6500ft). The water now was no more chilling, it appeared normal, it didn’t leave me numb now :D :D :D. Due to some reasons, we decided to check into a hotel that night instead of staying in the tent, and the others decided to do that too. We went out and met the rest of the gang in a cafĂ© where the food was quite okay. We found a nice hotel and Nikhi and I checked into a room while the guys checked into the others in pairs. Amar decided to leave that day itself to Delhi after collecting her certificate. We went back to base camp for the valedictory function(Fire fire camp fire) and had fun shouting the nicknames as each of us were called. Only our group(nicknamed the tent 14 gang) was left for the function. Culprit gave some thank you speech and my name was spelled wrong in the certificate :(. Mithun Sir corrected it and gave me a new certificate and told us to add him to the Sarpass group that we would create for our batch :). 

10 days back we had come here with with expectations and hopes and of not knowing what exactly we would find. Now we had returned back, triumphed, having SarPass-ed successfully (Well that’s not the right word but I like to use it :P). The trek met my expectations more than ever, except for a snow fall :(. But probably, next time I would experience it. Oh yeah I want to return back again to do it  again and again and again:). I have fallen in love with the mighty Himalayas, its pure and unadulterated beauty, the delicious water (though the water taste of Belgaum comes 2nd, which I always loved is now replaced with the taste of the roaring Parvati river), the joy of walking through the mountains and the snow, not a care in the world, the awesome friends I made there in such a short span of time whom I will cherish forever :), and as Calvin says, having made my knees green daily so that I need not re-examine my life :) :) :).

That ends my tale of Sar Pass trek but the journey doesn’t end here, I have an epilogue left (in which I am going to bore you with my love for Kasol) :P, so bear with me a little longer :P.

Thats all folks ;)

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Miles to go before I sleep - Part 8 - Picture Perfect

Disclaimer: This is not an instruction on how to do a Sar Pass trek. This is more about the experience of doing it. Each group and each member of each group has their own memories. These are mine :)

The preceding parts:
Part 1:
Part 4:

Next Destination: Bandak Thatch - Ht. 8000 ft. (10 kms) 6 hrs
Day 9:

When we came to Biskeri Thatch, we had descended to 11000Ft. It was all descend now(Cmon, you have to come back some day :P). 
Next day I woke up earlier than usual and I was off mood that day because I had fever. I wished that that day itself we were in Bandak Thatch and that we were returning to Kasol that day(Fever makes you stupid :( ) . As we had tea all of us gathered and chatted. We knew that Aniket and his brother Aniruddh had left the previous day itself but the details we came to know now. They had to descend until they hit the main road. There was no other way to go and since Aniket’s shoulder was dislocated the guides could carry him in only some places. He himself had to walk most of the time. And they walked all night stopping and going again!!!! He was then admitted to a hospital for a day in Kullu.
Biskeri Thatch top view
Pintya (Our guide)

And we started off again after forming the usual lines and walked, me having taken a paracetamol. The accompanying scenery was beautiful. We walked on green grass with distant snow capped mountains catching our eyes. We walked and walked until we reached a certain point which made us rappel down. What we had learnt on day 3 came in handy now. But this one was a bit difficult than the one we had practiced on as the surface was uneven.  Naveen having reached down already gave us tips and tricks while, Shyam and Keerthi had gone to a narrow wooden bridge and sat photographing. Meanwhile Nirav found an axe somewhere :O. Shyam helped us all cross the bridge which was very narrow. On the other end we saw that the river that was flowing had a cover of ice on the mountain side, below which it flew freely. After resting and having the delicious water, we started off again.
View on the way 

That white thing above the water was ice
By now I was too tired due to the fever and Naveen, Keerthi and Shyam(whom I had already burdened with my camera :( ) insisted that I give my rucksack to them. I kept refusing and fighting them off. They gave me extra time to rest. As I kept refusing to allow them to carry my rucksack, once Shyam snatched it which I took back and then finally Keerthi snatched it from me and set off fast so that I couldn’t take it back. I finally had to give in and in a way I was thankful to them. I could walk faster now and save their time too. I was really stupid and silly that day(I am not gonna mention what though :P) and I blame the fever for it :P. We finally reached the camp site and it was nothing like we had ever seen before. Beautiful meadow, distant snow capped mountains, a few tents propped up,. We passed mules and some other animals grazing the grass as we reached this. I was beautiful, mesmerizing, call it whatever, God at his/her artistic best :).

Bandak Thatch camp site

Picture perfect. 
Can you imagine a more beautiful place? I wish I had a house here and also a helicopter for transportation. Now that I am wishing for things, I might as well wish for powers of Superman to fly so that I can fly on my own and save petrol :P

Around 30 of our batch-mates had decided to reach the base camp that day itself instead of the next day, including the group leader. This camp was optional and you could still get your certificates on missing it, but who goes there for certificate? This is beauty at its best :). So they went off and only a few of us were left behind and Rajni uncle being the deputy group leader was left in charge. Since it was the last day, the guides(who had carried the luggage) wanted to have a game of cricket that day :). And they asked for spare socks(which I think someone gave of Chatur without his knowledge :D ) which they converted into a good cricket ball. I wanted to play but couldn’t and so along with Nikhi and Amar watched from a side. There was 1 game followed by rain and then another. The camp leader had told us not to sit on the stones here as the locals considered the stones to be God. So we oblidged and sat on the soft grass and as always had an awesome time.

Since the population was half , we had extra sleeping bags today and I used one as a mattress :D. Next day we would be bidding adieu to this awesome place to go back to base camp.

Thats all folks ;)

Monday, 3 October 2011

Miles to go before I sleep - Part 7 - Up above the world so high!

Disclaimer: This is not an instruction on how to do a Sar Pass trek. This is more about the experience of doing it. Each group and each member of each group has their own memories. These are mine :)

The preceding parts:
Part 1:
Part 4:

Via Sar Pass to Biskeri Thatch: (13800 ft.) (09 kms)
Day 8:

Finally the day(night actually) arrived where we were to set out on the Sar Pass. I woke up all dizzy and unsteady that day. Our tent was on a slope and all the blood had rushed to my head as I slept. As I woke up the world revolved around me. I went out and told the camp leader about it. He told me to have breakfast and then he would decide if I should continue. I was determined that come what may, I am going to continue going further. We all got ready and I walked along with Naveen and Keerthi(both of whom were strong trekkers) and they became my guardian angels for the day :). They were both extremely patient and walked slowly with me allowing me to rest as we set off at 4am that day, over-clothed to keep away the cold, with  torch lights in hand, walking on the snow with the Sherpas(Nepali sherpas) leading the way. As we moved along we got our feeling of snow and walked along. Soon we were slipping and sliding (atleast I was). The reason for the early start that day rather than the usual 8am(or 9am in case of the day we set off for Nagaru) was that we had to cover the snow before the sun came out. Because after that, the sun starts melting the snow and the foot slips.

Started walking at 4am torches in hand, and left Nagaru camp and clouds behind and below :)
This particular cloud is called Cumulonimbus cloud. It is almost always associated with thunderstorms. We saw it as we left for Sarpass(Pic by Keerthi)

We walked in single lines(Pic by Naveen)

We walked in a single file and we were instructed to put our footsteps in the same places where the guide had put his. They know the way best and it is important to follow this when walking on snow since you cannot predict what was below you. As we walked we were awestruck by the beauty, we saw the sky had some orange clouds(Cumulonimbus  ) and yeah, now we were above the clouds :) :) :). The feeling is awesome, over-whelming :). On and on we walked. Today Sudhakar, Manju and Shyam had volunteered to come last. Soon people were slipping and falling on the snow and so did I. Each tiem one of the Sherpa guides helped me up and he was a really nice guy. I fell a lot of times that left certain parts of me numb and cold! We finally reached the part where it was all snow (clean snow :) ) and the guides gave us some time to enjoy the beauty, photograph and play in it .
One of my favourite pics of the trek. Clicked in a single shot by Keerthi and planned well by him. (Ofcourse Chatur wanted to do something different so he attempted to go in the snow instead :D )

Some history before we continue: As per the local accent, Sar means a lake and while trekking, across the route from Nagaru to Biskeri Ridge, we have to cross a small frozen lake known as Sar. Hence this destination named Sar Pass (which also happens to be the name of the trek).

So back to where we were.  We clicked crazy photographs, Naveen did an awesome single hand somersault, I poked my wooden stick in Pranav like a spear and Keerthi directed and clicked an awesome photograph. Off we went again with hopes to cover maximum snow before 8am. As we walked I slipped a lot of times and fell. I remarked to the guide that I was falling many times than others he said “Par barf pe girne mein toh maza aata hai na madam :)”. Now when I look back I am glad I fell so many times, it was a nice and different feeling (but numb too), but that was the only day I could experience that :). And I enjoyed myself tremendously :). How lucky he was that he could play in the snow every year!!!! As the guide helped me cross a particularly slippery bit of snow(I still hadn’t got my footing on snow) I said to him “Aap bhi sochte honge hum kahan se aate hain, hame toh barf pe chalna bhi nahi aata” to which he replied with a smile, “Aap log aate hai toh hame kaam milta hai”. Thus chatting with him, we reached the resting point where we had lunch(which was some of the rock found amidst the snow). Today’s lunch was something different – some biscuits and other high calorie snacks(The daily food was high in calories too. We were advised throughout the trek to have liquids and sweets a lot). C’mon you can’t expect to be given parathas at 4am in the morning. Maybe I haven’t mentioned this before – the camp leaders, sirs who teach rock climbing, cooks etc are volunteers :). Hats off to these people, who stay there in the extreme cold so that we can enjoy the 5-star trek. All you pay for the trek is a mere 3050Rs!!!
View from lunch point after having walked this part(the faint line that you can see is made by our footsteps)

After everyone reached the lunch point, we set off again eagerly to reach the surpass sliding point from where we would slide down 80feet in the snow!!! Some of the first batches that year who had started in 1st week of may had a longer sliding distance due to the presence of more snow (A lot of snow had melted for our batch which was at the end of may). We heard that they had reached sliding to the lunch point which was probably 500feet :O :O :O (Lucky guys!!!). I forgot to mention, before we had reached the resting point, Shyam the Sherpa had climbed a small hill and slid down the mini slide. He told us it was awesome. As we went up, one of the guides came back to return the way we had come. He walked down the sloping mountain with 2 sticks :O :O :O :O :O. 
Walking towards sliding point

Trotting along we finally reached the sliding point which was a 100 meter away to our right. As we sat and watched the other people, slide off we realized we were on the highest point of the sar pass trek(I guess) ,a freaking 13800Ft :).  One by one our group mates slid down. After a while we set off to the place from where we slid. Soon it was my turn and I positioned myself. As the guide removed his foot, I started sliding down. It was an awesome, out-of-the-world experience(Gosh now as I write about it, I feel like doing it again right now!!!) . I slowed down as I reached where some of them stood to avoid crashing into them.

Check out the sarpass slide video:

When I reached there I saw a small crowd. One guy, Aniket had got a dislocated shoulder as he slid down :(. Rajni uncle asked me and everyone else who came down if anyone knew how to fix a dislocated shoulder. Unfortunately, no one knew and as luck would have it, there was no doctor in our group. By now Nikhi had come down and she had hurt her shoulder too(thankfully it wasn’t much in her case). Aniket was in too much pain and Rajni uncle, Keerthi, Naveen, Sudhakar, Manju, Pranav (sorry if I missed out anyone) were doing their best to help him in any way they could. They wrapped his arm in crape and did a sling for the shoulder. Meanwhile Shyam was helping the other people who was behind us and he soon joined us. We still had a large distance to cover before reaching lunch point and even more distance to reach the Biskeri Thatch camp. It would soon start raining and also the snow was melting now. As these guys were helping out Aniket, Rajni uncle told me, Nikhi and Sandeep to start moving along with him. The snow was slippery and soon it started raining. A rain the likes of which we had never experienced before. It was all hailstones hitting us hard(It hurts ouch!). I walked along with Rajni uncle and Sandeep helped Nikhi whose shoulder was hurting. Walking in that hard hitting rain is horrible, especially on snow. The added hailstones make the surface even more slippery while the sun melts the snow. I half walked, where it was sloppy, I chose to slide since I found that easier than walking on the snow(even though I was wet and cold). 

On and on we went, I still hadn’t learnt how to walk on snow and was falling very few steps. At one point I walked along holding someone’s hand so that I could cover the distance fast. We had taken a longer route (due to lack of directions) and reached the place where we could see the frozen lake while Keerthi, Naveen,Shyam, Manju, Pranav, Kalpit and the guides came along the recommended route walking along with Aniket who was walking in pain. They were giving him words of encouragement all the time because the only way out of there was walking. We finally reached the lunch point soaking wet and cold. It was almost 3PM by the time we reached the lunch point because of the misadventure. 

During our orientation, the Field Director had told us that our group will be like our family during the trek. Because there will be no one else on the mountains for anything. This is a fine example for this :). Everyone was hungry and cold and tired, but they all focused on getting Aniket safe to the lunch point where they hoped some medical help would be available. These guys had a tough time due to the hailstone filled rain and they had to constantly move slowly since they couldn’t carry him nor could they allow him to rest for fear of hypothermia.  Someone had contacted ahead, and Aniket’s brother and his friends who had come ahead were waiting and they took over from there to the camp site and finally Keerthi, Naveen,Shyam, Manju, Sudhakar, Pranav, Kalpit, Rajni uncle(who was infact diabetic) could rest and we all sat down to eat maggi in the tent. We were all sooooo cold and drenched. I was shivering like anything and Nikhi tried rubbing my hands to stop me from shivering. Keerthi had a headache due to cold and hunger and I don’t remember who else was suffering from what. Finally we set off again, hoping not to hit any more rain. We had had enough of it. 

Nikhi’s shoulder was still hurting and she still had the cough as we moved on from lunch point to the camp site. She, Sandeep, Shyam, Pranav, Kalpit were all coming chatting while Keerthi made me run a lot as he, Naveen and I went ahead chatting. Oh yeah, Keerthi was wearing his Poncho which made him look like a ghost :D. We finally reached the campsite. And got into our respective tents all wet and cold and had the delicious pakodas. It was very slippery due to the rain and many of us slipped and skidded on the mud as we went to collect water and stuff. 
Night view of Biskeri Thatch (Pic by Keerthi)

Off we went thinking tomorrow we would be going to Bandak Thatch which is called the Switzerland of India, because of the beautiful meadows there. 

Thats all folks ;)