Instead of the heels, I had Crampon on my feet.
Instead of dancing the night away, I was climbing the snow trails at 4:00AM.
Instead of my cocktail, there was ORS and Chai.
Instead of the pretty birthday dress, I had 5 layer of clothes on me.
Instead of being surrounded by the familiar, I was with a bunch of 12 awesome strangers.
This was my 30th birthday and I was literally was on top of the world!
Always ahead of the trek group. The fittest and fastest among all. A few kilometres or a steep ascent doesn’t make you break into a sweat. From time to time you turn around to look at the group lagging behind and shake your head in disdain.
No this wasn’t me. Not even a close description of me.
This was the guy who was right in front of my trek group and this is me assuming what he must have thought. Because from where I usually was, I couldn’t even catch a glimpse of him. I am one of those slugs who is always right behind. More by reality than by choice. I am what people call, every trek leader’s nightmare!
It was less than a month to my birthday. Lately I had been sick of the same city life, same routine, and the same old rituals. I didn’t want to celebrate “my new year” dancing after getting sloshed and not knowing when I got older. Plus it was my 30th birthday and it had to be special. In short, that was one of the reasons how I ended up here. Roopkund trek in May. As per the articles I had read and the feedback I got from people, this was a moderate trek. I mean I could manage moderate. But we shall come back to this later.
Here I was, day 1 between Loharjung and Didna village. During the briefing everything sounded simple. We go downhill and then uphill. Repeat. Done. Well I did manage downhill but literally had to crawl uphill. By now, we all knew who the “nightmare” of our group was.
I was with a bunch of 15 men. 12 trekkers from various state capitals of India, 2 guides and 1 trek leader. A small group actually. The next day also was supposed to be easy day, just an uphill climb and straight ahead to the meadows of Ali Bugyal. By the time I managed to reach the top of the hill, I realized no uphill climb is easy. It wasn’t so steep but I huffed and puffed my lung out and prayed for a break every 5 minutes.
But the guide wasn’t kidding. Once on the top, it is just a slow walk onto the vast meadows of Ali Bugyal. A bit of trivia here, Ali Bugyal and its twin meadow Bedni Bugyal make up for Asia’s largest meadow. Vast it was. If I was any rounder, I could have easily rolled on till our camp site.
This is the point where for once you actually can look up and soak in the first view of the Himalayan mountain range and peaks like Trishul and Nanda Ghunti.
Once at camp site, it was the same routine. Quick lunch by 1PM, medical check (oxygen and pulse) at 3PM, acclimatisation walk at 4PM, tea and snacks at 5PM, soup at 6PM, dinner by 7PM and bed by 8PM. In between we played UNO. And at the cost of many eye rolls from my trek mates, I can say that I was, and am the undisputed UNO champion.
I am a city girl, again not by choice, and you cannot expect me to sleep at 8PM. For a while I rolled around, twisted and turned trying to adjust sleeping in the tent which was strategically placed on the slope of the hill. But after a while of grumbling, I had no idea when tiredness took over and I crashed for the night.
Day 3 of our trek, we walked towards Patar Nachni. The route takes you above Bedni Bugyal towards Ghora Lotani and for quite a while we are quietly followed by Blackie Rambo II. The furry, squishy pahadi dog.
Two days back, while chatting up with the two friends from Chennai, I asked them, what made them come for this trek, pat came the answer, “We wanted to see snow. We have never seen snow in our life!” Well boys, today was the day we would encounter snow patches. And believe me for some random reason I was more excited about these two experience snow for the first time.
But I have to say it was rather disappointing. They saw snow, smiled and looked rather normal. Or maybe that was how they expressed their ecstasy. I wouldn’t know.
Before I could even finish dissecting the emoting behaviour of the two Chennai boys, we were at Ghora Lotani. In literal translation, this is the place from where all the horses (ghodas) return (lautani) because it is generally full of snow. Ok, let us not glorify them by calling them horses, they are mules but boy they work so hard, I would gladly call them Hercules too.
From here it was all the way downhill to Patar Nachni. In all honesty, I think I liked this camp site way better than the one at Ali Bugyal. It was on the meadows bursting with flora in all colours and had an uninterrupted view of the snow clad mountain. Even the tiny make shift toilet tent had an awesome view and was surrounded by little pink and yellow flowers. Prettiness added to make the lonely business a pleasant experience.
Now that we are on the toilet topic, when camping you do your business in shifty, could-collapse-anytime type of zip down tents with a small mud pit in the middle. Now it would be your good luck if the pit is deep enough and you don’t get to see the remnants of others disposal. Oh and did I mention, it is dry rolls all the way. Paper cuts can be a pain down there. After a while I was so shameless, I even borrowed toilet paper roll from the guys in my group who were absolute strangers 3 days back. *Trek Bonding*
Patar Nachni is an important base camp because all the teams that go ahead have to come back here. And if for any reason, anyone fails to reach the oxygen level of 75 or does not want to go ahead, can also stay back here.
Unfortunately we had two trek members who could not join us further on this trek and returned the next day itself. Maybe the fact that our dining tent nearly blew away and the cold due to the snow storm the previous evening became unbearable was enough to change some minds.
This was also the only point where I completely doubted my ability to go further. I did share my concern with my trek leader but somehow he seemed more confident about me than I was of me!
We went ahead nonetheless. 13 of us slowly clambered towards Kalu Vinayak, which was at 14,000 feet.
On the way, we stopped a lot. To catch our breath mostly. And every time we stopped, our older local guide Virendarji with his mouth slightly open would quickly scan his eyes and fingers through the nearest patch of grass around. He, like many other local people you would see on the way were searching for the ‘keerajari’. A plant that grows on an insect and is only found in this region when the snow is just about melting. Each of these small plant-insect costs INR 500 upwards. Apparently it is in major demand by the Chinese. Some say it gives you immense sexual vitality while others say it is used as a steroid for strength and goes undetected.
After the long climb to the ridge, we were greeted by the old Ganesha idol at Kalu Vinayak temple. After seeking blessing for our quest to reach their summit, we continued to our base camp Bhagwabasa. This was also the place where we got to experience how to use crampons.
From here to our next camp site, Bhagwabasa it was snow just fields in sight. Undoubtedly, this was the most surreal camp site I had ever been to. Located on the edge of the mountain, it provided a panoramic view of the Himalayan range.
During the acclimatisation walk at Bhagwabasa, we are supposed to climb the little snow hill behind the camp. And as tempting it might be to slide down, this was by far the worst idea ever. I, along with my 3 layer of quick drying clothes were completely soaked.
In the wet clothes, we had a crash course on walking up, down and sideways on the steep snow slopes. The wet clothes clung to our legs and bum, freezing us further as the sun went down.
The evening was quickly enveloped in the snow storm and later by the quick conquering darkness. Tomorrow was the day we would make the summit climb. Just the thought gave me goosebumps, or maybe it was the cold, I didn’t care. It was my birthday the next day too. It was going to be an epic fail or just simply EPIC!
That night was the worst night ever. Not only was sleeping on snow weird, I felt suffocated, pukey, restless, cold all at the same time. I only remember waking up from time to time, switching on my headlamp to take a quick look at the time. I don’t even know if I slept at all. Anyway we had to wake up by 3:00AM. We had to make a move by 4:00AM while the snow was still hard. By 2:30AM I was wide awake and had already made two trips to the rickety bathroom tent on ice. It was freezing cold, and the snow was gleaming under the night sky. It was clearest sky I had ever seen in ages. Then it dawned on, it was my birthday! I had lost touch of reality in the last few days.
One last medical check. Unfortunately, this time too we had to leave another man behind. Now it was 12 men and me. Together we moved ahead of the other trek group at Bhagwabasa. It was an experience to start climbing towards the summit during complete darkness. The snow was hard which made walking with crampons easier. We tugged ahead slowly and steadily. The cold wind was turning my thoughts into icicles. After a while I could not feel my nose or cheeks.
The distance between the Roopkund summit and camp didn’t look much but after a walking on the snow for a while and experiencing its steepness, it did feel tiresome. Every step seemed like a task. As we walked on it just got steeper and all I could hear was my own breathing.
The pukey feeling won’t go and I was dizzy. Slowly I could see everyone from my team move up ahead until I was the last one, right at the back. It was becoming a struggle. I was three fourth of the way when I realized I could not go any further. It was then our trek leader Arjun came back and literally pushed me mentally and physically to go on. I think this is what differentiates a good trek leader from others. This guy took my oxygen level to check if I was fine. 85. That minute he started telling me about how awesome the view was from the top and how all the guys were waiting for me, how I have got to eat dalia (porridge) at 15, 700 feet and how we have to make it up and how we cannot quit now.
I think this was the point where I realized that the body only does what the mind wants it to. If the mind gives up so does the body. Somehow my body had given up but my mind just wouldn’t. Staggering throughout, with the last few steps I did make it to the top just to be received with a warm welcome from all the guys. It was an insane feeling of achievement. It was here at 15, 700 feet that I not only ate dalia but also celebrated my birthday.
This was the birthday where I literally was on top of the world!
In the midst of all that celebrations, I nearly forgot about the famous kund. As much hype there is around the ‘Skeleton Lake’, from the top it looked like a puddle since the snow had buried the hundred or so 9th century skeletons which is otherwise strewn around.
But as the law of gravity goes, what goes up must come down. And though I thought coming down would be a cake walk, it wasn’t. Ascending from Roopkund to Bhagwabasa to Patar Nachni in one day and then again from Patar Nachni to Bedni Bugyal to Wan village in one day was not an easy task.
I limped my way back home. Literally. By the time I finished the trek both my knees were terribly out of shape and my feet swollen. Let me not even talk about the tan that has changed my colour forever. Overall, no way was this trek a moderate one. Definitely somewhere between moderate and difficult and if you are not really that fit, Super Difficult!
All throughout the return journey, as I reach the melting plains of home, I wondered if Virenderji finally did find his keera-jari, if the groups after us reached the summit too, if the Chennai boys would come again to see the snow and how long before I would be back in the mountains.
Some answers I wouldn’t know but I certainly hoped for the best.
As of now, I have started yoga and running, taking in deep breaths and taking my baby steps towards getting ready for another summit, next birthday!
This trek was organised by Trek The Himalayas. You can find details on this trek and many other awesome treks on their website http://www.trekthehimalayas.com/ or FB page. It was my first time with them and I highly recommend them because as a solo girl trekker in a group of men, everyone from the trek leader to the local guide to the other members of the TTH were brilliant!