Izzat Ansari, Green trails co-ordinator at Indiahikes was part of the exploratory team that trekked to Buran Ghati in June 2014. Here’s her experience in her own words. Take a look at Izzat’s trek diary.
The entire trek was a constant flux. Beauty and duty, heart and head, dream and reality. We were here to document –remember? Find a new trail. Lighten the load on Rupin and Roopkund. But every now and then – this thought vanished from my head as I was literally catapulted out of reality so frequently.
Initially there was this crazy to and fro –
until I actually let go.
Duality is a human creation
In nature -all is one.
Now thinking back and reliving the dream – my heart pounds in anticipation
Come join me on my trek. Bring your heart along!
JOURNEY TO JANGLIK
Getting to the base of any trek takes effort and time. The long journey from Bangalore – Chandigarh – Shimla – Parali – Rohru – Janglik took 2 days – though we flew to Chandigarh. Yes, the mountains extract their pound of flesh – but it’s a pound anyone will give – over and over again – for the joy it promises.
Chandigarh to Shimla by local bus was hot but beautiful – right from the endless mango orchards of Chandigarh’s outskirts to the winding mountain roads as we escaped the heat of the lower towns. A traffic jam delayed us for 2 hours and we reached Shimla tired and hungry. Finding a place to refresh ourselves and rest a while was almost impossible since it was the tourist season. We got some boiled eggs and bread from a roadside vendor. Simple but nutritious.
From here we took another bus to Rohru – but had to get off at Parali and wait for some vehicle going towards Rohru. Two young lads in their pick up vehicle offered us a ride. I sat in front while Arjun and Kashi stood at the back – enjoying the breeze and beauty. We took the short-cut and this was easily the prettiest countryside and village views I have seen so far. The two lads offered me snacks and put on some enchanting local music. A puncture midway offered us a chance to interact with few village people and also observe an over enthusiastic car washing process. The boys refused to take any payment for dropping us at Rohru -which was quite touching.
Here we were received by Pankaj ( our guide) and Yogi ( the technical guide). They stocked up groceries and other material needed for the trek and off we left for Janglik. We passed through small villages like Tikri, Dhamwari, Rami, Humlatu and Chirgaun – which is a junction and a place where supplies can also be bought. After this what was supposed to be a pleasant ride almost turned into a nightmare – with an young 18/20 year old at the wheels negotiating hairpin bends at 45 to 60 degree angles. The vehicle kept going off exactly at steep turns that were sloping dangerously with no road behind – just a long drop. At one point, the boy got off on a slope – while waiting for someone to come -and forgot to put on the hand brakes. Even now I break into cold sweat remembering that ride and that back slide!
Reaching Janglik was like reaching land after a sea storm. It was dark, cool and welcoming. We freshened up, had warm delicious dinner, planned for the next day and slept like logs.
Early next morning, camera in hand, I walked through Janglik. It is the last village accessible by road and is 400-500 years old with about 200 houses and a school. Wisps of smoke rose from few huts. An old woman offered to take me around the village and seemed happy to be able to talk to someone from the lands of far beyond. She was joined by few other women – who took a break from carrying stones to a new hut under construction. They were very curious. “Where are you going?”
My arms pointed towards the snow capped mountains behind them. Their hands moved gently over their old tired knees but their eyes twinkled – hundred untold stories in them.The old lady held my arm and took me to the village temple. Standing behind me on the temple steps at Janglik, she urged me to bow down before the Goddess there. “She will keep you safe”, she said. “There are dark clouds up ahead and I heard the snow is deep. Why don’t you rest a while – few days at least?”
I told her I must go – could tarry no more
When the heart and head come together
there is no more formidable foe.
I felt she understood. She smiled silently and walked away.I returned to the homestay, had an ice cold bath and hot breakfast and eagerly looked forward to getting started on the trek. With a song in my heart and a prayer on my lips – I strapped on my backpack and picked up my pole. This was it!
JANGLIK TO DAYARA
I know the first part of a trek is a different experience for each person. It’s an intense ‘me’ time. The first strain on the muscles, the fleeting doubts of fitness and safety, the first struggle of the lungs to wake up and expand as the enthusiasm of getting started leaves one feeling winded. This period was very short lived though – as I was instantly hit by the beauty all around. Fields of grain, corn, tulsi and rajma with a profusion of flowers and herbs strewn all along the path transported me out of myself directly into a fairy tale!
So off we trooped in single file
Over hedges and fields -nimble and agile
Gazing at distant mountains for a while
Each face aglow – wrapped in a smile
The trek to Dayara just blew my mind. The entire trail and its surroundings were covered with flowers- yellow, white and purple – interspersed with wild Brahmi, tulsi and myriads of sweet smelling herbs. Every little stream was covered with bright yellow flowers. They’d catch your eye from a distance and you’d know you’ve found fresh crystal ice cold water. These streams are all over the place – so carrying water is not necessary at all.
Random stone huts in the middle of nowhere added to the fairly tale set up. I felt I was walking through my favourite childhood story books full of mystery, beauty and adventure. Eager to see what comes next my heart was racing in anticipation. The exquisite setting of the river on the right, forests of oak and pine, rocky boulders, bursts of open spaces, and the grand ending of chapter 1 – when we emerged from a stream crossing and a long climb through the folds of the mountain to a breathtaking expanse of meadows.
We were welcomed to Dayara, our first campsite, by a gentle drizzle and sheep grazing lazily. What a sight we beheld! Wide open meadows surrounded by undulating green hills on the left and a fortress of the stark Sundru mountain peaks striped with snow on the right – with the valley opening up ahead beckoning us onward. Too perfect! Too beautiful!
We pitched our tents and relaxed our tired muscles. The evening was perfect too with animated conversations, delicious hot dinner that we all helped in making and a roaring bon-fire that countered the chilly winds and slight drizzle.Later snuggling into my warm sleeping bag, like a caterpillar in a cocoon, I slipped into dreamless sleep.
DAYARA TO LITHAM
It was 4.20 am and I was wide awake. It looked so bright from inside the yellow tent. I peered out – such a bright dawn! The night drizzle had cleared the clouds and soon the lighting was perfect for sunrise pictures. Walking a short distance away I sat on a rock, gazing at the peaks ahead being lit up in gold. Time stood still… Moments of sheer connection like this, with the true self and its Creator, is what brings me back to the mountains again and again. Anyone who tastes its sweetness will not barter it away for anything.
We set off at 8. The initial climb was gentle as we left the meadows behind and entered a dense forest of oak and pine. The soil was damp and the aroma of the herbs and wet fallen leaves intensified the sudden change from open green meadows to dark forest. Emerging from the forest which continued on our left we crossed a stream and rested briefly to quench our thirst. The water was so cold I got an instant cold headache – so kept taking small sips and warming it in my mouth before swallowing. After this, we’d fill a little water at each stream and wait for it to warm a bit before drinking.We continued up the fold of the mountain walking along the green hills bedecked with flowers of all hues and as we emerged round a curve we were greeted by the Dhauladhar range before us. Each of us kept our own paces. I was still with my own thoughts and did not feel like talking. Words are so limiting and absolutely inadequate to describe the experience. They actually limit the experience.
I remember feeling a strong sense of gratitude – towards everyone and everything – and that felt like soaring – a feeling I felt in many dreams and was now experiencing in reality.The climb was gradual and easy so we could take in all the beauty before us before entering another forest – this time of centuries old silver birch trees rising majestically above us and the sound of the gushing river on our right. We then crossed another stream and gradually climbed to open grasslands with cliffs on the right. A landslide crossing brought in a change to the otherwise perfect trail.
We continued down to a stream – up again – the river beside us all the time now – emerging and disappearing under snow bridges playing hide and seek with us. It was magical seeing water gush out from under snow and ice and disappear again to re emerge later as we moved deeper and deeper into the abode of snow! Tiny waterfalls and streams appeared out of nowhere – with tiny flourishes of nature’s wand! I felt like a child again.
Litham, our next campsite became visible in the distance almost an hour before we reached it – but nothing prepared us for competition it put up against Dayara. If Dayara was cheesecake and mulberry sauce this was a dessert buffet. It’s variety and little imperfections made it even more appealing and absorbing. Big rocks strewn on the clearing, two serpentine streams looking like bright yellow garlands and the Pabbar roaring on the right flanked by majestic mountains disappearing under the beginning of the snow line just ahead in the valley.I felt so humbled. All this just for us? Such a feast! Such a banquet! Nature never holds back – it gives entirely!
LITHAM to CHANDRANAHAN AND BACK
Due to rains we had to change our plans of going to Chandranahan that same day and decided to go early next morning. This in retrospect was a good decision as the trek to Chandranahan took double the predicted time and was much further than we expected.
So we spent the evening talking, sharing jokes and listening to Kashi’s neverending super entertaining stories of different cases he encountered in his practise of Law. Arjun’s description of the stories leading to the birth of Indiahikes were inspiring and humbling as always. I’ve heard them a couple of times and it always has a strong impact.
There was just one problem – Kashi’s craving for fish! Here we were in the middle of nowhere and he kept on talking obsessively about fish – recipes- how to cook it and on and on.
So early next morning after having some porridge we set off for Chandranahan lake. From the campsite we could see the snout of a waterfall and assumed the lake was just ahead of that. But once we reached the snout, after a steep climb, we were surprised to see no lake in sight. We rested a while in that pristine spot and then set off again- over snowfields, rocky ledges covered with flowers and few boulder crossings with the river gushing along on the right – looking out for the elusive lake.
Chandranahan lake seemed almost ethereal as we approached it– set in a glacial nest – surrounded by prayer pillars and other symbols of spiritual adoration. This lake feeds the Pabbar river and is considered sacred by the local people.We rested a while, did our usual documentation with video, camera and GPS and gorged on the snacks we carried along as we left without breakfast – thinking we’d be back in about 2/3 hours.
The trek back seemed to take much longer. After shooting a couple more videos we arrived at the campsite – or bodies craving rest and food. We had brunch, packed up our stuff and set off once again on the actual trek of the day -to Dunda.
LITHAM to DUNDA
Our backpacks seemed heavier than usual. We would have loved to rest longer before leaving but then we had to get to Dunda before evening. After the initial climb into the folds of the green hills on the left of the Pabbar it was a constant up and down.If not for the technique of microsteps ( tata steps) we would have found this part of the trek interminably difficult. It was so helpful that we actually made a video demonstration of the technique on the last day of the trek – starring Kashi.
On the right of the Pabbar were the stark peaks of the mountain range bordering the Rupin valley on the other side. At this point of the trek it seemed like we were trekking between two worlds – one green and verdant with meadows and hills and the other rough, jagged and majestic.These three different elements that ran almost in parallel lines : green hills, white river and grey rocky mountains slowly merged into total whiteness as we made the final steep climb into the bosom of snow.Dunda campsite, very different from Dayara and Litham, had its own magic. Gunas pass and Buran pass and several other passes were clearly visible. An aerial view of Dunda campsite would be amazing – bright yellow tents in the midst of absolute nothingness as the shadows of the stark sentinels surrounding the camp slowly enveloped us in darkness with the setting sun behind them.
I was exhausted and began to get a terrible headache coupled with nausea and shivering. I refused to think it was AMS but then Arjun would not take it lightly. He ensured I drank a lot of water, took a disprin and kept warm and waited. All the while preparing me mentally that if the headache did not subside then I would have to descend and return to Litham. I tried playing down the symptoms but it did not work. Thankfully in about an hour I felt okay. It was the effect of dehydration – which went away with all the water I was literally forced to drink. Of course the after effects of having to go out several times to pee in freezing winds and rain was not very exciting.I finally sank into the warm and cosy sleeping bag and slept fitfully after the shivering subsided.
Up to the Pass!
The morning was fresh and clear and I felt exhilarated after a good sleep . After numbing our hands and mouths brushing with icy water we had a hot delicious breakfast and set off again with a spring in our steps. We were going to cross the pass and were not really sure what to expect on the other side!
I was told at the pass it was customary for all to share a beedi. That was the only niggling thought in my head as I imagined myself teary eyed and coughing. Nothing of that sort happened and I realized it was just one more in the series of leg pulling that I was subjected to – and that I always fell for.We set off enthusiastically till we reached the end of the rocky area and then wore on our crampons. We had practised walking on snow without crampons but with crampons on I felt like Spiderman. The steep icy inclines had lost their power to hinder us in any way. With the fear of slipping greatly reduced, we were free to experience the full effect of being here – in a world that bore no semblance to the world we knew.
For the first time we were ahead of the guides and support staff who had to struggle without crampons and climbed along rockier sides to prevent sliding. They were simply amazing and I constantly marvelled at their strength and nimbleness.At one point at the base of the pass we rested on some rocks and sent our crampons to them through Yogi – our technical guide. Half an hour later we saw them approaching. The final climb was another intense ‘me’ time. I decided I’d take 10 micro steps and then stop to breathe…which worked out pretty well until I saw the final destination. A new burst of energy took me up the last 50 or more steps without stopping to breathe.The view of both sides from the pass was exquisite! The local staff broke open a dry coconut – chanted a mantra– paid homage to the deity of the pass -and gave us all prasad. This reminded me of the old woman at Janglik. Yes we truly need assistance from powers beyond our own – for everything to work out so beautifully and for protection from the elements that can get ruthless at times. It was a humbling experience.
The other side of the pass was almost a wall! Straight down! Yogi finally realized why he was here. He was told by a careless friend before coming that this was a ‘chappal trek’ and came pretty unprepared. No crampons and just 50 metres of rope. The way ahead seemed to be descending endlessly through snow interspersed with rocks. It was windy and chill. We would have to descend with ice axe and ropes. So exciting! I had never even done rappelling before and here we’d have to descend more than 100 metres by rope.
The wall descent!
The rope was 50 metres long. We first descended halfway and stood on a ledge carved out on the side. Then again we anchored the ice axe with rope and descended the rest of the way. Yogi had to descend without rope and it was quite an experience seeing him hurtling to the bottom desperately trying to dig the ice axe into the sides to arrest his fall – which he did.After this was the glorious descent of 5 ledges – which we did mostly by sliding on our bottoms that were wet and frozen by the end of it. We then walked along a fairyland ridge bedecked with flowers and came to the end of it . It was difficult to move further. There are certain spots that physically paralyse you with their beauty – and this was one of them. The open green valley ahead – the peaks rising behind, flowers all around, a gentle wind blowing and absolute silence. No one felt like moving. We sat here for a long long time. No one felt like speaking. These moments are gifts – priceless and eternal.
Paralysed by the beauty
We reluctantly began our rocky descent. Crossing boulders, a frozen river bridge and then a boulder crossing over the flowing river we stopped for packed lunch. I added some random herbs to my chapatti beans roll. Now that the difficult part was over I could not resist the temptation to taste them. If sheep can eat them – so can I. It was delicious but no one else seemed tempted.
At one point, during all the sliding, I had stepped onto what seemed like solid snow but one foot went in up to my thigh and I felt my knee twist. The pain did not start until after lunch. The rest of the way till the Munirang campsite, I atoned for all the sins of the past – if atoning meant being in pain. In a way the pain slowed me down and gave me the opportunity to go through the rest of the day in slow motion – taking in all the countryside beauty of the bhoj forest and the majestic pines. It slowed the others down too but I don’t think anyone was in a hurry to get to camp. We actually tried singing “ The hills are alive with the sound of music” as this trek brought constant flashbacks of that timeless movie – The Sound of Music.
I collected some bhoj bark – and have it treasured in my diary along with random flowers and leaves. The silver birch forest gave way to open fields. A slight drizzle and wind made it just perfect. Signs of human civilization began to appear. The hills were dotted with sheep and cows grazing lazily – calling out to their babies as dusk began to fall and it was time to return home. The setting was so calming. By now I was also looking forward to a warm tent and rest.Munirang campsite was one of the few flat areas there. The water source was far off and the ground was covered with thorny plants. But the view all around – from the majestic old pines to the valley behind us and the rolling hills on the right with the river flowing beneath – brought in a strong feeling of nostalgia.
Sadly this was the last camp of the trek. I tried to take in every sensation, every smell, every sound – which was mostly the roar of the river – our constant companion throughout the trek except for now and then when it went underground.
Last Chapter of the Fairy Tale
Waking early we climbed to a ledge to take a few videos around Munirang. We then gathered the staff and thanked them for their wholehearted support throughout the trek. The two young ones stole my heart. They worked so hard in such rough environments – with pleasant smiles and eagerness to serve.What can I say about the descent! Imagine walking through the forest surrounding Rapunzel’s tower, then stepping into Alice’s wonderland, and disappearing into miles of pink flowering bushes, eating wild raw apricots and crossing a log bridge over a raging river! We were like kids by now – all adult masks and mannerisms forgotten – pure delight and joy! Imagination had become reality.
The houses are straight out of Lord of the Rings
The passage back from fairy land into reality happened gently as we crossed through a big wooden gate that took us to Barua village. The hospitable and very friendly village folk invited us for tea. We sat down and exchanged stories and shared bits of our lives with each other. So different and yet so similar. Its strange how easy it is to communicate – even without knowing each others languages well enough to talk. It reminded me of the song ‘Heart to heart we can talk. Heart to heart lets talk.” And we did.Orchards of apples, peaches, pears and apricots covered the slopes around the village– dotted with the peculiar stone and wood houses.The Temple at the end ( or rather beginning) of the village looked exotic and serene in the backdrop of the mountains and the river.This seemed like the end but it was also a beginning. It was a discovery of a world that offers us an experience that “ rises above words and letters and transcends the murmur of syllables and sounds. Where all things merge into nothingness.”
You can get all the details about the Buran Ghati Trek here!