What better than a lovely blog about Sandakphu that can totally get you reaching out for some hot chai while reading? Aneesha Bhadri has a way with words! This blog on her first winter trek has got both a chilly and cozy feel to it. Here’s Aneesha’s blog, winning The Blog Contest of January 2016. Congratulations Aneesha!
Image Credits: Anuradha Ayyar
When I stood at the top in Sandakphu and looked around, I felt like I was on another planet; a small icy planet shrouded in mist. It was white everywhere, the snow that covered the ground and the shrubs enveloped in frost. Even, the sky, a silver dome with wavering mists that would, at times, reveal the mysterious languid peaks in the distance and at other times, give the appearance of being inside a snow globe. As I stood near the edge trying to gaze through the mist, I was grateful for having carried the heavy blue coat that kept me warm.
The night before I was to leave for the trek I had a frantic Facetime session with my aunt. My haversack was stuffed to the gills thanks to the heavy winter clothing. I was tempted to put aside a blue coat that was taking up space. My aunt, who has more trekking experience than me, walked me through the packing. At the end we decided I would have to carry my coat on me and leave out a t-shirt or two; that sorted out the situation of the overstuffed bag.
When I reached base camp I dropped off my bag in the room and set out to explore the area. A couple of trekkers needed water bottles so we went down to the shops to look around. The lure of momos was irresistible. We settled down in a tea lodge and dug into a couple of plates. The anticipation of the trek had made us all ravenous. When we went back to base camp we were treated to hot noodle soup that we managed to polish off in a few minutes. The star-speckled azure sky was the perfect backdrop for the campfire at night. We traded a few stories and shared a laugh before calling it a night.
The next morning, after a hearty breakfast, we were given eco bags to collect garbage in and I am proud to say we made good use of our portable dustbins. We set off on our trek, a gradual ascent that weaved through the forest. After a couple of hours we took a tea break and marvelled at how close we were to Nepal. I believe there were even some jokes about popping over to Nepal for a bit or coming to India to make a quick call.
We stayed the night in a lodge which was a fascinating wooden maze of rooms. We had hot pakoras with tea by the fire in the evening. Before dinner, we sang many songs accompanied by a local boy who belted out one flawless tune after another on his guitar. After dinner we were treated to a hot cup of bournvita. That was the first time I slept in the attic.
In the morning I was both surprised and delighted to see the ice that crusted the sides of the road. We set off on our trek after filling some hot water in our bottles. As we ascended, we encountered a fog that didn’t leave us till the end of the trek. The autumnal facade of the land was a glory to behold. Never before had I seen fall colours in a true natural setting. It was an immense pleasure to traverse the red and golden lands veiled in the ever-present mist.
The higher up we ascended, the colder it got. At one point I remember being engulfed in a frigid mist that had me hurriedly putting on gloves and covering my face with a neck warmer. By the time we reached our next camp, we dropped off our bags in our rooms and huddled around the fire for warmth while we waited for tea and snacks. We enjoyed the evening playing cards by the fire. After dinner I slept soundly wrapped up in thermals, a jacket, a fleece, a blanket and a heavy thick quilt on top.
The next day we set off for Sandakphu. It was a winding route to the top and we trudged along. Sometimes we would use the stairs and I would laugh to myself as I remember the movie Kung fu panda where Po, the panda, called stairs his ancient enemy. When I reached Sandakphu, I was mesmerized by the whiteness of the land. There was not a soul to be seen for miles, only a perpetual snowy blanket that covered the ground and the mist that hovered in the air. Some of us stopped at a restaurant called Sunrise for a cup of coffee; after all, who wouldn’t stop at a restaurant called Sunrise at the top of an icy mountain? The hot liquid put some warmth back in our limbs and we set off to look for our camp.
Our accommodations turned out to be a deceptively small lodge. After we dropped off our bags, we went straight to the kitchen for a delightful meal of Chow Mein served by hospitable people. We gorged on chowmein by the fire and then sat peacefully in the small space near the kitchen.
After a dessert of rasgullas, I slept soundly under a heap of blankets. I woke up early the next day to see the sunrise and the sleeping Buddha, but it was too foggy. I had the surreal feeling that I was inside a snow globe. All of us were on an alien planet of ice and snow where frost delicately coated the leaves and branches of the shrubs and prayer flags hung stiff over a frozen lake. It was an unforgettable experience.
We could not go to Phalut because of the weather so we took a different route. Before we left the snow behind us, we made sure to have a vigorous snowball fight that had all of us laughing out loud while we shook like dogs to get the melting snow off us. It was a gradual descent where snow made way for mud and the whiteness receded to give way to verdant slopes. We took a few pictures by a small waterfall and then sat on a giant rock and gazed at the river gushing below. Our trek officially came to an end when we crossed the old bridge to civilization.
A winter trek is a different experience altogether. Nothing quite prepares you for the cold; and yet, every moment that you are trying to stay warm, your mind is clear and your senses alive. There are some moments that will stay with me forever; the autumnal landscape, walking on freshly fallen snow, the frigid blast of wind near the frozen lake, the frosted leaves and twigs, a cup of hot black tea to warm the fingers, the gliding mists, the feel of fresh powdery snow, the slipperiness of sleet, the contrast of a snowy path in the midst of lush greenery, the warm cocoon of fleece and blankets, the undulating land, the wide expanse of sky and the distant summits that tease you as they occasionally peak out of the mist. These are some of the cherished moments that I shall carry with me and that shall give me solace, particularly on a hot day in the city.