I‘m going on a trek to Uttarakhand”, I said.
“Oh, that’s great! With family?” asked my friend.
“No” I replied.
“With friends?” he asked.
“No, alone”, I replied hesitantly, admitting to the obvious crazy decision I had made. I knew it was odd to go on a trek with a set of unknown people at 20 years of age with an additional “baggage” of being a female. It was also odd knowing that my brother making the same decision would have incurred a completely different reaction.
Despite having answered everybody confidently, I knew what I had put myself into was a lot of risk. It was not going to be like the movie Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani and I had not even dreamed of finding a Bunny! All my friends were busy. And I found it completely okay to go and make some new friends.
I had heard about Indiahikes from a close friend, and their videos helped me choose one of the easy-moderate treks — Kuari Pass. Except for one day treks, I had no trekking experience and I was certain it was going to be one hell of an experience.
First Day Jitters: Heading to Kuari Pass!
After reaching the Haridwar station safely with a tinge of intimidation, I met with the Indiahikes team. There was a group – which did not tally with the Whatsapp Group that had been made for our convenience. Confused but delighted with the people I had just said “Hi” to, in a moment, I realized that they were off to another trek – Kedarkantha. After a while I saw one of my trek mates and the rest joined us soon after. It had all just begun; the discomfort, uneasiness and the longing to break the ice.
We drifted in and out of sleep during the bus journey as I swelled with nervousness. We reached the campsite at around 6 pm but trust me when I say this – it looked like it was 11 pm. The transition from the warm to the sharp cold weather shook me. We thought we were staying at a guest house the first day, but we were pushed out of our comfort zones soon enough. I could see tents pitched at the base camp – Joshimath.
It had all just started; the discomfort, uneasiness and the longing to break the ice.
After a while, we were called for tea. We met our Trek Leader who rather than calming my nerves raised apprehensions in me yet again. “If you have a slight headache, inform me. There can be water in your lungs.” – with every word I heard, my hopes went cold. I didn’t really think I would make it.
The dinner in the dining tent with my tiffin dabba was quiet. I had cold feet and it wasn’t because of the weather. We were told that, “Stepping out of the tent after 8 pm is dangerous. You must go with your tent mate”. I kept twisting and turning when I had to use the washroom. Inspite of the little conversation I had with my tent-mate I somehow managed to wake her up to accompany me to the toilet tent. I had a disturbed sleep and kept thinking about going back rather than going ahead with the trek.
Meadows of Gorson made me Mellow
“Wow! I am alive and awake!” – was the first thought that crossed my mind when I opened my eyes the next morning. I wasn’t eaten up by an animal. Rejoicing, I went through my morning routine in the unfamiliar environment of nature. All packed, we left for our next camp site – Padiyar Camp that opens into Gorson Bugyal. We had to climb an altitude of 2000 ft. With my trek bag (which was not really meant for a trek), the first few metres seemed easy.
After a while, I was the last person in the row of trekkers. Every few minutes my trek mates enquired – “Are you okay?” And I would happily smile and say – “Yeah. Don’t worry”. After a relieving stop at a Maggi place, we were continuously promised that it is just a few kilometres away. The false hope in our head actually kept us going. We started at 9 am and reached there by 1:30 pm but the campsite was worth the walk. Gorson Bugyal is one of the finest campsites there is. Thick trees surround the clearing.
“I survived”, was all that was going in my head. After a delicious lunch, we walked around the campsite. The number of games we played in the tea tent only made all of us become closer to each other. Our Trek Leader indeed kept us engaged and I was glad to be here finally, savoring each moment.
That night I had a good night’s rest as everyone would call it. We were given hot water at night which I hugged rather tightly and fell asleep.
The ‘Do or Die’ Trail
The next morning I was more at peace with my decision to do this trek. I was slowly getting used to the toilet tents, packing my backpack for the next day and unwinding the tents. Our next campsite was Taali. The trail to Taali was the best trail. Maybe around a metre and a half, the trail said – “Do or Die”. It was straight and I wished it would never end. It truly felt like a metaphor for risk.
The distance was a lot but there was very less ascent. We reached later than expected. Taali is a campsite placed within the trees that surround it. The dense canopies blocked all sunlight from falling on us in the cold weather. After a very satisfying lunch, I rushed to this canopy where a small ray of sunlight had managed to creep in. Lied down there and it was bliss.
“I survived”, was all that was going in my head.
Soon the unusual became the usual with tea, long conversations and multiple rounds of Mafia. We were instructed to leave early for the finale – our final ascent to Kuari Pass.
Of Trump and other news
We were running late and were told that we would be left behind if we weren’t on time. Hence, everyone rushed to leave for the most awaited day. The trek to Kuari Pass was quite long but had a varied path. I was relaxed at the thought of not having to carry my entire backpack. But the trail had streams, blocks of ice, high mountains and straight paths. Interacting with Mukesh Bhaiya, one of the Trek Leaders, made my ascent a lot more relaxed. Here is a tip – when you keep talking to someone during your trek, you don’t realise how much you have walked. That’s what I discovered.
In less than 3 to 3.5 hours we reached Kuari Pass. We could see all that we covered and all that we couldn’t have seen and experienced in the madness of living in a city. That feeling of accomplishment can never be compared to any other feeling in the world.
The trek back was smooth since the destination was the campsite. I remember the return from Taali when the most unexpected news had broken and we weren’t even aware of it. When I called my friend to update him about the the trek, he ended up updating me.
- Donald Trump has become the President.
- 500 and 1000 rupee notes have been banned.
I wasn’t sure if I should buy into it. I told my trek mates. They wouldn’t believe me and confirmed it with their friends. It was true! While we were celebrating over our accomplishments and spending money on treks, America had chosen their President and business in India was dying. The rest of the return to Taali was spent talking about it. After a hectic day I went to sleep early that night. I was glad it was over not because it was bad but because I did it.
This was by far, one of the best mornings I have experienced. I woke up early that morning. The chirping of the birds, gushing of the stream, I began to enjoy every bit of it.
We were ready to descend but I was unaware of the return trail. It was quite a bad experience because it was too long. Not only that, the path was not straight but was raw. As soon as we reached, I jumped to sit in the cab that took us to a guesthouse in Haridwar.
I began to appreciate the bed, the washroom, the table and everything around me. It all felt like luxury. After a splendid evening of enjoying pakoras with tea we had to walk to the bank to deal with demonetization. Following that we were asked to share our experiences and I was more than happy to talk about mine. I was given a gift voucher for the next trek and that was surely the icing on the cake.
It is difficult to part when you become comfortable with each other in the most uncomfortable environments. As we bid goodbye to each other, I understood how it takes only a few days and common experiences to know each other well. This trek was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life and when they call it life changing, it indeed is.
I believe that when you are out of your comfort zone you learn the most and take back the most with you. Those three days of my life made me believe more in myself. My friends wondered why I preferred doing things alone. But after my trek experience, I began to love spending time with myself. I learnt how to be comfortable in my own skin. I also began to appreciate nature, food and the people that surrounded me.