What Brings NUS Mountaineering Club Back to the Indian Himalayas And I...

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What Brings NUS Mountaineering Club Back to the Indian Himalayas And Indiahikes

Category Experiential Learning

By Janusa Sangma

2023-08-16

Photo credit: James Gan

We recently had the pleasure of organising two Himalayan treks for students from the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Mountaineering Club.

With a legacy as the longest-running student mountaineering club in Singapore, they’ve earned their stripes as true adventurers! 

The club has several expeditions to its name already, but it was the first time they set their sights on the Indian Himalayas.

The majestic Indian Himalayas often remain unnoticed and hardly get their due. Many trekkers from overseas know little to nothing about the region, which we feel is a travesty.

For anyone looking for rare mountain adventures and surreal landscapes, the gem that is the Indian Himalayas is calling out to you.

Indiahikes has been leading and exploring treks in this stunning region for the last 12 years. We hoped the students from the NUS Mountaineering Club would share our enthusiasm! The first group went on the Bodpathri trek while the second embarked on the Buran Ghati trek.

Fast forward to today, and planning for the third NUS group is underway!

What was it about the experience that made the NUS students want to return? What did they enjoy the most? Here’s what emerged.

Safety and technical expertise

Given the varied and difficult terrain, students appreciated the expertise of their trek leaders and guides who conducted multiple safety briefings before and during the trek. The trek leader and guides were always a few steps ahead - skillfully carving paths in the snow or strategically placing rocks in the streams to make water crossings easier.

Safety considerations came to life, especially during exciting stream crossings – a highlight for the students on the Buran Ghati trek. 

The trek leaders briefed the team on how to make a human chain and cross safely. Despite the freezing cold water and strong currents, none of them broke the chain. What’s more, everyone enjoyed the experience.

The pass crossing was another significant moment on the trek! Several participants were unsure if they could make it to the top. With encouragement and help from the technical team, everyone gained more confidence and made it across.

During reflections, students spoke about how they challenged themselves during the Buran Ghati pass crossing, discovering innate abilities about themselves they never knew existed. | Photo credit: Faizan

The Bodpathri group, elated at completing the trek! | Photo credit: Esther Koh

Food as fuel and a gateway to understanding culture

“I loved getting to experience different Indian dishes,” said one of the participants.

One of the best ways to connect to cultures and people is through food. Even while trekking in the Indian Himalayas, it's no exception. The food served at campsites was a high point for the students from the get-go.

Photo credit: Esther Koh

Every dish isn't just a tasty treat but also carefully chosen to provide the energy and nutrients essential for a mountain adventure. The food also offered a window into India’s vast and diverse culinary traditions.

NUS students discover some of India's comfort foods: rajma chawal, roti, sabzi, and the universally loved gol gappa - or paani puri or pucchka, depending on where in the country your culinary loyalties lie. | Photo credit: James Gan

Food became a way for students to share their skills and culture as well. One of their most memorable experiences was making snacks using a DIY kit.

They improvised with various combinations and finally came up with a feast - stir-fried Singapore-style veggies, white sauce pasta, and vegetable soup!

During the closing ceremony, the kitchen team surprised the students with a cake! They had whipped up a cake without traditional baking tools – a fitting way to round off the trek and celebrate the group’s achievements.

“The no-bake cake blew our minds! We couldn’t believe we were having cake in the middle of nowhere.” - Jue Joey Xuan | Photo credit: Esther Koh

Sustainable trekking practices

“I learnt that I could make a difference with small actions like picking up trash and that I was capable of living a sustainable lifestyle and also greater mental resilience than expected! I never realised that sustainability could be easier than expected, simply by cutting down consumption of plastic and being more mindful of how much water I use.” – A participant on the Buran Ghati trek.

Waste collection and segregation at camp | Photo credit: Esther Koh

Trekking and environmental responsibility go hand in hand. The NUS students walked the talk, which was inspirational to see!

Despite some dhaba owners encouraging people to buy packaged food, the students did not generate any plastic waste. They were happy to have chai and omelettes.

Students had packed a ton of chocolates for the trek. Most of them chose not to eat. They were challenging themselves to live without chocolates or packaged food. 

Leaving the mountains better than we find them is central to how Indiahikes operates, but getting every trekker on board can be challenging. If only more trekkers would take sustainability as seriously as the NUS students. It’s always incredible to trek with groups whose values align with ours.

Additionally, students shared how living with the bare minimum made them realise how little one needs to live.

“You regain humility once you are in the mountains, especially as a city boy. Being on the trek made me remember how there are more things to life than money, to recognise what is truly important.” - Jue Joey Xuan | Photo credit: James Gan

Photo credit: James Gan

Comfort and hygiene standards

Besides the warmth and camaraderie at the campsites, students appreciated the comfortable and clean camping experience.

They also noticed how hygiene and conservation worked in tandem at camp – from water conservation contraptions to bio-toilets for waste management.

Not only did these systems ensure a pleasant experience for the students, it made them realize how consistent steps towards sustainability can have a great impact.

One of the Indiahikes campsites on the Bodpathri trek | Photo credit: Esther Koh

A first-hand experience of Indian culture and traditions

“I loved the parts where I learnt more about Indian culture through dance and also small tidbits about the villagers' lives.” – a participant on the Buran Ghati trek.

Photo credit: Esther Koh

When trekkers arrived at the base camp in Janglik, they mentioned they had never seen a village like this before. Throughout the trek, they met village communities as well as shepherds who roam mountains with their flock.

Interacting with people on the trail provided first-hand insights into local livelihoods, culture, and tradition – all the simple pleasures of mountain life and the many challenges.

Students also learnt a few dance moves on the trek! Under the supervision of the lead guide, the group enjoyed performing traditional Indian dances such as Nati, Garba, and Bhangra.

Photo credit: James Gan

Photo credit: James Gan

Similar stories emerged from the Bodpathri trek.

“One of the best things was interacting with people on the trail. We saw women carrying supplies across the mountains. Our lead guide appeared to be some kind of ‘boss of the shepherds!’ He would happily point out which sheep belonged to him whenever we crossed a flock. Glimpses of local life were such an eye-opener for our group. Plus, we loved our trek leaders. It was hard to say goodbye at the end of the trek,” shares Jue Joey Xuan

Discovering the wonders of the Indian Himalayas

The diverse, breathtaking vistas of the Indian Himalayas were a revelation for the group. 

Photo credit: James Gan

Photo credit: Bjorn Jee

“The Bodpathri trek was incredibly beautiful and unique. It didn’t have your traditional summit push, but provided a high sensory experience instead. Few people in this lifetime can say they trekked into parts of Kashmir previously off-limits to everyone but the Indian army. We saw stunning alpine lakes, valleys, and endless meadows, the likes we’d never seen before.” -  Jue Joey Xuan.

Meanwhile, on the Buran Ghati trek, participants saw Rhododendron trees and learnt how the colour of the flower and the size of the trees change depending on the altitude.

The trek leader shared information on everything they saw on the trail - the moss, lichen, and trees around. Students learnt about glaciers, alpine lakes, cornices, and serac.

On clear evenings, they took in the beauty of the vast Dayara meadows. What’s more, many students experienced snow for the first time during the trek.

Photo credit: James Gan

Introducing like-minded trekkers to the Indian Himalayas brings us immense happiness. Trekking safely and sustainably aren’t just priorities; they are woven into the very fabric of the Indiahikes trekking experience.

It was wonderful hosting the NUS Mountaineering Club and knowing they were as smitten as we are with the mountains here!

 

Janusa Sangma

Content Writer

About the author

Janusa is most at home exploring a faraway mountain trail. She follows the music wherever it may lead, guided by her ever-constant anchors – a love for writing, the mountains, wildlife, and grassroots work in the social sector.

She enjoys writing for organisations and individuals creating meaningful impact.

Before taking up writing as a full-time profession, she worked with corporates, non-profits, social enterprises, education companies, and PR organisations.

When she's not bent over a computer or buried in a Word Document, you will find her befriending a dog (any dog), swimming, or running for the hills.

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