When a friend told me that he had signed us up for a trek, that too a Himalayan winter trek, my response was a big NO.
My answer stemmed from horrifying memories of an earlier “trek” to a small mountain, for which I had been totally ill-prepared. The seniors who took me did not inform me that we would be trekking; I had an impression that we were going out for a one-day picnic! I ended up trekking with sandals and inappropriate clothing. The result – a fear in my mind about treks.
Coming to the Himalayan trek, my friend was insistent. I reluctantly allowed myself to be persuaded to go. And that’s how began the journey of my first proper trek, a Himalayan winter trek to Brahmatal.
It will always be a memorable trek for me for quite a few “firsts” – experiencing my first snowfall en route to the base camp, first time in such low temperatures and, of course, my first Himalayan winter trek. Our journey to the base camp, Lohajung, was beautiful. The roads were dangerously winding but picturesque. The tall trees and deep valleys made us forget everything. Towards the end of our journey we experienced more snowfall, which increased by the time we reached the base camp. Each of us was shivering in the chill but enjoying ourselves to the fullest.
At the base camp we met our Trek Leaders, guide and technical instructor. They were some of the most awesome people we have ever met! We also got to know our fellow trekkers and they were a good bunch. Few more friends were made.
I would like to mention a brief itinerary of our trek. We started trekking the day after our arrival, from the base camp at Lohajung, which is at 7,616 ft, to our first campsite, Bekaltal, located at 9,876 ft. The trail passes through forest and has some beautiful views of villages down the valley. As we neared our campsite, the trail had converted into a completely snowy one. The next day we visited Bekaltal, which was very near our campsite, and from there we trekked to Brahmatal, our second campsite, which is at 10,735 ft. On our way, we passed a point from where we got wonderful views of 7000 metre peaks like Trishul and Nanda Ghunti.
The next day, Day 4, we did the summit climb, which is at 12,780 ft. The view was mesmerizing. On Day 5, we started our descent by first visiting the frozen Brahmatal. That’s when we got to see the vastness, abundance and beauty of nature. We reached the base camp by early evening. Though it was the end of the trek, it had left us with some unforgettable memories and some lessons worth remembering for life!
Here are the top five lessons from my trek that I would like to share.
There are no shortcuts to fitness while preparing for a Himalayan winter trek
I started taking fitness seriously as soon as I registered for the trek. However, I couldn’t maintain discipline in the training. I consider myself a bit luckier than most, as my job involves travelling in the city throughout the day. So that gave me the opportunity to walk a lot and take stairs wherever possible. By doing this along with irregular workouts, I thought I was putting in some effort to get fit for the trek. But when it came to the actual trek, I realized that I lacked a lot of fitness. The initial two days were not bad but later on I observed that I was stopping for breath frequently. So even though it says that Brahmatal is an easy-to-moderate level trek, one should prepare really well.
If you speak to Indiahikes staff on call, they would often clarify the easy grade by saying: “We mean easy in comparison to other Himalayan treks.”
Take advantage of your body’s immense strength
Most trekkers in our group were from cities and had never been exposed to such low temperatures. So the initial concern was “how would we handle sub-zero temperatures?” As we ascended,the temperature kept dropping further, but we all coped successfully. This shows how extensively our bodies can acclimatize to a given situation.
Of course, it helps if you layer yourself well.
Mind over matter
As I said, I was not at the best of my fitness but still managed to complete the trek. This was because of my willpower and mental strength. There were times during the trek when I felt like giving up. There were times I just wanted to sit right there or return to the campsite. Both options were not feasible.
As part of a group of 23 trekkers, I could not rest in one place for long. That would have slowed down the entire group. It also gets dark really soon. The weather could change rapidly. I would be landing my fellow trekkers in trouble if I stopped in one place for too long. Going back was also not an option — it would have meant I find my own way to the base camp. The route of descent was not the same as the ascent. So on a trek one has to find it in oneself to keep moving forward or risk holding up the whole group.
It is important to trust
During the trek I had a strong fear of falling. Despite wearing microspikes, I was scared on some parts of the trail. That’s when I realised that I need to trust microspikes. They were given to us specifically to make it safe to walk on snow. At other times I was scared of taking a step forward in spite of the Trek Leader or the technical instructor or the guide or a fellow trekker giving me a hand. But later I realised that though I did not know them well, I had to have faith in them if I had to finish my trek.
Speed doesn’t matter
I was among the few who were always trailing. Sometimes I wondered how it would feel to be among the ones who were walking ahead with the guide. But the next minute I realised that we were destined to reach the same place, sooner or later, so it really didn’t matter how fast one walked. Only difference was, the ones walking ahead got a little more time to rest at places where they waited for others to join. Apart from that we all got the same views, the same route and the same destination.
All these lessons are not limited to this particular trek, or treks alone for that matter. These are applicable in our day-to-day lives as well. Whether it is in keeping myself fit, in believing in my physical and mental strength, in trusting others and not always having to be first… these are life lessons that I will always cherish.
What are the life lessons you have learned from your trek? Do let me know. Perhaps I could take away more from my next trek.