Editor’s note: Megha went on the Brahmatal trek and was taken in by the ever-present views of Mt Nanda Ghunti and Mt Trishul by her side. She penned her thoughts down immediately after she returned. We loved the personifications in her writing, where she brings the two majestic peaks of the Garhwal Himalayas to life. Just for that, you must give this a read.
The blue skies, the stark white mountains, the moss green forests, the yellow of the mustard fields, the grey silver jagged rocks. These were the colours that greeted me when I reached Lohajung, our basecamp for the Brahmatal Trek.
The Brahmatal Trek is a trek to a lake dedicated to Lord Brahma. This lake rests between the Rhododendron and Brown oak forests of Chamoli District in Garhwal at about 12,000 ft. The trail from Lohajung to Brahmatal steals through bubbling brooks, placid forests of Brown Oaks (kharsu in the local dialect) and Rhododendrons, slips through the burnished nets of sunrises and sunsets and then glances upon the majestic beauty of Trishul and Nanda Ghungti.
Tall, towering and bold, Trishul stands overlooking the emerald valley. Perfect in every sense. A pointed peak, silver-grey slopes defining its chiselled face and snow the colour of salt. Dense and thick.
One cannot not look at it. It catapults you into its being. Beautiful is not the word that describes it. The Trishul has an effect of terror, of asymmetry. It will make you go weak in the knees. The Trishul is sublime.
My journey to Brahmatal began with me being solemnly introduced to Nanda Ghungti and Trishul by a fellow trekker. He, like me, being a maverick for mountain folklore and culture, narrated with great animation the story of Nanda. Nanda is another name for Goddess Parvati and Trishul being for Lord Shiva. The story goes, Nanda and Trishul stand facing each other like happy lovers and Nanda, shy in front of her devoted Lord Shiva, adorns the Ghunghat (veil) as they are embraced together by the cerulean skies. Hence, the name Nanda Ghungti.
This story leapt at my heart and I fell in true possession of Nanda Ghungti. She became my friend, my guide, my mother, my father, my teacher and my child.
Nanda was to accompany me in my entire journey up till Brahmatal. She looked after me and still does when I sit in my city bedroom, writing about her. She never leaves me. It can be called mountain mania or perhaps just faith. These two feelings overlap each other and cannot be differentiated, not in the case of me and Nanda. Our Trek guides, Kundan Chacha, Nari Bhai and Areeb imbibed her spirit and never left our side. In tiredness, they pushed us on and in laughter, we all sang and danced together.
The loveliness of the mountains increased manifold as we climbed higher and higher towards the Brahmatal top. As Nanda took over my senses completely, so did the company of people around me. Somehow, trusting someone wasn’t difficult. Somehow, Judgement and arrogance weren’t the premise for striking a conversation and somehow, out of all the somehow, smiles and laughter could be heard everywhere (which is a rarity for me !)
Whenever I felt cold, damp and down and felt there was nothing in me, Nanda held me firmly and said, “ Hold On” and I held on.
The journey to Brahmatal was an adventure, of falling in love, of trusting people, of companionship and of the peace in wild things. It was a poem, carefully worded with the Rhododendrons and oaks, with the chatter of the birds and the babbling of the brooks, with the buzz of the bees and the smell of the lea.
Bekaltal, our first camp night was set up near a brook. At night, the sky changed colour from blue to black with a carpet of stars over it, glistening brightly. The stars were blinded by the light of the moon that enveloped the entire forest in a silvery blanket. It was a diamond forest. And I would like to believe that it was another planet.
What did we do there? In the diamond forest?
Well, we danced like silver statues coming to life and lay down in the cold wet grass. Diamonds on the cold wet grass.
The next day after breakfast, we began our ascent, first to Bekaltal and then to Tilandi. The trees changed shape, became sharper and their leaves sleeker with their trunks thinner.
At such high altitudes with the snow and the wind, the trees, I figured, adapt by hardening up their leaves and making them sleek and pointy so that the snow falls off easily. The trunks become thinner for the efficient use of nutrients. The roots interconnect more closely to stay strong and survive the cold. Humans and trees have much in common apart from just inhaling oxygen and CO2 or the other way round!
The colours of the flowers on the same trees change as the elevation increases. The Rhododendron, Kundan chacha told us, changes from scarlet to white.
Colours, I wondered, were they just an interplay of light and darkness? Even darkness had its own colours and so did light? Or are colours also about perception?
I was thinking about the colours as I had started my journey from Delhi. The colour of my city is grey. But as the landscape changed, so did its colours. Blue skies, red flowers, silvery rivers, green and yellow mustard fields. In Delhi too, the sun rose, the sky was bluish and there were flowers but what stopped me from seeing all of that and just noticing the grey?
I haven’t found that answer but the colours of the mountains, the colours of sunsets and moonrises, the evening golden sunlight kissing my skin… All these colours filled me up at Tilandi where the colours painted their best canvas.
The rays of the sun setting at Tilandi scattered into hues of red, orange, yellow, blue. For the first time, I saw darkness as a mixture of colours. With each movement of the sun, the Trishul range, including Nanda Ghungti, Mrigthoni changed moods. They looked like mountains made of honey and marmalade.
My mood changed with the colours changing and it fired up my soul. I have coloured in the colour of honey.
The colour of my life is honey, I guess.
If Bekaltal made me feel that I was on another planet, Tilandi was in another galaxy! There are some moments in one’s life that get stuck in limbo, like listening to a beautiful piece of music in a beautiful setting, or a kiss or the taste of my mother’s food. There is no time or space for such things. It just is. The night at Tilandi is like that for me.
Tilandi is a grassland at around 11000 feet. On has to be at Tilandi to witness the extraordinary pull of the mountains. I couldn’t sleep. I just wanted to stand and not take my eyes off of the majestic Trishul. And as the winds played havoc that night, and the stars shone their brightest, and the moon waltzed in from between the galaxies. I watched as I was tossed from one place to another. Trying to hold my ground, I sat down but the wind was tougher and I was weak. I clutched the grass and looked on at the universe unfolding before me. I was in the middle of a vortex and what a night it was!
I thought of Max Ehrmann’s words… “You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees or the stars, you have a right to be here.”
The next day, we were to reach Brahmatal after ascending 12000 ft till the summit. It was mostly a ridge walk and a few minor ascents till we reached the summit. At the top of the Brahmatal Summit, Nanda and Trishul stood majestic in front of us. It was as though we had embarked on this journey to witness their wedding. The nuptial fire rose as white clouds of smoke were seen between the Devtholi peaks. We all sat transfixed, some tearing up at the sight of these grand peaks, some wanting to share it with their beloved, some capturing it in their lenses.
Each of us, in our own ways, made this moment our own. We instilled this moment in our memory like a totem that could come in handy when realities get scattered and loneliness envelops oneself. This summit could give us hope whenever we were down and damp. We made this moment rise above like a lighthouse that would light up our darkened paths in the coming days, years or months.
And exactly at that moment of hope, we were free and forever.
Encounter with Wild things at Brahmatal Trek
At Brahmatal base campsite, one can spot groups of Alpine Swifts dancing on the snow in synchrony. They make a high pitched Chi chi chi chi chirruping sound and the oaks are filled with these tiny dancers.
White-cheeked Himalayan Bulbuls are there everywhere as soon as you start travelling from Almora towards Lohajung. They accompany you till Bekal Taal and then are rare as you gain elevation.
Ravens – Navy blue and dark can be seen accompanying you all throughout the trail. They are shy but once they know that you mean no harm and even more so if you have food, they will start conversing with you. One of our fellow mates, having brought thepla on Brahmatal Top, began conversing with a raven.
Raven – Cawww caaaww caaaaw!
Trekker: Kaawww Kaaaaaw!
Raven (enthusiastically): Coooawwwwwwwww Cooaawwwwwww!
And he was rewarded with a piece of Gujrati Thepla.!!
Himalayan griffon – I chanced upon this magnificent bird at the top of Tilandi. It was sitting on one of the jutting rocks, facing the sun. It reminded me of Jatayu for some reason. It was a Juvenile as most of its feathers were black and not yet turned into the cream grey they usually are. I was also lucky to spot the same bird on my way back to Kausani. I had sat down to have a tea break and there it was, perched upon a naked branch of a burnt tree preening or perhaps preying on some wild animal. Who knows?
Civets – I saw two Himalayan Civets scuttle across the jungle floor at Bekal Taal. I could only have a fleeting glimpse of its tail and its brown body and was confused whether it was a fox or a civet. But on reading up, I realised foxes have bushier tails.
Owlets – I saw many of these short-eared ones on my journey up from Almora and while hiking up the village of Lohajung through the forest trail on our first day. They were all juveniles and perched silently on branches of Brown Oaks and Pines.
Along with these, I saw a variety of beetles and insects and butterflies at the Brahmatal campsite while descending towards the lake.
The Music that accompanied me
One trek mate introduced me to some enchanting songs that have stayed with me. He had chosen a song for each of the summits, sunrises and sunsets!
The two songs that stayed with me,
Dauoalogn by Sigur Ross
Elysium by Lisa Gerard.