She has low tolerance for cold. She is scared of heights. She has never experienced the Himalayas. An IT writer writes about her experience on Deoriatal-Chandrashila trek where she conquered her fears and was humbled by the Himalayas.
Climb every mountain,
Search high and low,
Follow every byway,
Every path you know.
Climb every mountain,
Ford every stream,
Follow every rainbow,
‘Till you find your dream.
I first heard this beautiful song from the movie, The Sound of Music, when I was six years old. I have listened to it, sung it, or simply replayed it in my head about 1000 times since then. And I had always imagined and dreamed of mountains, streams, and winding paths while doing these.
The Deoriatal to Chandrashila peak trek in December 2015 was when my dreams of experiencing the song came true. And, this trek, my first one with IndiaHikes was beyond anything that I had imagined!
This was also my first visit to the Himalayas. Before the trek, nothing that I had seen in photographs or videos, and nothing that I had heard from family and friends was any indication of the wonderful time that I was going to have. I signed up with IndiaHikes for this trek with a couple of friends who were on a photography assignment.
IndiaHikes conducts many treks in the Himalayan region. They have a very nice itinerary for the Deoriatal to Chandrashila peak trek. The trek, which has a difficulty level of easy to moderate, is perfectly designed for beginners like me. Their itinerary helps trekkers cope gradually with temperature, terrain, and altitude.
Preparing for the Trek
After registering for the trek, IndiaHikes sent us emails at regular intervals with information and tips on preparing for treks. The emails included detailed information on exercises needed to prepare for the trek, Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), and list of medicines and items one had to carry for the trek.
I exercised as much as possible and read blogs to get an idea of the trek. I also spoke to family and friends who had been to the Himalayas for tips.
Bangalore to Sari
My friends and I wanted to get to Sari early to look around the place and get used to the weather. We went from Bangalore to Delhi by air, on 18th December. We then took a train from Delhi to Haridwar and stayed there for the night. On the morning of 19th December, we left for Sari. We travelled with other IndiaHikes trekkers who were going to begin their trek on 20th December.
The route to Sari was extremely scenic. We drove through Rishikesh, Devaprayag, Rudraprayag, and Srinagar and the beautiful emerald green Alaknanda River giving us company throughout the journey. The temperature decreased steadily, but my excitement was unabated. I gave a small squeal of delight when I had the first glimpse of the snowcapped Chandrashila peak!
The journey to Sari took about 8 hours, and we reached our base camp, the village of Sari by about 4:30 PM. When we arrived at the hotel where we were going to stay, we were given a warm welcome by the IndiaHikes base camp coordinator, Ankit. We checked into our rooms and talked with the other trekkers during dinner.
After dinner, we went to shoot photographs of the night sky and stars. The sky was clear and we had an amazing view of Chandrashila peak. The sky was amazing. We walked a little way away from the lights of the village to take photographs.
Day 1-Sari Village
We spent the night in our hotel room and woke up to a cold Sunday morning. After drinking some hot tea, my friends and I walked a little way away from the village to photograph the sunrise. The sunrise was beautiful and I had a wonderful view of the Chandrashila peak in the morning light.We returned to the hotel and had toast and steaming Maggi for breakfast. Breakfast was simply delicious! ☺
Sari is a small village with very friendly inhabitants. It is situated at an altitude of about 6,700 ft. All through the day, we went around the village taking photos of the village, birds, a nearby waterfall, and the sunset. The Deoriatal to Chandrashila peak trek is a birdwatchers delight. We saw several birds in Sari. I could hardly contain my excitement thinking of the delights in store for us over the coming days.
Ankit was extremely helpful and friendly. He told us several stories from his previous trekking experiences. He also told us the story of the Tungnath temple that we were going to visit on the last day of the trek. That evening we went and took photos of the sunset.
The trekkers from our group arrived at about 6 PM. We spent some time talking to them. There were people of various ages and different parts of India. Ankit introduced us to our trek leaders Dinesh, Kamal, and Khushi.
We had a thorough briefing, during which Ankit told us about the camp rules, importance of keeping time, sipping water, and keeping our surroundings clean. IndiaHikes emphasizes on being a green trekker and leaving mountains in a better condition than we find them. Ankit reiterated the importance of being green trekkers and requested us to pick up trash that we found on the trail. We were instructed on the use of toilet tents. We were also given fleece liners for our sleeping bags. We had to carry these with us till the last day of the trek.
After dinner, I went to bed. I could hardly sleep because I was excited and looking forward to the next day.
Day 2 – Sari Village to Deoriatal (21st Dec)
We woke up early on Monday morning and got ready. After breakfast, our main trek leader Dinesh asked us to assemble for a briefing. He told us how he and his team, Kamal and Khushi, would guide us through the trek. We would have a trek leader in the lead, one in the middle, and one sweeper at the end of the line. No trekker was to go ahead of the lead person or fall behind the sweeper.
Dinesh explained how we should use the trekking pole. He also explained the importance of sipping (and not gulping) water during the trek. He asked us to make sure that we stay hydrated throughout and consume at least 2 liters of water during the day.
We were then given eco-bags to collect trash during the trek. We left our offloading backpacks, took our daypacks, and started our trek. Our offloaded backpacks were to be carried from camp to camp by mules.
It was about 9:30 AM when we left. The trek from Sari to Deoria Tal is about 3 km. The trail is a well-laid one and is a gradual ascent with an altitude gain of 1,240 ft. Hardly five minutes had passed and I was very grateful for my trekking pole.
We climbed steadily, stopping briefly at a temple on the way. We saw many birds and goats during the course of the trek. We had amazing views of the Chandrashila peak and Sari village while we were climbing. We also stopped to take rest and photographs. We reached the Deoriatal campsite, which is at an altitude of about 8,000 ft., at about 12:30 PM. Our tents had been set up for us, beside the beautiful lake. I was very happy to have completed the first day of the trek. We had an amazing view of the Kedarnath range and Chaukhamba peak from our camp.
The IndiaHikes cooks had prepared a delicious lunch for us. It was an indication of how the food was going to be during the coming days. They gave us piping hot and delicious food all through the trek. After lunch, we walked around the lake and explored the surrounding areas. As in Sari, we saw many birds. We took photos of birds and the night sky after dinner.
It was freezing that night, and I wore five layers of clothes. Even then I could feel the biting cold. ☹ It was quite a challenge to change inside our tents, since they are not tall enough for people to stand in. My fingers also froze because of the cold. Though I tried to wear gloves most of the time, I had to take them off to eat or to tie shoelaces. It was also quite a challenge to zip the entrances of toilet tents or scoop the frozen mud with frozen fingers. ☺
We had to collect our sleeping bags in the evening, at each campsite. We had to roll them up and stuff them into compact bags and leave them for the mules to carry each morning. This was also quite a feat for me as I had to do this with frozen fingers! ☺
Every tent had an inner area and outer area and could accommodate three people. We had been instructed to make sure that all our belongings were completely inside the tents, that is, inside the outer area. We were to make sure that nothing would be visible outside the tents because of jackals or bears. There was a chance of these animals would drag away whatever they saw.
Every evening, Kamal would monitor our oxygen levels and pulse with his oximeter to make that sure none of us had problems with the altitude and were fine enough to trek.
Day 3 – Deoriatal to Rohini Bugyal (22nd Dec)
We left Deoriatal on Tuesday morning at about 9:30 AM after breakfast. That day we trekked through the beautiful forest. The route was very scenic and had many ascents and descents. Our trek leaders asked us to remain in groups and keep one of the leads in sight at all times as it was easy to get lost.
We were to trek for 8 km with an altitude gain of about 1,000 ft. The trail was covered with snow, dry leaves, and slush in places as it had snowed during the previous night. Though tricky, the trail was interesting and beautiful. We ate a packed lunch of rotis and delicious potato curry on a grassy slope which had excellent views. We met several women who were working on the slopes and exchanged pleasantries with them
We reached the campsite at about 4:30 PM. Since the Rohini Bugyal campsite was covered with snow, we had to camp in a clearing about half a kilometer away, near a source of a water.
We had a camp fire that night as the weather got really cold by late evening. I had to sit really close to the camp fire to be able to get some heat. When I got a little far away from the fire, I would start shivering and my fingers and toes would start freezing despite the gloves and woollen socks!
To eat our meals, each of us was carrying plates, cups, lunch boxes, and spoons. Every time we used any of these, we had to wash them with cold water (using our frozen fingers). The cooks would do their best to give us hot water to wash with, but sometimes it got too cold and the water would not get hot fast enough. Each night, this task of washing got progressively difficult as the temperature kept dropping. On the last night, we had more ice than water in the buckets!
Day 4 – Rohini Bugyal to Chopta (23rd Dec)
We set off on Wednesday morning at about 9:30 AM, after a hot and yummy breakfast and some warming up exercises. There was a change of plans. We headed for Chopta instead of Brujgali since the Brujgali campsite was covered in snow. We had to trek for 6 km with an altitude gain of 1,037 feet.
Again on that day, the trail was covered with snow and dry leaves. As on the previous day, there were ascents and descents. But the trail was easier than the previous day. The views of the mountains and mountainside were simple amazing.
One of our trek leads, Kamal, happened to be by my side for most of that day, since I was in the middle of the group of the trekkers. He kept pointing out to interesting plants and trees. He also helped in some tricky spots.
We saw footprints of bears, leopards, and foxes on the snow throughout the trek. We also saw Langur monkeys, jumping from branch to branch and many birds.
At about lunch time, we came to a beautiful stream and waterfall. The waterfall even had icicles. We spent quite a while at the stream and ate a packed lunch of vegetable fried rice. We filled our bottles with the clear water from the stream and then continued towards Chopta.
The last 1 km of our journey was on asphalt road. After 3 days in the wild, the road looked a bit out of place to me. ☺ At the campsite, we met the previous batch of trekkers who had climbed up to the Chandrashila pea
k that morning. They shared their experiences of the climb to the peak.
The view from our campsite was absolutely magnificent. We took photos of the beautiful sunset.
Before dinner that night, Dinesh and his team briefed us on the use of snow gaiters and crampons. A couple of technical experts gave us a demonstration on their use and asked us all to try them on right then, so that we would be able to do it quickly the next day. We were asked to wear our snow gaiters for the entire duration and the crampons when the guides told us.
Dinesh gave us instructions for the next day’s climb and made sure each of us was fit enough to attempt the climb. He checked with each one of us and didn’t ignore even things that seemed trivial. Kamal checked everyone’s oxygen levels and pulse.
We had a delicious dinner that included Gulab Jamun (my favorite sweet☺). After dinner, we practiced wearing the snow gaiters and tried to sleep as early as possible as we had to be up very early next day. The temperature dipped to –10 degrees that night.
Day 5 – Chopta to Tungnath, Chandrashila and Back (24th Dec)
We were to begin our ascent at 5:00 AM because it was important for us to reach the summit by 9:30 AM. After that the snow would start melting. My friends and I woke up at about 3:30 AM and got ready. We had breakfast at 4:30 AM and all the trekkers assembled at 5:00 AM.
On that day, in addition to Dinesh, Kamal, and Khushi we had three other trek leads accompanying us. The leadership skills of Dinesh on that day will remain etched in my mind for years to come. The sense of responsibility that he and his team exhibited that day was simply exemplary. The team had been wonderful during the entire duration of the trek, but on that day (the last day of the trek), they were outstanding.
During the ascent, we were asked to walk in a single file, unlike on the other days. On the other days, we had very pretty much walked at our pace and ended up making smaller impromptu groups. During the ascent to Tungnath, the slowest trekkers were made to walk at the head of the line to control the speed of walking of the group. Dinesh and his team kept walking up and down the line helping people when needed and encouraging each one of us. When we started out, it was pitch dark and we all had to use head lamps. We could see nothing but the trail in front of us. It had snowed during the night, so fresh snow covered the hardened ice from the previous day. This made the trail slippery.
During the climb, we passed the campsite at Brujgali where we were supposed to have camped. It was blanketed in snow. After forty minutes of climbing it started snowing again. We had to stop and wear our raincoats. The snow cover on the ground got thicker. We had to be very careful about where we stepped as the blanket of snow was extremely misleading. We had to make sure we walked only on the trail. Our trek leads were constantly telling us where to step and where not to. Had we taken even one wrong step of a few centimeters on either side of the path, we would have landed in a ditch.
We continued climbing as fast as we could, stopping occasionally for rest or to sip water. It was about 8:45 AM when we reached Tungnath. I felt extremely happy for having climbed up to the temple. Whenever I had seen the peak from a distance, I had wondered if I would ever make it to the top. Let alone reach the top, I had been doubtful of even setting out on the last day. This feeling had been there in me for two reasons. I am a person with very low tolerance for the cold and a great fear of heights. I am scared of heights. So climbing up to the temple was truly a wonderful thing for me. I felt very proud of myself as I rang the bell at the entrance to the temple. ☺ And having climbed up to the temple, I decided that I would climb all the way to the top.
We took some photos of the temple. There was snow everywhere and the temple was closed for winter. Some members of the group decided to stay back at the temple and about seventeen of us set off for the peak. The distance from the Tungnath temple to the Chandrashila peak is about 600 feet and is a steep climb. One of my friends stayed by my side during the ascent, and he and Kamal helped me in all the difficult spots.
We reached the summit at about 10:00 AM. I could hardly believe that I had climbed to the top. Everyone was thrilled and overjoyed. I was overwhelmed and had tears of joy in my eyes. I was full of gratitude for the trek leads; especially Kamal, who had been by my side most of the time. Though this trek would be considered as easy by most people, for me, it was a huge achievement. Not only because it was my first visit to the Himalayas, my first trek in the cold and snow, but also because I had conquered some fears that I had had. Though I had climbed the mountain, it did not feel like I had conquered a peak. On the contrary, I had a feeling of being humbled by the Himalayas.
We spent about 10 minutes on the peak. We could not see the 360 view of the Himalayas that we were looking forward to, as the entire peak was surrounded by mist. We could hardly see beyond a few feet. We shot some individual and group photos and started the descent.
We started our descent with mixed feelings of happiness and disappointment. Happiness – because we had made it to the top, and disappointment – because we couldn’t stay up there for longer or see and shoot much. The weather started changing very fast and we had to wear our snow crampons for the descent. Our trek leaders made us hurry so that we would not get caught in the snow.
We climbed down from the peak to the Tungnath temple without incident. But the descent from there to our campsite at Chopta was a different story altogether! As the fresh snow kept falling continuously on the hardening ice, it made the track slippery. The crampons are meant to be worn while walking on ice. So they were of no use while walking on snow and we were asked to take them off.
I fell quite a few times during the descent! Luckily, I didn’t get hurt because of the layers I was wearing! ☺ My friend was by my side helping me as much as possible in the tricky spots. At one point, we passed a huge blanket of snow on one side, and I instead of walking on the trail, slid down the mountain side on the snow! Before I slid down, Kamal made sure that there were no rocks on the way.
We reached the campsite at Chopta at about 2:20 PM. After a quick lunch, we went to our tents and rested for a while. After dinner, our group met to share experi
ences. Everybody, including our trek leaders, shared experiences of the last couple of days. Each of us was presented with a certificate for having completed the trek successfully. We then packed our belongings and went to sleep. We were to leave for Haridwar the next morning.
Day 6 – Chopta to Duggalbitta and Haridwar (25th Dec)
On Christmas morning, we woke up at about 6:00 AM. The weather was clear and beautiful. Sunrise was a delight to watch with the silvery snowy peaks turning beautiful golden. We left for Chopta at about 7:30 AM on foot, after breakfast. Since there had been snowfall the entire week, vehicles were not coming all the way up to Chopta. We had to walk downhill for about 3 hours to Duggalbitta. From there were to go to Haridwar by minibus.
Again, like the previous day, the descent was a tricky one and many of us kept slipping on the ice. We reached Duggalbitta by about 10:30 AM. By then the sun had come out and we were starting to feel warm. We had hot tea in one of the shops in Duggalbitta while we were waiting for the vehicle to arrive. We left for Haridwar at around 11 AM. Our group was split and travelled back in two vehicles.
We stopped briefly near Sari to drop off Dinesh, Kamal, and Khushi. We once again thanked them for the wonderful time and exchanged goodbyes and promises of coming back to do the trek again.
We continued our journey to Haridwar and after stopping once for lunch, we reached Haridwar by about 7:30 PM. On the outskirts of Haridwar, my friends and I said our goodbyes to the rest of the group. We were to stay for a day in Haridwar while most of them were leaving for their homes on the same night.
We checked into our hotel. Though the hotel was very comfortable, I kept thinking about our tents and kept looking about me for snow! ☺ I slept well that night because the room was warm!
Back to Bangalore
After spending the Saturday (Dec 26th) visiting Rishikesh, my friends and I left for Delhi on Dec 27th. It had felt strange to be amidst vehicles and people after having spent time in the magnificent mountains. We took the train from Haridwar on the morning of Dec 28th and reached Delhi around noon. We had lunch and spent some time in Delhi’s Connaught area, and then went to the airport to catch the late evening flight back to Bangalore.
We landed in Bangalore at about 10:30 PM and reached our homes around midnight. It felt strange to be back at home. Everything looked strange and familiar at the same time. I had a feeling of hollowness in me, as if I had left a part of myself back in the mountains.
I had had an amazing time, not only because of having experienced the Himalayas but also because of living in the wild. I had spent time with total strangers from different places and walks of life. We had all come together because of the trek and been united and helped each other as if we were one family. The patience and dedication of the IndiaHikes trek leads, which they had in abundance, stood out. While being a trek lead can be considered as passion or a job, the patience to handle a mixed group of people and the untiring dedication in them is awesome!
I have promised myself that I would go back for more and as many times as possible.