Har Ki Dun: The First ever trek of an Acrophobic to the Valley of Gods

A sky full of stars is something that I always wanted to gaze at. It is surely a sight we in the cities crave for. I was at Har Ki Dun and the distance between me and the stars stunned me from the 12,100 feet that I was at.

I didn’t bother myself trying to answer the million questions running in my head. The beauty of these stars was something never seen, never told. While in the city, we never pay much heed to the sky above because we can hardly see it. But lying on a piece of rock, high enough to make a few of us comfortable we looked at the melting glaciers beside us and absorbed the cosmos above.

The Milkyway galaxy above the Puaanigarat camp site

It was hardly four days to the year end and we were at one of best places we could ever imagine to be at. At 3 in the afternoon we had finally reached Har Ki Dun, the valley of Gods, the place which we all had hankered for almost a month. Har Ki Dun has a beauty which cannot be defined. It is a valley untouched by the filth of mankind.

Har Ki Dun is a valley trek, meaning that it has mountains on all the three sides. Our camps were based at a location which felt nothing less than paradise. The soothing sun above us and a river just few feet away from us was oozing out of a mountain. The water was blistering, yet calm. The rays of the sun reflected on the river. Throughout the edges of the river were Pine trees standing tall and high in pride. The snow on the leaves had given up to the afternoon sun and drop by drop they contributed to the gigantic river. We were surrounded by mountains. The sheer beauty of nature had touched everyone’s hearts and I was no exception to it.

Ever since I had reached Har Ki Dun, I simply wished to lay back on a rock and gaze at the stars.  Finally, after everyone was done with their dinner they made way to their tents almost as a gesture to respect the bone chilling wind. I finally had a chance to be at the place I wanted to be at – laying on the rock and gazing at the night sky.

When in the mountains, life cuts down to moments. So missing a moment there effectively means missing it for a lifetime!

I blinked my eyes and the dark clouds had covered all the numerous stars I was looking at hardly a minute ago. Completely bewildered, I closed my eyes to understand how dynamic the kingdom of the nature is. I then got a flashback of the place where it all began – the Saankri base camp.

Bracing myself to face my fears

After numerous efforts, headaches, motion sickness and nervousness, we were just a few kilometers away from the base camp at Saankri. It was barely 6 in the evening and the driver had already switched on the headlights of the car. As expected, the winds gave us quite a cold welcome. However, unlike the winds and the weather, team Indiahikes had already gathered together to give us the warmth (one which was much needed).

Snow at the camps in Har ki Dun PC: Siddharth Sirohi

We were all asked to assemble in a room for a briefing by our trek leaders. All around the room were big frames of the Himalayas. Some stunning panoramic views of the snow clad mountains of the Om Parvat and a simple photo of Osla which is a small village on the way to Har Ki Dun. This was also the first time when many of our trek companions were introducing themselves. We were a group of ten and were asked to describe what made us choose this trek. I had obviously not planned to say anything. But the conversation with Manav, our trek leader was an exception.

I happened to talk to him about one of the most dreadful fears I had – Heights! Yes, I am (or was) an acrophobic. Though I never wanted to speak about it, it somehow percolated through my sub conscious. I still remember his suspicious look and the booing around when I confessed it. “At times even a floor could give me a head spin,” I told him. His reply was simple yet so encouraging, “Don’t worry we will do it together!”

The dark cloud rises – Taluka

It was 7 am and breakfast was ready to be served. After an hour’s drive through the mountains, we saw valleys hung on either side with tall tree forests all around. It was hypnotizing. As soon as we reached Taluka, I tried to look as far as possible to have a complete view of the landscape. It all looked straight and flat. I was eager for the trek but secretly happy to see the low land terrains. The sun was right above our heads and our group was well behind everyone in the team. If I were to confess it outright, we were slower than the rest and had ignored the clock rounds completely.

The sun had almost set and we were still a few kilometers away from our first camp site. And soon, the dark clouds rose.

At the Himalayas, the sun not only dips early but also goes down very fast. We were quite surprised at the sudden change in natural lighting. But we continued to walk. The river passing by sounded a bit scary. Nevertheless, a night trek is an experience in itself.

That smile that changed my perspective – Osla

I had realized by now that there were some serious endeavors ahead. We had already trekked a distance of nearing 13 kilometers on the first day and a mere 8 kilometers was lined up for the second. Gradually, I noticed that the routes not only grew steeper, but the height increased too. Although it was extremely hot and dry, the chilly winds kept the drama alive. A couple of hours later, panting and sipping, we had reached our first stop for the day. It was the last hamlet we were to come across – Osla.

At a height of 8500 odd feet, is a village named ‘Osla’. One of the smallest hamlets many of us would have ever come across. With a population of a few hundreds, it had two things which made it special – the Himalayas and their satellite telephone.

A shot of a mother carrying her child in the village of Osla PC: Prabhu Sarna

A bunch of children waving at us was the first view of this small village. But there is one thing that stuck to me till the end. It was a little girl tugging at my pant for a mithai. She was tiny and barely reached till my waist. I turned towards her to see her kneeling down, carrying a tiny boy on her back (maybe her brother) wrapped in an old piece of cloth. She then looked up at me with a smile and the bright sun made her blood-red cheeks glow even more. The knot was firm across the infant’s body and the boy’s little legs peeped out of the snug cloth carriage. His wrists bore marks of the tight jute knot, but the spark in his eyes showed boldness. It was clear to me that he was a child of the mountains.

In that moment I realized that while we were aspiring to be everything we can in the cities, the people at Osla were still making do with whatever little nature gave them. Whenever I get too caught up in the city life, I will always remind myself of the simplicity of this village.

Never hustle in the mountains

It was a dry afternoon and the sun was fierce. I had managed to annoy my trek leader by asking him the same question repeatedly since morning, “How high is it going to be? Are the roads going to get steeper?” I knew he was frustrated, but I also knew that there were deep valleys to my right and extremely high mountains in front. The terrain was difficult to maneuver now. The mud and frozen snow had made the surface so slippery, that we slipped with every drag and drift of the feet. The scorching heat was making me feel the pumping of my heart in my head. I took long pauses to regain the oxygen, but all in vain. Somehow I managed to cover a distance of nothing more than a kilometre in more than an hour.

Near the Puaani Garat campsite PC: Anirban Banerjee

When you change altitude quickly, never hustle; take small steps and be slow, so that the body builds a rhythm with the altitudes. Lesson learnt!

We had finally reached the second camp site- Kalkatiyadhar.

Sun set at 10,000 feet – Kalkatiyadhar

It was five in the evening, and the sun was playing hide and seek. We all sat in silence witnessing one of the most divine sunsets. It was as though this sunset was an answer to all the questions that have troubled me. Time was now brought down to moments.

A couple of hours later I was still struggling with my respiration. My oxygen levels had gone down. We checked it twice but it showed no signs of improvement. I was a good ten points below the normal level of oxygen. We were instructed that anything below 90 needed careful attention and I had recorded an 80. I knew the consequences and our trek leader affirmed it. He handed me a dose of Diamox and said that if I didn’t show signs of any improvement he would have to decide if I could continue with the trek or descend to a lower altitude. I was worried but I replied back saying, “Don’t worry, we will do it together!” Those were the words which had given me the confidence to be at the 10,000 feet that I was at that day.

The sun rise at Har ki Dun PC: Siddharth Sirohi

The grand opening – Har ki Dun

The nights were cold but our tired bodies needed no comfort to fall fast sleep. A good long sleep was an acclimatiser and my body had almost acclimatised. I was scared that I may have to descend so I tried to self-discipline myself. The plan was to stop after every 25 steps and drank half a litre of water. I was asked to have atleast 9-10 litres of liquid to counter the breathing difficulty I had the previous day. The discipline of having water regularly kept the body well hydrated and improved my oxygen levels. It felt easier to walk this way. I had also learnt the right technique of walking (or so I think).

It’s important to maintain a rhythm while you walk. Inhaling while taking a step and exhaling through the other helps you develop it.

We were told that the roads today would lead us to Har Ki Dun and they were smooth and easy. Rightly so, after a few hours of climbing, the roads were smooth, just like the ones we had started our journey with. The brown rough soil was gradually turning into white snow smudged at the edges of the mountains. The roads were wider and after a few bridges that we passed through, the valley had started introducing itself to us. We crossed the pine forests covered with snow. Hovering above the trees were fleets of birds, echoing their chirping through the forests.

With the echoes of chirpings setting the mood, the valley had opened it’s doors for us and left us with jaws dropped wide open. We knew we were close to Har Ki Dun now and would easily make it before sunset unlike the first day. And we did, we finally made it to Har Ki Dun – the valley of gods.

The Final Descend

After a day’s rest at the destination, we prepared to descend. The rest day had it’s own share of challenges for a few of us. We had decided to climb to a lake nearby. The snow had us covered till our ankles and slipping meant a direct jump into the river flowing beside. But all good things come with a price. These challenges were the price we paid for a view of the immortal Swargarohini peaks. If mythology is to be believed, Swargarohini marks a direct entry to the heavens. We who witnessed it know why it is believed so.

Our descend back was fast and we reached Osla in almost no time. In fact, we also had an opportunity to sit back and once again be amused at the life in Osla. The Indiahikes team had arranged for a celebration cake on our way back. I have no idea how they did it, but they did. All of us stayed awake till late that night after almost a week. With legs full of cramps and aches, we were at the base camp following our break at Osla. We were now back to Taluka.

Witnessing the magnificent Har ki Dun
PC: Pravin Karandikar

End credits

We were finally seated in our cars and all set to go back. As we left the mountains behind, we bid them adieu. The road from Taluka to Saankri was a stretch full of white pebbles. The sun was setting and their rays on the mountains made the snowy white peaks look like gold. Our eyes moved from the mud laid roads to the roots of the trees lined up in series. It looked like a pack of pencil colours in contrasting hues stacked next to each other. A little bump and the tyres sank deep inside the stream cutting our path.

I was truly taken aback by the perpetuity of nature. I stared at the setting sun and felt a serene sweep across my mind.

What began as an anxious leap of faith had ended up in me beginning to decode the answers to my questions hidden in nature. I will definitely come back for more, more answers, more challenges and more fears to be conquered.

 

Nikunj Sharma

Nikunj Sharma

Nikunj is a Chartered Accountant by profession. He is a traveler at heart. His interests include music and writing. When he isn't travelling, you'll find him reading travelogues or dreaming of future travel destinations.

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