A Tale of a Himalayan Trek
When the troublesome life of an engineering student calls for a break, there are quite a few number of spots in India such a troubled student would go, for a major disconnect desperately needed by both the mind and heart of such a student. But then, we normally go for a trek in Sahyadris, but Shivaji’s forts’ treks are not enough, there is only one option that can solve such a problem: The Himalayas.
So we decided to set out for the disconnect. The aim of the trip for everyone was the same: go to a place so far, that Pune can be forgotten. A place away from all the noise and pollution, a place of peace and beauty, untouched and unspoiled, pristine has to be the perfect adjective to describe the beauty of such a place. It was a tough selection, as there were many spots in the Himalayas which fit this profile. Manali is too mainstream, it is too commercial, hence it was off the list. While “parsing” through blogs we found a trek fitting the profile, a trek not too tough, a place not too commercial, the Tungnath-Chandrasheela trek.
So during midterm in the seventh semester, it was decided, and trips are a serious affair in our friend circle, hence we booked the tickets as soon as we decided. So while I lied to my mother that we are just camping at a lake, I braced myself for a 3-day trek into the mighty Himalayas.
It is a long route from Pune(Maharashtra) to Uttarakhand in India. If you are a bachelor and a hostelite, an assumption of a thin wallet is implicit(how am I hostelite otherwise?), hence the travel had to be done through trains. It took us 16 hrs to reach Delhi, where I ate the best street food of my life, then it took another 8 hrs to reach Haridwar, and another 7 hrs to reach Sari village, the base camp for our trek to the Deoriatal lake.
Villages in the lower Himalayan region aren’t exactly villages in our city sense. A very small village in Maharashtra is equal to a town in that region. Sari was the same, it was more of a collection of a few houses, a few families, and a school. That’s it. This is a definition of a medium-sized village in the Himalayas. In these places, food supplies are limited. Hence, you have to pre-order your lunch and dinner, because they need time to arrange for your lunch. The ready to eat foods in these places include tea, Maggi, omelet. So here we were, in Sari, and we didn’t even hire a local guide. We had managed to befriend one, who was guiding a guy from Slovakia. He agreed that we could trek with him, for which we would give him some money. But it came with a cost, he wanted us to carry 4 tents and sleeping bags for him till Deoriatal, for which he would later award us with a discount. This was fine with us.
So the trek finally started and only 1 km of the trek served as a mirror moment for our meager physical stamina, but the beautiful view of mountains compensated for it. We eventually trekked only 2.5 kms in 3 hours. Mediocre performance, I know.
It was said that the Deoriatal Lake was place for Gods to take bath. Well, the place was indeed beautiful and would potentially fit the profile for such a task. You could see various peaks from here, Chaukhamba, Gangotri, and much more that I forgot the names of. People would often come here and camp for an entire night and then proceed to the next phase of the trek, the 16 km trek from Deoriatal to Chopta. So, I always used to fantasize about how cool it would be to actually live in a tent. But that bubble was broken when I realised that it is nothing more than living in a plastic bag and then sleeping awfully erect in the sleeping bag. But the real pleasure of camping comes in the night when you see the Milky way in the beautiful sky in the night. That is a sight rarely seen even in villages at night, forget about cities. That sight cannot be captured in mere mediocre mobile cameras, hence I do not have a shot of it. That scene does come with a price, when all the toilet things have to be managed in the open, and this makes camping in a forest a tough job and many do not want to camp again. I would, if my toilet would provide me with the same clear star-studded sky again. The aim was to catch the sunrise the next day, but when temperatures are lesser than 0 degrees, it is quite tough to prove true to the commitment. This is how Deoriatal looks like @ 6 am in the morning. No elaborations. Just keep calm and look at it and admire its stillness and forgive me for my bad photography.
With all the groups already left for Chopta the next day, we started our next phase of the trek 2 hours late. So we left and kept our pace this time. I learnt a lesson. It is wrong to wear two layer of sweaters for any trek. You will face a serious mindfuck called body heat which does not allow you to be comfortable. If you are sweaty and you remove your sweater, chances are you may fall sick. This should be kept in mind. So the first few kms of the trek were a little bit steep, but then it was quite flat. We performed better this day, as we maintained a good speed throughout the trek. We will perform far better in future treks. The Slovakian was a lot better than us, and he was getting a little frustrated because of our slow pace. So he went ahead with the guide, and since the roads on this trek are quite explicit and with Indiahikes people nearby, it is quite safe to trek without a guide. We faced snow several times in between and then the last 1.5 kms of the trek was complete snow. I was fortunate enough that I picked up a big twig somewhere to serve as my trekking pole, otherwise, I would be continuously slipping throughout the road. Snow becomes a curse after a few hours. It makes the road monotonous and ignites frustration which is common to a trekker when the end of the trek is near.
The end point of the trek was a road, on which you have to walk another km to Chopta. Himalaya always rewards your effort with a magnificent view. Chopta is known as the mini Switzerland of India for it’s pristine (repetition? I know.) beauty. Here is a pic of mine when I finally reached the end point of the trek. I slept on the road for 10 mins.
Chopta is a very minute village in the Himalayas. It is a village “forged” by the government to serve as base camp for Tungnath pilgrims. Chopta is basically just a collection of hotels. That’s it. You get electricity only for 2–2.5 hrs in Chopta. While every resource there is scarce: let it be food, water, electricity, rooms, it’s beauty is unrivaled. I will rather say that it is more beautiful than Manali. There I said it.
The next day started with motion sickness and altitude sickness hitting me, making me feel that I may vomit any moment, but Chandrasheela was only 4.5 km above. I couldn’t give up now, otherwise, I would feel ashamed of myself. The starting point was steep and then it met with the road for pilgrimage till Tungnath. I have to admit this, but the trek till Tungnath seemed very beautiful at first, but then it felt very very very (…) monotonous till Tungnath. Tungnath is a place which is completely closed from Diwali to April. The doors are closed and the entire town is deserted and you will not catch a single soul in the entire village. I arrived in Tungnath completely frustrated and angry. I had been trekking for 2 days now. The town is in snow now, so sometimes you may get confused between a man’s tracks and an animal’s. I did fall into snow which was deep till my knee. Snow is just like a very cold cushion. You do not feel anything, but it is very cold and wet.
Then was the next tough, exciting 1.5 kms trekking route to Chandrasheela peak. A photo is worth a thousand words. I can blabber at length, but it can be best summarised in this pic. That’s it. White, white, everywhere. My trekking pole had broken, and the trek was steep. It seemed to go on and on, with the Himalaya behind, it was I think the first time I felt proud of myself, that I trekked a Himalayan mountain. It was not a big feat, but a big feat for me personally. This is how it looks like from above. Heaven, I will say. I still remember the view, the peace, the entire sweat and toils of the trek. The Himalaya does reward you with its beauty. The harder it becomes, the more beautiful it gets.
As I said I can blabber about it for a month, and I won’t be finished at all. The trek opened a lot of doors for me. I met so many locals on my trip, I empathized with their difficult livelihood, envied them for living in such scenic places, but above all, I found the true value of patience and willpower.
Then I did finally vomit, and the vomit contained kit-kat. Ew. I know. At 5:30 in the evening with the sun nearly set, I reached my room in Chopta, really happy with my inner self. I never felt this much happiness in my entire life. The trip went on till Haridwar and Rishikesh, till Amritsar, after which we faced a 32-hour long journey from Amritsar to Mumbai.
Now, I am proud that I achieved and learned at least something from my wasted life.