Winter trek in Dalhousie. Part one — The journey

The post came out pretty long so people who don’t want to read much just scroll down to the text in red and read from there. Till then it’s about the train journey and Delhi.

So the ligament tear in my leg had screwed my plans of Cave exploration in Mizoram (through YHAI) and backpacking in Northeast in November, and the desperation to do something before the year ended made me book for the Dalhousie Winter Trek organized by YHAI itself in December. Booked the train tickets too immediately. The realization came later that I have never experienced winter in the North, and this was going to be a bad idea. Dropped the plan initially, but later decided that I would go and get myself frozen up North :D

13th Dec was my train to Delhi from Cochin. The catering inside, as usual, was expensive and bad so I resorted to eating at the stations. Idly vada for breakfast at Vijayawada, lot of snacks for lunch at Renigunta, Mishti dahi and tasty (spicy too) channa at Balharshah and Roti Sabji for dinner at Nagpur, and tea at every 2 hours interval :D

Since the whole day was spent at standing at the door, enjoying music in my headphones, and eating, I too decided to sleep at the normal sleeping time of people in trains (by 9.30 pm :-o ). Woke at around 2 because of extreme cold, to realize that a girl in the middle berth had left the glass window open and kept the ventilation window on, basically freezing the whole section. After 15 minutes of laziness and watching that girl shiver in the cold, decided to shut that window, and did. Back to the berth under my bedsheet after saving the day and I hear noises outside. Some station had arrived. No better time to grab a cup of tea.

By the time I was outside, the train started to move, and I had to rush back in. The tea seller, on seeing this from a distance, shouted “Chai chahiye kya bhaiya?” (do you want tea brother?) and I shouted back yes. He immediately filled a cup and ran behind the train, handing me the tea with a smile of satisfaction on his face, and and I handed over a ten rupee note to him. At this, the cop who was standing near the door of the compartment commented “Aapko to special door delivery mil raha hai” (you are getting a special door delivery) and from this started a conversation with an interesting person while sipping hot tea in a very cold train.

Mr. Pandey, a police hawaldar who hails from Itarsi, works somewhere in an interior village in UP. He takes the 4 hour train till Bina Junction and from there it’s another 2 hours by train to some other railway station, the name of which I forgot, and from there, it’s 3 hours by bus. Even with all this travelling trouble he has to go through every week, and staying away from his family, he has high regards, commitment, and respect for his job, and when I had told him I am from Kerala, his eyes started shining and he started telling me about this Keralite female IPS officer who was the DSP or something near that area, with continuous praise for her strictness and dedication. He told me how he and his colleagues generally travel without tickets, and about the occasional lectures they have to listen to due to some strict ticket inspectors. His plan was to stand there till his station arrived but then I told him the side lower berth in my section was empty and he came with me thanking me again and again. He was gone by the time I woke up, and after a long wait in train till evening with our jacket and monkey cap on, I reached Delhi. Now I had to go to Prithvi’s place in Gurgaon and after a combined 50 hours of travel in Train and the Metro, I was there.

As usual, Prithvi treated me with a good dinner and we had a warm conversation. After that we headed directly to sleep, and the next day he left for office after breakfast. Anila wanted to meet for lunch at Karim’s and though I don’t feel it’s worth all the hype, agreed to it. Food sourcces say that you get equally tasty food and better variety in the shops around Karims. After lunch at Karims, we went to the Jama Masjid, climbed on top of the Minar, enjoyed the splendid view, and then with aching legs, bought a woolen glove for me and had kabaabs from a roadside shop. After bidding goodbye to her, headed to Old Delhi Railway station from where the main part (scary too at that time) of the journey would begin.

The lazy ones can start reading from here :P

Everyone ready to board the train (Jammu mail) had a big blanket bag with them. And here I was, with one set of thermals, a jacket, a monkey cap, a neck warmer which prithvi had given (turned out to be a lifesaver), a woolen glove and a couple of woolen socks, and a bedsheet which looks like a small blanket :-D Got on to my upper berth to find that the material of the berth was awfully cold. Spread my towel on that and somehow managed to settle myself under the bedsheet. Fully covered I was with all my gear, but for my eyes. Hadn’t worn the thermals yet. That was for worse conditions. This was just 12 degrees in Delhi, and the next day morning, I would be getting down at 0–2 degrees. Then I saw this kid taking out a cellotape from his bag and sealing the small gap in the window. I knew this was going to be a long and tough night.

Scared? Yes

Excited? Hell yes

Survival? God only knows :-P

After walking up every hour succumbing to the cold and to the occasional chants of “jam gaya reee” (I’m frozennn) coming from various sides, it was 6 and time for my train to reach Pathankot. Removed my gloves to check the map for my current location and my hands started hurting because of the cold. Damn you touchscreen. Put my gloves back on, packed my bag and got down. Someone opened the door at this point and I could hear “maarne pe tule ho kya?” (are you trying to kill us?) and a couple of abuses along with people shouting at him to close the door. Soon it was Pathankot Cantonment, and I got down thinking it was my station, and then realized it wasn’t and got back. At 6.20 I was at Pathankot Junction, frozen, shivering, and not knowing what to do. Walked around the station for half an hour. Thought I’d abandon the act of brushing my teeth because that would require me touching the cold water, which in term would freeze my hand further. But then the courageous me sprung into action, and soon I was brushing my teeth :-D

After numerous tea’s to keep my hands warm and walking around the station for a couple of hours and freezing my ass while relieving myself at the toilet at the station, I realized that things weren’t gonna get much better. At 10 am also the fog was dense and the temperature was low. So I decided I’d make a move now. This was how the station looked at 10 am.

Don’t ask me who that girl is. I have no idea :-P

Got out of the station, walked to the bus station and got into a dhaba next to that. 2 hot and huge parathas with extra curd for 70 bucks. I would rate it on the higher side but totally worth it for the taste :-) Had checked for places to visit in Pathankot in the meantime and decided that I would go visit the Dam and Mukteshwar temple. The rest of the places didn’t seem much interesting to me and was worth missing. Had to reach Dalhousie by nightfall so starting early for the 4 hour bus journey also seemed like a decent idea. Didn’t want to get stranded in an isolated place in the middle of the night like what happened in Bhuntar (Will come up in a separate post). The dhaba owner guided me to the place where I could get the bus to the dam. Took a share auto to that place, had a tea, got on the bus, and off we were, to the dam. The ticket cost 25 bucks which meant it was going to be somewhere around 20 kilometers. After running on the plains for some time, the bus took on to ghats and the scenery changed into a breathtaking extravaganza. At one point I could see the the majestic dam, with the river in the front and snow capped mountains in the background. My first view of snow this year. Too excited I was. Got down at the bus stop to the dam, only to realize that prior permission was necessary to enter the dam premises. The security was nice enough to guide me to the park 2 km’s away, which would give me a beautiful view of the dam reservoir. I guess anyone would agree that the 2 km walk with the backpack was totally worth it :-)

Got out of the station, walked to the bus station and got into a dhaba next to that. 2 hot and huge parathas with extra curd for 70 bucks. I would rate it on the higher side but totally worth it for the taste :-) Had checked for places to visit in Pathankot in the meantime and decided that I would go visit the Dam and Mukteshwar temple. The rest of the places didn’t seem much interesting to me and was worth missing. Had to reach Dalhousie by nightfall so starting early for the 4 hour bus journey also seemed like a decent idea. Didn’t want to get stranded in an isolated place in the middle of the night like what happened in Bhuntar (Will come up in a separate post). The dhaba owner guided me to the place where I could get the bus to the dam. Took a share auto to that place, had a tea, got on the bus, and off we were, to the dam. The ticket cost 25 bucks which meant it was going to be somewhere around 20 kilometers. After running on the plains for some time, the bus took on to ghats and the scenery changed into a breathtaking extravaganza. At one point I could see the the majestic dam, with the river in the front and snow capped mountains in the background. My first view of snow this year. Too excited I was. Got down at the bus stop to the dam, only to realize that prior permission was necessary to enter the dam premises. The security was nice enough to guide me to the park 2 km’s away, which would give me a beautiful view of the dam reservoir. I guess anyone would agree that the 2 km walk with the backpack was totally worth it :-)

While enjoying the view, two kids came near me. Tried talking to one kid and the other one told me he’s deaf and mute. They asked me where I was from and why I am alone. I took the cookie biscuits I had in my bag and gave to them, and they told me “Iss baar diwaali pe nahi aaye aap…bahut late ho gaye” (You didn’t come for Diwali this time. Pretty late you are). Didn’t really know what he meant but felt good imagining that they consider me as some bald Diwali Santa, and foraged my bag and gave them all the chocolates I could find. Both of them were very happy, though still looking at the bag hoping there was more in it.

Now it was time to go to the Temple. For those who would visit these places, going to the temple first is a good idea because it’s on the route from Pathankot to the Dam. The temple is just 5 kilometers from the dam. From the bus stop, there is a 1km walk to the entrance. The board on the way states the importance of the temple.

While enjoying the view, two kids came near me. Tried talking to one kid and the other one told me he’s deaf and mute. They asked me where I was from and why I am alone. I took the cookie biscuits I had in my bag and gave to them, and they told me “Iss baar diwaali pe nahi aaye aap…bahut late ho gaye” (You didn’t come for Diwali this time. Pretty late you are). Didn’t really know what he meant but felt good imagining that they consider me as some bald Diwali Santa, and foraged my bag and gave them all the chocolates I could find. Both of them were very happy, though still looking at the bag hoping there was more in it.

Now it was time to go to the Temple. For those who would visit these places, going to the temple first is a good idea because it’s on the route from Pathankot to the Dam. The temple is just 5 kilometers from the dam. From the bus stop, there is a 1km walk to the entrance. The board on the way states the importance of the temple.

Reached the entrance to a marvelous sight but the fact that I had to climb down and then climb up with my backpack wasn’t really a pleasant thought.

The picturesque Mukteshwar Temple

There are 3 small caves at the bottom of the rock, with the idols placed inside. This side of the river is Punjab and the other side is J&K. Not really bragging but I was this close to J&K ;-) :-P

Sat at the riverbank for half an hour, absorbed in my thoughts, and decided I would leave now. The Pandit at the temple stopped me and said “Yahaan se koi khaali haath nahi jaata. Khaana khaake hi jaa sakte ho” (Noone returns empty handed from here. You can go only after having lunch). I obliged and the caretaker came to me and kept me engaged till lunch was ready. He told me there was facilities available for sleeping there and I could spend the night there if I wanted. Wanted to but then it was my reporting date for the trek, so refused. He then gave me marriage advise — to marry a Himachali girl because they are beautiful, nice and very well mannered. I would agree to him ;-) . After having tasty roti, rice, dal and teekha, sat for another hour enjoying the view and then set off. Two guys who had come to see the temple offered me a ride on their bike to the main road, and here we were going in triples in that road, cursing the condition of that road :D

From there, there’s bus available to Dhar, and from Dhar it’s 60 Kilometers to Dalhousie through ghat roads. Had a tea at Dhar and got a Punbus (Punjab Transport Bus) to Dalhousie :-) It was sunset time while the bus was climbing up the ghats and as our altitude kept increasing, the sun was at the horizon for about half an hour. A beautiful sunset but I wouldn’t dare open the window or remove my glove to take a snap because it was that cold. Was dark and about 7.30 when I reached Dalhousie. There was ice on the roads which had solidified after the snowfall 3 days ago. The first of it’s kind sight for me.

Ice on the roads. Such a usual sight there :D Never seen it? :-P

Had a tea, asked for the Youth Hostel and headed towards the hostel. One of the most pleasant surprises of the trip was waiting for me at the Basecamp.

Tadaaaa…..suspense…will tell you in the next post :-P This post was about the journey and that’s over :-D

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