Day 1 (11th June) [Gangotri to Bhoj Kharak - 3,600m to 4,200m, 7 kilometers.
Document Title: Elevation, Elevation, Elevation
[Part one can be found here.]
Before starting the trek, I promised myself that I would keep a live journal. Like most of the promises I make to myself, it got derailed due to lack of resources. At the end of the day, I borrowed a pen and a small notebook from Tilak, and jotted down the following.
All in all a good day. I woke up at around 5.30, when I heard Tilak getting up. I did not move, lest he asked me to get up and get ready.
We were all ready by 7.00 and started off by 7.45, with packed breakfasts. There were fourteen of us in all - two guides, 6 porters, one cook, and the five of us. We had walking poles, ice axes, crampons, ropes, gaiters, and other gear, and we must have given the impression of some climbing team, as we walked through the crowded lane of Gangotri. Here's Lovedeep, Saurav,and Shwetha, getting anxious for the trek to start.
We crossed the bridge over Ganga near Gangotri and then crossed Kedar Ganga using another bridge. I was here in 1998, and never realized the crossing would have any significance.
The hike was steep throughout. 70 to 80 degrees is no joke. For what seemed like a looong time, there was not even 10 or 20 metres of plain track to walk on. The key for the trek on Day 1 to Bhoj Kharak (Kharak/Khadak = glacier) is one word: "Elevation, Elevation, Elevation".
We had our packed breakfasts on the way. One of the dishes were baked aaloo (potato). Saurav vouched for it and I had it with salt, and it turned out to be yummy and nourishing. There were biscuits, candies, and more, but I was content with Baked Aaaloo.
Shwetha, Lovedeep, Tilak, and Saurav soon sort of got into a rhythm and climbed fast.
As usual, I found my rhythm, and found myself bringing up the rear end, not out of virtue, but necessity. The voices from within my chemical-clad lungs kept asking "Are you serious?", and my breath answered in a labored affirmative.
Kishan, our numero uno guide soon joined me, and he announced his intentions to stay with me, throughout the trek that day. I dint want to feel like no sissy (btw, the trek was tough, but all I needed was time, not help.) and told him that he could carry on, and I would reach. He said he'll stick, and I thought - great.
Our walk was through Bhoj Patra forests. Forests is a misnomer, because they are not dense, but the evergreen feel, if you can truly imagine, is the green look on fairy tales that were telecast in DD when I was young. Do girls have a name for that green? Dunnno.
This is what I'm talking about. The bark of this tree was used to write on before paper became fashion.
In time, Mt. Thalaysagar came into view.
And I was like SHIT, I had seen snaps of it before, but this was more than IT, and I was only seeing a part of it. I was seriously ogling it when Kishan came close and breathed down my neck (somewhere there) and said, " Sirjee, you know why I come here?" And I asked why.
"I come for this. I come for Thalaysagar. Isko dekhne. I can come again, just for this."
I believed him without question. You will too - if you were in my shoes, with the mountain in sight, if you chance to glance upon the grandeur that is Mount Thalaysagar.
"And you know something else Sirjee? The NIM guys are trying to climb it."
There were people up there, trying to summit it, while I was watching it from miles away. I envied those guys and wished them luck in the same breath. It was a comforting thought to know that over the next few days, this mountain would unravel itself more with each passing step that we take in its direction.
After a few more hours I saw Saurav waiting for me on top of a hillock. That last elevation took me a good 20 minutes. And then we came to the baby "spider wall" which Tilak had warned about. Pretty much a sheer rock face with half a foot path and no handrails. That wasn't too hard to negotiate.
I reached the camp by around 2 O Clock in the afternoon. My co-trekkers had reached by 12.30. Tilak did talk about it "Sajeeesh, poore dedh ghante late ho aap".
I was pleasantly miffed and retorted "Kya, 1 bajhe ki Rajdhani pakadnee thee kya aap ko?"
And, funny, when you think of it, the whole point of reaching Bhoj Kharak camping ground was to relax. But that turned out to be a pain because our guides would not let me lie down and sleep. They were worried that we could get AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness), if we rested like that. I was dead tired, and I used a swear word (F#%@ AMS)for the first time in my life - at 4,200m.
We had a sumptuous lunch that evening by around 3. Our cook had done an amazing job.
I was about to finally lie down and get some rest when the conversation steered to collection of wood for the camp fire. It was optional, but when all four of your co-trekkers opt to trek up and collect wood, there is actually no option but to tag along. Peer pressure works better at higher altitudes. Here are the load carriers.
[Photo courtesy: Shwetha Sharma]
The water that we used for drinking that night was mineral rich and dirty (muddy rather). We took it from the waterfall nearby and waited it to settle before gulping it down. Campfire took some time to catch fire, as the whole thing was damp.
As I write this, the campfire is going strong. I think we have collected enough wood to melt the whole glacier down. The support team had their own warmth fire going on.
As for tomorrow, we will be camping at Kedar Kharak, another seven kilometers away. Tilak was warning about bigger spider walls on the way as well as a "mud mountain" stretch where your feet can sink a bit in loose gravel, with the threat of small rocks coming flying from higher up the terrain. Shwetha mentioned that she did not mind walking in snow or ice for hours, but she did not like the idea of mud mountains and spider walls. I told her I did not personally like doing any of this including walking on normal terrain. Which brought us to the question of why I was doing this then. Tilak summed it up nicely, when he said "ye trekking haina, ek type ka keeda hotha hai". Yes - it's all about getting bitten by a bug, and I guess I'm infected.
I am a bit "happy" as I write this as my load would be reduced a bit tomorrow, as we managed to drain a bit of the fluid I was carrying in my backpack today. There's also talk around the camp about the possibility of snowfall and rain tomorrow. We have our ponchos and other accessories, but I do not know how we are going to handle the whole affair. What I do know is that tonight's vegetarian dinner is going to be yummy. Vegetarian food usually tastes good at high altitudes especially if you add jumbo prawns that were pickled at low altitudes.
Part 3 can be found here.