Saturday, April 27, 2013

Let's March!!! - A Trek to Dodi Tal - Part 2

The previous part can be found here.
17th March, 2013
I woke up at 6.30 in the morning. And what a wonderful way to wake up - with a cramp in my left calf! It was funny in a way, because I never recognized the fact that I had a calf or two, I mean, not with the same level of importance imparted to organs like kidneys, the cerebrum, or the appendix. Painful recognition that was, but one that did not last long (thankfully), and I cautiously crept out of the tent to be greeted by some morning tea. It was very cold that morning, with the tall hills blocking out the sun rays till about 8.30. It does not help that the Bebra camp site is set in a valley surrounded by hills on all sides.

Preparations galore.
As luck would have it, a forest official walked in and warned us not to do the trek. He sat around for some time in the small room above the camp. Kishan kept pointing out to him that people have already trekked along this stretch a few days back. He wasn't convinced, but finally yielded after I wrote a disclaimer claiming that we alone are responsible for our safety. I wonder what he was after (guess, guess)!

After breakfast, we headed out by around 10 O clock. The climb was a bit steep (nothing deadly) for the first 30 minutes. My legs were holding up well (I had sprayed pain killers liberally over them).

Flevy with her stroll-in-the-park look.

The camp site at Bebra that you can notice toward the bottom of the pic gives you a sense of the elevation gain.
This is the view after you cross the first round of elevation. There was too much light, playing the spoilsport (for the pictures i.e.).

Somewhere around here, Tata Docomo phone lines came active. It was a major hold-up of sorts for the trek, as people made calls back home updating them of what was happening. It was fair enough, as we wouldn't have the chance to talk to anyone over the next 3 days. Even Bebra did not have cell phone coverage.
The trek was a breeze so far with a bit of moderate climb throughout. At some point, our porters started off on a steep shortcut. I firmly refused to follow suit and continued on the trail, as I have had bad experiences with shortcuts in the past. Like they say, the shortcut is often the longest cut.

Here's our tribute to Guns N Roses, Dodital style!
We walked for an hour or so before the next round of elevation gain began. The first batch of people in the distance at some height.

The picture below was taken by the folks up there, from the top. We were the second batch, while the third was nowhere to be seen. BTW, this looked like a serious elevation gain, but frankly it ended with a whimper, not with a bang.

We waited/walked slowly for the third contingent to arrive. For all our patience, unbeknownst to us, the third batch had taken the steep shortcut, and had reached the pitstop 30 minutes before the first batch. 

Here's pic of batch 3 players climbing up the short cut. I'm told it was a tough climb.  But it had its positives, coz some who climbed that tough trail would find nothing that lay ahead more difficult. 

That said, I have to repeat a quote from a previous blog: "2 baje ki Rajdhani pakdni thi kya?"

Here's us having lunch at the pitstop. This is almost the halfway point on the trek to Manjhi. We had carried packed lunches from the Bebra camp. The package contained poories, sabji, a banana, and pickle.
 Every meal needs some serious backdrop - it's a thing for us.

The trail up from Manjhi (a km or two) should be trekked with caution as you may face the risk of falling stones. We  made it to the other side without incidents.

Looking back at the day, I can only say pedestrian stuff like, "the views were stunning"; or "it was just awesome"; but you just had to be there physically to appreciate the magnitude of scenarios that unfolded with every step.

Look, look, a mountain!
 First snows on the way to Manjhi!
There were a lot of minor interruptions en route. There was a genuine query from a trekker about falling trees and branches and associated safety risks. The answer to that question was also genuine and spot on. It's there in the video below this picture.

Soon, a slight drizzle started and we brought out the jugaad ponchos (plastic cover-alls in this case) we had picked up from Uttarkashi for a princely sum of 25 Rupees apiece. Had it rained hard, they would have been a disaster. (Note the point, your honor, if you want to trek in these parts.) Soon the drizzle stopped, but it had the intended cooling effect. Slight drizzle changed to slight snowfall - a first for a lot of us. Here's a short video of the proceedings, with a bit of banter.


During the second half of the day's trek, we encountered some tricky patches of snow. This was just a minor dress rehearsal for the next day's trek.

We reached the Manjhi campsite by around 4 in the evening.

And FYI - the guy who had gone all the way back to Uttarkashi in the morning for reinforcements  came back 30 minutes after we reached (all the way from Bebra to Sangamchatti, and Sangamchatti to Bebra and Manjhi). He must have trekked like an arrow in slow motion.
Like the Chinese in disputed islands in South China Sea (or even Aksai Chin), we have a way of marking our territory. Satya hoisting the company flag! Some of us, did a lot more in canine fashion.
 Miffed at the puny campfire the previous night, we decided to take the business into our own hands. And boy, we proved good at it!
It's all about gender equality - bringing firewood. We brought enough branches and firewood that evening to burn the whole of Manjhi down.

 Some of us who went for reconnaissance in the evening found impressions of a rather peculiar species in snow.

Keeping Kishan's advice about moderation in mind, I decided to be the bartender. It was such a bad idea. 
Rule no 1. the bartender shouldn't drink. Broken. (proof in the pic below)
Rule no 2. the bartender  shouldn't chew dried buffalo meat. Broken. (proof in literature to follow)
Rule no 3. the bartender  shouldn't break rule no 1.
A few more rules were broken that night, and we can forgive everything. But, by the time the night was over, we would have a teetotaler drinking away. Now, that ain't fair. 
Warming up!
More stuff getting warmed up!
That night happened to be Liji's birthday, and she got a surprise in the form of a birthday cake brought all that way from Bangalore (thanks to some of her colleagues). Huddled over a warm campfire, inches away from thick sheets of snow, we celebrated her birthday and almost sang the whole night away.

Rumble in the Jungle
While walking back to the tent for a good night's sleep, I should have been a happy man. My cramp had not resurfaced during the day. And my gut instincts told me that the team was fighting fit to easily take on Dodi Tal the next day, should snow conditions permit. But I was still worried, coz there was a catch. My gut instincts also told me another thing - that I had a real problem with my gut! In the tent that night, listening to the occasional snore or two, and trying to ignore a violent tummy, I wondered what could have gone wrong. My constitution is pretty strong, and I can usually eat any crap that comes my way without affecting my internal ecosystem. And at some point during that fateful cold night when the zipper of my sleeping bag would also stop working leaving me shivering and exposed, I realized the answer had three words - dried buffalo meat. All the jokes that I had made about wet wipes and tissues (about them being too sissy), during the trip meetings back in office, officially came back to haunt me. As the Indie programer might have said in Matrix Revolutions, diarrhea is a word, just like karma. 

My conclusion about the source of the anomaly was reinforced the next day morning by another trekker who had binged on buffalo meat. Together, we coined a new term for high-altitude-diarrhea (HAD):  Dodi BellyA word of advice for people going on long treks - do not try anything holistically new!

Part 3 could be found here.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Let's March!!! - A Trek to Dodi Tal - Part 1

A few people I have met in the past during my treks have asked me this question - where do you work? Going by the number of breaks I take in a year, and that too, all the way from Bangalore, they assume I'm a trustafarian of sorts.  Well, that would be far from truth!

I work for this cool company called ansrsource (yeah, say it - WHAT Source? You haven't heard about it before? It's ok!) and I happen to have some of the best colleagues you can ever find. How do I know? I have worked in other places, including the Dubai, the Mumbai, and my very own the Thiruvananthapuram (Just a wavy red line over that city name while I typed it out - like a communist flag, with no spelling suggestions from autocorrect!).

Coming back to where I left off, we go on these escapades from our office once a year - just to check if we can stand colleagues in close proximity for about 10 days, and while we are at it, we climb, trek, bitch, binge, raft, and generally have fun. This year, we zeroed in on Dodi Tal near Uttarkashi - a five day trekking affair, to be followed by a two day whitewater rafting spree in Rishikesh. 

Dodi Tal is a lake situated at an altitude of 3,050 m (about 10,000 feet), from which the river Assi Ganga is born. Assi Ganga meets the Bhagirathi in Uttarkashi. And Bhagirathi, for starters, is the Ganga herself, but she would not get that name until a 100 odd kilometers downstream after the Alak Nanda river merges with it. Compared with that, the union with Assi Ganga is not a merger of equals, but more of an acquisition. That said, Assi Ganga was in the news August, 2012 for a flash flood that killed more than a hundred people. 

Pre-trip planning
14 of us from the office started our preparations months in advance. The tickets were booked in November (with a learning curve about frivolous airline booking practices). Two weekends in February were spent shopping for gear. Shoes were the big ticket item, as we anticipated some snow at least toward the end of the trek. The most underrated item we purchased were torches. In hindsight, they came a close second to shoes in terms of utility. Most of us picked up Quechua shoes from the Decathlon Store in BLR. One of us picked up a pair of Lytos from Ozone (which happened to be my favorite store). That person would have a story to tell during the trip.

We insisted that people go on morning or evening walks, at least a few kilometers every day. Most of us did that, while a select few just picked up steam toward the deadline, like we some times do on projects. I did not move an inch away from my bed during those mornings. During the day, I would give pep talks on the importance of walking regularly (with fake stories of how I walked 5 km in the morning that day). I was accumulating bad karma - and I would pay for it. 

14th March, 2013
We said goodbyes to our colleagues and boarded the bus to BLR airport, on our way to Delhi.The bus to pick us up was promptly there outside Palam airport at12 O Clock in the night. After grabbing a quick bite from the airport, we started our big journey to the mountains.

15th March, 2013
We stopped at Haridwar at around 7 in the morning for a quick change of clothes and refreshments. Most of us had come to work the previous day, and a quick change was most welcome.

We work in the content sphere, so typo hunting (like in the pic below) was a major game during the trip. (Photos courtesy VL Nagaraj, unless mentioned otherwise.)

Soon, we headed out to Har ki Pauri on cycle rickshaws. On the way some of us decided that the speed of cycle rickshaws were not good enough and started jogging.
Sheer exhilaration and sense of achievement! Vivek Pradhan.
Who moved my rickshaw?
Har ki Pauri in Haridwar. This is also the site of the Kumbh Mela, conducted once in 12 years. The water was cold, but of a few of us took a refreshing bath in the river.
 A prayer stall on the banks of the river.

 A lonely aarti floating down.
 The bottles to collect the holy water from Brahm Kund.
Mohan Pooriwaley is a good vegetarian food outlet near Har ki Pauri. It's possibly the only place in the planet where I walk out feeling good after a veg meal.
We gorged on pooris and curry (and halva) like crazy. The aftermath after 15 hungry tummies had their fill.
Abe, khatham nahin hua !
Wiping off oil from the food. I swear to God that this is not part of my KRAs. The thankless denizens gave me a nick name after this - Towel Baba (I added the upper case myself).
Reuben in his dark mood. I kill you. Y u order me no tea?
Corporate Social Responsibility. Anupama helping out the rickshaw driver. :)

Our private transport for the day.We started our journey to Uttarkashi (about 170 kms away) by around 9.30 in the morning.
After a brief lunch and hours of rickety journey, we reached Uttarkashi by around 5 in the evening. Kishan, our guide was there to greet us. We stayed at the beautiful Hotel Shivlinga. Set on the banks of the Bhagirathi, this is a tidy place 2km away from the bustle and horns of the Uttarkashi township.
People were obviously happy to check in to some place decent after the 24 hour journey which started from our office the previous evening. Satya, for sure, was happy.

While all this was happening, Kishan came in with Pradeep, who would be our guide for the bulk of the trek. They took one look at people lolling around (having fun on the swing, some a tad overweight, some sitting tired in the corners sipping tea), sized up fitness levels and started giving their sidey glances and conniving smiles. I got the point and took them into the hotel room. They were candid enough.

Kishan told me that he felt 4 to 5 people will not make it to the end, and we should be mentally prepared to leave a few at the high camp in Manjhi and push further up with those who can. From a team that had come back from Dodi Tal a day ago (mostly foreigners), Kishan knew that the snow situation beyond Manjhi (5 km away from Dodi Tal) was pretty bad (up to 4 or 5 feet snow in big patches). I knew they had a point, but I told them that people in our team have been jogging and working out, and we'll be fine. Kishan said that he will keep a close watch on people the next day, while they walk the first 7 odd kilometers to Bebra Gate. I agreed and walked out of the meeting fuming and cursing some of us (who I knew had the warning, but did not exercise).

For a major part of that evening, I could not stand it when people were happy and smiling (you idiots, you don't know what you are in for, sort of feeling), or clicking pictures by the riverside. I questioned myself, and my wisdom (or the lack of it) in taking 10 out of 15 people on their first Himalayan adventure - over a 5 day camping and trekking trip away from civilization. Should've settled for something smaller, like the Deoria Tal types - over in a day or two, I kept telling myself before going to sleep.

16th March, 2013

We woke up and got out by around 10 in the morning. Our support crew consisted of Kishan, Pradeep, Ranveer, one cook, five porters for general stuff, and four porters to carry some of our luggage.

We had sandwiches for breakfast, which is when Anupama came up with this brilliant number along with Reuben and Vivek. She is the next best thing that has happened to me after Janis Joplin. :)

The starting point for the trek is Sangamchatti, about 20 km from Uttarkashi. We crossed the terrain in two jeeps in a little over an hour or so. The signs of the 2012 landslide were there all along the ride.This is the bridge which was washed away by the infamous landslide.
An attempt to capture the spirit before the trip.

The cautiously optimistic (but excited) 15 at the beginning of the trip.

Crossing the stream over the makeshift wooden bridge.

The trek on day 1 from Sangamchatti to Bebra Gate is about 7 kilometers long. It starts with an uphill climb which is not very steep. We started walking by around 11 in the morning.

We took our music station along with us (coz there's no range after a point). The Haddya La Padyo band - Anupama, Saurav, and Reuben.   

First sight of snow clad peaks!

We walked at a relaxed pace, peeling away juicy oranges we picked up from Uttarkashi. The citrus fruit added to the hunger later on.


Seconds before disaster. Kalpana and Flevy assaulting Vivek.

Another example of girl power. Nisha trying to push Saurav off the cliff. This picture is now part of our company training module that explains how to use quotation marks effectively.
That's Kishan, our guide for the day! He had a surgery recently, and did not want to walk up after the first day. He was my guide for the Kedar Tal trek a few years back.
 You did not believe the bit about the music band, dijju?
Pit-stop on the way. VL trying to eavesdrop.
Happy to be at the pit-stop. They served noodles and tea.


I discovered the joy of eating dried buffalo meat imported from Nepal. It is dried but chewy, a wee bit spicy, and very filling. It was new to me and I kept munching on it for a good part of the trek on day 1. Saurav had a nickname for the buffallo meat - buff, and that created quite a stir.

Approaching Agora Village.

Agora village in the distance. Some of us confused it with "Aghora (an esoteric Shaivite Hindu sect)" and expected a lot more action. The trek almost leveled off after this point.  We walked at a decent pace and no one seemed overly tired.

The infamous bhenji ki bhains, in a placid mood. A few minutes later, it would run helter skelter, scaring the shit out of some of our people. And then, while the lady tending to the buffalo struggled to calm it down, Reuben would ask this innocent question to her - "Bhenji, isko kya huva?" (Sister, what happened to it?) - in a stereotypical South Indian accent. And she would just glare back at the trick question.

The weather was perfect, the sky was a bit overcast, so it was not sunny nor hot. It did not rain either during the trek (we had makeshift ponchos as a precaution).
Stone roofs! Very picturesque and old-worldish, these could be deadly during an earthquake.

 Accommodation is available in Agora village!

There's a reason why they keep hay on top of trees (in the rest of India, you would find hay heaped on trees or wooden poles, with the hay touching the ground). In these places, they would want to avoid the dampness - rain or snow - that decays hay.

 Reu's calfe.
 Camaraderie and sheer camera delight!
That's Liji trying out her new backpack.
A reasonable portion of the trek is paved with stones. 

Somewhere near Agora village, my left leg muscles cramped up. I sat down for a while and did some basic steps our resident yoga guru instructed. After getting some relief, I started walking. A few hundred metres later, both my legs cramped up in one go. After struggling for some time, I applied a shot of painkiller, and managed to stand up on both legs. There were a few more kilometers left to walk for the day, and I have no idea (actually I do, but you know the usage) how I reached Bebra Gate that day, tottering, and dragging my legs with the help of a trekking pole.
That's me and my damn leg causing the jam.

Rhododendron flowers. These were aplenty, and we were happy in our new-found knowledge that they were edible. Some of us (not me, rhymes with now me) went on a binge. Rhododendron is known as buransh in local lingo. They make concentrated rhododendron syrup (buransh squash), which is pretty good to drink, and is believed to be good for heart ailments.

Demonstrating the correct way to eat the flower.

This community event is called "shoot the photographer". Naomi (the "my precious" pebble hunter) and Aditya.

The journey was downhill for the last 30% of the day.  Cutie, cutie, kind off goat.

Well, until it snarls!
Sarcasm and attitude runs in the family!

Crossing the precarious log bridge. The water was extremely cold as some of us who were adventurous enough to take bath in it would find out later in the day.
For all the drama we did about the crossing, we saw local ladies with their heavy backpacks cross over without even a walking pole for support.

The camp site of Bebra Gate is just after this crossing. I did wonder about the etymology of the name Bebra Gate.

We reached at around 3.30. All 15 of us were in at roughly the same time. I checked with Kishan how he felt about the team. He sounded relieved compared to the previous evening, but wasn't completely confident - the snow factor on day 3 (from Manjhi to Dodi Tal) was his major concern.

Enjoying Maggi Noodles, the cornerstone of any nutritious mountain meal.

The huge bowl of Maggi was emptied out in record time. I did not eat much, thanks to a fair share of the buffalo meat.
Bird's-eye view.

Reassurance, just in case you did not believe it was our camp site.

With nothing else to do, we just sat around, while Saurav, Vivek, Reu, and Aditya decided to test waters in the stream nearby. Well, there are jokes and videos around some of that, as in who and what got wet and what did not, but let's just not wash dirty linen in public. It will be considered reude. ;)

Here's Rani Bitiya. The sharp contraption around her neck is to protect her from wild animals that roam these parts. Bears are common here.

With our new logo.
 The first guy in history to try to learn the guitar at Bebra Gate - VL.
Some of us went for a short walk soon afterwards. I tried some helpful hints to relax my leg, and ended up aggravating the cramp. I hopped around the camp in pain not being able to keep one of my legs on the ground. The worst part was when my toes cramped up. Kishan finally helped me out somewhat with his massage - I'm sure he has seen a lot more than this.

View from the camp site. It started to get cloudy pretty soon.

Soon it started drizzling a wee bit, and we ran for the comfort of our tents. The few who had gone walking were lucky enough to get back quickly without getting wet. Huddled inside the tent, the 15 of us kick-started an orchestra of sorts.


 Shiny happy people.
Thankfully, the rain did not last long. And the time came for the campfire. Music, fun, boogie woogie, and party sharty! An interesting part about the trip so far was the fact that we never played Antakshari (thank God!).

Campfire was an electric affair under a sky lit by a zillion stars.

They served dinner at around 8.45 in the night (we delayed it as much as we could). It was a full course affair, with soup to start things off.

After dinner, we looked at the ale position and current consumption patterns; weighted moving average calculations indicated that supplies may run out sooner than we had anticipated. Kishan warned us not to party so hard at altitude, especially at Manjhi, the higher camp. I agreed with that bit, but still managed to convince him to arrange for a porter to hurry back to Uttarkashi the next day and bring back reinforcements (just in case, you know?).

After stomping out the last vestiges of the bon fire over "High Hopes" by Pink Floyd, we retired for the night. Unlike the previous night, this time I was worried about myself and my legs. I was more or less confident with the team and the way they walked today without huffing and puffing. My cramp was barely gone, and I could sense it trying to resurface whenever I tried to move my legs at an odd angle (well, you can say there's no need to move your legs at an odd angle, but try being religious about that in a sleeping bag). The last thoughts of that night were scary - me not able to go with the team tomorrow, or having to walk back from some point in tomorrow's 9km trek, or having to cool my heals in Uttarkashi while the team trekked further up - without me.

Aaargh, I should have practiced what I preached, and walked a bit in those mornings when I had the time. All I could do now was to fidget in my sleeping bag and pray for some good luck.

Part 2 could be found here.