Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Trek to Har Ki Dun Valley - Part 2

This is part 2 of the Har ki Dun trek blog. Part 1 is here, in case you stumbled upon this one.

Day 4: 2nd April, 2014

Things were far from gloomy when we woke up in the morning. Moods changed in the tent to match the bright sunshine that awaited us. Now that looked like a fine morning for a trek to HKD or any other place!
Morning glory!

Biju was super happy. In an attire that would make even Sherpas shiver, with his "Who's the big daddy around here?" looks.

Budhi (left) and Rakesh making tea and warming themselves in the middle of snow. Rakesh was not particularly happy because Biju's solar charger didn't charge anything meaningful. Not that there's range around here, but music from the mobile phones are the only source of entertainment for them -and they were looking forward to the recharge, thanks to our gadget guru's pronouncements.
We did leave the solar charger with them for the day. Not that that made any difference.

Trust me, this was not a pose for the photo. Pure bliss! Psst..pssst....if you ever meet him, ask him why? Hint: Message in a Bottle.

The normally khadooz moi was also heartened by the warmth.

This is zimbly posing time. 

Into the pine foresty zone we trooped in at around 8.30 in the morning. Though 8.30 was an improvement for us, the original targeted departure time was 7.30. We thought it didn't matter much because HKD was only about 3 kilometers away and the weather was on our side from the looks of it.

A bridge on the way. Felt like Christmas all over again!

The sun stayed well with us for the early part of the day. I was glad I could borrow sunglasses from Rakesh, who stayed back at the camp. The glare from the snow would have been too much to handle otherwise. 

These are the first glimpses of the broad path to HKD. The walk was mostly on straightforward terrain.

A mini avalanche to whet our appetite.

Up, close, and personal, the raw beauty of the snowed-out rockies.

Early signs of life on the way. These were one of the first few flowers to brave the retreating Himalayan winter and the persistent Western Disturbances. I can barely imagine how this place will look like, once the lush green carpet and flowers temporarily acquire this zone from snow, a month or two down the line.

We debated a bit about what was hanging up on that tree. Is it a nest? Is it a honeypot? It was not Superman anyway.

Some more early adopters.

The contingent hitting the first few ice patches. 

Some people at least had made it to HKD going by the well-made path in snow. Somebody had opened the route this year before us!

Monkey footprints on snow. We were a bit edgy till we came to know it was langoors (monkeys) who did all this drama.

Boys will be boys. Buddhi tumbling after trying to catch a snowball thrown by his mentor.

Kishan wanted this picture taken as an advertisement for Quechua. Quechua is a Decathlon brand which in turn is owned by Oxylane, a French sports good retailer. Really? French? Trivia flew thick and fast at altitude.

Gaaaaah...who let these dogs out?

A few minor elevations, but nothing tricky.

How many bridges must a "brown" man cross,
Before you call him a man?

Starting to get stuck (a.k.a forgetting to pose).

A few pics of the HKD valley.

These views are the reason why I would rate HKD valley as one of the best treks in the Himalayas. HKD is often derided by some "professional" trekkers as a ladies' trek (sick, but that's what they call it to indicate that it's not a testosterone trek). But HKD in late winter will challenge your adrenalin glands- whatever be your gender, but the outcome is truly worth it.  I also feel that it is a good trek in May/June or October/November for anyone planning their first multi-day trek in the Himalayas. With inexpensive accommodation open all along the route at key resting places, it would fit most wallets too.
Why am I always the last to reach? I can think of reasons, but it will be un-vice on my part to document it.

I hope there will be no answers needed as to why people trek for days on end to these paths of wilderness. This is the why. The real treat would be to climb some of these, I guess.

The final bend. We had been walking for about 2 hours now, and this was the last minor push up. As I was reaching the top, a combination smell of bidis and some sort of a perfume wafted down. Bidis, I could trace back to Kishen, but I could not fathom where the perfume was coming from. Your nose becomes extra sensitive to smells at these places, because the air is so unadulterated. 

The source of the pleasant smell, the lit agarbathis...the fragrance from the prayer place marking the approach to HKD. What a welcome, the bidi included. We had arrived, one of the first few groups this year to reach HKD, post-winter.

In the distance, try spotting the green domes of the GMVN guesthouse.
Randeep doing a show-n-tell about the depth of snow with his trekking pole.

See, see! How deep the rabbit hole goes? 

We had started on our trek that day with some porridge and tea in our tummies and we badly needed some reinforcements. A twig helped in spreading jam over bread. Jugaad, tussi great ho!

There was no point going further ahead in thigh deep snow (for me it was thigh-deep, for some others who are vertically challenged, God bless you). When we had originally drawn up HKD plans, we had thought of exploring areas further up including Jaundhar glacier. But that was a long time ago, before the western disturbances had entered our lexicon.

How I wished at that point that the GMVN guesthouse was open, and we could spend the night there, listening to the crackle of firewood and a light snowfall! In retrospect, we had reached a week or two early. As cricket commentators say, we had peaked a bit too early.

Yes, the picture below was choreographed, but the me-getting-stuck part was for real.

It was around 12.30 in the afternoon when things started to change rapidly. In every trek, there are those "oh NO" moments, when the conversations veer towards "screwed" and "shit". For us this was it, and laid it out to rest to all conversations about spending more time at Har ki Dun Valley. The weather had changed in a few minutes. 

We immediately started walking back, with fresh snowfall for company.  

Muthalakunjungale feed cheyyunna Jose Prakashinte laakhavathode, manjil viriyunna pookkale nokki, ayal nadannu. Sorry, it will not translate at all in any other language. Like the one about Poland.

Aarkkeda illathathu? That too won't translate.

A billion snowlets falling eagerly to punctuate a landscape that already has an overdose of raw beauty. No words that I know of, no picture that I can ever aspire to take, can capture this in its entirety.

We returned to our camp by 2.30. The kitchen was operational when we reached.
Powder snow started to fall steadily, stripping the romance out of the billion snowlets and all. For the next sixteen hours, we were stuck inside the tent. That was the longest time I have ever stayed inside a closed space....without fidgeting too much. Thankfully, we were supplied with tea, papads, and soup (yes, soup) at regular intervals. 

The acrid smell of bidis filled our cocoon towards evening; which brought to mind, the standing joke in the guiding community about trekkers who run out of lumbe smokes (ciggies) and start to borrow the desi version.

The bulk of the night was spent listening to music and removing the snow from the top of the tent by pushing it up from inside. It was some exercise, though we hadn't prayed for any. A few times that night, Buddhi and Kishan walked around the tent with a makeshift shovel (a plate) removing the snow from the sides.

Though they were doing the bulk of the work, I kept wondering if I would ever put myself through this ordeal ever again. There's something grim about snowfall when you're stuck in a cloistered space, something very depressing, that makes even a self-proclaimed vagabond nostalgic about home and all the things you've known.

Day 5: 3rd April, 2014

The snow had passed while we snored away, but unlike the previous morning, nature was determined to show a lot more of what she was doing, while we slept.

 The white carpet had done its trick....
on everything!

But the morning was glorious like before.

My shoelaces were stiff and I was afraid that I might break them into two or more pieces while tying them up. We had to spent some time to warm them up. 

Pine leaves loaded with snow!

Do not try to guess where these paths outside our tents lead. I said, do NOT let your imagination run looose.

We planned to cover some serious distance today (by our standards) and reach the village of Gangar by evening. After a porridge and biscuit breakfast, we started our plod back.  As usual, he led the way.

Following in his footsteps.

Nice they look, heavy with snow,
but them damn thistles can bruise, before you know.

I had always wanted to do a traverse kind of trek where you get to see a different route while coming back. HKD came close because the snowfall had given the landscape a thorough makeover.

One missed step, and poof you go below. While busy snapping pics, I twisted one of my calves in an effort to stay on the track.

Chutthu stream that froze.

Looking down at the last snow-swept path!

Closer look reveals how the pretty scenario actually is, on the ground. Slush, ice and rock make for a tough-to-walk-on combination.

Trek route, looking back!

Spendrift, coming off the top of a mountain!

The before and after pic, taken from the bridge. I had hinted at this one in Part 1 of the blog. The initially barren trek route is all snowed out in this.

In Osla/Seema, we met this fellow running his smoky shop. He had just set up his shop (in the last two days we were up trekking). While slurping noodles and sipping tea, we did not tell him that we had slept in the same place where he was cooking right now, two nights ago. Not that he would have minded.

This is Osla village. It is perched at a higher altitude and is closer to the mountains than Gangar village. My vote still is for Gangar. 

By 3.30 in the evening we reached Gangar. What transpired there and from then on will make this blog post unwieldy if it isn't already. That should wait for another day. And, on the way, yes, we did meet some kids from Doon School, carrying on the legacy of Jack Gibson, their teacher, who put this trek on the map in the open, way back in the 1950s.