Friday, May 2, 2014

The mountains beckon - Getting ready for our Himalayan trek

It began with a casual mention of an upcoming trek to the Himalayas in Uttarakhand. It was then that I became conscious of the thoughts of the mountains I had been harbouring for several days...conscious that it was for a reason. The mountains were calling me. 

Quickly accepting the invite, I proceeded to find out what goes as preparation for the trek. Taking stock of what notched up as my own prior experience in this department, I came up with some outdoor camps and jamborees as a Girl Guide (where we got our first true sense of what it means to rough it out in camps) and a couple of one day / overnight treks in the Sahyadris with the Adventurers and Mountaineers Club of my college. Well, that was it...but in hindsight i believe this experience came in handy in an expectation setting of what it means to be camping in the outdoor. 

These were treks of moderate difficulty, so the mandate was to be physically fit. So began a month of preparation with ascents and descents of all inclined surfaces that included Pune's own tekdis" (hillocks), my building's staircases, and one or two visits to Sinhagad...all in the earnestness to make the body fitter, the lungs stronger and the knees more resilient. Skipping was also recommended, but was mostly skipped altogether. 

Now two treks down, jotting down my experiences for anyone else who may have a similar strong calling (do keep what your heart is telling you)...for the mountains, or adventure, or the outdoors.
This year's trek is to the Changshil Pass in North Western Uttarakhand. The journey starts from New Delhi. An overnight train to Dehradun makes for a good choice as you get to catch up on time plus some sleep, and get a nice and early morning start for the long drive from Dun. Irrespective of motion sickness tendencies, each of us down an Ondem to assist our digestive systems to tolerate the 8.5 hr, 210 km drive through the eternally winding roads. 

We pass Mussoorie (which is now too congested...I remember it as a sleepy idyllic place blessed with huge flowers everywhere from my trip with my parents some 30 years ago), Nainbag, Damta (either of these can be hot-paratha-breakfast stopover options), Purola (the biggest town close to Sankri), Mori and Netwar. At each turn and narrow pass along the way, I can only admire our driver's skill and patience with maneuvering the vehicle. It strikes me quite sadly how dirty some of these towns / villages are, especially with layers of plastic bags logging the storm water drains, turning many main roads into slush-filled paths. While the populace living here is using the same plastic wrappers and bags as in the urban areas, the infrastructure possibly assumes otherwise and garbage disposal and sanitation facilities are given a miss.

If you find the SUV wading through a waterfall, you will know you're almost at Sankri (this time, we did see work on this section of the road so the waterfall has a path under the road rather than over fear not). Sankri and Osla (some 18-20 kms ahead) are the last stop - which means there is no motorable road thereafter! 

The first thing that hits you when you reach Sankri is the cold (esp. if there's rain and hailstones...which there was on both trips). It is not the coldest it will be during the trek, but it hits because of what we've come from...40 deg C. Sankri still is symbolic of a small quaint sleepy village (of not more than 200). Our trek organizer, Mr. Chainsingh Rawat belongs to Sankri and along with my friend, Neeta Godambe who has organized these treks for 6 years, has pretty much developed the trekking scene in this part of Uttarakhand. Our first day's meal is at Chainsinghji's residence, a lovely wooden house in the village where we are served steaming hot local food - an absolute treat to our cold, tired and slightly wound up bellies. We retire early for a good night's rest on a bed with cozy warm blankets - the last such material pleasures we will have in a week - before we start day 1 of our trek.

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