Memoirs of an Himalayan Expedition: Part 2 – Earning Respect
This trek was unique in the sense that there would be just the 3 of us. Ankit, Dineshji and I. While traditional trekking expeditions include a total of 50 or more people including the staff (cooks, guides, mule handlers etc.) this time there would be just the 3 of us. Traditionally we had always considered ourselves exceptional trekkers, however the presence of a large group with several weak links had always prevented us from realising our true potential. This core group however had no weak links. We were free to challenge ourselves and push the boundaries.
Dineshji, a 40 year old trekker, a senior person in his organisation, was a multi-faceted personality. He was apprehensive looking at the two of us. We had arrived at short notice and he was not very sure of our capabilities. Our fairness is often held against us, usually we are judged to be rather delicate characters. In reality we are tougher than anyone we know and had the experience of several previous treks to back us up. Dineshji however was not immediately convinced. He asked us multiple questions, most ending with, “Koi dikat toh nahi hai na”? After several assurances that we were in fact completely fine he left for his home, we were to start off at 8 a.m the next day.
Yesterday we had repeatedly assured him that we would carry our own rucksacks, which surprised him (usually rucksacks are handed over to mules, leaving the trekkers with nothing to carry). Thus we started off our trek with 10 kg rucksacks which is 10 kg more than what any other trekker usually carried. In the morning we had vowed to gain his respect. That would open us several avenues for us. On a mountain trek usually there are several routes, ranging from the easiest to the toughest. Since there were only the 3 of us we knew that he had considerable discretion about the route, but would select the toughest only if he knew we were upto it. Ankit and I decided not to speak much for the first few hours, just to trek. We finally started off on a beautiful morning. The destination for the day was Didna, a small village across a valley. The trek was basically U-shaped in nature, we would descend and then ascend. We wouldn’t gain much height that day. It was a 6 hour trek having approximately 9 kilometres of travel. On the descent, on the narrow mountain path strewn with rocks, I started running. Ankit followed, equally proficient. Dineshji was somewhat startled, this had never happened before in his entire trekking career. Nonetheless he followed more or less effortlessly. We finished the descent in quick time, real quick time. At the bottom of the mountain, before the ascent started Dineshji warned us that we should not exhaust ourselves too soon. Ankit and I exchanged looks. It appeared that gaining respect from Mr. Dinesh was going to be a lot tougher than this.
We finished the day’s trek at 11 a.m. We had completed a 6 hour trek in 3 hours. Didna was a small beautiful village where again we rested in a tiny lodge (4 small rooms). At 4 p.m. Ankit and I recommenced Mission Respect. We embarked on a small trek of the neighboring mountains. Dineshji followed. We spotted a river and decided to follow it upwards. In the process we climbed a cliff that had a gradient of approximately 80 degrees. At the end, we got our reward. The first door opened. Dineshji asked us whether we would like the ‘steep’ route tomorrow or the ‘easy’ one.
The next day’s destination was Ali Bugyal (Bugyal stands for meadow). The tough route basically consisted of just a continuous and relentless steep descent through the forests. It was a ruthless trek and we opted for fewer breaks than usual. That day we gained 4,000 feet, ascending from 8,000 to 12,000 feet. The vast twin meadows of Ali Bugyal and Bedni Bugyal at the height of 12,000 feet are considered the largest high altitude meadows of India. April however was not the trekking season per se; we had opted for April only as Ankit was not free afterward. Thus the meadows had not yet blossomed. This however had a unique appeal of its own, Ankit and I compared it to the Scottish Highlands, a region we intend to visit someday in the future. The beauty was desolate and lonely, no man-kind around for miles. We were instantly enraptured. The focus however remained on the trek. At day we finished at 12:30 p.m. and waited with bated breath to ask our score for the day. “A normal group would finish anywhere between 3:30 to 4:30 pm” we were informed by Dineshji. Mission Respect was bearing fruit, the next day would be significant, it would be the day of our final conquest on the mountains.
That night we were to camp at the edge of a cliff. There were 3 Nissen huts of green colour constructed by the Forest Department and one solitary tent at the edge of the cliff. While Dineshji and the mule’s handler would sleep in the one of the huts, Ankit and I would sleep in the tent. However what thoroughly astonished me and Ankit was that Mr. Mule was to get an entire hut for himself. No less than the Ritz Carlton;we remarked, would do for this donkey. At 4 p.m. we descended some 400 feet into the forests to assemble wood for the night’s bon-fire. Each of us carried over 20 kg (perhaps 30 kg in Dineshji’s case) of wood in our arms and trekked back to the camp. The night’s campfire passes as one of the most memorable nights of my life. While Dineshji made the evening’s meal inside the hut, Ankit and I plugged in one end of the headphone each and listened to our favorite music at 12,000 feet. We sang along lustily, confident that there was no human around for miles to scorn at our utter lack of musical ability. Later, we snuggled into our sleeping bags which I personally don’t rate as very comfortable contraptions, essential however, for camping at 12,000 feet.
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