We set out on our maiden 4 day trek Himalayan trek to the Indrahar Pass, unaware that we would be pulling up the average age of trekkers in the region besides skewing the gender ratio.
We were busy battling personal demons. Every member of the 5 member all-woman team had her own concerns; for me and one another it was about leaving our children behind for the first time, for another it was about managing her fear of heights while there were 2 who were extremely concerned about their personal fitness levels.
And the one concern we all shared was, “how on earth are we going to carry our 9kg rucksacks and climb the mountains!”
“Let us take it one day at a time and have fun!” was the consensus and indeed what a laugh riot the 5 day trip was.
We landed at the lovely Kangra airport at 3.20 pm on Friday 16th September. All set for a Himalayan adventure, we were disappointed that there were no snow clad mountains and the temperature was 30 degrees.
And we came prepared for 5 degrees Celsius! We grinned at each other confident that we had over packed. Most of our conversation on our drive to Mcleodganj was on the need to repack and carry only what was absolutely essential for our trek. The rest we could leave behind at our trek operator’s office.
The drive to Mcleodganj was beautiful. Our first stop was at a roadside dhaba for hot tea and momos.
It was here that we first experienced the warmth and hospitality of the local people. When we asked for the bill, we learnt that our car driver had already paid it.
“Aap hamare mehman ho! Aapse thodi na chai ke paise lenge”, he told us.
We checked into our hotel after what almost felt like a long trek. We needed to climb down nearly 100 steps, again climb up about 20 to get to our rooms. We were panting by the time we got there. “Do you think we can carry our rucksacks and walk?” asked one member. The rest of us stared blankly. We did not have a clue.
We then went to see the famous Dalai Lama temple which was a mere 500 metres away. We walked past the quaint marketplace admiring the ceramic ware, Kangra Jewelery and handicrafts that were on sale.
The sound of chanting by the monks at the Dalai Lama temple was mesmerizing as was the view from the temple.
An hour at the temple and we walked back to the market place in search of food. We came across a shop selling ‘fruit burfi’ . There were several flavours like apricot, litchi, apple, strawberry and this we thought would be a wonderful gift for our family and friends back home. Having sampled everything available there we picked up several boxes of ‘burfi’ and local squashes and once again started talking about the need to repack!
Walking on the mountain roads, we were famished. Having survived the day on breakfast and lunch at the airports, we now looked forward to a hearty dinner. We stopped by a small outlet and asked the owner, “Will we get proper food?” Amused he promised us good food and we were served a simple but delicious Himachali Thali.
Post dinner, it was time to repack. We had this endless discussion about what items in our bag could be left behind. Coming from south India, we were all unsure about managing the cold weather in the higher mountain ranges. Hence we carried almost everything that we had brought with us. However we did repack several times and finally nobody knew what was where!
The next morning was warm. We were awed by the view of the mountains from our rooms.
Extremely excited, we prepared ourselves to spend the next few days in the wilderness.
Our first stop was the trek operator’s office at the Mcleodganz bus stop. We left behind bags containing the purchases made the previous evening and one or two items that we had carried from home. After finishing a hearty breakfast comprising of aalu parathas, omlette and boiled eggs , we set off on our trek with our 2 guides Ajay and Raju.
Our destination for the day was Triund. Triund at about 2800 metres is about 11 kilometres from the McLeodganj bus stop.
We started for Triund at about 10. As we walked up the steep path, we met some young men from Punjab who were amazed that we had travelled all the way from Bangalore to do this trek. Considering that they were much younger and already tired, we were enthused!
Our first stop was at a little café near the Gullu Temple checkpost, about 2 kms from Mcleodganj bus stop. Besides wonderful tea, the owner had a cute collection of books. “Jo chahiye le jayiye madam. Do din bad, jab wapas aaopge, tab de dena”, he told us.
He also had this dog which would respond with a “woof woof” every time someone asked his name.
The weather was warm and it got warmer as we trekked. We paused regularly to catch our breath in the course of the steep climb. There were long stretches I found myself walking alone and it felt just amazing.
We also met and interacted with several other trekkers most of whom were from Delhi or Punjab. It was interesting to meet an all-woman group of travelers, very young women from different parts of the world. The group comprised an Indian, a French Woman, a Spaniard, Japanese and a Korean among others.
It was also amusing to see some young men and women trek in uncomfortable party wear clothes and shoes.
There were quite a few college going students trekking with music blaring from their phones. At one point we told them to reduce the volume and the young boy immediately did. We smiled at each other thinking that we had reached an age when teenagers and twenty somethings listen when we talk. Nobody wanted to pick up an argument with an ‘aunty’!
When we were about half way through when it started raining. Our guides advised us to continue walking as the weather in the mountains remains unpredictable. We wore our ponchos and continued to walk.
Over 1 hour of walking in the rain and we were all feeling extremely cold. The temperature dropped dramatically and we all pulled out our jackets and gloves during a tea break in a little café on the way to Triund.
With our jackets on, we felt that the finally looked like ‘Himalayan Trekkers’.
It gave us an immense sense of satisfaction and we continued. We reached Triund at about 5 in the evening. It was a crowded day with almost 500 trekkers at the camp .
The view was breath taking. We could see the mighty Dauladhar ranges and the Indrahar peak which we planned to climb in the coming days.
Our tents were pitched and we were excited about staying in a tent. Soon it was dark. We pulled out our torches and ‘headlights’.
Wearing these ‘headlights’, and tracing our path in the darkness, we were now enjoying our adventure.
We had a ‘torch light’ dinner as there is no electricity in Triund. We spent some time gazing at the stars and told each other about our homes and families.
Back in our tents, we found it difficult to fall asleep. The excitement of being there and doing a Himalayas trek kept us awake. We were amused about everything and were talking across tents for a very long time.
It was a very cold night and we were all so glad that we had decided to carry all our woolens with us. We were happy about our investments in jackets and thermal wear and talked endlessly about it.
By morning we realized that living in a campsite makes you evaluate your priorities and the very notion of luxury. Two of us set out in search of a tea stall. On our way we crossed another group of trekkers and my friendly excitedly said, “Wow! They have tented toilets!” That was indeed a luxury for us.
Post tea and breakfast, we set out at 10 am for Ilaqa Got which is about 4 kilometers from Triund. It was a narrow steep path and one of our group members found it completely unnerving.
Barely half a kilometer into the trek, she stopped and cried. She was scared and nothing we said could pacify her. She decided to head back to Triund with one guide. Just as she started back, we met the group of ladies from different countries. They were on their way back to Triund after a morning walk. We told them to take our team member with them to Triund and later McLeodganj. One of the girls offered to talk to her. She had also suffered a panic attack on the same spot just an hour ago. After talking to her, our team member agreed to accompany us and we were extremely happy.
The trek to Ilaqa Got was extremely scenic and beautiful. We stopped at Snowline Café at the height of 3200 metres. The place was simple and beautiful. It also serves as a base camp for trekkers to the Indrahar pass. There were 2 sets of trekkers who had camped there that day.
After some time at snowline, we headed to Ilaqa Got, our base camp almost an hours walk. If it was possible, the scenery and view just got better.
The view from our base camp at Ilaqa Got was mind blowing. We were given the choice of staying in a natural cave or in tents. The idea of the cave seemed interesting but somehoe we opted for the tents. And we were glad we did. The same night, a bear visited the cave!
Fresh water from a nearby glacial river was available in the campsite. The air was clean and the water sparkling clear.
One of our guides told us “apke sheher mein kuch bhi mil sakta hai, par aisa pani or hawa nahi mil saktha”. We agreed completely.
Though unplanned, it was our good fortune that we happened to camp there on a full moon light. The mountains seemed to come alive in the moonlight.
So mesmerizing was the place that 2 of our team members decided to stay back and enjoy Ilaqa Got rather than climb the Indrahar mountain the following day.
3 of us set out with 1 guide at 5.30 the following morning.
The second guide was to join us in a short while with our packed lunch. Totally about 15 trekkers were likely to attempt the climb on that day.
Minutes after we started we heard an animal in the mountains. Our guide told us that it was a bear. We heard more animal sounds and were told that the bear had hunted some other animal. We continued to hear the sound of the bear for the next few minutes. Post sunrise we thought that we even spotted the bear in the mountains.
The climb to Indrahar was challenging. The terrain was extremely tough with large rocks and boulders along the way. Out first destination was Lahesh caves about 800 metres (distance) from our campsite.
We reached Lahesh caves in about 2 hours. We continued to climb up the Indrahar mountain. One of our group members had some trouble as her back started hurting. She continued to climb and after 10.30 we had reached a height of 3800 metres. Our guide told us that we were less than 500 metres from the top of the mountain.
We started climbing with renewed energy but the terrain got tougher.
Another hour of climbing and we found ourselves resting after every 10 steps. When we were about 350 metres from the peak, I felt the first signs of altitude sickness.
A constant feeling of nausea started bothering me. We climbed for another 20 minutes. As the climb got steeper, I decided to stop and head back. My friend whose back was hurting also decided to return with me. The third member of our group was ahead of us and she was the only one who completed trek reaching the peak at an altitude of 4300 metres.
At an altitude of 4000 metres, we sat amazed at our own ability to make it till there.
We sat there for almost half an hour, in awe of the majestic mountain and our own insignificance.
As we sat there, we saw a herd of over 600 mountain goats climb down. One of them was a 2 day old goat that so effortlessly negotiated the rocks that we struggled to climb!
While there we saw a young man climb the mountain with his entire camera kit including a tripod. We stopped him to ask how he managed to do that. He told us that his friends had all complained of altitude sickness and had dropped out over an hour ago. So he was left carrying the equipment. He was extremely glad to meet us and even shot a short video with us which he said he planned to use for his ‘music video’!
Climbing down was as challenging as the trek up. In an effort to keep ourselves hydrated we had finished all the water that we had carried. We now found ourselves without any water. It was only while walking down that we realized how high we had climbed. Now we felt extremely proud of ourselves and marvelled at our skills!
After almost 1 and a half hour of climbing down, we saw 3 young people wave to us. They seemed to need help. Shouting across the mountains, they said that they were looking for Lahesh caves. Our guide communicated to them that the caves were way below.
The young men waited for us. They had been lost for over an hour and were delighted to see us. We realized that they were the friends of the person carrying the tripod. We were amused to note that despite having stayed at Lahesh caves, these people had not been able to find their way back.
We dropped them at Lahesh caves and proceeded towards the glacial river for we were extremely thirsty and hungry.
The guide took us via a shortcut to the glacial river. The shortcut was an extremely steep path and we were glad to get off the mountain. I rushed to the stream. Never have I been so happy to see water.
A few minutes later the guide and my friend joined me. The fresh, clean water revived our spirits. We immediately felt better. We sat down by the river for lunch. A relaxed lunch and we were all set to head back to our base camp with was about 45 minutes away.
On crossing the river we could see the camp. We walked towards the camp. When we were about 200 metre from the camp, the guide told us that he would go ahead and prepare tea for us. We agreed.
A few minutes later a thick fog enveloped the place and we could no longer see the camp. We could hear voices though. We waited for a few minutes for the fog to lift and walked towards the camp. It is just so easy to get lost in the mountains. We were no longer amused about those young men losing their way.
A little later, the lone member of our group who had reached summit of the Indrahar mountain joined us. The climb, she said had been daunting but the view simply amazing. The other 2 members had spent a quiet day at the camp enjoying the place and the views. They too had trekked upto Lahesh caves.
We spent that evening talking about various things and had so much more to discuss.
Post dinner, in the darkness, we suddenly heard the bear.We whispered that it was perhaps wiser to go to sleep than attract the bear with our constant chatter. 5 minutes later we were all asleep.
It had been a satisfying day. We now looked forward to heading home the next morning. Our guide told us that we should be able to reach Mcleodganj by 12 the following day.
We started from Ilaqa Got at about 6am.
It took us over 2 hours to reach Triund. Interestingly one of the mountain dogs which stayed at our campsite decided to accompany us down. Petrified of dogs, I did not look forward to its company. It was amazing to note that the dog accompanied our group member who had been scared of heights. In the narrow pathways, it actually walked close to her as though protecting her from the steep slopes.
The climb down again was more challenging that we had expected it to be. After resting for a while at Triund we started climbing down. At about 10.30, two of us, who were ahead of the group realized that one member was lagging far behind. We called out to another member to ask if everything was ok. We found that the previous day’s back pain was slowing her down and her toe had begun to hurt as well.
We waited for a while and then realized that it was perhaps more sensible to walk down and get some help for her. Another trekker suggested that we get her a pony to come down. We stopped many shepherds to ask if they could help.
“Hamari friend ghayal hai! Kya aap madad kar sakte hain?” was what we asked everyone.
Everyone told us that we would need to get to the checkpost before we could get any help. We continued to walk and somewhere along the way noticed that there was signal in our mobile phones. We immediately called our trek organizer asking if he could help.
15 minutes later, we called him again and found that he was already on his way with help. We were now relieved. Along the way we met him. There was no horse with him. “How will you get her?” we asked him. “Peet mein uthake le ayenge”, he told us.
While we have heard of air-lifting, the concept of ‘peet-lifting’ seemed interesting and amusing!
We were at the trek operator’s office at the McLeodganj bus stop by 12.30. Hot parathas were ready for us there. It was only when we reached there did we realise how much we craved regular food. We were thoroughly sick of the dal chawal , rajma chawal and noodles (without vegetables) served to us over the last 3 days.
The ride to the airport was uneventful. The Kangra airport was so pretty. Post security check, one of us went to grab some food. The vendor said it would take about 10 minutes to get it ready. As we were due to board our flight in 10 minutes, she decided not to buy the food. The vendor told her to wait, peeped out of a window and said, “madam flight nahi aya abhi tak. Aap kha leejiye”.
The simplicity of the place and it people was amazing.
For us, it was a wonderful experience. Our perception of needs and luxury had changed. We are now in complete awe of the mighty Himalayas and are already planning our next trek there!