Monday, May 21, 2007

The Pahaadi Maa of Pindari

Day 1- (Delhi- Nainital)The Longest Bike Ride to Nainital………

When they said "Pindari", an image conjured up in the mind- of robbers dressed with complex turbans riding on horses whom Lord Hastings had a bad time controlling during the days of Colonial imperial India. But this Pindari was different; way apart from the robbers of central India in 19th century. Pindar Ganga is the third major tributary that joins the Alaknanda in its journey from Alakapuri Galciers near Badrinath to its point of confluence with Bhagirathi (coming in from Gaumukh and Gangotri) at Devprayag to form that mighty river mother that this country has revered for close to ten millenium, The Ganges. Pindar Ganga, though not a major term in Hindu mythology, is a major water body that is the other arm in the confluence at Karnaprayag with Alakananda. That evening the gang was garavitating to a chosen destination for an improptu trek- Pindari Glacier- the source of this tempestuous river.

That was the Gang- Sandhu, Kavi, Balain, Kaushik, Raju, Priya Punit, Punit and myself. A motley crew with  high degree of variability in height, weight, girth and fitness but unified in the spirited passion for adventure (can’t say now was it literally spirited- after all that whiskey!!). Sandhu, the fittest and most experienced was the de-facto leader of the expedition- (He also had his own bike). The leader defined the objective of the mission- “Pindari Glacier”!! All those days in school geography I had been mugging up this “glacier” stuff! Now was a chance to see what it really was about!! (Back there in Orissa, I doubt even the teachers had the vaguest idea of a concept of a glacier!!)

Eight guys required at least 4 bikes. We had two available readily- that of Sandhu’s and Raju’s. Two more were to be obtained from delhi- that of Kavi and Punit’s. All 4 bikes- Yamaha RX 100s. We got busy packing while Kavi and Punit rushed off to delhi to get the bikes. We didn’t have the concept of a rucksack then. Everything was packed in several handbags that were to be carried on shoulder of the pillion rider. I stuffed in a tool-box in my jacket pockets as well, just in case our bikes needed my able services (I was the self proclaimed mechanic). Dinner for riders and bikes…..and the team was ready to go by 2330. Finally flagged off by cheering friends in front of the mess-lawn at the strike of the midnight. I think it was the 8th of August 1991!!.

So we started off, into the midnight, on a perpetually undulating “highway”. 10 kilometers into it, the head-beam of our bike flickered momentarily and went off. Few can imagine the grit with which Pondy (Punit) was riding on with me on pillion in that flickering darkness with the giants of highway lorries rumbling past. We did stop eventually to fix it. The self confessed mechanic in me, with that box of tool stashed into the numerous holds of the denim jacket, managed to do something and somehow with mixed success we limped on to Gajraulato a welcome stopover and fill in.

The Parantha and Dahi at 0300 hrs tasted amazingly delicious! (I still have no idea how we managed to cover just 100 Kilometers in 3.5 hours in the famed RX 100) . Before long we were on our way, the shoulders already aching towards Moradabad. The early morning light making things brighter by the moment. not a soul in sight and a Sandhu thoroughly unsure of the way to Nainital. Some how we managed to take the left turn to Kashipur . At 0600 Hrs we were in Kashipur, all bikes parked, the group huddled around a dhaba table devouring dozens of Paranthas again. We had already spent 8hrs on the bikes and were just about 220 kms away from Ghaziabad when we started onwards for Ramnagar at 7.

I guess another couple of hours it took us to reach the town where we promptly had another round of Pakodas. The tired limbs demanded attention as we swooped down on the nearest wine vend for some beers and whiskey. Loaded ourselves up and off we went towards Kaladhungi and then Nainital.

It must have been 11 when Kaushik took emergency break on the lead bike he was riding with Sandhu. There, was that flowing stream with water crystal clear under the bridge. It didn't appear too deep! So we broke journey for ablutions, bath and some partying under the sun in the flowing stream. The chilling of the beer was done in the freezing waters of the stream. We must have lazed and waded for a good 2 hours before we realized that we had distance to cover yet.
And we drove on and finally crossed that pass that drops one into the lake valley of Nainital at 1500 Hrs. We had managed to probably break the record for the longest bike ride from Ghaziabad to Nainitaal. 16 Hours! The worst and slowest driver manages that distance easily in 8 Hours today(but then they do not manage that cool bath with the beer in the gurgling stream..;)..).

Planning Aimlessly

It was time for a victory photoshoot on the mall-road with the lake as the backdrop. Of course finding a suitable budget hotel was a pain and so was the pushing the bikes up an impossible incline to get a suitable parking place. I thank Sandhu in retrospective for that only photo we managed to shoot in Nainital before we found the hotel. Once in the hotel the entire group went dead asleep for 4 hours. It was one intense sleep I savour till date. We managed to get down to the mall just in time for the last food joint closing (thank god it was still tourist season and the last close was happening around 9). After the dinner Sandhu did some asking around about the route ahead. We were still unsure where we were going. Reaching Nainital itself was feeling like a summit conquered. By 10 all we were partially sure that we were aiming for Almora and Kausani. Beyond that we would have to go to a place called Baijnath. But we were still unsure if that would lead us to Pindari Glacier(We did not have internet and community threads in those days to have gather any information whatsoever :-(). But the available analysis from the data gathered was pointing at that direction. 

Morning happened even before we realized we were asleep and we were off to an early start after some quick washing and ablutions.

Day 2 (Nainital- Baijnath)-The day (and night?) of suspense- 180 Hill Kilometers

15 Kms down from Nainital on the way to Almora is Bhowali, a junction of roads from Bhimtal, Almora and Nainital. The British had a sanatorium in this pretty place in olden days. After some quick direction-finding we went off on the way to Almora and after some pretty sharp descending hairpin bends went down to the valley that then leads all the way up, to the Almora Hills. The monsoons had started acting up and the first of the rain showers of our trip hit us hard. We had to stop over twice. Each time eating away at the precious daylight. We weren’t even half way through of the 68 Kms to Almora even by 12 Noon. Even after that, we were once again forced to stop by the highway side with out a hamlet in sight. By now I had managed to buy a plastic sheet and made good use of it for the both of us (me and Punit) when we started off after this spell of rain. None of the other guys were in sight for next several kilometers. We thought they have taken off under plastic sheets even while it was raining and we were sheltering under.

Lost at Almora

It must be 1500 Hrs when we reached the tringlular junction before the entry of Almora where one road leads to the left to Koshi. We had to stop because it appeared we were the first ones to arrive there. But we hadn’t crossed the guys back anywhere. The protocol was -the first arriver at any junction needs to stop till the entire group assembles. After waiting for about 20 minutes we decided to give it a try in the direction of Koshi. No trace! Even after a 10 minute ride ahead!!. So we came back to check the junction again and still no trace of the three other bikes! Tried inside the Almora town…any trace of the 3 red RX 100s? None seemed to have noticed. So we tanked up at the only gas station and told the guy at the Gas Pump to pass information in case the other 3 RX 100s come for fueling which we were sure they would. Off we went, Punit and I in the direction of Kausani, finally requesting the policeman standing on the last crossroad of the town to pass on info for any caravan of red RX 100s.

The bike head-beam started acting up again with alarming diligence. Deep in the jungle, middle of nowhere, unsure of the status of the rest of the party I had to try my luck with the screwdriver in mind numbing darkness, hoping desperately that the headbeam would come alive. Finally a brick truck ambles in, its engine roaring at its harshest, audibly straining,to manage some speed under the load of bricks in that winding hilly road. Punit promptly asked me to jump in so that we could tail that truck. Inspite of all the smoke and dust in our nostrils we were at least moving!! And thus we entered Kausani, at the fall of darkness around 2000 Hrs. We were tired out of our bones, anxious of the 6 colleagues and most chillingly unsure of the fact if we had enough money to buy food and shelter; cause Raju was the group banker.

Surviving the night

I calculated my available working capital at INR 30, all my money was in the bag that Balain was carrying! Pondy calculated his at INR 50. His bag with Kaushik. So after paying for the nearest cheapest hotel room- (INR 30 for the room and INR 10 for 2 extra blankets) we were down by 50% of our reserves. The dinner was a sumptuous one- wholly made up of bread and egg omelette that downed our dwindling reserves by another 20 rupees. We were now in absolute panic.
Both of us were hurriedly planning our emergency return, by now absolutely sure that all 3 bikes have slipped off some cliff. But how could all 3 have disappeared without us even being aware? The saving garce was that the gas tank in the bike was filled in at Almora. That would take us back to Nainital safely the next day where we would mortgage the bike and ride a bus back home. Thats what we concluded. Just then it struck me that I was carrying Kavi's bag and we had not yet checked the contents. So we rummaged through the bag in record time and Lo!! Imagine what we found!! Kavi's denim with his leather wallet and five neat crisp 100 Rupees inside! Our financial crisis was over. 

The thoughts went back to the 6 of them lost to us with the 3 bikes. Sleep wont come. I went on tossing and turning under the blanket. Just when I was about to doze off I dreamt of a large roar as if a truck was straining up the road to Kausani. Then the roar changed to harmonious rumble of several bike engines as I rushed up to the balcony. Punit joined in as we saw three headbeams pointing straight at the hotel doorway. The guys were very much alive. Some loud hurling of abuses and the bikes were parked. All of them rushed over to our room. Imagine that, 8 guys huddled over the tiny room with a double bed.

As it transpired, all 6 of them actually had parked their bikes a little below the road level when it was raining on the way to Almora. We could not see that and even before they could shout Punit and I  sped off passing them by, draping the black plastic sheet over our heads. Later they decided to have some photoshoot, confident of the fact that they shall catch up with us. (Apparently they lost the track of time ..I am sure).

The problem became clearer once they saw no sign of us at the Almora entry junction. But luckily thereafter they were assured of our departure to Kausani by the Gas station attendant and subsequently by the policeman. So the guys decided to buy some rum and party. Of the 3 bottles purchased at Almora only 20% of one bottle was left (apparently there had been liberal passing around of the bottles amongst the bikes on their way up to Kausani). Before that got consumed, Punit and I hurriedly grabbed the remaining bottle and thirstily drained off wahtever was left. Panic over!..Problem sorted out! Here were 8 of us in the midnight in some small 8X8 room in Kausani...planning what next!

Of Snakes and Lions

The unanimous decision in the leadership of "Cat-Foot Sandhu" was, to proceed further to Baijnath and rest the night there. Journey commenced again, to Baijnath, at the stroke of midnight, on a hill road hitherto unseen by any of us.

15 minutes later, Kavi shouted out at Sandhu 

"Abe dekh ke chala, gir jayega"- Sandhu was riding too close to the edge for comfort. 

The abyss below appeared like a black hole of depth. 

Thats when Punit (Pondy) shouted out "Oye Babbar Sher(Lion)!!!" his eyes dilated out in fear!! 

All bikes screech to a halt...few meters on to the left in the dark beam of the bike lights we could finally locate the shaking tail of 2 Horses!!

We drove on and finally arrived at Garud. Otherwise a very pretty place, it remained in our memories for an entirely different reason. 

We arrived there around 3 AM noticing a lot of hustle and bustle, twenty odd people in action, bright lights and some shops getting opened. All that, well past midnight! Thats something entirely alien to the Himalayan locale. They say- "Surya Ast Pahad Mast!- (The mighty Himalayas and all its subjects sleep from Sunset to sunrise)". Upon our enquiry we found it to be the preparation for an annual Mela, about to happen the next morning. 

Treating ourselves to steaming hot Tea and some deliciously-hot freshly-prepared Jalebis we sped off onwards to Baijnath. 5 minutes later we saw Sandhu in the lead bike flailing his legs like mad, his bike almost out of balance. All stopped their bikes, jumped off and pointed at something slithering off the road barely visible in the faint moonlight. We concluded it most certainly to be a snake probably a meter in length. We would never know if it was poisonous. Whatever it was, it sure did shake Sandhu clear off any remenant effects of the Old Monk Rum.

I am compelled to think today in must have been the Rum+ Tiredness+Fear of unknown+ Anxiety -that made us see all those ghosts in just the couple of hours! Sure does go down in my memory as on of the remarkable nights of adventure! 

Arrival at Baijnath at 0400 Hrs. I still remember those little temples and sculpted art at the entry of the town at the dead of the night! Aptly the temple city of Uttaranchal. We wouldn't miss that signature impact even in time place and condition we were in.

Luckily for us the Chowkidar materialised after half an hour of hollering. Soon we retired to the  welcome feel of dormitory beds and warm blankets. Never realised how the afternoon of next day happened.

Day3 (Baijnath- Loharkhet)- The last mile to the base!

The first hour went in enquiring the route again. We had assumed almost a trek straight away from Baijnath. It turned out that we still were couple of hours of ride away from the start point of trek. We need to reach a village called Song but apparently the route was damaged because of land slide and no buses were plying to the region. The only cost and time effective alternative was to ride down to the village and then leave the bikes in the villagers' custody during the trek. That decided, the next issue was equipments. 

Our little travel bags werent going to work through 80 kms of trek. We then became aware of a basic equipment as rucksack. We exchanged our travel bags for rucksacks and also hired walking boots with better grip. Priya Punit and Kaushik took charge of buying emergency food supplies - just in case we needed them on the way. Dalia, Gur, Chocolates, Tea kits, Wafers and Maggi! After early lunch at 12 ..set off for Village Song at 1 in afternoon.

Kapkot- 45 Kms from Baijnath was divine. The smooth flowing Sarayu and the pretty valleys made us stop a while for a photoshoot. Thats when the rain hit! The problem with bikes is, every time the rain hits it takes time away from dayligt and travel. Never again would I advise one for a bike trek in Monsoons- screws up your schedule so bad you never manage to recover. It must have been 0430 when we crossed over the landslide point where buses and jeeps were stuck on bothe sides. There it was. A massive slide on our left leading down the deep abyss of the valley below. Between the wall on the right and the slide leading down, there was a 6 inch ledge of a footpath for about 12 feet. After 15 minutes of heavy pounding of our young hearts we did manage to haul ourselves along with the bikes to the other side. We even had a victory shoot afterwards. That probably was my  first taste of adrenaline.

Start of the trek

At 5 we reached the Village Song, the starting point of the trek(at those times, now of course there is a all-weather road leading past Song). After some introductory chat with the local villagers we parked the bikes near the village Tea Stall double checking the handle and fuel lock with furtive glances back to ensure no one was watching. :-) :-D! (I realised the funnyness of it much later after I began knowing the simple hearted Kumaoni ).

The target now was Loharkhet where we were to spend the night. Moderately steep climb of 5 Kms, the little KMVN hut almost visible from Song, our trek was about to start!

Just 15 minutes into the trek a sudden squall caught us unawares in the midst of unknown bridle paths, a harbinger of nature of things to come in the next 1 week. Raju and I took shelter in one cowshed, Pondy under another shelter a call away. Another few hundred meters away one heard Kavi calling out his location. The adventure had begun in right earnest. Almost as suddenly the rain stopped,the entire mountain side changed its view kaleidoscopically. With the sweet fresh scent of wet earth and the absolutely clear and moist air, The Grand mountain was welcoming us in style.

It was dark when we reached the already overcrowded and dark KMVN shed. The lone chowkidar was busy putting up with the dinner requests of a suddenly overcrowded rest shed. Apparently one large group was returning from above. We somehow managed our dinner and found our little places to crash. Never knew how morning happened.

Day 4(Loharkhet-Khati)- Of the Mountain and Belles

The night before our guys had done some data gathering from the team going back. Information from reliable sources had increased our 2 day trek estimation to a 5 day one. (Imagine the unpreparedness!). This had implications for people who had tests coming up in major credit papers in the next week. The debate was on "To be or not to be in the Trek!". The group was split right in the middle. Sandhu , Priya Punit, Pondy and I on one side and Balain, Kaushik, Kavi and Raju in the other. We were not going to let all this toil go down the drain just because there were few tests that still can be managed by talking to the Prof! But I think, the surprise experience of the squall in the evening before had taken a toll on the mind of the few of us. 

We decided to part ways- a parting shot taken, of the guys going up sitting down and the guys going down standing up. In a way that was a boon, as we would realise later. One was  able to appreciate the linkage of such experiences with bonding, teaming, team size, team management etc. much later :-).Probably it would have been difficult to manage a group of 8 in the days to come with an already misaligned interest level.

Parting at Loharkhet

We watched the other four disappear into the bushes as we pushed up. That probably was the most silent 3 hour trek I would have done. As the steepness hurled itself against us, the rucksacks dangling on our back (we didn't even know how to pack and secure a rucksack on your back :-)) breathing laboriously as we had our first taste of a "Thokar"- a Short steep climb. Its later that we realised that we were actually climbing up the Dhakuri Pass.

Thats when Sandhu defined for us what a Pass was- The place where we cross from one side of the mountain to another. "Like this! Yeh hota hai Pass" he said. He pointed his stick onwards to the welcoming valley that nestled Dhakuri and Khati yonder. A quick descent down and we were at the Dhakuri rest shed in a short time, ordering the chowkidar for lunch- the ubiquitous Chawal-Dal-Aloo Bhaji. That was going to be our companion diet for next 10 meals!.

Dont remember much of Dhakuri except for that most satisfying meal after which we set forth for the day's objective-The village of Khati. After bottoming out at the valley floor the track started gaining altitude again. I was dreading that all the time while descending. You hate loosing altitude after you reach a height. And that happens all the time in the unending undulations of the Himalayan folds. That was my introductory experience!!!

Descending steadily down the valley I was leading the pack when I saw this little stream flowing by crossing my track under a skeletal log bridge. Not too far away, there was this  stone shelter sort of a place located plonk in the middle of the stream with a strange humming sound inside. Gushing water seemed to emerge from underneath that small hut! This surprised the hell out of me. Moments later I realised; I was seeing the first water mill of my life. The millstones were grinding on incessantly waiting for any incoming customer. That was renewable energy!! all wasting away though...

Babe in the Forest

Time passed unnoticed. Each of us were lost in our own worlds soaking up the beauty around. We were utterly struck with the beauty on the one hand and the frustrating ups and downs on the other. I can say that for myself and Pondy. Sandhu and Priyapunit were doing some small talk once in a while. The sun started casting long shadows and Khati village was still far away, though visible now. 

Thats when we saw this attractive looking girl, a City-girl (the tracks and jacket were the tell-tale sign) coming our way. It was as if the whole team woke up from a reverie!!:-) - Ears cocked up, exchanging curious glances we were quizzing each other silently about the possible location of their camp. Soon we concluded that the camp must be in Khati Village.

There was a still light when we reached Khati. Having quickly arranged for the night's rest at KMVN bunglow and having ordered the chowkidar for the dinner (Chawal, Aloo and Daal again), we retired to the nice open enclosure overlooking the village for resting our tired limbs. Not Pondy! He was already out into the village foraging for possible opportunities to befriend the adventurous belles at the camp. He returned well after dark finding his way with the hiking torch, noticeably happy with the evening's proceedings. The only information that we could glean from him was that the team was heading back after their share of adventure. We surely were disappointed, the faint hopes of company of the fairer sex for the rest of the journey was most certainly shattered.

Day 5(Khati- Zero Point)- The Baba from Orissa

The fact that we were now at a higher altitude than ever before was abundantly clear as we woke up next morning. The icecold water in the toilet announced the temperature conditions we were to face in the coming days. I noticed with curiosity, the water supply lines seemingly emerging from the depths of the mountain behind the guest house. That was my first glimpse of how running water supply works in hills. After ablutions and a quick breakfast, we were ready for the long march to the next destination, Dwali.

The team interaction pattern during the trek was by now established. Mostly it was Utter and complete silence, as if we were respectful to the sounds of the jungle not interfering in its ways with our buffoonery. In reality, however, each was having his own struggle. Probably the limbs were yet to get used to the 10 Hour walk routine. Each one was handling myriad questions in the mind. "How far was the destination? Was it a right call to have come into all this? Wouldn't Raju and party be enjoying the ride back? But isn't it the most heavenly experience? We are becoming trekkers after all. Did we plan our routes a little too ambitiously? When will this god-forsaken-Dwali arrive?"

Fracas in wilderness

I dont know what started the quarrel. Probably something about a bamboo walking stick. But presently, in the midst of that dense jungle Pondy and I were literally at war, hurling abuses at the top of our voices at each other, brandishing the respective walking sticks. We were seriously fighting, baying for each other's blood. It was so funny! Sandhu and Priyapunit came back. Sandhu actually burst out laughing. I guess that did the trick. We then had that nice little group chat, shook hands, patted each other, estimated the remaining kilometers to Dwali and set off again.

In the entire ten kilometers we passed just one man was seen coming from the other direction.Sandhu made prompt use of the encounter seeking information on the remaining distance and enquiring if the gentleman in question might posses some Local Charas (Resinous extract from locally grown plants of cannabis). We were rewarded with a little black 4 inch long stick, looking like a thicker variety of incense-stick, for a mere 4 Rupees! The alternative for alcohol was now available for partying in the evening! Not that any of us had ever tried it before! And little did we know the kind of partying the evening had in store.

We were at Dwali by 11. A steady walk since 8 in the morning had paid off. The Dwali guest house is in a pretty picturesque place. The beautiful and swift Pindar Ganga gurgling down nearby, the Dwali log bridge over which we had just crossed, the tall mountains on all sides, the desnse forests nearby and the undescribable, innumerable sounds of twitters and whispers of nature! One sometimes finds words to be cliched to describe each such unique experience. 

The lunch preparation took a couple of hours which also gave us the much needed rest. Ever since we left Baijnath, we had lived on this steady and unchanging carbohydrate heavy diet of Chawal/Dal/Aloo Bhaji. It was can have anything for lunch as long as its Chawal/Dal/Aloo Bhaji. The oft criticised mess food in the hostel appeare like rare sumptuous cuisine, in those moments. Sandhu enforced a change in the menu after animated discussions in the kitchen. Came back to announce the additional dish, rice soup! - Later we found out, it was the remenant water after boiling the rice- with pepper and salt! Even that invited some heavy cheering by the team!

It was 1 in the afternoon when we started off again, the clouds playing a spirited hide and seek in the skies. Sometimes the blazing sun and suddenly a hint of bone chilling cold. We were entering the Sanctum Sanctorum of Pindar Ganga Valley. The extremity of temperatures in sun and shade were indicating the gain in altitude (those days I didn't have the altimeter as a standard accessory).

Under a spell of cloudiness we turned the next bend into a wide flatland sort of a place. It must have been an hour into the trek. The valley had widened here considerably. Yonder was this little shepherd hut from where some dogs were barking loudly. All of us being dog lovers wondered what the matter was! Probably the dogs were in danger? 

I dont know what prompted us to move that way towards the hut- apprehension of dogs being in danger or the possibility of a shorter route. As we neared we expected the dogs to calm down a bit. The opposite happened. They were now louder and meaner.When a hairy shepherd dog gnarls and bares its fangs at you in the middle of God Almighty's garden, a shiver goes down your spine. Anyways we managed to be out of harms way very quickly. But the experience surely shook us a bit. What if we encounter more of such friends ahead?

Entering the Snow Zone

Another half an hour into the trek and we had the first glimpes of snow on top of mountains. From then on, a whole new vista opened in front of the eyes as more and more snow capped ridges and small peaks came into view at every turn. We noticed some small step-farms which indicated the arrival of our halt for the night - Phurkiya village. it was 3 PM. We had done good speed! 6Kms in 2 hours.

The Phurkiya rest house, in contrast to Dwali, is in a relatively insignificant location. It just emerges from nowhere on the side of the road. A narrow road and a deep valley infront actually evoke a sense of foreboding. Probably it was all that- the new excitement after the snow sighting, the post lunch speed of 3kmph and also the fact that it was only 3 in the afternoon with at least 2.5 hours of light left- that got us rethinking our route plan. 

After a brief discussion with the chowkidar at rest shed, the team decided (Votes 4-0) to change night halt plan to Pindari. We didn't have tents. As per the advise of the Chowkidar we carried 2 extra blankets per person, slipped under the shoulder strap of the rucksack for a rental @ 2 Rupees per blanket. We were to return it on our way back the next day. The idea was to stay in the shepherd hut available in the meadows in the approach track of Zero-point (Pindari Glacier). 

The last leg of the day, of 6 Kilometers, started at 330. Phurkiya is equidistant from Dwali and Zeropoint. We estimated the same 2 hours of trek. That would put us at Zero-point at 530, still sufficient light left for the day. That calculation, however, didn't account for the added impact of the weight of 2 extra blankets while we were steadily gaining altitude.

The change in habitation and terrain was stark. We were now actually into the dynamic zone that is characteristic to the shadows of the permanent snow-line. These are places where roads and tracks get reshaped every season as the temporary glaciers of winter snows course through and cut landscapes afresh. Loose stones, gravelly surface and baby shrubs mark the terrain. I was marvelling at the change of the flora (and the fauna to some extent)from Rainforest to Arctic Tundra just in a matter of 3 days. These were the areas where we had to cross those little bouldery streams (remenants of old glaciers actually) with almost no marker for the route! That got me into some anxious moments. Then those couple of steep climbs where I had to clamber on all fours. At the end of a long and tiring day it was taking a toll on our minds. We were almost desparate to reach the destination now.

Relief at last!

Around 615 in the evening we finally took that last turn that opened the grand vista of Mount Nandakhat looking down majestically upon us. Over to the right was the Nandakot. The Pindar Ganga was appearing like a little kiddy stream playing under the watchful eyes of the Grand Mountain. On to our right, to the true left of the river, was this vast meadow, now looking a darkish green in the fast appearing dusk. There was a little stone shed plonk at the centre of the meadow. Never in my life had a seen a meadow so pretty, so desolate, so nicely surrounded with so many wild horses (later on I realized they weren't exactly wild..rather were having a wild time when their owners from the villages leave them in these pastures during the lean rainy season to eat, grow fat and breed). All our tireness vanished for a moment. There, at last, was the destination!

All the joy and glee vanished in a second when we discovered a little trail of smoke wafting from under the roof of the hut. Surely somebody was inside. We went checking. 

It wasn't somebody. It was a gang of 6 shepherds huddled around a fire in the floor of the hut looking curiously at us. Our world shatterd as we realised we had feeble chance of surviving the night under that snow mountain in the open moonlight; that too with just 2 blankets as cover! That's when one of the shepherds prompted us to go try with the Baba living some 500 mtrs up ahead. Even they were concerned! I rushed ahead, the group following me slow, lazy and dejected after that anticlimax.

A fluttering red flag atop a behemoth of a rock indicated the cave. I saw the Baba washing something when I reached there a few minutes later. Upon my hasty explanation of our team's predicament, the Baba enquired where we were from. That was it! The moment the Baba opened his mouth I suspected something. It had a familiar ring, a very familiar one! In a minute I enquired where he was from, and sure enough! He was from Orissa, my very own home state!! If one knows, one can notice the distinct tell tale accent of an Oriya from speaking Hindi, from a mile away. 

So now we were Oriya-Oriya bhai-bhai. Of course he would have all of us as guests if we didn't mind a little huddling together. Some coincidence!!

Soon enough the rest of the team arrived and the anxious moments over, prepared for the night. Light and Darkness in mountains play up as fast as high speed camera shutters. In a moment, darkness envoloped the serene pretty valley.

Cave Bivouac

The Baba had a cosy little cave which one had to crawl into like an igloo. After that whole day's tiredness, crawling into that black hole was certainly a strange experience. His "asana"(seat) was set next to the burning sacrificial fire- "the dhuni" which doubled up as the kitchen hearth. On to his left was a little corner with the Puja Idols. We spread our extra blankets around the fire and settled into our respective sleeping positions in the comfort of the little cave. Stone caves with a little fire burning can be amazingly warm and this one was well ventilated too. Half propped on the elbow we were listening to the Baba's discourse even while he was cooking. After the roller coaster ride this was actually 5 star luxury at the base of Nandakhat.

Sandhu was on a spiritual trip. His discussions with Baba was now going way above our tired antennas. Finally after about an hour, when all of us were a bit rested, someone butted in about Baba's personal history. Everyone was curious. Why did he become a Baba? Did he live here round the year? Does he have a Guru? Does he do proper Tapasya and all? How does he ensure a food supply? Which all vilages are around? What kind of relationship he had with villagers? Is there a way further up? Where does the track lead to? Do firangs come? Were there lady firangs also? I think the Baba would have been pretty amused with our "Child-Like"curiousity. Because his simple answers left us bewildered, incredulous and completely awed at the same time!

He was only 24 years old hailing from Orissa. He didnt like to live in the worldly Sansar with all its Maya. Had a family back home but now who knows if he would ever meet them! Disciple of "Pilot Baba"- a famous Baba in the hills who served in the IAF during the 1965 Pakistan war. Our Pindari Baba stayed there for better part of the year except for 4 months in the winter. There are times he would go on a pilgrimage to places like Gangotri, Badri and Kedar etc. In such times his cave would be empty and locked may be. He had just returned from a trip to Gangotri. He lived on alms, sometimes that the villagers gave and other times the  travelers and trekkers like us gave( In fact thats the first thing that we did after meeting Baba. We gave him all the extra provisions we were carrying in the form of Dalia and Gur. We of course had the selfish motive of lightening the load after reaching the objective). And of course the track went much ahead. In the olden days used to connect up to some road in China. Lots of Mountaineers use the road to get to Nandadevi sanctuary. Up above there is a place called "Trails pass". The Baba actually had a fair idea of the topography around and beyond. We were begining to think the Baba had super natural powers hearing the simple and casual mention of his travels upto Trail's pass and back several times the previous years. Every now and then we would exchange those knowing glances amongst others even while the Baba rambled on easily entirely busy making the fire and the dinner.

The dinner was sumptuous..dont know if it was the day's tiredness, the change in menu or the Baba's culinary skills, but we all sure had a bellyful of that awsome Khichri. Never knew when we drifted to sleep after the Baba's final advise for our itenerary next day. His advise was interesting!- According to him, since we were already spending the night at Zero Point unlike usual trekkers who spend the night at Phurkiya, we had comparatively longer time for the next day. He advised-we should start early and go down the bank into the river stream and follow it up till the snout of the Glacier. That way we shall have a much closer view of the glacier than what we would have got from Zero point.

Out of the World at Wee hours

It must have been about 0430 Hrs in the morning when Sandhu nudged me awake. The embers in the Dhuni were a dull red now. The cave was barely lit. Whispers in my ears -"Äbe..Baba has gone mad yaar! Go see what he is doing?!"

He was almost terror stricken. With half a mind I struggled out of the sleep and crawled out to satiate the curiousity. Little farther away, near the improvised water tank, the Baba was actually meditating under that bright moonlit sky, little drops of water dropping down his freshly bathed body and locks. It was a shocking view- this abject metamorphosis of the blanket clad Babaji- in that bone chilling cold with the snow view adding on to the effect.

For a moment I was lost in another world. Everything here was surreal. That picture shall forever be etched vividly in my living memory. That amazing view of the mighty peaks of Nandakhat and Nandakot almost lighting up the moonlit sky. That combination can only be called ethereal. The snowy flanks of the majestic mountains reflecting the full glory of shining bright moon! Only if I had my camera equipment then?! I still rue that lost opportunity, the photoshot of my lifetime. It apparently was an auspicious full moon night and the sky was clear as crystal. So unlike the evening only few hours before, as if all clouds had disappered for a moment to give me that heavenly view! Is that why the Baba was up earlier than his usual 530. Another bloody coincidence!

Day 6(Zero Point- Dwali)- Voila! Mutton for Dinner!

Finally shaking myself consciously into my senses I managed to crawl back in. The cold was getting the better of me actually. The morning next day was bright as ever. Completely different from the morose, gloomy, cloud ladden evening the previous day. As advised by Baba we set off for the Glacier snout after some smoking hot tea the Baba brewed.

Baba's easy instructions about going down the bank to the river suddenly bore huge significance as we slowly started realising -what that meant. Here we were actually looking down a bank that appeared to be about 500 feet high with a 70-80 degree incline and an angry Pindar Ganga frothing below. God! this cliff was near vertical! 

Sandhu and Priyapunit were searching for a easier angle in all earnest. Pondy and I were actually in two minds. But by now we were committed, going back was going to be equally difficult! Anyways, slithering down, clutching shrubs and stones we finally managed to bottom out in the valley. At one point Sandhu was actually jumping and clapping with absolute glee at our predicament...
"Dekh saale kaise chipkali ke tarah latke hue hain dono?" 
We were pissed off. But more with ourselves and the situation than Sandhu.

The trudge upstream was eventless. Finally the glacial amphitheater opened up. It was looking like a huge structure from a distance. One edge of a huge slab of ice angled upwards forming almost a roof (with out a support) as its other edge was held and crushed under a million tons of ice. A nice and full stream of water emerged from under that roof. It actually looked like a house from an angle. 

The Baba had warned us not to go too near. But Sandhu had this bright idea of taking a snap standing under the slab. He rushed up the incline against all our advise. I was supposed to click the snap standing in thigh high ice cold water of the Pindar Ganga. Close view of the snout and that meancing flying slab must have unnerved Sandhu for he decided to stand close but not under the slab and the snap was finally clicked. By now my entire leg had gone red of bitter cold.

The sound in the area was deafening. At the snout the water actually drops down several feet along a fairly steep incline. The feeling inside that amphitheater is rather chilling - the physical cold, the roar of the water, the rumbling of the odd piece of ice falling, the almost vertical flanks of the Nandakhat on the left and the weirdly shaped glacier visible up and away in the 11 o clock direction vertically! It can be a heady and eerie concoction.

I finally tried a last self-shot with the automatic timer of the camera, posing with the track to Trail's Pass leading up behind me, probably a symbolic gesture about my intentions to return one day to travel that road beyond. Who knows..I may do it still! Sadly the camera fired everytime before I took position, I was severly underestimating the effort required to reach that seemingly easy distance of 20 feet or so. The altitude was finally telling! before long, we were yelling at each other to start back. We were yet to have our brunch and then be on our way to Dwali. It was already 1030.

We were already dreading the climb back to the high bank. If coming down was so scary, what would it be to climb up?! Pondy and I started off first hoping to have some cover behind, in the form of Sandhu, just in case we got stuck midway. We travelled a little further down compared to where we estimated to have come down from. After a while we did see a couple of inclines where the bank seemed relatively easy. 75% of the climb was through pretty easy. Thats when the angle swiftly changed to near vertical. We were now stuck in the middle.

I never have had any formal training on rock climbing. At that time, I lacked even the basic skills of finding a grip or a toehold. Whatever happened after that is still a blur. I remember clutching on to some chunks of grass and hoping to God that it holds. For a moment those quotes from Reader's Digest started flashing by ("Drama in Real Life"- "God..i havent come all this way to die like this?!"). After about 20 minutes of anxious and strenuous struggle, which seemed like eternity, I managed to clamber over to the Bugyal ground. I am convinced,  actually had a narrow escape from a pretty nasty and potentially dangerous fall(Its a different thing that at those moments I was thinking of most certain death). Pondy had a similar experience, the complexity enhanced by the long overcoat he wore. Sandhu, who had already started limping a bit, and Priyapunit took the safer and more patient option of travelling down few hundred meters more for a easy climb.

The Baba was ready with the delicious brunch of - yeah you guessed right- Khichri again. By mid-day we set off for Dwali. Most of the way back we were ruminating and doing an animated review of events in the morning from 0400 onwards. Anyways, we were jubilant. We had achieved objective and that too in a totally unique - almost a maveric way. The stay in the cave, the night scene, the steep bank and the photoshoot under that huge behemoth of a ice-slab. The way back was appearing rather easy. In all that excitement, we probably sped our way down a little too much for our comfort. It was going to cost us dear.

Blanket transaction and a quick tea at Phurkiya. The poor chowkidar was suitably sorry for his advise about the shepherd hut. But of course we understood his genuine helpfulness. In fact, but for his extra blankets, even the cave would have been cold in the early morning. It was almost 3 by the time we reached Dwali. 3 Hrs and 12 Kilometers! We had made descent speed, but at the cost of the health of Sandhu's knee. He was visibly limping now and considerably slow. Dwali was a welcome halt and it was celebration time. We requested for a change in menu since it was early in the day yet. We were hoping, the chowkidar would be able to arrange something other than Chawal/Dal/Aloo Bhaji.

He left for the nearby village leaving the guest house to us, looking for ingredients to whip up that surprise celebration dinner. In an hour he sprang the surprise :-). It was Mutton for dinner! Thankfully 3 out of the 4 of us were non-vegetarian. Priyapunit was the hardcore Pandit. His loss! 

The story was, a goat was killed by leopard in the nearby village before being chased off by the angry owner, thats why the sudden availability of mutton. The elderly chowkidar also had this interesting looking hookah which we made good use of. Sandhu took out his newly acquired contraband, that black looking stick, and minutes later had good lungfuls of drag of the sweet smoke. As the dusk set in before our eyes, we were set into our own selves, each one of us transformed into a deeply brooding thinker. 

I remember some discussions about that little farm house that I was going to build atop that cliff facing the guesthouse...with a heliport and a satellite dish for connectivity (the concept of a cellphone was too lateral a thought in those days)! I realise in retrospective- My own personal "Vision" was concieved that very evening!

By dinner time we were famished...probably because of our experiment with the new smoke. The whole pot of rice and all of the 2 Kgs of mutton was polished clean. I dont remember the bed after that!

Day 7(Dwali- Baijnath)- The Longest day!

The next day we were already in the "Return" mode. Already some reluctant discussion had started about classes and tests and the need to hasten the way back. The first surprise that morning was after we just crossed the Dwali bridge. There was this this well dressed little guy of probably 5 years riding in with a horse led by a local villager. He didn't look like he belonged here! Just when we were about to ask, we noticed a couple a few hundred meters behind. Husband wife and Kid trekking into Pindari- It was a Bengali family. I have come to respect this race for their wanderlust and spirit of adventure!

The trek back to Khati was pleasant in the morning chill though uneventful. We were focussed on the task of returning fast. By now Priyapunit had also developed a limp. Both of them were trailing behind a hundred meters or so, me leading and Pondy in between. We were in Khati by 1130. By 100 we were ready to set off again after lunch! We were now beating our own time estimations with each passing session of trek. Inspite of the limping comrades we still were fast for our estimates. 

At this speed we would be back at Loharkhet by 4 and waste the whole 2 hours of Sunlight after that, going back to Song would mean another 5 Kms. That 1 hour of walk and driving in the dark was out of question. Sandhu was already working on the theory of finding a possible shortcut that could take us straight to Song. Some villagers informed that it was indeed possible if we took a shortcut over the pass on our left rather than going straight back to Dhakuri and Loharkhet. The route on the other side of the pass directly descends to Song! The road led to the left and up on the slope of the mountain about a kilometer down the road.

As we started off, we were surprised to see this band of about 20 odd- well dressed- middle aged men and women, sauntering along the track, shooting video footage, taking close ups of wild flowers. We were pretty amused with the easy going luxury of time. Apparently it was a group of senior executives from Bombay taking some time out!

The crucial decision point came into where a little bridle path led to the left and up, off from the main trail at the end of Khati Village. Pondy would have none of it. He had had enough adventure! Sandhu and Priyapunit were desparate to get back ASAP, probably also because of the troubling knee- any shortcut was welcome for them. So I had the swinging vote and I cast that in favour of the shortcut. A visibly upset Pondy actually continued on the straight path for sometime before he turned in. The time was 130.
Flashing Guns at Leopards
The climb up was pretty, silent and fast! We wanted to cover as much ground before daylight since this track was new and unknown. The forest was lightly wooded and the path was mostly visible although there were times when it vanished under the thick carpet of dry leaves. The setting was straight out of a Jim Corbett narrative. Felled logs with overgrown creepers, dried leaves and the sussurations of the breeze over the leaves and the track leading through vegetation thick and dense! 

We had been climbing up the track steadily for almost 2 hours now and steadily gaining altitude. We knew we had to crossover to the other side of the ridge! But where was that Pass?  What appeared to be the zenith would give way to another wave of hills!

It was about to be 4 in the evening when we heard some sound some where ahead. I think Corbett was playing heavy in our minds for our ears cocked up and eyes grew wide in anticipation of a leaping leopard. (I still don't know what created that sound).With no weapons in our hand we grabbed whatever was available. Pondy and I with little thick 8 inch sticks hoping to lock the opened jaws of that imaginary leopard. Poor Priyapunit, for lack of any other weapon, charged up the camera flash. Fingers ready on the shutter he was ready to shoot hoping that would stun the wild marauder and provide that window to escape. :-) We were like a bunch of frightened children. 

We must have inched forth like this for another half an hour when we finally hit the top of the pass. Announced by fluttering colorful player flags tied around a tree. This usually indicates a place of worship for the jungle deity. Or was it some ritual post of some witch or tantric? With a revered bow from a distance we crossed the pass.

Decision point! The road led in 2 different directions, one to our left and other to the right. Instinct was to move to the right because that was the general direction of Dhakuri Pass. We had to take a risk and decide and we followed our instinct, with a gentle reminder from Sandhu that a wrong decision here would land us up in Namik Glacier. 

Anyway we trudged on. The moment the path wound downwards, the knee problem of Sandhu and Priyapunit started. We were thristing as well. We realised at once the abundance of water in the Pindar valley and the importance of it. Those days we didnt even have the sense of carrying a water bottle and Bisleris were not as ubiquitous a commodity as it is today. We thought of calling out to any soul nearby to clarify direction and find water. But there was not a soul in sight! 

Presently we heard the dangling bells of grazing cows. It was a high meadow with some liberal felling of Pines and other trees. There was a hut just under the trail. A fairly large herd of cattle was grazing. But not one human being in sight! We hollered the loudest we could taking turns. But to our dispointment a small child materialised from nowhere and vanished into the bushes! Probably they were afraid. Was it the illegal felling of pines? Were they thinking, we were forest officials on surprise audit?

Hoping we shall find water anyways we trudged on, that doubt still lingering in the mind about correctness of direction. The evening was fast maturing into dusk. Pondy and I decided to double up speed to find water while Sandhu and Priyapunit trudged on slower with their injured knees. 530 now and still no water! Not a soul in sight, the track wound down endlessly, the silence of the forest growing on us. We were desperate now for water. We were willing to put up the night in the jungle but needed water urgently like Now

Water serves as a vital ingredient in any trek. Dehydration in high altitude is pretty easy which apart from depletion of salts can also create joint pains and if the trek is on the way up, can result in inadequate acclimatisation. But luck had run out on us. Pondy was now livid at the group for the democratic decision making we did at Khati.

The Maa of Pindari
Just when the outlines were fast turning into silhouttes, I saw this form sitting at the bend of the track about 100 meters ahead. Human company at last! I rushed over to find a frail looking old woman sitting there as if to sell something to passers-by. A little girl- must be her grand child- was playing nearby. The ware in dispaly was fresh looking fat cucumbers! 

My first query was to verify the direction and was relieved on that count. The instincts had not failed us. the next question was about water upon which we were informed that the nearest village is at least few kilometers away and would we then mind having some of the Cucumbers she was selling? Of course we would not mind!

Pondy and I would have devoured at least 3 each of those fat cucumbers that she carefully  peeled and served. I would have traded anything in the world at that moment for those bites into that succulent fruit. Thirst quenched, anxiety handled and body rested our thoughts turned to our beloved colleagues with damaged knees hobbling behind, still not in sight. We requested the old woman- would she mind waiting a while more because we had thirsty friends coming in from behind? 
She would, she said.

Duly the guys arrived, another 15 minutes gone, in obvious pain. I think the lack of water was aggravating it- the knee pain. Their relief was greater. By the time the feast was over, it was about 6. Darkness was fast approaching and the woman's cucumber basket emptied clean. Sandhu was the team cashier and asked me to settle the bill- whispering in that it better had to be a good dealfor we were tight on cash. 

I asked her the price- "Kitne ka hua khira?Kitne rupaye?"
"Kya?" She said as if she did not understand my question
"Yeh jo saare khira khaye humne. Uske paise kitne hue?" I described the merchandise she had just sold. I was hoping against hopes she doesnt charge too much. Usually commodities are costly in the hills because of the greater hardship involved in making things available to customers. 
Imagine my surprise when she says "Paise kis baat ki?" ("Why money?"). 

An incredulous me asked "But why? we just polished your whole basket? Weren't you here for selling those?".. and then she said 
"Lekin bete, aap pyase the. Pyase ko pani pilan to dharam hota hai! paise kis baat ka?- (But Son, you were thirsty and its good deed to provide water to the thirsty! Where is the question of money!)" 
That blew the wind out of me. 
"But Maaji, you will have to accpet some money as a token of our gratefulness". 
To which she answered with utter love "Tum niche seher ke log ise samjhoge nahin. Maaji kaha hai na? Isse Pahaadi Maa ka daan samjh lo- You city dwellers from the plains won't understand this. You have called me Maaji-..consider this a gift from the Mountain Mother".

That dialogue with her still rings loud in my ears after all those years. I dont know if she is still alive, if I would ever see her again. But that changed forever my world-view of dealing with strangers - particularly in Uttaranchal- which they call as Dev Bhumi- the Land of Gods. Such simplicity, righteousness and values! 

Many questions still linger in the mind...who was she? what was she doing in that dusk in that deserted trail? Was her sales forecasting so bad she would be left with half that basket at the end of the day? I was dumbfounded literally and so was the rest of the group- the budding Business Managers of the future- we had just witnessed a whole different way of living. It was The humbling experience of my life.!

In our effort to display our token of gratitude Sandhu had this ingenuous strategy. He called over the little granddaughter and handed her all our store of extra chocolate (I think there were some 2 large bars) which she accepted with glee. We were relieved a little of the guilt that we had robbed the old lady completely of her day's earnings. We had this urgent query about availability of liquor nearby. But after that transaction with the "Mountain Mother" we decided to give it a pass. May be we shall ask around in the village ahead.

Apparently the walk to Song was still couple of hours away. Which meant "Night Trekking". All calculation and estimations of time and distance had gone totally awry. We were desparate now to reach the bikes. The knees must have been hurting and thats why probably Sandhu called for a halt as darkness envoloped us. Rolled a joint and each had few drags. We were mustering energy and numbing our senses for an entirely new experience of "Night Trekking". I would repeat the experience a decade later on my way back from Saptarishi Kund almost in the same condition as Sandhu was that day.

Night trekking has its own different challenges and thrills. The excitement and struggle is the same, with an added fact that the sun is not bearing down harsh upon you. The weariness of the trek is less, dependence of the light from above is much greater (read- moonlight) and of course one depends lot more on the faculty of sound than vision. The other good thing is that you dont get to see the depth of that valley however much deep it might be. 

Treading that totally unfamiliar path, carefully crossing the ever so frequent little streams, keeping close to that mountain side and looking up at the sky ever so frequently, praying fervently to keep clouds away from our sole source of light we carried on. After the testing day, God had been kind in providing at least the moonlight. When it was about 8, the track suddenly widened into a road and we could hear the Sarayu flowing alongside on our left. We were finally on the road to Song.

It was 815 when we reached the village and quickly checked the health of the bikes. Though the place was deserted, everything seemed to be in order. Finally we were ready to be machine borne again. We had covered almost 30 Kilometers in a single day of trek, including that 5 kms climb up the pass and were getting ready for the last leg of 45 Kms on bike. The journey back was eventless except for the gas running out from our bike about 10 Kms from Song. The empty rum-bottle came to good use in borrowing  gas from Sandhu's bike. That bottle of petrol was expected to see us through till Baijnath which unfortunately wasn't the case. We had to repeat the chore again past Kapkot. Back in the guest house by 1000 we grabbed some dinner and crashed. Its only after lying down that I realised how much I missed a proper bed.

Day 8(Baijnath- Almora)- The Shortest day!

We must have slept for some 14 hours for it was midday when we woke up. We didnt intend to be ambitious today, the limbs weren't permitting us to. Plan was to try a new short cut back to Almora. The route promised to be shorter and better. It was. 

We took it easy, riding down to Almora, savouring the cool mountain air, singing aloud. We were the victorious team riding back. It would be well into the evening when we reached Almora. After arranging for the night's stay at KMVN guest house we went looking for a bottle of booze and had a full dinner complete with butter chicken. After some small talk and sweet reminiscence, sleep was swift, every joint in the body seemed to be aching.

Day 9(Almora- Delhi)- The Long Ride back Home!

Early next morning we started off for the last long ride back home. It was an ambitious venture conidering that we had taken full 2 days to cover the same distance on the way up. But this time we restructured the route plan for hope of time efficiency. We would take the Haldwani/Rudrapur route back rather than the Ramnagar/Corbett one. But our luck ran out 2 hours into the ride.

Just at 10 in the morning, Sandhu's bike came to a halt with a loud sound. His bike chains were broken. Luckily he had this spare joint that could manage the situation, but now we would necessarily have to show it to a mechanic and get it fixed ..probably at Haldwani. It was about afternoon when we reached Haldwani. After an hour of struggle we finally managed to get the repair done. 

Riding onwards we saw this little cross road on the way to beyond Rudrapur with this nice little restaurant nestled so invitingly on one of the corners. this is the crossroad where one road to the left leads to Kiccha, Khatima, Uddhamsingh Nagar and Nepal Border. After the much needed lunch late in the afternoon, we set off once again to Delhi at 3 in the afternoon.

Usually, Delhi is a 6 hour drive from Rudrapur considering that its about 250 Kms away. I dont know what it was, but we seemed to have reached Gajraula- 150 Kms away by about 7 in the night. 4 hours! That's when Dr Murphy went live. "Everything goes wrong all at once" :-)

The bike started with its now-familiar headlight problems. We were now used to it and went by the time tested method of making use of somebody else's head-beam. Finally a flat tire in Sandhu's bike near Hapur. In the dark of the night, pushing bikes on the highway looking for the nearest tire reopair shop can be harrowing with conspicuous knowledge of law and order issues along that highway.! Finally the flickering light of a tire shop was visible and the wheel repaired in next half an hour and we on our way again, both bikes keeping close together.

In the last 5 Km stretch from Hapur bye pass Dr Murphy struck again. This time our bike spluttered dead, probably we were out of gas. No amount of gas exchange in rum bottles would get the bike to start again neither did Sandhu had all that amount of gas left. The final 5 Kms we pushed the bike on, taking turns. After that dreary and gruelling 9 days this was the ultimate climax! Finally at 1130 we were back in the campus to the glorious rousing welcome of our mates in the Institute..9 full days after that fateful impulsive start from the Institute...Kavi, Balain, Raju and Kaushik - our breakaway group from Loharkhet, were the first to greet us back in.

In the nine days we had covered close to 1000 kms on bike, about 80 kms on foot, grown beards 1/2 inch long, taken 4 baths in total, spent 3000 rupees per head and had been through an experience which would change our lives forever, I can say that for myself at least.

We had become the trekking legends in our batch....
and I was bitten by the bug for my life- Trekking the High Himalayas!

Sandhu and Kaushik would follow this up with their adventurous journey to Gaumukh in November and Me to Vasudhara-Badrinath- Valley of flowers-Hemkund the next year.


Isani said...

I myself never had a chance to venture exploring the mighty Himalayas or any such big mountains for that matter at such close proximity. An excellent narrative, that I could not keep myself off, from reading today during my work hours.Never adventured, neither with any such experience to share, somewhere deep within I have an irresistable passion to hit upon "the glorious and mighty" Himalayas in this lifetime

Him-Pathik said...

Hey Thanks!!! Keep me going to rain blogs now at this space...haha

rakshit said...

Hey.... that was motivating stuff!! i got totally hooked on to it... i have started reading ur blog and i guess i will read the whole of it nw... thnx fr the inspiration dat this blog is providing me wid...
btw, wich institute were you in?? in 1991??

Him-Pathik said...

Hey Rakshit

sorry for replying so late

Thanx for your compliments
was in IMT Ghaziabad at that time pursuing my MBA course

Amit Tyagi said...

Ashu Bhai,

I read your first trek blog last, after reading all your blogs today... & here I discover the origin of KEEDA...

Mindblowing... & what adventure... Honestly, reading the Dhumdarkandi first (it was a revision of this read, as I have read it earlier as well) & Pindari last didnt make any difference as your first trek also had equal amount of adventure ... loved all of them to every word of them....

Him-Pathik said...

Hi Amit

Hahahaha...aptly said!!
The origin of KEEDA!!!
In fact thats what we used to say in IMT even in those days.. KEEDA!!

Thanks for your kind compliments...

Pindari is indelible and so is that old woman... who created the firt impressions of the Himalayas in that tender mind.

Jeyanth said...

That was one hell of an adventure Ashu !!

Reading the blog was both fun and inspirational... hoping to trek to Pindari glacier sometime....

nikhil said...

That was an awesome read - thanks for sharing it.
Somehow, I imagined that trekking in uttarakhand was a recent phenomenon, but reading this changed all that.
BTW, found your blog while doing research for my trek - I am off for Vof-Hemkund-Badrinath tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Hi! Himpathik all your description is astonishing I can’t express it in any language. Thanks for publishing all the description. I have also some experience over trekking
2005-Amarnath, 2006-Satopantha, 2007-Roopkund, 2008-Sandakaphu
2009-Manali Shimla(Just Outing)
I am interested friendship with u.
wiil you accept it.

with regards
Rajesh, Kolkata.

Him-Pathik said...

Thanks Jeyanth, Nikhil and Rajesh
Thanks for the kind words of encouragement

Urvashi Iyengar said...

Hi Ashu!

very interesting and adventurous trek, enjoyed reading every word of it...still have to read more on your blog-list.

Thanks again for sharing and inspiring all of us to pursue our hunger for the Himalayan expeditions which, I am sure, never going to get satisfied till life long...