Tuesday, 7 March 2017

The Great Himalayan Trek

Of all the discoveries that man has made since inception, it is said that the discovery of self is the most difficult one. No one knows how it will happen and when. For some, it is a momentary spark; for others, a long drawn out journey. For the members of Trek Group No.14, it took a trek in the majestic Himalayas to discover their selves.

It is said that a journey is made memorable largely due to its members and ours was no exception. The group was a motley mix of people from various backgrounds, characters, and interests. Few were friends already, few mere acquaintances and few complete strangers. It was akin to a salad bowl where all the vegetables retain their individual flavour and characteristics. But together, they bring their own unique taste. And such was the case with our group. What started out as a mix of different people ended up becoming very good friends.

When we started out, we had been given the infamous tag of being the “softest” trek as we had to cover only a distance of 71 km. This put us at great ease and happiness. But once the trek was over, we came to know that neither was it an easy trek nor a short one.

The first leg of the trek was at Uttarkashi situated on the banks of Bhagirathi river, one of the two major headstreams of the holy Ganges. Mythology accords Bhagirathi as the source stream of Ganges and it is considered as a holy river in its own right. It was our luck that we stayed very close to the river- the so called “river view” for which we have to shell out thousands elsewhere. Many of us made use of the opportunity and took a dip- some their entire body and some just their fingers- to absolve any supposed sins that we might have accumulated in our short lifetime. We do not know whether we became purified but we certainly were frozen due to the cold waters.

The high point, literally and metaphorically, of our journey was Dayara Bugyal- a picturesque landscape carpeted with lush green meadows whose beauty would have made a Monet jealous. To reach the destination, we had to undergo a strenuous journey from Baarsu where the only way was upwards and further upwards. Time, invariably begins to slow down when we trek uphill- even a minute feels like an hour. We were exhausted beyond imagination but once we reached Dayara Bugyal, we realized that the hard trek was worth it.

Nestled at an altitude of 3200 metres, the vast alpine meadows stretched endlessly over the horizon. The bugyals (or meadows) are inhabited by the local nomadic Gujjar and Bakarwal tribes who let their cattle graze to their heart’s content. The locals consider the area to be sacred and believe that the bugyal is home to a natural deity.

It indeed looked as if the deity had spent some extra time here exhibiting his handwork. Secluded away from the rubric of modern day developments, it was the perfect place to be in harmony with oneself and contemplate on nothingness, with the clouds circling a few feet above our heads.

We pitched our tents under the star lit sky and as darkness engulfed, we could hear ourselves as even nature had gone to sleep. That night, where we sat around the bonfire forging bonds in those dancing flames are sure to be etched forever in our memories.  In the morning, the sun peeked out of the dense clouds, bathing the majestic snow clad peaks of Neelkanth, Srikanth and Bandarpooch Hills, creating a radiating glow.

Sometimes, the destination makes the journey worthwhile and at times, it is the very journey that is a delight. Our route from Lata to Belak was definitely not the latter. Infested with tortuous ravines, almost perpendicular slopes, and slippery tracks where we could not trust our own feet, it seemed that it was nature’s way of putting man in its rightful place. At one particularly treacherous route, where a fall would have resulted in broken bones, many of us, who were hitherto steadfast atheists, became staunch believers of the almighty. But it was at that stage where each member of the group ensured all of us reached safely. In times of adversity, the members showed their courage which solidified strongly the bonds of friendship that had been formed already.

We kept on trudging through uphill and the mountains were teasing us throughout the way. At one juncture, it would appear as if the peak was just a few metres away creating a sense of false hope and lull. But once we reached, we would be confronted with yet another peak. This continued for a while till we stopped believing the mountainous mirages. We kept plodding along till we began to hear some human voices. It happened to be the members of Trek Group No. 8. A sense of relief swept over us when we realized that we were not alone.

In Belak, we stayed in Gujjar huts, that were comparatively large in size for a thatched hut. Built out of stones available from the nearby area, they were designed and maintained to suit their day to day lives. The huts were multifunctional in nature with the entire space serving as hall, bedroom, and kitchen.

The stay at Gujjar huts made us realize something important- that we take many things for granted and we realize that only when we do not have them. Used to snug, warm beds and cosy rooms at the academy, it was strange to sleep on a bare floor in our sleeping bags. As the embers flickered in the fireplace, we realized that the people who lived here faced immense hardships- for even drinking water was a luxury that had to be fetched from a considerable distance. It opened new perspectives into the way people lead their lives in these parts of the country.

The leg from Belak to Budhakedar was indeed remarkable for the very fact that all the members of the group, irrespective of their fitness and injury status, showed immense fortitude and solidarity. We traversed downhill through dense silver oaks and stout deodars rhododendrons at a speed that would have made our PT instructors proud. Throughout the route, we were accompanied by the youthful Balganga river whose pacy flow probably egged us to go faster. The river bid farewell to us by merging into the Dharmaganga river once we reached Budhakedar. As we neared Budhakedar, we sighted a few small shops and houses that hinted at civilization. After spending three days in the very lap of nature, we felt happy yet sad to see the towns that we were so used to.

Our journey ended at Ghuttu, one of the smaller hamlets situated on the banks of Bhilganga River. The village, with its rustic way of life, was beautiful in its own right and it was fitting that we completed the trek in a place ensconced by mountains.

Travel is said to be a great teacher and the trek taught us many a thing. It pushed the limits of our physical and mental barriers to the fullest and we came out stronger and happier. We realized that man has been very alien to nature and the journey made us appreciate even more. Throughout the trek, nature had surprised, delighted, shocked and excited us and in the end, embraced us.

As our bus made its long winding way back to Mussoorie, we reflected back on that one week in the Himalayas that we would cherish for the rest of our lives. 

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