Charmed by the Himalayas

Charmed by the Himalayas

Trekking Trip

As we huffed and puffed, the bright blue skyline, green hills and valleys with checkered homes welcomed us. As we soaked up gorgeous views and gnawed into our yak cheese sandwiches, every breath felt full.

Backpacks on, the meadows of Sarotu was our next stop. In the mountains it is not about the kilometers as it is the number of hours you walk. Two hours to go before camp, the team trudged along with baby steps, slowly ascending the meadows alongside black and white sheep for company.

Sarotu Thach was our campsite. Overlooking a deep gorge with residual winter snow in the higher reaches and clear streams gurgling past, camping couldn’t get better. We jumped into camp roles.

The cooks assembled stoves, the camels reached out to the stream to top up water while the constructors hurriedly pitched tents. As the night weaned in, a warm meal in the kitchen tarp spiced with the day’s gupshup felt very comforting. Each team member had reacted differently to the day’s ascent. The evening chill wasn’t making things easier either. A good night’s sleep acted as a balm for all wounds.

I was woken up by hoofs (wild horses) in the early hours of the morning. When I stepped out of my tarp, the feeling was surreal. I had the mountains to myself. The morning light illuminated the snow-capped peaks. The first part of the day was a steep descent into the gorge. The mountains were more jagged and steep; the trail followed a swift nallah (large stream) that roared in the valley. The terrain was pleasantly different with a tricky foot bridge and a few odd rocks here and there. The only constant thing throughout the afternoon remained the nallah.

Around 4 in the evening came a turning point. With no foot bridge in sight, we were staring into ice cold water gushing down with the trail on the other side. As I took off my shoes, strung them around my neck and ventured bravely towards the water to lead from the front, the chill reached my brain in micro seconds. It was piercingly cold. Chikha was our campsite for the night. A stew packed with vegetables and thukpa (handmade atta noodles) for dinner ended our day. I was happy to hit the trail early next morning. We were all geared to cross another stream but we were treated to a quaint foot bridge. Gradually, the trail hit moraine land (moraines are unconsolidated glacial debris with rock and soil plucked off the valley floor.)

Up the moraine, we came across a snow bridge — a 60 degree inclined patch of hardened ice with a thin layer of soft snow. Sureshji, our guide, stomped across in blistering speed. With mere boots, no crampons, a weighted backpack (roughly 20 kg) and balance hard to find, I knew for a start that the snow bridge was going to be tricky. As we walked tic-tac on the snow steps carved out, it was sheer resilience that took us through.

At 1 in the afternoon, we camped at Juwara Meadows. We quickly pitched tents, had cheese and crackers for lunch and huddled in our shelters. A storm arrived around 2 pm. We expected it, thanks to weather forecast. Suddenly, the pretty meadows turned into cloud balls of terrible weather. Winds at 50 km per hour, which remind us how vulnerable we are when it comes to nature, hit us as we sat under a tarp with four layers of clothing, hoping that the storm passes safely. We were at the mercy of the mountains.

However, soon enough, the storm cleared out. We cooked some delicious pasta and as we savoured the meal, stars returned to the night sky. The next morning was crisp. Walking without our backpacks (we had decided to visit Hampta Pass and return back), we felt like we were flying squirrels — light. Wild flowers in violet, yellow, white and pink littered the meadows. The gorge widened to accommodate tall peaks. Juwara Creek peeped out from the frozen sections. We entered the high plateau of Balu ka Dera.

The view ahead was pristine — tall unnamed peaks and steep snow patches packed from the winter’s avalanches. Sureshji noted that he hadn’t seen such snow in years. Deeply aware that we were expecting a storm that afternoon, we galloped down the trail back to the camp. With precision, the storm arrived around 2.15 pm.

The next day, we returned to the road. This wasn’t my trek up a mountain, but every time I return, I am filled with emotions. Himalayas has managed to mesmerise me for 18 years and the Hampta Valley too charmed me, yet again.

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