Conquering the mountains

Stirring trek
Last Updated 10 July 2010, 10:00 IST

The Miyar Valley, famous for the Miyar Glacier, is north west of the Rohtang Pass beyond Keylong and Udaipur. After landing at Chandigarh at 12 in the afternoon,  we set off by road to Naggar, a small town 22 kms before Manali. Our expedition was put together by a young man Gaurav Punj and his group Connect to the Himalayas (www.connectwithhimalaya.com). They are very particular about how they go about connecting people to these majestic mountains. For instance, trekkers only stay either in homestays or in government run establishments to ensure that the money spent goes only to the indigenous population of these regions.  We arrive well after dark, in fact around midnight.

Lesson 1: Don't have leisurely lunches when you have to get somewhere far!
We stagger into The Castle, which is a 16th century old castle and used to be the abode of the then Raja of the Kullu valley.  We spend just a few hours here and early  next morning, we are off again at 7 am with a packed breakfast because we must cover the Rohtang Pass as early as possible. Our drive over the Rohtang Pass is spectacular.  More than 13,000 feet above sea level, this is one overwhelming mountain mass
to traverse.

But nothing could have prepared us for the mela that greeted us at the top. The place is swarming with honeymooners in colourful snow suits, and food stalls, not to mention the muck, the slush, the traffic and the garbage that the tourists throw!  Himachal tourism needs to get their act together here and fast. We eat lunch at a roadside dhaba and drive on through the valley of the Chandra river, to Keylong, a quaint largish township,and the district headquarters of Lahaul district.  On the way we stop at a monastery.

 The next morning we pass through the confluence of the rivers Chandra and Bhaga at Tandi, and carry on down the river route to Udaipur. Udaipur is the last big small town before we branch off into the Miyar Valley. We now drive through some of the most spectacular scenery I have ever seen.  Our narrow winding road overlooks a steep river valley. Glaciers literally hang over and into the river that they feed.
The greenery and the valley are just breathtaking.  So much so that we forget to take pictures!

Trekking  paradise
After Urgos, a small village with a police check post, we reach the point where the rest of our camping team await us.  We now leave for our camp site, which we are told, is seven kms away and will take us about two to three hours to reach. Some do, but I and a few others take five!  It is a tough call walking here as the altitude is suddenly more than 12,000 ft and we start to get breathless.  A winding road for about 4 ½ kms and then we start a steep climb, up a couple of steep hills before we reach the campsite, which is at approximately 14,000 ft!  The first day is a shock to some of our systems.  Some get altitude sickness with headache and nausea.

One of our group members sits on a rock that is on the edge of the cliff over the river valley. The rock wobbles and falls and she gets up just in time to save her life!
Lesson 2: Don't choose random rocks to sit on around the Himalayas!
The next morning,  the second day of our actual trek begins.  After an early start, we traverse some amazing open meadows and this walk is just so much easier and more pleasant than the day before!  The slowest of us reach the campsite well within three hours and now we just relax and chill in the sunlight for the rest of the day....
I’m in for a rude shock in the night however, as I wake up around 2 am with a terrible stomach upset, (which could have been due to altitude toxins, I am informed much later.) This in the Himalayas is a curse.  All one’s effort goes in crawling out of the tent in record speed in order to make it through the freezing black night to the toilet tent in time !  As a result I skip the next days trek towards the Miyar Glacier and choose to have a day off.   
Lesson 3 – Carry lots of toilet paper and wet wipes when you go trekking.

Scenic and surreal
The group that goes towards the glacier, traverses through vast open flowery meadows, and comes across lakes and sandy beaches.  I am told that this was the most beautiful stretch of the trek. One thing that all of us noted on this trip was that in the lap of nature, things get reduced to the very basics.

 I mean, all we would really discuss was our toilet situations or our breathing situations, or what we would wear tonight to combat the freezing temperature outside our tents!  Every action took effort. Things like walking to the loo, or to the dining tent took up huge amounts of energy because of the altitude, as did crawling in and out of our tents!  Trekking in high altitude is really about the basics that we take for granted in our cities... ease of movement, enough oxygen, toilet facilities, food and warmth.

The fourth day we trekked back to our first camp after a rather stormy night when our tent shuddered and shook and flapped around but stayed firmly put,  thank God.  We awaken the next morning to find ourselves suspended in a valley of clouds!  And rain! We are unable to move for a while till the mist clears and the rain lessens.
Finally we set off down the slippery stony slopes to descend back through Khanjar village, back to Urgos, all the way back to Keylong and Naggar.  Over there we visit the Nicholas Roerich Museum which is a total delight and makes me want to buy a house somewhere close by immediately !  The view, the house and of course the paintings of this superb Russian artist who’s son married our very own Devika Rani, are like something out of a fairy tale.

But finally if you ask me, what was the lasting memory  I went home with, it would have to be the nights when one crawled out of one’s tent, fearful of the cold to go to the loo, and then... just could not help but gasp in wonder and in awe at the mountains
at touching distance, with the moonlight brighter than any light, illuminating
the scenery and turning it into a surreal painting.
The stars seemed huge and the land seemed aglow. One did not even need a torch and you finally knew that this is why you came all the way up here and this is what you  crawled and panted up the mountain side to see.  For no car could have taken you to a spot so unspoiled and so pristine. Purity is to be found only where angels... and tyres, fear to tread.

(Published 10 July 2010, 10:00 IST)

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