Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Bali Pass Trek



I am tired and shivering with cold. There is snow everywhere I see. My shoes are buried in snow struggling to keep balance on the steep descent of the Bali Pass. The sun is going down behind the ridge and the wind is picking up. I am cursing myself for taking off the thermal inners before starting the day's trek. But I had no clue that we would be out on the snow this late in the evening, instead of being safely nestled in our tents. Just an hour earlier we were at top of the Bali Pass basking in the warmth of the sunshine and the glory of crossing 4 km of snow field and climbing successfully to the top. The snow had been waist deep at a few places and the final climb had proved too taxing. But we were in triumphant spirits after reaching the top and the view was simply magnificient. All of us were really excited and the steep descent hadn't seemed so treacherous then.

Within an hour all the ecstasy had turned to pure agony. The three of us had managed to descent two-thirds of the way down holding onto the ropes fixed by our guide, JaiSingh. At few instances we were literally hanging onto the rope for dear life. It was after the most difficult part was over that things started going wrong. Suddenly Rama took a slip and was sliding down the slope followed by Ashu. Both of them managed to stop some distance from the bottom. There slide looked uncontrolled enough for me not to attempt a similar stunt. I dug my hiking pole into the crumbling snow and started inching my way downwards. Suddenly a backpack came rolling down the slope from above and missed me by a few meters. I looked up to see another backpack somersaulting its way down the steepest section of the slope. It took me a few seconds to realize that it was actually one of the porters tumbling down with the backpack, and still my mind refused to believe what my eyes were witnessing. With great momentum he rolled past me to come to an abrupt halt around 20 meters below me. I was shocked beyond words. It was a miracle that he actually got onto his feet after the fall. Even from the distance I could see his face covered in blood. I was the one closest to him and wanted to rush for his help but I was too terrified of taking a fall myself. I shouted asking him if he was ok and carefully started making my way towards him...

The beginning

The turn of events that led to all this started with a harmless little post on the "Trekking in Himalayas" community at Orkut. Sometime in July I noticed a post from Ashu regarding Bali Pass trek. I knew Ashu as a regular contributor to the community so I was a little interested. But I was even more reluctant in joining a team of complete strangers for a trek and the planned date in end October was too far away for me to make any sort of commitment. It was not till September that I started to get a little more serious about the plan. I wrote a message to Ashu indicating that I would be interested but can't really plan the leaves and all before beginning of October. Meanwhile I started convincing a few friends to join in with me.

The proposed itinerary was as follows :

Day 01- Delhi – Hanuman chatti – Janki chatti
Day 02- Janki chatti(2575) –Yamunotri(3150) –Damni (3500 )

Day 03 - Damni (3500)– Upper Damni (3650)
Day 04- Upper Damni – Bali pass (5172)– Tange Camp (4000)
Day 05- Tange Camp(4000) - Kyarkoti – Ruinsera Tal (3560)
Day 06 - Ruinsera Tal(3560) - Osla (2260)
Day 07 -Osla (2260)- Taluka – Sankri (1900)
Day 08- Sankri - Purola - Mussoorie - Delhi


I didn't know much about the route, but a bit of googling promised a great adventure in front of us. I was still having trouble convincing my manager to give me a week off. He reserved the right to cancel my leave at any moment if some urgent work turned up. A couple of my friends had decided to join in but I had a feeling that there plans were as fragile as mine. Meanwhile Ashu was having no better luck in forming a decent team and he had actually started talking about going on his own. So confusion reigned supreme and even till the last week we were not sure about the team composition. With just two days to go things had started looking up for me in the work front but Gaurav and his friend decided to opt out due to some emergency. Not in favor of letting any traveling opportunity go waste, I decided to take the plunge with a set of complete strangers this time.

Random Notes from my Diary during the trek

Day 2

"One continuous climb, initially through bushes and thorns. Then we were above treeline and now only dry grass is there. The moment we reached the top of the hill, we could see snow peaks all around us. To my left is a continuous range of snow peaks, Bandar Puch range in my front. Towards right I can see Syani Chatti from where we had started. These peaks had appeared so distant then. It was a tough climb but then we sit down and look at the view and it become worthwhile. Air is cold but the sun is shining brightly, giving me feeling of cold and warmth at the same time. Wind is making a slight whisper against the grass. Some eagles and crows are flying in the sky. I can sit here for hours but we have further to go"

"We have reached the ridge. The path was almost a vertical climb through rock and dry grass. Towards the end it was so steep that our guide had to fix rope for us. One by one we went up. Rama was the first to go up but I wish it was me coz i didn't really liked the feeling of being stuck on a small foot-hold with a steep fall beneath. Now the porters with a big load would do the same thing. We are waiting for them and once again enjoying the view which keeps getting more magnificient as we climb up. Rama has gone to sleep after packed lunch. I am hungry and out of gas but my stomach is grumpy since yesterday and I haven't eaten much since last night. The snow peak which were so distant are now so near. Although the sun is getting into the eyes but it is also feeling good. A gentle breeze is blowing and the grass twigs are dancing to it. An eagle just glided past in the clear blue sky. If I were an eagle this trek would have no meaning for me coz I would probably fly there in an hour. There is a strange silence all around me except for the sound of flowing water. Its as if time is standing still and asking us to be still as well. I almost slept but decided its better to sleep at the camp. Its just the second day and each day gets more and more difficult. But I know I will through and then I will have only these memories left with me."

4th morning

"It was a cold night. -3 C at 8 pm and Ashu reckoned it was going to get till -8. I thought I had more than enough woolen but I guess you can never retain enough heat at these temperatures. The cold creeps through layer after layers of clothing and freezes your bones. In between I got up to put on another lower and sweater. It felt warm for a while before the cold crept in again. I went out to pee in the middle of the night. It was a beautiful moonlit night, with the snow shining on the peaks. The air was really chilly and I was forced inside before I could really enjoy the scene. In the cold you alternate between sleeping and feeling cold. We got up with the daylight but the sun was still behind the mountain. Had a cup of tea - only helped a little with the cold. Then you get the first rays of the sun on you and you feel a warmth like you have never felt before. Slowly the rays shower you whole body making you feel alive again. Slowly the uncountable layers of clothing start coming off. The camp has sprung into activity. Pradeep is preparing breakfast in his kitchen tent, Deepak is going off to fetch water from a nearby stream. Ashu has gone for his morning chores. JaiSingh is getting out his snowboots and Ice axe. Today we would be walking over snow to cross the pass. Sun is beginning to shine brightly now and the moon is still setting in the west. Can hear some birds singing in the distance. Its going to be a beautiful day. "

5th Morning

"I am spread up on a rubber mat warming myself in the early morning sun. My boots and socks are left out for drying. Yesterday they were buried under two and a half feet of snow. There is usual activity around the camp. The camp is pitched on snow at a height of 4600 meters right at the foot of Bali pass. We are almost packed and ready to leave. JaiSingh has gone ahead to find a route. It seems the snow is too deep at places and there are a few cravases too. So he is finding a route around the center. We are not doing too well. We lost a lot of rashion in yesterdays mishap. The team morale is low and people are occasionally breaking out in violent outbursts. Yesterday had started beautifully. We started walking from our Upper Damini camp. Initially the path took us through light snow. The view was beautiful and everyone was upbeat. Rama had never seen so much snow in his life and he was excited. Little did he knew that pretty soon he will get tired of it. After a few kilometers of walking we reached a vast snow-field. This was two and a half feet of snow for 3 km. We put on our gaiters and the guide put on his snow boots. JaiSingh walked in front cutting a path for us in the snow. On more than one occasion we went thigh deep in the snow. We could see the Pass now and it seemed too high and too far away, but we knew one step at a time would get us there. Each step took extra effort as our feet sank 1 feet into snow."




Day 1 - The starting day


Friday morning 4:30 am was the set time and Ashu was supposed to pick me up in front of my colony in his Scorpio which we would be driving till Barkot to rendezvou with Chandan and the support team coming in from Uttarkashi. Rama, our third companion, had already joined Ashu at his home, the previous night. Ashu seemed big on preparation and he had jotted down a long list of things we would be needing but all I could manage to do was to stuff a few trekking wear and some woolen in my rucksack, the night before. Thankfully Ashu and the support team covered us for a lot of stuff that I casually forgot to carry like gaiters, sun-hat, medicines and most important of all - toilet paper. I only got a couple of hour sleep but I was too excited to feel sleepy anyway. So when on a normal day I would struggle to get ready for office by 9 am, I was up and all set by 4 am.

At 4:30 I was making my way around the Metro construction towards the silver Scorpio parked on the opposite side of the road, cursing Ashu. Yes the guy had to actually park on the opposite side and make me walk all the way around the Metro barriers with a huge rucksack on my bag at 4:30 in the morning. And no need to remind me to stop complaining about having to walk 100 extra meters, when I was undertaking the mission to trek 80 km, some of it in snow and some of it around 5000m high. We will get to that when we get there but right now I have a Scorpio to catch.

Once I got near the car, another realization stuck me. I haven't met these guys before and even worse I didn't know which one is Ashu and which one is Rama. What have I got myself into, I wondered and whether it was really such a brilliant idea. "Par jab okhli me sar de hi diya hai to moosal se kya darna" - I hung out my right hand towards no one in particular. One of the guy took my hand and perhaps sensing my confusion, introduced himself as Rama. He obviously had no doubt about my sole identity - with the tell-tale signs of a rucksack on my shoulders. Ashu who was busy shooting with his handycam was the next one to get introduced.

Michael Schumacher

Without any further delay we got into the vehicle and drove away hoping to beat the morning traffic on the pathetic Rishikesh highway. Now I have never particularly liked this highway due to large number of truck and Qualis/Scorpio drivers who muscle their way past my smaller car. It turned out our Mr Ashu was exactly one such driver, as he took the wheels with the concentration of a rally driver and the others cars jumped right and left to avoid getting trampled. Before I could even appreciate fully the merit of being in a MUV, we had crossed Meerut - in under an hour. It was only a bigger bully that was finally able to stop our roaring vehicle at the railway crossing.

While all this while I was on the edge of my seat in front, Rama was in a fully relaxed mode in the back of the vehicle. He had not spoken more than 10 words so far, and although I didn't think it was possible, he was turning out to be a bigger introvert than me. Ashu on the other hand loved to talk and both of us shared a lot of thoughts about our favorite topic - trekking and mountaineering. All that while I had assumed that I would have very little conversation with Rama during the trek and in all likelihood we would fail to come out as anything more than acquaintance. Little did I know that I would once again be proved wrong in the course of the next week.

The deadly 'Paan'

Moving on, after allowing the train to pass, we were in Mussorie just six hours after we started from Delhi. In between Ashu had shown little inclination to stop for anything except a lone breakfast. After Mussorie a most hilarious and embarrasing incident happened with me. I had switched places with Rama by then and was in the back seat. I was rearranging the stuff kept on the seat to make more space for me when I suddenly discovered a polythene bag with a dozen or so paan in it. So far I had seen Ashu devour one paan after another since he started from Delhi but I hadn't thought much about it. Now with the whole bundle in my hand I couldn't resist the temptation to put one in my mouth. It tasted bitter - so it wasn't sweet but i was still unsuspicious. I kept chewing inspite of the awful taste when it started to hit me. Suddenly my hands were numb and my mind started floating. Now I have had enough alcohol in life to realize the effect of an intoxicant. With a shock I realized that the paan actually had 'tambaku' in it. Immediately I spit out the remaining paan. But I was too dazed by now and my world was going for a spin. So I did the only logical thing left for me to do - I pushed all the stuff to the side and laid down.

I have no recollection of the events of the next one and a half hour. When I woke up we were parked in the side of the road. Ashu was showing the Bandarpuch range to Rama and both of them were outside the car. I was still a bit dizzy and choose to remain seated inside. Apparently we were a few kilometers from Barkot and the Bandarpuch range was the direction in which we were headed for our trek. I could see a few snow peaks behind green and brown mountains with the holy Yamuna serpenting in the valley below. The snow peaks seemed real distant but I was sure we would be getting real close in a few days time.



Full team Union

Another half and hour drive got us to Barkot where we met up with Chandan and his team at the GMVN guesthouse. Our support team included JaiSingh (the Guide), Pradeep (the cook), Deepak (porter + cook's assistant) and five high altitude porters. It actually seemed a bit overkill to me to have 8 support members for a team of 3. At Roopkund we had managed with a guide and 2 porters for the same team size and duration. But I knew nothing about the trek and conditions to make such a comment. In any case I was relaxed that all the arrangements are being made for us. A quick lunch later we left for Janaki Chatti, our destination for the day. It was a pleasant drive along the winding mountain road. On the way we went over the route and arrangements with Chandan and Jai Singh.



The team from L to R - BS Rathore, Rama, Jayendra Panwar, Pradeep, Deepak Thapa, Ritesh, Jaisingh, Rajan Karki, Chander Thapa, Vishnu Thapa, Ashutosh


At Hanuman Chatti we were told that the road ahead is blocked for construction. So everyone decided to stop for a cup of tea. Meanwhile I was able to buy a pair of woolen gloves for 40 bucks from a local shop. The gloves turned out to be real lifesaver in the sub-zero temperatures of the nights during the trek. At Hanuman Chatti, two tributaries of Yamuna confluence and there is a temple of Hanumanji on a small hillock. Hanuman Chatti is 13 km from Yamunotri and used to be the starting point for Yamunotri pilgrimage. Now the road has been extended further by 8 km till Janaki Chatti. I couldn't resist the urge to climb up the steps to see the temple. It was a small temple beautifully located. I was shooting some pics when Ashu and Rama joined me. After spending some time there we got down and were on our way again.



Initiation into trekking mode

The road was blocked near Syani Chatti which is 5 km from Janaki Chatti. Not wanting to wait and ready for some action, we started our trek from there itself. Just a little further we saw a huge crane clearing the debris of a blast. The crane looked like a huge T-rex bending down to pick up a pile of rocks and suddenly snapping its neck to the side to hurl the stones rolling down the slope into the valley below. The thing was working at such speed that it was impossible to get past it without performing a hollywood stunt. Wisely no one opted to play the Rambo and only when it finally rested for a couple of seconds did everyone scampered across.



It was getting a bit dark and cold by now, as our guide led us through hidden shortcuts. This was the first test for all of us. No one had any previous idea about the fitness and mental toughness of each other. We didn't know how fast or determined we were as a group. Ashu has been trekking for something like 15 years, I have been on a couple of difficult ones and Rama although it was his first Himalayan outing looked fit and strongly built. Ashu was leading in front with JaiSingh. He had opted to carry one of his rucksacks on his back while Rama and I were satisfied with our small back-packs. I was in the middle and the front party was walking too fast for my liking. Rama was behind me and was walking with a consistent pace. For next 5 km no one gave any sign of letting up the fast pace and I assumed that it was a good sign.



View of the same snow peaks from Syani Chatti that I shot earlier from Barkot

By the time we reached Janaki Chatti, it was dark and I was tired. JaiSingh got us rooms in a small hotel. The first shock came with the news that we were already disconnected from the world. No telephone lines and no mobile signal and we hadn't even started our trek yet. Sorry mom - but its not my fault that I wouldn't be calling for the next 8 days. The dinner was much more elaborate and tasty than I expected or hoped. I wondered if this was just a trailer or we would be getting pampered similarly, all the way till Bali pass. At sleeping time Rama and I decided to share the room since the other room was anyway littered with Ashu's stuff. It got really cold during the night and I already started doubting if I had enough woolen, especially after feasting my eyes on Ashu's Downs jacket. We will see......


Day 2 - Janaki Chatti to Yamunotri, camp at Lower Damini

It was a splendid morning. Perfectly blue sky without trace of a single cloud or bad weather. A gentle breeze was blowing and the sun was shining brightly. I had tried to take a bath in the morning not knowing when I would have the same luxury again. But the water was too cold for me to do anything meaningful with it. The breakfast was pampering once again - with porridge, milk, cornflakes, tea, toast, butter, jam, honey - hail King Ritesh. JaiSingh got all the stuff packed and started distributing the load evenly among the porters. We shamelessly handed our rucksacks to be carried as well, keeping only the small day packs with us. Looking back, it was perhaps for the best, because we ended up in enough trouble even without 12 kgs on our back. I had borrowed a blue sun hat from Ashu and dare I say I think I was looking particularly handsome in it. It was a real pity to loose it later on our little misadventure on the Bali Pass descent.

Trekking begins

Around 9 am we left Janaki Chatti for a 5 km trek to Yamunotri. It was a stone paved way till Yamunotri and we even had the option of taking a pony, though none of us was considering that for the moment. It was the official start of our trek and we were roaring to go. As usual Ashu started in front with JaiSingh while me and Rama were at the back. Atleast for this day we were also going to have the company of other pilgrims, some of them laboring on foot, some on ponies. I put on some music on my Ipod and was really enjoying the gentle trek. I felt in a good walking groove and when the climb started, I was already past and moving ahead of the rest of the group. I wondered if I should wait for the others but figured it was probably alright to keep going since there wasn't much chance of any trouble for anyone on this gentle and frequented path.



The newly wed couple


A little further I caught up with a couple riding on ponies. Both of them were young and looked newly wed. Now for someone who is not used to walking, even the 5 km uphill trek may seem a daunting task, and hence they might decide to opt for a pony. But looking at the terrified face of the girl I was convinced that walking would have certainly been a better option for her. She was nervous like hell trying to keep her balance on top, and was grimacing with each step that the pony took. I cant really blame the girl for I have also had the misfortune of riding a pony once on my way down from Kedarnath. That must have been the most adventurous thing I have ever tried and the only good thing about the ride was that I came out alive. With each step my back ached and my stomach grumbled. And everytime it slipped, my heart was in my mouth, since the damn stupid thing refused to walk on any side other than the one towards the cliff. Needless to say I have never been on a pony back again and nothing less than being stranded in the middle of a jungle with both my legs broken, would make me consider to ride one again.

Just as I was passing them, the guy threw down an empty Bisleri bottle. I was really disappointed to see such irresponsible behavior from a guy who looks well educated. An elderly gentleman had once told me that there is a big difference between being 'literate' and being 'educated', and sadly our schools are no longer in the business of imparting real education. I often wonder how many schools really teach their students the necessity of being polite to everyone, being fair in all our dealings, to stand up against corruption and whats wrong, that we should not be so blind in running after our own success that we forget to give back to the society. How many schools emphasize the importance of preserving our environment, being kind to animals, being thoughtful about consuming natural resources. How many schools really help their students to look beyond the everyday materialistic existence and look for a higher purpose in life. Because I believe that in today's society if we are struggling to be thoughtful citizens, if we are often disappointed at people's insensitivity, and often aghast by actions of misdirected minds, then the obvious mistake lies with how our children are being educated.

Anyway, I just picked up the empty bottle and handed it back to him. I explained to him that littering like this would spoil the local environment, and it couldn't be that difficult to take the bottle down with him. I also offered to carry the bottle myself in case he was not ready to do it himself. He took the bottle from me and moved on. Later, I met them again when they have had enough of riding, and decided to walk for a while. They were from Bangalore, recently married and were on the Char Dhaam Yaatra, Yamunotri being there last destination.

Disappointed with Yamunotri

I will now get straight to Yamunotri, since I have already written more than I originally intended to about the route. The first view of the temple presented a beautiful picture, with a few constructions nestled below towering mountains in the background, and Yamuna falling in successive streams from snow peaks above. But as I reached closer, I began to feel disappointed. The entry to the temple was through a narrow cluster of shops with shopkeepers forcing people to buy 'Prasad'. Several people were busy washing dirty clothes in the small stream supposed to be Yamuna. The buildings looked ugly against the mountains with electric wires running across. At lot of places plastics and bottles were dumped. I was glad that pretty soon I would be out of here, in a place which would be isolated from any human activity.



Not sure if I wanted to go any further, I sat down on a rock by the stream-side waiting for others to join in. When the others arrived, I decided to leave my skepticism for a while, and join everyone inside. A narrow fleet of stairs went up past the ladies bathing area, with a small mesh providing a tantalizing view of the inside, towards the hot sulphur water kund. The kund is considered holy by pilgrims and most of them take a dip in the steaming water. I was tempted to do the same but we were not carrying any towels or clothes with us. Taking another fleet of stairs we reached the main temple area. Towards the right of the temple was a smaller kund of boiling sulphur water, next to which some pandits were performing pujas on behalf of the pilgrims. As prasad they would tie some rice in a cloth and lower it in the kund till it get cooked. After puja and some shots of the temple, we were ready to leave.

We backtracked on the Yamunotri trek for 400 m to reach a detour towards Damini. Pretty soon we were in a jungle walking on a thin trail bounded by mountain on one side and trees on the other. The trail went up and down, but we were steadily gaining altitude.



The money tree

After 5 km of walking, we reached a small clearing in the forest. In front of us was a beautiful tree with several hundred coins buried in its trunk. For a while we thought we had discovered what every man dreams about - "Paisa wala ped - the money tree". But alas the excitement didn't last long as we realized that it was some sort of holy tree and the coins and bangles must be the offerings made by the locals. JaiSingh announced that this was to be our camping site for the day. We were a little disappointed at this - it was only around 2 pm and we were all ready for more action. The place wasn't the normal camping site for lower Damini. The actual camping site was a few kilometers ahead, where the tree line ended, but seemingly the water source over there had dried up this season. There was no sign of our porters yet and there was a little confusion if they were ahead of us and moving onto the upper camping site. We decided to wait for them right there.



Camping in jungle

The air was a bit cold but the afternoon sun seemed really pleasant. I found a nice spot under a tree and sat down for some reading. An hour later the porters arrived. All of us had some packed lunch with black tea. After lunch, JaiSingh and others started pitching tents. Within an hour, the small clearing was transformed into a beautiful camp. Once the kitchen tent was up, Pradeep started preparations for the dinner. The winter sun was setting fast and soon it was damn cold out there. We gathered some wood and started a camp fire. Meanwhile we started preparing for the chilly night by putting on layers of woolens. For next few days, we would be following this routine religiously. As the sun begins to set, we get into our tents to put on layers of clothing, the number kept increasing as we get higher up, till we were literally putting on everything in our rucksacks. So cramped in my tent, I would put on a pair of woolen lowers, another one on top of that, followed by a couple of trekking lowers. After making sure my legs were warm, I would start on the top with a couple of warm inners, woolen sweater, Tshirt, another sweater and finally my jacket. Add three pair of socks, woolen gloves and a monkey cap to all this and I am ready to tuck into my Down sleeping bag. It might sound hilarious but starting today we would be spending our nights in sub-zero temperatures. As the sun rises in the morning, I would be spending equal amount of time to take off everything and putting it back into the rucksack.



We all gathered around the fire. JaiSingh and porter sirar, Rathore started sharing stories of their various treks. Their favorite stories seemed to be the ones in which things have gone horribly wrong. So they talked about the recent Kedarkhal trek in which some Russians had got trapped and had to be evacuated by air. And the trek to Tapovan, in which they had heavy snowfall, and some of the team members had given up on the way back and started demanding them to camp on the glacier. Thankfully none of us were superstitious or easy to scare.

Pradeep called us inside the kitchen tent for dinner where we had some delicious tomato soup to start with. But as soon as we sat down for dinner, I got first signs of trouble. My stomach was grumpy and I suddenly wasn't feeling too good. I couldn't eat much and before long I was rushing towards the jungle with some borrowed toilet paper. My night was just as awful as I continued to struggle with acidity and loose motions. I took some eno in the night and again had to go out to the jungle. In that freezing cold, it was not a funny business at all. Sitting there I noticed how amazingly beautiful the moon looked.


Day 3 -Lower Damini to Upper Damini

I was in my tent till pretty late in the morning. Rama had already gone out and I could hear everyone getting ready for the day's activity. But I had a bad night and wasn't feeling on top. Finally when I was afraid that the others would start thinking about leaving without me, I got out of the tent. After the morning routines, we sat down for breakfast, but again I didn't feel like eating much. Instead I went up to a spot where some sunshine was peaking through the trees and waited in the warmth, for the others to join in.

Around 9 am we were ready to leave. JaiSingh led us up the narrow trail. Pretty soon the trail seemed to end in a row of thorny red bushes. I was looking for a path when JaiSingh dived right into the bushes followed by Ashu. I was still not convinced that this was the correct path, but having found no other way I was forced to follow everyone. I soon found myself surrounded by waist high thorny bushes on all side, with no clear trail. I slowly moved forward brushing aside thorny branches with my arms and legs. Sometimes I was forced to bend down and crawl through a narrow clearing. Countless thorns had attached themselves to my shoes and clothes, and bruised my hands. It took us half an hour to get clear of the bushes. I can't say I enjoyed the ordeal very much and was happy to be out of the bushes, above the tree line, into the golden brown meadows of dry grass.



Another hour of uphill climb got us to the top of the hill on which we had camped. We sat down for a rest and a chocolate bar for much needed energy. I was ahead of the rest and took the opportunity to jot down my thoughts on the small notebook I had in my pocket.

"One continuous climb, initially through bushes and thorns. Then we were above treeline and now only dry grass is there. The moment we reached the top of the hill, we could see snow peaks all around us. To my left is a continuous range of snow peaks, Bandar Puch range in my front. Towards right I can see Syani Chatti from where we had started. These peaks had appeared so distant then. It was a tough climb but then we sit down and look at the view and it become worthwhile. Air is cold but the sun is shining brightly, giving me feeling of cold and warmth at the same time. Wind is making a slight whisper against the grass. Some eagles and crows are flying in the sky. I can sit here for hours but we have further to go"



The path led up a ridgeline towards a near vertical mountain wall. It seems we were supposed to climb it and get to the other side. The going was getting much steeper now and every step was beginning to be accompanied by deep breaths. The huge wall in front of us only promised an even tougher climb ahead of us. We were also aware and excited about the rope fixing activity on some vertical section of this climb, which JaiSingh thought was too steep for us to climb safely without a rope.

My stomach was still upset with loose-motions, and I actually had to sit down behind a huge rock to relieve myself, while the rest of the group continued to climb up. Luckily I had kept the toilet paper handy in my bag anticipating just this scenario. When I was ready to go again, JaiSingh was out of sight, and Ashu and Rama were struggling up the steep slope, holding on to their hiking poles for support. Between the steep climb, empty stomach and deep breaths, I was feeling really tired by now. We were by now almost climbing vertically up, planting each foot carefully and holding onto rocks and dry grass with both hands. Any mistake was sure to take us tumbling down the slope into the valley, several hundred feet down. And I didn't really want that to happen because that would have meant climbing the damn thing again.



Thats JaiSingh in front followed by Ashu and Rama. The narrow col on the top is where we are supposed to cross the ridge.

The rope trick

Slowly I caught up with Ashu and Rama, as they were waiting for the rope to be fixed. JaiSingh came down after anchoring the rope, and was trying to give us some instructions. I was too damn tired to listen to any lectures, and jokingly told JaiSingh not to worry. "We used to do this everyday in school", I said. Rama was the first one to go up. JaiSingh tied a knot around his waist and led him up. Meanwhile, we were left on that steep slope looking down at the fall below. I tried to get myself in a better position to take Rama's shot, but one slip convinced me that I rather stay where I was. Rama, meanwhile, was slipping and sliding above but wisely holding on to the rope. At one point his foot slipped hurling a few stones our way, one of which shaved past Ashu's face. It was Ashu's turn next, but I figured that with his weight if Ashu slipped too, then I would surely get buried under the stones. So I jumped the queue and Ashu was generous enough to let me go second.

The exercise brought back earlier memories of rock climbing at Ranikhet. I had really enjoyed that and the rock face there was much trickier. I was convinced I could do this without the rope just like JaiSingh. But as they say there is a very fine line between bravery and stupidity, and I decided to play it safe. In any case I don't think JaiSingh would have let me climb without the rope, and for the best as I realized after reaching the top. Although the climb was not as vertical as in Ranikhet but it was made treacherous by some loose stones which made it easy to loose footing. Carefully I climbed up on all fours with JaiSingh holding onto the rope in case I took a fall. Sure enough I did slip a couple of times, and didn't even realize that I lost my Raybans in the process. Luckily Ashu found them on the way and handed them back to me. I have lost and miraculously found my Raybans so many times over the past several treks, that I am beginning to believe that we are destined to be together for life.



Once over the trickiest section of the climb onto a relatively gentle slope, all of us sat down for a breather. JaiSingh meanwhile started worrying about how the porters were going to climb the same section with there huge loads. It was indeed miraculous that a couple of porters were actually doing the trek with double loads (nearly 45 kg) while we were struggling on the same with our back-packs. The top was still a hundred feet away, and I decided to go on ahead of the rest. The view at the top was even more beautiful. I could clearly see the height we had gained with respect to the snow peaks in front. Tired as I was, I couldn't help lying down. The sun was feeling so good on the body. The air was beginning to get a bit chilly. Soon Ashu and Rama joined in. JaiSingh was still waiting for the porters to climb. Rama was a bit hungry by now, so we got out our packed lunches of aaloo paranthas. I again refrained from eating anything more than half parantha.



We ended up spending a lot of time there since the porters were having difficulty finding their way up. Seemingly they had decided to climb from a different route which evidently was a little steeper than the one we had taken, but with better footholds. We thought about leaving for the camp but decided it was better to wait there in the sunlight then to go further to the camp without any woolens or camping gear. Rama decided to sleep for a while while I took the opportunity to scribble a few notes in my beloved diary.

"We have reached the ridge. The path was almost a vertical climb through rock and dry grass. Towards the end it was so steep that our guide had to fix rope for us. One by one we went up. Rama was the first to go up but I wish it was me coz i didn't really liked the feeling of being stuck on a small foot-hold with a steep fall beneath. Now the porters with a big load would do the same thing. We are waiting for them and once again enjoying the view which keeps getting more magnificient as we climb up. Rama has gone to sleep after packed lunch. I am hungry and out of gas but my stomach is grumpy since yesterday and I haven't eaten much since last night. The snow peak which were so distant are now so near. Although the sun is getting into the eyes but it is also feeling good. A gentle breeze is blowing and the grass twigs are dancing to it. An eagle just glided past in the clear blue sky. If I were an eagle this trek would have no meaning for me coz I would probably fly there in an hour. There is a strange silence all around me except for the sound of flowing water. Its as if time is standing still and asking us to be still as well. I almost slept but decided its better to sleep at the camp. Its just the second day and each day gets more and more difficult. But I know I will through and then I will have only these memories left with me."

It took the porters almost one and a half hour to catch up with us. The sun was beginning to set by now and it was getting cold. We still had a couple of kilometers to go but the climb was gentle. The porters were also tired by now and they sat down for a rest. Half an hour later we were ready to go again but its difficult to get your legs going again after such a long rest. It had been a tiring day and we were looking forward to get into our tents. Further we started getting some snow on the way. After a laborious hour, we were finally at the Upper Damini camp. The whole camping site was covered with snow with a little clearing at the edges. The camp was surrounded by snow peaks on all sides. Rama was really excited since he had never seen so much snow in his life. He began rolling in the snow posing for my camera. The crew got busy in setting up the camp.




Beautiful sunset

The sun was beginning to set. I realized that this was an excellent opportunity for a few good shots. Unfortunately the camp was in a little depression and the view was blocked by the slopes. I took out my jacket, secured the torch and decided to climb up. It looked like a five minute climb but then distances are always so deceptive in hills. It took me half an hour to get to a suitable point but the effort was well worth the wonderful shots I got. The peaks were shining as the golden light got reflected of the snow. The horizon was a lovely mix of light blue, yellow, orange, red and black. It was so amazing to see the whole scenery change colors every minute with the angle of the sun. I was all alone there and was filled with a profound peace and awe. I stayed there for almost 30 minutes watching the riot of colors. I almost didn't want to leave but realized that it would soon get dark and I better reach the camp before that. The thought of wild animals in the vicinity also crossed my mind. I hurried back and realized that in the enthusiasm I had wandered a fair distance from the camp.






Once at the camp, I started the now familiar routine of putting on layers of clothings for the night. I also took some medication for my stomach from Ashu. The dinner was once again splendid but I restricted myself to double servings of some delicious chicken soup. The temperature was already getting near freezing, and with the snow all around us we were sure of a cold night. While we were out we could actually see the milkyway in the sky and uncountable number of stars. In a place like Delhi only the real bright ones are visible, and only when you get to the mountains can you appreciate that in reality the whole sky is filled with stars with hardly any space left vacant.

Rama and I got into our alpine tent, while a separate dome tent was pitched for Ashu. It was a cold night alright and I really missed some woolen socks. Sadly I had carried all cotton ones and my feet were cold even after putting on three pairs. Thankfully my stomach was a lot better during the night and I only had to go out once to pee. It was a beautiful moonlit night but it was too cold for me to stay any longer. I guess I had a reasonably good sleep, as reasonable as you could expect in such harsh conditions.


Day 4 - Summit to Bali Pass

Sitting outside my tent basking in the warmth of the morning sun, I was noting down following thoughts in my diary :

"It was a cold night. -3 C at 8 pm and Ashu reckoned it was going to get till -8. I thought I had more than enough woolen but I guess you can never retain enough heat at these temperatures. The cold creeps through layer after layers of clothing and freezes your bones. In between I got up to put on another lower and sweater. It felt warm for a while before the cold crept in again. I went out to pee in the middle of the night. It was a beautiful moonlit night, with the snow shining on the peaks. The air was really chilly and I was forced inside before I could really enjoy the scene. In the cold you alternate between sleeping and feeling cold. We got up with the daylight but the sun was still behind the mountain. Had a cup of tea - only helped a little with the cold. Then you get the first rays of the sun on you and you feel a warmth like you have never felt before. Slowly the rays shower you whole body making you feel alive again. Slowly the uncountable layers of clothing start coming off. The camp has sprung into activity. Pradeep is preparing breakfast in his kitchen tent, Deepak is going off to fetch water from a nearby stream. Ashu has gone for his morning chores. JaiSingh is getting out his snowboots and Ice axe. Today we would be walking over snow to cross the pass. Sun is beginning to shine brightly now and the moon is still setting in the west. Can hear some birds singing in the distance. Its going to be a beautiful day. "

Little did I realize at that moment, that this beautiful day was also going to be one of the most adventurous days of my life. An adventure bordering on extreme and horror at times. The only reason that I am able to describe the events of the day as an adventure is that all of us managed to get through the day with nothing more serious than a few injuries. For there is a very fine line that differentiates between adventure and mis-adventure. And thankfully even after coming tantalizing close to that line, something or someone kept us from crossing it.

It was a busy morning. Everyone was excited for the day. It was to be the day when we would be achieving our objective - Bali Pass. The plan was to get over Bali Pass and camp at Tange. We were expecting some snow on each side of the pass but nobody was sure how much. JaiSingh and Pradeep put on their snow boots and we kept our gaiters handy. Leaving ahead of the porters, JaiSingh took the lead while Pradeep followed us. We started climbing the snow covered slope with Rama getting instructions from Ashu on the best way to walk on snow. Initially it was just a slight layer of snow beneath us, but we could already see that walking on snow makes for tiring and slow going. On the first of the several snowfields that we were to cross that day, JaiSingh pointed to pug marks of a bear. There were plenty of footprints in the snow pointing to reasonable animal activity in the area but unfortunately we didn't come across any bear or any other wild animal. We did however saw a flock of about 20 birds marching on the snow. It was quite amusing to see them cross the snow field in three parallel files. Penguins was the first thing that came to my mind on seeing them but we were ofcourse a long way off from the south pole.

Even till now we had not laid eyes on the Bali Pass and we were all curious where it was hidden. We reached onto another snowfield of virgin snow with a brown ridge in the front guarding the view beyond it. The snow was definitely getting thicker. Sunlight reflected off the snow was getting into our eyes and hurting them. I tried to focus my sight on the brown mountain in front. After crossing the snowfield we were climbing up the ridge. Once at the top we sat down to enjoy the view in the cool breeze. Ashu's eyes were beginning to water badly due to all the glare off the snow.




Day of the snowfields

Crossing onto the other side we were again in a vast snowfield. The snow was almost a foot deep now and we sat down to put our gaiters. I also decided to add a sweater below my sweat-shirt. Just as I was pulling off my sweat-shirt, my T-shirt also got caught up, and somehow I managed to get topless in all that snow, much to the amusement of everyone else. Geared up for the snow challenge ahead, we started off in a single file, with JaiSingh cutting the snow in front with his snow-boots. Each step in the snow was sinking to ankle depth now. The virgin snow was looking so beautiful stretching to kilometers in all directions.

An hour later we got the first glimpse of the Bali Pass, as we cornered a bend. There was again a vast snowfield in front of us ending in a long ridge-line in front. There was a snow peak directly ahead of us and to the left of it was a narrow col called the Bali Pass. The pass appeared too high a climb but we will worry about that later, we still had more than a kilometer of snow to cross first.



As we descended down into the valley, the snow kept getting deeper and deeper till it was almost two and a half feet deep. JaiSingh walking in front was carving out steps which each of us was following religiously. With each step we would sink knee deep into the snow. On more than one occasion, the soft snow beneath our feet gave way till we found ourselves buried waist-deep. Keeping your balance and getting out of this situation was tricky. If you try to use your hands to push yourself out, they would end up sinking in the snow as well. I found it was best to stick the hiking pole in the snow and use it for support. Despite the tough going, we were actually enjoying the adventure and laughing and cracking jokes everytime one of us went in.






Vast snowfield at the base of the Bali Pass

Toiling through the snowfield we finally reached the base of the Bali Pass. From here it was a steep climb upto the Pass. We were dead tired by now and pathetically behind schedule. The snow had been far worse than anybody had anticipated. But the excitement and determination kept us going. By now JaiSingh was already making his way to the top. It was frustrating to see him almost at the top while we had the whole 500 feet left to climb. Ashu was leading our pack and Pradeep was dutifully guarding the rear.

On the slope the snow was proving to be a little slippery. Carefully we started making our way up. Ashu was already at the section, two-thirds of the way up, that was littered with loose stones. He was slipping and sliding continuously sending stones rolling down. We decided to wait till he clears that section. He seemed to be having real difficulty on the slope and seemed to be going nowhere. After an agonizing long time, I couldn't wait any longer and decided to move on. Once there I could appreciate his problem a lot better. It was almost impossible to get a good grip on the loose pile of stones. And the steep slope meant that you really didn't want to be careless and take a slip. With each step some loose stone would give way upsetting the balance. Immediately I did what I think is the best way to handle such situations - go down on all fours. I started searching for strong holds with my hands, pulling myself up only when I was sure that the hold wasn't going to give way. It was a tiring process and the steep climb was taking my breath away. I was also anxious about making a mistake and slipping down.



The final ascent to the Bali Pass - Ashu is going up and can you spot JaiSingh almost at the top looking like a small rock

At top of the world - rather at top of Bali Pass


That rock climbing session took me above the loose stones and onto the snow slope. It was only a few steps now and Ashu was already at the top. Summoning last reserves of energy, I reached the top to bask in the glory of our wonderful achievement. JaiSingh welcomed me to the top while Ashu was busy making video of my final steps. Once at the top of the pass you could see both the valleys, the Yamuna valley from where we had come and the Ruinsara valley on the other side. We also got a wonderful view of the Swargarohini peaks on the other side. Rama was just a few steps away from the top now. Porters appeared as ants still making their way through the snow field below. We were all excited and amazed at the wonderful scenery in front of us. We could see for kilometers on both sides of the pass. The Ruinsara valley was covered in snow as well and if anything the snow seemed deeper than the waist deep snow we had just come through. There wasn't much space at the top and I found a small place to settle my bottoms.



The descent down the other side was covered in snow and looked menacingly steep. I played with the idea of sliding down the snow slope. But JaiSingh was convinced that it was too high and too steep and it would be difficult to arrest the slide once you start rolling. So we all waited for the porters to come in, since they were also carrying the rope. It was already 4 pm by now, and I wondered how we were going to get down and cross the snow field before dark. The sun was already setting and it was getting terribly cold. I was cursing myself for not wearing any inners below my trekking lowers. Its always a tough decision how much to dress at the start of the day, because walking in the sun gets terribly hot but it gets equally cold once the sun starts to set. I was also angry at JaiSingh for leaving the ropes behind with the porters. We had already been waiting for 30 minutes and were wasting precious time doing nothing in the damn cold.

As soon as we had the ropes, JaiSingh went down with two hiking poles to fix the rope. Unfortunately the rope was not long enough for the 500 feet slope and thus would need to be fixed multiple times. The rope was anchored on both ends with an ice-axe. One by one we started going down holding onto the rope. The first section of the slope was almost 70 degrees, and although with some difficulty but all of us managed to get down safely. There we were standing on the precarious snow slope doing our best not to slide down, while JaiSingh started fixing the rope for the second half. We were still 300 feet from the bottom. The wind was getting chillier and I was beginning to shiver now.



After the second half of the rope had been fixed, Rama went down first. This part was more treacherous than the one before and had a couple of completely vertical drops of around 20 feet. After a few steps Rama suddenly decided that he was going to try a slide. Couple of seconds later he was hanging over a vertical drop. Luckily he held onto the rope as JaiSingh rushed to help him. He was really cautious after that stunt and was taking forever to get down. Meanwhile we were getting real impatient. Once he was down, I started next. I soon realized what was troubling Rama. There was this 20 feet of vertical rocky face with hardly any snow to get a foothold. I put all my weight on the rope and glided down, hoping that the rope would hold. I was literally hanging onto the rope for life. Once at the bottom I joined Rama and both of us dug our hiking poles into snow to keep our balance, while Ashu started coming down. The last section of the descent was a lot less steep and we were going to do it without any rope.

Things started going wrong

It was after the most difficult part was over that things started going wrong. Suddenly Rama took a slip and was sliding down the slope followed by Ashu. Both of them managed to stop some distance from the bottom. There slide looked uncontrolled enough for me not to attempt a similar stunt. I dug my hiking pole into the crumbling snow and started inching my way downwards. Suddenly a backpack came rolling down the slope from above and missed me by a few meters. I looked up to see another backpack somersaulting its way down the steepest section of the slope. It took me a few seconds to realize that it was actually one of the porters tumbling down with the backpack, and still my mind refused to believe what my eyes were witnessing. With great momentum he rolled past me to come to an abrupt halt around 20 meters below me. I was shocked beyond words. It was a miracle that he actually got onto his feet after the fall. Even from the distance I could see his face covered in blood. I was the one closest to him and wanted to rush for his help but I was too terrified of taking a fall myself. I shouted asking him if he was ok and carefully started making my way towards him.

On reaching him I realized that it was Deepak who had taken the scary fall. He was on his feet but looked shocked. There was blood oozing out of his mouth and he had taken a bad cut on his waist. There were several other small cuts on his face and body. I looked up to realize that he had somersaulted nearly 100 feet down including the vertical rocky section that had given all of us a lot of trouble. The whole fall had taken him only a few seconds - it took us 30 minutes to get down the same distance. Luckily the snow had cushioned most of his fall and he hadn't sustained any serious injury. Both of us started to make our way down very carefully.

The other porters got into a state of panic after seeing Deepak take a fall. They decided it was not possible to get down with all that load, and they started rolling all the luggage down. Bags were flying past us in all directions. The sack containing our rashion got loose and soon all our rashion was getting sprayed on the snow slopes. Avoiding the falling luggage we managed to reach the bottom of the slope. I took one sigh of relief but our problems were far from over. As a team we were tired, cold, bruised and panicky. We had lost most of our rashion and were still a few kilometers from our camping site with a huge crevasses-ridden snowfield to cross in the fading light. I wondered how we would survive without the rashions and whether we would end up in the need of being rescued by helicopters.

Snow camping

None of the porters wanted to go any further. We were also too tired to walk any more. Although worried about the cold, we decided to camp right there on snow at the base of the Bali Pass at an altitude of 4900 m. It was my first snow camp and the highest as well, but at that time I was too agitated to think about that. We started pitching the tents and ferrying the bags over to the camping site. Deepak was still in shock and shivering uncontrollably. Someone lighted a fire for him out of the plastic table and an empty bag. He was mumbling about how he was lucky to survive today and was never going to come back again. I felt really bad for him and tried to calm him down. I put my arms around him to warm him up. I was freezing myself and my shoes were covered with snow.

When I got back to the camp, Ashu was worried that he had got a frost bite and JaiSingh was rubbing his legs furiously. Rama was trying to get his shoes off but they were frozen stiff and wouldn't come out. I felt that everybody was too tense and repeatedly shouted that we were ok now, so stop panicking. All of us proceeded to get rid of our frozen shoes and socks, and started dressing for the night. The temperature was already -4 C and I made sure to wear absolutely everything I had in my rucksack. The three of us slept in a single tent to keep warm, and everyone else bundled into the kitchen tent. The temperature went as low as -15 C during night. Overdressed and bundled between the rucksacks and Rama, I managed to retain some warmth in my body. Wind really picked up with night and was lashing against the tent. At times the wind blew strong enough to throw the rucksacks, that were lined up with the tent, over me. I was worried that the tent was going to blow away any moment and we would be left lying under the stars. Thankfully that never happened and we managed to get through that cold night.


Day 5 - Traversing crevasses to reach Tange camp



I was the first one to get up the next morning. I peeked out of the tent and was immediately greeted by a gust of cold air. There was no sign of sun or any activity in the kitchen tent. I wanted to go out into the snow but realized it was probably still sub-zero outside with chilly air still roaring. It was best to wait for the sun - our life force now.

I lied down again but couldn't sleep. The events of the last evening were rolling in my mind - all of us stuck on that slope, Rama hanging from the rope, Ashu sliding down and worst of all Deepak tumbling down like a loose boulder. I would never be able to forget those few seconds in which I witnessed Deepak fell from that scary height. Even today I can not get those seconds out of my mind and everytime they fill my heart with confusing emotions. Pradeep had later told us that the moment he saw the fall, he had feared the worst and was surprised that Deepak actually came out of it alive. Even this thought makes me shudder. I can not bring myself to think what it would be like if we had actually lost a team member. Try as I may to alienate my heart from this distressing line of thinking, my mind tells me that when you embark upon a harsh trek, you cannot totally disregard the possibility of an accident, somebody getting seriously hurt or even a lost life. With this knowledge, how can I possibly justify this whole business of trekking. How can I justify risking my life just for some thrill ? And worst of all how can I justify risking life of these porters who are only there to support our craziness. Would I have ever forgiven myself if Deepak had died that day. Would I have dared to go out on a trek again. And what about mountaineering ? So many lives have been lost (climbers and porters) for the glory of climbing Everest and other peaks, and so many lives continue to be lost each year. Is it anything more than ego that makes people go out there and risk their lives. Yes I have conquered Everest and Nature - is the quest anything more than to dwell in this foolish notion. Does a sense of adventure justify that you withdraw all disregard to life. And the so many who died in the quest, were they heroes for mankind or simply misguided souls confused with a false sense of achievement and ego. Why were Hillary and Tenzing such big heroes - did they really did anything for humanity ? Did they inspire a common man to go ahead and do the impossible ?

I thought long and hard about the questions that were raised in my heart. I wanted to defend my passion for trekking so badly. Somehow I didn't seem to be doing any wrong when we had set about for this trek, and in future too I know I would continue this passion. I am struggling to defend my case though. I guess its difficult to weigh any argument against a life. All I can do is to say that when I go out to trek, I am not looking to do anything risky or stupid. And like me, I believe most other trekkers also get out there with the sole passion of enjoying nature rather than the misguided notion of conquering it. We also try to minimize the risks by careful planning. Is it possible to be completely safe out there in the elements - obviously not. And thats the sense of adventure, but adventure doesn't mean you go out and jump off the cliff. No one gets out there with the intention of getting hurt, just like no one steps on the road with the intention of getting driven over by a bus. The fact that so many people gets killed in road accidents doesn't mean people stop getting out of their homes, just like the fact that sometimes accidents happen during treks would not stop people like me from getting out there, albeit with reasonable precautions. And if something unforeseen happens, you just have to be prepared to deal with it, although I sincerely wish I never see the day when someone with me gets seriously injured.

Reason as much as I did with myself, I was not able to drive out Deepak's bloodied face away. And I kept remembering how in the after-shock, he was shivering uncontrollably and cursing the guide and the day he agreed to come with him. "I am never coming back", he kept repeating and I wondered what permanent impressions would the incident leave on his mind.

Beautilful cold morning

I checked outside the tent once again. There was some sunlight only hundred meters away but we were hidden from the sun by a rise of stone walls. I surveyed our tent. Rama and Ashu were still tucked in their sleeping bags. There was frozen water all over Rama - probably he had got up for some water in the night, spilled a little on himself which had turned to ice in the cold night. Ashu's water bottle pipe was frozen as well. Our shoes were covered in snow, frozen out of shape and looked totally unwearable. I got out my mobile and put on some music to distract myself. I almost killed an hour before I couldn't wait any longer. I borrowed Ashu's down feather footwear and stepped out on the virgin ice. The sun was still hiding and the air was cold. It took me a while to adjust to the outside cold. It was only now that I started appreciating the beauty of our camping ground. We were camped at the foot of the Bali Pass, at the edge of a huge field of virgin snow. The snow field was surrounded by snow peaks from all sides. There was sunlight some distance away and I believed we would have sunlight on the camp in 5-10 minutes. I got out my camera and started taking shots of our camp and the surroundings. I hopped from one angle to another jumping about in the soft snow trying to capture the pass and our tents together.



Sensing some activity in the kitchen tent, I made my way inside to check out on Deepak. I had expected him to be bundled up between sheets. But the very first sight that greeted me was Deepak laughing, warming his hands in front of the stove. For a moment I wasn't sure I if was looking at the same person who had taken that fall yesterday. I went down inside and starting chatting with him. In an astonishing contrast to his shocked state yesterday, he was upbeat and chirpy, and laughing and joking about the accident. "Mujhe laga tha mai to gaya kal, aapne dekha tha". I replied I indeed saw him from pretty close. "Ye sab to chalta rehta hai", he remarked as he proudly displayed the cut on his waist. It was a deep cut and I was sure it would be stinging like hell in that awful cold. Yet he was grinning from end to end. Now Deepak isn't a particularly handsome or clever fellow, but I fell in love with his smile right there. That moment I felt a special friendship forming between us. This friendship was different from the others that it was not based upon commonality of thoughts and ideas. Rather the basis was my admiration for his courage, simplicity and cheerfulness, and his respect for my concern and friendliness. From that moment onwards we ended up spending a lot of time together and talking a lot during the rest of the trek.

Pradeep was melting down some snow into water and the rest of the porters were beginning to wake up. JaiSingh was still wrapped up in his sleeping bag. Ashu was continually inquiring about the sun but it was taking much longer to reach us than I had originally anticipated. I realized my hands were frozen stiff. I brought them almost to the flames but could hardly feel anything. We just sat there talking about yesterday's events mostly, but the mood was a lot upbeat now. It appeared that the reason behind the accident was that one of the porters entrusted with holding the upper end of the rope by stepping on the ice axe, had for some reason stepped off. I could well imagine my fate if the rope had given away while I was hanging to it during the descent. But then there had been too much chaos and delays before that, and my feeling is that we were short of another guide, with JaiSingh having to take care of too many things himself. With another guide, there would have been division of responsibilities and JaiSingh wouldn't have to go up and down repeatedly to chauffeur everyone.

It was not until another hour that the sunlight finally filled our camping ground. As always and specially that morning, sunlight filled us with intoxicating warmth. Its difficult to describe the pleasure your body feels when you are bathed in sunshine after a cruelly cold night. The sense of well-being that the sun fills in your mind. We were not out of trouble yet but things were looking a lot brighter now.

The whole camp sprang into activity with the sunshine. A team of porters went out to collect the lost ration and the rest began to dry out stuff. I lined up our shoes and left them for drying. They looked frozen and hopeless, especially Rama's shoes were totally out of shape and I didn't think he would be able to wear them again. I also spread out my wet socks and sports lower and myself on a rubber mat for drying. It was not till 12 pm that we were finally able to collect most of the rashion, pack the tents and get ourselves geared up for the snow challenge ahead. We had no water and the kerosene stoves were not working properly, so we had to start without any breakfast. As it turned out it was far worse for me, as I had hardly eaten much during the past three days due to my loose motions.







Although it was snow everywhere to the eyes, there was actually a small glacier in the middle of the field and everyone was worried about hidden crevasses. So it was decided that we would walk around the field at the edges rather than going straight through the middle. JaiSingh had already started cutting a route an hour ago but he was having a tough progress. Appearing like a tiny dot, we saw him on number of occasions disappear in the deep snow, only to retrace his paths to find a better route. We started following in his footsteps in a single file - myself in front, Pradeep behind me followed by Ashu and Rama. Right from the start we realized that the snow was a lot deeper than what we had encountered on the other side of the pass. At lot of places I could see the holes where JaiSingh would have gone deeper than waist depth into the snow, only to struggle out again and move on. Although these holes acted as sufficient warnings for us to take a slight detour, but most times we couldn't help going down ourselves since the snow was equally deep around it as well.

Angry crevasse right in our path

We were walking round the snow field taking a much longer route, but only a little further I saw the reason why. I reached JaiSingh's trail where he had gone ahead in one direction. came back and followed on a completely tangential direction. He had left arrows in the snow marking the path for us. It was when I had gone around a bit that I saw the other path leading straight to a giant crevass. It was scary to see the others behind me passing just a little distance from it. I could also make out a few crevasses on the other side, and I could appreciate what a incredible and crucial job JaiSingh was doing in cutting a safe passage for everyone.





It took us more than an hour to struggle through all that snow and reach a pile of rocks where JaiSingh was waiting for us. During that hour we had covered less than a kilometer in terms of distance, but all of us realized that distances hold a different meaning in all this snow. Meanwhile the cold had turned to blazing heat, as the sunlight got reflected of the snow onto us, and burnt our skins. Pretty quickly I was forced to get rid of my jacket, the only warm clothing that I was wearing, and although my head was sweating I had to keep the monkey cup to prevent the sun from burning my neck from behind. Unfortunately my sun cap had been the casualty of yesterday's mishap. We were also traveling without any water and eatables. We waited for all the porters to catch us and then started ahead in the same order, with JaiSingh taking a headstart from all of us.




Completely out of gas


After couple of hour of toil, the effort of walking through that deep snow with empty stomach was telling on us. JaiSingh was nowhere to be seen, and I was literally begging Pradeep to give me something to eat, a chocolate bar, a biscuit or anything at all. But in the chaos, no one had thought about keeping out something for the way. Pradeep tried to motivate me to keep going by lying that JaiSingh would be having some chocolates with him. By that time my stomach was really aching and I was so desperate that I actually started running, as fast as that snow would allow me, to catch up with JaiSingh. From a distance I shouted to JaiSingh to leave the chocolates behind, but he shouted back that he wasn't carrying any. Alas my last hope was killed and from then onwards it was nothing but a fight to cross the desert of snow and reach the oasis, where there would be water and food and chicken soup waiting for me.



I tried not to think about Jalebis and chole-batures, but I couldn't help it. I wanted to lie down there and go to sleep but I couldn't do it. I tried to focus my attention on all the snow and wonderful landscapes in front of me, but I was too hungry to enjoy it. If I were an automobile even a BMW make, I would have gone into reserve and finally stopped a long time ago. If I were an eagle I would be hunting right now, or I could have flown to the nearest chole-bature shop. Despite my best efforts I was beginning to slow down with no energy left in me. Pradeep had overtaken me long time back, and now Ashu was catching up with me. He was having his share of problems in the snow, struggling to keep his balance everytime his foot sank in more than he had anticipated. So many times on hearing a loud groan, I looked back to see him lying face down on his stomach struggling to get up. But he is a tough and seasoned cookie and had fought and survived many a battles before. I tried not to look at him too much, since even he was beginning to look bountiful and delicious. And I tried not to think about Jalebis and chole-batures. I know I said it before but if I were to tell you how many times I actually thought about them, I would end up filling 100 more pages.



After another hour, the only good news was that the snow was beginning to thin. I was even more low on gas, and I am not sure what was keeping me going. Slowly Ashu was beginning to forge ahead of me and I had no strength to keep up with him. Rama was still behind, hopefully ok, but I was too worried about myself to really care for him. The sun was beginning to set now and it was getting a bit cold again. The snow was thinning and getting harder now, but it was also getting more slippery. I was beginning to see some crevasses and signs of flowing water beneath the snow.



Ashu was soon out of sight and I was now left all by myself. After each step I was fighting the instinct to sit down. But I knew it would be harder still after each rest, and it was best to keep going. Thats one thing I am specially proud of about our group, no matter how tough the going got for any of us, not any of us on a single instant gave any sign of quitting or even stopping. So much so that I don't even remember any of us sitting down before the scheduled stop, because he was too tired to go on. I was specially impressed with Rama, this being his first trek. He had struggled and trailed us, but he had kept going on and on with determination. At that point I didn't knew that he was going to impress me even more with his determination, when he would be walking the rest of the days with a nasty blister on his toe thumb.

I was finally out of snow except for a few slippery patches here and there. With each step the destination was seeming that much further. Turning to music for strength, I put on some loud music on my mobile. A little later, Deepak caught up with me from behind. Not wanting to be left again, I picked up my pace to walk with him. I asked him if he had anything to eat, at which he produced a packet of sweet supari for me. "Doobte ko tinke ka sahara bahut hota hai" -that supari seemed that tinka to me at that moment. Temporarily rejuvenated, we started the final march together. Deepak was in high spirits for an injured man, but just as clumsy. I could see that he had a habit of slipping and he went down several times in front of me. But just as quickly he got up with a broad grin on his face. And he never stopped motivating me to keep going by repeatedly saying "bus pahuchne wale hai - 5 minute aur". His five minutes were finally over after half an hour, but it was a huge relief to finally reach our camping site, where JaiSingh, Pradeep and Ashu were already waiting.



We got a fire going in the shelter of a cliff, and began warming our bodies and drying our shoes and socks once again. Rama and the rest of the porters also joined in shortly, and all of us were visibly relieved at being out of snow and danger. Stories and jokes and laughter started once again around the fire. Tents were pitched up and preparation for dinner started. We had reached our Oasis...



Day 6 - March from Tange to Seema


10 am

"We started from our camp at Tange at 9am. It was a chilly night. And I was suspecting that some opening was letting all the air into the tent. After starting from the camp we walked past a frozen river. Then our guide led us through thick scrub plantation on the face of the hill. There was no way and we had to step over the scrubs. Rama is having problem with his toe thumb. Pradeep and Deepak crossed the frozen river and took the easier way. Now we just climbed above the scrubs to reach a clearing. Going should be a little easy now but we are supposed to go down again. Weather is turning out to be beautiful. Sun is shining brightly taking with it the cold. I can hear the river flowing below us. Air is beginning to feel pleasant on the face. Surprisingly you can still see the moon at 10am."

2 pm

"We have stopped for lunch. Lunch was delicious - yellow rice with pickle. Have been walking non-stop since we started. Rama had little problem initially with his sore foot but he is a brave man and going well now. After meeting the porters we continued down the valley. Moving away from the snow peaks, slowly colors other than white started appearing in my life. Brown of mountains, little bit of red bushes, a yellow in the distant. Suddenly all these colors are rushing a happiness into me. In between we had to cross the river. Porters wanted to cross the river downstream where they heard was a bridge. JaiSingh wanted to cross right there. So we split in two groups. Porters marched forward and we started looking for the best spot to cross. The river was roughly 25 steps wide, but the stones were damn slippery with algae. Water was freezing cold. We got off our shoes and plunged into the river. With a little help from the walking stick and JaiSingh we managed to cross without any accidents. Except that I cut my toe finger somewhere and it was bleeding. After putting on a bandage we started again through a beautiful forest of Bhoj trees. None of the trees had any leaves and their birch were coming out. It made for a beautiful shot but everytime I stopped for a photograph the entire party would disappear and I would be worried about getting lost. After a couple of hour of walking through a light trail, crossing a few streams, we have reached a pakka trail, paved by stones at a few places. On the way we met another party, mostly Bengali, some foreigners. Our porters haven't arrived yet and we are a bit worried about them. Right now we are deciding if we should wait for them or march on. Looks like JaiSingh is giving marching orders. Our path is now following the river. We don't know which side the porters are on."

7 pm

"We are at Forest Guest House, Seema. Everyone is gathered around the fireplace surveying their blisters. My right toe thumb hurts but it seems like I have been luckier than others. The guesthouse is right next to GMVN one and again built in colonial style with nice big rooms, fireplace and a long verendah in front. After the lunch all I remember is walking because thats all we did - walk, walk and walk. We were in a hurry to reach Seema before dark. We continued among trees and bushes, all the way along the river. After reaching a bridge, we started climbing through a thick deodar forest. Once we reached the top, Seema was a further 4 km away. Ashu and JaiSingh were hurrying in front, while me and Rama were together at the back. We gave up on walking fast and started trotting. Just before Seema porters caught up with us. We reached Seema by sunset. Right opposite to Seema is the Osla village on the other side of the river. Today we will have the luxury of sleeping in beds with a nice fire burning in the fire place. Earlier we had some jadi-booti tea and a dinner of local Rajma. We went to bed early. It was only moderately cold during the night and all of us had a good sleep."



Starting from Tange along the frozen stream




Bhoj tree




Rama crossing a stream over a tree trunk bridge




The riot of colors - after two days of white




Seema

Day 7 - Trek from Seema to Talluka - Simply perfect day

"Sitting down for lunch in a little grass clearing by the side of the river. We have been trekking through a forest for a couple of hours, It had been a perfect day, just as I like it."

It was exactly how the day was - perfect. After the rigors of the last few days, this was the day to take it easy. This was the day for a forest walk and a nice picnic lunch beside a river. This was the day to cross villages and bridges. This was the day to make friends with the local kids and take their photographs. This was the day for picking berries and drinking sparkling water of the streams. This was the day to crack jokes about the damsels we met on the way. And all the pain that we had put our bodies through for the last few days was so that we could enjoy the smallest of gifts on this day. So that we could appreciate the beauty of sunlight peeking through colorful leaves, so that we could feel the peace of walking through a dense forest, so that we could taste the sweetness of flowing stream, so that we could relish the taste of wild berries, so that we could get touched by the innocence of a smiling child.

The day started by all of us accomplishing a task that we had been gladly avoiding for the last 6 days, a task that I sometimes consider absolutely pointless and wasteful but is nonetheless considered absolutely crucial in civilized society - the task of cleaning your body by pouring a bucket-full of hydrogen dioxide over you, thus resulting in unnecessary wastage of this precious compound. Yes we were back in civilization and thus from now on were bounded by the same set of rules. The sun by now had formed a habit of getting up late in the morning and making all of us wait everyday. All washed up and looking beautiful we came out to start the day's journey. JaiSingh announced that his team would still take half an hour to get ready, and I decided to take that opportunity to go and shoot the bridge between Seema and Osla.

When I came back some time later, the porters were still not ready, and Ashu and Rama were warming themselves near a fire in a local tea shop. I joined them and started chatting with the tea-shop owner. He was dressed in a Himachali woolen cap and a long rugged jute-like coat. He lived in Osla and had this shop in Seema (just across the river) to sell their produce of Rajma and potatoes. I asked him how many people were there in Osla and I was expecting to hear something like nearly 100 or 150. I was surprised to hear his reply - "108". He seemed to know the exact number of people in his village. He had a calm face with almost a hint of sadness, resignation to the hard life out there in a village which was 25 km from road and snow-covered in awfully cold winters. His one eye was blocked by a white jelly like layer, probably 'motia'. But he was not too keen to go down for treatment since one eye suited him just fine for most jobs. He was a simple villager who hadn't seen much of the outside world. He talked kindly to me explaining the various things they grow in their farms, and their village life. He spoke softly in a non-excitable tone, stopping to put another log into the clay oven and urging me to come closer to the fire. I immediately took a liking to him and was glad for the delay that gave me the opportunity to meet him. While leaving he was kind enough to let me take a photograph.



There's so much that we saw and did on the way that day. None of it was as exciting to hear as the stories of our struggle through the snow territory earlier. It was a happy day for us, but unfortunately most great stories are made out of tragedies rather than pleasant memories. If I were to tell you how much I enjoyed eating some orange colored, sour tasting wild berries that we picked on the way, you would have a hard time appreciating just what was so great about those berries. If I tell you how excited we were to see a small water-mill out there, you would probably point to the big dams built out there. To be able to appreciate my true feelings about that day, you would have to be there, gone through what I had, walked empty stomach for 3 days, shivered in freezing cold, and then be able to feel the pleasant breeze against your face, taste the sour juice of those berries and see the water sprinkling off the mill blades. So I will skip the story of every tree and bird that we met, every bend and landslide that we crossed, every sound that we heard in the jungle, and restrict myself to the main events.




Right from the start of the day, I was feeling in perfect health. This was surprising since I had always come out of previous treks with my share of blisters and injuries, and here on my most challenging trek I was feeling as light as a bird. Others were not so lucky, specially Rama who had such a bad blister that I was surprised he could walk at all. For two days he had trailed everyone walking with a slight limp. Initially I was worried about him walking alone at the back, but a little chat with him revealed that he was quite enjoying walking alone through that jungle. "Its so amazing that I can hear nothing but the sound of flowing water", he said, and I immediately knew that not only we have a tough cookie with us but a nature lover as well - just my kind of man.

That day I spent a fair deal of time walking with Deepak. When I was not in a silent mood, he is the best company I could have had. He was always chirpy, making comments, cracking jokes and talking about his favorite topic - girls. He confided in me that he had a girlfriend in Talluka, the village where we were going to spend the night. Till date I don't know whether that was true or made up story, but he did seem extra animated in Talluka, and whenever I mentioned his girlfriend he always had a broad shy smile on his face. We even sang songs as we marched through jungles.

Our first stop for the day was across a village called Gangad. We had been walking along the river Supin (or was it Rupin or Tonge or Yamuna) since Seema, when we came across this bridge over a stream merging into the main river. On the other side of the river there was a row of brown huts lined up as in a showroom display for the benefit of the viewers. The stream was twisting and turning between boulders to find a meeting point with the river. Far away, I could see a snow peak from where the river seems to be originating, but I knew that it was indeed coming from a lot further. At that moment my initial reaction was that this place is just a perfect picnic spot, bubbling stream, rocks, beautiful surroundings, flowing river, green jungle, perfect weather - what more could you ask for. I went down below the bridge to sit on a rock at the edge of the stream, and I kept soaking in the whole surroundings. The rest of the team caught up, sat down for a while and then started to leave, but I just kept looking. I told JaiSingh to move on and I will catch up after sometime.



It was difficult for me to leave that place. I shot a lot of pics of the place but I was utterly disappointed each time. The camera has its limitations and couldn't really capture what my eyes, ears and other senses felt at that place. I made up my mind to come back to this place with my kids sometime to initiate them to the joys of nature. Just 100 meters down the trail I ran into four kids from the village. I asked their permission to take their photograph. Little did I realize what trouble I was getting myself into. For the next 15 minutes, they turned me into their personal photographer, making me take group shots and solo shots of each one of them in various poses. They were so excited to pose for the camera and everytime they would come running to me to check out their photographs in the digital display. I got out of there but they again followed and caught me for another photo-session. In the end I had to literally run out of there, because their enthusiasm was unending.



JaiSingh was waiting for me, obviously a bit worried at my disappearance. Now I may not have developed a liking for JaiSingh as a person, but I do think that he did his duties well as a guide. He is a good climber and technically proficient in mountaineering skills. He is also hardworking and took amazing care for us. Where he lacked as a leader was his inability to earn the respect and trust of his support team. There was always some grumbling amidst the porters against him and on more than one occasion they directly challenged and went against his decisions. One reason for this was the presence of another strong leader between them, Rathore. But I sensed that the primary reason for this mistrust was that he always put the welfare of the porters behind his client's (us) comfort. His primary concern was to make our life as comfortable as possible. Even at the Bali Pass descent he was more concerned about us than the group as a whole. He offered no help to Deepak after his fall, but was busy rubbing Ashu's feet fearing a frost-bite. I felt that if he were ever forced to choose the life of one of his clients over one of the porters, he wouldn't hesitate for a moment. Now this may seem expected and logical to some minds, but I think when it comes to life, its unfair to put more value on one. And knowing this how could have the porters trusted him with life and death decisions.

We were moving into thick jungles now. We hastened to catch up with the rest of the group. The trees were keeping most of the sunlight out, and it was noticeably darker and colder and damper. The trail was also beginning to get a little muddier and trickier. Ashu took a slip once just before we crossed a couple of Bong beauties going on Har-ki-dun trek. The whole group was quite pleased to have some eye candy after so long, but I guess I was in a different world as I ended up asking one of them if they were on a school outing. Later, Ashu spent an hour convincing me that they were well past the school age. Anyway that event turned our general topic of conversation towards girls for the next several hours, and we joked and teased and commented, sometimes bordering on coarse, but acceptable now since we were a much closely knit group after what all of us had faced together.

Around 2:30 pm, we descended down the forest to reach the edge of the river, where a grass carpet in a little clearing tempted us to sit down for lunch. It had been easy going for most parts except for a few places where landslide had blown away part of the trail. The sections had to be crossed on precarious log bridges, which was risky enough for us at times, but imagine the porters crossing the same shaky bridge with 45 kg load. Finishing my lunch quickly, I went down even closer to the river and seated myself on a rock. When it was time to leave, I came back to find Ashu explaining the route to a couple of French tourists with the help of a map. Apparently the two guys had decided to get going without any definite plan, any idea of the route or destination, and without any food, camping equipment or warm clothing. Hail to the spirit of adventure !!! I was quite impressed by Ashu's knowledge of the whole route - the map he drew would have done any cartographer proud. To put it in a filmy way, I felt that if Rama was the Body of our team, myself the Heart, then Ashu was most certainly the Mind of our team. He had planned and executed the whole trip, and was forever updating his knowledge with the names of peaks, rivers, villages and so on.



Starting after the lunch, I noticed there was something different about Rama. He was still limping but he was for some strange reason was carrying his 12 kg rucksack as well. Initially I thought that Rama has just decided to challenge himself more, but he told us that one of the porters had left it behind as he was unable to tie it back with his load. Its a testimonial to his courage that already struggling with his foot he was quietly prepared to go on with the rucksack now. It took me a while to make him see the logic that I should be the one carrying the rucksack instead of him. We hardly had 4 km left to go, and I didn't think of it as a big deal. But only after 5 minutes, I was beginning to feel the weight, starting to sweat more and was forced to take off the thermal inner. Each step from there till Talluka was a constant reminder of the bravery and determination of all the porters. And although on earlier treks I was used to carrying my rucksack myself, I couldn't comprehend our state if we were doing the same here as well. No doubt we would have done the trek even then, but it would have taken twice the effort, and so my sincere thanks to all the porters who bore our share of pain as well.

Entering into Talluka, I was greeted by life and activity. It was a small village by all standards, but it was a week since I had seen so many people, and it was probably a lifetime since I had seen so many smiling faces. Now I know my heart is a wanderer and doesn't settle on one one thing, but I surely left a part of it there. Immediately I was surrounded by four kids that I was trying to photograph, repeating the routine I had witnessed earlier at Gangad. People from all directions were looking curiously at us and returning our smiles. The forest rest house in the village looked so beautiful but sadly this was not where we were going to stay. JaiSingh and myself started looking for a place to stay and settled on GMVN. While JaiSingh went back to get everyone, I sat down on the boundary wall of the compound and struggled to put the whole surroundings and my feelings on paper...

"I am sitting in front of GMVN with a beautiful village in front of me. Just talked to a few local kids and they were as curious about me as I am about them. They wanted me to take their photographs but I am out of batteries. All of them go to the local school. One 8 year old kid actually offered to sell me Charas. There is a small half dried pond in the center of the village where a few cows and donkeys are drinking water. Some women are going to fetch water with their brass/bronze pots. Small kids are playing everywhere. There is a two-storeyed house in front of me overlooking the pond. A middle aged woman is sitting on the ledge outside and doing some household work. A young girl around 15 is standing with a sickle in her hand and giving me occasional curious glances. After two days in snow I feel life everywhere. People are smiling everywhere, and am I just over excited or their smiles seem more genuine. A kid is lying on his back outside a house on a grass mattress and trying to wear his pants. I think its more a game for him than actually wearing it.

The pond is surrounded by several two-storeyed houses. Houses are made of wood with stone roofs. Women are busy everywhere beating locally grown "Rajma" out of their skins. Men are mostly idling around. The place is a picture of simplicity with no machines, electric wires or concrete buildings on display. Kids, mostly dirty and unkept, but smiling and enjoying all the same are everywhere. Their parents do not seem afraid of leaving them alone. "



After settling into our rooms, I borrowed some batteries from Rama and went out to get a couple of shots in the setting light. I roamed aimlessly in the village loving everything about it. On reaching their small primary school, I even played with the idea of teaching in a small village like this for some time. I could see that it would be a tough life, tougher probably than what I could handle. There were no comforts to be had there, no TV, no electricity, no medical help, no bookshops. Pretty soon it would be winters and snow, making everything tougher still. But can I survive and be happy here. Happiness after-all is not enslaved to comfortable existence and people are known to live and live happily in harshest of places. In cities people spend so much time and effort building a comfortable existence for them, big houses, big cars, big TVs, costly mobiles, gadgets, zillions of clothes - but can all of their comfort combined together guarantee them happiness. What after all is happiness - the people of this village are obviously leading a less comfortable life than in cities but are they in any way less happy. Do they not have the privilege of much purer air and water, unadulterated food, beautiful ambience and non-stressful living away from pollution, traffic, bomb-blasts, politics and our so called rat-race. I know both sides of the coin are open to endless debate and the grass always seems greener on the other side, but still it is worth a thought for everyone who is running blindly towards a city life.



Forest rest-house Talluka - I absolutely loved the construction and the spot where it was built with a nice view of the river valley below and some snow peaks in the horizon

Back at the GMVN, all of us sat down in the open balcony, surveying the activities of the village in the dying hours of the day. We also tasted some local alcohol which JaiSingh procured for us. During the small camp-fire in the night we were joined by a group of kids. They shared a Garhwali song with us and one of the kids managed to sell some Charas to JaiSingh. JaiSingh was a bit high on alcohol and most of the bonfire was dominated by his egoistic narration of the various treks he had guided. Bored to death, I enjoyed the starry night for a while, went for an early dinner and onto our beds.



The kid who tried to sell me Charas - I met him again during my evening stroll. The girl is his sister.




This small kid kept playing unsupervised on the ledge around the house, and going up and down the plank. But he was sensible enough to be pretty careful. Made me think about all the friends who are so freakishly protective about their kids and wouldn't let them out of sight for a moment.










Some local kids at the village




Early morning classes, there is a school building but I guess everyone wanted to be out in the sun, there was only one teacher for the whole school and each row represents a different class.

I have decided to end this blog here instead of going on till the end of our journey. The first reason for this is that I feel like leaving on these sweet memories instead of the traffic jams back in the cities. Second reason I feel is that I have nothing interesting left to talk about and writing further is only going to drag the blog which has already stretched beyond a length that any sane minded person would care to read. I would like to end the blog with my favorite picture that I took in the Talluka village.




Here are the complete set of pics
Bali Pass

And here are some of the videos uploaded by Ashu

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2738302503201746300
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5842927945016563634
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=5187473845001037707
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7615558654108211626
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2950514248586664190
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-606901251164436154
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-5531105126198595543
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-7694911807195642496
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-808578300353624416
http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-3135100603980554700

18 comments:

Saibal Barman said...

Nice woven in words and images. It has an added flavour of adventure.
Congrats for making it in such a tough conditions!
Best wishes,

Amit said...

Ritesh. this is a master piece of work. I must tell u that each word and line is absolutely adventurous and makes me think the next event. I wish I cud be there, but promise to be once atleast with u guys for a trek.

Kshitiz said...

Ratty,

I would say this is the best one.

Kshitiz

Sharmishtha said...

Hi Ritesh. Loved reading your blog. Well written and I liked the concept of interspersing with random notes from your journey. Look forward to many more accounts from your future adventures. Cheers! Sharmishtha

avani said...

hi..

I truly appreciate your writing skills..wonderful. The only way to define this is "beauty well encompassed in words.."

நாடோடி said...

Just came across..this is truly an AMAZING adventure!!

wonderlust said...

Nice detailed route description. Can u give me your mobile number? Its urgent****. Send me please at - biswaruph@gmail.com

Thaks in advance,
Love nature.
Biswarup

Cyril said...

HI this is a very nice blog , the pictures say it indeed was an incredible journey :)

sex and sex said...

Hi
Can you please share JaiSingh's number or any contact no.
I am planning to go on May-June'12.
Is this best time to go?
Please share necessary information.
Waiting for your reply....
My email id: soumyajmitra@gmail.com

Himanshu said...

Good detailed piece of info on Bali Pass mixed with observations and thoughts that truely sets the journey apart from others. Keep up the good work.

Sajish GP said...

Hi Ritesh,
I loved your exquisite way of putting it down. And useful in planning too!
Thanks,
Sajish

ashok nair said...

The most memorable and adventurous trek I have done so far!But I did it the traditional way,starting from sankri crossing the bali pass and ending at yamunotri.Enjoyed reading your very detailed account which brought back my own memories of this incredible adventure.Many thanks!

ashok nair said...

The most memorable and adventurous trek I have done so far!But I did it the traditional way,starting from sankri crossing the bali pass and ending at yamunotri.Enjoyed reading your very detailed account which brought back my own memories of this incredible adventure.Many thanks!

ashok nair said...

The most memorable and adventurous trek I have done so far!But I did it the traditional way,starting from sankri crossing the bali pass and ending at yamunotri.Enjoyed reading your very detailed account which brought back my own memories of this incredible adventure.Many thanks!

ashok nair said...

The most memorable and adventurous trek I have done so far!But I did it the traditional way,starting from sankri crossing the bali pass and ending at yamunotri.Enjoyed reading your very detailed account which brought back my own memories of this incredible adventure.Many thanks!

Ashish Shakya said...

loved yr blog.
Can u send guide's phone no.,
my mail id ashishshakya343gmail.com

Malay Khanra said...

Kindly share Guide phone number for Bali Pass Trek on my email id malaykhanra@gmail.com

Unknown said...

Kindly share guide pH no for balipass.......tanmay78gmail.com
We are planning to go balipass 4oct 2017
Please.......