Karthik came and woke us up at 7:00 AM. Today’s trek was supposed to be three-and-a-half kilometres only. We were served tea, followed by our breakfast. We were also given some roti and sabji which we had to pack in our tiffin boxes for lunch. Karthik called us all for briefing and slowly went through the important markers for the day, the timings, followed by some safety instructions, instructions on how to wear a backpack, how to use a walking stick and how to tie shoe knots so that they didn’t open up. While they may sound trivial when reading from the comfort of a house, they become sources of nuisance in the hills if not done correctly.
Karthik and Dev distributed Indiahike’s eco bags—essentially a thin satchel—so that we could collect garbage and disposables and bring it back to the base camp instead of littering in the mountains.
After a short walk along the motorable route in Sankri, we headed into the slopes covered with pine jungles. Another group with a different organisation was just ahead of us. We walked through the muddy and slushy trail—made so by the melting of frozen ice sheets that formed during the night over stagnant water—and climbed up. Within an hour, we were at a clearing where Atta peak, Swargarohini and Banderpunch became visible through an opening in the pine forest.
At around one kilometre mark, we reached a solitary shop at Jainola (MSL 7100 ft approx.) amidst open meadows. (I had been using the word bugyal as if it had automatically formed a part of my working vocabulary.) The trekkers, who had been spread out due to their different speeds of hiking, re-grouped here and stopped for some tea and rest. I had an omelette. A small group of trekkers from IIM Lucknow, who were there on some leadership program as a part of their curriculum, were descending. They were the first to ascent Kedarkantha after the three unsuccessful batches I wrote about in yesterday’s blog.
Right before the lunch point, we saw the ground covered in snow. It hadn’t hardened yet and, as such, did not pose any problems in walking. The lunch point itself was bustling with activities. Most of the people were from the IIM leadership training batches and were headed down. A couple of groups were headed up, including one from Indiahike’s competetor, Trek The Himalayas (TTH).
As we walked past the lunch point, we were greeted with a thicker blanket of snow with huge pine and golden oaks surrounding us. At times, we were intercepted by herds of mules carrying equipment and rations. There is a law in the mountains—”Mules always have the right of the way”. It didn’t matter which direction they were headed; the trekker had to move towards the mountain side and let the mules pass. It’s not that they would attack. They are faster on the trails and have no sense of the width of the equipment on their backs. Often these sacks braise a trekker and knocks them down.
We reached our campsite Juda-ka-Talab (MSL 9100 ft appx.) at 3:30 PM. I quickly changed my dress to two layers of fleece and a jacket. It was necessary to do so before sunset so that my body heat was trapped.
I hadn’t expected the food we were served to be that good. In the evening, we were given some pasta and for dinner we were given roti, dal and sabji. They even had gajar ka halwa, which I thoroughly enjoyed. If that was not all, the two guys from Ahmedabad were Jains and had dietary restrictions . The cooks of Indiahikes even made provisions to take care of their needs.
Most of the time was spent huddled inside the kitchen tent listening to Karthik’s stories. The Goan trekker, being the youngest, was often the butt of most jokes. He appeared to have taken it in good spirits.
Later that night, we were given two sleeping bags and a fleece liner. This system was good enough for me to remove the thicker fleece I was wearing.
That night I saw one of the cleanest and densest skies in my life. I was able to identify the dense band of stars of Milky Way that form a part of our skies and folklore. While all attempts at capturing a star-trail or a night shot of the sky was totally and utterly ruined by my incompetence and my lack of proper equipment, I realised that some things are meant to be absorbed with ones own eyes and soak in the beauty.