Mountains seranade me
Mountains feed my soul.
Mountains seranade me
Mountains feed my soul.
I can chose either to be a victim of the world or an adventurer in search of treasure. It’s all a question of how I view my life – #paulocoelho
That is our trek leader from @trekthehimalayas
praying to Lord Shiva and the mountain Gods after successfully leading a group of novices to the Nag Tibba top. Praying after reaching the top is his regular ritual.
He advices the travellers to respect the mountains and keep them as clean as possible because then only the mountains will respect you. He also believes that we can only successfully climb the mountain if we revere them from our heart.
Your cheerful pinks
And playful winks
Soothe my jaded soul
Pacifying this broken heart
So come here, come near me
And bring with yourself those colours you flaunt.
“But before I die, I want to fight for life. If I can walk on my own, I can go wherever I like.”
And these beautiful lines from #elevenminutes aptly describe my state of mind while trekking towards the Nag Tibba base camp on day 1. I wanted to give up and get back to our guest house in the Pantwari village because of the excruciating pain in my shoulder blades and back but something stopped me. That “something” compelled me to believe that I can reach the base camp, come whatever may.
What will be life if we do not follow our heart’s wishes for adventures?
My first Uttarakhand and a winter trek happened at the beginning of 2018. The temperatures in Delhi were already below 5 degrees and Uttarakhand signifies a red signal for cold prone people like me.
But regular adventures satisfy the soul and I am no different. When the opportunity came calling, I had to respond; otherwise I would have faced the regret of not going for a winter trek for a year or so.
I along with a bunch of three enthusiastic friends enrolled ourselves for the weekend trek of the professional trekking company Trek The Himalayas. We boarded the midnight train – Nanda Devi Express from Delhi and reached Dehradun by 6a.m.
Arrival – Day 1
Since we were not going to bathe for the next two days considering the requirements of this strenuous trek and a six hour journey through Mussoorie, we decided to slightly freshen ourselves at the railways station waiting room.
And man, what an experience it was!
Keeping your trekking and day bag alone and then going towards the rest rooms to refresh your mouth and wash your face sounds scary at first but trust me, it was not. I had a lady friend with me and we made sure to back each other up. But 6 a.m. in the morning is not the time that the thieves (they are actually waking up!) wander, looking out for precious something of travellers; so you are perfectly safe.
The tour guide from Trek The Himalayas picked us up at 6:45 a.m. and we were comfortably seated in a tempo traveller. We relished the silence of the Dehradun while its residents slept peacefully.
And then after two hours, came Mussoorie – the hill town I was most anxious to visit since childhood. The winding drive through the tree-laden roads with the sun light filtering through the swaying leaves is exhilarating to say the least. The colonial balustrades and the Britishesque street lamps did transform to a different universe, because I was in a different universe!
A few kilometres from Mussoorie, we halted for our breakfast break around 9:30 a.m. A local dhabha serving the most delicious butter loaded paranthas was opened graciously to the customers and boy, could we say no?
At the restaurant, a small balcony beckoned us to savour the beauty that solemnly waited. The snow clad Shiwaliks with a few green patches stood there with the cold waves swirling around them like an enchantress.
But this ephemeral moment was marred by a red butted mischievous macaque ready to pounce any moment. Time to rush back!
The journey from here to Pantwari village went in a quiet power nap which lasted another two hours.
The drive through the village was definitely eventful considering the frolicking crowd – an afternoon Pahadi wedding in full gusto. Half sleepy, half awake, we listened to the cheerful crowd singing the local Pahadi songs and tried to decipher what each word meant, although we were unsuccessful!
At Pantwari village, we were provided changing rooms at a local guesthouse and the next hour was spent in freshening up again, changing into our trekking gear and preparing our carry on luggage. A quick fulfilling lunch provided us the necessary energy required for the daunting journey ahead.
The Nag Tibba trail begins from the Pantwari village (1450m) and ends at the Nag Tibba top 9-10 km away. Since it is a steep trek with fewer gradual trails in between, it takes time to reach the top and so in between the village and the top, there is an area designated as the Nag Tibba Base Camp where temporary camping facilities are provided.
Compared to the breathtaking trails of Himachal (my view at that point of time), Nag Tibba trekking route is least serene. The initial journey is through a pebble and mud laden trail which is steep as well as slippery due to dry leaves. You need to carry a light bag and comfortable clothes because the continuous uphill trek saps you of energy and will power. As my bag was around 8kg and I was wearing three layers (because of below ten temperatures), I had to remover a few layers and tighten up the straps of my bag. Taking frequent rests became a routine here which was never the case in my previous treks.
The scenery is not as enjoyable as you would expect – dry parched terrain, scattered greenery and big lose boulders and pebbles on which you have to tread carefully lest you shall suffer a back breaking fall. But the surrounding view of The Lesser Himalayas compels you to forget the hurdles of the journey.
We started the trek at 2pm and the swiftest person reached the base camp by 5:30pm covering 6km. I reached by 6:30pm due to multiple factors – a heavy bag, back ache and ankle inflammation which developed during the journey and loss of time as I went astray in the trails and had to wait for about 15-20 minutes for the people preceding me.
As the night drew in, the ambience got colder and it must have been around 1 degree in the night. Basic camping facilities were prepared for us with pit-hole washrooms. Trek The Himalayas took good care of everything – tea, dinner, temporary restrooms, warm sleeping bags but better facility for water should have been there because there were no nearby streams.
The night sky was star studded and it was mesmerizing to watch so many twinkles after ages. You do not get to see the children of universe this clear in Delhi.
Trek to Nag Tibba top – Day 2
The back breaking journey had been so tiring for me that I decided to not go for the early morning trek to Nag Tibba top. I took my time in getting up but then eventually decided that I would not be able to forgive myself if I did not trek all the way up to the peak. The opportunity seemed too precious to miss!
The biting cold was so ominous that it was difficult to change into my second trekking gear which had to be cold specific considering the chilling mountain waves lingering around us. A quick breakfast of soul satisfying plate of steaming maggi brought me back to my fighter instincts.
This particular trail to the Nag Tibba top is also steep but easier compared to the harrowing one we had completed on the previous day. The pebbles had gone though the boulders were still there with slippery edges of melting snow. And my all weather trekking shoes weren’t for snow because hey, no spikes!
So what did I do when I saw a few flakes of snow for the first time in my life? I kept looking. I tried to keep a few in my hands but the warmth melted them away.
The melted snow on the trail was a tad challenging considering many of us were first timers for a snow trek. Slipping now and then on the trail, I managed to reach the top where a large patch of snow awaited the avid trekkers. Many of our trekking mates experienced snow for the first time and so went on to play body skating games on them. I, however, having slipped and fallen a few times, stayed away and took on a few lovely snowflakes.
The Nag Tibba top is adorned with a pole which carries prayer flags in multiple hues. And the view from the top is soul filling to say the least. At 3022 m, the highest peak of the The Shiwaliks or The Lesser Himalayas, you do feel a sense of achievement while enjoying the breath taking ranges. The whole Lesser Himalayan range along with a few peaks of the mighty Greater Himalayas is a sight to behold and lose yourself in.
But as they say, the descent is always tougher than the ascent. And on a steep trek you have to be highly careful, especially on slippery melted snow patches. We had to tread cautiously on the loose pebbles, boulders and mud lest we would have suffered a bone breaking fall.
Back to the base camp, we had a delicious protein and carbohydrates filled lunch of kidney beans, rice, chappati and legumes. We had to take care of the time factor while trekking down as descending during the evening can be dangerous.
We finally reached Pantwari around 5pm and changed back to comfortable apparels after spraying our whole body with Moov.
The journey from Pantwari village to Dehradun was spent in taking a few scattered power naps and watching the lighted view of Mussoorie and Dehradun. The tempo traveller of Trek The Himalayas dropped us at the Dehradun railway station at around 9pm and we had dinner at a nearby restaurant – Sagar. The Nanda Devi Express geared itself again to ferry the travellers from Dehardun to the national capital and we also went along with her flow.
Greetings of the day to you, whether you are the lofty Greater Himalayas, the enchanting Middle Himalayas (Himachal) or the mud and pebble laden Lesser Himalayas (Shiwaliks).
You see, the biggest regret of my life till date is not exploring your mesmerizing valleys, climbing your challenging peaks and relishing the sense of achievement that comes with such experiences. Well yes, I can count the number of treks that I have been to in your bastion, but there remain hundreds of places untouched by my eyes and unexplored by me feet .
And just a week from now on, I am supposed to visit your area once again but hell no, life always has to be tricky for me.
You know, these ankles of mine have lately started misbehaving. And by misbehaving, I mean an extreme case of naughtiness and disobedience.
My orthopaedist says a usual case of calcium and Vitamin D deficiency because you know, physically I’m a woman even though I try to think and reason out like a man sometimes. But yes, sometimes I do behave like a woman and hence these rants!
Back to the case of being a woman and suffering from deficiencies even though I drink two glasses of milk a day and can’t keep my hungry tongue away from the silky texture of home made yoghurt. (My mom will viciously disagree about two glasses because of those lactose intolerant specific days).
And to add insult to these deficiencies (pun intended), I used to run with the shoe laces tied around my ankles. My orthopaedist said no wonder Shreya madam, no wonder.
So after two months of abstinence from trekking, running and travelling, popping a host of medicines and being thrust with injections in my derriere for the past four weeks, I thought I had finally recuperated. I could climb the stairs of my office again with no taunts from happy colleagues in the lift. I could run again and shed that extra flab I had graciously gained around my waist. My left ankle was raring to trek your trails again.
I could wear my favourite heels again and when I did, I fell down because I had forgotten that my ankles were still unstable.
My right ankle gave a wink to my left ankle.
And there went my plans of doing a trek of 9km, wandering a tea garden like a Yash Chopra muse and wearing my pretty pink trekking shoes again to spoilt waters.
But above all, I’m wondering when will I inhale the air that wanders around you and get to see your beauty again. I wish to be as strong as you are but sometimes I overstress myself and shit happens.
My life is short and I can not stand at one place for the whole day and that too for years unlike you.
This ankle pain has literally been a pain in whatever portion of my original ass I’m left with. I have never been so inactive and I hate this helplessness.
Meanwhile, my parents are laughing at my belief in the impossible feat of getting my right ankle back on track within the next four days. My orthopaedist was pretty strict today considering he had given me a go ahead last week.
So Thursday is the day when the fate of our next meeting will be decided.
This letter mentioned my womanly rants (no offense to any lady, but let us learn to laugh at ourselves) more than my love for you and your children. But my child like heart yearns to savour the fresh aroma of mountain soil, the coniferous and the sweet rhododendrons.
I desperately want to meet you, more desperately than my future mother-in-law. Wink wink.
Kasol – the hub of hippies and the adopted home of many Israelis who fell in love with the Himachal Himalayas – is a must visit destination if you love the mountains and the nomadic way of life. This area is bustling with cafes serving authentic Israeli and Lebanese dishes with the occasional European preparations coming now and then.
The roar of Parvati greets you and it won’t let you sleep in the star studded night. The river is pretty ferocious and is so deep and dangerous that no water sports and navigation have ever been executed here. Just one small mistake could land you in deep (literally and metaphorically) trouble, so river side adventures should be treated with caution.
To satiate our hunger pangs, our trek group decided to explore the dishes at the Evergreen Café, situated in the main Kasol market. This popular outlet is always full and you need to wait for at least 15 minutes before you can get a cosy little corner for your group. I relished the chicken schnitzel which was a crumb fried dish of chicken breast and was a bit dry in taste though it was served with a very fine hummus. Another dish I tasted was penne pasta in pesto sauce and buffalo cheese, which was good but not excellent. I sloshed down these delicacies with a glass of mint and cucumber juice which was freshly prepared.
In the evening, we visited the Manikaran Gurudwara where meals are prepared for almost 100k pilgrims with the hot waters of the Manikaran geyser. The holy site is swarming with tourists and better planning and management of arrangements is definitely required.
Day 2: We start for Barshaini from which the Kheerganga trek begins. The road from Kasol to Barshaini via Manikaran is not so smooth and the frequent bumps will leave you exhausted. We went on a long weekend in June and the already narrow roads were jam packed with pilgrims who had decided to park their vehicles on the main road. Lesson learnt: never ever visit these beauties during long weekend or summer holidays.
Barshaini is the site where the mighty Parvati and the Tosh rivers meet and flow together as Parvati. There is a damn been constructed there and I am scared to think what this so called development will do to the lovely natural beauty of Kheerganga.
The trek starts with the descent of about 40-50 heavy steps and then a steep ascent through a dry terrain where the blazing Ra will leave you sun burnt. The occasional chants of “Om Namah Shivay” at a local temple will definitely mesmerise you while you trek the first 2-3km.
After about 3km, you will start encountering thriving green forests with narrow trails and small cascades through which you can fill your water bottles. The protected apple orchards will entice you but hey, you are not allowed to touch those fresh stunners.
After 3 hours, you will reach the Nakthan village which has small café serving fresh pineapple and watermelon juices. It is recommended to have these energy boosters since you will be sapped of all the vivacity that you had at the onset of the trek. Washrooms are also available here although they are not very clean.
After 1-2km, we decided to have lunch at a small eatery by the name of Midway Camping at Rudranag which specialises in providing lunch, dinner and breakfast. I hogged on their Pahadi thali which had yellow dal with ajwain (carom seeds), tangy pahadi kadhi, sautéed potato cauliflower and chappatis. Very different flavours which I reminisce till this day.
After a hearty meal, you are determined to move faster and after a while you encounter a bridge which crosses the wild Parvati river. Here it is descends from a huge waterfall and is scary to look at, especially when you have acrophobia. Just when the bridge ends, the luxuriant greenery of coniferous forests with little hints of sunlight commences. The air is redolent with the aroma of mountain flowers and alpine grasses. This stretch extends till the Kheerganga meadow and is comparatively cooler. The soothing air heals your sunburnt skin and tired eyes.
But the steepness returns with an even more treacherous trail. Since it is a moist area with occasional stones, the trail is slippery and is arduous to climb with a 4kg backpack without a stick. I sometimes wonder where I would have been if not for the helpful wooden stick and the protective trekking shoes.
The last 1km is the most difficult one. The steepness confounds you and one has to stride every step with extreme carefulness. The rocks are loose here and you have to use your stick to find the stable ground first.
The last 400m – the steepest– I seriously marvel how I hiked this particular portion. Pure concentration coupled with perseverance to reach before 5pm did the trick. And the stunning view you get of the alpine meadow surrounded by lofty peaks is breath taking.
Since we went during peak holiday time, the meadow was not the pristine one you see in the pictures. It was overcrowded with a host of camps and cafes. Too many tourists definitely mar the experience of going to a secluded place.
The main attraction apart from the 360 degree view of the mountains is the famed hot spring. There are separate sections for both the genders and after a tiring trek of 14km, you do need a Jacuzzi to relax in. Except that this is a natural one with sulphur in it, calming your aching nerves and sore muscles. But it is advisable to not linger in the steaming waters for more than 20 minutes as it tends to make you feel drowsy.
A hot cuppa of Pahadi tea, vegetable fritters and a glass of banana shake return you to your morning energy levels.
The descent is easier and it can be completed within 4 hours in contrast to the ascent which takes 6 hours. While waiting for our jeep, we came face to face with an adorable café by the name of Prem where a mother-daughter duo serves the most decadent dishes with so much love! I tasted the Thukpa, the Nutells crepes and the black gram watery curry with parathas and all of them were excellently done. Do visit this café at Barshaini when you return from Kheerganga.
Best time to travel: March to May. Not recommended in the peak season because of human traffic on the trail.
Travel essentials: Water proof trekking shoes, high grade sunglasses that provide side protection, SPF 50+ sunscreen, full length clothes with a trekking jacket, a proper backpack, ORS mixed with your water, fruits and chocolate bars.
Indian style washrooms are available at the site.
The trek was organised by Kamakshi Pal, an avid trekker and travel blogger who has trekked Kheerganga 17 times.