Thursday, December 21, 2006

Bara Bhangal Trek - 8-17 Oct 2006:

It all began on a rainy afternoon, sometime in June. I had been asking Sandeep about our next Himalayan Trekking trip and as usual he was procrastinating. Almost seven months had passed since our last tryst with the Himalayas and it was time to start preparing for the next adventure. From our experience with the Kuari Pass trek we knew that it would take us about three to four months of preparation before we were ready to hit the mountains. But then again aren’t the actual preparation for a trek, the planning, map reading, researching the available resources equally enthralling. Last minute planner as he is, it was almost August when Sandeep and I finally decided on this years trek.

So exactly after a year we are back in the Himalayas, again seeking the feeling of a great adventure. This time we are in the beautiful state of Himachal Pradesh. After talking to various people and doing some research ourselves we decided to do the Bara Bhangal trek. We decided to go with Kaushal Desai who runs a trekking agency out of Manali. Kaushal himself had suggested this trek as an option initially. Although a lot of fellow trekkers suggested that the time was not right, we decided to brave it out. And boy! We did brave it out in the end.

I had never heard of this trek before but Sandeep was well aware of this trek. The Lonely Planet rates this trek as a “Demanding” trek. After we decided on this trek, I started reading about this trek and gathering more information. The more I read and the more I knew, I began to wonder if mid October was indeed a good time to do the trek. However, as I said earlier, we decided to rough it out and I was pretty sure this time again that we were going to have some real adventure at hand.

My vacation started before Sandeep’s, and in a very luxurious manner I must say. I stayed at a five star in Delhi. I started for Delhi on 4th Oct since I wanted to visit the US embassy for my visa. Sandeep started on the 6th. As usual, we met at Anju Maushi’s place. The day when Sandeep reached Anju Maushi’s place, Chingu didn’t want to go to school and a day before when Sandeep was in Bangalore she asked him to call her mother and tell her it would be alright if Chingu skips her classes for the day. Some trick!

For the fear of repeating myself, I don’t want to say it, but then again they don’t say it for nothing, Anju Maushi is the greatest cook in the world. We ate and then took a break and then we ate again. In between the meals, during the break, we ate again.
And then as usual we gossiped till late in the night and played cards. Sandeep and Chingu showed me some trick with the playing cards and made some real fun.


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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

07-10-2006 [Delhi to Manali]

We reached the HP tourism office at the Chandralok Building, Janpath at 6:30 pm this evening. While we waited for our bus, we had some “chai” at a nearby petty shop.
Finally the bus arrived at 7 PM. When we started from Delhi, there was a bad traffic jam. We had our dinner in a very small shady dhaba [Jeera rice and dal] somewhere near Chandigarh. The journey was relatively eventless. The only entertainment was, there was a group of Maharashtrian people traveling with us, who were cracking very typical Marathi jokes and Sandeep and I would look at each other and smile. Otherwise, I slept most of the time. As we began to gain altitude I thought I had a nauseating feeling. As usual Sandeep asked me to ignore it and I kept quiet.

We reached Manali at about 10.30AM and were met with Kaushal at the Manali Bazar bus stop. We found him to be quite an interesting person and hoped that we have good time ahead with him.
Kaushal had arranged for our stay in a small hotel called “Him Guest House” right in the Bazar. It was a small but clean and comfy little place.
While chatting with Kaushal over a cup of tea, I had already started dreaming about the next two weeks

The Manali Bazaar has quite a few restaurants that serve various cuisines. Basically all serve junk food and I am always ready for any kind of junk food. We both had Gujarati Thali and after that a plate of Gulab Jamun, which Sandeep didn’t like so I had to eat his, share also. After strolling around for sometime in Bazaar, we came back to our hotel and tried to get some sleep. I couldn’t sleep so I tried to watch TV (there was no remote). After sometime when Sandeep woke up, he laughed at me because I was watching one of the daily “saans-bahu” soaps on Star Plus.

By the time it was 4 o’clock, it had already started getting dark. Suddenly I thought I heard the sound of rain outside. Both of us immediately rushed out to confirm our worry. Rain in Manali was the last thing we wanted now. This is because, we were hoping that the weather doesn’t play truant with us for the next couple of weeks or so. Rain in Manali would definitely mean snow in the higher passes, and that’s just what we didn’t want. Ours was one of the last expeditions of the season and the chances of weather going bad were very high and that’s what we didn’t want. I cranked my neck and looked at the heavens to check if my worries were justified. Thank the heavens. A false alarm!!

After getting down at Manali, Sandeep realized that its going to be extremely cold at high altitude as in Manali itself the temperature was very low. So we thought, we will buy a sweater for him. We went to bazaar and after visiting some shops, we finally bought one sweater for him. A typical one, not unlike the ones, which our Bollywood heartthrob, Rishi Kapoor used to wear in his movies.
We had our dinner and came back to hotel as Kaushal called us and informed that he wants to meet us.

He came around 7.30 PM and informed us that all the arrangements were done. We are all set to go. His partner, Rinku is going to join us. He also gave us the news that his porters ditched him at last moment so he has decided that we are going to take horses instead of porters. So now we have five people who include Sandeep, Kaushal, Rinku, Prem [the horse man] and I. We already knew that this time the trekking experience was going to be quite different. We have to pitch in and help in all the tasks including pitching the tents, cooking, washing the dishes etc. Let’s hope for the best. We slept at 9PM.


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Tuesday, December 19, 2006

08-10-2006 [Manali (~2000m) – Lamadug (~3017m)]

This is going to be the first day of our trek. We woke up at 6.30AM and went out for tea at the bazaar. It was very cold in the morning and we discussed the trail with few other locals at the teashop. After having tea we came to our hotel room and got ready for the day. Kaushal came to our room at around 9AM. The trail starts near the famed Hidimba temple. Kaushal’s place is at the foot of the temple itself. We took an auto rikshaw for his house. (We started for the trek in an auto rikshaw. How very ironic!!!). The trail for Lamadug started from somewhere near his home. I felt bad for that small auto riksha because we were three, plus our rug sacks and the road was very uphill. Anyhow it managed to drop us at Kaushal’s house.

At Kaushal’s house, his wife and three massive dogs greeted us. We had breakfast of “Puri” and “Bhaji”. After sometime Rinku also joined us at breakfast. He is going to be both the cook and guide for coming days.

We started at 11 AM. Our destination was Lamadug at an altitude of 3000m. Rinku was walking with us and Kaushal was helping Prem in managing the horses. I thought, since this is first day, it is going to be easy but it was to be the other way round. The climb was steep. Since I was using my trekking boots for the first time and they were not broken in properly, it was little uncomfortable walking. I was breathing hard and losing my concentration. I was thinking whether I had become old in just one year because in my last trek I had done extremely well. As part of the preparations also, we did pretty good workouts for almost 3 months.

I slowly began to get a picture about the coming days as we climbed towards our destination. In spite of getting tired, we didn’t stop at many places and kept moving at a good pace. Sandeep motivated me saying that it was because we are trekking after a year. We walked for around 3 hours and reached Lamadug. After reaching our first day destination, Rinku told that we did pretty well. Normally people cover this distance in four and half hours but we did it about three hours. This was sufficient motivation for me.
The trail was through the thick alpine forest of the Manali sanctuary. We were hoping to see some wildlife/bird life , but there were no signs.

The Dhauladhar and Pir Panjal ranges emerged, but there was very little snow on the peaks.

On the way, Rinku told us so many times that the weather should be good for at least next seven days. On the seventh day, we would cross the Thamsar Jot and we wouldn’t want to get stuck anywhere because of bad weather. After hearing the same statement repeated so many times, I started praying to all the Gods in the heaven to be with us.
The reason for Rinku’s statement was: During this trek we have to cross two high altitude passes (or Jots as they are called in Himachal), the first is the Kalihani Pass and the other one is Thamsar Pass. Both are at around 4800 mts. The village of Bara Bhangal is in a valley between these to high passes.
If the weather becomes bad before crossing the first the pass, we can always come back to Manali. But if the weather becomes bad after crossing the “Kalihani Pass” then we are stuck. We can’t come back and we won’t be able to go ahead because both the passes will be covered with snow. And even if we attempt any of the above options i.e. either coming back or moving ahead, the horses won’t be able to make it.

Kaushal, Prem and horses joined us at our first campsite after half an hour. They got late because kerosene, which is going to be used for cooking our food, spilled from the tank. That was bad news but Kaushal assured that we have sufficient amount left so nothing to worry.

Kaushal and Rinku pitched the tents and we also helped them. After that we had some tea and lunch and casual talk with both of them. We spent sometime in exploring the campsite. This campsite was very similar to “Semkharak” campsite during our Kuari Pass Trek.

After sometime, we went inside the kitchen tent and had hot soup. Around 6pm we had our dinner. It was started getting cold. Since Sandeep was not wearing sweater, after I insisted a lot, he put on his new sweater. Prem also brought some firewood from the jungle. We had campfire that night, this is my favorite part of the trekJ. Around 7.30pm, we went to our tent. This tent was big and the sleeping bags were also good. I thought whether I would be able to sleep or not.


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Monday, December 18, 2006

09-10-2006 [Lamadug (~3017m) - Riyali Thach (~3400m) ]

Last night, I was able to sleep properly. This is surprising since I have never been able to sleep for the first night on a trek. We woke up around 6.30 am which is late by our standards. In the morning we went around to explore the campsite a little bit more. The surroundings were absolutely marvelous. While we had our breakfast, Prem told us that there were signs that Black Bears had foraged around the campsite in the night. I was secretly a little relieved that the bears didn’t bother to forage near our tent.
We started for our today’s destination Riyali Thach [3400m] at 9.15AM.

Today was disappointing day for me. I was breathing very hard and with each step I was feeling tired. I was not able to understand the reason. In the last trek, I was always energetic ready to walk any number of miles. All the while, I was praying to God to give us strength. I have to make myself stronger.
We ascended for around 2 hour on a steep climb and then descended down slowly. The trail was quite well defined and passed through thick rhododendron and pine forest. After a while we were above the tree line.
On the right side, there were excellent views of the Manali Pass.

Manali Pass is another pass towards the Bara Bhangal village but it is very difficult then the route, which we are following. Further the Manali Pass, one needs to negotiate the even trickier Taintu Pass. These routes close in the last week of September itself.
Towards the right of the pass, we got excellent views of the Deo Tibba, Indrasan , IndraKilla and the CB Range. We passed through Rani Sui, another Gaddi camp. From Rani Sui, it was a moderate descend to the meadow of Riyali. We reached our camp at 2.30pm. The weather was not very clear when we reached the camp and this got Prem and Rinku a little worried.

After reaching our camp while we had our lunch, the weather turned sour. Suddenly, the whole camp was surrounded in mist and fog. This got the worried Rinku and Prem worry even more.

We went into the kitchen tent at around 7 pm for dinner. Today Rinku prepared my favorite sabjii [Bhindi]. The food was awesome but I have a very stupid habit, when I am worried, I lose my appetite. I couldn’t eat much.

We had campfire after dinner and it was good. Around 8pm we went to our tent.
Sandeep has a mild headache. It might be because of the altitude.


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Sunday, December 17, 2006

10-10-2006 [Riyali Thach (~3400m)– Kalihani Base Camp (~4000m)] ~4hrs

We woke up early around 6.00 today. Our destination was the base camp of “Kalihani pass”. Fortunately for us, the weather had not played truant till now. The night itself was clear and further towards the pass too, the weather looked clear.

The base camp was at around 4000m. Sandeep told me that we should do our best today. We would require a lot of strength. So remembering God, we started for the day at around 9. Today we first descended down towards a nullah. After crossing the small nullah, we had to ascend very steeply. . The climb was entirely above the tree line and Deo Tibba and Indrasan were behind us. The whole terrain was now very different. I still had a lot of breathing trouble as I continued to climb towards the campsite. Sandeep, on the other hand, seemed to have no trouble.

After reaching the base camp, Rinku prepared very good “Halwa” followed by tea. We also ate our packed lunch with tea. Then as usual we spent some time in exploring the campsite. This campsite was something we have never experienced before. Even during our earlier trek, when we had camped at the base of Kuari Pass, the feeling of isolation wasn’t so grand. Since we were above tree line, there were no signs of any vegetation. We got panoramic views of the massive Dhauladhar ranges. Deo Tibba, the holy mountain of Himachal, Indrakilla and Indrasan were all clearly visible. We clicked couple of photos but even at this time of early afternoon the cold was horrible and we decided to go inside to the warmth of our tents.

From the base, the starting point of Kalihani pass was visible. I asked this question so many times to myself “whether I will be able to do it or not”. There was no trail visible from our base camp. We just kept thinking about the route.

After sometime, we came to know that there is another couple from South Africa on the same trek. They reached the base camp after 2hr and we had good talk with them. They were very enthusiastic about trekking in Himalayas.

As the evening progressed the cold became worse. It also became very windy. Water used to freeze in minutes here. We had dinner at 6.30 pm and came back to our tent. Everybody was keeping his fingers crossed for good weather.


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Saturday, December 16, 2006

11-10-2006 [Kalihani Base Camp (~4000m) – Devi Ki Marhi (~3800m) via the Kalihani pass (~4800m)] ~10hrs

Well, the day has come when we cross our first pass on the trek. Crossing of a pass is always an occasion to reckon with during a trek. The pass is normally the highest point on a trek and the feeling of being at such an altitude is always exhilarating.
We woke up at 6 am. It was deadly cold in the morning. Sandeep went to bring some water from a nearby stream to wash his face. The stream was about 40-50 meters down from the tent, by the time he brought the water to the tent, it had turned into ice.
We had some bread-omelet for our breakfast and started early by around 7:30 am. Rinku suggested that we should start walking towards the ice-cave that we could see from the camp and wait for him there.

We started walking towards the cave, but as usual we lost the trail. The glacial moraine of the Kalihani glacier was tough to negotiate. We finally managed to reach the cave from another trail after struggling for half an hour. By this time, Rinku had joined us.

Now some serious climb started. The trail was full of loose stones and moraine. Both the gradient and altitude were taking our exam. We both were breathing very hard and were dehydrated. But the water stock that we were carrying was limited and it had to be used judiciously. We took breaks at regular interval. Since I was beginning to exhaust, Sandeep carried my water bottle and daily lunch pack too.

Finally we managed to reach at the top of the trail. I was very elated as I thought we had reached the pass. But that was not true. The pass was still not visible and Rinku told us that it was quite a distance from this point. Fortunately the weather was on our side today. The views were spectacular and absolutely out of this world. From the top of the trail, we got the first glimpse of the glacier, which we had to cross for reaching to top of the pass. We reached till the glacier after negotiating the big slippery rocks and boulders.

It was first time in our trekking experience that we were negotiating glaciers. It was quite tricky walking on the slippery ice. We could see footmarks of trekkers who had crossed the pass before us indicating that there was no fresh snowfall in the region in the past few days.

After crossing the glacier, there was another small steep climb and that was it. We could see the Cairns and the prayer flags. It was the Top of Pass. After reaching there, I felt as if I was on the top of the world. It was such an amazing feeling, which I can’t express in words. I was crying with happiness. Sandeep said, “Probably we are the first from IBM and Oracle” on the pass J. I have never thought in my life that I would be able to do this. This was just because of so much encouragement from Sandeep. Sandeep too was also very happy.

We clicked some photos and offered prayer and started descending down. Now we were negotiating the big expanse of the Kaliheni glacier. It was very slippery and scary too. On our way, we saw big crevices; some of them were partially covered in snow.

Finally after about couple of hours, we crossed the glacier and with a humble heart we said good-bye to “Kalihani Pass”. Now we have to descend down for our next camp. Rinku informed us that for the remaining distance we had walk on big boulders and wasn’t going to be difficult. I think it was an understatement. Descending down from the glacier was trickier than climbing up. At the base of “Kalihani Glacier” we saw a beautiful glacial lake, very quiet and serene. We took a break near the lake, had some water and chocolates.

Descending down on steep slopes is not one of our strengths. Since during one of his previous trekking expeditions Sandeep had a very bad experience hence while descending down, he is always very conscious and so am I. Rinku always motivated us saying that you both should come out of that fear and you will enjoy the descending down part of a climb.
Anyways, we had already walked for 5 hours and thought our camp would be near by. But it was our illusion. We were negotiating big boulder, twice or thrice Sandeep and I both slipped but managed to start again. At some time there was no trail at all and the route was all lateral and that too when we were almost tired. After sometime Rinku gave a shock saying that he had forgotten the campsite. He moved ahead of us in search of the campsite. At one point Sandeep and I almost got stuck as the trail almost but disappeared. We caught the trail again by staying on the true right of the Kaliheni nullah. We had already walked for 8 hours and were now starting to feel fatigued. Somehow we managed to reach to camp at 5.10pm. What a long day it was. We had almost walked for 10 hours without having our lunch.

Kaushal and Prem greeted us with Hot Tea and Biscuits. Sandeep had some energy left so he went ahead and clicked some photos of this campsite. This place was a small “thach” near the Kaliheni nullah and was called “Devi ki Marhi”. This was again one of the “Gaddi Shephard” encampments. This campsite is called as “Devi ki Marhi” because there is small temple of a “Devi”. A temple meaning, there are a few loose stones kept together with a red cloth wrapped around. This campsite was at an altitude of 3800m.

After sometime we had our dinner and went to our tent. Both of us were feeling very elated. For the first time in our respective lives, we had negotiated tough glacial zones. We again saw our photos in digital camera and felt happy. With this happy feeling we went into a deep slumber.


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Friday, December 15, 2006

12-10-2006 [Devi Ki Marhi (~3800m) – Daal Marhi (~3900)] ~6hrs

In the morning it was extremely cold. The coldest we had been. There was no sign of the Sun.

We were all waiting for the Sun so that we could start for our next campsite. In the morning before breakfast, we went to “Devi temple” and prayed and requested God to be with us and for good weather for at least next coming 3 days, till we cross “Thamsar Pass”. Rinku again gave us another shock saying that we have to cross one the Kaliheni nullah at this campsite. He suggested us to move ahead till the water stream and after reaching there to wait for him. We had to cross the river together carefully.
We lost the trail again and chose the incorrect path to get stuck in some boulders. I got scared, one wrong footing and down we slip in the valley and the whole trip goes for a big toss. Rinku saw us in this situation and moved for helping us. In the mean time, some how we managed to pass the stupid boulder but Rinku slipped and because of that all the eggs were broken which we was carrying.

Anyways, the three of us finally met near the stream and planned how to cross the stream.
We tied our shoelaces and hanged our boots across our necks. Now the real fun started. As soon as I stepped into water, I couldn’t stop myself screaming my mother’s name. The water was extremely cold but somehow I managed to cross the stream.

In the morning, for sometime the trail was somewhat easy, on a flat track. But after that the real exam started. At some point there was no trail at all and the landscape was all-lateral. Rinku helped both of us in such situations.

After sometime, we again dropped to the tree line. The weather was looking good in the afternoon. At some point Prem and Kaushal met us with the horses. We took a break and clicked couple of photos. From this point we had to ascend. While we were moving ahead suddenly, I felt the ice flacks on my hand. Yes, it was snowfall, but with very less intensity. By the time we reached our camp, the weather became clear again. Chili, iced wind started blowing and we had to cover our face as we couldn’t stand the biting cold. Kaushal said, “If this wind keeps blowing, the bad weather will pass.” Finally we came to our campsite of Daal Marhi.

For sometime we rested in our tent and then went inside the kitchen tent for dinner. There was no scope of exploring the campsite because of extreme cold. From this campsite, Thamsar Pass was somewhat visible. After dinner, we had campfire. Every body was talking about different topics. Rinku and Kaushal told us stories about some of their expeditions. After sometime, we decided to sleep and went to our tent.


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Thursday, December 14, 2006

13-10-2006 [Daal Marhi(~3900) – Bara Bhangal(~2500m)] ~6hrs

Today our destination of was one of the India’s remotest villages called “Bara Bhangal”. I was very happy because I would be able to see some civilization after 6 days. We started from our campsite early at 8.15am. Rinku helped us to cross another small stream.

Today’s trail was going to be little easy, that’s what Rinku said. First we have to ascend for about couple of hours and then descend down till we reach the village.

While ascending we met the same South African couple whom we had met with at the Kaliheni base camp. Yesterday they had camped at a little higher altitude then us. After chatting with them for sometime, we started again. On the way, whenever we looked towards, the Thamsar Pass, weather was looking bad near the pass. Keeping our figures crossed, we were making good progress. After sometime, we saw fresh pug marks of the famed “Himalayan Black Bear”. This was very scary. It seemed, a bear had just crossed our path. We also saw a red fox running across the mountains.

And it was then, that disaster struck. It started snowing. It started of as a light fall with a few flakes falling in the path. This changed into a heavy snow fall and we were not even at a very high altitude. We put on our raincoats. If this had been any other day, we would have enjoyed this weather, but not today. Everybody was thinking if it snowing at this altitude, what would the weather be at the “Thamsar Pass”. I was so scared that I didn’t even allow Sandeep to take any pictures. We just kept walking towards the village in silence.

As we were descending down, the whole trail became muddy. In the mean time the other group also joined. The faces our horse man Prem and Rinku were telling the complete story. Rinku also proposed an alternative plan. He told the other group’s guide that if the weather stays bad till tomorrow, then lets go together from “Bara Bhangal” village. This way, he said, it will be safe if we all are together.

Fortunately the snow fall stopped after couple of hours. We also got the first glimpse of Bara Bhangal village.

There was a small primary school and next to it a small helipad, where children were playing. Rinku told when he last visited Bara Bhangal during the trek, on the same day one of the Himachal ministers’ was there to inaugurate the electricity in the village.

We reached our campsite at 2.30 PM. It was a good Campsite on the bank of river Ravi.

The river itself originates from one of the glaciers above the Bara Bhangal village. We camped on the school grounds.

The weather also became clear and I could feel the warmth of sun. Sandeep and I went near the river to clean up. By the time we came back, Rinku prepared the “Pakora’s” and Hot Tea.

Kaushal and Prem decided to go to the village to bring some food for horses. Sandeep and I also went with them. But from the half way we decided to come back as we were feeling very tired and wanted to take some rest.
We came to our tent and took some rest. I was getting worried too much but Sandeep told me one good thing. He said “let’s not worry about those things which are not in our hand and take things as they come”. I totally agreed.

After sometime when Kaushal and Prem came back, Rinku served the dinner. Today, he prepared “Rajma-Chawal”. I think Rajma-Chawal is the staple diet of all Himachalis. Bara Bhangal is famous for its rajma fields. Rinku and Prem both bought the Bhangali Rajma from the village.
While having dinner, we all decided that lets wait for tomorrow morning and see how weather is and depending on that we will decide what is going to be our plan. If the weather was good, we had decided to stay at the village for another day.
We came back to our tent and tried to sleep.


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Wednesday, December 13, 2006

14-10-2006 [Bara Bhangal (~2500m) – Somewhere Near Thamsar Pass (~4200m) ] ~11hrs

This was the most extremely adventurous day of my life. I am thankful to God, because without His help, this day wouldn’t have ended like it did. I don’t think Sandeep or I will ever forget this day for the rest of our lives. Looking back, I am really happy that all of us safe sound, hearty about this day and here to write about the trek after all.

On the previous night, the weather turned bad again. It was raining in Bara Bhangal. The whole sky was overcast. When we woke up, we were both greeted by the sound of the rain lashing against our tent. Prem brought tea to our tent that means our guide wants us to wake up early.

Our guides Kaushal, Rinku and we both [ Sandeep and I ] decided to not only skip the rest day but also to attempt to cross the Thamsar Pass on the same day [skipping the Camp site Murh].

I got really worried from within my heart. Are we going to make it not …I asked this question so many times because the pass is at nearly 4800m. So we have to directly go from 2500m to 4800m and then down again to a decent camp site. Although we were very well acclimatized after the Kaliheni pass, still the thought gave me the creeps.

It was indeed a very bold decision. Trusting our strength and will power, we started for the big day at around 7.00 AM.

It was an extremely steep climb to Murh. Murh itself is a campsite that is about 5 hours from Bara Bhangal. On the way to Murh, we found some pug marks on the snow. Rinku told it might be some dog’s pug marks. We were walking on boulders and rocks and this climb continued for the next 4 hrs. The rain did not stop all this while. Just as we neared Murh after about 4 hrs, it started snowing heavily and there was a complete white out within few mins. A whiteout means, heavy snow, mist, and the visibility became less than 10 feet. Sandeep forcefully took some photos.

There were signs of a snow blizzard as well. Rinku, who was walking with us, was totally tensed. He tried not to show it and kept on encouraging us, but still we couldn’t miss the tension in his voice. We were beginning to tire as well. The snow, now was almost 2 feet in depth.
Sandeep meanwhile was happily clicking away. I was thinking whether we would be alive to see those photos or not. Rinku asked Sandeep to wear the Sun glassed and asked to continuously look around instead of concentrating on one point as I was wearing my power glasses. This is because if you are walking in the snow for a log time without wearing sun glasses then there might chance for snow blindness. In the snow, it was becoming difficult to find the trail. We were both following Rinku’s foot prints. Rinku also told us to move our legs and hands so that there is a good amount of blood flow to our limbs. Sandeep was now beginning to worry about frost bite as well. After sometime our horses crossed us. Suddenly our speed reduced as a total fatigue set in. We had been walking for God knows how many hours and it seemed like eternity before we reach the pass and get down from it. We were tired, hungry, dehydrated, numb, cold, and the altitude was taking its toll on us. We still had to cross the pass, which was no where in site.

We reached Murh at 1PM we were very much tired because of the climb. We had tried to walk at a faster pace than normal, but the conditions were very difficult. And our destination was not Murh; we still had to cross the pass. We also saw a black dog there. This was a Tibetan breed which most of the Gaddis have. Any other time, it would have looked ferocious, not today. After sometime we forgot about the dog as it ran away from us. We took a break for 10minutes, had chocolates and dry fruits and started again for the Thamsar Pass.

Suddenly Sandeep and I got some energy. We both remembered God and started again. As we neared the pass, we realized that the snow fall was indeed very heavy. The snow here was about of 3 feet and it was extremely difficult walking on this snow. The trail to pass was covered in the snow as well. Since the horses had already moved ahead of us, we were following their hoof marks or whatever was left of them in the heavy snow.

This was our first experience of trekking in snow. When Sandeep is following me while walking, then I have a habit of saying “Sandeep neet ya” every five minutes. But today I knew that if I speak more then required then I am going to lose my energy. So instead of saying loudly “Sandeep neet ya”, I was just mumbling it in my mind.

I couldn’t help wondering, how every body becomes selfish after reaching total moribund state.
Rinku,meanwhile was trying to motivate us regularly. I was still not sure whether we would be able to make it or not. We were feeling very thirsty but there was no sign of water only ice every where. Everything was against us, the altitude, and the snow but thank God, as the wind was taking some rest. We were progressing slowly. My energy level and will power started decreasing. After sometime we reached to that point from where the pass was visible. It seemed to be near, but I knew that reaching to the pass would take lot of time. It was still a few kilometers away. The distances in the mountains are really misleading. The destination seems to be very near or very far, but it is always the other way round. At this time I was totally fatigued. With every step I was thinking of God. But I was unable to move after a point. The distance just seemed incredible. Rinku told me not to look at the mountains ahead us. He said, just put your head down, count the steps and move ahead. I crossed one such stretch and but after that I stopped. Then Rinku gave me his hand for help but Sandeep became angry and asked to climb without his help.

The snow seemed to be getting thicker and thicker. Each step was so difficult which I can’t explain now. It seemed that there was kilograms of lead tied to our feet. We lost all the strength and our legs were unable to move. While walking, our legs used to go deep inside the snow hence it was really difficult to move ahead and along with that the altitude was taking our exams.
After a while, we were able to see our horses near the pass. At the pass, the horses were not able move; they were standing in one position. Kaushal and Prem were trying to make path in the snow for them.

This time even Sandeep was totally tired. He started saying that he was unable to move his fingers. Rinku told him to bang both his fists together. We must have been around 100 – 150 meters from the pass and then both of us gave up. Our will power and strength both were gone. We couldn’t move single inch. Now we understood, what “giving up” means. Rinku helped Sandeep and Kaushal helped me to cross last 50mts. And that’s it. We were standing on top of the Thamsar Pass.

I was crying with happiness. But the part which both of us didn’t like was we gave up for the last 50 mts.

Back home, when Sandeep and I used to talk, Sandeep always used to say that while crossing the mountain one requires two things one is strength and other one is will power. He is strong believer that when your strength is gone, will power is gone too. But I used say; one can climb the mountains with the help of will power alone. Even when your strength has gone, will power will take you to the summit. Today was the day when we saw that strength and will power, both are gone and the only thing that kept us moving was faith.
So we added an additional item to strength and will power. For climbing mountains, you require not just Strength and Will Power. You require an immense amount of Faith as well which is probably the most important of the three.

We were so tired that we couldn't walk till the next campsite. It was also getting dark. It was then all of us decided that we would have to camp in snow around 400-500m below the pass. We all huddled together in one tent. Rinku and Prem made some hot tea by melting the snow and using it as water.

Both Sandeep and I were tired and cold and ready to sleep. We had walked for about 11 hrs today in snow and both Rinku and Kaushal were doing their best to keep our spirits up. Also we were a little worried about frost bite as our hands and feet were all numb due to cold. As we huddled in the tent, we thought the worries were over. But it did not still end here. In the night the wind was blowing mightily and suddenly one of our tent poles broke. The snow started coming inside the tent but finally we managed to conquer the horrible night. Obviously, none of us could sleep properly that night.

During the night, Kaushal and Prem told us that from Murh till the Pass they had followed the pug marks of one dog that was moving ahead of them. Then we thought it was the same dog, whose pug marks we saw while starting from Bara Bhangal early morning. Everyone was saying that God has sent this Dog to help us. If the pug marks of the Dog would have not been there, if would have been really difficult for us to find the trail in such a heavy snow. After few days coming from the trek, I was reading one book called “Higher Then Everest” by M.S.Kohli, and this book also mentions that if you see a dog moving in the same direction ahead of you, it is supposed to be a good omen.


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Tuesday, December 12, 2006

15-10-2006: [Below Thamsar (~4200m) – Plachak( ~2700m)] ~6hrs

We got up a little late than usual. In fact, we hadn’t slept all that well and it was quite crowded in the tent.

We had to reach Plachak today. There was no question of breakfast as there was no water. The horses too were weary and hungry. We were still walking on snow. But soon was came below snow line and could see trees and greenery. Our guide couldn't stopped himself singing "Dukh ke din beete re bhaiyya ab sukh ayo re". We descended on snow for about the initial 2 hrs. The weather was now very clear and we wondered why would the weather have to be bad only for that one single day. The rest of the descent was negotiating the moraine and scree.

We also had to cross the Thamsar nullah using a natural snow bridge. This was quite exciting. We were walking in pine, juniper and birch forest now. We were both secretly happy to see a lot of green instead of the lot of white.

Our camp was to be in a Forest Rest House there, which was empty at this time of the year. Rinku made “halwa” tonight to celebrate our successful Thamsar crossing. We also had fire after a seemingly long time.


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