Sunday, July 6, 2014

Chanderkhani Pass - The call of the Mountains Part - 2 : Getting acclimatize at base camp.

Day 1 – Seobagh base camp reporting

I was awake by 6 am after catching some sleep in our bus. We were yet to reach Kullu. The view of gorgeous valleys with Beas river flowing through it and magnificent mountains was enough to take the breath away. I had seen these breathtaking views in pictures, movies and TV but was my first real life experience. The narrow roads cut through the mountains and deep valleys were also scary enough. One slip or mistake by the bus driver and we would be easily down few hundred feet with really no chance of survival.

We reached Kullu bus stand around 7 am. It was summer month but still felt the shiver from cold breeze. Our base camp was around 4 kms from Kullu and had to go by another local bus. Luckily the bus was standing and empty for us to dump our luggage and ourselves. It was joy ride of around 15-20 minutes giving us glimpse of kullu villages and life in the mountains. Beas river flowing majestically parallel to the road. Bus dropped us just outside our camp.

Seobagh camp site was in midst of flurry of activities. Tents put up on a huge ground on both sides. One side for ladies and other side for gents. Reporting camp was just inside the compound where we completed our formalities of registration. We were allotted our tents with 12 people in each tent. Instructions of do’s and don’t started flowing in moment we stepped in base camp. Some of our group members wanted to do river rafting on first day which is a no activities day but it turned out to be dampener for them as one of lady camp leader informed once you are registered, you will need to follow the rules of the book and first among them was no river rafting !!!! hahaha

We were to strictly follow the rules till we were in the base camp and also when we leave for higher camps and on trek. First taste of military discipline. We participated a see off for one of the batch who had completed 3 days of acclimatization. Wished them luck for successful trek.  Excited that 4th day we would be the ones to walk through such see off.  

Breakfast was ready, tea with bread butter, bread jam, idli sambhar and only “one egg”.  First day was rest day where in we were told of what essentials are required on trek and if we didn't have that. We could do some last minute purchase and come back to base camp by 6.30pm.  Hints of unprecedented snow on higher camps this year and that its been raining since last one week with Kullu climate cold enough that we Mumbaikers experience in prime winter months was enough to dampen the spirit. 

Shiv joined us at base camp while we also met few other group members notable among them were Hari, Mayur, Partho, Dharmesh, Parvesh, Laksh.  Our Group was called CP -17 (Chanderkhani Pass – 17). Introducing and making new friends from different parts of India was unique experience and trekking is perfect place for it. Nanabhai Sir advised that we start getting acclimatize from today itself and suggested we walk to nearby town of Naggar. Everyone happily agreed not knowing that the town was 15kms away. Walking on the road we got the first glimpse of snow peaked mountains. 

My first raw look at snow peaked mountains was enough to make me spellbound.  Narrow ascending road with small village huts with locals in their traditional attire passing by was all mesmerizing.  Everything for me was like love at first sight !!!

As we walked on the road, we came across a small patch of land with sort of poppy stems standing tall. What is this !! First thought was it’s marijuana but then Ajay and Nanabhai Sir were quick to correct that its Onion seeds pod. But Ajay also pointed to small plants on the side of the road which was Marijuana. No wonder Himachal is so famous for it. It grows on roadside without much efforts !! 

We got glimpse of some exotic bird species on the way as well. One of them was Yellow billed blue Magpie, I wanted to say "that's a pretty big name baby" only if could !!!

yellow billed blue Magpie

Parakeet's flight
It must have been a walk of around 3 hours or more when we checked with a local as to how far was Naggar and reply was enough to surprise all. It was around 12kms away that means we had just walked 3kms in 3 hrs … that's it ! We decided to take a bus to Naggar and enough of walking. Standing at corner of a road of what seems to be a bus stand with few locals giving us company. Noticed a glow in the warm smiles of these gentle (Pahadi) people. Simplicity flowed in abundance here like flowing water of Beas river. 

We reached Naggar junction by bus which took around 45 minutes. From  junction it’s a steep up hill climb on tar road to Naggar castle. Naggar is an ancient town on left bank of Beas river and provides amazing view of the mountains with small houses on its slope on right side of the river. It was former capital of Kullu. Famous for its wooden castle, Nicholas Roerich art gallery and few temples which has unique architecture and carvings. On the way to the castle there is this temple called Gauri Shankar temple dedicated to lord Shiva. The architecture and carvings of the temple are charming and quite unique. The temple is protected monument.

As we moved towards the castle, we came across two more temples which had intricate and delicate carvings on the wood.  The temples depicted the Himalayan architecture. The first glance of the Naggar castle is feast to the eye and enough to make one fall in love. The intricate wooden carved walls, windows, doors were truly magnificent. The castle has been converted into heritage hotel with restaurants serving unique Himachali cuisine. The restaurant over looks Kullu valley and provides spectacular view. 

From here Nanabhai Sir and his gang decided to go to Manali for some shopping while Shiv, Ajay, Shreya and me decided to walk back to base camp. But not before we had awesome lunch of Himachali Pulao and Khiru (type of kadhi).It had started to drizzle while we walked towards Kullu.  The pleasure of getting wet in rains is enjoyable only in Mumbai whereas the rains in Kullu was cold enough to make one shiver in no time. I didn't want to take chances with 10 days more to go and was quickly wore my new poncho. We got the bus for Kullu but it took a different route and not the one for our base camp. The route was longer than we expected and bus dropped us near a bridge over Beas river from where it was 3 kms walk to base camp.  It seems that we were getting trained for worst. Walking amidst drizzle and cold wind, we were the only four souls on most part of the road. Reaching base camp I moved in to get some warmth inside the tent. Nothing much to do we waited for others to come back.  Flurry of activities continued outside the tent. Evening tea was followed by dinner. It was now time for camp fire and introductions. Some earlier group members performed and group which successfully completed the trek were handed out certificates. They provided insights of life in higher camps which was more discouraging then encouraging given the rough climatic conditions and fresh snow fall in higher regions. Teja ka gang had also reached in the evening.  Teja was a surprise of the day as she turned out to be sweet, slim girl calling everyone Sir than a muscular guy with his gang !!!!!. 

The camp lights went off at sharp 10pm and no one was in mood to stay awake and sneaked in their respective blankets. It seemed like I was only one given sleeping bag while the rest were not so lucky.

Day 2 – Acclimatize walk day

Rains had continued in the night. Morning call was at 5.30am with one of the camp assistant carrying tea kettle. First instance that I remember in long time when I had tea without brushing. After morning chores it was time for morning exercise but due to overnight rains and wet ground it was shifted to dining area tent. With more people and space constraint people were standing rather than participating in stretching exercise. It was time for see off for another batch who were moving out to higher camp amidst wet day. Not a ideal way but nevertheless we were there to cheer them off with YHAI style clapping of hands and wishing them luck.

It was time for breakfast now. My 2nd day with YHAI breakfast and I was in love with it. They make a complete wholesome meal full of proteins and carbs required for the trek. Also something hot to eat in the morning in the cold climate of Kullu was always welcome. Not to forget the hot chai !!  Only thing I dreaded the most was to wash the tiffin and mug in the cold waters. Water seemed more like piercing needle. I decided I will not take bath again today.

It was day of acclimatize walk where we pack our bags with as much things as possible and walk up the mountain path with our guide. Announcement came as a surprise for many as there were rumors of walk being cancelled, earlier batch had rock climbing and rappelling session which was cancelled.  Not many were prepared and with instructions flowing in from all sides somehow everyone managed to come in line. Hilarious part was that we did counting of the group couple of times because of some one reaching after the count or someone missing the count. With Nanabhai Sir getting possessed with his professor spirit, His energy and pitch of his voice reaching a zenith to make everyone fall in line and follow discipline. This continued till we had completed the trek… Hahahaha

The walk was uphill walk on the nearby mountains. Rains had stopped but sun failed to shine which was casting doubt on minds of everyone on how would the climate be when we reach higher camps. Hoping for good and prayers in mind we continued with our march. We were all huffing and puffing as we climbed to the top. Our destination was at school compound. We could barely manage to climb while these villagers staying on higher level, for them it must be daily routine or may be more in a day. Lychee juice was distributed to us to get re-energized. 

On the way down we moved to a waterfall site. We were told to only enjoy from far and not enter in it but none wanted to in such cold falling water. After lunch we had our orientation round with field director who instructed us on things to come in higher camp and the dreaded climatic conditions. It was more like we were going for a war and not a trek !!!!

Sun god came out brightly in 2nd half of that day. Back in the tent whole round of drying session started with clothes, socks, shoes, ponchos jostling to occupy space under sunlight. Some of the group members decided to go to Kullu market to do some more last minute shopping after hearing experiences of previous batches and Chinese whispers floating in the base camp about difficulties that one may face in the snow. I stayed in the camp and mustered courage to take a quick bath in the cold water. This was first time I had taken bath after I left my house and trust me it was wonderful feeling though I had to gather all my courage to pour cold water on my body.

Base camp continued with flurry of activities with people from later batch kept reporting and batch leaving next day depositing their luggage and other stuffs. One area of the camp worth mentioning was the charging point area which had people connecting numerous extension cable and adaptors to charge their mobiles. I also pitched in to charge my camera battery for one last time though I had one extra charged ones for any eventualities. I also got my mobile charged as this is only place where you get the opportunity, Higher camps have no electricity.
Evening dinners was followed by camp fire where some people performed by singing songs or making a dance moves. Cheered by their respective groups which had become one big family.  The batch who completed their trek recounted their horror and valour stories with teary eyes. Ajay and me looked at each other with no hopes, Boy !!! Our turn to leave for higher camp is just a day away. News of few more people coming back without completing the trek was also talk of the town in the evening. Shiv was least tensed lot as he wanted to experience snow storm saying when will we get chance to see one !!! Thoughts rolled in my mind, Experience we may but we can only narrate that incident if we come out alive !!!!!!  

Day 3 – Rappelling and rock climbing day.

Our day again started with bed tea at 5.30am. Sun god continued its good run of shining brightly from yesterday. Our guide also wanted us to make most of clear morning and made us run few kms on the road and back.  It was followed by bending and stretching exercise which would help us in higher camps. It was turning out to be a tough day. Reaching the camp we did a see off for one more batch who left for higher camp and came closer to that day when it would be our turn. It was going to be tomorrow.

A quick breakfast and we were off to rappelling session. Again it was climb up the nearby hill. Instructions were given of how it works and how it will help us. This session is important for us to overcome the fear of heights. It was a fun session with everyone wanted to get a picture clicked while coming down and for few there were moments of anxiety when legs slipped, ropes got twisted but our guides were doing great job as our mentors. With pounding hearts and claps of cheers we all competed our turn. It was now back to base camp for lunch and then it would be rock climbing session. But come afternoon and Sun god decided to take rest of the day off. It started to drizzle and our rock climbing session was called off.

waiting for rappelling to complete
Afternoon was spend in doing balancing act of what essentials to carry and what not to carry. Clear instruction was given to us to only carry 5kg which was to include inner layer given to us. Now this itself weighed 1kg. I had newly purchased camera which I was to carry and it weighed another 2kg so where is the space for jackets,  clothes, woolens ……. Finally I decided I will manage with my woolens and pair of clothes but will skip carrying inner layer. It was time to deposit our extra luggage and my bag was just not willing to shed weight !!! What do I remove

With some tips and tricks somehow managed to convince camp leader to accept the weight of my bag even though he kept asking me to remove something which was in excess. All set and done my bag was finally ready with my camera. With free mind, We wiled away our time for one last time in Seobagh camp that evening. After dinner we had camp fire but  we didn't have any certificate distribution that evening as CP -11 batch couldn't complete the trek and were send back due to bad weather from Nagroni camp. Another gloomy news was three of our group members had decided not to continue further due to various reasons so our group strength was down by 3.  

Before any negative thoughts sneak into my mind I decided to sneak into the sleeping bag and was off to sleep in no time.  

(contd : Part 3 )

Chanderkhani Pass - The call of the Mountains Part 1

It’s Day 8 and chilly wind is blowing outside the tent. Its middle of the night and time on the watch shows 2.30 am. Just didn't want to leave the warmth provided by blanket and sleeping bag !!!!. The whistle blew and it was the morning call for the bed tea. I had to get up as it was not only most important day of our trek but was also very important day in my trekking journey so far. I had done trekking in Sahyadri Mountains in Western Ghats and this was my first journey in our great Himalayas. Today’s successful climb would be feather in my trekking cap. We would be reaching height of 12600 feet at Chanderkhani pass located in Malana region. Nestled in two beautiful and mighty ranges of Pir Panjal and Dhauladhar. Today we had to climb another 2800 feet, walk in the snow, reach the highest point and then climb down to last camp of Nauya Tapru with estimated walk of 14 kms.

Taking a deep breath, I moved out of my sleeping bag, peeped out of the tent, camp was lit by moonlight with all my group members busy with their morning chores. Hot tea, morning chores sans bath (it was 9th day without bath, not that I don't like to but didn't have the guts to take a bath in such climate, none of 43 members of the group had done it), followed by breakfast and packed lunch (Lunch was frooti, chikki, sakkarpare). Everyone then gathered outside the tent, stood in the line wearing multiple layers of clothes which were still not enough to protect us from cold and chilly breeze, listening to group leaders sermon’s (instructions) before moving ahead.

Also we had one more planned event to do before moving, Celebrate B'day. Yes, It was also her birthday today, She is Maya. She had come all the way from Hyderabad, all alone and standing at Nagroni camp (10000 feet above sea level) with her backpack at 5 am in bone chilling cold morning to cross Chanderkhani pass on her birthday. What a feat to accomplish!!!!  

Manjusha Madam arranged for a small piece of cake, Lit candle, everyone sang and wished Maya a very happy and delightful birthday!! …........ So much for now, She will come more often later in the blog…

Finally all set and ready, Like the Hitler army offering salute “Heil Hitler”, We saluted our camp leader, cooks, guides and finally chanting Ganpati Bappa Morya, We started our march to cross Chanderkhani Pass……. …It was 5 am in the morning and we were told we are late !!!

As I write my blog, everything is flashing in front of my eyes. It was “the moment” we all had come here for. What a day that was 19th May 2014. For this day the preparation had started 3 months back. BBM group created, list of essentials shared, trek essentials purchased, bus and train booking done and then that infinite wait for the day when we started our journey….. This was by far the most memorable trek and most memorable journey I have done in my life.

Getting Ready for the Himalayan adventure: 4 years back I was bitten with bug of trekking. I must have done number of treks in Sahyadris but Himalayas was distant dream. A year back I got my YHAI registration done but didn't enroll for any trek as I felt a company would be good rather than going alone. Then one day got a call from Ajay – Let’s do Himalayas this time !!!. And without even thinking twice registered on pre- decided date.  It was “Call of the Mountains”. I remember doing google on Chanderkhani much later after I had registered for it. Registration was followed by phones call and exchange of emails to office management to approve my leaves, I realized my convincing power than !!!

Our group included Ajay, Shreya, Nanabhai, Shiv and me. Shiv joining us from Delhi while rest would be starting from Mumbai. I was told by Ajay that our group was just a splinter group as there were larger group of all BHMS students of Nanabhai Sir joining us directly at base camp. All in all we were almost 35 out of 50 people for YHAI batch starting on 10th May !!

We even created a BBM group for daily discussions among us apart from preparing list of trek essentials. This was followed by number of visits to Decathlon and Nandu’s and Avi industries to purchase things, We had 73 items listed in our trek essentials and longest discussion and hunt happened for none other than kurmura, 

I and Ajay had developed liking for wheat puff (wheat kurmura) and wanted  it as our train companion on our 30 hrs journey but after lot of hunting settled for corn puff !!!!.Not to forget the railway booking on IRCTC website. The railway booking was major achievement among other things though we didn't get full confirmed booking even though we were hooked to the website on the day the two months window was open and at 8am on Sunday morning. Our tickets were confirmed much later credit of which should go to Shreya for praying daily to IRCTC god as she didn't want to go on RAC ticket !! . Bus tickets on HRTC was easily available, In fact the day I booked bus ticket, all seats were available for me to choose from !!!  HRTC must be happy to see the booking of bus two months in advance.

After all this, it was endless wait for one and half months, with each one reminding daily that it was one day less. I remember having lost complete interest in my office work in last week before our journey day. One of the days in between I and Shiv even purchased a DSLR with Ajay doing dual work of instigating us to buy DSLR with no personal benefit and also providing us with his expertise.Remembering all these events make me laugh but the adrenaline rush before the trek was so high. We didn't want to miss anything and our single minded focus was to make this trek a memorable one.

Start of our journey and trip to Chandigarh:  May 10th finally arrived. We were all backpacked and ready in the morning. Shreya and Nanabhai Sir reached Bandra station to board Paschim express an hour early. Ajay’s excitement was more than anyone else, He went all the way from Borivali to Bandra to board the train even though the train would have halted at Borivali station. His excuse was the train stops only for 2 minutes at Borivali.  Hell !!!!  Half of the train gets filled with people boarding from Borivali. I decided to board from Borivali which gave me another hour more for my last minute packing, thought would sleep for some more time but the excitement was such that I was awake at 5.30 am on that day. Our train was late by 30 minutes. This specially happens with me when I am super excited about something and that something never falls on time.

We were joined by Dr Shukla and his daughter Reem who even though had done booking at last minute had got the seats in the same compartment so now our group was bigger.  Reem was quietest of the lot, sitting in one corner, listening to songs, not interacting much with us. Dr Shukla kept assuring us that she will gel with us once she is comfortable. Now how do you make school girl comfy !!!!!!  We were bluntly refused every time we tried to involve her in some conversation or offered her something to eat. We were like aliens to her !!!

In the train Ajay developed an uncanny interest of taking note of all rivers and rivulets passing by and getting down at all stations where the train stopped to click pictures. He was doing live blogging and keeping his followers updated on his journey. Nanabhai Sir with his numerous years of trekking kept us engrossed in his stories. Our train journey was of 30 hours. I lost count of how many chai we had in our journey while Ajay lost his interest in noting the name of rivers and rivulets but he continued with clicking pictures of all stations. Not sure if he did that also in middle of night. I was off to sleep after Dr Shukla and me had sumptuous dinner meal which was ordered on TravelKhana and was delivered at Ratlam station. Morning again was not much to do in train, we just wiled away time. We reached Chandigarh around 3pm. Jeevan one of fellow trekker whom Ajay and Nanabhai Sir had met in previous trek with YHAI had travelled 200kms from his hometown just to receive us and be with us till we were in Chandigarh. I was truly amazed with his humbleness and hospitality. 

Our first stop was bus-stand luggage room in sector 17 where we dumped our luggage. One thing worth mentioning was fruit juice kiosk. Half glass of any milkshake is enough for any Mumbaite to get a loud burp and full glass is unthinkable from my standard. We settled for half glass of milkshake which was worth all the money.  

Moving on we did rickshaw ride passing through important landmarks in Chandigarh like Rose gardens, Leisure valley. I was in awe with the cleanliness and green cover. Chandigarh is regarded as one of the best cities in India with its planned urban development, wide and well maintained roads. With limited time that we had in our hand we only decided to see one of the main landmark – Rock garden and then if time permits get a sneak peek of Sukhna lake close by. The climate was very pleasant even in month of May partly because it had rained last night so we didn't feel the pinch of summer heat.

Rock garden was truly magnificent sculpture garden spread in area of 40 acres. Built completely with industrial and home waste and throw away items.  Truly amazed at scraps of bottle, bangles, titles, ceramics, electrical waste turned into sculptures and beautification objects. 

Equally amazed was story of how its founder Nek chand secretly started collecting waste and turned into a magnificent wonder.  

Also of interest is that Nek chand’s work has been recognized world wide and today USA owns largest collection of Chand’s work outside Chandigarh.

We didn't have much time but still decided to visit Sukhna lake. It’s again prominent tourist attraction. It seemed like half of Chandigarh had come with their families. Nevertheless we sat on the promenade on the banks of lake for sometime admiring the place. Now it was time to collect our luggage from sector 17 bus stand and move to sector 43 bus stand from where we were to move to Kullu. Rick shaw ride that we did in Chandigarh gave us glimpse of city life and its attractions. This short visit to the city was like a recce for us and would surely help us for more planned visit to the city in future.

Jeevan was still with us till the bus stand and only left after we had settled in our bus. Not budging to our request to go home as he had to travel back 200 kms and it was already 10 pm. Truly moved by his humble nature. We had dinner at the bus stand while Dr Manjusha and her friends and few of Nanabhai’s student also joined us. So our group was now a bigger lot with one more splinter group called Teja ka group joining us next day directly at base camp. Bidding adieu to Chandigarh and thanking Jeevan enough for all he had done for us we started our overnight bus journey to Kullu.  

Tomorrow will be our reporting at Seobagh base camp – Kullu.