Saturday, March 5, 2011

Drifter's Cognizance

The strange thing about nature is its unexpectedness. From huge mountains to deep valleys to wide thrusting rivers. It's a mix of all the possibilities and impossibilities only how you see it.
There was this man who said, "You can never understand nature unless you've been there to see it, touch it, and be a part of the whole conspiracy". I agree.

There is always an initial sudden shot of adrenaline before we start anything. Same happened with us too as we started from Delhi straight 14 hours drive to Rampur, call it our transit station which is in district Shimla surrounded by pine forests, lush green spots that make u feel great especially at those spots which have been tormented by the sudden bumpiness of the road. Lot of clean fresh air so you can stretch up your lungs a bit.
We didn't stop and quickly started for the next point, Kinnaur district. It took us two buses and five hours after which we reached Kafnu. Kinnaur has remote tracts. Actually it's got more wildernesses to it. It's not densely populated with trees but there is fair amount of it. The principal river of Kinnaur is Sutlej. This river becomes huge at times of precipitation and specially during summers because of glaciations and this on full blows cuts through valleys and mountains to the richer plains. There is big hydropower project called Jay Pee hydel project in Wangtoo Karcham region of Satluj. This Government says would help the local people in their earnings with 1000-MW power generation which I think has its consequences in the longer run because in order to make dams and to accommodate those big mean machines, forests are being cut, mountains being drilled to succumb to small spaces leading to weathering of rocks due to precipitation, winds and then ultimately landslides. Governments have been ignoring this and in the light of some benefits are destroying original treks of the country. People are happy because their remote areas are now accessible but in longer run this could cause a lot of troubles with the influx of more tourists. Development has its vices. People exploit the local culture and traditions and everything becomes commercial at your door steps.

After reaching Kafnu we had tea and looked for a porter. We talked to the locals about trek, potters and hydropower project. We booked a room and slept off early for the trek next morning. So it was project Bhaba Pass next morning. This is nature's gift, with its green roof of conifers, small grassy meadows, rivers, streams; rock caves basically everything a guy would fall for. This trek drastically changes as one moves up. There is moraine land which is full of huge rocks which tells about the past glacial period which is followed by Ice capped mountains at pass and finally rain shadow cold desert area. After crossing it one reaches pin valley region in spiti region of Lahaul & Spiti district. We started very late at 8:30 Am. At first we were just moving through ups and downs crossing small streams and breath taking cedars. For 2 hours it all went smooth and soon I was panting because of lack of preparations. I am living a sedentary lifestyle. I was starting to feel hungry as we didn't have anything since morning. We stopped finally and had Bread Mayonnaise. I swear it was the best food till date with my jaw dropping and drooling. We soon started again and had some good climb. At around 5:30 in the evening we reached Mulling. We could see plain grass lands and I was on cloud nine seeing good patch of land (walking). It was drizzling and we hid ourselves under a big rock. We crossed the filthiest "ocean of dung" and soon I was beginning to discover sense of hallucination and soon I was numb. I felt I could move for another zillion of Kms. before settling down (Adrenaline rush). Two of our friends were ahead making way and we were following. And then came that moment, moment of being lost.

There was a sudden fogginess in weather and it's blanket thickened with every passing second. We were soon in the arms of terror. We followed the trail which suddenly disappeared and there was grassland. We shouted and shouted but our voices disappeared somewhere in the blanket. We tried looking for foot trails but it lead to the top of mountain. It couldn't be the way, I decided. We started to roll our sleeves in the still drizzle to look for a shelter. We somehow knew that red horn devils on his way. We ran back to the last point where we were all together and soon we were all wet. We could see a slanting rock which could be our shelter for the night. We literally threw our bags and rolled up our sleeves, changed our clothes before dark and hid ourselves under the rock. We had multiple problems in front of us. First of all we only had bread since morning and we didn't have any food stock with us (only few candies), secondly we didn't have fire and it was all wet. Last but not the least it was still raining and there was this glacier right in front of our so called cave and it was starting to freeze with only one Sleeping bag.

I was thinking about the show "Man Vs Wild". I and my friend lit cigarettes exchanged vows that we shall survive this night. We opened the zipper of our sleeping bag, our friend and wear it literally over us. Our bottom surface was still wet and uncovered. Few hours passed as we started to feel warm and we dozed off, our heads on a log of wood which we used as a pillow. My eyes suddenly opened up around 1 AM to find out cold waves coming from glacier and my teeth chattering in cold. I held my breath and tried controlling my breath. The drops of rain were constantly dripping on my forehead. My friend was building confidence.
Few more hours and we heard a growling sound outside the cave. This area has Bears. We just sank into unseen fear and possibilities. We only had a torch for our rescue. We knew it for sure that Bears have poor eyesight and hearing. For minutes we didn't even speak a word. An hour passed in that moment of dread. We closed our eyes and after an hour we could hear chirpings. We knew it was morning. We could clearly see white glacier shining. I was so damn happy. Well we came out of our cave and packed up everything. We decided to wait till 8 if there is a rescue party or our friends coming. We waited and saw group of men with mules and some stretcher sort of a thing were heading towards us. We thought it was rescue operation for us. My friend went close to them only to find out neither it was rescue party nor they had stretcher. They were simply crossing the valley, the same trek we were following. They told us that they met our lost friends last day and they were searching us. We thought we should go along with them. We asked them to wait but they just vanished in air. We weren't quick to catch them considering we didn't have any food last day and we were tired. We waited for some more time and my friend suggested we should go back as we had to be on either side before dusk. I thought of waiting for some more time but we had to make a decision. So we started backwards. I was constantly involved in talking with myself so that I don't lose my sanity. We again crossed through the same track, this time it was more like a pain, although I was thinking about the beauty and it did help me. We went up and down and at one point we rested.

Then we heard the sound of whistle. At first we thought it was daydreaming or some bird. We heard some whistles last night and it was nothing but local birds. But it deepened and I took out my binocular only to find it was our porter. The moment of happiness came back. He had glucose pack. We had some glucose and again started for the place they were. Climbing this time was like mother of toil. I gave my rucksack to the porter. We with lot of difficulties reached the spot. It was like 2 Kms. from the spot we got lost. We couldn't have found it. The place is called Khara. I just threw my bag and sat there. There was fire and I was shivering. We had some rice. I was so hungry but could not eat much. Soon we came to know that our kerosene was short. We thought of having raw food. I was very tired and wanted to rest. It was a difficult climb afterwards and we thought of numerous ways to finish this trek.

After half n hour discussing with our porter, we mutually thought of ending it. It was heartbreaking but real. It seemed mad but a wise decision. We thought of saving a day and started moving back. We just walked after that. I fell down at least 20 times and got some bruises. But it wasn't the time to stop. In few hours around 6:30 PM we reached our campsite near Bhaba river. We made a nice tent and collected lot of wood. It was cedar forest so we got shelter from drizzling. Locals say that it's only after 3 days of continuous rain that water starts dripping from the cedar forest. We made maggi and soup. It was great to have fire around which was keeping us warm. The food tasted like heaven. We sat there for a long.. long time and had some rum & cigarettes.

It was so relaxing. After some time we went to sleep as we had to get up early morning. In morning we got up at 5:30 after a pleasant sleep and started trekking back. In 3 hours we reached Kafnu. We had missed our bus to Reckong Peo. We thought instead of wasting a day in Kafnu, we can take a cab till Wangtoo and then take a bus to Peo. This has close proximity to Indo Tibetan border so one would see Buddhist culture and lot of ITBP deployment here. The whole township has a backdrop of pristine snow capped mountains and hillsides are dense with woods, fruit orchards, picturesque villages. The place is good with lot of natural surroundings and the food is uhhh good (momos, Chinese food). In evening we strolled across the town for some fresh air and some good food. At night we had a great chat where we backslapped each other and had some Rum (our Buddha Sadhu). So after resting here one night when we literally perished into our beds, we started for Tabo, which is in Spiti region. So again got up at 5.30. Trek to the station. Bus took around 9 hrs. In between everything changed from green fertile land to rain shadow area. Big huge mountains but not even a single patch of grass as if someone has shaven it head to toe. The mountains are so majestic and beautiful that I wished to go on top and just sit there idle. There are big nimbi which shift their positions but never rain. The shadows on top of mountains give great contrast for the photographers. In my case it was my eyes, with all GB's of memory. Halts in between for food and smoke.

We reached Tabo @ 3280 Metres around 4 PM and took a room. The rooms are very cheaper and comfortable in these areas where a room is @ 400-500 for three people plus the hospitability part. After freshening up, we went to see Tabo monastery. It has various collections of ancient pictures on walls with Lord Buddha, his life and his way to salvation (Mahaparinirvana). These ancient pictures also have other Buddhist Gods. It is also about Bodhisattva or a person who in the way of enlightenment forgoes nirvana to save others. Made up of wood and mud, walls are ancient 996 AD and is declared a World heritage site by UNESCO. There is a museum which has a historical influence of Buddhism on India and how it spread from Tibet-Laddakh-Kashmir-Himachal Pradesh-Uttar Pradesh-Madhya Pradesh-Maharastra-Orissa-Nepal-Sri Lanka-Burma. Famous pictures of movements along with Dalai Lama talks about the history of this region and the harmony attached with it. Outside there are shops which serve Israeli, Greek, and famous European cuisines as lot of backpackers come here to this part of India which is serene, calm and relaxing. But we had the worst filter coffee in lifetime @ 40 bucks per coffee. If you are interested in collecting souvenirs then there is a great shop just in front of the monastery where one can get jewellery, rare stones, carvings, masks, other Buddhist musical instruments, bone carvings etc. After this we strolled to the mountain just in front where there is old temple and some mud caves. This scene was exhilarating. We had good north Indian food and felt good. Although my legs were paining as hell.

We slept well. Early morning we got up and took a taxi till Kaza which is like a middle point, if you are visiting Kye and Kibber. We booked a taxi from Kaza which is like 2 hours drive from Tabo and regional headquarters and would take us to Kye-Kibber and finally drop at Chandratal. Although it was huge on our budgets but it was worth spending. Kibber is highest village in Asia at 4270 mts. It has a monastery (Kye) and sanctuary located 6 KM from Kaza. It lies in narrow valley on summit of limestone rocks. Houses are made up of mud, brick & it's an organized place with school, dispensary, post office and community TV set for village. There is a traditional route from Kibber to Laddakh by Parangla trek which is supposed to be quite adventurous and full of unseen troubles. Kye monastery is at 13500 fts and largest in this valley. It is conical in shape. This has ancient structure and from inside dark passages and narrow staircases which lead into prayer rooms. After visiting Kye-Kibber we started for Chandratal which was around 5 hrs journey. We packed ourselves with cameras and vroom we go. We hit off the road with the wilderness of Spiti. It was all Buddhist influence. One of the least populated regions of India. There are several places like Morang, Lossar that came in between. Lossar is the first village from Manali towards Kunzum Pass. There are white washed mud houses. There are good hospitable people. There is a small gompa in the village and flags all over the place. Local dances and cultures can be experienced here. Also for Chandratal trek taxis can be collected from here. There was a truck accident which took place few kilometres after Lossar and the road broke due to high speed water running from glaciers. We somehow managed to get our taxi out of the pool of water with all our strength. We could only go till Kunzum Pass due to bad weather and road block. Kunzum Pass is at 4590 mts and one of the coldest places I have been. Due to high altitude people often face mountain sickness.
At 4 pm we decided to trek towards Chandratal. Although we were late but we had our hopes and tent just in case of emergency. We started trekking. At first it felt all well because we had already acclimatized, but after2 hrs and difficult climbing we were all tired. At 6.30 pm I was starting to feel nervous as sun was settling down. I had fallen 10 times and one time my ankle with leg twisted. I thought of calling for help but I was fine. May be it was my muscles which had got accustomed to accidents. There were irregular tracts, huge rocks and streams which had more water now. Without further delay, we just wanted to reach ASAP. After 4 hrs of constant trek we finally reached Chandratal at 8 pm. It was damn cold with the cold breeze from the glaciers and big moon right there at top. We opened bags and started making tents. Although our hands and minds were fatigued but somehow we had to do it. The winds were so fast that our tent broke. Somehow with the help of rope we fixed it and we went to have food. It was a relief. There was a dhaba. I had full thali and we right away went to sleep. Next morning we got up at 4.30. Got fresh had Tea and went to trek back to a place called Batal. The bus was supposed to reach at around 10 am for Manali. This time we took a different route. By road we reached there at 9 am. There were two big streams on our way. After reaching Batal we came to know that the road in between is still broken and big vehicles can't pass that. We were too frustrated. We had tea and omelette (relief). There was this Dhaba called Chandra Dhaba with a local aunty who runs it from June-September after which it freezes and they move to Kullu. There were all sorts of people mostly foreigners from different places of the world. They provided accommodation too. We saw some biker's gang. It was good. I was basking in the sun like an amphibian after hibernation period. After 4hrs at 3 pm after we were nearing towards losing all hopes and staying there we got a small truck which would drop us at Gramphoo a small village on Manali-Leh road, 51 Kms from Batal. We were quite sure that if not a bus we would get some truck, car which would drop us at Manali. We didn't want to waste single day. We were damn tired. As we started from Batal and said bye to aunty and others we had our bums in air most of the times and hitting floor of the truck's back because of the poor road. The roads were like loose rocks placed on ground. After torturing ourselves at 6 pm we reached Gramphoo. Looking at highway we were damn happy. We sang songs and laughed at ourselves most of the time. The vegetation also changed from Dry to Forests as we reached Gramphoo.

We waited there and no such luck. After minutes of waiting rain started and now we had two things in mind. Taking lift/looking for a shelter. We waved hands but nobody stopped. It was getting dark and then came a truck. Truck had cement. He asked us to keep our bags at back and sit in front. He started with a joint and then the next. I was alert. What if this guy throws us in the middle/ Kill us/ drops truck off some cliff. It was very scary coz there was zero visibility due to fog and precipitation for 2 hours or so at Rohtang pass. Every second was thrilling. We lit up cigarettes and waited. The truck being driven at 5 Kmph. and horrible selection of songs. He drove very well and on the lower mountain weather cleared and finally we reached Manali at 11:30 PM.

Sigh of relief and we had Punjabi food after 7days. I was really happy. We looked for a bus to Delhi and there was a bus around 12.30 AM. We slept off in the bus and our eyes were closed during most of this journey. Though it was bumpy road, though it was humid, though we were travelling continuously for 19 hrs, it was worth taking the bus coz we knew there is an end to every journey and there would be a comfortable bed waiting for us to jump, hug swim and slumber into it. After everything that happened now I think I understand nature a step further than before. There is a whole long road to pass before I could just fly off the mountains like some superhero. And I wait for that kind of a day

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