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Abhinav Garg is a 4th year Undergraduate pursuing a B.Tech in Aerospace Engineering.
I haven’t always been keen on going for treks. In a short laundry list of excuses, I would cite waking up early in the morning, slippery rocks, snakes and thieves lurking around the corner in the wilderness as reasons not to go. You can see that I can get paranoid about safety, but finally, with final year and graduation sentiments flying around, my good friend Naveen convinced (read – persistently hammered home the point that this will be our last trip for a long time) me to sign up for a trek in Himachal that was being offered by the Youth Hostels Association. I looked at the trek pictures, and realised this could really be something. Plus, I couldn’t remember the last time I had been away from the hustle and bustle of a city for a longish period, and embraced myself for something entirely new.
Fast forward to two months later, and it’s finally seven of us who are headed for the trek. We catch the Rajdhani to Delhi (with 5 minutes to spare, no kidding), and thereafter a state transport bus from ISBT Kashmiri Gate. On reaching Delhi, we also managed to check “Stay in a shady hotel room” from our list, and have developed a decent sense of caution when browsing through hotel booking apps in the future. The bus journey was overnight, with a stop at a dhaba for dinner, and light rains along the way. The view outside kept getting better with the distance – with houses on mountains twinkling like stars in the background, and cold air flush in my face. I didn’t sleep much on the bus trip, splitting time between books and gazing outside, and already, felt glad that I was here. Who knew what other wonders awaited as we climbed further up.
We snaked around the Beas river, and come morning, after a tea stop, reached our base camp between Kullu and Manali – called 15 miles. All bus operators know about it, although it’s not in the list of their stops. We reach there, sign in, and are given a list of rules including curfew time (6 p.m.), a lights-out time (10 p.m.), and the morning call (5:30 a.m., though the lights always came on at 4:45 a.m. – someone’s watch was broken). Batches from two different treks were hosted there – Chandrakhani pass and Hampta circular, and we were there for the latter. Word of advice – don’t overpack. I did, and it was totally useless. You’ll probably bathe once or twice during your acclimatisation, and not even once during the next 6 days of the trek. The water’s freezing already, and in the higher camps they only have toilets. You should be good with basic medicines, 4 sets of clothes, rain coat/sheet, utensils, and toiletries. There’s some more stuff, and you can find a detailed list online.
The first two days involve some basic hikes in the nearby regions, just to get your body up to speed. The food is really good – and you’ll be tired so you’ll surprise yourself by how much you’ll hog. There are campfires at night – not actual campfires, but symbolic ones, since YHA does not burn wood in the basecamp. I didn’t go out of my way to meet everyone there, and we kind of stayed to our group, but I’d advise meet as many people as you can. I remember meeting someone really old — who had done his first trek around 1986 I think — and he probably was still fitter than the whole bunch of us. There were corporate sloggers who were looking for a much needed break, students from colleges , retirees, school teachers, photographers – the whole shebang. I did meet some of them — 3 awesome Punjabi teachers stand out, they were incredibly fun — and I think that’ll probably be the second best take-away for me apart from the trek itself.
Once we were ready, we packed our rucksacks, and headed up in a bus. The walks were tiring, but I can’t remember the last time I felt as fresh. Conifers, the sky, mountains, so many new animals and flowers – I was hooked. With each rising base camp, the trek got trickier — more treacherous terrain, illness (some people hypoxia due to altitude, cold) — but nothing too serious. We spotted patches of snow along the way, and were left longing to head to the snow capped mountains in the breath-taking background. In the higher camps, they warned us about bears, and foxes, and were very strict with not venturing far and staying in our tents without fail in the night. All of this fills you with immense awe and respect for nature, and the whole experience is something that a lot of us city folk need at least once, and if possible many times, in our lives.
The most difficult part was the final leg – climb to the peak called Deotibba. It was a local maxima (sorry, bad joke?), but had us climbing on fours at times. All through the approach, you cannot see what’s on the other side, but the moment you hit the top, it makes the whole trek even more worth its while. There’s a far more beautiful valley on the other side, and you can only view it once there.
So that’s there! I’m glad I caved into peer pressure and came for this trek. It taught me of how much more there is to see, and I’m more than happy getting addicted to it. I hope more insti-folk partake in this experience (which reminds me – I did run into insti junta while there. Small world!) There was a lot to learn, and a lot to see, and I’m sure there’s a good deal more. But this was, in itself, surreal.