Momentary Meets to Lifetime Memories

The noisy bunch of over-enthusiastic friends from Poland that we kept bumping into at every tea house, quite a botheration they were! The huge group of nearly 50 people we crossed twice on the way and had to step aside to let them pass. The warm smiles of the two Japanese girls we often found sitting around the bends taking a tea break, every time we eyed their beautiful flasks. The two German men we ran into every now and then until they decided to introduce themselves, leading to small conversations each time we met. The petite Chinese girl who was perennially rushing but never missed talking to us – in her own language while we replied in English, we communicated without understanding. The two Korean girls with whom we shared a room at the base camp, who spoke English enabling some interesting conversations.

These are some of the people from different parts of the world we met during our ABC Trek, last year in October. I clearly remember so many of those faces, some leaving impressions deeper than the others. I wonder how all those people may be coping with the Covid-19 situation. I wonder if everything is fine with them. There is no way I will ever know.

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Pic 1: When we arrived at our destination.

A big aspect of travel for me has always been the people I get to meet and connect with. Of the several people I met during the ABC Trek, the following need special mention.

Trekker Daddy

“Does that look like a baby carrier basket?”, I asked my sister. Curiosity had me striding a little faster. The basket looked fancy and the man carrying it, dressed in typical trekker attire. So, wouldn’t be a local. It was the second day of our Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek and we were climbing through one of the steeper sections of the trail when I saw this man several feet ahead of us. As I drew closer, my doubts gave way to confirmation. It was indeed a baby carrier! The man was carrying his 3-year old daughter as he trudged towards the mighty eight-thousander. He was with his wife and three children aged, 12, 7, and 3. The family had traveled all the way from Shanghai.

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Pic 2: Trekker Daddy with his little girl. I clicked this picture with his due permission.

Trekking with a 3-year old in the uncertainties of the Himalayas is no mean feat. Things like Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), sudden weather changes, are for real. Well, I am sure they would have thought through all of that and were well prepared. They did, however, gather quite a bit of attention all the way. Every other trekker seemed to be talking about them and as one would expect everyone had some opinion or the other. While some hailed them for being brave others thought they were being irresponsible. I was too stunned to have any opinion. We met the family at several junctions during the trek and each time I envied the fun they were having and all the memories they were creating together.

Septuagenarian Trekkers

“Age is an issue of mind over matter. If you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.” The septuagenarian trekkers reiterated Mark Twain. Janette and Joe caught our attention on the trail one day. The cute couple was sitting on a rock and taking a break while munching on chocolates. Later, we caught up with them at the two tea houses where we stayed together. They were well into their 70s, had come all the way from the USA, and were trekking in the high altitude of the Himalayas for the very first time. Their agility, enthusiasm, and zest for life was infectious. They could easily give all youngsters a run for their money.

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Pic 3: With Janette and Joe at the ABC Base Camp Tea House

Then we met John, who was also from the USA and was traveling with his wife (a septuagenarian too) along with a group of family and friends. John proudly announced that he was “Seventy plus Four years old”. People like John, Janette, and Joe are astoundingly inspirational. They go on to prove that trekking and hiking has a lot to do with mental strength, which is just as important as physical strength.

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Pic 4: With John, somewhere on the trail. (Note: Do not judge the bag in my hand, it is a disposable garbage bag and not plastic.)

When I interacted with these elderly people, I couldn’t help but think about my parents, especially my father who belongs to the same age group. I am certain they would have loved to do something like this, but it’s simply inconceivable for them. In fact, I haven’t seen many Indians in that age group trekking or hiking.

However, one thing I know for sure – if I am to live up to a 70 and beyond, I’d better be someone like Janette!

Amar – Our Little Genie From Nepal

It was nearly dinner time and we were all set to hit the streets once again. We couldn’t wait to explore all the restaurants and cafes that we had seen earlier. If you have been to Pokhara, in Nepal, you will know exactly what I mean. As we stepped out of our room, I heard my sister say, “I miss Amar!”. Amar had dropped us at Pokhara that afternoon and left for Kathmandu. We had really gotten used to Amar and this statement was repeated multiple times in overt and covert ways over the next 2-3 days, till we left Nepal.

Missing Amar happened out of blue this morning, once again. We wondered if all was okay with him and his family during this global Covid 19 pandemic. We googled to find out how Nepal was coping with the pandemic. Amar’s phone didn’t connect. So, we left a message in his boss’ mobile, who got back letting us know all was good and Amar had left for his village before the outbreak.

Amar Gurung was our trek guide, who guided our Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek last year in October.

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Pic 1: A selfie somewhere on the way.

ABC Trek has a well-marked trail and the risks of losing your way or getting stranded somewhere with no help is minimal. The tea houses along the way make it even easier as you don’t need to put up in tents. This trek can be easily done by yourself and you don’t need a guide. Also, trekking in Nepal is very organized and the experience is very different from treks in India.

However, I chose to go with a guide for two primary reasons – First and foremost having a local guide means you are exposed to the local culture through fascinating stories and folklore, which you otherwise never get to know. Second, is related to logistics as the guide helps carry the backpack and you can trek with a smaller day bag; takes care of tea house bookings, which can be tough during peak seasons. Also, it’s a way of contributing to the local economy.

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Pic 2: Somewhere in the lush green forests on the way.

There are numerous trekking agencies in Nepal and selecting the right one can be quite a task. I decided to go with Nepal Alternative Treks & Expeditions (P.)Ltd, a trekking agency recommended by fellow blogger, Indranil Chatterjee – do check out his blog Break Shackles. In fact, I did no research and did not even try to look for other options. The reason being, Indranil had trekked ABC the year before along with his 8-year old daughter. His posts fascinated me as trekking with your child in the uncertainties of the Himalayas is no mean feat. Hence, I looked no further. My job became easier.

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Pic 3: Posing with the the graceful, majestic, and divine Annapurna range.

Through Indranil, I connected with Tej Bahadur and planned my trip. When Tej introduced us to Amar in Kathmandu, we were pleasantly surprised as he looked too polished to be a trek leader. His attire and appearance gave the impression of a regular office-goer than a trek guide. Well, looks can be deceiving and that’s what was happening. Amar was like our little genie, taking care of us and always fulfilling our wishes and desires. Amar’s unparallel hospitality often left us feeling uncomfortable, we aren’t always used to someone being at our disposal. At every step he treated us like his personal guests.

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Pic 4: A tea break somewhere along the way.

A perfect gentleman, Amar holds a Post Graduate degree in Mathematics from Kathmandu University. He was planning to start working on his PhD soon. That first appearance wasn’t all that deceiving, you see! Amar belongs to the mountains and trekking runs in his genes. It was because of Amar that our ABC Trek experience became so much more enriched and memorable.

And, it is because of Amar that if/when I go trekking in Nepal again, it will be through Nepal Alternative Treks & Expeditions (P.)Ltd.

Mt. Annapurna – Up Close and Personal

Contd. from Annapurna – The Journey Begins

There had been no more rains since last evening and clear blue skies greeted us in the morning. The Sun was shining up in the mountain tops but was yet to reach the valley, where Bamboo, our tea house, was located. As a result, it was cold at Bamboo.

Through the Bamboo Forest

After breakfast, we started off for the day. The walk through the forest continued. This time, it was a dense and damp forest dominated by Bamboo trees. The Bamboo Forest was even more beautiful and enigmatic than the forest we had walked the day before. Not surprising, I found myself completely lost in a world of my own.

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Pic 1: The enchanting Bamboo Forest

The trees and shrubs, the bushes and creepers, the roots and leaves all seemed to be interacting with me as though telling me unknown tales of their mysterious wonderland. Each and every leaf exuded radiance, shimmering in the morning freshness. The renewed sparkle can be well attributed to the rains that had happened the day before. “Don’t they seem to have just stepped out of a beauty parlour, massaged and manicured with some essential oils,” I remarked. My sister gave me a scornful look, rolled her eyes, and walked on.

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Pic 2: Somewhere in the Bamboo forest

Dovan to Himalaya

Enjoying every bit of the walk we leisurely reached Dovan, the next tea house where clear views of Macharepuchare peak greeted us. We took 2.5 hours instead of the expected 1.5 hour to get here. Thanks to our frequent stops in the forest to admire the flowers, caress tree trunks, marvel at the leaves of various shapes and sized, inspect the moss-covered boulders, etc. What’s the hurry! Somewhere we even crossed a stream through a rickety broken bridge.

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Pic 3: Precariously crossing the rickety bridge over a stream.

The forest continued beyond Dovan and soon we hit upon a relatively wide footpath that can be well described as the rustic version of a cobblestone pathway. At the start of the pathway a notice was displayed with clear information about maintaining the sanctity of the place as a highly revered temple lay ahead in the forest. Soon, we landed at the temple. It was a Shiva and Parvati temple. A tall jagged mountain stood behind the temple adorned by a cascading waterfall that spread across the breadth of the mountain.

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Pic 4: The rustic version of a cobblestone pathway

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Pic 5: The notice displayed on a tree about a kilometer before the temple.

Beyond the temple was a steep set of stairs that continued all the way almost upto Himalaya, the next tea house. The stairs were well defined at the beginning only to be replaced by rustic boulders later. At Himalaya, we took a tea break. Dark clouds filled in the sky and it started drizzling. We slipped into our rain jackets and continued walking.

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Pic 6: The Shiva-Parvati temple with a waterfall cascading on the mountain behind it.

Gray Langurs at Hinku Cave

The climb continued after Himalaya but the forest started slowly thinning out. Multiple waterfalls strewn here and there from the mountain tops drained vertically down into Modi Khola that thundered somewhere in the deep gorges. In some places the trail was very narrow and we had to be cautious with our footing. In all such ascends, I would mostly be alone as my sister walked slowly way behind with Amar, our guide.

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Pic 7: The bunch of Gray Langurs at Hinku Cave

After sometime, a short but very steep climb got us face-to-face with a huge overhanging rock. This was Hinku Cave. All over this huge rock, were a large number of Gray Langurs – young and old, babies and families. We paused for a while to watch the over-energetic playful bunch hopping around before continuing our walk towards Deurali.

Surrounded by Waterfalls at Deurali

Soon we spotted the tiny blue tinned roofs of the tea houses in the far distance. Finally, Deorali was in sight though it was still quite a walk away. Simultaneously, Modi Khola made its grand appearance gushing away in leaps and bounds through the gorge. After a while we crossed a bridge and yet another set of steep stairs stared at us that would take us up to Deurali – our stop for the day at 3230 m.

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Pic 8: When we first saw the Himalayan Sunflower just before Deurali

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Pic 9: Crossing over Modi Khola just before arriving at Deurali.

We reached Deurali in the afternoon. The sun was shining bright when we arrived, but it lasted just for 10-15 min. No complaints, as it was enough to dry our partially wet clothes. There were several waterfalls all around us – in the valley in front and the tall mountain behind. We couldn’t enjoy the view for long as thick fog descended and progressively it got very cold. However, the evening sky was kind enough to put on a show of some gorgeous display of colours breaking the monotony of the drab foggy afternoon. A peak in the surrounding mountain resembled Lord Buddha’s face and we got to see that only the following morning, all thanks to the fog.

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Pic 10: Numerous waterfalls trickle from the mountains all around Deurali tea house. 

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Pic 11: The evening sky puts up a show of colours breaking the monotony of the drab foggy afternoon.

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Pic 12: The Information Board at Deurali looked good and was worthy of a picture.

Her Very Own Flower Garden

As we left Deurali, we stepped into a valley guarded by tall mountains on both sides. The morning was cold, and the sun was yet to reach the valley. We passed through few easy ascents and descents through the rugged trail with Macharepuchare staring at us from the right. The familiar fish-tail shape was missing and I could not recognize the peak until Amar pointed it out.

After a while a picturesque sight greeted us. The snow-clad Gangapurna made an appearance at the horizon glowing with the first rays of the sun even as the valley still remained in shadow.

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Pic 13: Gangapurna glows with the first rays of the sun while the valley is still in shadows.

Gradually, the valley opened up and we walked through a flat stretch of winding trail as Modi Khola gushed away right beside us. After the forest, I fell in love with this section of the trail. The entire area was carpeted with multitudes of unique flowering plants. The bushes on either side were sprinkled with yellows and purples and whites and reds. Every few steps we were compelled to halt, not just for admiring the colours but the shapes and structures of the flowers. This place felt like Mt. Annapurna’s personal patio, a place she personally nurtured. No other explanation seemed plausible enough to justify such divine beauty.   

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Face-to-Face with Macharepuchare

A relatively steep trail started soon after the flower garden. After about an hour or so, we reached the Macharepuchare Base Camp (MBC), at an elevation of 3,700 m. It was a bright and sunny day. The sky was azure blue but some frivolous floating clouds appeared from nowhere and decided to spoil the show. On one side was the pointed-tipped Macharepuchare and on the other side Annapurna South. The clouds flirted with the both the mountains leaving us high and dry with only occasional glimpses. After a cup of tea, we headed towards our final destination – ABC.

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Pic 15: A quick glimpse of Macharepuchare before the clouds came in.

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Pic 16: A glimpse of Annapurna South from MBC

Towards Annapurna Base Camp

As we started climbing up towards ABC, the floating clouds got thicker. The blue sky disappeared and everything around us was completely white-washed. A strong wind started blowing and it was getting really cold. Slowly and steadily we climbed up the winding pathway greeted by meadows, flowers, glacial streams. We could see only our immediate surroundings, the thick white blanket allowed no more.

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Pic 17: A herd of sheep laze around just as we started climbing towards ABC while the clouds start slowly moving in.

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Pic 18: Towards ABC while the surroundings are slowly and progressively whitewashed.

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Pic 19: Just before ABC, Annapurna-I and the tea houses are seen in the background. This was clicked when we were leaving, the weather was clear that day.

It was no different even an hour and half later when we arrived at Annapurna Base Camp. We could see nothing at all, which was disappointing to say the least. And, we all know how adamant clouds can be in the mountains when they arrive in the later half of the day. We made peace, oblivious of the miracle that would unfold a little while later.

Continue Reading In the Lap of Mother Divine.

Annapurna – The Journey Begins

In Anticipation of the Mother Divine…

The Magic of Annapurna

The grandeur of Annapurna Massif makes Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) trek one of the most sought after Himalayan treks. This moderate level trek entails a stunning journey bringing you face to face with the majestic Annapurna Massif in a very short span of time. The Annapurna massif includes the world’s 10th highest peak, Annapurna-I or Annapurna main. At 8091 m., the unforgiving Annapurna-I has the highest fatality ratio among the 8000 m. peaks across the world. It also holds the distinction of the first eight-thousander to have been scaled. The other peaks are in the range of 6000-7000 m. and consist of Annapurna II, Annapurna III, Annapurna South, Hiunchuli, Machhapuchchhre, Gangapurna, and a few others.

Among these, Machapuchare or the ‘Fish-tailed Mountain’ holds a special place because of its unique shape and exquisite beauty. It is believed to be one of the homes of Lord Shiva and is revered by the Nepali people. Also known as Matterhorn of Nepal, the sacred Machapuchare has not been officially summited as it is not permitted by the Nepal Government.

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Pic 1: The golden peaks of Annapurna-I at sunrise

My interest of trekking ABC finally culminated this October. I have already written a post on my soul-touching experience of the magnificent peaks at ABC. Click here to read.

Here’s a detailed account of my journey.

The Bumpy Jeep Ride to Nayapul

Tossed and turned and churned I tried my best to focus on the greenery all around me. Travelling on a bumpy off-road in the back seat of a Tata Sumo is not the most comfortable experience, if you know what I mean.

The bumpy muddy road did everything to make sure that a part of my attention remained on it even as my mind and heart was captivated by the surroundings. Winding roads snaking through tall green hills and deep valleys, clusters of tiny colourful houses nestled erratically on the green slopes, quaint tea houses intermittently scattered alongside the dusty road, sporadic areas of lush green pastures separating the road from the hills, terraced cultivation here and there up in the hill slopes, the meandering Modi Khola (Khola means river in Nepali) playfully appearing and disappearing, sudden gushing waterfalls cascading from nowhere making a noisy pool of water on the road before flowing off on the other side.

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Pic 2: Tall green hills, terraced fields, and clusters of village homes nestled here and there.

We were on our way from Pokhara to Nayapul, about 43 Km. away, to start our trek to ABC. The road from Pokhara is paved until Ulleri after which it’s just a dusty track that seems unfit for any vehicle. From Ulleri, one can take various routes to arrive at the village of Chomrong, beyond which the route is common upto ABC. The route is decided mostly based on the number of days one has at their disposal. The trek can take between 6-10 days on an average. After Ulleri, it is a common sight to find trekkers walking through the muddy stretch, lugging their small and big backpacks.

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Pic 3: A quaint village home, notice the beehive made from a tree trunk just below the roof.

Climb to Chomrong via Jhinu

It was a little past noon when we arrived at Nayapul. A quick lunch and we were set to hit the trail. Our destination for the day was the village of Chomrong, via Jhinudanda.

Initially we walked through a near level ground with only negligible ascent and descent. The trail passed through dense vegetation on either side with views of green mountains interspersed with terraced fields and village homes. Soon we reached New Bridge, beyond which is Jhinudanda – commonly called Jhinu. New Bridge is a metallic suspension bridge that runs for nearly a kilometer. I normally don’t suffer from vertigo but on this bridge I found myself feeling a little unsteady each time I looked down. The fact that it vibrated with the number of people walking on it didn’t make things any easier and I tried my best to cross over as fast as I could. On the other side of the bridge, a flight of stairs greeted us that took us to Jhinu.

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Pic 4: The metallic suspension bridge that was a little unnerving.

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Pic 5: A closer view of the same bridge, clicked from the other side.

We didn’t take a break at Jhinu and continued towards Chomrong, little knowing that the entire trail constituted of rustic stone steps. Soon after, my sister started complaining of indigestion and feeling unwell. We rested for a while, she took some medicines and we continued. My sister was very slow and I was finding it difficult to keep going at her pace.

Day-1 in any trek is usually tougher as the body is still getting used to the new situation, so this wasn’t totally unexpected. Our guide, Amar, was with her and hence I continued walking ahead. Very soon I was way ahead and couldn’t see them.

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Pic 6: The climb just starts with the steps from Jhinu to Chomrong.

After a while, dark clouds came in and it started drizzling. I had forgotten to keep my raincoat in my day-pack. It remained in my main bag, which was with Amar. The rains intensified. I tried to take shelter underneath a huge rock but the rains splashed me anyway. This rock was on a turning and I couldn’t see beyond. Realizing it was no point waiting, I decided to keep walking ahead. Just a few steps ahead, I could see a small restaurant. And, luckily enough that turned out to be the starting point of Chomrong village – our destination for the day at 2700 m. I waited here for Amar and my sister. By the time they arrived, the rains had stopped. We climbed a few more stairs and soon landed at the tea house that was booked for us.

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Pic 7: Annapurna Range as visible from the tea house at Chomrong.

The rains resumed in the evening and it continued pouring off and on. The snow peaked Annapurna Range remained shrouded by fleeting white clouds. As I went to bed that night, I thought to myself it would be a good idea to be up around midnight when the clouds would most likely clear up and the mountains would be visible. However, I slept through and when I woke up it was well past midnight. The first thing I did was to lift the window curtains and peek outside. And Ah! There it was – the glamorous snow laden peaks as though eagerly waiting to greet the dawn. I looked at my watch. It was 4.00 AM. I could easily distinguish the triangular Macharepuchare but wasn’t sure of the other peaks. It was not until breakfast that Amar helped identify the other peaks as Annapurna South, Hiunchuli, and Gangapurna.

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Pic 8: This is what we wake up to, from the window of our room. R-L: Macharepuchare, Gangapurna, Annapurna South

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Pic 9: Annapurna South from the terrace of the tea house. 

Into the Forest towards Bamboo

Our trek for the day started by climbing down a series of steps that seemed to continue forever. We learned it was a series of 2500 steps and along with that knowledge came the not-so-comforting thought that we would have to climb up the same on our way back. The entire ABC trail is like a roller coaster ride, all you do it go up and go down with only very few level walks. Somewhere we crossed the office of Annapurna Conservation Area Project where our permits were checked. Thereafter, we passed through trails overlooking terraced fields, crossed over another hanging suspension bridge over a deep valley, and climbed through some uneven rustic stone steps as we headed towards Tilche and then Sinuwa – Lower Sinuwa and Upper Sinuwa, the last village enroute ABC. Annapurna-III was visible from some places while Machapuchare kept us company all through.

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Pic 10: The smaller metallic suspension bridge beyond Chomrong towards Sinuwa.

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Pic 11: A closer view of the same bridge.

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Pic 12: Macharepuchare gives us company all along, providing the much needed motivation for the steep climbs.

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Pic 13: Finally Sinuwa is here.

After taking a break at Upper Sinuwa, we moved towards our last stop for the day, Bamboo. The trail started with a thick forest dominated by tall Oaks. There were Rhododendron, Bamboo, and few other trees as well.

Forest trails are my eternal favourites, where I always find my imagination running wild. The trees and the bushes seem invitingly mysterious as though dozens of invisible eyes are scrutinizing my every move. And, I walk along building my own fantasy world of fairies and witches. Sometimes I blend in and feel one with them, at other times I feel I am encroaching upon their secret and sacred territory. Complementing the overall forest charm was the gurgling sound of Modi Khola flowing alongside that could only be heard but not seen and the twittering birds, calling out occasionally in a variety of melodious tunes. All of these were interrupted by one large and several small waterfall.

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Pic 14: The amazing forest trail begins.

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Pic 15: A waterfall in the forest.

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Pic 16: The steep flight of stairs descending to Bamboo.

A steep descent for about 30 minutes, somewhere in the forest and we reached Bamboo at 2,145 m., after covering a distance of about 8 Km. from Chomrong. Almost immediately the rains started and we were thankful for arriving just in time.

Bamboo was bustling with trekkers it being peak season for ABC trek. We got to know there was no space for us, even the benches in the dining room were taken. Amar made a quick call to Dovan, the next tea house about an hour and a half away. That was fully occupied too. Amar recommended we have our lunch while he figures a way out. After waiting for close to 2 hours, Amar informed that he had finally managed a room, much to our relief. He had struck a deal with one of the tea house owners who agreed to give us his personal room. I have no idea where Amar or the tea house owner slept for the night. My repeated probing with Amar yielded no results.

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Pic 17: And we finally arrive at Bamboo.

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Pic 18: Ponchos and raincoats drying in the tea house add a dash of colour to the rainsoaked evening.

By dinner the rains had stopped and the skies were clear. As expected, we woke up to a bright and sunny day.

Continued here

In the Lap of Mother Divine

Just two more days to go and the discomfort in my body with the fever and its associated symptoms were still going strong. The frantic visits to the doctor, the dengue scare, concerns from friends and family were making me nervous and adding to my stress. On D-day, I just took the leap of faith, trusted the doctor’s words and went ahead with my flight to Nepal. I was still unwell and here I was off to Annapurna Base Camp, on a trek to see the mighty Annapurna massif constituting some of the most dangerous peaks in the world.

I made a deal with myself. I am not going to push myself, if my health doesn’t permit at any point of time, I would just retrace my path. At least I am getting to visit Nepal, a place I hadn’t been to before. And, most importantly I wasn’t alone, my sister was with me. With all that uncertainty, and the Nepal Airlines flight being delayed by 5 hours, we reached Kathmandu at 1.00 AM. And, with a bus to catch at 7 AM there was hardly any time to rest.

However, as my mom had predicted, by the time I boarded the bus for Pokhara I had forgotten that I was ill.

In the following days we walked through scenic villages experiencing the local culture, through deep green valleys, and dense and damp jungles with the various peaks of Annapurna playing hide and seek till we reached our destination – Annapurna Base Camp (ABC).

It was the time of Durga Puja, the most important festival time for Bengalis. Five days of festivities to celebrate the Goddess’ arrival on earth (her paternal home) along with her children. On the 3rd day of Puja – Mahasthami, considered to be the most important of the five days, we arrived at ABC. Ideally, I should have been home with my near and dear ones celebrating the Mother Divine. Yet, I was far away from home, in the lap of the Himalayas. However, I did celebrate Mother Divine in the form of Annapurna – the Goddess of Harvest, who is just another form of Ma Durga.

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Pic 1: Everything was whitewashed when we arrived at ABC.

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Pic 2: At the same place as as the previous pic on the next day

When we reached ABC, late in the afternoon, we could see nothing. Everything was whitewashed by a thick layer of fog that lay between us and the mountains. We knew the mountains were just behind the thick white curtain but we saw nothing at all.

Was there any chance of the cloud clearing later on? “No”, said our guide, “Not until tomorrow morning.” We made peace, had lunch and headed to the viewpoint nevertheless, which was just a 5 min walk from the tea house. It was quite cold and nothing was visible with the clouds still forming a barrier between us and the mountains. We walked around marveling at the various memory stones and plaques commemorating fatalities of the climbers.

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Pic 3: This is what we saw when we went to the viewpoint.

The mighty Annapurna massif has some of the most dangerous peaks in the world. Annapurna – I stands at an elevation of 8,091 m (26,545 ft) and is the 10th highest peak in the world. This unforgiving mountain also carries the legacy of the first eight-thousander peak to have been scaled.

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Pic 4: Our first view of Annapurna-1 around 5 PM when the clouds decided to gave way.

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Pic 5: Machhapuchchhre or Fish Tail mountain in the evening with Gangapurna peeking on the left.

I looked at my watch and it was a little after 4.30 PM. With the cold getting worse, there were only very few people at the viewpoint. My sister and I decided to sit quietly with our eyes closed for a while and then leave.

After 15-20 min., we opened our eyes and were stunned by what we saw. The clouds had moved, the sky was blue, and the 360 degree panoramic view had miraculously opened up. This was unbelievable. We hadn’t expected this at all. Dumbfounded, we found ourselves desperately looking all around – what if the clouds decided to come back!

The peaks around us constituted Annapurna-I, Annapurna South, Annapurna-III, Machhapuchchhre, Hiunchuli, Peak 10, Gangapurna. The view remained for a good 20 mins before the clouds started taking their positions once again. The mountains seemed so close that I felt I could touch them if I extended my arm.

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Pic 6: Annapurna South and a part of Annapurna-I, seen from the Tea House just before dawn.

At night, just after dinner, the sky was clear studded with millions of stars. The moon was bright with full moon just a few days away. The mountains glittered in the soft iridescent rays of the moon. The view was nothing but ethereal. Never had I seen such tall mountains from such close quarters lit up by the moonlight. It was one of those times when I missed having a camera. My mobile phone could not capture a thing.

We didn’t stay out for long though as it was extremely cold and we wanted to get to bed early in order to wake up early for sunrise on the mountain. Assured of having a great view the next morning with the sky being clear, we went off to a blissful sleep for the night.

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Pic 7: The molten gold peak of Annapurna-I at sunrise.

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Pic 8: The molten gold peak of Annapurna-South at sunrise.

Sunrise was just as gorgeous as I had expected. The peaks of Annapurna-I and Annapurna South looked like molten gold. It was magical. The Sun seemed to be waking up with utmost delight, putting up a show of painting the peaks for all the curious onlookers. The peaks seemed to be indulging the Sun like a mother reveling in her child’s playful activities. No words can do justice to the breathtaking view. The moment lasted for 6-7 mins and this was one of the most beautiful sights I have witnessed in my life so far.

All along I found myself profoundly thanking the majestic Annapurna for all the divinity I was experiencing.

Click here for a more detailed post on my experience of the ABC Trek.

Note: Pictures are unedited raw photos, clicked by iPhone 6.

How Difficult is Rupin Pass Trek?

And, how I prepared for it…

I was mesmerized by the mystical Himalayas when I had trekked there for the first time. At that time, my knowledge of trekking was limited to just a few blogs that I had read. I had very randomly signed up for the Kedarkantha trek and embarked upon it without any preparation. (Read more about my first trek here).

It was during Kedarkantha trek that I had heard about treks like Rupin, Roopkund, etc. from fellow trekkers who had been to those places. At that time, I had thought that such treks were way beyond my league.

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Upside down or downside up! Kedarkantha Trek

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Marching ahead! Kuari Pass Trek.

As time progressed and I went for two more subsequent treks to the Himalayas, I found my heart yearning to do something more challenging. Being an ardent nature lover, I reasoned – more the difficulty, more rewarding would be views!

It’s been one year since…

Subsequently, I nervously signed up for the Rupin Pass Trek with doubts filling my mind on whether I could do it. A seasoned trekker and a friend with 17 treks under his belt both in the Himalayas and the Alps always raved about the hypnotic charm of Rupin Valley. And, each time he maintained that Rupin Pass was a difficult one for him. Also, Indiahikes (an organization, with whom I have done all my Himalayan Treks so far) rates Rupin as their topmost trek.

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Remnants of an avalanche! Har ki Dun Trek

I had taken the plunge, but the jittery me started scavenging the Internet to gain a good understanding of the difficulty level. All the blogs gave vivid elaborations of the gorgeousness of this trail making me yearn for it even more. However, I could not find much insight into the level of difficulty.

Now that I have done the trek and done it well, I decided to write about the level of difficulty for the benefit of others.

Rupin Pass is graded as ‘moderate-difficult’. My personal experience is that the initial two days are moderate or easy even though you cover 10-11 Km. each day. You walk through winding dusty tracks with a few ascents and if it’s sunny make sure to cover yourself well and don’t miss your sunglasses or else you will end up with sunburns and headaches.

The next 4 days is a little challenging and it’s the terrain that makes it so. Some sections have steep ascents and steep descents which are sometimes through boulders and loose rocks or loose soil. There are precarious sections of walking on snow, some of which may have become hardened or even converted to ice.

And, just like any other Himalayan trek if the weather is good the trek becomes a lot easier and if rains or snows just that much difficult.

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I could live in a tent forever! Rupin Pass Trek

If I compare it with the other treks I had done till then, namely Kedarkantha, Kuari Pass, and Har-ki-Dun, I will definitely say this one is challenging. Those treks felt like child’s play before the Rupin Pass Trek.

This post is definitely not to dissuade you. You just need some amount of fitness and that is it. So, with the right preparation, it is absolutely doable. If I have done it and enjoyably so, anybody can do it.

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We were in great company! Rupin Pass Trek

Nervous as I was, I made sure I paid extra attention towards preparedness in terms of fitness. And, all of that paid off in the mountains, where I surprised myself by always being at the beginning of the team. Most of the time, I was leading – even during the much talked about ‘gully-climb’. All through the nine days, never for once was I exhausted and thoroughly enjoyed the stunning and divine Himalayan landscape.

A gist of the things I did…
  • Jogging 3-4 Km, five days a week and increasing that to 5 Km. a fortnight before the trek. Jogging is the best way to build cardiovascular endurance and get fit for a high altitude trek.
  • Continuing my usual Yoga routine four times a week but including squats and planks.
  • Doing Pranayama almost every day for 30 minutes, including breath retention as that increases lung capacity.
  • Taking the stairs whenever I could, which is something I anyway do – trek or no trek.
  • Walking as much as I could and whenever possible, again something I anyway do – trek or no trek.

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Stupendous views! Kashmir Great Lakes Trek.

I want to be ‘trek-ready’ always. With that intention, I have continued the above mentioned routine is a slightly customised way till today.

And subsequently, I went ahead and completed the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek too. However, Rupin was special and continues to be my personal favourite.

(Read more about my Rupin experience here)

A Serendipitous Trip to Gurudongmar Lake

My sister couldn’t contain her joy and even did a little dance in the back seat of the car where she was seated alone. I was occupying the front seat with our driver, Lalu. Her fervent and silent prayers had been answered. Lalu had just received a phone call that the road to Gurodongmer Lake had opened up.

Gurodongmer Lake was one of the main reasons I had planned our Sikkim trip. Situated at an altitude of 17,800 ft, Gurodongmer is one of the highest freshwater lakes in the world. It is considered sacred and is located in North Sikkim, just 5 Km. south of China border. Having experienced the divinity of another such high altitude holy lake, Chandrataal in Spiti Valley, I was keen on experiencing the same at Gurudongmar.

However, just a week before leaving for Sikkim I got to know that the road to Gurudongmar was closed. Usually it opens around March end but the heavy snowfall that happened this winter was responsible for this. I was upset but kept thinking that it may just open by the time we go. While I made peace and decided to be open to possibilities, my sister (my travel companion yet again) sent out silent prayers to the mountains to make it happen for us. And serendipity happened! The day we had Gurudongmar on our itinerary, the roads miraculously opened up.

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Pic 1: The frozen Gurudongmar Lake – As we saw it!

Legend About Gurudongmar

Gurudongmar Lake is named after Guru Padmasambhava or Guru Rinpoche, the founder of Tibetan Buddhism. Dongmar means ‘red face’, and the lake supposedly represents the angry side of Guru Padmasambhava. Apparently, Guru Padmasambhava visited this lake on his way from Tibet and had felt a divine reverence towards the place. The lake used to remain frozen for most part of the year and could not provide drinking water to the local people. They prayed to the Guru, who placed his hand on a part of the lake and ever since that part never freezes even in sub-zero temperatures. Gurudongmar Lake has been revered and respected since then. The Sikhs believe that Guru Nanak, the spiritual leader of Sikhism, had once passed by this lake when he had traveled to this part of India and had blessed it.

Our Visit

Nature conspired and things worked out according to our wish. We felt blessed. Not only did the road to the lake open up, we woke up to mountain peaks glowing in the morning sun – indications of a bright and sunny day. And, it was just that! The sky remained a clear blue throughout the day, something which never happened any other day during our stay at Sikkim.

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Pic 2: The glowing mountain peak as we saw it in the morning at Lachen. (PC: Madhuchanda Paul)

The lake is about 67 Km. from Lachen and the entire route is exquisitely gorgeous. We started from Lachen at about 5.00 AM. As the narrow bumpy road snaked up, the snow draped mountains started making their grandiose appearance and with every turn the mountains got bigger and prettier. I was busy gorging on the surreal surroundings when, Lalu called out that the temperature was 4 degrees. “No wonder I’m feeling so cold,” I said aloud to myself! At some places either side of the road wore a purple hue with a liberal dose of Primulas scattered all around.

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Pic 3: Primulas scattered on the way, giving a purple hue to the surroundings

Soon we were at Thangu, the last civilian inhabited village before the lake. Here we ran into a traffic jam as a vehicle had gotten stuck in the muddy road. We stepped out of the car. The sun shone sharp but the cold was sharper! We couldn’t stay out for long and had to get into the vehicle. After about an hour here, we continued our journey and arrived at the Giagong check post at 15000 Ft., 11 Km. before Gurudongmar Lake. The Army checked our permits and we continued to the final stretch where the dusty bumpy road gave way to sleek tarred road. On some stretches, there were heaps of snow on either side of the road, clearly indicating that the road had just been cleared.

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Pic 7: At a random turning, somewhere near Thangu

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Pic 8: On the way

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Pic 9: Just before approaching. Notice the desert-land

Just before the lake, the landscape changed dramatically to a barren desert land with patches of snow. Pretty soon we were close to our destination. The deep blue sky playfully provoked us and we decided to get off the car and walk the rest of the way. The thin air was apparent and every step seemed like a huge effort. We climbed a little hillock and there it was, silent and quiet right before our eyes.

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Pic 10: The prayer flags on one side of the lake.

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Pic 11: The part of the lake that never freezes.

I expected still blue waters, instead all I could see was a huge expanse of white – the lake was completely frozen. The frozen lake was nevertheless enchanting exuding a charm of its own. The part of the lake that does not freeze did have the azure blue water though. We walked around for a while. The temperature was -2 degree centigrade. The sun was blindingly bright, the skies were clear, and the wind was cold. The peace emanating within us is something that no words can explain. Numerous colourful prayer flags fluttered, as if sending messages of peace and calm to all the visitors. We sat down for a while exchanging no words taking in the glorious surroundings – the frozen lake with the rugged snow-covered mountains at it’s far end.

I found myself silently wondering if I wanted to come here again to feel the stillness of the unfrozen blue waters or if I wanted to keep this frozen view in my mind forever.

 

 

Seven Days of Paradise at Kashmir Great Lakes

“Agar firdous baroye zameen ast, hami asto, hami asto, hami asto!” – Amir-e-Khusru Dehluvi                    

[If there is paradise on earth, it’s here, it’s here, it’s here!]

Long walks through colourful flower-embroidered meadows punctuated by gorgeous alpine lakes; frequent hopping through boulders small and large; sporadic companionship of sheep and goat along with shepherds, and quite often migrating shepherd families; obtaining permits at the Army Camps; and all through being in a dream-like state of disbelieve spellbound by this heaven on Earth!

That’s how I would describe Kashmir Great Lake (KGL) in a nutshell.

Besides, it was quite thrilling to imagine being so close to Pakistan!

I have already written two posts on this trek – one on the lakes and another on the meadows. This one is a day-wise description. Here’s the links to the other two:

Day 1: Sindh River and Thajiwas Glacier at Shitkadi

Situated just a few kilometres ahead of Sonamarg, we arrived at Shitkadi after a drive of about 4 hrs from Srinagar. Shitkadi was our basecamp. The Sindh River and Thajiwas glacier amidst the lush green surroundings served as the perfect trailer to the gorgeous beauty that we could expect to unfold in the days to follow.

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Pic 1: Shitkadi campsite with Sindh River flowing by against the backdrop of Thajiwas glacier.

Day 2: Bhoj Trees on Way to Nichnai

Technically we started the trek on this day as we walked towards Nichnai, our first campsite. The initial few hours consisted of an arduous climb as we huffed and puffed towards a place called Tabletop. Being breathless is normal as we had just started walking and our bodies was just getting used to it. At Tabletop, we rested at a Dhaba run by a Kashmiri couple. The omelettes, tea, bread, biscuits, and munchies gave us the much needed energy to continue with our walk.

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Pic 2: As we proceed upwards away from Shitkadi

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Pic 3: Sheep grazing on lush green meadows, note the shepherd huts in the distance.

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Pic 4: A shepherd couple beside their hut at Tabletop

Through a lovely dense forest of Maple trees, we soon landed on a carpet of green lined with Bhoj Trees or Silver Birch. The bark of these trees were used by Rishi/Munis in ancient India for writing and that ensued excited chit-chatter in the group. I couldn’t resist the urge to carry back a tiny portion of the whitish brown bark to show folks back home.

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Pic 5: As we proceed towards the meadow lined with Bhoj Trees or Silver Birch.

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Pic 6: Just look at that! This was at Tabletop, hundreds of sheep dotting the green carpet.

We proceeded and walked precariously through a section of rocky terrain with Nichani Nalla gushing by as if in great hurry to join Sindh River. The rocky terrain gets abruptly replaced by a green meadow and after crossing that we reached Nichnai. It started pouring the moment we landed at Nichnai. Thanking our lucky stars, we rushed into our tents and remained there for the next one hour as the rains continued to splash.

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Pic 7: The rocky terrain alongside Nichnai Nalla, note the people blending into the surroundings.

Day -3: Vishansar – The First Lake

This was a very special day as we encountered the first lake of the trek – Vishansar. We started by crossing a nalla (stream) by hopping through stones and then walked  through a beautiful lavender meadow towards Nichnai Pass or Vishnusar Berry. At an altitude of 13,500 ft., Nichnai pass remains surrounded by jagged tall mountain peaks and the climb to it is not an easy one.

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Pic 8: The beautiful lavender meadow on way up towards Nichnai Pass.

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Pic 9: Just before the steep climb towards Nichnai Pass.

After a well-deserved rest, we descended from the pass through a tricky rocky terrain and landed onto stretches of grass with red flowers springing on our path. Thereafter, we encountered two more nallas, a big waterfall splashing down the mountain cliff, an utterly green meadow devoid of flowers and a certain stretch of heaven-touching barren tall mountains looking down upon us. It was the fag end of monsoon, so we didn’t see much snow, though snowfall would start off soon.

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Pic 10: At Nichnai Pass – silent conversations of sharing without talking bound by mutual feelings of divinity and grace. 

Just before arriving at the campsite, we crossed a rather wide nalla by hopping over stones. The campsite is situated on the base of a small hill, on the other side of which lies Vishansar Lake – my favourite lake of the trek.

Day 4: Colourful Meadows Make for a Pretty Day

This was the longest and prettiest day as we moved towards Gadsar Pass, the highest point of this trek at an altitude of 13,800 ft. We started off with a gradual ascent leaving behind Vishansar and went right up to Kishansar, which is the second lake of the trek.

After Kishansar the trail became very steep, challenging us both mentally and physically. The narrow muddy strip that we climbed for almost 2 hours to reach Gadsar Pass was very strenuous. Thankfully it was a sunny day, I can only imagine the scenario on a rainy day. The magnificent view of the twin lakes of Vishansar and Kishansar greeted us at the Pass, which instantaneously dissolved all pain of the arduous climb.

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Pic 11: Huffing and puffing through the narrow strip towards Gadsar Pass. Phew! It was tough.

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Pic 12: Just turn back and you have all the motivation to make through the arduous climb.

An equally steep descent through loose mud and scree followed. My descending demons started raising their ugly heads but this time I had made up my mind to tackle them head on. And I surprised myself by actually descending without any help and quite fast with a little bit of downhill running too!

We found ourselves at the meadows even before we knew it and in we were for a visual treat of red, blue, purple, and yellow, meadows. Every turn threw up a different colour and these multi-coloured meadows just continued one after the other for 2-3 hours. A fellow trekmate rightly commented – “I can imagine little girls walking ahead of us with  baskets of colourful flowers sprinkling them on our path.”

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Pic 13: The meadows to die for – pictures don’t do any justice as you can imagine

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Pic 14: Red, yellow, white, purple, and multi-coloured meadows, a different colour at every turn.

The meadows slowly give way as we crossed yet another nalla and landed at Gadsar Lake – another pristine and gorgeously elegant lake. I ranked it as my second favourite though many in our group thought Gadsar was the best lake. After spending a good amount of time at Gadsar, we continued our walk once again through the colourful meadows towards our campsite.

We arrived at the campsite just after crossing an Army campsite – the first one in the series of three along the trail.

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Pic 15: At Gadsar Campsite. Horses make their way home as the lights fade, at least 50 of them

Day 5: A Glimpse of Nanga Parbat

It was an adventurous start to the day when we had to take off our shoes and wade through knee deep ice cold waters of a gushing stream. This was followed by a very steep ascent. We were off from the normal route as the snow bridge that is used to cross the stream had broken. Nothing alarming as that’s not an unusual thing for this time of the year.

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Pic 16: Taking on the icecold waters and navigating underlying slippery stones

On this day, we walked through a never-ending lush green meadow that went on and on. There weren’t many flowers on this one but it was lined by variegated barren undulating mountains on one side and sheep grazing in huge numbers almost everywhere. Sheep and shepherd are common all along the trail but this one was special because the huge stretch of green meadow was literally dotted by these grazing fluffs of white balls.

Somewhere on the way, we  were lucky enough to catch a glimpse of Nanga Parbat even though the sky was not all that clear. Nanga Parbat is the ninth highest mountain in the world located in Pakistan, the visibility of which depends on the weather.

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Pic 17: The unending meadow dotted with clusters of grazing sheep was nothing but sheer delight. My phone camera was not equipped to capture Nanga Parbat that we saw somewhere here.

At the end of the meadow, we climbed a hill to report to Satsar Army Camp. After the Army Camp, we walked along with huge flocks of sheep and goat, maneuvering large boulders and reached Satsar Lakes. We were able to see three of the seven Satsars, one at each turn of the winding mountain trail.

That night the sky broke down into heavy showers that continued way into the morning nearly messing up our plan for the day but before that it rewarded us with a magical view of the Milkyway.

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Pic 18: The flocks of sheep and goat that walked alongside us at Satsar.

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Pic 19: At Satsar campsite. There was no Sun for the entire day yet a visual treat at dusk and then it poured through the night that continued way into the morning.

Day 6: A Risky Boulder Hopping

We almost thought we would have to stay back at Satsar campsite. It was 8.00 AM and the rains showed no respite. Heavy rains are no fun in the mountains especially when it continues incessantly. Around 9.15 AM, the Rain Gods showed some mercy and the showers lightened till it ceased altogether. We packed up and started moving around 10 AM, which was a good two hour delay from our planned time.

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Pic 20: The risky boulder hopping section, the picture doesn’t capture the magnitude of difficulty.

The highlight of this day was hopping through a boulder section that constituted large boulders, some of which had good enough gaps in between. This tricky boulder section lasted for a little over an hour and was an Adrenalin rush for everyone in my team but not me. The boulders were wet due to overnight rains and that didn’t make life any easier for us. My legs wavered and I was very scared. I literally clung on to our guide for the entire section and somehow made it through.

Boulder hopping is common in KGL trek but this one was risky. In fact, on 3 days of the trek we had a horse accompany us, which was the designated ambulance for any uncalled for situations of twisted ankles or fractured legs.

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Pic 21: The steep descent through sharp stones from Zajibal Pass demanded focus & concentration.

Beyond the boulder section, we maneuvered mild and steep ascends and arrived at Zajibal pass. Once again, we were swept off our feet by the glorious views of the twin lakes of Nandkhol and Gangabal against the backdrop of Harmukh Peak.

The descent from Zajibal Pass was very steep and stony demanding a lot of caution and focus. One misstep could result in serious injuries. As we descended, Nandkhol and Gangabal appeared closer and closer, but they were still far away. It took us another 2-3 hours to arrive at Gangabal first and Nandkhol after that.

Day 7: Descending Through Slippery Muddy Trails

This was supposed to be a rest day, however as a team we decided to not take the rest day and instead carry on towards Naranag. This was the last day of our KGL Trek.

Through steep and gradual ascends and descends, and passing though meadows, we arrived at the final Army Checkpost. Thereafter, we walked through a well-marked trail passing through traces of civilization, and arrived at the point where the final descent begins. This descent was literally back-breaking and a killer on the knees.

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Pic 22: Climbing down the steep trail that was slippery and muddy due to rains took a toll on our knees.

We had just started descending when the weather that was by our side all along decided to turn against us and it started raining quite heavily. No complaints as it was the last day and we didn’t have to bother about wet socks and muddy shoes. However, the difficulty we now encountered going down the muddy trail, is just anybody’s guess! The thick Pine forest all along could not do much to protect us from the rains. The descent seemed to take forever as we had to tread slowly and cautiously.

Drenched and tired with jittery knees we finally arrived at Naranag, which is a tiny little town separated from the forest by Wangath River, a tributary of Sindh River. With the trek coming to an end, we celebrated with a quick lunch, and drove off to Srinagar.

Note: Once again these are unedited pictures clicked through iPhone-6. For exclusive pictures of the lakes and meadows, look up the links provided at the beginning of this post.

My Very Personal Opinion on KGL

The KGL trek entails very long walks, it isn’t difficult but the long days of endless walks through meadows, boulders, and moraines does test your mental strength and perseverance. The breathtaking landscape keeps you engaged and does a great job of diverting your attention all through.

However, there exists predictability in the exquisitely beautiful surroundings that you encounter each day and this may sometimes lead to monotony. I felt this was the flipside of KGL, which is unlike all the other Himalayan treks I have done so far. This became more pronounced for me as I had been to Rupin Pass just three months back where there were surprises at every turn.

Take this as no discouragement though as I am quite certain there is no match for the awe-inspiring rustic vistas of KGL. And if you are a nature-lover like me, this trek is an absolute must do.

The Army Camps

Gadsar – This was a small Army Camp in the form of a hut, housing a handful of Army Men. Our National Flag fluttered proudly at one end. We had to provide our original identity proofs and the detail of everyone crossing the camp were checked and recorded. This also included questions on where we were traveling from, what job we did, etc.

Satsar – This camp was small also but was larger than Gadsar. It is situated on top of a hill, and quite a climb it was. When we arrived, a large crowd of migrating shepherds with their families were also waiting to cross over. Some groups were moving with their horses, there were about 40- 50 horses. Then there were others with their flock of sheep and goats and these were huge groups probably in hundreds. We learnt that the horsemen have to wait longer as each and every horse is checked thoroughly before being allowed to pass. It’s easier with sheep and goat as only their owners need to pass the security checks. It’s the common man who always ends up paying the price.

Before Naranag – This camp was larger and much closer to civilization. There wasn’t any detailed interrogation here. We just had to provide our identity proofs, no interrogations.

 

 

 

Precious Gems from Kashmir Himalayas

High altitude alpine lakes hidden well within the majestic mountains


Featured post on IndiBlogger, the biggest community of Indian Bloggers

I stood there staring at the Sindh River gushing away right next to our tents. Even a week before I didn’t know that I would be here. Life is uncertain and sometimes in a nice way, I thought to myself. We were at Shitkadi basecamp from where we would trek a good 75-80 Km. up to an altitude of 13,800 ft. in search of six beautiful alpine lakes hidden in the nooks and corners of the tall, jagged, and near barren Kashmir Himalayas.

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Pic 1: Sindh River at Shitkadi base camp

The Kashmir Great Lakes (KGL) trek happened to be one of those spontaneous and impulsive decisions that I sometimes undertake without much thought. This was nowhere in the radar, especially after having just done Rupin Pass in May. My rash and impulsive self, sprouting from acute impatience, sometimes turns out to be quite a boon. The thought of KGL occurred and in just five days, I found myself in an airplane towards Srinagar. The thought was, of course, fueled by certain other situations happening in my life.

These are things that make me believe that it’s the mountains who decide when, where, and how one sets foot on them.

To read about my experience of Rupin Pass, click here.

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Pic 2: A flock of sheep on the meadows at Shitkadi

KGL, labelled as moderate to difficult, is said to be the prettiest trek in India. And, it indeed was! Words are not enough to describe the pristine beauty of this Himalayan fairyland with stretches of meadows dotted with colourful flowers, tall mountains of various shades, blue/green  lakes nestled quietly here and there, wild horses lazing around, grazing sheep making the most of all the greens, twinkling streams that appear, disappear, and reappear, and so much more.

In this post, I will write about the lakes. The meadows and the rest will follow in another post.

[Note: I have shared pictures in another post, will share some more and this time with descriptions.]

Peace and Tranquillity at Vishansar Lake

It was Day-3 of the trek, when we encountered Vishansar Lake and it was the first lake of the trek. We had camped at the base of a hill, on the other side of which lay this lake. Vishansar, with its scintillating radiance glimmering in the soft afternoon sun stole my heart at the very first glance and remained my most favourite lake of the trek. It was late afternoon and at that hour the lake appeared a greenish blue with the Kishansar Peak standing tall across the quiet waters.

Situated at an elevation of 3710 m. Vishansar, also known as Vishusar, literally translates as the lake of Lord Vishnu. Fed by Kishansar Lake and many glaciers, it is the main source of Neelam River, which is a tributary of Jhelum River. The lake freezes during winter and is home to many fishes, including the Himalayan Brown Trout. At this time of the year, the month of September, it was surrounded by lush green meadows that provided the perfect pastures to flock of sheep and goat that pass by.

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Pic 3: The brilliant smoothly sparkling waters of Vishansar Lake stole my heart in an instant

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Pic 4: Lucky are those Sheep that can graze on such perfect pastures. Pic Credit: Mohit Pandey

We spent the entire afternoon and evening walking by the side of the lake soaking in the stillness of the quiet valley. The only sound that pervaded this silence once in a while was the bleating of sheep and the whistling of shepherds. The tranquility and calmness appealed to my senses in a way that I can still feel the same when I imagine Vishansar.

As evening crawled in, it started drizzling forcing us to leave the lake side and walk back to our camp.

The Sweet Waters of Kishansar Lake

It was Day -4 and we woke up to a bright day. The sun shone softly, interrupted by occasional clouds and the gloom from the previous evening had disappeared. This was a day of steep ascents and descents. The first stretch of climb led us away from Vishansar, which was a deep blue at this time with the early morning sunshine. Viewing the clear reflections of the Kishansar Peak, from the mountain top made for the start of a very beautiful day.

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Pic 5: That’s Vishansar the next morning as we climbed up moving towards Kishansar. Note the reflection of Kishansar Peak on the placid waters.

Soon, we came upon Kishansar which was smaller in size as compared to Vishansar. Most people in our group were satisfied with the far away view we had from the trail. Wanting a closer view, I walked off the trail towards the lake when I spotted a fellow trekmate headed in the same direction. Now there was no stopping and the two of us went up to the shore of the lake.

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Pic 6: Kishansar appeared rather small compared to Vishansar as we first saw it from a distance.

The sparkling clear waters shining in the morning sun was divine. We felt compelled to cup our hands and drink the water. It was the sweetest water I ever tasted and I couldn’t stop at one. Every sip seemed sweeter than the one before. This is attributed to the oligotrophic nature of these lakes.

[Oligotrophic lakes have low nutrient content resulting in low algal production, and consequently, have very clear waters with high oxygen content that is of high drinkable quality.]

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Pic 7: The quiet and clear waters of Kishansar, the sweet taste of which I can never forget.

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Pic 8: Leaving behind the tranquil and glassy waters of Kishansar as we proceeded climbing further

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Pic 9: A grand and impressive view of Kishansar from another angle. Pic Credit: Yash Mehta

Kishansar literally translates as the lake of Lord Krishna and its divinity is for one to feel. Situated at a height of 3710 m above sea level, Krishnasar is fed by melting glaciers. It outflows to Vishansar Lake and Neelum River. This lake also freezes during winter.

A very steep ascent followed Kishansar that took us up to Gadsar Pass. It was a tough climb but the fascinating view of the twin lakes from the top of the pass was more than worth the trouble. I will let the picture do all the talking here.

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Pic 10: The twin lakes of Vishnusar and Kishansar after an ardous climb up the mountain.

The Uneasy Quiet at Gadsar Lake

The wind was blowing hard at Gadsar Pass. After spending a couple of minutes soaking in the spectacular sight that seemed more like a dream than reality, we moved on. Passing through a steep and tricky descent through dry scree, we walked through endless meadows and reached Gadsar Lake.

At an elevation of 3810 m., the spectacular Gadsar looked like a huge bowl of moss green water that was perfectly still. Gadsar literally translates to lake of fishes and it is a natural habitat for trout and other types of fishes. There were tall mountains across the lake where we could clearly see the glaciers with a continuous flow of water towards the lake.

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Pic 11: The circular emerald Gadsar appearing like a bowl of water leaving me with a sense of uneasiness

The scene in its entirety was glorious but somewhat intimidating. The lake seemed to be of indefinite depth and it made me feel a little uneasy. Possibly it was the story narrated by our guide warning me not to go down to the lake as I had done at Kishansar. Apparently, Gadsar lake is referred to as lake of death and it is also known as Yemsar, which translates into lake of demons. Locals believe that there lives a huge monster at the lake, which is something like an Octopus that drags creatures with its tentacles. Shepherds refrain from grazing their flocks at the shores of this lake.

Such little anecdotes don’t fail to fascinate me though! And I so love them.

Flocks of Sheep and Goat at Satsar

Crossing an army camp situated atop a hill, we noticed the sparkling colourless waters of a lake lying against the barren mountains. We briefly walked over boulders sharing space with shepherd families, who were migrating and moving out as winter was soon approaching. Just behind us was a flock of 200-300 goats, manned by shepherds and sheep dogs. An equally large flock of sheep was also walking on the flat land right beside the Lake.

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Pic 12: The flock of goat with migrating shepherds at Satsar

This was one of the Satsar Lakes. Satsar literally translates as seven lakes. It is actually a collection of 7 water pools in the narrow alpine valley that are connected to one another through streams. However, we could see only three. Two had dried up as it was the fag end of monsoon. Two lie behind the mountains, not easily accessible though we did plan to attempt it after getting done with lunch at our campsite. However, the Rain Gods decided otherwise and poured their hearts out forcing us to remain in our tents.

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Pic 13: That’s the first Satsar with the flock of sheep right beside it

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Pic 14: The second Satsar, notice the dark clouds looming above and very soon it was pouring

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Pic 15: The third Satsar, notice the shallow waters , two other lakes had dried up.

All Pervading Divinity at Gangabal Lake

We were in for a visual treat once again from the top of Zajibal Pass. The twin lakes of Gangabal and Nandkol were like two gems of shining sapphire embedded at the base of Harmukh Peak. The backdrop of Harmukh Peak, partially covered by clouds added to the surrealistic character of the moment. Harmukh glacier hung on the rocky edges of the mountain quietly and happily feeding the two lakes.

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Pic 16: Soaking in the idyllic view of the twin gems of Gangabal and Nandkol from Gadsar Pass, Harmukh Peak is partially covered by clouds but Harmukh glacier is clearly visible.

Each one of us enjoyed the splendour in our own way. Some of us sat quietly soaking in the spectacular sight, some others were capturing the moment in various ways with their cameras.  It was a cloudy day and the Pass was really cold, we had to leave sooner than we would have wished to. Besides these two lakes, there were two others almost hidden in the mountain pockets. I noticed them only when they were pointed out to me. These two were greyish black in colour and known as Kalasars.

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Pic 17: The picturesque Gangabal as we first saw it from a distance.

After a tricky descent through the steep mountain side, we walked beside a stream and came face to face with Gangabal. The shores of Gangabal, named after River Ganges, exuded divinity with the cloud-covered Harmukh Peak looking on. Feeling compelled to experience more of the quietude, I found myself a flat rock, opened my shoes, soaked my feet, and drifted to a different world. While some of my trek mates went on to take a dip in the lake, some others joined me in my reverie.

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Pic 18: Gangabal up front, can feel the all-pervading serenity just by looking at this picture. Pic Credit-Kishan Purohit

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Pic 19: Not a good picture but it does a good job of showing how clear the water was!

Gangabal is large at a length of 2.5 Km. and a width of 1.0Km and drains into Sindh River. Locals worship Gangabal and Nandkhol and indulging in a parikrama or a circumambulation seemed to be the most logical thing to do. However, that would easily take an hour and after the long walks that we already had, most of us preferred just sitting down.

Sheer Elegance of Nundkol Lake

A sizzling stream connects Gangabal to Nundkol.  We walked from Gangabal, crossed the stream at several place and arrived at Nundkol. At Nundkol the dark clouds hovering around Harmukh Peak gave us a small window to catch a glimpse of the massive mountain.

Nundkol was as elegant as all the other lakes but there were tents dug up all along the shore, which was an eyesore to this scenic place. It was surprising that camping is allowed on the shores of this pristine lake.

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Pic 20: Horses grazing beside Nundkol as we first set our eyes on it.

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Pic 30: The sizzling stream that connects Gangabal to Nundkol

Our tents were away from the lake and the following morning I accompanied a fellow trekmate to Nundkol again. Remnants of camping were strewn all around. There was plastic and various kinds of non-degradable items lying at the shore of the lake that really saddened us. We had walked on the other side of the lake the day before and that was cleaner.  The sight was so disheartening.

I really wish I could do something, at least collect a few of the garbage but we had already packed and the team was ready to leave, I had no time to do anything. This still makes me feel terribly guilty. I can only hope that the authorities take note of this and camping in the periphery of the lake is completely prohibited.

To read my experience of Kashmir Great Lakes trek, click here.

 

Colour Changing Meadows

Picture a meadow that changes colour at every turn as if it has just stepped out from the pages of a storybook – meadows that are lavender, meadows that are red, meadows that are yellow. That’s exactly how it was on that day – colour changing meadows.

We were just getting used to feasting our eyes on these meadows, but until that day it would be stretches of just one colour. Then there were these pockets of yellow, white, maroon, purple, and even a very dark green that would suddenly pop out here and there from the green grass that covered most of the rolling spread.

‘Paradise on Earth’ just seemed so appropriate for this implausible land on earth!

The ornamental and flowery meadows of the Kashmir Great Lakes trek turned out to be a great bonus that came along with the high altitude alpine lakes. Unusual flowers of myriad hues, sizes and shapes splashed all around made for iridescent pastures making me wonder with all seriousness if these were playgrounds of Gods and Goddesses! The kaleidoscopic surroundings pleased my senses and ignited an inner smile that is sure to burn warm for a long time to come.

I don’t know the names of any of these flowers. Our guide was of no help either. He said they are called lavender and red weed – the lavender and the red flowers respectively – surely there has to be better names. He couldn’t help with the local names too.

An interesting thing that needs mention is that the lavender meadows had many different kinds of flowers but all of them were of the same lavender colour. The same was true for the red meadows and the yellow meadows.

I did not click pictures of all the flowers that I came across, which was because of two reasons.

  • Firstly, it is the handicap of using a phone camera and not having a DSLR or even an ordinary camera.
  • Secondly, the thought that a picture would do no justice to the sight, smell, and feel of the flowers sufficiently convincing my mind to not click at all.

While I write a detailed post on my experiences of Kashmir Great Lakes, I thought I would post pictures of these delicate beauties and some of you might just be able to help me with their names.

Once again these are unedited mobile photos clicked through iPhone-6.

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