Chapter 1: ** Endless Races of Civilization **
Have you ever dreamed of your own space, just you and nature? No one to interrupt and no one to pamper either. Your own tent and roof of infinite stars. Away from the civilization, away from all chaos. Just you. Well, I have and let me tell you a secret.. Dreams do come true!!
Himalayas, the king of all mountains and certainly paradise on the earth. Species have come, thrived, and vanished here, civilization came and then destroyed. But the mountains, they have seen it all. My name is Brijesh and I am going tell you my encounter with Himalaya that changed all the horizon within, totally upside down. It was last summer, a summer where I explored and captured the Himalayas through travel, adventure, filming, practically anything that can slow time down for me. You can call it my quest for redemption or my path to inspiration. This was a journey, a journey to become a young fool again, a journey within.
Chapter 2: ** Diving backward in memory lane**
As all of you would have figured out by now, yes, my long-lasting yen ended. I went into the wilderness, into the mighty Himalayas!!
Giving a brief about my background, I have grown in a small city of Gujarat and after my graduation moved to Bengaluru for my bread and butter. No prizes for the guess-work here, yeah, same old 9 to 5 routine ☹!! Ever since I was in my adulthood, I had a great liking for mountains and the Himalayas were like my far-reaching dream ever since. I was an avid adventurer and a mountaineer from an early age and have summited countless peaks in the region of Gujarat and Maharashtra. But the Himalayas were like my ultimate day-dream. One of the reasons why it took 22 years to finally encounter Himalayas was ‘Money’. As a student (that too when you’re willing to do things on your own), it was very difficult to spend some hefty amount of money just to see the “motionless” mountains. I mean who on the earth will spend such amount that too when you will have to walk for miles, you’ll get some cold parathas and packed rice in the name of a meal and some rocky terrain to sleep. Absolutely senseless, isn’t it?!! You can easily get some 5-day holiday package to Goa or Kerela with 5-star Hotel accommodation where everything is “well-arranged” and itinerary is “fixed” so you don’t have to worry about anything 😉 (Well, this was the response I had gotten when I asked people to join me for my Himalayan expedition)
Chapter 3: ** The Beginning**
Anyway, this has happened last summer, May 2016 when I was extremely frustrated with my 9 to 5 ‘Tamasha’ and badly wanted an Escape from the noise of civilization. I asked my friend Dharmik to join me for the same and his first question was “What’s the plan?” and I was like “Do we need one?!!” Trust me, it took me an eternity to finally convince him for our encounter into the wilderness. The second Hurdle was to get my leave approved, that too for 10 days!! People who work in IT know we get such long holiday either we are getting married or someone close to you passes away. Anyway, we fixed our dates to be May 14 – 23. We decided our starting point to be Manali and to meet up in Delhi. With all necessary essential packed in our backpacks, we kicked off an epic journey to the Parvati Valley.
Chapter 4: ** A Night Under The Ocean of Stars **
Keerganga, yes you hear it right. We decided to start our journey with hiking to Kheerganga. As my friend had already been there 2 years ago, it was a familiar trail and comparatively a small hike (just 2 days). We rented a tent and sleeping bags and took a transport to Tosh Village which was our starting point. The route, my god was heavenly dexterous, full of pine trees decorated on the lush green meadows with waterfall passing by adjacently. After hiking around 6 hours with few power breaks in-betweens, we reached our destination. The campsite was very beautiful and picturesque. We decided to call it a day as it was quite a demanding hike with some serious steep accents. We pitched our tent and had our 5-star meal (Maggie and Pasta 😉). Sun was getting down slowly and I was in absolute awe of the surroundings. It was hard to believe that I was actually in the place where I was day-dreaming since ages!! When I looked around, I found it was just two of us, one tent, a valley walled by never-ending mountains; it was scary for the naïve residents in tents. Amidst all this, we had a feast for ourselves, moonlight!! If you will ask anybody who has ever been to Kheerganga, ‘What do you like the most about the place?’ The answer will always be ‘The Night’. I had not seen these many stars in years, all twinkling in the rhythm with the moon, just wow!! The sky was shining like a canvas of a painting created by the mother nature. A night with the naked sky, billion stars, moon and everything that can heal you to the core. Wild, wonderful, soothing. I’ll fall short of words to express that beauty.
We woke up early and witnessed our first sunrise. And of course, the famous hot water spring bath, what a surreal experience it was (the only bath I had taken on entire journey :p) !! We started declining towards Barsheni. It was 11 km decay which took us around 7 hours. The trail was a nice amalgamation of rocky trail, green forest, and waterfall. We reached Barsheni in late noon and we took a public transportation to reach back to Kasol.
Chapter 5: ** Lost in the Oblivion **
.. and I was lost, somewhere between dawn and dusk, somewhere between horizon and oblivion, somewhere between wrong and right, I was lost. And as I turned my head upward I saw my long-lost friends sparkling in rhythm with the moon, telling me the same old story that I had overheard for years. Songs of those stars were no new, but civilization and purposeless human races had changed my taste. Since ages I was lusting for this moment just to be with my moon, naked sky, twinkling stars, and myself, not a particle more. All these years I have chased the perfection. I was waiting for that ‘perfect moment’ and was trading myself with materialistic pleasure. I was lost in equations, in calculation. But not that night. This time I was lost never to be found again, I was lost to find my long-lost self.
Chapter 6: ** Dillema of What’s Next?**
After spending 4 days in Himachal I was delighted & charged up. The question was what next? Sar Pass in Parvati Valley region is a beautiful trail and “Kailashrath” operates this trek and guide trekkers summiting it. Luckily, My friend has pre-booked Sar pass itinerary priorly (I was completely unaware about it). The trek was starting on 19th Morning from Kasol. We had one free evening in Kasol and Kasol as we all know, never disappoints you when it comes to enjoyment (paradise for hippies they call it)!!
On the morning of 19th, I reached base camp Rumsu where lots of other folks from the different parts of the country gathered. Honestly, initially, I was a bit disappointed as my intent was to complete the journey without any fixed itinerary and on our own. But I was very overwhelmed by the diversity I was offered. My perception got changed as the journey progressed and that was my greatest achievement.
Chapter 7: ** Thunder and Sunshine**
Our First campsite was at Grahan Village which was 6 hours from Kasol. This trail was quite easy and very crowded as it is frequently used by visitors and locals. The trail goes through lovely pine forest and the roaring Parvati River flowing left side to you constantly till you reach the Grahan. People who say water is tasteless, I bet all of them to taste the water of Parvati River, it’s just delicious!! After Grahan Nalah the trail becomes rocky and climbing uphill. And that’s where it started raining whole of a sudden. God bless Prakash, our guide cum friend, who insisted everyone to carry ‘Ponchos’ (rain covers) – anyway, we had it already. (Free Advice: Do not, I repeat do not step into the Himalayas without a Poncho, it’s a must!). When I asked him about the sudden change in weather, he replied, ‘Sir pahado me bedhar ka koi parosa nahi hota, yaha dopaher ke tem pe thodi bunda bandi zarur hoti he. Agar aap pahado me ho to tem aur bedhar ki hamesa respect karna he (in pahadi accent).” So, after a steep climb of about an hour, we reached to the village of Grahan, situated at the 7,700 feet. The campsite had everything that one could ask for and had a surprise awaiting French Fries!! Rainy weather and French Fries, what a deadly combo it was. Those fries were no less than any delicious snacks we have in cities. Because of rain, many fellow trekker’s shoes got completely wet. (Free Advice: Always keep at least one pair of shoe in spare). We had a unique campfire that evening, all were busy drying their shoes off!! The sky was full of rain clouds and my star gazing lust remained unfulfilled.
Side Story: Let me give you a bit about my fellow trekkers. Most of them were young blood, came from different parts of the country like Pune, Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore, and Gujarat of course 😉 Among all of us, there was a lady with a Hugh rucksack, in her early 60’s I guess. Honestly, I was a bit skeptical about her completion of the trek as the trek was decently demanding as far as your physical stamina is concerned. But totally against my prejudice, she was amongst the quickest trekker. I was amazed by her energy and passion for hiking. I asked her “Aap thakte nahi hai kya?”(Don’t you get tired?). She gave me a very sweet answer, she said: “Aap log bhi toh padhai karne se nahi thakte”(Even you guys don’t get tired of studying). And of course, my favourite man – Prakash, our guide, who grew in Mandi (Himachal), is a true son of Mountains. He is just 23 years old and guiding people around thrice of his age, Amazing!! (Later I got to know that it was his 3rd consecutive batch without any rest in-between that he was conducting, Bravo Man!!)
Chapter 8: **Heaven on the Earth**
I felt some movements in the morning, Dharmik was applying some relief spray as he was having mild back pain because of lifting a heavy rucksack. Our next campsite was Min Thatch, situated 10,000 ft. The trail to Min Thatch was wide open lush green meadows and after walking for a while, one can see Mung Thach, Nagaru, and Sar Top to their right. Later on, the trail becomes steeper and leads into the woods. The slope becomes steeper and the path is a bit confusing in some patches. After around 6 hours of energy worthy hike, I finally arrived at campsite.
And the camp-site, oh my dear god, the best I have ever seen in my life till date. (I am penning this down almost after a year and a half when I checked off Roopkund and Kauri Pass from my bucket list) The weather was heavenly perfect, and surroundings have made it dreamy. Lush green meadows, beautiful alpine trees and gigantic mountains covered with white snow in the background. What else one can ask for, tell me?!! A fairy tale like dream but with your eyes open I would say. We reached our campsite in the noon and I had all the time in the world to do anything I wanted till the sun sets down. It was a perfect time to capture this beauty in frames. This place had turned my Rajesh Khanna mode on (yeh hasin wadiya, yeh khula aasaman 😉).
Open lush meadow was awaiting me along with my dearest friend ‘Headphones’. And the rest was done by my greatest ever servant, the legendary A R Rahman. I lied down under that blue sky on the ravishing meadow. The sky was blue enough to emerge every emotion within. I didn’t have any cushioned bed, all I had was my backpack but strangely these were the softest touches my back has ever felt. What a feeling it was, out of this malign universe!! This was the reason I came here. Away from the echoes of civilization and so-called society, away from the dumb logic and etiquettes of my manager, away from the judgments of the people around, away from the prejudices. Away, just far away where my only companion was myself. I didn’t bother to move an inch till the sun set down and vanished in twilights of the horizon. I won’t be exaggerating, even a bit if I tell I was in heaven!!
Chapter 9: ** Up Above the Cloud **
It was drizzling outside when I opened my eyes in the morning. I was still in the awe of what I had experienced last evening. With the heart full of euphoria (and body full of pain), we started marching towards Nagaru, the highest camp-site at 12,500 ft. Let me tell you a bit about Nagaru campsite. It is said that it is known for its sub-zero temperature and it goes down as low as -12 to -15 in nights. I heard few horrible but interesting stories about the camp-site. In the months of winter, sometimes route becomes extremely difficult due to harsh weather condition. Nagaru has also witnessed some incidents where the tents were de-rooted due to heavy winds flows from the north side of the valley. The trail from Min Thach to Nagaru is a short but very tricky and difficult as the slope falls steeply, and the degree of the mountain is almost 70 to 80 degrees and trail is mostly zig-zag. While crossing the valley, facing north, you can see magnificent Pin Parvati Range (my unfulfilled wish till date ☹). Anyway, with every passing day, the landscape was changing drastically and always kept me guessing what next!! As we were approaching the campsite, the gigantic mountains covered with the snow started popping up. Trust me, it was a gem of a sight. These sights rejuvenate my mojo and charged my body for the final patch of the hike. Finally, after four and a half hours of steep ascent, we reached our highest campsite. The campsite was fully covered with snow and giving a feel as if I ended up in ‘Winterfell’ to serve the Night’s Watch (North Always remembers 😉)!! First thing I did after reaching the camp-site was increasing two layers to withstand the chilly wind. I can still remember myself washing dishes with an ice cube as the temperature went subzero after sunset!!
Chapter 10: ** Into the White **
. And then came the D-Day. I woke up all dizzy and unsteady that day. Last night I could not sleep well, maybe anxiety, maybe excitement, I don’t know. And like a cherry on the cake, thanks to my tent which was on a slope and all the blood had rushed to my head as I slept with my head on the downward side. (Free Advice: As most of the high-altitude camp-site are rocky and uneven, you would find your tent on a slope sometime or another, so don’t stick with the orthodox sleeping method. Try and find the best angle to sleep, be it vertical, horizontal, or even diagonal !!) With all available layer on, we kicked off for the summit. We started at 3 and the temperature outside was soul freezing!! The first kilometer was extremely steep (almost 80 degrees I would say) and due to lack of visibility, it was dangerous too. Luckily, Prakash, our go-to person, came handy as we both were walking together, and he was sharing some stories of mountains. He taught me some vital mountaineering techniques like how to climb steep snowy patch with Zig-Zag crawling like walk. Even after a year and a half those lessons and tips came handy when I en-routed other trails of Himalayas.
We steadily accenting upwards for 40 minutes and we entered into a Hugh glacier, a gateway to heaven rather!! Woooooooooow, what a landscape it was (certainly deserves all these extra O’s here)!! The sky was seductive blue and white snow has covered the path to the horizon. This was my first encounter with snow. This is what I have dreamt all these years!! I kept moving forward at the least speed possible, cherishing every inch of beauty. Sunrise was about to happen and without caring about my fellow trekkers I stopped to witness the sky unleashing its orange shades. Those rays were warm enough to warm my heart and soul. The sun was now on top of the game. It was a 4 km walk on the gigantic glacier where we had to pass our highest point which was a frozen lake. With every passing minute, the glacier was melting slowly which was making the trail sleepy. You know terrain above 4000m is literally lifeless, for miles all you can see is Glacier. If someone closes your eyes and spins you, you won’t be able to make out the direction. Halfway between summit point and campsite, the weather started changing rapidly and mist obscured the whole landscape. We were walking on the clouds with showers of sleet and snow. We were not afraid but alert and kept walking slowly. That day I fell around 7 to 8 times. Courtesy: My Flat Shoe Sole. (Free Advice: you know it by now). With our tiny little steps, we crossed the Pass. [Sar (Lake in local language) gets frozen in extreme temperature that’s why it is called Sar Pass]. The next 1 km trail was inhospitable because of the ruins caused by a recent landslide. We were informed to be extra cautious as the trail was very narrow and slippery.
And then came the most exciting part, the famous slide!! If you have been to Himalayas and haven’t slid down on the glacier than trust me, you have missed a lot!! It was almost a kilometer-long slide. You feel like you’re flying on the ice when you slide down, a mesmerizing experience indeed. Sliding has done the rest of the trek tiresome. I mean who will walk when you can slide 😉?!! The trail leading to Biskeri Thatch (also popular as Mini Switzerland of India) was a steep decay and became rocky consequently. The landscape was changing rapidly and was giving a bit of a flavor of Spiti.
Chapter 11: ** Last Love Bite **
Camp-site at Biskeri Thatch was the most picturesque, a perfect ‘vacation’ gateway. It can make you forget any sort of problem in life, very pleasing sight and can soothe you to the core. After around 10 hours of exhausting trek, you can’t expect anything other than this. Being the last camp of the trek, I was having mixed feelings. Few immediately vanished in the sleeping bag, few were capturing the beauty in cameras, few were just sitting and embracing the beauty. We fired up our last campfire, the temperature has started falling down and I categorically remember that evening, even after the tiring day nobody was bothered about the dinner. Maybe their souls have had enough, maybe!!
Chapter 12: **Escape**
There are things in life which nobody can touch or own, they can only be felt within. The mammoth mountains, the seductive sky, the tempting sunsets, the serene water bodies, and the lovely patterns of clouds. Mother Nature does not have anything perfect, yet everything seems to be perfect. That broken path, asymmetrical mountain ranges, trees bend in the weird ways, colorless mist & fog, and they’re still beautiful. I mean one does not walk into the forest and accuse the tree for being off-centered nor do they visit the shore and call waves imperfect. So why do we look at ourselves this way?!! But this is so ‘human’ of us, isn’t it?!
A question that always pops into our mind that why do we even go away? Just to come back?! Nah.. We go to come back and see the same world with different eyes and colors. To have a whole new perception. My this encounter of Himalaya might not seem to be the ‘most’ adventurous trail I have been till date but on a personal level, this journey was really special and etched forever on the wall of my memory lane. This encounter lets me have the taste of blood. It invoked all the long-lost desires hidden beneath so many things and helped me break the shackles. When I look back, these moments seem as fresh as it is a tale of yesterday. Every visual is still enchanting and giving a sweet nostalgia as I am penning it down with all the colors and shades my soul have had.
It was an Escape. An escape from every day, from routine, from known, from certainty, from so-called 9 to 5. It was indeed an Escape from myself to another part of myself. It was a journey within. The satisfaction you have after 10 days of untamed wilderness, miles and miles of walk in the mighty Himalayas is unparalleled. I still wonder, what if I had chosen to stay?! what if I had chosen comfort (yet again)?! what if I had preferred routine, looked in the mirror and said, bwwoy.. you’re enough!!
I urge everyone out there not to trust me with a single thing, just go out and experience yourself.
I have not seen anything as enchanting and as mesmerizing like you. Thank you for existing and making my living worth a little more!!
With Eternal Love for Himalayas,
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