I had just turned fourteen when dad took me to YHAI office in Chanakyapuri, Delhi. Each year YHAI holds National Himalayan Trekking Program and I was about to enroll for the ’82 batch for a trek to Khauli Pass(12,800 feet/3750 mts,) situated in the Dhauladhar range (the white range or the silver range) of Himalayas. This small pass situated in Kanwar wild life sanctuary is snow bound for almost seven months in an year. This particular trek was later discontinued due to massive landslides.
Some feeling are so overwhelming that they can not be described. It was my first trek and first journey alone. Dad always wanted me to be fiercely independent and despite of protests from mom, he stood firm on his decision to let me explore the world on my own. A lot of preparation went through in preparing for the trek and one thing that such programs teaches you is, discipline and planning.
I was part of the Mumbai group and one beautiful summer night in May I boarded the bus with my haversack to Manali. After a night long journey I got down at Bhuntar, delirious with joy and nervous too. I was fit, strong and rearing to go. Buntar is a base camp for registration and initial training. I had the advantage of being youngest in my group and the team leaders and instructors made sure I was not uncomfortable. They took extra care to get me adapted to long treks and camp life.
The precipitous valley road from Bhuntar to Kasol was under repair. It is one of the most thrilling road trip with all its blind turns and narrow stretches. One could see the lush Pin Parvati valley and the thundering Parvati river meandering like a thread deep in the gorge.
I have very fond memories of our base camp in Kasol (1640m). Nestled in the midst of conifer woods at the banks of Parvati river this beautiful mystical place is a heaven on earth. It is also known as Little Israel of India and one can spot large number of Israeli tourists among others but our camp was situated a little away from the main Kasol village. Kasol and the neighboring villages of Tosh(3000 m), Malana and Jari are the home to supposedly the best Hashish in the world –“The Malana Cream” and some of these gorgeous villages are tucked away so deep in the mountains that they didn’t really figure on tourist map for long. They were frequented mainly by travelers looking for serenity and calm and of course the Malana cream. I have already written about the gorgeous beauty of Malana , the solitary village in Malana Nala to the side of Parvati Valley. It is the lat of the hippy settlement in that region.
Awestruck by the verdant valleys and the crystal clear water of Parvati river I walked around the woods and village, crossed the gushing mountain streams and even paid a visit to nearby pilgrim town of Manikaran famous for its hot water springs.
Even after so many years the memory of that first night in the base camp is so fresh that I can ear the sound of wooden flute echo in the silent mountains. The time stood still as under a star-studded sky one of the trekkers from another group played the flute. Kasol was a training camp so usually there were four to five groups based there, either returning or going to higher camps. It was an adventure and I was already feeling like Alice in wonderland. I had never seen such pristine beauty of the Himalayas from so close and it sure was breathtaking. We did some nature trails during our stay.
The sweet smell of pine forest, apple orchards, wild horses and herds of sheep and mountain goats, the gargling white waters of the river, the treacherous mountain nallahs which eventually merge into the river, the swaying wooden and natural rock bridges, the tranquility and the silence is enough to enchant any traveler. As I write this I am actually transported back to this gorgeous place.
This is where I learned rock climbing, rappelling, river crossing on a rope and other skills essential for a trekker. The entire route of the trek was dotted with places which could cast a spell on anyone by their virgin beauty. It is hard to explain it in so few words the feeling of walking in such enchanting beauty and silence (This was the name of the trek report I wrote after completion).
I vaguely remember some of the names of the camps like Grahan (7700ft), Padri (9300ft) and many more. Each camp welcomed us with fresh food cooked on wood fire by the locals. Each camp night was made memorable by the bonds we created over songs and adventure stories, laughter and night walks around the camp.
We went through blooming meadows, forests, along the river banks, up the jungle trails, crossed the snow-covered landscape, walked through the glacier and the most amazing part of the trek was that we did this all at our own pace.The area is covered with thick canopies of deodar and fir trees that prevent views of the sky.This is what makes the trek in this area enjoyable and challenging.
Although I carried my haversack and sleeping bag on my back most of the time there was no sign of tiredness. There were times when a fellow trekker would carry my pack during steep climbs. It was all about brotherhood. The friends I made are somewhere out there and if any of them reads this I want to send my love to them. Prashant, Haresh, Johnny, Kalpana and many more who were always there in times of difficulty. I guess my training as a basketball player and athlete paid off during those strenuous long stretches.
The instructors and team leaders of the group and in the camps were extremely helpful and I remember at one camp they even sent a search party to look for me and Prashant as we had decided to rest along a river bank surrounded by wild flowers and pine trees. The search team met us half way to the camp and I dreaded that I would be told to return to base camp for breaking the rules but I guess the wild excitement in which I narrated the scenic beauty and my adventure melted the camp leader’s heart and I was left with a warning never to venture on such escapades alone. Prashant was a seasoned trekker and that helped too. Later, when he and some other friends came to drop me home I found he was my second cousin from mom’s side. :D. No wonder we clicked despite age difference. (He must have been in his thirties).
In those ten days of walking through the splendorous Himalayas I learned to appreciate silence of the woods and streams. I learned to recognize the sounds of the forest and the saw some of the most amazing birds, flora and fauna. I did not carry a camera but the images are still fresh in my mind. For the first time I saw the bear in its wild habitation. ( Two bears came in the middle of the night at the last camp before we hit the glacier. They explored the camp site as we watched their silhouettes from inside our tents.)
I had my first experience of crossing a glacier holding on to a rope tied to pegs pushed through the snow. The adrenalin rush, the beating of heart, the careful maneuvering of each foot step and the final ascend to a spot which left me spellbound. You have to go there to see what nature can offer when left in its virgin state.
Most of my collection of things which included a big frozen black beetle, almost entire discarded skin of a python, bark of the bhoj patra tree, pressed flowers,copies of photographs clicked by my friends, an autograph booklet with some memorable messages got lost after my marriage. I am still searching for the identity card and my article which was submitted to YHAI office after returning. The only thing which I still have apart from the lovely memories is this certificate which was issued to us.
We could not reach Khauli Pass as the weather drastically changed and we had to return to the camp. Within minutes clouds can turn a shiny sunny day into a deathly dark nightmare. With great difficulty we fought through bitter cold and rain and managed to return.
Most of the group went back to Bhuntar base camp but our little gang of friends went on a little adventure to Mandi and from there back to Delhi. I would love to connect with anyone who was there during this trek. Feel free to leave a comment and connect.
I could do this post in many parts and still feel inadequate in describing the inner serenity and calm this experience brought in my life. I am thankful to my father who never discriminated between his son and daughter and in fact let me explore the various facets of my life and go for my dreams.
I did the Chandrakhani pass, Pindari glacier and the Triund trek after this one and then stopped. Its been almost two decades since I have done any serious trekking though I took many trips to the mountains in past years.
I wish to start again and fulfill my long lost desire of exploring the much desired places in the mighty Himalayas. So, here’s to adventures and star lit nights.