Monday Memories 5 – A Walk Through Enchanting Beauty And Silence


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.

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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.

Travel Memoir : A Drive Through Clouds


Enchanting Himalayas

Traveling by road in the majestic Himalayas is treacherous at times. The spectacular network of these remote rugged winding roads can give you a big adrenalin rush at any given time. The hair pin bends, gorges, steep valleys, narrow slushy muddy tracks that take sheer courage to maneuver and some times the unfriendly terrain make it an adventure which only the brave can afford to go through. A little distraction or error in judgment can lead to a disastrous end.

The rain and snow add to the drama that unfolds at every tricky turn. There are always chances of land-slides; road blocks and one must know the basic of mountain driving to avoid mishaps. The worst comes when you are caught off guard and have to trust your ability as a driver, a cool mind and the intuitive powers to help you navigate the snaking trails.

For us who love to venture into unknown territories, the roads journeys from Rampur Bushahr to Kinnaur and Khajjiar to chamba in Himachal Pradesh have been really breathtaking and the extremely difficult to maneuver till now. At both times we went ahead without earlier study of the area and were fortunate to come out alive.

Dalhousie is the gateway to the Chamba valley. The best way to explore the charismatic beauty of the region is to hill-walk or trek. The tranquility, beauty and the exquisite scenic surroundings are an unforgettable experience. After out enchanting stay at Khajjiar it was time to continue our journey to Dharamshala via Chamba.

We decided to follow the Khajjiar – Chamba road and vaguely asked the locals for the directions. It was raining heavily and most of the valley was covered in low clouds and dense fog. The rain had brought down the temperatures too. Our car glided through the unknown serpentine rugged mountain road in near zero visibility.

It is not a drive for the weak hearted. As we looked down the deep gorges and steep ghostly valleys enveloped in a cloudy mist, we realized the height at which we were traveling. The habitation in the valley below resembled small dots of blue and black. The roads were hardly visible but sometimes we could see a gray black line crisscrossing along the lower mountains.

We thought that this was going to be our last road adventure as we carefully maneuvered the hairpin bends, depending solely on the gut instinct.

Visibility was nil and there was not a single soul in sight. It was truly a drive through the clouds. The tension was mounting and a silent fear had gripped all of us. We had no idea even if this road was the right one and there was no turning back. We had to go on.

After an hour of cruising through the unknown under merciless rain and bone chilling cold, our alert eyes saw a roadside kiosk emerge out of no where and all our stressed out muscles relaxed at once. We found that it was a tea stall and the locals thought we had completely lost it. No one dares to drive in weather like that on an unknown high mountain road like that one.

We decided to drink a cup of hot sugary tea and wait for the rain to stop but it continued to pure ceaselessly. We scanned the deep dark valley below and shuddered at the thought of dropping down hundreds of feet down in that abyss. It was spine chilling

The time factor was very crucial as we still had to cover some distance to reach Dharamshala before dark. A 220 Km. six-hour journey and the weather made it very clear at least two to three extra hours were needed.

When you surrender yourself to nature, it takes care of you. This is one fact we always believed in. We drove on in absolute stillness. Half way down the road we saw a few workers repairing a damaged road in cold, rain and muddy slush. They advised us to go very slow and wished us good luck. It was good to see those dedicated courageous human beings who make our journeys safe.

Suddenly our friend who was driving the car stopped the car. The spectacle that greeted us was astounding. Right in the middle of the road was a flock of at least 9-10 huge vultures, majestic creatures so rare to see these days. Unfortunately the bad light and rain prevented us to click pictures. It was  experience of a life time and the kids watched the raptors with awe. Our day was made.

Those were the famous Himalayan Griffon vultures. These birds of prey are a dying species and we held our breath to savor the moment. Griffons are about 41-43 inches long and have a wingspan of 260-289cm. and are the second largest old world vultures. Slowly we made our way on the road and the knightly creatures decided to give way to us. Mystified by the beauty of those birds we continued towards our destination.

After a drive of half an hour the sky cleared and we could again see beautiful green valley dotted with tiny houses and thin zigzag maze of mountain roads below. We had managed to cover the most difficult part of the road. It was an enchanting sight. The rain had completely stopped. The riot of colors that flooded the mountainsides also became visible now. Wild flowers in all colors blossomed as far as we could see, oblivious to the human existence.

We were relaxed and happily chatting. The kids kept talking about the big birds and soon we entered the picturesque Chamba valley.

It was a journey through timelessness, an adventure which would haunt us all our lives. It remains a true Himalayan odyssey and an enchanting drive through the clouds.