You might all be wondering what is a music album name got to do with a travelogue (for people who don't know, 'How to Name it' is an instrumental album of the music messiah Ilayaraja). For those who appreciate raja music, 'How to Name it' is not just a musical album, it's an experience by itself. Similarly, the trek which I undertook was not a mere travel, it was an experience which I don't know how to call it.. Hence this title...It had everything that a beginner trekker could dream of. Trails through jungles, rocky mountains, river crossing, scenic waterfalls, dangerous crawling descends, landslides, flooding of river, moonlight trek....
How it all started
I received an invitation mail from Indiahikes saying that they had figured out my profile from Naukri and wanted to know whether I will be interested to join the trek for Rupin pass which was scheduled to happen during September 2010. Along with the mail they had sent a link for the snaps of the destination. The snaps were so tempting that I immediately conveyed my interest to join them. I was just hoping that my bench period continues till the trek is over. Soon I started gearing up for the occasion. I hunted for any good adventure merchandise showroom (just a couple are there in Chennai), bought a trekking back-bag, special shoes and accessories etc. Knowing that the weather might be extreme, I carried plenty of warm clothes and thermal wear. Apart from the 15 kg baggage, I was carrying along with me an Arthritis affected knee joint. I was praying that despite all these constraints I should be able to complete the trekking successfully. I was scheduled to start from Chennai on 9th September and return on 22nd. With my leave being approved, I went ahead with the ticket booking and other logistics. All was set for the D-day.
Just a couple of days before the travel I got a call from my project Manager. "You will have to travel to Cairo on Sept. 16th" was the instruction. I was heart-broken. I pleaded with him to somehow get the dates postponed for a week so that I can complete my trek. He ruled it out saying that it will be tough. After a bit of persuasion he finally accepted to check with client and postpone it till 20th, which would mean that I will have to return by flight from Delhi instead of train. Not bothering about the extra cost I said OK and thanked him for the help.
09-Sep-2010 : I started early from office to rush home and get my things packed to catch the night train to Delhi. As per plan I was to reach Delhi on 11th Sep morning, meet some trekkers there and catch the night bus to Shimla where we will be joined by the full batch of trekkers. The train was at 22.00 hrs and I started from my house at 21.00 hrs. I waited impatiently for close to half-an-hour for an auto. Since it was an extended week ahead (due to Ramzan holiday) all the auto-drivers refused to come to the station citing heavy traffic. My watch showed 9:20 and here am standing 14 kms away from the central station. I realised that depending on auto will prove futile since he will definitely not be able to reach there in time. I started sweating. I didn't want to miss the train, didn't want to miss the trip. I decided to go back home and take my bike. By the time I reached home it was already 21:35 hrs. With heavy baggage and a tight deadline, I started my ride. Although I have had experiences of catching running train, I knew that this time it will be very difficult. To reach Central, find a parking place for my bike....with clock ticking fast, I almost lost hope. Thankfully most of the signals always showed green on the way. When I reached the Central parking lot, I didn’t even bother to use the stand of my bike, I just leaned it against the next one and rushed to the platform. To add to the chaos, there was a power cut in the station which almost resulted in a stampede. Squeezing myself through the ocean of crowd, I finally boarded the train. As if it was just waiting for me, the train started immediately. Phew !!! what a relief it was....
Reached Delhi on 11th morning. Met the fellow trekker Harendran who had come from Bangalore. Together we boarded the night bus to Shimla
12-Sep-2010 : We reached Shimla at early in the morning 6. Went to the hotel where other trekkers were waiting. There were totally 17 of us. After a round of introduction, we all started on our way to the base camp Gosangu. Gosangu is the last motorable village in Himachal. We split up into 3 groups, one in each Tata Sumo. We were scheduled to reach the base camp by late evening, stay there in the tents put-up for us by the river side and start our trek the next day morning. This was the agenda.
After reaching Narkanda, the road conditions started deteriorating. Beyond a point, it became so bad that we were travelling at a speed of 4 kms per hour !!! (slower than the speed of a jog). It was the season of apples there in Himachal. Beyond Narkanda the entire route was filled with apple orchards. For a continuous distance of more than 80 kms we saw loads and loads of apples, bound in sacks being just kept on the roadside !!! No exaggeration. Seriously we witnessed tonnes and tonnes of apples just lying by the road-side, bound in gunny bags with nobody bothering to take it. Apart from this, all along there were so many apple orchards filled with trees that probably contained more apples than the leaves count (now this is an exaggeration, but adds to the effect you know :-)). This year, the harvesting has been 3 times the normal it seems. After filling our vehicles with dozens of apples we continued our journey.
One of the apple orchards
At around 18:00 hrs we reached the small town of Rohru. We decided to halt for the day there, check-in to a decent accommodation and start early in the morning. All along, the weather was also proving to be bad with occasional down-pours and dark clouds hovering around the entire day. Night we had a team meeting wherein the guide gave a brief on what are the perils that might be encountered during the trek, medicines to be taken to avoid altitude sickness etc. We hit the bed early.
View from the hotel balcony in Rohru
13-Sep-2010 : We all started at 05.30 hrs and continued our drive towards Gosangu. The bad roads never seemed to end. Infact they were just turning worse. En-route we reached a place called ‘Chanshal pass’, located at an altitude of 11000 feet the place was beautiful. The chilly wind was biting into our bones. We could not even stand outside for a few minutes. Such was extremity of chillness. After a round of photo sessions we got back to our vechicles. Crossed a few landslide affected areas and by dusk we could only reach a village called Dodra. We had no other option but to stay there for the night. The locals were all the more happy to welcome us and provide accommodation. It was a beautiful village located in a serene backdrop, inhabited by the local tribes. The women-folks were personification of beauty with pierced nose, simple ear-ring and ever-smiling face.... we couldn't just take away our eyes from them. The local kids were cute and bubbly. We had a wonderful time mingling with the tribal villagers. One village family was generous to offer us with accommodation in their wooden house, perched on pillar tops. It was a different experience staying at their place. We had a campfire at night under a starry sky. With hopes of starting the trek atleast the next day we all went to sleep
The place where we had halted for Brunch
Simple, but tasty food punctuating in most of our meal points
Chanshal Pass at 11000 feet !!!
Landslide near Chanshal pass
Rainbow sighted at Dodra village
The hospitable family which provided us with wonderful accomodation
14-Sep-2010 : After bidding farewell to the Dodra villagers and thanking them for their wonderful hospitality we finally reached Gosangu by afternoon. We alighted from the vehicle and started our trek. Finally the trek was on !!!
Dodra to Gosangu
Gosangu... Our actual base camp
It was delayed by two days. But better late than never, we thought. On the way up we reached one more village Kwar. Surprisingly this village has a helipad too !!! On the way we met a group of trekkers from USA who had attempted to cross Rupin pass and were returning back after failing to do so. They briefed us on the hardships that they faced and wished us good luck. After hearing their story we were left wondering whether we will be able to complete the trek. We continued with our trekking.
Trekking through the village of Kwar
The route was divine with river cutting across the jungle. The path leading was filled with constant climbs and descents. It was a great feeling, to be in the midst of nowhere, surrounded by hills, forest with river flowing by the pathside, dotted with scenic waterfalls. The terrain was amazing. Add to that the wonderful and enthusiastic trekkers who gave company. Helping you cross a difficult climb or a river cross, providing medicinal support when you get dehydrated or feel fatigue because of the strenuous climb and walk.
The beautiful route from Kawar to Bouta
Catching our breath
Initially it was all exciting and fun. But slowly our trek pace reduced with tiredness taking over. The heavy baggage in our back started to take a toll on our shoulders and back. Our walking speed reduced to snail pace. Looking up, to see the path ahead, the climb that is still pending made us feel worse. We were just pulling ourselves somehow hoping to get to the next base camp soon. Resting after every few minutes, fuelling ourselves with water, electrol, apples, chocolates, energy bars etc. Some people went way ahead, some people were trailing behind finding it difficult to walk. To add to the agony it started pouring heavily, thus increasing the weight of the back-bag. My body started giving up. I thought one month of gym work-out would have prepared me physically to get into shape. But I realised trekking requires a higher standard of fitness. It is no picnic-kind of trip wherein you get to stroll. It is a tedious climb through dangerous trails, slippery rocks, edge of the downslide walk etc. Only if you are able to manage all this terrain, will you be able to enjoy the pristine beauty of natural surroundings. Slowly cameras receded into my pocket, I couldn't even talk to my fellow trekkers. I had energy only to breathe, breathe heavily....... Dragging myself I continued. Finally after 5 hrs of trek we managed to reach our lunch point. The place is Bouta, probably the smallest village I have witnessed in my life. It had just 4 houses !!
Our point of halt, Bouta
The beautiful Rainbow at Bouta
Glad to finally off-load our baggages and take some rest, we all stopped there. I badly wanted a massage. My entire body was aching. Hot food was served after an hour's rest. As per the schedule were to trek further to a village called Jhaka and stop there for the night. But most of us were not in a mood or physical condition to carry on with the trek same day. The decision was unanimous. To halt here for the night and then continue to Jhaka the next day early morning. Night, a meeting was called up. "Three days already over and we are still in the beginning stages of the trek. As per the original plan we should have been there half-way up the mountains, climbing towards Rupin pass. Since we had lost two days, if we have to complete the trek on time, then we have to compensate by doing a 5 day trek in the next three days. Which would mean tomorrow will be a 10 hour trek up the hill, followed by a similar extended trekking on the next day. Since most of you have booked return tickets, we have no other option, but to speed up. The risk factor here is, since the weather is very bad and possibility of extreme cold conditions up there, we are not sure whether we can cross Rupin pass. If that happens, we do not have any alternative route once we climb up. The only way back is to come down the same route all over again." This was the information from the trekking instructor.
I had two options. Either to continue with the trek or return back. The risk about continuing the trek was, once you climb up and you realise that you are not able to cross Rupin pass, the ONLY way back is all the way down the same route, which means I will reach shimla only by 21st or 22nd, reach delhi further late and end up coming to Chennai by 23rd or later. I cannot afford that since I had to possibly travel to Egypt on 20th. I could already visualise my project manager shouting at me for not making it to Chennai on time. Hence it was a major risk. However, if I continued with the trek, manage to cross Rupin, then the return route will be through Sangla valley from where Shimla is just a few hours travel. But the possibility of that seemed bleak seeing the torrid condition of weather. It was raining incessantly, with no sign of sunshine. I was in a dilemma on what to do. The information given by the US trekkers also was lingering on my mind. I had come all this way only to make it to Rupin pass. Now the situation is such that the trek might get extended if we are not able to cross Rupin pass. I cannot afford that. So I decided to quit the trek. Along with me 9 others also took the same decision, for the same reason, since they also had to join office early. If we quit the trek now, I will be in a position to reach Chennai on time for the project. Thinking this I conveyed my decision to the trek lead.
15-Sep-2010 : Early morning we bid farewell to the 6 members who had decided to continue ahead. The remaining 10 of us had our breakfast and started our trek back towards Dodra. The challenge ahead was to find a transportation that would take us to Shimla. While coming, since it was already pre-booked it was not a problem. But now, to find transportation in one miniscule village will be tough. Having all this in mind we trekked back. By afternoon we reached the village of Kawar.
Hunting for some transportation arrangement
The charm of Kawar village
After having our lunch there, we were told by a villager that there are chances of getting vehicles from Kawar itself. So we spent that night in Kawar.
16-Sep-2010 : We woke up to the news that no transportation is available. Our only way was to trek all the way to Dodra and try our luck there. But getting a vehicle in Dodra is also a question mark. So one of our co-trekkers enquired with the villagers whether any alternative solution is there. The villager suggested that “instead of trekking to Dodra, better trek to Natwar (a village in Uttaranchal). From Natwar, Dehradun is just 5 hours drive and from Dehradun, Delhi is 5 hours”. This idea proved to be tempting since we knew that the way back from Dodra to Shimla the roads are very bad and to get vehicles is also tough. We double checked with the villager whether we will get vehicles for sure from Natwar and how long it will take to trek from Himachal to Uttaranchal. He said its just a 'few' hours (read below to understand why this has been marked in bold). Some of us liked this option, a few opted otherwise. So we split up again. 4 deciding to take the same path (Dodra to Shimla) and 6 deciding to trek from Himachal to Uttaranchal. I joined the latter category. We bid farewell to the 4 others and started our trek to Uttaranchal at around 11 am. We hired a couple of guides who will walk along with us till Natwar. It was the beginning of the most picturesque and daunting trek…….
The route was again a series of climbing uphill, descending and climbing up again. All along we had the Rupin river flowing besides us. We crossed it at few places, walked alongside it through dense jungles and rocky hills.
Trek from Kawar towards Natwar
A steep climb down
Through rocky hill
Cutting across rivulets
Through dense vegetation
Break near Gosangu
Nearing the Himachal - Uttaranchal border
Getting into the jungle again
Midway we reached a village Sewa. The route to Sewa was extremely colourful filled with beautiful flowers. We halted at Sewa village for lunch. It was already close to 5 in the evening, meaning we had done a 6 hrs trek till now. We enquired with the villagers on how long it will take to reach Natwar. He replied saying "You won't be able to reach there by tonight. Better go till Dhaula village and stay there for the night. Dhaula is couple of hours walk from here". We were wondering how come even after 6 hrs of continuous trek we are still only half-way to Natwar.
The picturesque village of Sewa
After having a maggi-lunch we started again, the target being Dhaula village. The walk just never seemed to end. We didn't even bother to stop for occasional rest since we wanted to reach Dhaula village before it gets dark. The last thing we wanted was to get stuck in the jungles at midnight. It was raining occasionally which added to the difficulty of the walk. Soon it became dark and we were still not in sight of the Dhola village. No torch in hand, with just the moonlight to show path and the guide leading the way I trekked forward. Others were trailing way behind. The 3 hrs trek in the hilly jungle under moonlight proved to be exciting, but dangerous. Finally at 10 o clock in the night we reached the village of Dhaula only to find the whole village deep in slumber. We had to forcefully wakeup the locals to provide us food and accommodation. It was sweet of them to have woken up in the middle of sleep to prepare food and provide a cozy bedding for us to rest. After a tasty feast of chapathi-rajma we went to bed. It was the end of a long day wherein we had trekked for close to 11 hrs (few hrs !!!)
Dhaula villagers preparing food for us at midnight
17-Sep-2010 : Early morning after finishing a sumptuous breakfast, thanking the villagers, we started our walk again towards Natwar.
One more simple yet tasty food
Dhaula to Natwar
After a couple of hours we finally reached the place. We were relieved that finally our tiresome trekking was over and it’s just a matter of ten hours from here to Delhi (5 hrs to Dehradun and 5 hrs further to Delhi). As the saying goes 'Man proposes, God disposes' we got the news that throughout the route leading to Dehradun the entire route is ravaged with landslides and there is no possibility of vehicle movement. Dehradun from Natwar is close to 200 kms. No way could we walk the entire distance. We somehow found a cab who promised to take us till Damta, a village en-route to Dehradun. We halted there for the night in a small lodge. The big question facing us was how to reach Dehradun with no transportation......
18-Sep-2010 : Morning we woke up and noticed that the rain which started the previous night had not stopped till now and was pouring heavily. The bad news was, the heavy rains had further created havoc on the route ahead causing huge landslides all over. So walking was the only option. The villagers advised us not to walk during rainfall since huge boulders and rocks kept rolling down time and again. With stones falling from such a height, we wont stand a chance of surviving the hit. We could either be killed by the falling stones or be pushed to the side, straight down into the Yamuna, running deep below in the valley. By afternoon the rain reduced to a mere drizzle. This was the best time for us to walk, we felt. Praying for our safety we started our trek towards the next village Nainbagh which was 12 kms away.
Beginning of walk from Damta to the next village
On the way we witnessed the wrath of nature. The entire stretch was rampant with landslides all over. Trees uprooted, roads caved in due to heavy boulders, rivulets flowing right through the road. At some places we saw boulders, as big as a car lying in the middle of the road, obviously fallen due to the slide. We had to constantly look up and check for whether any stones are falling down.
Wrath of Nature. The beginning of never-ending series of Landslides
No, its not the forest route again. It's indeed a landslide on the National Highway 123
Not a rivulet. It's the flood water cutting across the highway
It was strong enough to test your balance
Road completely ravaged
After 4 hrs of tiresome walk, we reached the village of Nainbagh by evening, only to find that there was no electricity in the village since the power cables were affected by landslides. I called up office to update them on the situation and requested to postpone my Egypt ticket booking. When we called up home, we heard the news that flood alert was put up in Uttarkhand district (where we were currently staying). Over 60 people dead. The irony here was the lodge that we stayed was put-up right at the edge overlooking river Yamuna !!
Our guest-house balcony overlooking the flooded Yamuna
With unrelenting rains we were constantly eyeing the water level of Yamuna which was raising gradually. Meanwhile we got a call from the trek batch who had proceeded to Rupin pass. They had successfully completed the trek under extreme condtions and were on their way to Shimla !! Their guts had paid off. Two days back we thought we would be the first to reach Delhi, now we find ourselves stuck in a village which is totally cut-off from the rest of the world. I regretted my decision of quitting the trek....
19-Sep-2010 : My fellow trekker woke me up saying the water level in the river below had raised drastically increasing the possibility of the foundation getting eroded. It seemed the flood water had already washed away a house just few meters away from our place. A river crossing bridge was also in danger of being washed off). With so much of chaos around, we felt that the best thing was to start walking towards Dehradun until we reach a place of safety. By no means could the roads be repaired until atleast a month. Such was the damage caused by flood and landslide. We checked out from the lodge and started our walk. One trekker alone opted against it and stayed back. If at all had we went ahead to Rupin pass along with 6 others, we would have by now reached Shimla. We were destined to go through all these, we thought.
The first hurdle was a live landslide that was happening. Not many people dared to walk through it since boulders and rocks kept falling down. For sometime it remained silent and nothing happened. From my batch, I took the initiative to first try my luck. With heart pounding I started walking towards the danger zone. Apart from my fellow trekkers, there were close to 30 villagers and onlookers sitting and watching the scene from a safe distance. Just as I neared the danger area I heard the villagers shouting at me. It was the landslide !! Stones started rolling down. Immediately I started running back towards safety. The heavy baggage that I was carrying made the run tough. It was a great escape. A series of rocks started rolling down in the same place where I was standing a few seconds before. We waited for few minutes. Again the air was silent. Once again I started my attempt. The plan was to run as fast as possible, climb the pile or rocks and boulders, past the danger area onto the other side. Just as I started my run, once again rocks started to treble. It was as if they were waiting for someone to pass through so that it can fall. Again I had to return. The third attempt proved to be successful. Finally I made it !! Seeing me, my fellow trekkers gained the confidence. Slowly one by one crossed the path. It was pulsating stuff...
Feeling glad to have crossed the hurdle we continued our walk, only to be told that further ahead the roads are in even more dangerous conditions. Infact the villagers advised us not to proceed since the roads have been totally cut off at many places, and the only way was to cross the huge landslides. Since it is loose soil, if by chance we slip we will go straight down hundred of meters deep below into the Yamuna river. We thought we will have a look and then decide. So we proceeded....
We reached the next hurdle. This time it was a huge landslide that had totally taken over the road. To get to the otherside we had to walk 30 meters in loose soil that was literally sliding. Any false step would mean guaranteed death, no chance of survival. The moment we saw it, we decided not to take a chance and return back to Nainbagh village. That’s when one of our Senior trekker joined us (the person who had stayed back at guest house and later changed the decision). He gave us the confidence that we would make it. He lead the way by crossing first. Soon everyone had crossed over. I was the last one left-out. The instruction from them was clear "Never look down below. Don’t keep your feet too firm at any place since it might slide. Don’t hold to anything for grip since you might trigger off a slide again. Just keep walking leaning onto the hill side.". I had three bags to carry. One in my shoulders, one bound in my neck and other I was holding in my teeth (since I had to free my hands). Before starting I just looked down below on my right. I could see there was no place to even hold or hang incase I fall down sliding. With legs trembling, I started walking. It was loose gravel, rocks and soil. Watchfully I proceeded step by step, totally leaning onto the left side. Suddenly I started loosing balance. I caught hold of a small boulder for grip. It came off the soil triggering stones and mud to slide. Thankfully it stopped in a couple of seconds. I remembered the advice. The walk looked eternal. Just to see how much distance is ahead, I raised my head. On the corner of my eyes I accidentally noticed the deep fall below. I started imagining myself falling down deep into the Yamuna. I came back to senses and continued the walk. As I was bending low, the bag bound in my neck started tripping my foot occasionally. With great difficulty I finished the cross finally. To look back at the danger that we crossed, it gave me goosebumps.
The Killer one (probably doesn't look as menacing in the photo as it was in person)
That didn't seem to be the end of the hurdles. A lot more slides of this kind, but slightly manageable level we came across.
After experiencing the Killer, everything else seemed to be a cake-walk
The rampage continued
Despite all the chaos around, the place had a beauty of its own
Walking was proving to be tiresome, necessitating regular breaks
Yamunapool - The end of a tiresome and adventurous walk
After walking for around 5 hrs, crossing many such broken path, we finally reached a place called Yamuna pool where we saw a vehicle. It was like God sent gift for all the hard-work we had done. The driver belonged to Damta village. Since the roads are cut-off he was not able to reach home for the past 13 days it seems. He agreed to drop us at Dehradun. At last... our series of trekking and walking stopped once we boarded the cab. He took the route through Mussorie, via Kempty falls. By night we reached Dehradun. Back to civilisation finally. We were too glad to feel the urban air, the crowd, the traffic snarls, shopping malls etc. It was like returning back after being lost in the wilds. But bad luck still seemed to follow us. All routes to Delhi were cutoff due to flood. No roadways, no railways, no airways. Everything was stuck. Sonia Gandhi was scheduled to have an aerial survey of the flood affected areas the next day. Once again we had to halt for a night.
20-Sep-2010 : After more than a week we finally saw bright sunshine. For the first time after all these days we heard a good news. One of the routes to Delhi is open and buses are available. I called up office again to get update on my visa status. It seemed that the visa was ready and they were just waiting for my arrival to book the tickets. I explained the situation to them and sought postponement of my tickets. Meanwhile we all checked out, split up again wherein one opted to catch the flight to Delhi, two opted to wait for Govt. transportation, the remaining three of us caught the private bus to Delhi. Although the distance is just 240 odd kms, still the journey took 9 hrs to reach Delhi due to rain-affected roads. By the time we reached Delhi, it was too late to catch the flight back home. Our last night halt... at a hotel near to Delhi airport
21-Sep-2010 : Caught the early morning flight to Chennai and reached home by 11 am. It was the end of a riveting and eventful two weeks. Two weeks of wonderful sightseeing, great adventure, life-threatening moments. It’s a different feeling to be part of a natural calamity, to witness the fierceness of nature, to be right there in the middle of the happenings and still manage to escape unharmed, to be alive to narrate the story.
As I browsed the news daily I came across headlines like
• Over 4000 people stranded in Uttarakhand due to flood and landslides • 74 trekkers caught up in landslides in Kinnar district saved by army and villagers • Rain fury in Uttarakhand. 200 villages washed away • 20 Brazilian trekkers caught in flood rescued after many days • Cloudburst in Uttarakhand claims many lives • Death toll increases to 149 in the flood affected Uttarakhand
To think, just a couple of days back, we 6 were there, when all the above were happening around us. Thank God…..we were not part of the news headlines !!!!!!