My first trek to Uttarakhand: A tale of rolling meadows and misty mountains

My trek to Pangarchulla Peak in Uttarakhand was planned months in advance. The trek was booked with ‘Trek The Himalayas’, tickets to and from Kolkata to Delhi where booked, and also those to and from Delhi to Haridwar. We reached Haridwar in the morning after a rather bumpy ride in the bus and then a ten hour jeep ride took us to Joshimath. When we reached in the evening, we were tired. Joshimath, at just over 6,000 ft is kind of a transit town for pilgrims and is not what you would describe as a bustling hill station.
The trek would start the next day and last 4 days. The third day would be the summit attempt day and as I will describe in another article, I could not make it to the summit. That was definitely something that disheartened me a bit, but those few days of the trek in the Himalayas with a bunch of like-minded people was an experience in itself, to add to the various trek experiences I have had before. Will try to highlight the salient points, memories that will surely stay with me for a long time to come.

1. The majestic peaks: A trek in the Himalayas is all about a date with some of the tallest mountains in the world and spending time with them up, close and personal. Uttarakhand is home to many magnificent peaks- Nanda Devi, the tallest of them stands at 7,816 meters. The summit of Pangarchulla is in comparison only about 4,700 meters high, so as you camp high up in the hills, they tower all around you and you can catch clear glimpses of the pristine snow capped peaks when the weather clears. From our camp at Gulling Top, the Dronagiri peak, also over 7,000 meters high, looked like a dream. We would camp about a kilometer and half higher up than the Khullara camp on day 2 to make the summit day hike a little shorter and from there we could see the Hathi and the Gori parvat . We also caught a glimpse of the majestic Nanda Devi on our way towards the summit, when we stopped on a ridge at the break of dawn and the first rays of the morning sun lit up the skies. Camping at high altitudes mean that these peaks become your next door neighbours. After a burst of rain in the late afternoon when the skies clear up and when the evening sun adorns the surroundings with a mellow yellow light, the peaks in a distance look straight out of an oil painting. And eventually they catch the reddish rays of the setting sun before becoming dark, shimmering, shapes in a distance. At night, in the silvery glow of the moon, they attain a surreal quality.

 

2. The lush green trails and the pretty meadows: On the first day of the trek we meandered through pretty villages, along step farms that seemed to come rolling down the green hillside and walked pass gurgling mountain streams. We came across the villagers, said hi, met the kids on their way to school and had a taste of the village way of life up in the hills, as we took a break or filled water from a stream. After having crossed the last village, we reached our first campsite, and beyond that there was no civilization, just the forests and the mountains which seemed to come closer as we climbed up. On the second day we came across large green meadows, nestled higher in the Himalayas and trust me, they are one of the prettiest sights, especially in summer when little white and yellow flowers dot the green grass. A vast expanse of rolling green is a sight that soothes your senses like no other, it is such sights that make your forget the long walk and relieves the ache in your tired legs. And at this time of the year, shepherds take their sheep up to the highlands to graze and we were lucky to see an extraordinary sight- hundreds and thousands of sheep coming down the hillside like a cascade, moving and bleating white dots, in a motion that apparently looked haphazard but had some sort of method in it.Somewhere with them would be the sheepdog, a large fury creature, softly barking and urging the herd ahead. Simple pastoral scenes are close quarters in the high Himalayas as you trekked or sipped on your evening tea and the sun dipped into the horizon painting nature a mesmerizing red, is an experience to be cherished.

3. The countless stars in the sky: Another great thing about treks is that if the weather is clear, watching stars in the sky is a treat. In the cities because of the lights and polluted skies we cannot see the stars, but high up in the mountains, the skies are clear and you can see the stars and the galaxies clearly like you would do in planetarium. And now with these apps like Skymaps it is easy to locate each of the stars and the constellations and as you are out of your tent late in the night, wrapped in all the warm clothes you have and still shivering, watching the stars is a treat. You are mesmerized by the countless celestial objects light years away, as men have been for ages, marveling at the vastness of the universe, feeling insignificant in comparison, yet trying to find out some meaning in the vastness.

4. The meals in the dining tent: Here, I have to mention the food which was really good. While the lunch was mostly daal and rice, the dinner would be elaborate consisting of daal, rice, roti, some subji, and a sweet dish. We would all sit huddled in the tent for an early dinner, helping ourselves with the hot steaming food served in large saucepans, filling up plates and passing on to each other and generally hogging after a long day’s trek. The food was delicious, maybe it tasted even more delicious , inside a tent, next to a battery light, as the wind howled or it poured relentlessly outside. And there would be conversations and bonding over a meal. On days there would be gulab jamun and jalebis for dinner and we all would eat with renewed vigour. On the summit day, the breakfast was at 3.30 am, when the sun was not up and the glow of the moonlight still permeated the surroundings, we were served hot pasta, maggi and porridge! A family that eats together stays together. Oh yes, have to mention another meal. Also on summit day, I was back after a failed attempt and when I had came back and collapsed in my tent, one of the support staff served me lunch, a plate of hot khicuri and pickles. To me it was like manna from heaven and this is one meal I will not forget in a hurry.

5. Being lulled into sleep: This one is an experience that is difficult to put down in words. Mules used to carry our luggage and there would also be other horses too around. Bells are tied to their necks and at night, they would roam around the campsite, their bells ringing softly, not in any practiced pattern or in any pre-decided harmony, the sound of it increasing and decreasing as they would walk closer and away from the tents. It is the best form of lullaby, the soft tingling of the bells slowly soothing your tired mind. I had a tent to myself and I cherished those moments as I made myself comfortable in the sleeping bag and drifted off to a peaceful sleep.
These and many other experiences made my trip such a special one. Soon , I will write about the summit day, stay tuned for more!

( Photographs by Shilpi Sarker)

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