Monday, October 12, 2009

... to heaven and back

some time last week ... an exhausted but happy set of buddies descended from the Himalayas into civilization. What a trek it was! Physically extremely demanding, with some awesome views to offer ... At the end of the trek we couldn't feel our feet, our knees were numb, my back was numb with pain, some were tanned beyond their original complexions, our stomachs could not take it and were crying out for some "food", hands numb with cold and lastly our lips gone really dry - but it felt damn good. I can close my eyes now, all i can see are the wonderful views of the valley, dry reddish vegetation, snow covered peaks - in one word bliss. One of us said "No wonder they call it the playground of the gods." With this blog i want to pen my thoughts going through my mind during the last 4 kms trek to Kedartaal from Kedar Kharak.

We reached KedarKharak with a rather heavier load on the back compared to previous 2 days. Naturally so, since we grabbed all we can from the ones going back to Gangotri from Bhoj Kharak. After passing a neverending landslide zone on the trek route, the impending assent simply intimidated me. My feet refused to walk further and I could almost hear my calf muscles cursing in all explicitness. Still I had to move on. I looked around me ... i could see only the mighty mountains with snow covered peaks - that kinda looked like cream on a conical shaped cake. With every breath walking was becoming tougher thanks to the altitude and lesser oxygen content. I almost had tears in my eyes towards the end of the assent and was comforted by a thumbs up from Vivek walking in front of me suggesting that we had made it. Just the thought of reaching that day's destination gave me some energy and i made it through the assent. Just a couple of paces and we could see a flat meadow where already a couple of groups had pitched tents for the night. I went further to be greeted by Uday, Pavan, our guide and Pandit (our porter) who made it a couple of minutes ago. I dropped my bag and breathed a sigh of relief. Uday called on to me and said "let's go for a jog." I looked up to him and said "Not now bhav, i m completely exhausted." That didn't bicker Uday's spirit. After a while i heard Vivek say "Man! he's jogging!" In my mind i was laughing at my own fitness.

Pavan started off his photo shoot by going around the camping ground with his cam and soon we spotted a herd of Bharal (mountain goat) at very close proximity. We got some "National Geographic" like snaps. Soon it was time to pitch the tents or face the bitter cold - which i want to add was easily twice that of Bhoj Kharak. All of us began strategising on where to pitch the tent - keeping in mind lessons learnt in the previous night. After a dozen sites ... we settled for a spot that was just enough for a tent in between 2 other tents and beside a big rock. "That oughta sheild us from the wind." we thought. Uday, Pavan and Vivek came up with a beautiful and very effective wind shielding for our tent. Now that we need to use just 2 tents, the other tent became a wind sheeter for our tent. Thanks to Britto's aluminium water bottle - we were able to have some decent heat in our sleeping bags. Trekkers take note - we put in boiling hot (i mean it) into that aluminium bottle, capped it tightly and put it into the sleeping bag. This was done in a round robin basis in all of our 4 sleeping bags. This gives sooo much warmth that people were sweating inside the sleeping bags. Soon after dinner, the temperature just dropped drastically and we settled in our very cozy tent for the night. Pandit said "Dada, gaana gaao" and started off with his signature "Sri Ram Sri Ram, Jai hanuman" hymn. Soon every one in the adjoining tents too joined in with Hindi and Bangla numbers. We were reluctant and sang chorus ... but soon we were singing songs from all languages loudly. It started off with A R Rahman hits, moving on to Ilayaraja songs, then finally Kannada songs. Uday was so uncomfortable with our songs ... but we were enjoying. And so the time went and i didn't realise when i slept.

Woke up to a gust of cold wind the next morning only to realise that its 5:45 am and we had to start for KedarTaal early today. I had no intention of brushing my teeth, but Uday urged me to brush giving me some gyan on fresh mouth. Pandit boiled some water for us and we were off. The plan for the day is ... start for KedarTaal early, spend some time there and go back to Bhoj Kharak for the night. With some opinions voiced over by our fellow trekkers about the time of the day during which Kedar Taal appears the best, we decided to start early (ditching breakfast) trek comfortably.

We started off from Kedar Kharak at about 7.00 am taking it real slow. I guessed that the last stretch would be a walk through snow - i was right. Walking a few paces we reached the first signs of the previous night's sub-zero temperatures: a frozen part of the stream. We moved further, more frozen streams. I had this childlike smile on my face (although i couldn't see it myself, it was me who was smiling right ? ;) coz i had only seen stuff like this on Discovery channel. That pumped me up and we walked on eating dry grapes (or raisins) in frequent intervals as a water supplement. Every step of the way we could feel the lesser oxygen content and we all were of the opinion that we had no proper acclimatization to that particular altitude although no one said it. The sun came up above the right side mountains - ah! some relief. slowly the layers started coming off. I removed my jacket and Pavan removed his. I looked up to see azure skies - we were above the clouds looking down on them! Soon we reached a point where the path just ended and there were rocks all over. Razor sharp, very unstable heaps of rocks which we have to navigate to go to an assent which was snow covered. "Abhi aadha rasta hai dada" cried the guide trying to increase our rather slow pace. We didn't budge. We kept our slow but steady pace and crossed over the rock heaps (little realising that we were walking on the glacier from which Kedar Ganga is born.) Then a little distance further i could see our snow covered path. I stopped to look around. the Sun was toward my left and i could see thalaysagar peak straight in front with its prominent summit. To my right i could see a completely snow covered pleateau sort of a thing which gradually became a mountain. To my rear was the end of the snow cover and begining of the valley floor. Is this bliss or what! Imagine, the Azure skies above your head with the whitest of the white snow cover upfront for the longest distance combined with the faint murmur of KedarGanga and her cousin streams. I closed my eyes, took a deep cold breath and let the scenery sink in.

At about half past 11 we reached a sort of a plain land surrounded by mountains. The land was flat with occassional crevices and crests showing up along the way. One such crest which was prominent from the rest caught my attention. The crest had a smooth surface as though a mason had worked on it. It was just like a cement surface. I kept thinking what it could be ... and bam! it was a glacier. The whole plateau that we were walking on since the start of the sharp rock surface was a glacier! Little did we realise that we were walking on the very glacier in which Kedar Ganga has its origins. I was kinda sad that we didn't trek to Gaumukh to see the source of Ganga ... wish fulfiled now. From this point i think we have the _best_ view of Thalaysagar. I was kinda dissappointed as to when will Kedar Taal show herself because we were continuously climbing. One more bend to go said a seasoned trekker ... that boosted our (atleast mine and Pavan's) morale and we walked on. Pavan walked ahead of me and I walked a few paces behind. The last ascent simply irritated me. I felt ... is it ever going to get over. I clinched my teeth and walked on ... I heard Pavan's exclaiming voice and looked up. He said "we made it." I started running ... i ran to where Pavan was standing and there ... i saw the lake. Its something that I had never seen before. A lake bordered by hills and mountains from all sides. We climbed down near the lake shore. To my right I could see the shore line of the lake which gradually became a mountain - completely snow covered. The farther end of the lake was gleaming white reflecting the snow covered peaks and hills. The nearer end of the mountain was reflecting the azure skies. The mix is just awesome. Some daredevils had managed to camp on the shores of the lake! The first thing I did was to splash my face with some water from the lake. Even in the _hot_ sun the water was below zero. My face felt numb for a few moments after I splashed the water. I really can't think of enough sentences to properly describe the scenery. Therefore I'll let the pictures do the talking. Have a look