When was the last time you dreamt? Visualized your dream? Did you just forget your dream in the business of your life? Well, I did!
And then, I lived my dream!
The journey is beautiful and adventurous, destination is extremely exhilarating while, here’s the origin of my dream:
Sitting on the second floor of the hotel, facing Leh Palace, we were introducing ourselves and the treks we’ve been to before. The heights, distances, views and grades of each mountain path everyone mentioned gave an adrenaline rush, one struck hard when someone said – “MachaPuchare”. What? Machapuchare? You mean fish tail? For the fish lover in me, I wanted to see how it looks like and instantly googled it and thought, “Man, you ought to be really fit and strong to climb it. I wish someday I climb and look at the fish tail right in front of me.” That’s all about it, we then started prepping for the next few days of fear and a lot more to attempt Stok Kangri. Never did I think of it until..
The Journey of Self-Exploration:
The night before trek, while walking on road looking for Nepali Thali – 14 October 2019
Siman: O’ Hello Naveen ji, Suresh ji? Dinner done? You are aware that I will be your trek leader, Sonam is our guide and porter. Meet my friend Bikram, he’s here on a holiday, if you don’t mind, can he join us for the trek?
Naveen: of course Siman ji! The more the merrier. Ensure arrangements are done accordingly.
Day1: Pokhara to Deurali (2100m). 30min drive/ 5hrs trek – 15 October 2019
The drive from Pokhara to Phedi is spectacular. Wherever you see, snowcapped brown mountains stand in their majesty, yet subtle! But our focus is more on the ATM machines because we might have to buy eatables during the journey and sure, you need money! Fortunately, SBI ATMs provided Nepalese Rupee with Indian ATM cards.
The first few steps seem like soon we’ll reach a villa hidden in the bushes but as we climb the stoned stairs, though small yet many in number, they seem to never end, now they are being stony! 60 minutes of climb, Sibu ji, Sonam ji, Suresh ji and Bikram ji climb like they are on a school excursion – excited kids, laughing at everything, running around like it’s a park and here was I, contemplating – if I continue this for another 3 hours, my thigh muscles would wither off and I would look like a Kentucky Chicken with no flesh on the bone!
Its sultry, sunny, been sipping water. Steps will surely take me to heaven because as far as I can see, lush greenery, proudly shining sun and stoned stairs that reach the sky. When you’re about to lose spirit, someone appears out of nowhere to lift you up! That’s exactly, what this Amma did – plucked cucumbers and other fruits from her garden on the slope of the mountain, mixed some spices into a pickle and gave us the best energy booster that won the battle with heat and my spirit. Now I decided, I will reach atop and rest.
It’s 8:00 pm, I am all set to sleep under the blanket on this soft bed, shivering in cold in this 7-bed room and this man, Bikram ji, drives me crazy asking, “Naveen ji, do you want to eat some fruits?”, how can I say no?’
First day in the lap of mighty Annapurna is successful!
Day2: Deurali to Forest camp (2530m). 6/7 hrs trek – 16 October 2019
6:00 am – (Outside the room) – Stranger1 – Its very cold, I have three layers on, I can’t walk
Stranger2 – I don’t think we can go far, whole of Annapurna is covered with clouds
(Inside the room) Me to myself: After yesterday’s stunt, should I really go ahead today? I want to go back home safe. I have come here without any preparation, should I risk my body? Shiva, if you want me to come up there, show me a sign, tell me if I should climb high or walk back?
Just when I stepped out of the washroom, everyone happily called out to each other – “the clouds are moving, that’s Annapurna III, next to it on the right is Hitchauli, and there on further right is Machapuchare” and I stood there awestruck – blankets of clouds raced among themselves to give us a spectacular view of this mighty range. I am coming Shiva!
After the first surprise, comes the shocker – 7-8 year old kids’ uber excited to trek, running around the kitchen and dining tables, asking their parents to finish the Nepali bread with butter, jam and omelette with a cup of hot green tea! I wonder where these kids get the energy from!
Straight for about 100m and then a right for the next one hour is the path of abundance! Abundance of long green trees, with very big barks and some slender, so many that even the sunlight finds it difficult to seep through the shadows of these trees. The path is very simple – naturally inclined with a few steps dotted at distances that make this day a walk in the park. Is there a greater artist than the one who created nature? We have been to other parts of the Himalayas and this is very different from the others! Mountain is a mountain, why aren’t the treads the same?
Siman ji, Suresh ji, speaking about everything in the world, are at a visible distance behind me. Sonam ji and Bikram ji are racing with each other to reach the Forest Camp first. Here I am, mesmerized at the beauty of everything around me. The voice of birds, shapes of leaves, the little passage the sunrays make from the sky, at every turn a glimpse of MachaPuchare – covered in clouds like the Indian bride dolled up.
Pizza at a height of 2530m, sitting amidst people of different countries, one playing guitar, someone singing, a few playing cards, some playing volleyball, what more should I ask for? This spider on the glass window of the dining hall is irking me, might attack my green tea with honey! ‘Naveen ji aapko pata hai, Neha Kakkar aaya tha mere sapne me, wo mereko bahut achcha lagta hai. Vo Nepal aayega na, main usko Nepal ka queen banayega, aur hum dono ka height bhi match hota hai – same same – you know!” – said Sonam and his dream girl stories took us on a laughter ride.
Day3: Forest camp to Low camp (2970m). 6hrs – 17 October 2019
“I know this route, feels like I’ve walked here many times before” Suresh ji to Siman ji: Oh God, you’ll have to hear this again and again till we reach back India Siman ji: Naveen ji, you are a true nature lover. You will feel like you know the place or you belong there because you connect with everything around you, you feel at home wherever you go Sonam ji: I don’t know about you Naveen ji, but I will feel at home when Neha agrees to marry me… I my Neha… Suresh ji: oh you both started with your obsession??? This day is gonna be crazy, I better stay away from you both (laughing)
1 hour into the forest, a walk of peace and harmony, we five walking at our pace, in trance and awe at the beauty of naturally fashioned trees – some leaning on the other, some tall and slender, some huge and wide, some colorful, some wet, most with pink stem.
“Can you believe it? I was talking to the tree and since the stem was wet and fibrous, I wrapped my arms around her, I felt some movement inside, awestruck, I leaned and placed my ear on the stem, I could hear and feel water dripping, but I don’t see any water outside. Wow!! That’s magical!! Never experienced it before “, I danced in joy.
The trail is wide, wet soil, mostly red, inclines are steady and not steep. There are so many trees that it’s difficult remember the route. Once lost, you’ll never be found I guess. It’s sunny on the sky but here, under the canopy of tree, it’s cold and energizing.
For lunch we halt at a small kitchen setup by two men from a village. The prawn crackers are tempting but being a vegetarian, I hold back and relish amazing bamboo pickle with bamboo rice and daal.
Once at the destination, our room is cold, mattresses cold, water cold. It’s windy. Clouds blanket over. Gloves, muffler, woolen socks, jackets and thermals are not enough. It’s very cold. Our dinner time is fun – talking to people from different countries, sitting across the fire oven, Sonam ji plays guitar very well, Bikram ji always serves us food first. Hot Chocolate here is yumm.
Day 4: Low camp to high camp (3540m). 4hrs – 18 October 2019
Shorter day of trek, good rest and sleep, we leave in the night to Mardi Himal – that’s the plan. It’s cloudy and cold. Once again I pray, “Shiva, should I come forth? Should I trek today? I am doing well so far. I want all of us to go back home safe. Nothing else matters” When I finish my breakfast and come out of the dining room, I see sparkling white tip of MachaPuchare, with clouds covering the rest of the sky. He always shows me signs. All geared and power-packed, we start.
“Sibu ji, I stopped eating non vegetarian because I didn’t want animals to be killed for me. Now that three doctors have forced me to eat meat and fish for my health to improvise I will. It’s been four years I have not. From today I will.”
At 2pm we reach our rooms. Relished chicken. Walked around, basked in sun. Rested. All seems amazing, I’m a little anxious for tomorrow night would be my first night trek to the summit.
Day 5: High camp to Upper view point (4250m) and back to high camp. 3 hrs – 19 October 2019
It’s about 10 am. “Sibu ji, air here is comforting, the route is familiar, trees generous, every view is new, yet so homely. There’s a very comforting connection. If peace can be picturised, this is peace. Can I sit in the lap of those five trees standing together?” I close my eyes, sitting cross legged. When I come back to this world, I see there’s a thin line that differentiates this world with the world I was in. And that difference is” belongingness”. There I connect with everything around while here is a roller coaster of emotions.
By 12 noon we reach the dining hall. Very hungry. I’ll go for vegetarian meal. We’re closer to MachaPuchare. Tonight it is.
“We wake up at 1 am, start at 2am. Normally it takes 1 hour 30 minutes to Mardi Himal View Point 1 and about 20 minutes from there to View Point 2. But because you are with us Naveen ji, we will go very slow and will try to reach in 3 hours 30 minutes. Take rest. Relax. We are with you Naveen ji, we will make your dream come true. Just pray for good weather. “, asserted Sibu Ji
The Summit : 1 am: its so cold, I’m freezing, should we really go now? – I. 2 am: Sonam will lead us, Bikram will be with you, Suresh ji will follow you and I will be the last. You don’t carry anything. We have the torch lights, we are carrying water also. Suresh ji is carrying eatables and your day pack also. You hold the trekking poles properly. It’s easy route and cold. We are lucky for the full moon light. Don’t push yourself, we will go at your pace. – explained Sibu Ji.
3 am: I don’t want to walk anymore. I am okay but I can’t walk further. This seems to be a safe place, you guys go ahead, look at the sunrise from View Point and I will view from here. Please go. Don’t wait for me, I am happy I came this far. You’ll miss the sunrise, go. – I persuaded. “Naveen ji if we leave you and go, what if Neha Kakkar gets to know? She won’t marry me then Naveen ji, don’t you want me to get married and live happy?” – giggled Sonam, the little boy with enormous strength and beautiful dreams
4 am: “Suresh, Sibu, wait, don’t walk. I am not feeling anything, no fear, no thoughts, no pain, my brain is not having any thoughts. Is it AMS?” “No. Just breathe. You are alright. Sit down for a few minutes” – helped Suresh. “Drink water Naveen ji” – offered Sibu
“Nothingness! People pray and meditate for years together to attain this. I’m experiencing it now. I am just me. Free of thoughts and emotions.” – I announce it to both and start walking.
5 am: “Bikram ji you said just 500 steps, we’ve already crossed a 1000 i guess. These are not steps, these are rocks cut in rectangular shapes with a hand railing on the side. You fooled me well. I can’t climb these gigantic steps anymore” – obviously me! “I will take you to View Point 2 Naveen ji. You start climbing or we’ll carry you” – threatened Bikram
5:20 am:“Woo hoo.. Array Naveen ji… You made it.. We’re at View Point 1 before sunrise. Rocking Naveen ji, now i will sing a song for Neha and dedicate to you” – exclaimed Sonam in joy Bikram ran to View Point 2 Tea shop uncle was serving tea Suresh and Sibu walk with me to the tea shop, sitting around the fire in this freezing cold, we’re so happy and excited. Waiting for the first ray of light
5:30 am: “Light aagaya.. I can see the sky.. Come Naveen Ji Suresh Ji.. Can you see the snow and clouds on MachaPuchare, Hichauli and Annapoorna III?” – jumped Sibu in joy
“You have brought me safe until here, you will take me back home safe. Make all this worth it, give us a glance of MachaPuchare without the clouds” I murmur
Far from us in the sky, With Pink radiance are the clouds in the south, Majestically standing in Pristine white Shoulder to shoulder are Annapoorna and Hichauli, Announcing his arrival with the yellow tinge, Rising sun is the world of joy, Running clouds beat my heart, To see you in your pride Have I dreamt of – I asked for a glimpse Here you are – Mighty yet simple, Unconcoquered yet so close, You my love, MachaPuchare“
To thank the universe, I sit in a corner and meditate.
Yes, I am living my dream, right here and now. Just me, MachaPuchare and my people who brought me here.
Day 5: High camp to Siding village (1700m). 6/7hrs – 20 October 2019 and Day 6: Trek Siding Village to Lwang village (1,460m) approx. 5 hours & Drive back to Pokhara, 3 hours – 21 October 2019
Less words, more joy. Still in awe in the beauty of everything Mardi Himal presents. Everything and everyone in the world is so beautiful. We see a group of nature lovers, they go around the mountains in Nepal to clean and carry the rubbish we trekkers make / throw. They choose to make world a better place to live in, sacrificing their holidays and weekends. Such inspiring people! We will meet soon
This trek would not have been possible without the help of so many people, needless to say, Sibu ji (Siman) – the amazing cool planner, Sonam ji – youngest but brightest, Suresh ji – my savior in all treks – we four were already in the plan. We didn’t expect this friendship to happen and grow but these 6 days are magical. The man who wasn’t in the plan but came from nowhere like an angel – Bikram ji, you’ll know better about his selflessness in this conversation –
2 am to 5 am: Bikram ji, please don’t walk by my side on the edges, you’ll fall. Sonam ji is showing the way forward, stop risking your life for me. You might be strong but you need light and you must look at the route for yourself, looking at my footsteps, moving stones for me to walk easy, you have already slipped twice. Stop worrying about me, walk ahead of me or behind, not on the narrow, steep edges. – I kept repeating it but, Bikram ji had one response – “I will rest only after showing you MachaPuchare and taking you back safe to Pokhara, till then I will be by your side”, with a smile that shone his teeth in the darkness of the night.
Mardi Himal is one of the easiest trek in Nepal. People finish it in 3-4 days. We took 7. It’s beautiful and closest to Annapurna III, Hichauli, MachaPuchare and other peaks, all can be seen from one point in Mardi Himal. We were strangers when we booked with ‘Everest Tour Nepal’, now we have memories for life. Mr. Sibu is the man behind making it happen – +9779849178651
You would agree when I tell you that Happiness is the best gift you can give someone, and how better does it get if you hand paint the most joyous moment of life! For a trekker, the most joyous moment is the sight of your tents while descending from a summit, this mixture of accomplishment, of safety, of belonging, of freedom and of peace, was captured by my friend Suresh while descending from Goecha La while I waited in the tent for my trek mates.
It’s wonderful when you hand paint it yourself but you’re blessed when your friend recreates that moment like a magic, yes, my friend Pallavi, with her magical hands, artistic mind, empathetic heart, painted our memories on a canvas, garnished them with ceramic and gave them a life for a lifetime! Just by hearing the bits of our trek story and looking at the picture, Pallavi created this Masterpiece, like she was there at 16000ft, looking at us to retell this story in a painting! Though I didn’t summit that day, holding this painting in my hand made me feel, I’ve done it, I’m at the top of Goecha La! If a painting can speak, this painting echoes the joy of mountains! I always wondered if anyone can recreate the moment in the way I feel it, it’s a dream come true, it’s because of you, Pallavi! Words are less to thank Pallavi, Pallavi’s painting frame maker, Ajay, Atul, my Delisha, my Mom, Anuja, Anuja’s parents, my family, my Goecha La trek mates, Taai, Saranbir, Suresh, my cab drivers, boarding pass provider, packaging person, security personnel and my brain & heart to make this possible! This one is in the core of my heart! Thank you Pallavi, keep creating and spreading magic!
Men with long nose, women blessed with beauty, full of heart is the land of Tehran, Iran. “Athithi Devo Bhava” translates to “Guest is God“, though stated and practiced in India, it is felt in the eyes of everyone in Iran. Farsi or the Persians have a deep history marked in red and black and white, yet the glory over the centuries remains in the “Respect and Love” for thy neighbor.
People! It’s “People”, all that I talk of Iran though it has amazing weather, history, monuments and lifestyle. This blog is more on the wonderful-ness of the people, richness of food, nature blessed beauty, fun at work, along with other cherish-able experiences one must be lucky for.
The chill winds freezing my toes urge the wanderer to walk fast on the unending lanes leading from one to another and another. It’s beautiful. Temperature is 1°C at 12 noon but the warm smiles from the unknowns make one at ease. A stroll across the streets of my hotel is my introduction to this beautiful city.
“Goodbye my friend, we shall meet if you come back” chuckled my Indian friends because of the inhuman political powers creating terrorism around Iran. When I met my chauffeur at the airport to drive me to hotel, I was relaxed. Excitement grew when Mr. Jabbari personally visited me to ensure I am at ease, on a Friday, while he was supposed to be enjoying his weekend with his family.
“Vegetarian?” Mr. Yaghmai confirms as he is in a shock since I ruined his joy when he exclaimed “we have a variety of Kababs for you for lunch Mr. Hinduja“. I had no idea that this marks the beginning of mission “Vegetarian Hunt” for Mr. Jabbari and team. They would have long discussions almost everyday on planning to introduce me to the best vegetarian they can offer. For dinner, after several failed attempts at many restaurants asking for vegetarian or eggs, one boy understood the sign language to get me egg and rice, thus a successful round of dumb charades in the land of unknowns, I made friends with the owner of the restaurant, “Kasra“. Happy faces and Happy stomach is a happy day.
Perceptions were that work might be tough due to the language barrier as very few people knew English but the barrier turned out to be a blessing in disguise, work is now fun because people here are fun.” MAS-TER“, Mr. Ali would look up to me with the hope that I answer all his questions, with the respect to the relationship between a teacher and a student. In Farsi,
the elementary school teacher is called as Moallem
the High School teacher – Dabir
the University professor – Ostad translating Ostad in English got me a new name “Mas-ter“.
The warmth of people here makes me feel at home. I fear not of anything that does not happen anywhere else in the world. I have people to help, guide and accompany. Of 16 colleagues, I have 16 friends now. Iran is a globe in itself, having deserts, lakes, mountains of snow and boulders, forests, rivers, the Caspian Sea, and many monuments. I am excited that I shall go to one or some of these places of wonder on the only Friday that we have. But right now the discussions are on the food I must eat, here’s the Irani cuisine spread out to me –
Light green from the Peacock feather with a dash of white at the center, extremely dark green aromatic corner marked opposite to the woody tinge is my bowl of Kashk-e-bademjan, the rich, tasty, nutritious Farsi delicacy garnished with love, made of eggplant, egg and more, straight from the north Iran specially brought to me to relish the King of all no-meat Farsi food. 34 eyes waiting to capture my expression when my tongue feels Kashk-e-bademjan the first, like a Mother feeling joy in her child liking Her hand-cooked food, they are rejoicing my liking for Kashk-e-bademjan. Ms. Sara very responsibly explains the recipe and richness of Kashk-e-bademjan.
Each day, each colleague suggests the best for me – from food to places and after a lot of discussions Mr. Jabbari’s team would introduce me to the best of what they can offer. India is known for spices around the world but Iran, nonetheless has rich spices that fill the soul with aroma and taste – Saffron being the King of all. “Tachin” the Saffron rice cake is my favorite of all, yellowness of the Saffron held together by the smoothness of eggs with yougurt, steamed on all sides and roasted in Golden-Brown on one side, is definitely heaven for a foodie.
Nothing defines the blend of eating Khorma – Dates rice – “Adas Polo“, so rich in itself, with Zeytoon Parvardeh.
Zeytoon Parvardeh has a unique blend of Olives, Walnuts and Pomegranate, an unimaginable ‘hhhhhhmmmm..’combination that tastes so good that I eat one pack everyday yet the tempt for more does not fulfill. The freshly baked designer breads are more of appetizers as they have so many designs and variety in taste that eating one type of a bread a day can take up to a month to taste them all. Mr. Kazimi makes my plate everyday with lot of love for the food his country has and the respect he has for his Mihman – guest.
First Friday! First Feat! Newness is exciting, my First Friday is very new and uber exciting. Mr. Naser with his wife, Mrs. Elnaaz is driving us early in the morning to “Tochal”, the house of snow. We’re all set with our gadgets – jackets, glasses, gloves, scarf, muffler and food. Ms. Elnaaz and I converse in small English sentences and wide smiles while Mr. Naser brings us the tickets to “Telecobin”, the cable car. No language is required when you speak the language of kindness, love and respect and that is the medium of our conversation. Up we go in the Telecobin over the loose mud and rocky path and bang – it’s all WHITE, PRISTINE WHITE.
I just want to open the door of Telecobin and set my Foot on the snow. Woah! Woah! Woah! The 3 ladies slipping and falling and rolling on the ice is so funny and nice! I am too afraid to fall but the First Walk on the Snow is Magical! I am very happy and excited and Wow! It is just Wow! You must be here to experience it. I am so thankful to Mr. Naser and my friend Ms. Elnaaz that I am in loss of words, I am just enjoying the moment with them, they have made my dream come true of walking on the snow, knee-deep snow! Woooooaaahhh….my knee is struck down and with great effort I am trying to move out, Ms. Elnaaz smiles at me and is running to get me out. I wonder how is she running when I can merely walk! Mr. Naser is all smiles, clicking our pictures. Zooooom, Zoooop, Zoooo…fun-makers are sliding down on the plastic-sack, I would never try that though! It’s awesome to see but needs guts to go on an uncontrolled mission to nowhere. Santa would be fascinated, if he were here!
Ash Rishdey, at this height, nobody would imagine of one among the best soups in the world! Sour-cream, spinach and noodles with lot more taste makers, wow! It’s my favorite soup now, I can have any number of bowls of it.
Ms. Elnaaz happily peeling the boiled eggs in the freezing temperature of -40°C. Hot food in the cold snowfall is an experience out of the world. We’re lucky! Snow-fall it is! Unexpected, unimagined surprise by nature! Many people trek up to the 7th station but since we are on picnic mode, we are traveling up in Telecobin upto 5th station but who would miss trekking on snow, so we hike up! Just when the snow stopped, my buddy, Sun came up out of nowhere. The mountains and peaks shine bright, everything has come to life suddenly, smiling in their own way. The whiteness of snow on high mountains are greeted by the black rocks dotted around. It’s too risky to be walking on the edge but we do, the adrenaline junkie as Mr. Naser calls himself, we are blessed to be here. Slipping and sliding I walk while Ms. Elnaaz and Mr. Naser laugh and hold me up, it’s a day to remember and live again.
A day of fun, happiness, adventure, memories, from morning to evening, gifted by Mr. Naser and Ms. Elnaaz, who happily planned and spent their weekend with me. I am joyous and thanking my friend in India who told me a day before I start, about the snow in Iran, which I never thought of, thinking it would be hot as Iran is somewhere in the middle east, and to the whole group of my friends in Iran who discussed almost every day about the best place I must visit on the only weekend I have here, to make it memorable. I have to inform Mr. Jabbari, I am super fine and having lots of fun and he need not worry too much of my health. Of all the monuments and other options, I chose “snow” because I had never walked on snow and here I am, an Eskimo!
Iran is a beautiful country with warm people. World famous “Tehran Bazaar” is on any traveler’s list. I might not have gone unless Mr. Jabbari offered to be my friend and guide on a Bazaar tour for about 3 hours. 3 hours because I did not buy anything as the gifts given by my friends already crossed the weight on baggage allowance and I could dare to buy no-more but next time I go to Iran, I will definitely spend 8 hours buying a suitcase full of things for friends and family. Mr. Naser takes pride in representing his motherland, thus we go to “Tajrish Bazaar” where the vibrant colors of dry fruits, nuts, spices, sweets, pickles, marmalade
and colorful plates – “Lapis Lazuli / Mina Kaari / Sofale Hamedan“, handmade boxes – “Khatam” with historic importance
and Nazar Ghorboni
are very attractive and artistic. The variety and richness in the bazaar is captivating, coming out of it empty handed is impossible. Ms. Azarnian is very happy that I am going to places she suggests and I am liking them. The lady at hotel feels pride in serving me the best breakfast and planning my outings.
Each human is different and so are my 16 friends but somehow we are all connected.
Mr. Naser – an adventure lover, Mr. Rabbani – my Farsi teacher, Mr. Ali – merry-maker – the “MAS-TER”, Mr. Behnam – intellectual, Mr. Tavalaie – a leader, Mr. Saeed – technically sound, Mr. Buddy – passionate artist and learner, Mr. Hassan – explorer, Ms. Farideh – quick learner, Ms. Mehrnaz – true Yogi (yoga practitioner who traveled to India to learn Yoga) and foodie (always eats in the class ), Ms. Minoo – very soft spoken and understanding, Mr. Bakht – leader, teacher and my translator, Mr. Nahal – logical, Ms. Sara – experimental, responsible, guiding, Mr. Farbod – technology savvy, experimental, Mr. Jabbari – responsible and caring.
One word is not enough to describe each person, though different yet they have these in common – respect, love, humbleness, caring for and honoring the guest – that’s Iran. I am lucky to live amongst the most adorable people. The concept of “honoring the guest” is so much in their blood that “a guest is a part of the family“, thus Mr. Jabbari though me being a corporate guest for him, honored me to dine with his family – his wife – Mam – the most beautiful lady with grace and elegance, their daughter – Camilie – sweet, friendly child.
Each one is so sweet that I had to fight with them to stop gifting me so many things as their warmth is the best gift they have given,yet they would not stop gifting – Gaz, Zeytoon Parvardeh, Dates Syrup, Khatam, Pistachios, Saffron and most delicious, melting in the mouth – “Sohan”
…my mouth waters when I write about it, so delicious that it is specially ordered and made for a special guest / occasion. My ears sooth to listen to the music of Kamancheh, Persian classical instrument,
and the most beautiful surprise I ever got on my life – close to my heart is –
If you want to experience true humanity, go to Iran. India and Iran have a lot of history and lots in common like the words – “bazaar, nazar, mushkil, noor, ishq, roz, mehman, ..” and most of all “Athithi Devo Bhava”, we both practice. I keep saying to my Iranian friends and everyone “however far we are, we share the same roots, somewhere deep down we are connected”
Suddenly, I felt something sticky below my lower lip on the right. I struggled to move my numb hand from below my head on the sloppy ground, so I moved my fingers first, tilted my head and the moment hit me hard to reality that I have been alone for several long hours between three mountains. Instantly, I sprang from the sleep that was deeper than the stream near our tent, from the glaciers of Kanchendzonga. Yes, I am at Lamuney, the day 6 of our 8 day strenuous trek to the Goecha La Pass with Indiahikes. I turn to my right, take my phone from my day-pack, switch it on to see that it’s already 11:00 a.m., 10 hours before I was with 23 trekkers, now I am here wondering about the spirit one must possess to be on one of the most demanding treks the mighty Himalayas flaunt, the Goecha La Pass.
The Day 1 (07-Noveber-2016) of our trek started from Yuksom (5643 ft), the base camp, Suresh climbing down the two floors to offload the rucksacks, Muqalla serving us boiled eggs, oats porridge, Bournvita with hot chocolate as an option, for the breakfast, on the chilly-bright morning. All of us seemed excited and nervous at the same time. All of us geared with water bottles, 2 layers of upper clothing and a single layer lower, trekking pole, variety of trekking shoes (Forclaz being the common), day-hat shielding us from the Sun, dry-fruits and glucose tablets in the day-pack and a jacket in hand. I bought a jacket from the Bhaiya ji’s shop on the ground floor of our base camp building, as the leather jacket I had carried from Mumbai would rot up there in the freezing temperature.
Most of us hailing from Maharashtra, Dr. Archana roared “Jai Shivaji Jai Bhawani” and we all echoed in high spirit. Subhash, our Guide took the lead at 8:00 a.m., our trek lead Saranbir chuckled with the group walking in a row, Geet, our second trek lead accompanied us – the last few and our second guide Shin Chan jumping behind us, like a Kangaroo. We all seemed happy. I was full of energy but my mind was playing cards with me – the Ifs’ & Buts’.
Our first break was in about 45 minutes, at a shed. While I was drinking water, Dr. Archana pounced towards me to pull my tee shirt down as it was revealing the lumbar belt I wear to protect my back. It was hardly 2 hours by then that we had all spent together, yet so kind. We marched ahead and in no time we were all scattered on the single muddy lane. Inclination was not very steep and the path supportive. For more than half an hour I could see none except Shin Chan and me in the wide green lane where the edge seemed harsh if slipped, down the valley. From far I could hear humans and this is the “Sound of Life” to me. As we approached, everyone glad to see us while they scattered on the rocks, relishing the steamed rice we carried for lunch.
We have climbed for about 4 hours now and our destination for the day is Sachen which is for about an hour. Joy was making its way but when Bir(fondly call our trek lead Saranbir as Bir) announced, “Guys Sachen (7200 ft) is not available for us so we are going to Bakhim (8654 ft). Gear up guys!!” which indeed geared me down for the addition of 5 hours.
The trail is hard with bigger stones, stumbling on them is easy. My trek shoes Forclaz 500 High (as suggested by Swathi from Indiahikes(click link)) were supportive and the trekking pole played its part on the very first day. Pramod was standing a few feet ahead, being the first-timer on the Himalayas, he was at par. We engaged in a little talk until he amused me with a Hindi song “Pal Pal Dil Ke Paas..”. 3 more hours have passed I’m too tired to talk, just Shin Chan and I with a few breaks where we met Prakash, Madhu, Anbu and at one shed Nikhil went down to fetch me water while I was resting. Time is ticking, every step is eating my energy, movement of legs, neck, eyes, hand and the grip on trekking pole. It’s hot and sultry. In spite of sipping 2 liters of water, it was hard. My eyes searched for my trek mates. I wanted to go back! Physical strength did not diminish but mental stamina was very low for a moment. Legs were moving forward but there was a knot in my gut. There is something pulling me forward, the calling of the mountains but, but my mind is playing strange tantrums.
I paused, spoke a few words in silence that only I could hear and said “Breathe”. I had promised to my parents that “I will not do anything foolish that would ruin my back”, the words were ringing in my ears. I looked on – ground – not too harsh, on my right – the mountain tall, on the left – valley down, at the back – 7 hours of unshaken struggle, and ahead – choice! Going ahead was a choice that if I go ahead, I get a tent to lie down and rest and if I don’t, I trek back with Shin Chan or probably on the stretcher but with a guilt in heart that I did not give my 100%. Thus, treading ahead came the First Bridge, the other side of it had the humans I call my tribe, on the contrasting end was I struggling to step down on the most slippery loose red mud steep no less than 60°.
Everyone had enough rest, laughter, dose of water, pieces of chocolates before I reach. There was no life on my face, mind in a commotion. Bir ordered to change the sweat drowned tee-shirt as it was getting cold and dark.
The last one hour to the tent through the hard patch, blue-gray sky and chill air was thinning my determination for day two but with Suresh accompanying me with his PJs got me more oxygen-in laughing along towards Bakhim.
When the mountains call you, there is no reason strong enough to hold you back, thus, I lay here in my tent – lived and cherished the first day.
I remember Sachin Jha (of Indiahikes) telling me “day1 is the endurance test, if you pass that, nobody can stop you until day 5”.
Outside our Orange tents specially crafted for IndiaHikes(click link), I spotted Denzyl doing Yoga, on Day 2 at Bakhim, under the Sun shining just for us with a view of an array of lush green mountains arranged in a crisscross fashion with a few clouds hovering between them till the horizon.
For all the western-culture influenced Indians, it will be heartening to know that to poop you have to use the Cat-Pit, artistically dug by the team of helpers under the covering of rectangular tents with windows on them. You are responsible for the mess you create; thus you have to cover it with the mud dug there – this is the norm of life, you are responsible for what you do, the choices you make – you have to fix the mess you create, you rejoice the good you do.
The route from Bakhim to Tshoka is friendly(Tshoka is the last place where we get mobile network – BSNL). The shortest trek of 1.5 hour. Our substitute trek lead for the day – Kartik taught us to pitch tents. Whenever we unzip the tent door, we see snow blanket on Mt. Pandim.
While we waited for hot lunch, Kartik taught us various team games. All were merry making, I was resting in my tent, lost in the tryst with the mountains.
The temperature was chilling as the dusk set-in, all sipping hot soup, everyone in the dining tent could hear the THUD sound from the dark outside where I lay down fallen from the tent rope where my foot got tangled. It was too cold and I was too excited for the hot soup. After our Oxygen level check and dinner with yummy Kheer as dessert, we retired to sleep. Since Krishna, the ever-laughing boy, hails from Andhra Pradesh – the hot state round the year, had never experienced cold weather before, this chilling temperature was extreme to bear. Kartik stayed by his side all night.
It was a day of learning, Kartik taught us to use the Oxygen cylinder in case of an emergency, in order to support the fellow trekkers if need be. With no hopes of completing day 1, I have now finished day 2. With little knowledge of the route that lies ahead for tomorrow, the challenges and risk involved, I am happy that I have reached till here.
Going up or going down is the question I’ll have to answer tomorrow morning.
Day 3, Tshoka (9,701 ft) to Dzongri (13,024 ft) via Phedang (12,083) is the D-day
yes, the Dzongri day is dooms day to many where AMS(click link) sets in and if not shifted to lesser altitude at the earliest, can result in death.
Krishna decided to go back down with Kartik and his team. We appreciated his decision and wished him strength. The narrow route started with stones embedded on the soil, steep up for about 30 minutes. Huge trees on both sides protected us from the Sun as we strode on the wooden log steps climbing up the slope for awe-striking 30 minutes, it was great fun. The Sun playing hide & seek with us and the terrain soft on us, it’s beautiful to be here. Sipping water every now and then has become a part of the routine.
When you are on the mountain you cannot wish for what you like, you have to like what you get. And the harsh stone path appeared and extended far but the trees around kept us happy.
At the end of harsh path, Phedang is born. Phedang, the rich man’s lawn, bright and full of life brought me a wide smile. Saheb-style trekkers seated on a chair with food spread on a table, various groups of descenders and ascenders meet at this beautiful junction along with the beautiful peaks of Kanchendzonga range.
Happy to see our trek-lead Bir return safe with the trekkers who could not make it beyond Dzongri due to one lady from their group who could not convey the signs of AMS to their trek lead at the right time until late in the night when Kartik measured her Oxygen level below the alarming level. He descended her at -9°C for a few thousand feet until it she was out of the life threat. Kartik, just 21 years old, has a heart of a soldier. Though the team could not complete their trek, they complained about nothing. This band of amazing trekkers bid us a safe trek wishing us to complete the 8-day strenuous trek – this indeed is true mountaineer’s spirit.
It seemed easy at the beginning with wide open land dotted with colorful meadows – brown, yellow, green, cold streams of molten ice flowing along, walking up & down the slope of wet mud, Prakash, Pramod, Madhu and I enjoying the walk in the Sun. Shin Chan and Suresh looked merrily that we were enjoying the trail. Since we were too slow, others went ahead hoping the path to be as friendly as it is now. Overwhelmed by the sweet nature for being warm to us, we enjoyed the glance around as we walked.
It happens with me that when I am very happy, some unknown forces bring obstacles on my way. The bond between me and my Himalaya was just growing stronger when my muscle held me hard, the pain so unbearable that I knew walking further will only worsen but the voice in me yelled –
“Oh no… now there is nothing that can take me ahead and I can’t walk back down, the muscle on my right thigh has got a knot and this pulsating pain has to subside for me to reach the safest place. I rather go down so that it is not too late for me to join Kartik’s team but I have promised to myself this morning that I will sleep in Dzongri tonight, I can’t give-up, I won’t, Dzongri you can put me to challenges but I am coming”.
Another 20-30 limping steps up the dry stoned terrain, Pramod helped me sit down on a stone, handed me a pain-killer. Shin Chan sat comforting me. The pain grew exponentially, from unbearable to showstopper. Pain, rock on which I was sitting and I, all three engrossed in each other. Out of nowhere, the strong masculine voice asked “all-good Sirji?”, I answered, “Yes Bir ji, just a muscle catch but I will manage”. Bir took my bag, started walking along. From this point onwards, Suresh, Bir and I became the invincible three. The pain aggravated. Every step seemed like a curse. I bore the pain silently, my face showing the unbearable, another pain-killer in, reduced speed, Suresh holding my hand and guiding me the footsteps to avoid stamping on stones, more pauses, yet we trekked.
Nightmares unfold into reality when you least expect them. The most slippery-sloppy white loose-mud with pebbles route descending slope in the circular fashion with stones slipping under our feet lay in front of us. Bir caught my complete hand really tight, Suresh took my bag, walking behind to ensure I don’t fall back, Bir walking downward facing me with his back to the path. Leg ached, neck tired of looking down, eyes could see everything in white, breathing was a task in itself. Bir changing grip on my hands, left to right, right to left, water breaks, dry-fruits and glucose tablets Suresh handing us each. Each step and each breathe – in debt to Suresh, Bir, blessings of my family, prayers of my well-wishers, only made me realize how important it is to care for our own body and strengthen it; so that the goodness of our well-being brings joy to so many people associated to us.
The pain subsided, Bir and I sang our hearts out while traversing the life-threatening path. We took 2 hours to reach down the hill through a 45-minute route; everyone clapped looking at us in glee. People speak of life after life, here, on such paths – life is in every step you take, every decision you make, every movement, good or bad, right or wrong, everything bottles down to one thing – you are alive and that’s all that matters.
A story becomes a great story only because of its events. Like the iron moulds to any shape only after melting in the heat, this trail will always remain in my heart because it showed me how determined, hard-working, dedicated and challenging I am. I did not crib for the pain instead I focused on my strength in the rest of my body. This path proved that friends are angels, in the form of Suresh and that helping anyone without any expectation only gives immense joy, portrayed Saranbir.
Everyone left except we, the invincible trio. I rested my back on the ground, legs high up on a rock, near the fierce gush of river. Suresh held my legs like a physiotherapist and made me exercise for my legs and back.
We started to ascend towards the rest of our group on the stone clad path. The pain had gone now. In a few minutes we met them all. The ascend got vertical, rockier and more steep. The new energy in me made me tread fast. Chetan now was drained, but well-spirited. Rohan, Rajesh sir, Kiran sir and Ashok sir followed us in a row. The rocks got tricky. I never imagined I will have to drag whole of my body through these rocks and here I am doing it slow but like a pro. I am happy yet scared considering the damage it can make.
This extreme hard-work was pushing me to edge when like a thunder, a lady in cyan upper, black lower and a cap sprang up the rocky terrain leaving us astounded that she was the same lady who wished us luck about a few hours ago, where did she get the power from to fight Bir to carry her bag herself, yes indeed Bir called her “Powerlady” and she later introduced herself as Girisha.
The extreme harshness of the rocks paid us with spectacular view of 15 peaks of the Kanchendzonga range –
Girisha called the names of all the 15 peaks like she is introducing us to her childhood friends. That’s the connection she has with the mountains. After the joyous moment, we proceeded through the mesmerizing fragrance of Rhododendrons. Karan, and Prajwal decided to descend down back to the base to avoid health issues later.
The amazing view of shrubs in an unending array marks Dzongri, the large cauldron, marking it as the highest point until now. The descend to the tents is fun as it is dark already and hot soup and black tea waiting for us. This day is achievement for me as Suresh and I had decided Dzongri to be my destination if I complete the day-1.
Euphoria!! We did it!! – 13,080 ft.
Why is it an achievement for me but normal for others?
Here’s my story –
“If I don’t undergo a surgery in 15 days, I will be paralyzed forever”, the Doctor told me three years ago.
Being overweight and away from sports all my childhood, I suddenly felt my body needs a shape other than the cylinder it has been for years. I started hitting the gym and practicing for the SCMM marathon. One day while putting my little niece to sleep after her play time, my body froze. I could not move and I was diagnosed with slip-disc. After a few weeks of rest, I started working out again. The situation moved from bad to worse, I damaged three more discs. I was in pain, on bed rest, my parents had to shift out of Mumbai for other reasons. For me, but the worst was yet to come. The only time I cursed my pain was during the bed-rest period, when my little niece raised her hands for me to lift her, I could not. Everything went downhill from there. Slowly, my friends stopped visiting me, stopped going around with me because I needed extra care. I was very slow. But I never gave up, I started Yoga, experimented Ayurvedhic Treatments with Dr. Borkar and started a life of compromises. Through all of this, my family stood strong and didn’t let me fall. There was just one friend, my best buddy Suresh who supported me and pushed me to explore the vast array of opportunities that I have in my altered life. The first challenge he placed before me was trek to the Valley of Flowers which I could barely do. I had not informed my parents about it, fearing that they would not understand my willingness to put my body through this pain. I was at the top of the world when I finished the trek. I decided I will listen to my body and strengthen it to push my horizons. This year Suresh said Goecha La it is! My family supported me to the fullest this time but I was nervous. Nervous that I would not be able to summit. But I started my preparation. I practiced, worked hard, overcame the pain of swollen ligaments of both my feet, was hit by viral fever 2 days before the trek but when it was time, I stepped on to the Himalayas and went to the highest point – Dzongri. I never gave up! I firmly believe – anything that happens, happens for good. It is because of the hardships I was put through, I challenged myself and I will continue to; because I never quit trying.
Dzongri welcomed me with hands spread wide to give me a hug, yes the inclined mountains around are its arms, our tents – it’s bosom.
Shiven’s ankle had swollen and it hurt, hats-off to his spirit for having trekked through the insanely crucial path, after reaching the camp site, he at once dipped his foot in the cold stream at 2°C. When Shiven and I met, we were concerned about each other’s health than of our own. Shiven, Amjad, Anvita, Praveen, Nikhil, Neerav, Parjanya, Girisha and Denzyl, were a caravan of their own, trekking always ahead of all, laughing, competing, playing cards, everything together. It was a delight to see them, at few occasions when my body was at peace, I would join them.
Bir announced to wake up at 4:00 a.m. to head to the Dzongri top and I yelled “Bir….Bir we need to talk”, me inside my tent shivering under the 4 layers of clothing, the new woolen fleece-lined socks we bought from Didi ki dukaan, the only shop spotted in the 8 day Himalayan journey, the joy from my tent-mates’ faces faded as Bir arrived and I told him,
“Bir ji, I thought I will touch the Himalayas and return on day 1 but due to Suresh’s motivation and your support I have reached here. I have no pain anywhere now but I don’t want to risk coming ahead, I know I can, but I don’t want to be the reason to pull my team down. I have a couple of slipped discs, I had informed Kartik and he asked me to walk baby-steps as far as I can..“
Bir interrupted –
“How is your back now? It’s good that there’s no pain. Your BP and Oxygen level are normal. Keep drinking water. We will not talk about all the days today, One-day at a time. Sleep now. Bhai mujhe bahut neend aa rahi hai…. ”
At 4:00 a.m. of the day 4, the enthusiasts trekked for about an hour to Dzongri Top(13,566 ft) to glimpse the beautiful Sun rise and shine its rays on the snow-clad Kanchendzonga range
while Pramod and I slept in our tent until 7:00 a.m. The enthusiasts returned by 7:00 a.m., in the awe of colors spread on the snowy peaks by the rising Sun, they spoke in praise of the beautiful creation. There were the Horses enjoying the Sun-bath across the cold stream, Yaks grazing, some trekkers waiting to use the toilet tents, some resting after the early morning stunt, some getting their BP checked by Bir and Geet, some just happy for being there.
First sight of ice i.e. frozen stream on our path to Thansing (12,942 ft) via Kockchurang (12,152 ft) jotted us with excitement. The ascend from Dzongri was straight up a thin lane of mud dotted with shrubs. Once at the top, Bir pointed us to a tent which lay far at the end where our sight would reach but it seemed so near in the beauty of the path. Quickly, we have started descending the hill. The mountains have opened themselves wide for us to view several meadows of green, brown, yellow shades. Warm Sun, pleasant wind, mesmerizing fragrance of Rhododendrons, wow! I wish we could live here in this heaven.
In the wide, very wide and open space we met for lunch, I took my usual pose of Shavasana after 3 hours of trek.
After swallowing food, Shin Chan and I posed like sons-of-the-mountains.
Slowly we climbed the gradual ascend inside the forest of umpteen Rhododendron trees. Too many hard stones made our path. Bir – a little ahead, Suresh – just behind, Shin Chan with his wit scaring me about the problems we may face due to my speed, we tread on. Though the surrounding was rejuvenating, the fear of rocky path prevailed, especially after climbing Dzongri, the fear of internal damage soaked in. Suddenly, the muscle-catch, once again of the right thigh rendered me too slow to walk. Only mission now was to reach the camp as it started getting cold and dark. With immense effort, when we descended the other side of the forest, crystal clear fierce water from the mountains separated us from our destination.
Suresh, the most-curious creature, asked Shin Chan about the Red dry flower he picked and smelled; Shin Chan requested Suresh to stop inhaling the smell immediately as it is “Sunnpati” – Sunn means numb, he said this smell causes giddiness and the other type he said is the “Brihaspati”. It’s been 4 hours now post lunch, darkness arriving with chill weather and we are the last lot on the last narrow ascend towards our tent. This path marked the beginning of most beautiful shrubs – flaunting in red. From a very far distance, thick blanket of clouds flew past us as we feared its effect on the temperature and our climb.
Anvita, Nikhil, Amjad, Shiven, Praveen, Girisha, Prajnaya and Neerav warmed the tent playing cards for several hours like every day. They hail from different parts of India, working in different streams, though they’ve met each other for the first time at Yuksom, their bond seems delightful. Anvita, the ace photographer, asked us to join them in the play, but all I wanted was rest.
Mercury went crazy bringing temperature to -16°C, yet we slept peacefully like log of wood.
Tomorrow is Ashok Sir’s birthday; how lucky would one be to celebrate amidst splendid nature.
Route to Lamuney (13,743 ft), on day 5, is where the Gods walk. Most enticing, most serene with all elements that make life –
Look here, it’s all red, brown, green and yellow!
Walking on water is such a mellow.
Look there, it’s so vast and wide,
This valley is worth the stride.
Snow on the mountain on my right, is so white!
Tall and steep, Mr. Brown Mountain on my left, is like a sprite.
Where is this Stream from?
So furious, cold and clear.
It’s from the blinding bright mountains standing in front of our sight.
The chill breeze hitting my spine,
Under the Sun, we rise and shine.
Oh, I just want to be here, now and ever!
Inhaling every bit of fresh air, standing to admire the whole wide landscape, we cherished the walk for 3 hours. The temperature playing tantrums because a very thick blanket of clouds slept over us for the remaining part of the day. The stone pyramids are in prayers for the dead. It’s so pleasant to be here, early lunch, early dinner, early BP and Oxymeter plus a lot of water, a goodnight sleep at 6:00 p.m., we call it a day.
In the night, Rohan was shocked to feel and see the temperature dropping down to -20°C.
DAY 6: Different dreams, One Destination!
At 12:00 a.m., I heard Muqalla shouting “Black Tea, Black Tea, Black Tea..abhi le lo, baad me nahi milega..”, Bir at every tent – “get up guys, we leave at 1:00 a.m. for Goecha La..let’s not get late to miss the Sun rise..” Suresh, was up in a blink and ready to shoot while Pramod struggling to decide if going to Goecha La was his dream ever or should he sleep more to dream. I quickly wore layers, picked our mugs, got tea for us. Soon, oats were served for breakfast, I ate them too. The best surprise is the mixed dry-fruits we are given by Indiahikes(click link) only for the longest and most tiring trail, I stored them too. And finally “packed lunch” and an apple was being served and I got it packed too. The helpers went back to their tent to sleep.
At 2:00 a.m., I was thinking of the smiles on everyone’s face. Everyone knew it is going to be tough, yet the spirits high, they marched. Everyone shouted out to me, one last time.
Every night post dinner, Dr. Archana would tell me – “Naveen, tomorrow I will be with you walking slowly, today it was so tiring and this cold, it’s so unbearable”, but the next day she would be the first one to do the stretches with Denzyl and would rush with Subhash to the next destination.
I lay alone here in my tent, between the cold mountains under the black sky, for the past one hour and I don’t know for how many more hours to come, recollecting words of Bir –
“Bhai, its great you have come till here but I don’t recommend you to trek to Goecha La tomorrow”
I reacted –
“Bir, I have become greedy now, I want to come at least till Samiti lake”
Bir explained –
“It’s all rocky, considering your back, I do not recommend you to risk. You stay here, we will be back soon and I will take you down then..”
I bargained –
“But Bir, I don’t sleep alone even at home, you are asking me to stay here, alone, between these mountains??”
“But you don’t trek at home, right..!”, Bir exclaimed and we chuckled.
I prayed for the well-being of my trek mates, hoping they enjoy their stroll and bring me many stories.
At 6:00 a.m., I wanted to go to the toilet tent but as I tried to pull the zip of my tent, pieces of ice started falling. I struggled to open. I could not just believe I am standing on the floor of ice, ice everywhere – on the ground, on all our tents, on my shoes. It was so cold, I felt ice in the air.
Once back inside the tent, I rolled our sleeping bags, fleece-liner and made place for me to do Yoga. I have been doing Yoga for almost 3 years now, Yoga has strengthened me to be here. I felt very hungry, feeling proud of my thoughtfulness for the morning, I had packed lunch for me though I didn’t go for the trek.
Extreme wind started hitting our tents with no mercy. In order to save our tent from falling, I lay in pushing the opposite ends with my hands and feet. Like the food for the hungry, I was hungry to see my trek mates. Though the Sun is up now, wind was still merciless, toilet tents and the dining tent had fallen, I noticed the helpers working on the fallen tents.
I managed to walk to them, spent an hour with them, came back to the tent and slept off.
Suddenly, I felt something sticky below my lower lip on the right. I struggled to move my numb hand from below my head on the sloppy ground, so I moved my fingers first, tilted my head and the moment hit me hard to reality that I have been alone for several long hours between three mountains. Instantly, I sprang from the sleep that was deeper than the stream near our tent, from the glaciers of Kanchendzonga. Yes, I am at Lamuney, the day 6 of our 8 day strenuous trek to the Goecha La Pass with Indiahikes(click link). I turn to my right, take my phone from my day-pack, switch it on to see that it’s already 11:00 a.m., 10 hours before I was with 23 trekkers, now I am here wondering about the spirit one must possess to be on one of the most demanding treks the mighty Himalayas flaunt, the Goecha La Pass.
Before I close my eyes, I realized – In the darkness of the night, clouds shielding the moonlight, very far are my friends on the their plight, alone as a human yet together as nature – here I am surrendered to the nature’s delight. Now, this beautiful morning with ice everywhere out of nowhere, blessed I am to romance with nature, the winds so pure and fast pushing everything on its way but the ground so accepting that it held me to itself like a mother holding the child. the stream gushing from the mountains to the millions of people dependent on it, the sun burning himself to provide me energy to survive, the shrubs telling me “You are not alone, with us you can grow anywhere” the tall mountains – standing upright – “I was here waiting for you, I am here protecting you, I will be here to tell you – it’s not over, strive a little, there’s more the other side, just for you!” And I, I just kept looking at them being a part of them yet I take so much from everyone, everything and they all selflessly doing their job. Oh, selfless nature, I am a part of you, make me selfless as you, you give me everything, to you what can I offer? I feel so small that there’s nothing I give yet you give me yourself completely! Without you, I exist not!
Suresh is calling me, “Naveen…Naveen..”, am I dreaming or have they come for real, I partially open an eye and to my joy, Suresh is standing all smiles, Pramod talking to Prakash, Bir calling everyone for lunch, Geet talking to everyone around, Shiven yelling out to Amjad, Doctarni Sahiba rushing to her tent, Chetan expressing concern over me, I am so happy to see my complete tribe, my “Sound of Life” is back, finally at 1:00 p.m.
12 hours to and fro Goecha La, in the words of –
Kanchendzonga was right in front of my nose. It was like another few minutes of climb and we’ll be at the top. Pandim looks so easy and close but has vertical ridges.Samiti lake is the most beautiful lake, we saw it while returning as it was dark when we went up. The water is so clear, you can see yourself in it and the ground below. Goecha La is through a desert, the Himalayan desert. The oxygen is so less that literally I had to drag myself up the last stretch. There are holes, once you step on them, you are gone once for all. It is very tiring.
It was worth for me to climb up again to Dzongri though I miss my friends from the previous team as we had planned to go together, I am happy that at least one from the team could do it, I could do it. The last steps were so difficult, so less oxygen. I am just happy.
Destination is a very relative word. It varies from person to person depending on the need, purpose, possibility, time, nature, circumstance.
For the whole of my group, Goecha La is the ultimate destination
For me, pushing beyond the limits; the limits my body and people around had forced on me
Bir, the game-changer, requested everyone if we can trek down to Kockchurang immediately after lunch, aware of the fact that people have trekked for 12 hours, another 3 hours must be exhaustive for the already drained people, he said, “if we don’t go down to Kockchurang today and now, we might have to leave in emergency later due to the wind and clouds right now”. Everyone unanimously agreed to the trek leader’s suggestion.
The new destination – Kockchurang (12,152 ft) is through the dense forest, down-up-down is the route. Its 2:30 p.m., considering everyone’s tiredness, we must reach there by 5:30 p.m. Hats Off to the spirit of every soul that climbed for 12 hours and agreed for more. Of all, I am supposed to be the most energetic as I have had the best sleep and rest. The speed initially was good; we all were well in time until 4:00 p.m.
The temperature decreased, chillness increased with each step. Pramod, Suresh and Saranbir slowed down for me. Too many rocks to get down from. I pitied the trio for being with me. Though Suresh himself was exhausted, supported me willingly. Once in the forest, it got completely dark. We all have our torch lights with us. Every step has to be careful as there’s a stream flowing nearby, one misstep and it will lead to a death fall, nobody might ever trace you out. Broken branches, grounded creepers, streams cutting the path of hard rocks in the darkness of the night and shadows of trees. Moon was shining silver but the silver light could not reach us as it was blocked by the walls of trees. As my luck would have it, my torch light stopped working, on my first unintentional night trek. Pramod, gave me his headlamp even though he was walking at the end. Bir holding me, we saw MILK gushing, it’s the fierce water gushing in the silver moonlight making it the Doodhsagar of Himalayas.
Stumbling through the rocks, as we strode, one man appeared from nowhere and announced “this route is closed. Find another way”, Bir and Shin Chan looking for the options, hold me to walk over the big boulders. I had never imagined in life I would ever do that, I am literally jumping from one boulder to the other slipping and being held up by Bir and Shin Chan. Praying to Gods is the only thing I could do. I am awe-struck at the ease at which Suresh & Pramod are treading. I am very scared of these boulders. their impact hurts any normal person but for a broken back like me, it is no less a nightmare. Though I have made my way through these stern boulders, I am afraid if I will have to go back 3 years of my life and suffer the same helplessness again.
At the end of the test nature put me to, there we see our first and last hut for the trek.
We are brushing our teeth after 5 days, today, on the 7th day, Suresh and I using the water we kept in our hot fermentation bag, it tastes bad. Dr. Archana promised us of wheat ladoo but that’s already eaten away. All are happy that today we will be heading to Tshoka. Anbu, the marathoner, smartly ate rice for breakfast and packed Parathe for lunch. After eating most tasty Aaloo ke Parathe, when we set to start, Bir told – “Naveen ji, until Phedang you can enjoy the trail but from there on you will come with me holding my hand, I know how badly it hurts when you walk on rocks and boulders and I won’t take a chance with your back”
Madhu, Anbu, Prakasham and I almost ran on the single lane trail initially. Of the whole 8 days, this piece of trail (Kockchurang to Phedang) is my favorite because – it is pleasantly cold, wet mud giving us proper grip, single lane – the fear of falling down the valley, completely covered by Pine trees, parts of frozen stream where stepping a foot on it means risking life, little foggy, sudden dry loose-sand steep slopes, uneven ups & downs, slushy ascend amidst immense greenery.
Geet’s jokes and stories entertained us until far, a while later, my right thigh muscle caused a hitch. I could not move, Shin Chan and Suresh helped me sit and do the stretches to relax my muscle. I avoided the pain killer and continued walking. At one point the walk took such a toll that even the best route seemed unending. Shin Chan started teaching me Nepali songs which we sang very loudly. It’s fun to learn a new language. Shin Chan looking at my might to trek, started calling me “Sherpa Ji” and since he belonged to the Limbu community, I would call him “Limbu Ji”. Pramod was busy discussing riddles with Anbu and Denzyl. The pain increased while ascending on the wooden logs through a slushy route, so much slushy that our movement of legs make the slush-slush sound.
THUD!! Suresh fell behind me, instantly got up and we burst into laughter, dusting his wet clothes.
Formation of DZONGRI Rockers –
At the green lawns of Phedang, we had lunch at around 12:30 p.m. Phedang is the junction from where we went to Dzongri.
Immediately after lunch, Bir held my hand and announced –
“Naveen ji and I are going ahead, you guys can come start after 10 minutes to half an hour”
Oh my God! How will I?were my thoughts when I looked at the route starting at Phedang. Completely messed up with rocks and big, very big gaps between them. “What if I fall?What if because of me Bir loses his balance and falls? Would it bleed or fracture the bones? Would I roll on the rocks or get struck somewhere? There’s no possibility to get a stretcher here, so to get medical aid I will have to walk again even if I fall” – all these could have been my thoughts but somehow they didn’t occur. Bir took me through the rocks and to my surprise, I walked faster with him. I suggested we sing our favorite songs as we tread, as it is at least a 3 hour journey, silence won’t help. Coincidentally, the songs Bir sang at Thansing were of the same liking as mine. We started singing, at the top of our voice, in chorus, just the two of us. All these years I refrained from singing but today, I want to sing, I want to sing loud, let the whole world hear, I don’t care about who dislikes my monotonous tune, I just want to sing and Bir is my partner in this madness.
Today, I have understood that “Singing is an expression of heart, no music, no tune required. Sing, just sing your heart out”
From Jagjit Singh, Ghulam Ali, Abida Parveen, Khan Sahab to Kailash Kher, Sanam, Nooran sisters, Palash Sen, we sang every single song so loud that when we paused, there was disturbing silence. Bir said, “waah, we have reached 30 minutes before our plan”. When others came down where we were, they informed us about our singing voice reaching the top of the mountain. Since Dzongri is where I got my first muscle pull and since Bir & I are singers from our heart, we have named our group as “Dzongri Rockers”
Bir and I waited for others. Once we all met, we tread past again, down towards Tshoka. In an utter disbelief, I asked Bir – “Bir ji, are you sure that we came this way up because this path is so strenuous, I don’t think I can climb this”, for which everyone chuckled that it is the same path we had travelled before. Today it is the descend on this loose gravel. My knees hurt on such caution bound patches. Bir taught us the Charlie Chaplin walk i.e. to walk down the slope and cress-cross walk to get better traction. We are back to Tshoka (9,701 ft). Hot hot bhajiya welcoming us. We got the best tent as we had the view of several hills arranged in an array with clouds hovering on them. The moment we got mobile network (BSNL), we called home to convey our well-being.
Celebration during dinner with the surprise from the cook for making a CAKE to celebrate Ashok Sir’s birthday and for the success of our trek.
Day 8/8 – Last day, too many memories to last long
Though it is the last day, Bir and Geet still check our BP, we roll our sleeping bags, fleece liners and tents. After the breakfast and last view of the glowing Pandim, we descend.
Tshoka to Yuksom it is, unlike the first day break at Bakhim. It’s a very long day. We all are singing songs, merry making through the stone trail, muddy moss and loose mud patch. Yaks and Horses pushing us to the edges. Initially it seemed easy but with too many ups & downs, it is getting difficult. There are many kids from various colleges.
After a strenuous trek of 4 hours we meet at the same lunch point as day 1.
The rocks are taking a toll on me but the tread is on, we pause only to have glucose tablets, dry-fruits and water. Rajesh Sir, Kiran Sir, Ashok Sir, Suresh, Bir and I walk along. One girl from the college group looks exhausted and none of her team members there to care for her. The great Bir, ever available for everyone offers help, takes her rucksack and pulls her along all through the mountain down to the first bridge. She meets her friends, Bir requests them to stay together.
In one word if I have to define Bir, he’s “human” or “the example for humanity”, he is always there like a God in disguise, exactly the way my Mom says, “God never comes to help in his form, he disguises as someone else to help us”. Suresh and Bir prove it.
Exactly when everyone has left from the hanging bridge, my thigh muscle pulls and I am immobile. Suresh helps me with the physiotherapy exercises, Bir holding me to walk, Shin Chan trying to get me on track by laughing at me “What Sherpa Ji, you are walking so fast, if you walk like this, where will people like me go? You take 3 hours for 1 hour distance, how long should I take then?”, he says and runs fast amok.
Now that my body is exhausted, I tend to walk faster to finish the remaining strenuous path sooner. Bir, Suresh and me together. When I felt we are almost there, we have crossed approximately 9+ km, I spotted Prajanya pulling himself over the strenuous steep rocky ascend with loose mud making it more difficult.
Though it takes a lot of hard work, sacrifice and sweat, the connection with the mountains once set, remains forever. Tryst between my Himalaya and me has grown strong. Like the rhythmic breathing Bir and Kartik taught us, a rhythm between us and the mountains is the way mountains speak and we understand.
We continued to descend. Flowers, fruits and farming appeared. Sheer happiness gushing through in us that yes, we have completed the trek, we are back to basics – Yuksom. The first thought is Hot Shower.
Tonight we are going to party at Gupta’s Restaurant.
We will miss lot many things, almost everything especially –
the buddy pair and the toilet wear – the night is always more terrific than the day because when we go to sleep, we wear two layers at the bottom, two at the top, a layer of thermals, one pair of woolen socks, one pair of woolen fleece-lined socks, a muffler, a balaclava over the head. Then we curl up inside the individual fleece-liner keeping it ready inside the sleeping-bag. Zoop, we zip the sleeping bag, having our jacket rolled as a pillow.
In the night when it’s calm and cold,
Even if one in three of the tent-mates wakes up to pee,
It’s a nightmare because of the buddy-pair: living on the mountains is not easy
There’s a stream on one side, the other is valley,
So wake your buddy – even if he is not ready
Carry the torch and just go pee!
Even if you don’t have the urge to do, wake up for your buddy, get out of your sleeping bag, off the fleece-liner, fleece-lined woolen-socks, wear your jacket, gloves, and shoes, unzip the tent, finish – come back and remove the toilet layers and wear the night layers again, then sleep.
Out of fear to not to get the urge later, even if you are not intending, you would try emptying your body!! What a relief! Sigh!
In the end all that matters is the journey and not the destination, we are one lucky batch, who could stay happy and lively together through out and this was all because of the right decision to walk back – Karan, Krishna and Prajwal made at the right time. They were not egoistic and over confident. They proved that sometimes you stepping back will help your team achieve the goal. That’s teamwork.
I was a Scout in my school and the motto of a Scout I learnt as a child, I practise it everyday – “Be Prepared“, I was prepared to the decision of the mountains and the trek leader because, though physical ability is mandatory, living happily on the mountain is a mind-game. Only a strong mind can survive.
The next morning was sensational when Bir certified us as High-Altitude Difficult Level trekkers. Bir’s words echo in my ears –
“as per Indiahikes policy, we give certificates only to those who complete the trek but this one guy here is so determined that I am forced to give him the certificate – Naveen ji..
And all this is was possible only because of the wall behind Naveen’s spirit – Suresh ji..”
I just believe in one thing –
Never stop trying, if not one thing you’ll get the other but never stop trying
when I broke on day 1, I told to myself – I love you, I am in love with you mountains; because when you love something, you become passionate; your passion becomes the need; the need becomes the urge – the urge to do it!
Too many things learnt, too many memories made, this one is mind-blowing –
This flag marks my presence at Goecha La. Though I did not make it to Goecha La, Suresh placed the Indian National Flag there to make me proud and to fill pride in heart of every Indian who goes to Goecha La.
Never quit trying
The Mantra to express yourself is to open up. Neo = New : Tajarba = Experience; its all about new experiences