All moments captured in frame by – Suresh G
Gateway to God’s own path – Lamuney
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.
Yuksom – Base Camp, Stay on Day-0
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°.
When your soul is clinged to the mountains, moving ahead is the only choice!
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”.
Trees, mountains, clouds, sun, breeze – life at Bakhim!
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.
The first view in the bright morning at Bakhim
Sweaty clothes drying, sleeping bags packed, all set for Tshoka, Suresh?
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 –
Bir ji pointing at the mighty Kanchenjunga
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
Sun spreading happiness
The first touch
White, the only color that absorbs all colors to paint the world beautiful
Such is love, however far the lovers, it reaches like the magic of Sun in the face of the peaks
Spreading love and happiness
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.
Nature’s untimely attention
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 –
My Pride at Goecha La
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