“Travelling leaves you speechless, and then turns you into a story teller.”
On the 8th of May, I began on a journey with 33 strangers. Some were faces I’d seen on campus while I walked my way to class or KC, and others were smiles I had never seen and voices I had never heard before. Twelve days later while we returned laughing and joking about the memories we just made, these people were strangers no more.
I first heard about the RED-X Himalayan Trek in the Cafeteria. Four of my friends and I were sitting in an abnormally empty room after finishing one of the most gruelling Chem Lab classes of our lives.
In the midst of some pretty mundane conversation, one of us said that RED-X was organizing a trek to Manali right after college ended. Everyone jumped right away and said ‘sort bro’ and ‘100% confirmed bro’ promising that we would go together. I ended up being the only person who was part of that conversation that actually signed up.
So there was a reason I was filled with nervous excitement at 3:30 in the morning, the day after our End Sems had mercifully gotten over. Nervous because I didn’t know anyone at the time and the excitement was because… Manali.
We filled up the bus at KC as quickly as we could and then we scampered off to the Mangalore train station to board the Duranto Express on time. After a surprisingly comfortable 36 hour journey we made it to Nizamuddin Railway Station and 12 hours later we made it to Manali and our adventure really began.
The first Base Camp of the trek was set up in this quaint town called Solang Valley.
If you looked out in any direction you would be surrounded by the Himalayas. At night, when we all gathered together huddled beside a blazing bonfire, we could hear the sound of a distant tributary feeding a roaring Himalayan river.
We spent one day acclimatizing in Solang Valley and then headed out to an advanced base camp; six hours away on foot.
While climbing to this camp there were things that I for one hadn’t experienced in my life. I had never seen pine cones until then and now I was walking through the most extensive coniferous forests in the entire country!
The entire scene was set to get even more picturesque because this was the start of summer, with that, the first rays of the summer-sun were gleaming off the snow-capped peaks in the distance and you could tell that there was lush green grass just waiting for the snow to give way.
After completely exhausting ourselves we made it (finally!). And all I did for the rest of that afternoon was sleep. The only issue was that though the temperature must have been 4 degrees, it felt like minus infinity.
After what was a lot of sleep(maybe a little too much for an afternoon nap) I was woken up by two friends who leapt on me without a single concern for my safety. I chucked on whatever clothes I could find to keep myself warm and headed for a simple dinner. This was how we spent the next day as well.
At 3:30 am on the 13th morning, sixteen of the thirty-four people I came with scrambled together in the morning carrying warm water bottles and their canteen for the day. Today was supposed to be the toughest and most mentally demanding part of the trek –a nine-hour climb to Bhrigu Lake, but from the looks of it, nature was on our side.
I wish someone told me this, when you start climbing in the Himalayas, the first few hours are effortless. Sometimes, if you go during the summer months – which we did – there isn’t much snow and you’ll wonder what all the fuss is about; and this is how my first Himalayan trek started off.
We all set off at a brisk pace at 4 am, our path watched over by the moon and stars. Nothing that I’ve ever seen in life compared to the visual painted by that pre-dawn morning and if I could sit there disconnected from the rest of the world, just to observe the fierce and vast beauty of the universe, I would have. I’d probably still be there.
When we reached the end of the tree-line (the point at which the forest gives away to just snow and lichen covered terrain) we settled for a quick breakfast. I didn’t realize it till that point, but somehow I had managed to forget my canteen! Luckily thanks to the amazing people there I didn’t go hungry. We shared jam sandwiches and bananas.
And just after breakfast I realized why climbing any Himalayan peak is a challenge. We hit the first of a seemingly endless patch of snow. What ensued was five hours of the most intense leg-day-workout my body had ever seen. There were times where I look back and marvel at how far I’d come, but when I looked ahead the road seemed endless. Slowly, with each step that I took, the mountains ate away at my resolve.
Three hours after breakfast, hunger, thirst, altitude sickness and the ever-changing weather got to me and for the first time the whole trek I didn’t have the energy to even crack a smile. Each step that I took forward was a stumble and it felt like every hillock we climbed was going to be succeeded by three more.
At a certain point, I stopped counting the number of times that I fell down and my only consolation became the number of times I stood up again. After every hill I managed to convince myself that the next one was the last one, only to have to do that so many times that it didn’t matter after a while.
At 11:40 am, four-hundred-and-sixty minutes after we left advanced camp under the watchful eye of the Himalayan sky, I began my climb up what was promised ‘the last one’. When I reached the top, I understood why people surrender themselves to the Himalayas and I let go too.
Bhrigu lake was nothing like I had expected. It was a frozen, almost invisible oasis of ice in a desert of snow, and on seeing it I could do nothing but smile and chuckle to myself.
This was my first experience of a Himalayan Trek and it left me yearning for more. It won’t be the last.
Written by Rahul Alvares
Picture courtesy : Red-X Manipal