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Published: February 6th 2018
I had always wanted to go trekking in the Himalayas. This materialised when we booked our trekking slots for Sarkundi Pass . We had to report to the Base Camp near Manali in Himachal Pradesh on April 29th. We had booked our trekking through YHAI ( Youth Hostels Association of India) which organises treks at state and national levels. This was our first with YHAI.
Come April last week, we started gearing up for the trek. We packed all the essentials into two backpacks.
We flew into Delhi and from Delhi took a bus to Manali.
Himachal Pradesh is a blessed land with abundant natural beauty. The beuatiful Himalayas adorn its beauty.That morning, I woke up in the bus to find myself surrounded by the Himalayas and I couldn't contain my happiness. This was my first tryst with these majestic mountains. Day 1
We reached the base camp at 15 mile
on a misty morning, some 15 kms before Manali. A board read ' YHAI - National Himalyan Trekking expedition. Welcome to Base Camp'. There was a tent near the gate that appeared to be the registration counter and we walked towards the tent to complete
our registration formalities. When asked for 2 passport sized photographs each, we realised that we had forgotten to get them! We were told that we could get them clicked at Manali and then submit the photographs by evening. We were strictly told not to indulge in any sort of adventure activities like paragliding or water rafting until we began the trek so that we wouldn't end up hurting ourselves, just in case. We were allotted tents, one for me and one for my husband that already had occupants who had checked in before us. We walked towards our respective tents with our backpacks.
The base camp was a flat open area with 10 big tents on both sides. Some tents were allotted for women and the rest for men with each tent accommodating 8 - 10 occupants . After dropping our backpacks at our tents, we went and collected our bed spread- a thick rug like material to keep ourselves warm; along with a thick blanket and a cotton sleeping bag. Back at the tent, I introduced myself to the other trekkers in my tent.Turned out they were from Karnataka too - from Mysuru. I excused myself to get
freshened up but was warned by my fellow trekkers that there was no hot water in the bathrooms. I somehow gathered courage and walked towards the bathrooms completely aware of the fact that the water would be freezing cold.On my way, I heard people singing loudly in bathrooms while they were taking showers. I wondered why? Anyways, I stepped into the bathroom and turned on the tap and put my hand below to check the temperature. I let out a shriek - the water so so cold ! And then I understood why people were singing while taking showers 😉.
Later in the day, we took the local transport to Manali from 15 mile to get our photographs clicked. We got down at Manali main market and got our photographs clicked in a local shop. After that, we went to Hadimba temple, of historic importance. To get inside the temple , one has to crawl their way through a small door at the entrance.
We came back to the base camp by noon for lunch. We got our ID cards after submitting our photographs. Food at YHAI National camps/treks is simple yet healthy and filling like the one
essential while going on treks with lot of carbs to keep our body warm while we trek our way up the Himalayas.Every evening, there was campfire, around which people gathered and danced, sang and had fun. Without TVs and mobile phones( weak data connectivity), people had ample time to socialise in an actual way! After dinner, we settled into our respective tents all covered up in warm clothing. Day 2
It was a tradition every morning that all the occupants in the base camp gathered and cheered the group that was to leave for trek that day. So, we all stood , clapped and wished them luck as they embarked on their 7 days trek to Sarkundi Pass.After they left and we were done with our breakfast, our group (SK-05)assembled in the main open area. Our group comprised people from South India, North India and Western part of India - a very diverse group, I must say. Our 3 trek leaders- local Himachal guys trained in mountaineering- were introduced to our group. Our group's task for the day was to trek to a nearby place for acclimatization, so, we were asked to fill our backpacks to the maximum
and make them as heavy as possible. This was going to be our test for stamina. We were given 15 mins to go back to our tent, fill up our backpacks and report at the main area again. We all rushed back. I packed my backpack and put on my new trekking shoes that I had bought only a week ago.
Our group reported back on time and we started to trek along the road. It was a straight road, so we were all happy that it was going to be an easy short trek. We were then asked to take a left turn and only then we realised that the actual trek had begun. It was a steep stairway up the hill! We started climbing and slowly I started to go out of breath and my new shoes started giving troubles! Luckily, there were many experienced trekkers in our group and they helped the first time trekkers like me with their advice. By the time I reached the destination, I was drenched in sweat and my feet were hurting badly because of the shoes. Our group rested for a while and walked our way back to the camp.Back
at the camp, I removed my shoes to find blisters on my toes and I found myself a little apprehensive about the rest of the trek, which had not even begun. Then I learned a valuable lesson from my fellow experienced trekkers - your feet have to thoroughly get accustomed to the shoes before a trek. And to ensure this, one has to wear the shoes for a month at least , if they are new. I will remember this for the rest of my life . Day 3
Again, after the morning tradition of seeing off the trekking group leaving for the trek, we were told by our trek leaders that our group would be going for rock climbing
that day. Without any choice, I wore those dreaded shoes of mine and walked with the group towards the rock climbing spot. It was a small rock on the side of the road but a little higher up from the road. Our group reached the spot and without wasting any time, our trek leaders started to show us different types of rope knots. And then they went up the rock and set up equipment for rappelling.
They made us practice rock climbing and rappelling just in case if it was needed up on the mountains.
Morning session was rappelling and post lunch session was rock climbing. Everyone waited for their turn. When my turn came, I was a little scared at the start but as I slowly started descending with the help of the rope and equipment, I felt comfortable.We came back to the same spot later that day for rock climbing. It went well too.
Back at the camp, we were all excited to start our actual trek the next day. We would be away from civilisation for the next 7 days.It sounded scary but it also sounded exciting!
That evening, we were told to pack the bare minimum stuff we would need on top of the mountains and keep our backpack as light as possible. We were not going to bathe for the next 7 days, so why carry lot of stuff?
YHAI also provides their backpacks in case people haven't got them. Along with our bare essentials, we had to carry our cotton sleeping bag.I also packed 3-4 pairs of socks, thermals, warm jacket, gloves and woollen cap. Day 4 - Base Camp to Segli
Today, it was our group's turn to get good wishes and byes from other trekkers in the camp.We all woke up, freshened up and had stomach full breakfast.We also packed lunch in our lunch boxes(brought by us). Our group assembled at the main area and were flagged off by the camp leader amongst cheering fellow trekkers.I was very excited as it was my first trek and that too in the Himalayas ! We slowly started trekking uphill taking stops to appreciate the Himalayan beauty and whenever we ran out of breath. As we ascended, I could see the snow capped mountains on the other side of our trek path emerging from behind the greener mountains that covered them in the front. Also, we would trek to a certain point and wait for all those who were behind us to join us. The group would then take off again.We trekked through some narrow trek paths in the forests. After halting for lunch and taking some rest, the group started trekking towards our camp for that day - Segli at 7100 ft
. Segli is a small village nestled in the Himalayas overlooking a
valley and snow capped mountains.We reached Segli around 3 pm after trekking for about 8 kms
. Tents were allotted and we freshened up for evening snacks and tea. A small group of ours sat along the edge of the mountain on a plain area and chatted as we sipped our tea. It feels so good to be away from the digital world and enjoy the solace in the lap of Himalayas.
At higher camps(other than base camp) , since there is no electricity and no fire can be lit for campfire (per law), the dinner is served at 7 pm and everyone retires into their tents by 7:30 pm. We ate dinner and tired from the day's uphill trekking , I slept like a log. Day 5 - Segli to Hora thatch
Woke up in the morning to the beautiful view of the valley. The water was so cold that I didn't even feel like brushing my teeth. But yeah, I had to. Hot tea was served and most of us sat enjoying the nature and chatting . We ate breakfast and packed lunch too. We were all set for the day's trek.Our trek distance for the
day was 10 kms
and our next camping site was Hora Thatch at 9000ft
We walked through Segli warming ourselves with the smiles and waves from the local villagers.We walked through greener patches and on trails with pine tress lined up on both sides of the trail.We took short breaks every two hours and reached our camp at Hora Thatch around 3 pm. There camp had snow capped mountains in the backdrop.Checked in , spent our time till dinner chatting and retired to our tents after dinner at 7:30 pm. Day 6 - Hora Thatch to Maylee Thatch
The next day we started a little late.Our trek distance for the day was 9 kms
and our next camping site was Maylee Thatch at 10500 ft
. As we walked on trails through the pine trees forest, I could not help but wonder how minuscule we are in front of these mountains and that humbled me.When we were about 500 mts from that day's camp at Maylee Thatch, I could see the tents and I think it was the most beautiful camp site. The tents were put up on a plain site almost on the edge of the mountain
with a stunning view of the snow capped mountains on the opposite side. After unburdening myself of my backpack in my allotted tent, I went and joined the group sitting on the rocks and enjoying the view.The more I looked at the mountains, the more I fell in love with them. Our camp leader at Maylee Thatch was very energetic and he made us do funny role plays.That evening was well spent with the group. Our group had now began to grow closer and had started getting to know each other better.
At 10500 ft, it could get windy and it happened that night. While we were sleeping that night, I could feel the strong winds trying to blow away our tents and also making its way inside the tents through the small openings. It was a challenging night or we thought so? Day 7 - Maylee Thatch to Daoura Thatch
Today's destination was Doura Thatch at 11300 ft
with a trek distance covering 10 kms
. I woke up from last night's adventure and was happy to see the tent intact and still over our heads! Freshened up, packed lunch and after the breakfast, the group started
trekking uphill. One thing I had learned by now was when you want to climb uphill, always do it in zigzag fashion rather than going straight uphill. Taking zigzag patterns reduces stress on the body.Well, this trek was teaching me a lot of new things and I was glad to learn them.
Today was the day when we got to see a small patch of snow. With all of us in the group coming from non-snowing parts of India, the first sight of snow enthralled us.At around 2:30 pm, we reached the camp site at Doura Thatch. Everyone in the group had a gala time playing in that small patch of snow.
At around 3:30pm, when we were settling down in our tents, it started snowing lightly. As exited we were, experiencing the snowfall, we were also apprehensive about the weather that night.And our fears did come true! That night was no less than an adventure. There were strong winds trying to blow away the tents and the cold was biting us in the face. It may sound funny but all the tents' occupants actually held the ropes at the base of their respective tents tight to prevent
them from blowing away! Trying to save the shelter above our heads! Day 8 - Doura Thatch - Sarkundi Pass - Longa Thatch
With most of us deprived of sleep from the last night's adventure, we anyways got ready for the day's trek.Today's trek was the most challenging of all days as were were to trek to the summit ( Sarkundi Pass) at 12900 ft and then trek down to the next camp at Longa Thatch (10600ft)
. We were to cover a distance of 12 kms that day. The trek was going to be completely in snow.
As we got ready, our trek leaders cautioned us of the strong winds that were expected that day and also told us that we could expect some patch of bad weather too.We braced for the day's adventure and set off a little early.As we started walking uphill in the snow in a line , there was suddenly a bash of strong winds accompanied by light snowfall which kind of scared me. Would we make it to the summit if the weather continued to be bad? However, with our encouraging trek leaders we gathered courage and kept marching ahead. At around
8:30 am, as we stopped for our first break of the day, I could see the sun coming out and making the day bright and sunny and clearly, washing away our apprehensions.There were large rectangular and cube shaped rocks in the snow of which some were stood straight and some were placed horizontally. One of the trekkers in the group was standing with his leg against one of the vertical rocks when one of the trek leaders told him that these rocks are worshipped by the locals and the rocks were holy to them. The fellow trekker immediately straightened up! I then wondered that the locals trekked to this height on a regular basis to worship the rocks( and we were told they took a day to reach this place) and here we were that took 4 days to reach this height. That's why I wonder people living on the mountains are so physically fit and healthy.
From the point we were standing now, when looked across, I could see only white. That meant our day's trek in the snow had begun and we still had at least 11 kms to complete the day's trek.Next came the fun part
- we were currently standing on top of a mountain and now we had to get to the base of the mountain. Lesson learned - To get to the base of a snow covered mountain, you sit down and just slide. Our trek leaders slid down the snow covered mountain to make slide paths which we could slide into then.We took turns to slide down the mountain. Lesson learned - When you slide down a mountain, do not bend forward- you could topple. Bend your back a little backward to maintain balance. For the record, all of us were carrying our own luggage and we did not have porters or mules to carry our backpacks.But once in a while, if someone was too tired , other trekkers in the group offered to carry the backpack.Once everyone slid down successfully, we started climbing the adjacent mountain walking in a single line one behind the other.Walking in snow for a long time isn't very easy if you do not have the right shoes to protect you from wetness and cold.One could get a frost bite.We reached atop another mountain and walked for quite a distance, and from there we could see the
tips of adjacent mountains. That meant we had reached the summit at 12900 ft! Since the weather was playing a spoilsport, we were not allowed to walk down to Sarkundi lake(the summit point) but we saw it from a near distance.We were advised not to stay there for a long time and that we should begin our descent.We walked for kilometers on the snow covered mountains with the sky covered with dark clouds and also worried what would we do if there was a storm? After walking for quite a distance, we now had to slide down another snow covered mountain and this slide was a little challenging. We were not going to slide down on a straight path but on a slightly curved path. The risk was when sliding down the curved path, if we missed the curve and slid straight down , I think we were never to be found? I was a little scared! Some of the fellow trekkers were slowly breaking down physically.Today's trek was a challenging one and it was slowly taking a toll. Our trek leaders suggested that we slide down the mountain in batches of 4 or 5 rather than doing it individually.
So we started sliding in batches of 4 or 5 and landing at the base of the curved path successfully. Then we were all asked to make a single line and walk carefully on a narrow path of snow. This narrow path was somewhere midway of the mountain - neither at the top nor at the base. So we had to be really careful because on the left side of the path was heavy snow from the top and the right side was steep inclination of the mountain completely covered in snow. If anyone slipped , there was not even a grim chance of surviving ! Thank God! we all crossed the path .It was indeed nerve biting! As though, the adventure was not enough, then came the climax of the day - we had to walk across a snow stretch for about 200 mts. What's so adventurous, you may ask. The snow was fresh and about knee deep. Walking on it was not easy. And since it was on a slight inclination, there were chances of people slipping and sliding down straight to the big rock that stood right at the centre. So we slowly started walking down very
very carefully. Some of the trekkers walked in a batch of 3 or 4 holding each other's hands and that proved extremely dangerous.One of the girls at the front slipped and started sliding down and in the process, she pulled the one that was holding her hand and this repeated. Some of us onlookers watched with bated breath because they were heading down straight to the rock. But thanks to our dynamic trek leaders, they pulled out all of them and saved them from hitting against the rock. Relieved, the rest of us slowly walked down one by one without holding hands. Once we all crossed successfully,we started seeing patches of wet ground covered with mud. There was a rope tied across and we now had to climb down slowly holding the rope! All the adventure in one day! We were slowly climbing down when my husband slipped and fell down on the ground. Luckily, nothing happened. The mud was slippery because of the rains and we had to be extra careful. We now slowly started walking down the mud path now that the snow stretch was over and we were seeing trees around us. Ah! we finally reached our
camp site at Longa Thatch (10600 ft)after the adventure of a lifetime! We were all tired, wet from the drizzling and most importantly shaken because of the challenging situations we had encountered today.
Few of them broke down thinking of their families and children that were waiting for them back home. Most of us tried comforting them.Fortunately, we had couple of doctors in our group. They spoke to the disturbed lot and pacified them. Anyways, the sun was kind enough to come out of the clouds. I changed out of my wet clothes , freshened up , drank hot tea and sat basking in the sun. Day 9 - Long thatch to Lekhni
It was a bright and sunny day! We chatted and drank tea. Today's trek was relatively easy compared to the last few ones. We would descend from 10600ft to 8100 ft covering a distance of about 10 kms
. As we were chatting about our experiences, some of the experienced trekkers in our group mentioned that in a trek, descent was more challenging than ascent. When asked how, they said, when we walk down a hill, we are trying to maintain our center of gravity
to avoid falling off and in this process we exert too much pressure on our knees.And after a while, our knees start hurting. Also, if we walk down an inclined surface straight, our toes could also be bruised due to friction with the shoes.So how do we walk down a hill? At an angle of 45 degree - this reduces stress on the knees and also helps in maintaining balance. Another lesson learned.
We started from the camp and leisurely trekked down the hill. My shoes had started giving trouble again. This time it was the heels. My heels hurt so much in those shoes that I had started dreading them. We trekked through some scenic landscapes now that there was more of green than white.That afternoon we had an extended lunch break - we ate, some of them napped and some of them played cards.We also met a group of trekkers from other trek organisation who had camped there along with mules to carry their baggage ! It felt so relaxed after previous day's adventure.
We reached our camp site Lekhni (8100 ft)
early afternoon. This was a proper stone house and no tents.It was told to
us that the house once served as a summer getaway to some foreigner. It was now rented by YHAI to be their campsite. There was also a caretaker house beside the big house. A local Himachal family lived there comprising the son, daughter-in-law, two children and the son's mother.They were the caretakers. They also had a small farm where they grew corn , apricots and there was also an apple orchard. And a stunning view of the snow capped mountains in the front.What more could one ask for? Later in the evening, few of us walked into the kitchen of the caretaker's house and sat in the warmth of the firewood stove. Day 10 - Lekhni to Base Camp
We all woke up to a bright day. Most of us sat in the front yard of the care-takers house chatting , playing cards, clicking photographs and most importantly, absorbing a lot of Vitamin D which most Indians are deficient of! It was such a nice morning. Not a care in the world and for once, no worries on the mind.After a while few of them came out of the kitchen holding a plate in the hand. When I
tasted what was in the plate, it was just out of the world. I rushed to the kitchen to see what was getting cooked. The care-taker told that it was called 'Siddu' - a local himachal dish made of wheat flour stuffed with apricot paste
. It was so yum! It takes a lot of effort to prepare Siddu.
I realised that I was a little sad because the trek would finish in another few hours and I had to bid goodbye to such great fellow-trekkers . I had made good friends over the last 7 days and had gathered experience that would last a lifetime! But then, all good things have to come to an end.
We bid goodbye to the care-takers and started our final descent towards the base camp.It was a 10 km
trek to a point from where we would take a bus back to the base camp.We completed the 10 km trek in a short span and took a bus back to base camp. We reached Base camp by 1 pm and were welcomed by the Camp leader.Tents were allotted. Everyone wanted to rush to the bathroom for a shower as we had not
bathed for the last 7 days! Most of the people in our group were leaving the same day - some had travel plans in Himachal, some were going back home. As we said goodbyes to them, it felt a little uncomfortable. We could stay in the base camp for that night but we had to vacate next morning. My husband and I stayed back as our bus to Delhi was not until next day evening. After lunch , we had lot of time on our hands. So, we decided to go for some local sight seeing. My husband and I along with a trekker couple who had completed most of the treks including Annapurna circuit, hired a cab and went sight seeing.
Later at night, after dinner, participation certificates were distributed. I had successfully completed my first trek !! Day 11
We thanked the camp leaders and YHAI staff and checked out of the base camp. We along with the trekker couple and another fellow trekker, checked into a hotel. We had heard a lot about paragliding in Solang valley ( 12kms from Manali)
. Solang valley is supposed to be the winter sports destination in India.We dropped
our bags in the hotel and my husband and I hired a taxi and went to Solang valley.We bought para-gliding tickets and went up the hill in a gondola.
It was going to be a tandem one. Our para-gliding tandem partners were ready and they asked us who would go first. I volunteered. So my tandem partner asked me to slip into the seat pouch and buckled me up.He buckled himself up. Before I could ask questions, he said 'You should start running fast towards the cliff' . Before I could realise what was happening, I was soaring high up in the sky above the majestic Himalayas and it was one of the best moments of my life. The para-gliding partner of mine controlled the parachute's direction and we almost soared for about 15-20 mins before we landed. What an experience it was!
Back at the hotel we all went to a famous Gujarati restaurant for lunch. Feasted on delicacies and ate to our heart's content. We shopped for a bit and then it was time to bid goodbye to our friends and Manali. We took a bus back to Delhi and then a flight back home from
Later, a Whatsapp group was created with all the trek group members and to this day, the group is active.
This trek taught me lot of life lessons
. Some of them are -
1. Living with bare minimum necessities.
2. Finding happiness in simple things.
3. Mountains make you humble.
4. Building strong bonds - both with people and nature.
5. Facing your fears and taking risks.
6. Respecting nature. We cannot afford to lose it.
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