Monday 24 June 2013

Rupin Pass – A Total Himalayan Blockbuster

 Scenic View enroute to Rupin Pass (Picture Credits: Deepika) 

A Note to the Reader
This piece of text has been written in fond recollection of the experience of a trekking expedition to the Rupin Pass, that I was part of in June 2013. The trek was organized by Indiahikes - a company that organizes similar treks in various other Himalayan mountains.

 A picture may speak a thousand words, but sometimes I’d rather have the words.

Pictures may be verbose for a while, but we all know that with time, they fall quiet. That is the reason why I painstakingly took up the task of documenting in vivid detail an experience that all my trek mates would agree is one-of-a-kind, and recommended for all the adventure enthusiasts out there. I hope that you will be able to connect my experiences with your own and in the process enjoy a mental journey back to the Himalayas - the land of great mountains, sparkling streams and scenic beauty like no where else in the world.

I was one of the 17 people who participated in the expedition. The team consisted of people from various walks of life, having different reasons for choosing to trek the Rupin Pass. I must mention that there in an inherent difficulty in threading together everyone’s experiences into a single essay like this, both for want of space as well as due to the variety in the group. So, I have written mostly on my own take of various details, while trying to be faithful to the overall impression of the team on the trek. Finally, I’d like to say that the pictures included have been clicked by me and my trek mates, who have generously agreed to share them with me for the travelogue.

8th June (Day 1)| And… We set off!!!

From Dehra Dun To Dhaula
The pickup form Dehra Dun to Dhaula was scheduled to leave at 6:30 AM. Due to a chain of unfortunate incidents, I reached Dehra Dun pretty late – at 9 AM. Charan, the driver and Soundar, another participant were waiting for me. All others had already left 2 hours ago. So, without further ado, we set off.

Pine Forest on the way to Dhaula (Picture Credits: Deepika)

The ride to Dhaula would take about 9 – 10 hours the driver said. The route was familiar to me, as I had traveled it when I was going on a trek to Kedarkanth in 2010. At breakfast we were joined by 2 other participants - Arul and Ashish, who stayed back in order to travel in a more spacious vehicle.
The driver was a cool guy. He’d wave to lots of people along the way, and seemed to have a way with women as well. But, soon we realized he was actually quite a hero. What happened was this –
Along the narrow ghat roads, a Sumo broke its front axle, blocking the route. Within minutes, cars and trucks got stuck, being unable to maneuver by the broken vehicle. People were abusing the driver, and suggesting all sorts of solutions but no one could budge the vehicle an inch. Charan silently filled up a small pit on the hillside of the road with boulders, and amidst all skeptic criticism, pulled our vehicle free! I’ll leave it to you to imagine the look on everyone’s face at that point. We were plain amazed!

On the route to Dhaula we came across the confluence of the blue waters of Rupin rivers and the murky waters of the Supin river
(Picture Credits: Harendra)

It Starts At Dhaula
The Dhaula campsite is situated at a height of about 5,000 ft. on the banks of river Rupin. We reached the campsite by about 7 PM. It was still bright, owing to the long summer days. I distinctly remember my disappointment with the climate – it was as hot as it was in Delhi. And a variety of insects from the forest greeted us with their buzz. Before long, the team leader, Vikrant introduced himself to us, and conducted the first briefing. He was a new recruit, and had some trekking experience. He seemed to be a cool guy, and I was looking forward for the trek. We had instructions to leave the camp by 6 AM the next morning, so we retired to bed early.

9th June 2013 (Day 2)| From Dhaula to Sewa

The Trek Begins!
A shrill whistle woke us up at 5 AM. Breakfast was delicious. We had puris and chana sabzi. After mild stretching and warm up exercises, we set off for the trek by about 6:30 AM. The mules and some of the staff would start in about an hour or 2 and catch up on the way. The trek was to be along a good 12 Km-long trail through the forest to the small town of Sewa. If I remember anything about this trail, it is the fact that it was an undulating path sometimes going up and otherwise going down.  We would go all the way down to Rupin River, cross it, and then again climb up. One the way, we came came across numerous small waterfalls, that would all eventually end up in the gushing waters of Rupin River beneath. This happened several times, till we finally reached the village of Sewa. We had hardly gained any altitude, probably just around hundred feet.

The beautiful Rupin River, which we followed on a large portion of the trek

One of the many waterfalls we saw on the way to Sewa - the waters found their way to the Rupin River
(Picture credits: Kaustubh)

We hit the 'eagle line' on the way - beyond this, was the zone where "eagles don't dare"
(Picture Credits: Kaustubh)
The Cricket Temple
If cricket can have a God it ought to have a temple too. I think I found one at Sewa. While walking through the village, the team halted next to a temple for lunch. The temple seemed to have been closed a long time ago – its gates were locked, and presently seemed to function as a vertical playground for geckos. But what caught my attention was how the temple was ostentatiously decked with numerous trophies, which, I came to know were won by the village in local cricket tournaments. I don’t know if it was intentional, but here I beheld the testimony of Indian love for cricket, which has pervaded even to the remote villages in the Himalayas.

Temple of cricket, trophies the shrines

Innocent outside, poison inside
The forests had a good deal of poison ivy, also referred to as ‘Bicchu Ki Kaat’. For those who don’t know about it, it is an innocent looking shrub whose leaves sting if you come in contact with them. The sting leaves a characteristic itch, which can be quite annoying. I and many other trek mates were stung several times, as we inadvertently came in contact with these shrubs during the walk. The skin grew all itchy, and so I tried and suggested some of the traditional treatments like rubbing marijuana leaves, metallic objects etc. just for some psychological relief, for I knew from previous experience, that only time could heal the itch.

 To people who took my advice too seriously, I am no ‘jadi booti wale baba’. :)

Camp by the riverbanks
We reached the campsite by about 2.45 PM. It was located on the outskirts of the Sewa village, by the banks of river Rupin. The weather was very sultry, and I felt hot and sticky so, I decided to go and have a bath at the river. 

Fresh waters of Rupin River at Sewa Camp 

Sheer force - Couldn't even think of swimming here
(Picture Credits: Kaustubh)

The setting was almost like that of a beach. There was fine sand on the bank with large smooth rocks where we left our clothes and entered the clear river water. Not just clear, but also so cold! We had competitions about how many seconds could one stay immersed in the water (just for the record: I did 28 seconds). The currents were very strong and there were large rocks along the river so we refrained from swimming. But the fresh cool water restored all the energy we lost during the tiring trek from Dhaula. For anyone camping at Sewa a visit to the riverside is a must-try.  

It only gets prettier at dusk: The Rupin River
(Piture Credits: Kaustubh)

Ice Breaking at Dusk
Before we got to the real ice, team leader Vikrant summoned a gathering to break the ‘social ice’. The team consisted of an interesting mix of people who had a variety of interests in outdoor activities, sports, travelling, music etc.  among other things. We decided to keep professional interests out of this, since the trip was in some sense an escape from routine work-life. Among the interesting finds in the team were an amateur horse rider, a cricket umpire, a lead guitarist, western singer, and an economist. The trek promised to be loads of fun with these guys.

The session continued after dinner when a campfire was lit, and everyone assembled around it. People were still a little reticent, so there was awkwardness about what was to happen. With some prodding from the junta, I started off with a song ‘Khilte Hain Gul Yahan’ and people (thankfully) caught up and started a sequence of songs of their own choice. Of particular notice were ‘Aladdin Song’ and ‘Kabhi Kabhi Mere Dil Mein’ that were enjoyed by the audience, amongst several other songs that the group sang together. Before long, everyone returned to his or her tent, with anticipation for the next day, which was going to be one long, long day.

Good times by the campfire - At Sewa Camp

Fitness at the Outset
I believe to some extent that only those who are conscious and concerned about leading an active and healthy lifestyle participate in treks, probably because others are too lazy to plan out a trip that drains out their energy so much, as a trek. Our team had a good level of fitness too, however there was no dearth of injuries to the team members. Many people had histories of ligament tears, fractures, and ankle twists. I also twisted my right knee at the Sewa campsite, where I slipped over some damp grass and fell down. But we did not let the injuries damp our spirits.

The team and the staff showed exemplary teamwork qualities by supporting the injured/unwell members, so as to facilitate speedy recovery to fitness. Even I had my backpack carried by some friends upon my knee injury, and I owe it to them in some ways that I managed to complete the trek in good condition. It fills my heart with joy, as I write these lines, thinking of the warmth of the mutual friendships forged during the short span of the trek.

10th June 2013 (Day 3)| Jaaka Kab Ayega?

Taking Off From Sewa
The day started with a sharp pang of pain in my right knee - the sprained muscles had become stiff and sore at night. I somehow clambered out of the tent and freshened myself up. I could not imagine how i would be able to complete the trek with my disabled knee, and so was about to tell Vikrant that I wanted to quit the trek. But he came and told me that the pain would reduce if I kept exercising, and dressed my knee up with  crepe bandage. Ashish and Arul offered to take turns to carry my backpack as one of them had offloaded his bag to the mules. had it not been for these guys, I might as well have been on my way back that day.

Initially I made slow progress along the trail, which moved through the forest on the hillsides. After a short walk we reached a motor-able road, which took us on a gradual ascent for a while. Apparently, the roads have to be closed for vehicular traffic from time to time due to landslides. Even now, the road had been closed, we were told that we would have to cross the landslides on foot.

Luckily, the sky was cloudy, and we did not have to face the scorching sun as we walked. The road tortuously took us around the hill.

Walking on the motorable road - luckily the weather was pleasant
(Picture Credits: Kaustubh)

Negotiating The Landslides
Presently, we came across a landslide area. The soil was loose, and so were many large rocks around. They suspiciously had jagged contours, which made me wonder if the landslides were natural, or if they were caused by controlled explosions, used to chip away mountainsides for construction purposes. We had to carefully step through these parts, for any careless step could lead to slipping and falling off the steep cliff. There were 3 such landslides, and Vikrant and Gajji motivated and even helped us to cross certain difficult spots.

Carefully walking over the landslide areas
(Picture Credits: Harendra)

Where is this Jhaka?
The road ended again in a forest trail, which would take us to the village of Jhaka, where our stay was scheduled for the evening. The walk to Jhaka was, if anything very long. By the afternoon, the sun was up and the heat was beginning to dehydrate me. My shirt was completely damp due to perspiration.
My knee pain had miraculously subsided (thank God!), and I now carried my own backpack. The trail revealed more of itself at each bend, and this repeated again and again. It was rocky, and strewn with mule dung – you can imagine it was not a very pleasant walking experience.  

After what seemed like ages, I reached Jhaka, where I enquired about the Indiahikes guesthouse. Someone pointed me to a flight of steps and told me it was just upstairs. I don’t know what I would think about it now, but at that time, after walking about 14 Km, each step looked like a hurdle to cross. I dragged myself up the steep steps, stopping several times for a breather. Once I reached the guesthouse, I unloaded my backpack and sat down with the group of people that had already reached. We were served cool Tang (mango flavor), and it made me feel a little more energetic.

Hillside Cricket County
Even as I was recovering from the long day’s trek, another event grabbed my attention – the inter village cricket tournament finals, which was scheduled for that evening. And Tripan, who was one of our guides, was playing on behalf of the village of Sankri in the finals. All of us decided to go and cheer him in the match. We quickly finished snacks (Maggi noodles!) and set off for the stadium. It may be more appropriate to say, ‘trekked’ to the stadium, because that’s what you do when you have to go from one place to another in Jhaka. We reached the stadium panting, to see hundreds of men women, and children perched on the hillsides and rooftops watching the gripping semi-final between Jhaka and Pandari.

Hillside Cricket - notice how the offside was a no man zone

View from the box - the leg side was no open area either. Fielders were positioned on the steep slopes on the left side
(Picture Credits: Harendra)

Fielder on the hill slope - these guys actually chased the ball and took catches on such terrain
(Picture Credits: Harendra)

I found some place among the audience, and got involved with the match. There were runs only on the leg side, and behind the stumps, since the offside of the ground had nothing but a steep 20 feet fall. On the leg side, the fielders were positioned on the dangerously steep hillsides, some parts of which were small cliffs, where careless footing could lead to a fall and serious injury. The pitch was on a small piece of flat land, on which there were the batsman, the bowler, 2 umpires, the wicket keeper and a couple of fielders. But surely the kids of Jhaka were the unsung heroes of the match – whenever the batsman hit the ball downhill on the offside (which was very often) a troop of kids would trace it, run downhill and get the ball back. The enthusiasm and energy level of the kids was impressive, for I would have given up in no time (even if I were a kid) if asked to run downhill and fetch the ball on every 3rd or 4th delivery.

Unsung heroes - the kids brought the ball back whenever it went downhill (Picture Credits: Deepika)

Jhaka’s game was spectacular. There were no misfields, no missed catches. The bowlers found their line and length, and the batsmen were in good form. Before long, Jhaka had dominated and defeated Pandari in the semi finals. The final was now scheduled between Sankri and Jhaka.

Motivating the Guide
After the semi final, Tripan came around to the place where we were seated. You could read from his face that he was a little worried, and with good reason – the Jhaka team was in great form. Pankaj ji encouraged him with gusto, our team shouted “Tirpan! Tirpan!” to raise the morale of the Sankri team.
Presently the teams lined up against each other, and were wished good luck by the village sarpanch. Jhaka had won the toss and they elected to bat. Sankri arranged the fielders on the uneven hillside playground while the Jhaka players sat down to cheer their batsmen next to where we were sitting.
The bowlers put up a dismal show, to start off with – most of their deliveries were short pitched, and the Jhaka batsmen spared no loose ball. They hit six after six, while the crowd erupted into periodic bursts of “We want … Sixer!” and also “Shabba-Shabba!” which is what it sounds when you say “shabaash shabaash” continuously. By the end of their innings, they had set a target of 70 odd runs to be made in 8 overs by Sankri.

It was now Sankri’s turn to bat. The batsmen reeled under the fierce bowling attack from the Jhaka bowlers. I remember one of them had a typical Malinga-style bowling - he forced the batsmen to play defensively. Tirpan went to bat, but was sent back to pavilion with just a few runs to his credit.  
I was supporting Sankri, but before long, I realized they were fighting a losing battle. Jhaka’s team put up an impressive show. Each of the players was young, stud-like, with all sorts of funky accessories like chains, headphones, spikes and what not. Their fitness was enviable – they were all lean, extremely agile, and muscular. I pit them up against an obese city lad of the same age, leading a sedentary life, and could easily see how the absence of McDonalds, KFC, and Pizza Hut could make people so healthy.

Posing with a Jhaka Cricket Player
Next Time, Better Luck
A roar from the crowd and the Jhaka team told me Jhaka won the match. Tripan looked really disappointed. He came over to me and told me that Jhaka had an undue home ground advantage –
Wo toh bachpan se yehi ground me khel rahe hai!”

Jhaka did have home crowd support, after all!
(Picture Credits: Harendra)

I knew how he was feeling, and kind of patted his back at that. Meanwhile, some local folk songs began to play on the loud speaker and the kids assembled on the ground to dance, while the Jhaka players proudly roamed around, being congratulated by people. We requested some Punjabi songs, and Tanmayi came over to the center and danced while everyone watched. The graceful dancer that she is, she sure did receive many compliments, especially from the guys.  We returned to our guesthouse chatting about the match and how it was such a unique experience on the trek. I had an early dinner, put my batteries to charge (electricity is available at Jhaka) and retired to my sleeping bag.

11th June 2013 (Day 4)| Ahead We March, To Saruwas Thach...

Belated Beginning
It rained all night in Jhaka, and so our departure was delayed. It was not so much of a concern, since the scheduled walk for this day was just about 8 Km long. As we waited for the rain to subside, I noticed 2 tawny mountain dogs, ambling playfully around the guesthouse. I played with them for a while, till it was time to leave. We set off for Saruwas Thach at about 8:30 AM.

One of the tawny mountain dogs - they were so playful and jovial!
(Picture Credits: Kaustubh)

First Encounters with Ice Patches
After about an hour, we reached the first ice patch. The ice patch had broken at different points due to melting. It was not possible to walk over the ice patch without risking further breaking, so the only course we could take was to cross it from beneath. Gajji cleared up the route with his ice axe and then we entered the cave-like underside of the ice patch. I can only say - experience it to know how it feels!

Crossing the ice patch from beneath!
(Picture Credits: Harish)

Under the Ice Patch!
(Picture Credits: Harendra)

We crossed 2-3 other ice patches after this part and progressed towards the campsite. The weather was beginning to close, so we walked faster. We reached the campsite by about 2:30 PM. The campsite area had a large number of rhododendron (buras) shrubs, with a bloom of white rhododendrons. The first thing that crossed my mind was that the shrub cover would provide good privacy for morning ablutions. Even as the tents were being pitched, cold wind accompanied by rain started blowing. I pulled out my poncho to escape the rain, and waited for the tents to be fixed so that I could occupy one.

 One of the several Ice patches on the way up

Misty surroundings of the Saruwas Thach Campsite
(Photo Credits: Kaustubh)

Rhododendron or Buras - The squash prepared from these flowers is healthy and tasty
(Picture Credits: Harendra)

Evening Pastimes
Even though it was raining, the weather was fine indeed – people wanted to be outside, rather than inside their tents. Tripan pulled out a smiley ball, and 4 of us started playing handball with it. Soon, more people joined, and what started out to be a fun game turned into a serious game with teams, score and matches. The ball would some times go downhill, so special fielders were in place to stop the ball in case it was hit too hard. After a while, we started playing 1-tup-1-hand cricket with the same ball, using a tree branch as a bat. We had a lot of fun playing.

All the players were so engrossed with the game that no one realized how cold the weather was. After the game was suspended, I suddenly realized that I was shivering all over and that my fingers had gone all numb due to the biting cold winds. I ran up to my tent, and put on my some warm clothes, cap and gloves and sat there for a while, rubbing my hands together, before I felt a little warm.

1 tup 1 hand cricket with a branch
(Picture Credits : Harish)

Meanwhile, a campfire was being readied, and people assembled around it to keep warm and even to dry some of their wet clothes. After a while everyone assembled around the campfire to play a cheerful game of antakshari. Not just cheerful, but also sporty and spirited. Both teams displayed good teamwork while shouting “bhendi – bhendi”, “gana phoda” etc. (inspired by Pankaj ji) to each other, but while singing songs, sometimes, just as low as a hum. Before long, it became evident who was winning, and the whistle inviting us for dinner blew, the game was suspended for having dinner. I had some Jeera Rice, and dal, and followed it up with delicious gulab jamuns, as dessert. I’ve come to appreciate the efforts made by Indiahikes to maintain quality as well as variety in the food they offer.
After dinner we continued the game of antakshari for a while before getting back to our tents to retire for the day.

12th June 2013 (Day 5)| Camp That Seemed Not Too Far...

Get Set, Go!
Light rain hit our tent top, as the morning whistle sounded. It is daunting to get out of the tent when it is raining outside – your body just wont cooperate. Somehow I got out of the tent, washed my face freshened up, when I heard the breakfast call. And what was for breakfast? Pasta and Pancakes – now who would have expected that! We had a quick breakfast and set off for the next camp – Upper Waterfall.

About 15-20 minutes into our walk, Tripan showed me the upper waterfall, at a distance, and told me that is where we would be camping for the night. At first sight, the Upper waterfall was a magnificent cascade of what looked like pristine milk pouring down the auburn cliffs in the background. I remember Kaustubh’s cryptic humor at this –
(Waterfall toh mil gaya) “Ab gai dhoondhni padegi”

One thing I remember vividly is, that the waterfall looked quite close by. The small rock on the top where our campsite was to be was also clearly visible. As if he read my mind, Tripan told me,
“Dikhne me toh paas lagta hai, lekin yeh toh bohut door padega”

Indeed, the day’s scheduled trek was over 10 Km long. It became even more evident after I noticed that the undulating trail tortuously took us towards the destination ever so slowly.
At the first halt point, I came to know that 2 of our teammates had opted out of the trek, as one of them was unwell. They were a very friendly and energetic couple, and we missed their company to the top. I hope they will be back one day to scale the summit.

The trek on this day was marked with a sudden change in the background setting – the forest line was replaced by a grassy and rocky riverside terrain. A variety of himalayan floral vegetation added tints of bright color to the otherwise dull green texture of the ground. The waters of the river were of a brilliant blue color – ‘Cerulean blue’, I remember telling one friend. We took a short break at this point, and filled up our bottles. I tried throwing stones into the river at a skew angle, so as to make them bounce on the surface of the water (my best was 4 bounces, throwing downstream).

Small shrubs now replaced the large trees as we walked ahead
(Picture Credits: Kaustubh)

"Cerulean Blue Waters"
(Pitcture Credits: Kaustubh)

The walk led us straight into the scenic Rupin Valley, a long U-shaped alley sealed by mountains on either side. The Rupin River flowed down the Rupin valley, as we walked up. On the far end, facing us squarely was the Upper Waterfall. 

The scenic U-Shaped Rupin Valley
(Picture Credits: Kaustubh)

Ice Over
After about 2 hours walk, we reached the first of the series of ice patches we were to cross for the day’s trek. The ice patch, I noticed, had broken up, leading to a deep chasm, a fall into which would mean cold, helpless death for man or beast. We actually saw an unfortunate cow that met this fate, as it lay lifeless in the crevasse. It warned us once again, that any careless step could lead to a fall, bringing the curtain down, in a rather unpleasant manner.

The unfortunate cow, takes a little effort to spot it

Presently, we reached a vast ice patch. It looked daunting, especially because it was so steep – I’d put it o be over 60ยบ. We were given crampons and crash helmets for this part. The steep climb lasted for a memorable 20 minutes. The reduction in oxygen levels due to the altitude gain was evident now, as we ran out of breath every few steps. As we struggled overt the ice cap, a ram joined us along and happily trotted up the ice patch, as if it were just walking over flat land. “4 feet, better control”, I thought.

The crampons gave us very good grip on the ice – all we had to do was to dig our feet right into the ice, and they would stay secure. The leading members dug footholds, while the trailing ones had to carefully walk over these, making sure they did not obliterate the footholds while walking.
The ice patches along the trail were interrupted by intermittent stretches of steep, rocky trails. Putting on and removing crampons is a cumbersome task, so we would walk on the rocks with the crampons on. I remember this being a little tricky – the steel teeth of the crampons hardly gave any grip on the rocky turf.

Our 4 legged friend has no difficulty walking on ice
(Picture Credits: Kaustubh)

Our 2 legged friend also has no difficulty walking on ice: presenting - team leader Vikrant
(Picture Credits: Kaustubh)

By the Waterfalls
By about 1 PM in the afternoon we had reached the lower waterfall. It was a spectacular sight. I saw how water vigorously rushed down the steep hillsides and moved subcutaneously to the ice patch, eventually finding its way to the main Rupin River, that we had been following. The colossal Upper Waterfall stood right in front of us, with all its magnificence. Much closer that we were to it, I was able to understand and appreciate its dimensions, and why it looked so close from Saruwas Thach, and still took so much time to reach.  

The magnificent upper waterfall

Ashish and the Upper Waterfall
(Picture Credits: Kaustubh)

Upper Waterfall up close
(Picture Credits: Harendra)

We kept climbing, gaining altitude quickly, in this portion. After about an hours climb, we reached the campsite. It was situated by the top of the Upper Waterfall, on a flat area, with soft grass and spots having bright purple, blue and yellow flowers. The DSLR guys pulled out their cameras, eager to capture the scenic beauty abound. The background was studded with views of steep rocky mountains sides covered with ice patches.

Nature’s Own Kaleidoscope
The title in a way signifies how the scenes at the Himalayas keep changing from time to time, sometimes surprising and throwing the beholder into awe, at how nature achieves these feats. You can’t help, but be exhilarated by the entire sensory overload - the beautiful sceneries, the balmy mountain breeze, the refreshing taste of flowing water from streams, and the gush of the waters flowing that still rings in my ears.

Spotting a rainbow! (Picture credits: Deepika)

Sorry about the digression, but I thought it made sense here. It was beginning to get a little cold there, so people decided to play volleyball. The local camp guide took charge of the whistle and did some pro-quality umpiring of the volleyball matches that ensued. The matches went on till snacks time, when we were served Act – II popcorn. By this time, it had started raining, and the sun shone bright ant clear on the western front. Everyone searched the skies for a rainbow, and there it was – strung up across the mountains in a vivid patch of colors.

At dusk, the rain had stopped. The setting sun's rays now caressed just the mountain tops, leaving the lower regions gradually growing darker. The mountains wore a glazed look due to the interplay of diffuse sunlight, ice cover and the mist. Some of these moments were captured in some brilliant shots by my friends.

Spectacular photo taken from the top of the upper waterfall
(Picture credits: Kaustubh)

Sun rays caressing the mountain tops at dusk
(Picture Credits: Kaustubh)

Dusk at Upper Waterfall
(Picture Credits: Kaustubh)

After sundown, the Himalayas look different. Wont say more, I'll just show you.

Reddish Sky after sundown
(Picture Credits: Kaustubh)

Star studded skies from Upper Waterfall Camp
(Picture credits: Kaustubh)

At Upper Waterfall camp, we were at a height of about 13,000 ft. The following day, we were scheduled to touch the summit (15,250 ft.) and then race down to Ronti Gad, situated at a height of about 12,000 ft. After sundown, I had a quick dinner, spent some time singing songs and retired for the day.

13th June 2013 (Day 6)|Passing the Pass

Set to Summit
I got up to the sound of mild rain on the top of my tent. I got up with anticipation, excitement and a little pain in my knee. Rain delayed our departure by about an hour – started off from the camp at 7.30 PM. Initially, the trail took us through grassy hillsides, and then lead us on to the first ice patch for the day. We crossed it easily without crampons, as it had a mild upward slope.

Rupin Pass – A Total Himalayan Blockbuster
We trekked for 2 more hours, before we reached left with the last 3 patches of ice – The Rupin Pass. The pass was, if anything, a little disappointment in the beginning for me. It was just a narrow tract of ice between two brownish mountain cliffs. But that’s what passes are supposed to be, anyway. So I put on my crampons, and started walking on the ice patch, like all other ice patches I had done earlier. I had no idea of the surprises the Rupin pass had in store for us.

As we slowly walked up the ice, a small rock rolled down towards us from the cliffs. It did not hit anyone, but sent a wave of apprehension through the junta. There were some shouts in warning, and the next moment I noticed a number of rocks rolling towards us down the slope. Being struck by any such rock could be fatal, due to sheer momentum the rocks had as well as the fact that they could knock you off balance, sending you tumbling hundreds of feet down into a fatal fall. People ducked and dodged the rocks, but now there was an air of panic. Even the staff seemed worried about it. Gajji ran up and secured a rope at a point with his ice axe to speed up the progress of the people. The ice had started melting, making it slippery, and difficult to walk. It was a particularly scary situation, where rocks could launch themselves at you at any time, and your footing does not cooperate with you for balance.

Climbing to the Rupin Pass - The rocks on the left cliff were could roll down on us any moment
(Picture Credits: Harendra)

And then, I saw Varun slip. He was about 6-8 meters ahead of me. He skidded downwards, right towards Ankit and me. People around me were shouting something but I had no idea what. My mind was filled with some sort of buzz – I had to stop Varun. I turned myself on the spot, dug my pole as hard as I could into the ice and stood squarely to his progress arms stretched to stop him. In normal situations, turning around on the spot on a foothold in the ice usually makes you skid downwards, but somehow none of that happened. Varun collided right on to me and Ankit and we took impact with resilience. His crampons hit my fingers, which started bleeding, but I was unaware. Gajji rushed to the spot and helped Varun up. Varun was totally freaked out. Even I was scared. We put each step cautiously, on each foothold. It was becoming more and more important to reach quickly as more rocks began rolling down the slopes.

The weather was now bitingly cold – anyone now walking could feel the chill getting to his deep insides. We used the rope to reach a secure spot on the ice patch and then scurried ahead into the pass. As we climbed along the mountainsides, I noticed how the wet sand was unstable, and was basically being eroded by the melting snow and winds, causing loose rocks to tumble down the steep slope. Climbing over the slipping earth with crampons was a different challenge altogether. I remember how I’d put my foot over a certain rock, and it would immediately start skidding along the slope, leaving just a couple of seconds for me to either pull my leg off or clamber over the flowing earth.
Despite all the adversities, we made steady progress up the acclivity, and after negotiating a couple of relatively smaller ice patches, finally reached the top, which was marked by numerous stone columns, built by people who visited the place.

On Top of the World
I ran up with some sort of wild energy at finally making it up to the summit. 15,360 ft. – that was the altitude I was at. I left my backpack on a rock and sat down, gasping for breath. After a few minutes, I started observing my surroundings. Besides the din and cheering (“shabba shabba”) at every person who made it to the summit, there wasn’t really much to see here – a dense fog surrounded us on all fours, pretty much blocking our view of all the surrounding scenery.

Introducing to you, our team at the summit! (Picture courtesy: Harish)
Front Row Left to Right: Pratyush (aka Gillete Man), Tanmayi, Puneeth (me!), Rajveer (newbie guide), Shashi (Local guide)

Second Row L to R: Gajji (covered up), Harish (aka Brand ambassador for Volini), Deepika, Raaj (aka gujju bhai), Harendra (aka repeater), Pankaj (aka Umpire sahab), Sourabh(aka most eligible bachelor), Ashish K, Tripan (aka 53), Soundar (aka Heart Break Kid)

Third row L to R: Arul (aka legal guy) , Siddharth (aka Iron Man), Varun (aka Gudsawaar), Ashish V, Kaustubh (aka Silent Killer)

The staff members broke a coconut and lit some incense sticks at the summit as a form of prayer. Many photographs were clicked, and before long, we were ready to ‘pass the pass’.

No Theme Park Got a Slide Like This
It was time to take a course down from the summit. We walked a little on the snow with our crampons. Presently, we reached our first glissading spot. Basically, you get down on your backside, and slide away to glory on these steep icy slopes. Initially, I was a little skeptical because I was worried that I would get my tracks wet and that I would feel cold, but seeing others go for it, I decided to give it a shot.

So I sat down on the ice, and looked down steep slope. I could not see where the track went, for it vanished into the dense mist that covered the hillside. I was still thinking about all this when Vikrant brusquely pushed me down the slope. I experienced sudden thrilling acceleration down the icy track, which was far from being smooth and frictionless like in physics problems. I had expected there to be a lot of pain in the backside due to the rough ride, but in contrast, there was hardly any pain. There was only numbness. I knew my back would take its own sweet revenge for manhandling it, in due course of time. There was little I could do about it at the moment.

No theme park got a slide like this!
(Picture Credits: Harendra)

The ride ended in a blazing 20 seconds, and I stood up and dusted my tracks of the ice. It was fun, I must admit. I walked a few meters, and then saw another steep slide. I was a little more ready this time. But the ride was a little crazier this time – half way down, I noticed that I was sliding towards a large rock jutting out along my way. I managed to evade it, but in the process completely distorted my posture, and began sliding on my side rather than bottom. I stopped about three quarters down the way, in a rather awkward position. Even as I was straightening up, I noticed another person emerging out of the fog sliding fast right towards me. His crampons could rip my clothes, at the speed at which he was moving. I instinctively lunged to one side, and the weight of my bag pulled me down further, and I rolled further down the slope. Glissading is pure adrenaline rush!

Rapid Descent
After this, we were back on our feet and continued our progress downhill. For once, I felt desperate to get back to the camp and relax my tired body, but the trek for the day was far from getting over. We walked down ice patch after ice patch, going around mountain after mountain. After about an hour, the ice patches disappeared. I remember asking the staff how far the camp is, and they’d say “just around the corner”. But every corner crossed for about 2 hours was a disappointment. There was light rain, so I had my poncho on, and walked as fast as my feet would carry me along the rocky trail.
Finally, after what felt like hours, finally the campsite came into view. I ran again wildly for it, reached a tent, put my backpack away, and sprawled into the tent. It was all over. I had successfully scaled Rupin Pass.

Post Summit Siesta
Most people stayed in the confines of their tent. Some of my friends had fallen asleep and I was in no mood to fall asleep so I loitered around for a while and went into a nearby tent where people were discussing the events of the day. We had a nice long conversation about the trek, the whole experience and spirit(s). The weather was still quite cold, and by my memory very foggy. I would like to cite Pratyush for his characteristic brand of humor here:
‘Why is Ronti Gad so ‘Misterious’?”

After dinner I again got together with some friends and we sang songs from a variety of genres ranging from melodramatic musical romances like “didi tera dewar deewana” to Indie pop like “pari hoon main” to cheesy Anu Malik numbers like “yeh kaali kaali aankhen” and also the choicest “GMD” and “BC Sutta” on popular demand. I retired to my tent by about 10.30 PM.

14th June 2013 (Day 7)|Anti-Climaxing to Sangla

Journey back to Civilization
I got up a little late the following morning. We purchased T-shirts as memorabilia for the trek. We set off for the day’s walk by about 8.30 AM.

The day’s walk had 3 distinct parts: one above tree line, one through the forest, and last through the village of Sangla. As we walked down the rocky trail, we came across numerous streams, which we had to cross. At many points, the trail forked into 2 different routes and we used arrows on the ground as indicators for the correct route. It was quite a task to ensure people did not stray away from the trail in their enthusiasm to reach Sangla soon.

It was a long monotonous walk. The stream crossings, the long rocky trails, murky paths, and at times even the stray cows tested our patience. Once we hit tree line, the trail changed into a forest path, which took us on a course of rapid descent. The quick descent was strenuous to the knees and toes, which throbbed in pain with every step.

As we approached Sangla, we saw more and more signs of civilization – a pipeline, a JCB, and even a school. Some of the trees in this region were huge, both height wise and girth wise. A quick estimation on a particularly thick tree revealed the circumference of its trunk to be round 22 feet! That huge!

Rajveer joined me here, and handed me some wild berries, which tasted sharp. Our reaching the village of Sangla was marked by crossing the roaring waters of river Baspa, that flows through the village. I found from Vikrant that the water was murky due to rains, and it is fit for consumption in the months of November and December when the rains subside.

Back to civilization - Reaching the town of Sangla

The town of Sangla had all features of civilization – plastic and litter all around, dust and noise due to construction work etc. The day’s trek as one friend put it, brought us from heaven back to hell:
“Jannat se Jahannum tak”
Once in Sangla, we had to climb from the River to the guesthouse. We reached the guesthouse by 2.30 PM and got into well-furnished rooms with pucca bathrooms. So much for my experience trekking Rupin Pass, with Indiahikes!

Our team after the trek - Energy levels still going high!
(Picture Credits: Harish)

In retrospect, I feel that the trekking expedition at the Himalayas is somewhat a humbling experience. The trek brings out nature’s vibrancy and beauty in a different dimension all together. What we miss out in our daily hustle and bustle at homes is probably priceless and can never be created or purchased, whatever be the amount of progress in technology or economy. I realized that with all my education, and qualification, I was may be a little more than an illiterate in those mountain trails. The knowledge of the local guides and the people living there and their intuitions about the weather and other things were as accurate as precise scientific judgments.

What kind of textbooks have they studied? None! I guess that’s nature’s own way of teaching her sons to sustain in this beautiful creation.

I shall sign off here with a bow to Bholenath ji (lord Shiva), for letting my teammates and me finish the trek successfully, without any hassles and a note of congratulations to all my companions for making it to the top.