The hills are alive with the sound of music!
– Maria, in The Sound Of Music
I hopped, skipped and jumped in a green meadow on a sunny morning, singing the one line I knew of this song over and over again. Before me lay an undulating meadow, caught between a white winter and a green monsoon. A shade of brown-green that one can only see in May. Behind me and to my right was the panorama of the Gharwal Himalayas, towering 20,000ft snow-capped peaks that I knew by now on a first name basis. I didn’t know where to look, really. I walked forwards, backwards and sideward, amusing the twenty five other strangers-turned-friends I was with, till they figured this was the way to walk in a Himalayan meadow (just don’t bump into a cow). Civilization lay 8km and 4000ft below me, and I was in no hurry to go back.
I’ve always been a mountain girl. Always. My heart soars when I see one, my feet itch to walk up, and my soul does a little jig when I reach as high as I can.
We picked a rather simple trek for our second foray into the Himalayas, being wary of living at sea-level for the last couple of years and being under-acclamatized and under-trained. Dayara Bugyal is a high altitude meadow nestled in the northwest corner of the Gharwal Himalayas in Uttarakhand. One of the prettiest meadows in the lower Himalayan range at 11000ft, it is an easy 8km and 4000ft ascent from base camp.
Indiahikes was stellar as usual. They split the ascent into two simple days through rhododendron and oak forests that led to a pretty plateau above the tree line. From this Dayara campsite, panoramic mountain views of 20000ft peaks played hide and seek behind their oh-so-famous mountain cloud cover. On the third day, we walked through pretty meadows and a couple of steep slopes to stand on Dayara Top, only to find the surrounding peaks hidden behind clouds. Ominous signs of a storm are obvious in the pictures now, but at that moment we were all whooping in delight and living out one of the truths of high altitude – there are no views guaranteed from the top! That evening, a massive hailstorm beat down on us as we hunkered down in our tents and by night it turned into snow. By the next morning we were all slipping and sliding on ice through our tent routines, stopping often (thankfully) to savour the magically clear morning views. We descended 4000ft on the fourth day through vast green meadows and forests, back to base camp and erm, civilization.
Four days of communing with the mountains, my legs and my lungs. My idea of heaven. Sure, it does include cursing the cold, the squishy tent, and hating to find forests spots to pee; but these are nothing compared to the exhilaration I get in return. Testing one’s comfort zone is not such a bargain at sea level.
Dayara was everything I expected and everything I did not. And probably for the first time ever, I was nonplussed.
While the trek and tents and routines were familiar, this time I completely enjoyed the company. I wasn’t annoyed by the variety of people, 20-somethings, little kids, Kannada, Telugu, phone signal at Dayara campsite and Hindi music. Things that annoy me at sea level did not frazzle a single nerve at 11000ft. It’s all in the current state of mind, methinks (which is another blog post by itself, heh).
It’s also probably an effect of leadership. Our trek lead Karthik was one of a kind, helping us emerge from our shells and shake a leg up on the mountain. Naada was stoic and supremely efficient, and I had interesting conversations with her about being a female trek lead in this male dominated profession. Psst, Karthik led an Everest Base Camp group earlier this year and bumped into THE Reinhold Messner who was celebrating 40 years of his famous no-O ascent of Everest. I almost cried at this picture.
Our Two Himalayan Treks So Far
Our first foray into the Himalayas was in Kashmir, three years ago. After six days in the mountains and another six days spent exploring the cities in the Kashmir valley, I was speechless. The beauty of the hinterlands clashed with the strife of the cities and I had about a zillion thoughts in my head, none of which I could elucidate. Writer’s block about Kashmir plagues me even today. A few months ago, I decided to chronicle just the trek so that one of the most beautiful experiences of my life doesn’t get lost to human memory. You (and I, heh) can find it here – The Kashmir Great Lakes Trek (KGL).
It’s only natural to compare the two for observational purposes in my head. Right from access to basecamp, distance covered each day, terrain and views, these two Himalayan experiences were mightily different yet produced the exact same sweeping feelings (that I like to call my mountain highs) and disconnectedness from civilization. Altitudes were similar yet the views so different since they are in different Himalayan ranges. I hope there’s a third trek, that is when the experiences will solidify and I will learn more about both the mighty Himalayas and my equation with the mountains.
An attempt at conscious travel
Now this is rather easy with Indiahikes. Their GreenTrails effort attempts to not only leave the mountains as we found them, but to strive to leave them cleaner than we found them. We pick up as much trash as we can along the way to stuff into our eco bags, which will then be sorted, recycled and upcycled by local village labour after being hauled back to the plains. Read their inspiring stories here. This is the kind of stuff I turn to on days I start losing hope in the world.
We had a few water bottles and takeaway boxes this time since we feared a water issue in Haridwar on the way forward, but on the way back we picked a fancier hotel and I exercised all my Hindi efforts to get our trek bottles refilled. Hah, and I thought I’d never learn patience! We stopped by Humayun’s Tomb in Delhi on our transit back home, and while I have much to say about the state of Indian monuments, this time I was quite surprised to see no shops and a water filtration system in place to fill our bottles. Score, Humayun’s Tomb.
Book (re)read on the trip: Seven Steps From Snowdon To Everest, Mark Horrell. I’ve been to Snowdon and I yearn to just see Everest from afar someday, so there’s a certain lure this book has for me.
All photos courtesy the better half, B. Thank you for opening my eyes to the Himalayas.