Saturday, May 26, 2012

Notes for Dharma valley - a summer trek to the Panchachuli base camp

Note#2: A comedy of errors… Kathgodam to Dharchula

This year’s trek was decided much in advance. While some of us were rooting for Nanda Devi east base camp…our organizer sold us this trip. And every bit was worth it. The route is Delhi to Kathgodam station (by train or bus) and a day long journey via Pthoragarh to Dharchula. 

I was rushing to get to platform#13 in Old Delhi railway station to catch the Ranikhet express. I saw them before they saw me…and each step down the stairs to the platform only brought more familiar faces into focus. It was a happy reunion. I never felt I was meeting them after a year. It was like meeting old school friends. So there was Jyotsna, Nidhi, Babita, Haroon, Dilip, Amit, Rahul, Sarang from the last trek and Anuradha, Ashley, Gauri, Sayee, Deepak, Pareesh and Ankur who I met for the first time. Most knew each other from before except me. 

The fun started when the train rolled in and we were standing just below the stairs the ‘wrongest’ inappropriate place one can imagine…with our bulky backpacks. We created an instant lockjaw jam…no one could more forward of back… not to mention the crazy surge of human population; a meele of bawling children, plump aunties, sweaty men, buckets, suitcases, bags, all struggling to get into the train or get through us. I even had a man trying to get through between my backpack and my back only to realise they are connected.  Being short didn’t help as all we could see on both sides were more people and the best thing to do seemed was to get into the nearest 2nd class bogie. We pushed and got in…only to see that the rest of the platform ahead was completely empty. We created the jam by trying to get into the wrong bogie!!!

Finally got into our AC compartments and it felt like a 5 star lobby… That night I was declared Dr. Devi owing to my universal and versatile cure of ‘salubrious mountain air’ and ‘lots of laughter’…from fever to constipation. We got to know each other and Sayee saved me by getting us some bread pakoras in the night. And we woke to the sounds of people getting off at Kathgodam station. We took our time getting ready and Jyotsna noticed Ashley brushing his teeth for a looong time…he being a dentist made it sound funny:)
The road trip to Dharchula was made in 2 Mahindra Maxx…with full Kumar Shanu festival blaring in our ears. Our driver Karan needed the music to keep him pepped up. The music finally let up towards the 2nd half of the day and moved to mellow hum-able Kishore kumar and Lata aunty tunes. We stopped midway to see a leopard sanctuary that had three very healthy but bored leopards, they are fed 3 kg of buffalo meat everyday but nothing much to sustain their wild spirit.  We also stopped at many places for our breakfast and numerous teas, but the best was the stop for lunch. It was a quaint little dhaba named ‘Lohani’s about 70 kms before Pithoragarh. While half of us feasted on the mustard flavoured kheera raita and simple chana the rest went next door to have chicken and local fish. I was stung by the nettles or ‘bichu buti’…this plant is also boiled and eaten in the hills and many use it as a pain bam. Pithoragarh is a big cantonment of both the Army and the ITBP…and I was remembering all that my mom said about this place when my parents were there. 

The route was very scenic along the way and it only got better. But just then we received some bad news that someone in the Roopkund trek died by a strike of lightning. Sandeep our organiser had to rush back. All the beauty around went suddenly bleak. I could only feel pained by thinking about his family and what he must have been thinking. I really liked Nidhi’s perspective that fated or not, or his time had come or not, but what is certain is that we have limited time in this world and we have to live it to the fullest. 

Anyways come evening and we rolled into Dharchula. It was a busy town and after the long and lonesome winding hilly roads, all the bustle, lights and crowd was a surprise to our senses. And like Jyotsna said it reminds one of Joshimath. Dharchula is the border town with Nepal and has a connecting bridge that is open till 7 pm daily. We were received by Mr Lakshman who runs an adventure tour company. He introduced his team to us and briefed us on the trek. He was giving us standard briefing procedures but we were a tired lot with no Sandeep in sight and a change of plan at hand. It was a totally confusing confounding interesting evening. 

And what ensued is a comedy of errors. 

He said the wrong things. We asked the wrong questions.  He painted a bleak picture and gave us one plastic lunch box each in which we were supposed to carry boring lunches like pulav, upma and other tasteless food. He also warned us of the heavy snowfall along the glacier and that we might not be able to do the last stretch to Panchachuli base camp due to the weather. At that point he was of an emotional and reactionary nature and those who were of similar disposition immediately sparked with him resulting in some pricelessly funny conversation exchange. He told us to not mingle with the locals, that smoking and alcohol was forbidden in the trek and that women need to be extra careful on the trail. Some of us argued on all points while some of us wanted to know why the stretcher has to be in the front and not the back and many such questions that had him simply foxed! 

He had invited a 3 time Everest summiteer who is also a Padmashree awardee. He is an army ex-serviceman and during his career has skied down from most peaks of the Himalayas. He also is the only person to have spent 6 days at the final Everest camp without having to come down.

We finally retired for the night in hope of some good sleep. I was a bit apprehensive after the evening’s discussion wondering if with so many new factors it was going to be just an easy walk in the park. But as the night got darker old wisdom and earlier lessons learnt in the mountains came to me that going with the flow is the greatest adventure and that anywhere in the mountains is always beautiful and worth the while. The rest I don’t remember as I fell asleep.

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