I would never have thought of climbing a Himalayan peak, however small, in the coldest month of the Indian winter. And yet, here I was. I would never have thought it possible that I would be hiking around with some of my closest friends, all of together in a nice and small group. And yet, here I was. I would never have thought that I would stay away from these mountains for more than a year, and yet here I was, trying to climb Chandrashila peak(13,000 ft) with 4 other friends, in the middle of January, after a gap of about two and a half years!
My neck hardly had any space to move and look around. It had got hemmed in by a bulky rucksack I was carrying on my back and whose top portion was slightly higher than that of my head. With hands holding the ice axe and crampons on my snow boots kicking front pointed steps in the snow, I really did not want to bother myself with anything more than looking ahead to the climber above me and following his route up the steep couloir that would take us to the top of the pass. Twenty steps, stop, breathe, gather your thoughts, twenty steps, stop… I was trying to maintain a rhythm while climbing up the slope. But we were already 14000 feet above sea level and lack of oxygen in the air was making its presence felt. I was trying to complete a set of twenty steps but always ended up giving up after twelve or fifteen. I cursed my insufficient fitness. Leaning down on the ice axe, which I had planted in the snow to use it as an anchor, I tried to calm down my chaos filled mind with the exquisite panorama I could look at through the gap in my feet. The view, when seen that way was upside down, but every time I looked at it, it brought along some amount of peace with it. It was easy to forget about everything and just keep marveling at the natural magic around you. The rumbling of the rocks and ice blocks tumbling down from an ice fall some safe distance away made for a constant background sound. The activity in the ice fall was so constant that it had almost become part of the rhythm.
These are the pictures from my trek to Stok Kangri peak in Ladakh,last August.The post has long been pending.I am only uploading the pictures as of now.
I call it a trek since even though I summitted this peak,some 6153meters in altitude,there was no technical skill required for doing so.All I had to do,was to trek along the easy trail till the top of the mountain.The real fun started when summit was about 3 hours away.The altitude had started showing its effect in the sense that the rate at which one would tire out before taking a break in the walk had increased after that.The view then on became magnificent.The glacier on the left side,sun rising from behind a serrated horizon on the right side and the summit right ahead ,high in front of the nose.
This was a very nice experience and made me feel ready for my next peak.
This a long post about my month long stay in the Himalayas from July 8th to August 10th,2011.
You can either click on the separate links or move down to read through the entire post at a go.
Rigours of the Road in the Himalayan Monsoon.
I had always wanted to travel in the Himalayan Ghats during monsoons.I had always imagined just how beautifully ferocious the mountains wouls look when the rain pours down upon them,flooding the rivers and spreading a green carpet across the slopes.
I was granted my wishes and some more.For when we started down for Delhi from Kibber on 22nd July,we got stranded for 2 days in the valley due to landslide and the consequent roadblocks.finding the road obstructed by big boulders which had fallen down from mountain slopes due to rains became a common occurence in our journey through a sumo taxi.This continued till the end of Rohtang pass.We spent 3-4 hours at the beginning of the pass from Lahaul because the weekly maintainance work was on in the pass.But it was worth the wait cuz thanks to this maintainance work,there were no blockages that we had to face at Rohtang.Nonetheless,road was so muddy that the fear of the wheel getting stuck in it kept looming in front of us the whole time.On the third day after leaving Manali,i and Kullu landed at Manali,just in time to catch the 7.30 p.m bus to Chandigarh.The overnight journey in the state transport volvo bus was mostly about trying to sleep in the last seat(which was not so difficult,after the exhaustion of the last few days).We arrived at Chandigarh bus stand at 6 a.m.From there we took a bus to Delhi and alighted at ISBT around 10.30 a.m.I was back in the urban civilization!
My Spiti journey was over(at least for the time being.I do nurse plans to go back in December if only to check whether all the winter stories told by Kullu are true :P).There had been so many new experiences packed up in this journey that its hard to stop reflecting on them.
This was my first ever trek where I was accompanied only by a like minded friend and not family or people from some trekking club.Most of the road journey was done backpacker style.We used to reach place A and then see what options we had to reach B.We would then proceed to choose the option that would save most of our time and money.We travelled in state transport and cramped shared taxis.I stayed in Kibber for almost a week and there,i had wonderfully delectable dinners with the local families .At NCF office,i met some people involved in wildlife.I would never have had the chance to meet them had it not been for this Spiti adventure.The Lingti Valley trek was rendered the most memorable by the difficulty of the terrain and the long distances we used to cover everyday.The perfection with which Kullu had taken care of the logistics right from Delhi till the end of the trek and then back to delhi doesn’t stop amazing me.His knowledge about SPiti and Lingti is undisputable and everyone in Kibber and Kaza seemed to know him.It was thanks to him that we had no trouble finding accommodation and transport from Manali onwards.
Kullu,saying that i am thankful to you would be an understatement for I really am glad that you offered to take me along on this beautiful journey.I do hope that one day,as is your plan,you write a book on your very own Lingti Valley.
With this,I’ll take everyone’s leave now..Happy Smiles!
Stay tuned though.Pictures from the northern most state of India will soon be up here!
SO as i have previously mentioned,Kullu had been thinking and planning about climbing an unkown peak that he had set his eyes on.At Yarsa,we were right at the base of the ridge leading to this peak.I finally had made a decision that I was not in the fittest condition to attempt the summit.There remained further 2 days of trekking which was not all downhill and i also was booked on a trek to climb a 6000er,Stok Kangri in Ladakh after a week’s time.I did not want to jeopardise my chances on Stok Kangri on account of having over exhausted myself even before the Stok kangri trek had started.And i was sure that I would require more than 5 hours to reach the top of the peak if I were to go for the climb .So i opted out of the summit attempt.Kullu would instead take Lamaji,the strongest team member,with him on the peak.I was going to rest with others at the campsite.Our strength,by this time,had already gone down by 2 since earlier that day,Lufzang and Tenzing had left Yarsa in order to reach Lullum the same day.At Phiphuk,we had came across a large herd of Yaks and among them,Tenzing had spotted his own Yak who was seriously injured on the neck due to some infetion or possibly a snow leopard attack.The locals pay a lot of money(around 35k Rs)to buy a yak and it was imperative that Tenzing takes the yak home as soon as possible for treatment of the injury.So it was upto the two Lamas and Rinchen to mind the donkeys till Lullum.
Kullu and Lamaji left at 4.45 a.m..They only took a couple of chocolate bars,water,woolen clothes and ice axes with them.I would love to write on this part but i think i want to read about it when Kullu writes it himself.Needless to say,the guys were successful in summitting this peak.Its altitude was 5900.I’ll link Kullu’s post about it here when he writes about it.From what he described,it all sounded amazing.What was great was that they were so fast on the steep climb that they could return to Yarsa within 5.5 hours since leaving the camp that morning!
Some more of Satyachen
The next day,our 4th in Lingti vallaey,was a rest day for me sicnce Kullu and Lamaji went for some of their own exploration.Kullu had seen a large pasture on his previous visits here and had always wanted to check out the pasture.But it lay quite far away from the campsite and I had no energy left.So i stayed in the camp with Tenzing and Lufzang,resting outside the tent,clicking the snowfinch,reading Younghusband’s biography and updating my trek diary.
When the guys returned home that evening,their faces were aglow with the discovery they had made while on their exploration trek beyond the ridges surrounding Satyachen.I would love to elaborate about this discovery but i’ll leave it to Kullu to do so on his blog.Its he who owns that discovery!
The day I saw the India- China Border
I was lazily lying down on the sleeping mattress outside my tent and looking around.I was trying to catch up on some reading and some writing when the guys spotted a herd of blue sheep grazing on one of the mountain slopes surrounding our site.Beyond those slopes lay the snow and glacier laden mountains which formed the India- China border.That is,we were only 4 km inside the border.The acute difficulties in crossing these formidable mountains meant that there was no need for army presence on this side of the border at least.I had read about the Himalayan walls ensuring my country’s security in the geography textbooks during school.Seeing it happen in real was a different feeling!
This was day 3 of the trek and it was the easiest of all days in the trek.There were only 2 uphill climbs,each lasting about an hour,with a long downhill walk along a nala(Lumba) in between.This was the toned down version of the nature our daily trek,where we would climb up a mountain,climb it down till we hit the river in the valley,cross the river,climb the mountain on the other side of the river and then climb down till a plateau was reached where the dogris(stony huts) made by the locals and/or some water source could be found.We would gain around 800-900 meters daily and would climb down half of it to get to the campsite.
Claims by the guys,earlier in the day, about the ease of the climb had indeed turned out to be true :).It had been an easy day indeed and we had reached the campsite at Sheru(4500m) earlier than usual.I lazed around the whole of evening before turning in.
Unknown to me ,Kullu was making plans for setting his feet on one of the peaks to the west of the campsite.But more on that,later.
I inspected Kibri a bit the next morning.This was a place known to local Lullum people because their yaks would frequently venture into Lingti valley for pastures when they are set free in the monsoons.Locals have to go fetch them from the valley during winters when they are needed in the villages.So there were 2 houses built here by them.Knowledge of these locals ,of the area beyond Kibri was sketchy at best and there was only one person in Lullum,the guy whose donkeys we had rented,who knew about Lingti valley more than others.Excpet Kullu of course.He knew the entire Lingti Valley “like the back of his hand” 🙂 !I was in safe and expert hands indeed!
There were a lot of hill pigeons around.Today was the D-Day,i was informed.I had not taken efforts to find out more about our itinerary beforehand..But that ignorance turned out be a blessing in hiding.Because as i learnt that day,we were to start from Kibri-4000m and go till the Shijibang pass which lies at 5100m and then climb down some 500m to reach campsite for day 2 of the trek.Now as may of you must be knowing,1100m is quite a large height gain!I could see the serrated ridge at the base of which Kibri lay.This was the ridge we were to climb to reach the pass at its top.We were basically crossing the mountain from one side to the other and there was no intermittent campsite.I tried not think much about all of that and started at the rear end of the group on the climb.
There was a ridge i had been looking at since a long time now.It was always there,visible in distance.I had to cover that distance and get to the top of the pass.I was walking, panting and huffing.Still,the gap between me and the pass was not getting any smaller.I had had other people walking briskly in front of me but soon they had gone way too ahead for me to catch up with them.I wasn’t afraid because the trail was so well marked and there did not seem any chance(turns,bifurcations) for me to get lost.But I had been walking for 2.5 hours now and waiting for everyone to stop for a nice break so that i can catch my breath again.
And that’s when it hit me on the face.The realization-that this was not a trek like any of my previous ones,where i would be accompanied by my family,family friends and other kids my age,guides and porters.There I was,with Kullu and his team of 4 locals from Kibber and the khuttewala(donkey minder) from Lullum which was the starting point of the trek.So there would be no periodic breaks to rest oneself,click pictures and munch on chivda.Once we leave one camp,we would most probably not stop untill the next campsite arrives.And everyone would be walking quite fast.All of this meant that i could very well say goodbye to my “breaks” dream and would do better to just keep walking and try to steady by heartbeats the same time.I don’t know why this things had not occurred to me before! Ohkayyyy,alright….i said to myself and went about the task at hand(reaching the pass)cuz i did not seem to have any other option.