I refuse to have a mundane existence. I believe in tasting the air that I breathe as it knocks the wind out of my lungs. I choose not to succumb to routine which I have seen far more closely than I would have liked to. Change is the master I respect, whose path I follow. And when I notice a pattern forming, a cycle taking shape, I realise that it is time I take a lesson from my master again.
So, coming to the cliché introspective paragraph on 2015- here goes. Honestly, 2015 turned out to be far better than I expected. I conquered one of my greatest fears by travelling alone to the other side of the world, breaking out of my shell and talking to a bunch of interesting and amazing people (lets ignore the ‘oh my god what if my host is an axe murderer’ moment which made me want to turn my flight back around- sorry, Lorri. I love you). I started paying more heed to whom and what I love and learnt to accept the inevitable. I’m pleased, to say the least. But somewhere in between all this, I found routine creeping in again. Routine has a way of making you grow restless, especially when there is a paucity of challenges. I knew it was time to put myself to test once again. So I decided to do my first high altitude trek.
Kedarkantha is a peak in the Garhwal Himalayas at an altitude of 12,500 feet. You cover a distance of 18 kilometres over 4 days with an altitude again of nearly 6000 feet, starting from the village of Sankri in Uttarkhand. The weather can be unpredictable with rain and snowfall. The temperatures at night can fall to -15 degrees. Oxygen levels dip steadily. Now, a little about myself- I absolutely loathe the rain and cold. I find anything more than a Bombay winter unbearable and avoid traveling in the rains like the plague. And that’s exactly why I chose this trek. There was no better way for me to end the year than by attempting to overcome my fears. Was I disappointed? In me, maybe a little bit. But by nature? Not even in the slightest. I saw that the wet cold was home to a world of beauty I had never known.
The view from the peak was magnificent and the stelliferous skies from the camps at night were worth every shiver and sneeze. But I’d be lying if I said that it was an easy climb to the camps and the peak. The views were easy on the eyes but hard on the feet. And the rest of my body, too. I got into the trek quite confidently if I may say so myself. I exercise six days a week ensuring a good mix of strength and cardio vascular training. The trek was graded easy. I met all their fitness requirements. I could do this, right? Well. Wrong. Fifteen minutes into the initial ascent I had the first of my many falls. A high, steep rock, a pair of short legs and the usual over packed backpack wasn’t exactly the ideal combination. So much for all those months of exercise. Of course, after cringing with embarrassment and dusting my knees, I was back on my feet, making my way, undeterred. However, that ‘undeterred’ phase only lasted as long as the ground beneath by feet was dry. Come ice and I fell flat on my nose twice, each only within a few seconds of the other. Gingerly, I made the rest of my way to the first camp, Juda ka Talab, grabbing onto every branch, rock and person on the way.
The Juda ka Talab campsite was a dazzler in itself with two lakes having frozen together. Being a rather vociferous group of thirty, it was hard to take in the ethereal beauty in silence but nevertheless, it did not fail to amaze. If it hadn’t been all that cold and we weren’t camping on a blanket of snow, I would’ve enjoyed dragging my sleeping bag out of the tent to gaze at the stars which are normally hidden behind the city lights and smog. Or maybe I’m being preposterous. But the few moments I spent with gloved hands and covered ears, gazing up at the sky were worth more than words can describe.
The next day’s trek was much, much easier thanks to the micro-spikes we were provided with. Those things latched onto the snow and ice like magic. I can proudly say I didn’t even fall once, though I did have a couple of close calls. And after a mere two hours, there we were at the Kedarkantha (KK) Base Camp. Through the trees we could see the peak looming in the background, distant and calm. The rest of the day was spent having snowball fights and enjoying the sun, wind and cold. These three elements were a spectacle to be felt when they were in harmony and a wrath to be feared when one overpowered the other. Nature’s nature is strong.
D-day arrived at 3 am the next day when everyone was up and bustling to get ready for the climb to the peak. The night saw little sleep as the temperatures dipped to -12 degrees and droplets of water froze inside their plastic containers. With a hearty breakfast and fastened shoe strings we began our ascent at 5 am through the trail lit by the moon and our headlamps.
Two hours into our walk, we were told that we had reached our peak. Had we really? No. It was the worst instance of something being given to you and snatched away nearly instantly. But it was also strangely refreshing. Or maybe that was what the beginning of my fear and hallucinations. It took another two hours to actually make it to the peak. Those two hours were easily my worst. The fear of falling down the edge seemed to have paralysed my muscles. The sight of the steep slopes pulled my confidence lower than any fall could’ve and tears of anxiety would have been dripping down my face had they not frozen into my eyes before they had the chance to fall. But with a lot of help and boosts, I made it to the top. And the view was worth everything.
The descent was much easier on my mind if not on my knees. And the thrill of sliding down the mountains was unmatched. Of course, a failed attempt at making snow angels was definitely a high point of my day too (amateur tip: fresh snow is the key). I don’t remember the last time I had such a big smile of my face. I was positively beaming, ear to ear, with happiness which knew no bounds. I did my most challenging feat on the last day of the year. Yes, it took a lot of help. Yes, I fell too many times to keep count. Yes, I was pretty much the last person to make it. But I did it. Through the cold and snow and fear, I made it up there.
Now before I move onto the obligatory ‘what I learnt on this trek’ segment, there are a ton of people I have to thank for making it up there. Firstly, my parents for sponsoring all the gear without which I would’ve died- quite literally. I promise all this is an investment. Next, the amicable India Hikes team for their support and hospitality. The food was out of this world. I kid you not; I haven’t eaten such delicious gobi my whole life. And the cake on NYE was a welcome surprise. I don’t know how you did it at that altitude but the catering staff should take a bow. And the superb trek leaders for helping me up and guiding me as I fell without a break. Last but not the least, my great, great friends without whom I would never have made it to the top. You guys know who you are. You have given me the hugest boosts from behind, your hands from the front and encouragement by my sides. I am blessed to have you guys around. Thanks for ensuring I didn’t break any bones! Seriously though, you guys are the best.
So, what did I learn? Well, there was quite a bit of self-discovery involved in this trip. Let’s try to make a list:
- The gym isn’t the best place to train for a trek. And cardio. No. Seriously. Cardio. Lots of cardio.
- Snowballs hurt more than season balls- there is no argument.
- Hygiene is overrated. Germs don’t exist in the cold. Showers and clean dishes are a waste of water.
- Mountain dogs have all the fun- must be reborn as one. And they’re fluffier than clouds.
- Theplas taste better at sub-zero temperatures #gujju
- True friends are the ones who are willing to wash the mug the four of you just shared. The frost bite is real.
- Vaseline=god-send -single solution to everything from cold feet to dry lips.
- You can never have enough socks- Dumbledore had his Christmas priorities damn straight.
- Honey Singh sounds like a dream at high altitudes. Listen to him before your ears pop.
- You can do nothing all year round but feel good about yourself by climbing a mountain on the last day.
I could go on but I’m not inclined towards starting the year on a preachy note. 2015 couldn’t have ended in a more spectacular fashion. May 2016 bring more adventure and fewer inhibitions.
Let’s make it our year!