Words & Photography: Pravin Shekar, travel 3Sixty° travelsmith
My love affair with the Himalayas began in April, on a four-day trek organized by GIO (Great Indian Outdoors) Adventures in the Garwahl range, one of the outer ranges of the Indian Himalayas. The trek, which brought us to Kuari Pass and the Pangar Chula peak (4700m), provided a lot of hurdles for us to test ourselves!
The journey begins
The trek started from the ski resort town of Auli via the hill station of Joshimath in the northern state of Uttarakhand. We walked up the dry ski slopes with grazing cows for company and took our first break at a makeshift beverage stall on top of the ski hill. The views included a man-made lake intended to create ice when there was a shortfall in natural snow. The mountainscape was dotted by small temples, combined with foliage and broken trees.
It was climb, climb all the way until we reached a rolling green meadow with lots of sheep. A seemingly dozing shepherd completed the idyllic setting. And lunch was served.
Faith, mountains, movement: the perilous path
Sometime after lunch, we hit upon a single trail, dusty and rambling up and down. On one side, we had the comfort of the mountainside and on the other, that of a deep valley below.
FAITH. In oneself, to be sure-footed and to ensure that the next step remains solid! In the greater power, to ensure a safe passage, and faith in the mountain, to allow us to pass through unscathed, except for some ego bruises!
This solitary path ran for approximately three kilometres with just enough space for one person to walk. Tips from the trek guides on how to cross this route, on which side to use the trek pole and to take it slow and easy, were quite helpful.
It was April and the plants were still largely brown, except for red rhododendrons that popped up here and there, adding some colour. Every small climb was followed by a descent with a steeper decline. All known gods and deities were summoned for assistance! Some legs were shaking at the end of this Faith route: All legs and other body parts were largely thankful for having crossed this ordeal!
Constant encouragement and caution were shouted out by the trek teammates, which by now had spread across the trail. The trek guides also spread themselves across the groups. It seemed like forever as we gingerly moved from one peak to the other, hugging the mountainside.
Faith, mountains and movement: signifying the whole four days of trek, but most certainly that one solitary walk path; exciting, symbolic, confidence-boosting!
The exhilaration, though, has stayed with all of us.
Rainy day, rainy stay!
This whole day trek ended in a tree-lined valley where we were given practical instructions on pitching a tent, using a sleeping liner and a sleeping bag. And the location of the toilet tent, which was a bit farther away! Rain struck and we spent a very wet night in the valley, thankfully, dry inside the tent.
Rain continued the morning of the second day but we had to trudge through. One of the guides had hiked earlier and had set up a fire in a cave. That was a welcome reprieve and allowed us to regroup together. Today’s destination was Kuari Pass, the starting point for our summit attempt the next day.
It was a beautiful day interspersed with drizzle and sun. Up and down we went on rocky paths until we reached a large valley. We had time to relax, soak in the view of the peaks all around us – and to dance a few jigs!
Starting at 3.30AM with headlights, gloves and windcheaters on, 17 of us snaked up from the base camp to the first halt point. As we walked up a slope, the sun broke out forcing us to stop a few moments and revel in the natural beauty. Early morning sunlight shone up the mountain peaks of Dronagiri (7068m) and Hathi-Ghoda (6727m), among others.
The true struggle of the day started after the breakfast halt when we hit the first iceline, and the real climb started. Sinking ankle and sometimes knee-deep into snow, we crossed a frozen stream. A 60-degree incline climb followed by a 70-degree climb, at times we were on all fours! The group had split into three based on the climbing speed and (ahem!) abilities. From the final pitstop point, called Chotta (small) Pangar Chula, the first group of 7 broke away and proceeded to the summit attempt – 4700 metres.
Two of us in the mid-group followed them through a bit later but struggled to cross the large ice chasm as the sun had started to melt the ice. We made it to 4000 metres and the guide had to put a halt to our summit aspirations as we had missed the time-cut. We had to grudgingly accept and turn back, happy to have touched the 4K mark in our first trek attempt.
A 30-minute break in that location, surrounded by rocks, ice and snow and the beautiful mountains all around us gave enough energy, just about, to head back to the base camp. This was an adventure in itself.
Six from our group summited the Pangar Chula peak that day, and headed back to the basecamp by 8.30PM that night. As they say in the region, they were permitted access by the mountain peak!
The final day involved a climb down back to Auli. Dusty, tired and with painful toes, we reached the guesthouse that afternoon for a well-deserved bath!
I bid adieu to the Himalayas promising to return. Soon. Here’s to another peak, another valley, another experience!
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