May 27, 2013

All Those Yesterdays!

I had often used the word ‘amazing’ for a chicken-bucket of KFC. That was before I fell 120 meters with a giant rubber-band tied around my ankles.
I had often used the word ‘thrilling’ for various movies/series I watched. That was before I let myself get thrown off a raft into speeding waters of rocky rapids of Ganges.
I had often used the word ‘adventurous’ for a night-out at some place around the college. That was before I spent four days walking and four nights out camping in mid-upper Himalayas.

It isn’t only these words that got redefined. Home, food, comfort, exhaustion, luck, companionship - those 13 days certainly added more meaning, appreciation and flavor to my perception of everything I have and everything I want to have. 
More so, now I know exactly what it is to have my feet firmly on solid flat ground, rather than falling free through AIR at 145.27 km/h or bobbing up and down like a cork in gushing WATER or watching my every step on slippery snowy slim sloping LAND threatening to give way any moment.
(Do I sound dramatic? Ask Shanky :P )


The Fellowship (of the King) (and Kaka and Shanky and MaanSingh and Adi and Taha and Shashi and Sangam)

College was over. I was home in the morning of May 7th and was being fed and pampered thoroughly as I contemplated why the hell I was leaving the same day for this trip when I could have gone on having such a peaceful time at home. I had to get to Lucknow by 8th morning to meet up with the rest of the party and I didn’t have confirmed tickets. Well here’s how I undertook the ensuing overnight journey.

Yes, I was mistaken as the coach attendant a couple of times. Maybe I should never have tried to help that old lady struggling with the toilet door. I told myself that the ordeal would pass with the night. It didn’t.
I spent the whole of next day lying flat in front of the cooler (to the utter wrath of many fellow passengers) in the waiting hall at Lucknow railway station and permanently occupying the mobile charging point (to even more wrath of my fellow passengers). My friends’ train had been delayed. They barely made it in time for our 16:45 train to Haridwar. My initial plan was to go out into the city, maybe catch a movie, but one step out into the sun and all my ideas evaporated. I was back lying flat in front of the cooler (to even more unending wrath of my fellow passengers). I lay there fiddling with my mobile and doodling. That’s when I envisioned the final destination of the trek we were going to undertake few days from then.

Before the sun went down, the Janta Express was chugging along carrying me, King, Kaka, Shanky and MaanSingh to Haridwar. All cooped in comfortably, out came the delicacies from the home kitchens of King and Shanky. It was a full blown banquet followed by home-made wine. I was hungry and thirsty, (perhaps more thirsty) and went at it all full throttle. Soon the wine kicked in and I remember projecting stuff ranging from a bottle to pieces of salad at Kaka who was bent upon having a monopoly over the rajma bowl. To my comfort, MaanSingh promised to obliterate Kaka with his Rampuri at Rampur Station. I passed out before we reached Rampur. 
And in all that I knew that this trip was going to be a lot of fun.

As my companions in the trip would put it, train ne ham logo ko subah 4 baje Haridwar station pe patak diya. I was still shaky as I saw Adi, Taha and Shashi join in to complete the fellowship. Off to Rishikesh we had to be, but not before we had a pit-stop at the ghat – Har-ki-pauri. What else do you expect when you have a guy named Sangam in your group. :D

Har-ki-Pauri, Haridwar.

Laxman Jhula, Rishikesh.


Jump Off the Earth

“I am fully aware that I am about to jump 120 meters with a giant rubber band tied around my ankle and am fully responsible for this action of mine.” 

So read the waiver form that we needed to sign. 

Amongst the 8 of us, Kaka, Taha and Adi had decided to go for the jump way before the beginning of the trip. Kaka was so eager that he kept stressing that he and he alone should be the first one hurling down the hill. By the time we had reached Haridwar, King, MaanSingh and Shanky had also committed to throw themselves off the bridge. I thought I would have Shashi by my side watching from the sidelines, but he too defected to the dark side in the registration office of Jumping Heights, Rishikesh.“So it is 8 people going and 7 doing the bungee?” confirmed the booking official. 
Affirmation was granted and off in a bus we departed to the jumping site. So eager were these friends of mine that they hadn’t even booked a hotel yet.
“YOLO bey!!” I heard Adi and Taha over attempts by others to make me join them in the jump. Meanwhile Taha continued;
“Girte time kabhi kabhi cardiac arrest aa jata hai. But ghabrane ki baat nhi hai, immediately airlift karte hain aur pura medical attention milta hai”. If he had meant that to be reassuring, it certainly didn’t have the required effect on me. 3000 odd bucks for a heart attack? I was never taking that fall, literally and figuratively.
Kaka and King cornered me upon getting off the bus.

“dekh, life me na ******* kabhi kisi se darna mat! Asli power naa, dil me hoti hai.” I escaped to the rest rooms, Shanky and MaanSingh following at heels and occupying the two cubicles next to mine. The convincing continued. And they succeeded.

After the formalities were complete, we walked towards the jumping bridge. Trust me, if people had to pay up after they took this walk, I bet half of them would change their minds. The closer I got to the platform, the more I cursed myself for having indulged in this madness. I resorted to silence as the jumping order was decided according to our weight groups. It was Kaka upfront, to be followed by king, me, shashi, adi, taha, maansingh and finally shanky.

A while later, Kaka was at the edge, ready to plunge. King was all set and waiting and I was being prepped up.
“How are you feeling, my friend?” asked the guy entangling me in a net of body harnesses, screws and ropes.
“Dizzy. Is that normal? (should I quit?)” I said.
“Its fantastic, great. Its awesome….” and before I could decipher his answer, he joined in the chorus with other officials on the platform.
“1. 2. 3. BUNGEE!!”
Kaka dived.

King followed suit.
“Two perfect jumps. You ready?” asked Martina with a smile as she pushed me closer to the edge.
“You don’t have to look down. Look at the roads there. Take your time”, she continued.
I was at the edge, my toes in the air and she said again, ”three more little steps dear”. Already dangling at the edge, I just couldn’t think where was I supposed to squeeze in three more steps! I felt pure, unadulterated fear flowing like blood in every vein of mine. That time on the platform – that’s what it was all about. There was music playing, people smiling and talking niceties, friends shouting my name from the distance but I was just not there anymore.

In those 10-20 seconds that you stand there before the jump, a lot of things will go through your mind that is for you and you alone to comprehend. But finally you will know that its not the jump, it’s what it takes for you to walk upto the edge. 

“1. 2. 3. BUNGEEE !!”
I tried to leap off but I guess all I succeeded in was just taking a step off the deck. Nevertheless, I was falling free!
For 2 to 4 seconds, you escape your body. You feel no weight. Just air gushing all around. You see the ground approaching so fast that you feel there’s no way you could avoid the collision. Just then you feel strong tug at your legs and you are jerked upwards in such a manner that you lose all sense of direction and motion. A moment later you are falling again. You realize that you have done it. The euphoria inside begins to build up and it may even erupt out and you will find yourself screaming (Taha, MaanSingh and Shanky). Or you will just spread your already outstretched arms a little more and embrace this ‘amazing’ feeling.

All eight of us completed the jump successfully. Well, Adi did use a bit of extra footage. :D

Row Row Row Your Boat, Gently Down the Stream
(But if u see an alligator, Don’t forget to scream)

That very afternoon, we went for white water rafting. After the Bungee Jump, everyone’s confidence level was pretty high.
“Bungee kar liye bey, ab baki sab kya hai iske saamne!”, we cheered in unison at this assumption. An assumption that barely lasted 2 hours.

It was a 26 km long stretch. Life-jacketed, helmets on, we began paddling in full zeal from the word go. Soon came the first rapid and we were all almost thrown off the raft. Waves of realization crashed onto us that it wasn’t going to be a joy ride. Soon came along a greater rapid. Roller coaster it is called, informed us our guide. Staying true to its name, it tossed us up and down, but we did one better than last time and got through it well. Two rapids had already drained a lot of our strength. Paddling was taking a toll on our arms. So to offer us some respite, we were asked to jump off the raft and swim around.

Now you can imagine how that could barely be a problem for normal people. But then there are people like me and maansingh who have never been able to swim in waters greater than knee depth. Yet we all splashed in. The life jackets keeping us afloat but neither of us had and control. Ganges was taking us down with its flow. Within minutes I wanted to be back on that raft but the swimmer lot amongst us assured to take care (which they very well did) and kept us floating around them.

After a while we were back paddling on the raft and bracing ourselves to face yet another big rapid which our guide named as the Roller-coaster ka baap! And it did justify its name. Shouting, cursing and paddling we went into it and it took me all my strength to keep myself rooted on that raft. In its own scary way, every rapid left us exhilarated and truly thrilled.
And just when I thought we had had enough adventure for the day, the guide commanded that we splash down again! Though so very unwilling, I let myself slip off the raft. This time the water was colder and the flow was faster. I was floating down the stream straight away. I was so not in control that I couldn’t stop myself from colliding with another raft downstream. Far down I could see another rapid approaching. With my heart in my mouth, I begged king to direct me back to the raft. He obliged. Once on the raft I saw others floating/swimming away. The flow kept getting faster. We were approaching the rapid and I thought it was about time that everyone came on board.
“Enjoy the rapids!” announced our guide.
“What!” I thought. Seriously? Are they all going to go through that rapid on their own? People in water seemed comfortable with this idea while I sat frozen on the raft.
“Paddle my friend” said the guide to me.
Compared to the previous rapids, this one could be said to have been a bit mellow. Yet it took all the paddling I could muster to get through it.

Just when I paused to breathe after crossing the rapid, I saw King and Maansingh not so far away. King keeping him afloat yet I could see that all Maansingh wanted in the world at that moment was to be back on this raft. We pulled both of them on. Next we got to Taha. I, already exhausted, bent down to pull him up but I just couldn’t! More so I felt I myself wil get thrown off into the water. Another pair of hands came in to my rescue and Taha was brought on board. Kaka and Adi were had gone far off swimming right across the rapids. We looked around for Shanky and Shashi who were nowhere to be seen in the water. Just when I thought I should hit the panic button, we saw both of them perched on a different raft. They were forcibly rescued and fished out of the water. A while later, the whole team was back on and moved on to cover remainder of the stretch, which was, thankfully, devoid of any more such happenings.

“Bungee me to bas kudne se pehle fati thi. Isme to saala pure time fata hua tha!”
“Bahut toofani ho gya bhai aaj!”
Finally, it ended as we paddled across the Laxman Jhula, hit the right bank and pulled the raft out of the water.

The day had stretched us from end to end. Wrung us out physically, mentally and even emotionally. How often do you let go of yourself this way? You know (and hope) that the bungee cord will pull you back to safety and tha the life jackets wouldn’t let you drown (even if you wanted to). Yet, that fear, that thrill - un-nerves every bit of living fibre on you, letting you transcend into an unrealistic dream, while keeping you very very very wide awake.

Ever drifting down the stream
Lingering in the golden gleam
Life, what is it but a dream?

May 10, 2013
(still in) Rishikesh

Owing to too toofani a day the day before, it wasn’t business until late afternoon. No one woke up early. I guess somebody had mentioned something about watching the sunrise. That was never a possibility.
Next part of the tour involved getting to Lohajung, Chamoli, Uttarakhand. From there we were to go on a six day trek to Roopkund, a glacial lake at about 15,000 feet, also known as the mystery lake or the skeletal lake. For that, a lot of arrangements ranging from booking the bus tickets to buying and renting necessary equipment and articles had to be done. The day was solely dedicated to that purpose. And something else.

In a strange land
How do you seek?
Something whose name 
You cannot speak

For the love of God
For the love of trance
We had to find a café
Named ‘the last chance’ 

So in the direction shown 
We kept walking on and on 
Chalte chalte we went so so far 
Laga jaise pahunch gye Haridwar 

Just before giving up the hunt 
Found a sadhu lost in his spree 
“Walk on this way”, he said 
Until you find a mango tree 

Rest of the tale my friend 
In words shouldn’t be compiled 
Lets just say we found the tree 
And the little Buddha smiled

It took 13 hours of sitting-cramped-bus-ride on the winding and serpentine roads of Garhwal’s hilly terrain with the gradient increasing with every mile. All along the way the Alaknanda river ran in the adjoining ravine, merging with other rivers and forming the prayags (confluences).

On way to Lohajung.
We had started off at 5 in the morning. We reached Lohajung at 6 in the evening. At 06.05 everyone was in woolens. Heat was going to be history for a while now.

At Lohajung.


May 12
Lohajung - Didna

We set out before the clock struck 12 though the intent was to do so before 9. But then we just found out the detail in which you have got to prepare yourself for such a journey. Matchboxes, salt, diesel, stoves, tents, mats, medicines, glucose, maggi, MTR, chocolates, toffees, leman-choos, parle-g, chawal- daal, pyaaz-dhaniya, you name it – we had it!
Trilok Singh – that was his name, the Khachchar-wala. I despised him from the moment I saw him loading up our mule – Guddu. Manipulation lurked in his very eyes. Thankfully, we had picked up a better man in our guide – Mr. Yogendra Singh Bisht. Soon, we were ready to roll.

The Guide and the Khachchar.
We began. It rained. Another quick stop was made to buy ‘ponchos’. Clad in acid green, we marched ahead. Beyond this point, there wasn’t going to be any power or network. Judicious use of mobile battery life was made and there onwards they were mainly (only) used to for taking pictures.
The first stretch was quite jolly. Downhill trek, the only problem being the incessant, irritating rain and the cham-cham of our ponchos. A stiff uphill climb awaited us after we crossed the stream at the bottom of the valley.

30 minutes into the climb, and even the guide asked to be fed a Parle-G. Ahead of us lay a long stretch before we could reach the destination for the day – Didna. Forget bungee or rafting, this climb seemed to be the ultimate Herculean task weighing down on all of us. More so on Shanky, who, I must say, owes it to King and MaanSingh for keeping his company and encouraging (cursing) him ever onwards while the rest of us huffed and puffed ahead. 
Wet with sweat within, soaked with rain outside (the ponchos were no good) and the strength draining with every step, those timely stops and sips of water felt heavenly. In that condition, when you take out a snicker bar and eat it, you feel the bliss faked only in advertisements.

By 3, we were at Didna. Cold and tired, we found shelter, got off our wet clothes and cooked and ate – maggi and khichadi (uncharacteristicly dry) being on the menu. All this brought back much desired comfort but not so much as that brought by two direct gulps from the bottle of rum. Thanks to King and his insight for bringing it along. I consider it, along with the snicker bars, as two things that really kept us alive in those mountains. Next time I go there, I will live off on these two alone.

That night in Didna, when I walked out after supper and looked up at the sky, I saw 13 stars in the ‘Saptarishi’ instead of 7. It wasn’t the rum, but the most beautiful, plainest and clearest of night skies I had ever seen. Lost in this unique euphoria and the maze of stars, I couldn’t even pin point the common constellations that I generally found with ease. Still not within plucking distance, but they seemed close. If not for the cold, I would have sat there star gazing all night. 
“ohh, such clear sky! Maybe tomorrow we will not have to walk in rain”, I heard the Khachchar wala say before I tucked in. A very tough day was waiting for us in the morning.

“Though my soul may set in darkness, 
It will rise in perfect light;
I have loved the stars too fondly,
to be fearful of the night."


May 13
Didna – Ali Bugyal –Bedini Bugyal

“Ali bugyal tak ekdum khadi chadhai hai, uske baad seedha seedha rasta hai”, the guide said. We made an early start so as to complete the trek while the clouds hadn’t stained the marvelous blue above. In all this hurry, the khachchar wala had fled leaving the Diesel container behind (his excuse being his belief that somehow the khachchar would poke a hole into the container). The guide tried to pin it on us but then Taha did one better.

Getting to Ali Bugyal (bugyal : pahadi word for meadow, lush green grasslands) took us all that we had ever read in moral science. It took all the patience, perseverance, courage, determination, dedication and will-power along with hours of walking (sometimes crawling) to come clear of the forests and breathe in the beauty of bugyals.

Ali Bugyal
It was undoubtedly the most taxing part of the trek. There were stretches which made us think of the comforts we could be in, rather than willingly embracing this hardship. I and Shashi shared a fantasy about how the first thing we would eat when we get to the land of living will be tons and tons of aloo parathas. 
Then there was a discussion at one of the pit stops about how the Khachchars were able to undertake such a steep climb with so enormous a load on their backs. Shashi theorized, “fat-ti to sabki hai, khachchar ki bhi..fark yehi hai ki Kachchar ki fat-ti hai to wo *** **** ***”.

There’s something about the bugyals. It gives you the feeling of having arrived at your destination even when you know that its still so very far. The slopes become steeper yet you feel that the ascent has become easier. And you have a lot look around as you walk.

We were scooping heartful of these delights when the skies turned dark again. Before we could get our ponchos out, it was hailing. Wise thing would have been to make camp there but the ******** khachchar wala had already gone to Bedini with all our stuff. We resorted to a brisk walk to Bedini in that thunder, hail and rain. Thankfully, this stretch wasn’t a climb and only a simple but long walk through the meadows and then along the mountain ridge to another expanse of lush green grasslands – Bedini Bugyal.

By the time, we were sheltered, everyone was terribly cold (and wet). Rum revived us yet again. And we hid inside until the skies cleared up again. Out we came and that’s when I saw it, the mountain I fell in love with – Trishul.

Over 7000 meters in height, you wouldn’t get a better look at it from anywhere but Bedini (even its wiki page has its picture takes from the very spot I stood and ogled it). I think I took almost 200 photographs of Trishul alone. There were other prominent Himalayan peaks visible as well : Nanda Ghunti, Chaukhamba, Neelkantha, Bandarpoonch and Hathi parvat : all white and dazzling in the sun.

The very mountain in front of us was partly snow clad. We were camped at the edge the point beyond which it was all snow and ice. There were numerous thin streams running around, all originatinf from the Bedini Kund. It lay beside an old, small temple, reflecting everything like a polished mirror.

That night in Bedini was one of the coldest I had faced in a long, long time. To add to the woes, the MTR chana masala had chosen to raise hell in our insides. I dug deep into my sleeping bag to find much needed sleep. We desperately needed clear skies in the coming days. The weather outside had already begun turning.


May 14
Bedini Bugyal – (Almost) Pather Nauchani – Bedini Bugyal (Again) 

“abra cadabra obla di uble pee tila nila boo pin kyu ru min”, said the Khachchar (wala) to the guide in their local tongue (supposedly Garhwali). He was of the mind that this was enough adventure for us. The diesel had started freezing off. If we camped any place higher, it would be difficult living in the cold with supplies already running out. So we should roam around a bit and then set course towards home.
On hearing this, we grabbed him, spun him around and threw him off the cliff. I wish we had done that. Instead we bore with more of his smirks and undertones.

“Aap jahan tak jaa sakenge, ham wahan tak aapko le jayenge”, the guide declared. We set off. Khachchar (wala) followed.

On TV, we have often seen people skiing and sliding in the snow. It all looks so elegant and effortless. And we found out for ourselves that it indeed is effortless. Sliding (slipping) on snow is so easy – its walking on it that is difficult. More so when you are on a thin trail with moving boulders on one side and deep ravines on the other. One foot out of place and any of us could have slipped into the oblivion below. The snow patches kept getting more and more challenging. We weren’t prepared for this. We should have brought along cramp-ons (shoes providing grip in snow/ice). So when it really began feeling like it was a question of life, we paused and mulled over further course of action. 

Needless to say, the Kachchar (wala) was delighted. Soon we met another delightful person – the trek leader of a 21 member group (Trek The Himalayas) who had been right at our heels throughout the journey.
“Don’t miss out on Roopkund having come thus far”, beaming this line on us, off he went blazing the trail with 4 other people at his tail. 2 minutes later we heard him call out to his companions, “Its getting seriously risky here guys”. We still sat there mulling over which way to go.
Moments later their khachchar party passed by and one of the khachchar lost its balance as well as its cargo. That trek leader and his team too seemed to be struggling.
There is a list of conditions when one shouldn’t trek. Absence of necessary gear is a gaping hole in that list. Here’s our excuse for hitting the reverse gear.

We simply didn’t anticipate so much snow in mid May. First time trekkers that we were, the preceeding four days had already begun to take its toll on us. Home, comfort, warmth, food – the very things we often took for granted were now the precious to the Gollum. I think I saw a hint of relief on everyones face when we finally decided to turn back.
We turned around and began truly enjoying the surroundings, the snow and everything. Nobody was saving the mobile battery anymore. Out they came and poses became pictures thick and fast.

We were to camp at Bedini again for the day and the next day we would begin the walk back. Though we weren’t going to get where we had intended to, still we all managed to find peace in the incredible experiences we had had so far. There was still a long days walk ahead of us, so we feasted on the delights around before having to bid it goodbye the coming day.

Usually it remained bright until 8 in the night, but that day it was dark by 5. That’s when it started to pour and soon it had transformed into a hail+thunderstorm. The chill in the winds was such that if you removed your cap, it would defibrillate you! :P Back in the safety of insulated eco huts nearby, we were glad we hadn’t gone any further. The weather raged on relentlessly as we went off to sleep.

May 15
Bedini Bugyal – Wan – Lohajung 

The morning that followed was completely clear and sunny and we could see that the whole trail had been lost to the snow. Even if we had gone on the day before, coming back would have been a big problem. All in all we had another reason to be glad to be going back. Before setting off we soaked up the freshness around for one last time.

The return path was a steep downhill trail until we reached the rivulet Neel Ganga. Across it, a little climb later we were at Wan village. The final adventure of the trek consisted of being driven through a landslide prone narrow road (at some points so narrow that even while walking through it, if you threw caution to winds, the abyss staring from the gorges below would readily embrace you). By 4 we were at Lohajung. 

It had been four days and four nights. Drinking from streams, eating what we cooked. Living on the land. Living off the land. I cannot speak for everyone, but no matter how thick skinned, we all did realize things up there. Once back in our comfort zone, we are liable to let go of them. Yet, I believe, it did awaken each one of us to a certain level. Not bad for one’s first himalay yatra. :D
At 4, the next morning, a bus would take us back to Rishikesh. The end of fellowship was nigh.


The return bus ride was somehow less tiresome and shorter (it took only 10 hours this time). While we were waiting to see if our return tickets got confirmed or not, another round around Rishikesh market was taken. Hungry that we were (since four days), we over-ordered and over-ate. 

As the story had been throughout this trip, the toofani flavor hadn’t quite died down. Not that we planned so but owing to our failure to get confirmed railway tickets, we chose to go for another bus ride – right upto Lucknow.
All our hurriedness to get to haridwar bus stand in time was in vain. We missed the final bus by few minutes. So we took the alternate route via Moradabad. After a hurried goodbye to Taha (who was Delhi bound), we undertook a nearly 600 km busride. By the time it ended, we had been sitting in a bus for 32 hours and travelled about 800 kms.

For the next 3 days, the homes of King and Shanky were our own. And we made sure we made the best of the time in hand. Call it the after effect of the tour, but in the next two days we were seen at Tunday Kababi, Barbecue Nation and ChungFa, gorging like there was no tomorrow. 

This retreat was well needed. Finally, after a show of The Great Gatsby (which surprisingly no one liked :P ) and another show of Star Trek (which everyone liked) and a little bit more of loitering around the city and another train ride later (thankfully didn’t have to go to the bus depot again), we were all at our ever more so sweet sweet homes.
It was over.


You might ‘look before you leap’ but then ‘he who hesitates is lost’. The difference dissolves when you stand at the edge, ready to jump down a high platform with a giant rubber-band tied around your ankle.
Its ‘better to be safe than sorry’. Yet ‘nothing ventured, nothing gained’. Take to the white waters and at the same time you would want to be safe on the raft while still wanting to flow down the rapids.
‘Out of sight, out of mind’. ‘Absence makes hearts grow fonder’. There are places out there where every step reminds you of comforts back home yet the sight around every next turn will displace the very same thoughts.

Revel in it while it lasts…and then get back to being the pursued, the pursuing, the busy and the tired.


A 'sansanahat se paripoorn' video to sum it all up! :P 


Rights to exaggeration and bragging reserved.
Its not how it happened; its how you remember it.
No characterisation intended.
Data and information may have been skewed to suit the storyline.
Everything is relative to your perspective.

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