There are many ways to spend your winter vacation – bask in the sun on a warm windy beach, or sip on hot chocolate as youread your favourite novel. I chose to spend mine at a height of 12,500 feet in the mighty Himalayas. A group of 43 members from across India who had travelled hundreds of miles for one reason – adventure.
The cold weather welcomed us with headaches and fevers, but our enthusiasm was unscathed. At these temperatures, all one can think of is food and warmth. Fortunately for us, we got to enjoy tasty Aloo Parathas with Dahi at what I would refer to as a ‘high-altitude-Dhaba’ on our way to the base camp. After about four hours of shivering in the bus and staring at the valleys and mountains in awe, we reached Sankri – our base camp. We were welcomed with hot coffee and lunch. The next two dayswere meant only for acclimatisation- getting used to the high altitude, low temperatures and low oxygen levels. As I zipped my sleeping bag on the second night, I realized that my adventure had begun.
We started our trek from Sankri with the backdrop of the beautiful Swargarohini peaks and within two hours we were carefully treading snow-covered trails lined withconiferous trees. Every now and then, we’d come across a wooden cabin in the middle of a field covered with thick snow, just like they show in movies. We were led by two cheerful local guides who owned two very cute dogs. In fact, their strength and endurance was remarkable. About three resting points later, (one of which was lunch with a snowman with a blue hat) we reached our second campsite. We arrived at Juda Talav as we saw the Sun setting, peeping through the gap between two snow-covered peaks. This place is said to have got its name from the story that long ago, two lakes joined to form one large lake. It was completely frozen, yet some dared to walk all the way till the centre of the frozen lake to satisfy their selfie needs.
At every campsite, we would refuel with hot fluids – from tomato soup to tea, and sometimes even Bournvita! On any other day, neither soup nor tea is a big deal, but in a snow-covered campsite, about 9,500 feet above sea level, when you’re praying for your body heat to stay trapped under four layers of clothing, it is a blessing. For once, every action feels like a burden. Wish to take a walk, eh? Only after you put on two jackets, a muffler, a cap, a sweater, gloves, socks and a layer of plastic over the socks to prevent snow from wetting it. Still up for that walk?
At one point, a friend and I got left behind and couldn’t see a soul! It seemed like the snow had swallowed everyone up. Hoping we weren’t lost, we quickened our pace. Our panic levels shot up and just when we were about to give up, a sudden sight of sky blue tents appeased us. We sighed in relief, realizing that we had reached Camp Luhaso, which was to be our abode for the second night. As I lifted my head, I realized that amid all the chaos, we were oblivious to what had been right in front of us. Far out in the distance, sitting like an uneven slice of vanilla cake on a plate made of coniferous trees, waiting to be summited, was the peak of Kedharkantha. We were delighted to see our destination for the first time, glistening with fresh white snow. We knew nothing could stop us from scaling that peak now. We forgot all about the pain and cold, sleepless nights that we had gone through. It was all going to pay off very soon.
The next few hours were spent in the tent, relaxing and packing up for the big day – the day of climbing the summit. Later, just as we were about to tuck in for a nap, we heard people joyfully screaming, “Snow! Snow!” Confused, as I stepped out of the tent, I realised what they meant. It was raining diamonds from the sky. I stood in awe just watching the snowflakes gently land on my Fleece Jacket. Neither the Sub-Zero temperature nor the chilling wind could stop us from playing in the snow. Our joy at being served dinner was unmatched that evening. Along with the usual roti and sabzi we got something special for dessert – Gulaab Jamun. So we’re standing on frozen grass about 10,000 feet above sea level in the Himalayas, surrounded with snow-capped peaks, overlooking a beautiful sunset and enjoying sumptuous, warm Gulaab Jamuns after a wholesome dinner. I think I may just have defined the meaning of happiness.
On the third day of the trek, we were all set to summit the peak. We started the ascent well before 5:00 am. With sleepy eyes and bright torches, from a distance we must’ve looked like a group of organised fireflies scaling the Himalayas. It was a full moon day and even in the dark we could still see the snow glittering in the moonlight. The first rays of Sunlight hit us around 6:00 am. Everyone’s gaze was fixated on the peak or on the path ahead, which was getting slippery. Surrounding us were the marvellous, mighty, snow-covered mountains with peaks that shone like gold in the yellowish orange Sunlight. Even after hours of walking, mysteriously, the distance never seemed to diminish. The knee-deep snow and oxygen deficient air worked together to make us feel like we were drowning, making the last few hundred metres the toughest. As our bodies ached with exhaustion, we pushed ourselves harder, surging through the last part like survivors of a zombie apocalypse fighting the final wave of zombies.
When I reached the peak, I was completely out of breath and unable to figure out whether it was because of the relentless incline of the climb or the breath-taking view that had just come into sight. We didn’t believe it when we heard people talking about a 360 degree panoramic view at the peak. Standing there, it was still hard to believe the same. In every direction I looked, I saw colossal mountains kissing the bright blue skies with their snow covered peaks with clouds moving about aimlessly. An orange flag flapping about in the chilly wind was the only thing I could hear – this was as silent as it could get. I put my camera away and sat down, my eyes still trying to digest the sight and my mind trying to comprehend the exquisite beauty of this Winter we experienced. The next few days would be spent in descent. We all bid each other goodbye but as I sat on the edge of that rock, facing the rest of the Himalayas, I thought, “If there is a God, this is probably his laptop screensaver.”
-Nikshep Trinetra (aka The blue guy), the winner of our #WinterWandering contest has a great passion for the outdoors. Nikshep, experienced winter the Wildcraft way and shared with us his adventure to #CatchTheCold.