Back in September, I was able to postpone the story of my trek due to technical issues. I say “able” as there was also the feeling of being overwhelmed by how to describe this experience in a way that would be enjoyable to you all. It was only four days but those were very full unusual days. I have come to the point of publication at last. I have gone for a nice balance of words and photos.
Himalayan Mountain Yatra 2012
When I first conceived this adventure, it was along the lines of what I later wrote in my invitation. I had this romantic vision of tramping through the mountains to our day’s destination and, after setting up camp, we trekkers finding comfortable spots with vistas to inspire for a long sitting meditation. My using the word ‘romantic’ should alert you to the fact that the actual yatra was a very different experience.
I had been enjoying a bit of excellent R&R at Orchard Hut for a week before my compatriots, Kerry and David arrived for our venture. Prakash had been saying that this was going to a ‘recon’ trek in preparation for other future treks. I was not inclined to take this attitude. I can now say that I have changed my mind. Using maps and photos, Prakash had proposed two alternative routes for our trek. At first, I leaned towards the one that would finish at a small high altitude lake. When it sank in that this route included six hours of completely uphill climbing on a steep ridge in one day, the light went on and we settled on the other route. David and Kerry went through it all with Prakash when they arrived and agreed to the proposed route. Two days at Rupili (a trekking hut that the Dhami’s had built on a 2200 metre high ridge. During the second day we would take a trek up to a higher ridge with great views. Third day, a shorter walk through forests to Khubi at 2800 metres. Overnight there and, then, to Sundarani at 2500 metres. The fifth day would be a walk along another high ridge and back to Sundarani. Sixth day a short trek down to meet the jeeps that would bring us back to the place where we walk up the hill to Orchard Hut. As Kerry’s last name is Sunderland, she liked the sound of Sunderani. When Prakash explained that ‘Sundar’ means beautiful and ‘Rani’ means queen, she liked it even more. So, that was the plan.
Day one arrived and we were all packed and ready to go. Then, there were forms to sign and valuables to be put in bags and taped up and signed to be kept securely for us by Prakash. Suddenly it was time to go!
Notice the hats we were wearing. Our Himachal Pradesh hats for the occasion. David’s was too small, mine was too big and Kerry’s was just right! (Lucky we didn’t run into Goldilocks along the way or she would have taken Kerry’s hat.) Kerry and I used ours in the evenings and were happy to have them. David had a flash hat that he had brought along for evenings. I must, at this time, fill you in on our qualifications for this trek. David is from the south island of NZ and has a lot of experience at mountain trekking. Kerry has done a lot of bushwalking in Australia which she loves. If you are familiar with the geography of Australia, you may remember that changes in altitude is not mentioned very often in most of the country. Myself, well I had done a lot of short two hour walks in the mountains surrounding Chichibu, Japan where I go to study my shakuhachi. The trails that I am accustomed to are mostly well maintained and wide. I was to discover a very different set of circumstances.
We immediately headed upwards. We were to go from 1350 metres to 2200 metres in 9 kilometres that day. That’s 900 metres in 9 kilometres. That’s a ten to one ratio. I don’t know if that’s relevant to anything but it’s an interesting number. After a couple minutes of climbing, we came to an easy path that ran around the contours of the mountain. It was only maybe ten minutes before we were climbing for a short while coming out onto a road! This was surprise. Happily, we were on the road for only a few hundred metres. What happened in those few hundred metres is that Kundan made his first major mistake of the day. In the pictures, you will see that he is carrying a large blue daypack that was lent to him by the Dhamis as his ultralight daypack was too small to be carrying his flute and the few essentials that we carried for use while walking. One of these essentials was a water bottle that was sitting on the side of the pack. While on the stretch of road, we were in direct mid-day sun and Kundan does not do well in such conditions. He rapidly started to flush from the heat. When he reached for the bottle, he discovered that it would require stopping to take off one side of the pack to reach said bottle. Rather than stop for such an operation he kept going. Big mistake! Even though it was a short time in minutes before our next rest stop, Kundan was severely weakened. He rehydrated but this short interlude was to haunt him later. [Lesson 1- ease of access to water supply. I’ll be carrying a hydration bladder in future walks]
This first stop on our way was a very pleasant outlet for a spring and we all enjoyed the shade.
Next section was uphill and, though the trail was easy, the climb had our hero exhausted quickly. Our trek leader, Manu, noticed this elderly gentleman struggling up the path and made a stop very soon along the way at a family shrine with a lovely view. That was a fifteen minute stop and when we continued, the slowest in the group had rallied, was no longer ‘elderly’ and we made good progress to our lunch stop. One of many small shrines that we passed along the way.
Although we had risen in altitude a bit by lunchtime, we were still passing through villages and we could hear children at play in a school below us. We were to find people living year round for much of the way up the mountain.
It was during this first days climb that I began to realise that what I, a novice mountain climber, considered ‘moderate’ and what an experienced climber considered ‘moderate’ were two very different things.
As we moved in between and beyond the permanent homesteads and villages, we were on trails that were either animal tracks or small rivulets that had been carved out of the mountain side. When these were steep was when I began to notice how my body was not in shape for such an adventure. My left knee began to make itself known as uncomfortable when we moved up the more steep parts of the trails. To compensate, I began to depend on my right leg to lift me through the more difficult stretches. This helped but, in the long run, my right hip began to ache. I wish that I had some photos to show what the trail was like but I was putting every last ounce of my energy into taking one more step, and, one more step, etc. When we reached the lavish trekking hut, I fell onto my bed to the shouting of my body, “What have you been doing to me?!!!”.
Below is the wonderful bedroom that I fell into and enjoyed my first two nights of the trek. Such luxury.
In the following days, we experienced the grandeur of high ridges and the beauty of lush forests.
At times, we walked on trails that had changed because they were only animal tracks that get washed away and our guides had to find their way.
We saw nomad huts and settlements.
Our camping spots were near where kids were at play and everyday life continued despite the presence of these strange foreigners. Some of the nomads began moving down the mountain on our last day. The early leavers would travel by foot with their animals all the for hundreds of kilometres to their winter homes.
We had a campfire that was very romantic except that the wind kept changing.
Then, it started raining.
Here’s Kerry with her moat and her throne.
We had a great time even though we returned a day early. Kerry, David and I got to know each other much more. We experienced our highs and our lows together. We laughed and we groaned together. And, we all three became very fond and admiring of Manu and the porters. It was a great adventure. Below you will find a few more random pics. My flickr page has a collection of photos called Yatra 2012. It’s a mix taken by all three of us.
After the trek, I discovered how mountain dwellers go downhill. As usual, I learned it the hard way. One morning we found ourselves moving down a mountainside in the rain on a trail that previous rains had etched out of an animal track. Many places had a slick mud that meant some close calls for Kerry and myself. David was revelling. I noticed that while Kerry and I were slowly picking our way along making not always successful attempts to stay upright in the mud (“Ow. Damn, I got dirt under my nails!) , David and the porters were zipping ahead.
A few days later, back at Orchard Hut, I went for an easy walk with some of the other guests. As we descended, there was a point where the trail went from the top to the bottom of a large boulder. There was a convenient notch half way down that we were able to use as a step to cautiously climb down. I was third in line and made it easily enough. Behind me was a woman from Switzerland. She just walked quickly down the side of the boulder! A light went on in my head. I began to watch the way the local boy who was leading us walked down the trail. He wasn’t ‘walking’ so much as skipping or bouncing down the hillside. His forward foot would just be pushing off from solid spots along the side of the trail. It was so fluid and effortless. I incorporated this method and was in heaven. Another lesson.
Prakash was correct in calling this a reconnoitre. If I were to do this trek again, now understanding the terrain and my own physical condition, I would make several changes to the routes. Mainly, I would make it an ‘easy’ trek rather than a ‘moderate’ trek. It would be possible and still have all of the really beautiful bits that we experienced plus the ridge walk that we didn’t get to do because of the rain.
The trekking in the mountains around Orchard Hut can offer many, many variations. While I was there, a couple who had been trekking in the Indian Himalayas since the 1960’s went off with a couple porters on a very full-on adventure into areas where foreigner’s are rarely seen.
As I’ve said before, just being at Orchard Hut is such a treat. To spend time in the beautiful natural setting that they have created on the mountain side and enjoy the company of the Dhami family is a very special treat. It is an excellent place for a bit of R and R.
As for my plans, the rest of 2013 will be a time of taking advantage of all the benefits of my home, Byron Shire. If I leave at all, it will only be a short trip to California. I need a good stretch of time being at home, doing the kinds of things that are difficult to do while travelling. As much as I love to travel, it is disruptive to routines. That is one of it’s virtues as well as one of it’s faults. It depends on what one needs. I’m ready to do the other for a while. I am back in Byron now, in the arms of my friends, the natural beauty and the great food. It was seven months away. So, take care all. I’ll still be writing to you. I have a special project that is taking shape and will be announced to the world before too long. I’ll keep in touch.