The Reality Trek

Hello Friends,

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.

Enjoy, Kundan

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!

GroupPhoto

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 were carrying daypacks. Here’s Porters Packingwhat the porters were carrying!

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]

1stRest

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.

herdingGoatsAlthough 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?!!!”.

Rupili

HutBedroomHere’s the beautiful trekking ‘hut’ that was our abode for two nights.

Below is the wonderful bedroom that I fell into and enjoyed my first two nights of the trek. Such luxury.

As should be, the first day was the Ridgemost difficult.

In the following days, we experienced the grandeur of high ridges and the beauty of lush forests.

Forest

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.

NomadHut

We saw nomad huts and settlements.

RoofSheepNomadGroomingKubbyKids

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.

PitchingTent

We pitched our tents in stunning locations.Kraby

campfire

We had a campfire that was very romantic except that the wind kept changing.

moat

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.

Notes-

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.

While the three of Shoesus were in the latest gear, here is a photo of the kind of shoes that the porters were wearing.

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 ‘modHighRidgeerate’ 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.

Cheers, Kundan

Kerry Hanging

Kerry Hanging Out

David

David’s Special Hat

ProneKundan

Kundan Prepares for Lunch

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Posting Delay

Hello Friends, Until I have left India for the land of high speed broadband, Japan, I expect that there will be no posts on my blog. The mobile data dongle that I am using gives me plenty of time to admire the beautiful view from the veranda of Orchard Hut as I wait for the next page to load. Uploading the many photos that I want to share with you all would be excruciating if not impossible. I can only assure you that it will be worth the wait. Thanks for enjoying my blog enough to come back. Kundan

OK, I’m going.

Hello Friends,
Over the last few years, so many of my friends have been travelling to all these exotic place. They come back here and say to me, “Kundan, you’re such a homebody. You need to travel farther than Mullumbimby. You need to get out and see the world.”

Well, it just got to be too much, so, I decided to go to the next exotic place that was mentioned to me. Then, some guy tells me about this World Shakuhachi Festival in Kyoto, Japan. (Whatever a shakuhachi is.) Now, I’m a man who sticks to his word, so, I booked a flight for this next Friday to take me to Japan. I told my friends and they said, that’s a good start. It is exotic enough but it’s not far enough. It’s only one time zone. You won’t even get jetlag from that flight.

I had an idea. I called my brother and said, “You think it would be ok with Curt if I came to his wedding?” My brother hesitated and replied, “Hmmm, I’ll put in a word for you but just because he’s your nephew don’t expect him to say ‘yes’. After the last time that you were here… I mean… if I weren’t on such good terms with the fire and police departments….”

Well, my nephew was feeling magnanimous and, so, I added California to my trip. That’s at least five or six time zones. My friends seem satisfied but insist that I do another longer trip after this one and not wait ten years in-between. I’ll see what I can do.

Cheers, Kundan

The Himalayan Mountain Yatra

Hello Friends,
In 2008, after two months of being in India, I was looking a place to which to retreat. I read about a home stay called Orchard Hut, http://www.himalayanlap.com/, located up a valley beyond a small city called Chamba; “beyond where most tourist go.” Sounded like just what the doctor ordered. As it turned out, it was that and more. I went intending to stay a  week or so and stayed a month. The location was beautiful, the food was delicious and nutritious, the water sprang pure straight out of the mountain and most of all the family were so loving and caring I just melted. It was difficult to leave and I have been feeling the tug to return ever since.

Then, this year, I learned of a group of Buddhists here in Australia, http://yatra.org.au/yatra-bushwalking-club/, who organise a couple treks a year that include meditation practice. I was inspired. I contacted the Dhami family at Orchard Hut. In addition to running a home stay for over twenty years, they also organise treks. Several members of the family are experienced licensed mountain guides. I am happy to announce that we have put together the Himalayan Mountain Yatra. A journey in which the beauty and joy of experiencing the inner  and outer heighten the whole. It will be a nine day trek with time at Orchard Hut before and after the trek. Arrival at Orchard Hut is on 15 Sept with departure after completion of the trek on 28 Sept.  The full itinerary is below. I have also begun a blog, http://himalayanmountainyatra.wordpress.com/, and a Facebook page.

The trek days will begin with time for some exercise of your choice before breakfast. Before the walking there will be a 45 minute laughing/silence meditation. After the day’s walk there will be 45 minutes of sitting in wonder. Before bedtime, there will be a circle of spontaneous voicing where we will leave behind all known languages and allow sound to flow through us until we reach silence. Each voice is correct whatever volume, rhythm, pitch, tone or harmony occurs. Walking will be in silence with meal times available for quiet conversation.

There will be porters and ponies to carry the rucksacks and supplies. You will only need to carry a day pack with a few essentials during the walking. The times quoted in the itinerary are walking at an easy pace with breaks. The difficulty will be easy to  moderate. The temperatures should be very pleasant. Lowest in the night time 10- 15 degrees Celsius (that’s 50- 60 degrees Filistine ;-). Noon time around 22- 28 degrees C ( 71- 82 F).

The full cost of the entire adventure including time at Orchard Hut and the trek is Rps 32285 for a maximum of 25 people. Transport to and from Orchard Hut is additional. Any enquiries, reservations or payments should be made to manimaheshtravels@yahoo.com. Mani Mahesh Travels is the Dhami family’s business and can arrange transport from and to Delhi airport or other travel in India.

Please pass on this post to anyone who may be interested.
Cheers, Kundan

Full Itinerary

Day 1 (15 Sept)- Arrive at Orchard Hut.
Sleep in tents or rooms at Orchard Hut.

Day 2 &3 – Stay at Orchard Hut. Short walks or treks available.
Sleep at Orchard Hut.

Day 4 – After breakfast Mountain Yatra starts to Rulpuli (Ht.2225M) (Ridge Moor Cottage) around 4-5 hrs hike through forest of Devdar (cedar) and oak trees terrace fields and tribal shepherd villages. Reach Rulpuli by the tea time. From where one can see 360 degree view of Himalayas ( Dhauladhar and Pir panjal ranges)                                                                             Dinner and Camp Fire.                                                  Night stay in tent at Ridge moor cottage.

This trekking hut away from the village is at about 2225m. and has a spectacular 360 degree view of the Dhauladar ranges and snow capped mountains of the Pir-Panjal Himalayan range.  The house, built in traditional form, is at the peak of a mountain on a pasture surrounded by spruce, cedar and rhododendron trees.  The place is 9 to 10 km from Orchard Hut and a 4 to 5 hour trek.

Day 5 — Excursion to Kunbag –Kassa  (holy mountain ridge) and back.
Night stay  just like previous night.

Day 6 –Mountain Yatra ( trekking) continue towards no men land Khabbi gaining more height .
Night stay in tents.

Day 7 – Today Yatra touch’s the height of about 3000mtrs. named TOPI, and we reach other side of the highest point named SUNDERANI – DHAR.                                           N /S in tents on grassy pasture.

Day 8 —  To day trekking up on the ridge of mountain known as DIHBARI – DHAR and back. Views both sides of the ridge are spectacular.                                                           N/S just like previous night.

Day 9 – Yatra continues descending to a place TALLI, spending  night in tents.

Day  10—Early morning Yatra starts to a beautiful place CHAKHUND – LAKE. Hike can take 6-7 hrs. Chakhund is the place where a small lake on the pasture surrounded by cedar trees looks like jewel on the earth. Again we enjoy 360 degree views of Himalayas.                                                    N / S in tents.

Days 11  is spent at Chakhund  providing  time to enjoy the lake or a short trek.
N / S in tents.

Day  12 – Descending  to road head takes 5-6hrs. from where up to road head of Orchard by jeep.
N / S in tent or room at orchard hut.

Day 13 – Relax at Orchard Hut-
Night in tent.

Day 14 (28 Sept) – Leave Orchard Hut or stay on for some more R&R.

Katsumi Suzuki and Bunraku

Dear Friends:
I first set foot on Japanese soil in September 1979 or 80. I know it was September because I was coming here to teach English and that was the best time to find a job. I had been living in California and a friend wrote to tell me that it was easy to find a job teaching English with good pay in Tokyo. She was in a different line of business that I will not reveal so as to maintain a family rating. So it was that I arrived knowing  nothing of the country, as usual, with the intention of working six months, making a quick buck and be on my way back to India with a very fat wallet. Yeah, right! Kundan, when are you ever going to learn. (That reminds me, I need to buy a lotto ticket today.)

As it turned out, I got a bit more involved than planned and it was much more than six months before I flew away to other shores. By then, my reason to go to India was in Oregon, so, it was back to the states.

As one might imagine, there were a few stories during my time here. Some more suited to a  full length novel. However, I will stick to the title of the piece.

One intention that did eventuate very quickly was my teaching of English. (Though the students tended to know there english grammar better than I). Through various English language schools, my bread and butter work was teaching company classes. These would start at five in afternoon and last a couple of hours. I would supplement my income with private students mostly in the town where I found myself living. However, there was one class that I travelled quite a ways to teach. It was for a group of engineers at Fuji Xerox. The ride on the trains was so long that I tried to quit but the man who organised the class managed to dissuade me. One enticement was that my students would take me out to dinner after the class. The man I just mentioned is Mr Katsumi Suzuki.  The plot thickens!

It may have been at one of our dinners that I remember being asked what I would do on a holiday. My reply was to say that I would take a train north into the mountains and get off at a random stop. From there, I would take a local bus to the end of the line. (Does this resemble my life?)

I like to think that my casual reply was the inspiration for the actions of two members of the class.

The first fellow decided to get married. No, I don’t believe that my comments were in any way responsible for that decision, though one could make a case for the point. He was good enough to invite me to his wedding. (Perhaps to show his future wife the crazy gaijin who made the aforementioned statement.) It was a very typical Japanese wedding. Only the immediate family attended the ceremony. The rest of us attended the banquet. This was held in a very large hall and was beautifully set out. I arrived with my present in hand. A beautiful hand thrown ceramic bowl that I had carefully chosen. When I passed it over, the bridegroom appeared startled. I wondered the cause as I went on in to find my seat. I later found out that the appropriate gift is an envelope full of money to help defray the cost of the sumptuous feast that I was about to partake. He did figure out what had happened and make a point of thanking me at the next class that he attended. It was at that class that he told me of his honeymoon. As is probably still the case, the usual dreamed of honeymoon at that time was a package trip to Hawaii. My student and his new wife decided to do something different. They packed up the car and drove around the north of the island camping along the way. This was so out of character that I, in my mind, took credit for being involved in the inspiration. I hope that he understood how positively impressed that I was. I never asked him if my comment had been their inspiration and will never do so, as some misguided assumptions are better left in place.

The second member to surprise me was Mr Suzuki. He was sent to Salt Lake City, Utah for a business trip. He arranged to take his holiday at the same time. He flew into San Francisco having only reserved his stay there in a hotel. After some sight seeing, he bought a ticket on a bus to Salt Lake City and chatted his way to Utah. Arriving in Salt Lake, he found a local bus that would take him to the area where his business was happening. He then asked the driver to direct him to a hotel in the area. After the business was concluded, he was off on another bus to Las Vegas. Then, on to LA where he stayed with my parents before returning to Japan. If you were acquainted with the usual Japanese individual, you would know that this was a man who had pushed himself well outside of his comfort zone.

I will be meeting Katsumi Suzuki this Thursday for the Bunraku and whether he remembers or interprets events as I have, I am sure that he would agree that the truth of a myth is ever relevant. Whereas, the ever-suspect “facts” of history…

Now that you have been introduced to Mr Suzuki, I can tell you about Bunraku (boon-rah-koo). http://www.ntj.jac.go.jp/english/access/facilities_04.html

Bunraku is the Japanese Puppet theatre. I know very little about it having never attended a performance. I believe that it was during a lesson a couple weeks ago that it somehow came up. I decided that I should add it to my Japanese experiences. Then, I remembered, that those many years ago, Mr Suzuki treated me to a Kabuki performance. This would be a good way to repay his kindness. You see, when I returned to Japan to begin shakuhachi lessons, I dug up Mr Suzuki’s contact details and miracle of miracles, I was able to re-establish our friendship. We have met a few times since then. He even was able to contact one of the other class members who also plays shakuhachi. The next Bunraku season runs for only a couple of weeks this month. I secured tickets in an almost sold out house and we are both happily anticipating the performance. As it happens, Katsumi has also never been to a Bunraku performance. Often, for traditional performances such as this there are head phones with translation. Not only for English speakers but also for Japanese as many times the performances are in ancient Japanese.

It should be fun.

Cheers, Kundan

Idaho after the tour.

Howdy:

Here’s a little missive I wrote about our trip through Idaho after we had finished the Grand Tour.
As soon as we crossed the border from Nevada into Idaho, there were no more casinos. Instead, there were large fertile prosperous farms all the way up the valley to Idaho Falls and beyond. I won’t speculate on the relation that the lack of casinos has with their prosperous use of the land.

Twin Falls was a pleasant lunch stop in the older part of town. There actually is a set of falls on the edge of downtown. Just a few miles beyond the city limits, we drove across a bridge and I glanced down. I immediately stopped the other side of the bridge and found a place to park where I could walk close to this amazing gorge of the Snake River.

The next day, we continued on our way to Yellowstone Park.

 

My previous remembered travel in Idaho was in the early 80s when I was on the ranch. We had purchased the modular buildings for housing construction workers who built a mine up there. An extra pick up truck was needed for the dismantling crew that had been sent up. My name was pulled out of someone’s hat and I was given a box lunch, a map and the keys. What a great assignment. I drove up through some very picturesque parts of the state. The route took me meandering along small roads through valleys with streams and hardwood trees. Very different from the south edge of the state that Mary and I just traversed.

Finally, it seems that the huckleberry grows widely in Idaho and Montana. You find it used in many ways. Whilst in Montana, we bought some “44 North” Mountain Huckleberry Vodka made in Idaho. We opened it a couple days ago. Very smooth and tasty. The huckleberry flavour is very prominent. I’m hoping that we can give my brother a taste. In the mean time, I think I’ll go toss a few ice cubes in a glass. Maybe John will have to make his own trip to Idaho.

Grand Tour Day 2

Standing in front of a casino in Jackpot, Nevada. We have just lost $35.00 but we’re happy. In a few minutes we will be leaving Nevada and crossing into Idaho. Once into Idaho, we started seeing farms and more farms. In Nevada, all we saw was desert and casinos.

 

Burley, Idaho

Staying at the Marriott, Radison.

“It’s a Sunday, so, there are only two restaurants open in town.” I scratch my head.

I look at the menu and hear a voice in my head,  “Kundan, you’re not in California anymore.”

 

Very nice indoor pool with spa. All to ourselves. Swam laps, went in spa, back in pool, back in spa, back in pool.  Totally relaxed. A great way to finish a day of driving a car.

Tomorrow, Yellowstone.