Monday, May 11, 2015

Trek to Chandrashila Peak

There is an old joke from my youth about a Russian, an American and an Indian.

Russian: We have submarines that go down to the sea-floor.
Indian  : All the way to the sea-floor?
Russian: No, just a shade above.

American : That's nothing. We have airplanes that touch the sky.
Indian  : Really?
American : No, just a shade below.

Indian : What are these achievements compared to ours. We eat with our noses.
American and Russian : With your noses?
Indian : No. Just a shade below.

That, in short, seems to be the tale of my treks these days. I trekked to Chandrashila Peak. Well, no, just a shade below!

But I am getting ahead of myself.

* * *
The trek got off to a totally 'auspicious' start for me. Hitherto, I had made it a habit of falling a couple of times while on trek. This time, I managed to do it in the bathroom the night before I was to take the train to Haridwar, which was the first step of the trek. I walk into the bathroom, turn left and the next thing I know, my feet are in the air, my fundament lands with a thud on the ground and a cracking noise behind me heralds the fact that a bucket has met an untimely demise. Good for me, since the absence of the bucket could have meant cracking my head on the wall though, of course, the bucket would have had different ideas (like Dhoni?) about which alternative was preferable.

The net result was that I boarded the train the next day with a strained lower back, hoping that it would cure itself over the day. Ah! The illusions of youth do not vanish even if youth itself has deserted you for a decade or so. Though, to be sure, sitting in a train seat for five hours and, then, following it up with a ten hour road journey from Haridwar to Sari the next day was not exactly what a doctor would have ordered to treat the problem.

The first day of the trek was from Sari to Deoria Tal (By the way, trekking to Chandrashila peak can be done by hitting Chopta by road and trekking from there to Chandrashila and back. The intrepid trekker would probably consider it a good morning walk, maybe. It probably could have been done in 4-5 hours by the fitter guys that way. Our trek had been organised as a five day affair, starting from Sari and ending in Chopta). The group of 13 was a very congenial lot. Vinod, his wife Malini and daughter Deeksha I knew from before and the fact that I was on the trek was thanks to Vinod. (The same Vinod, whom perusers of these chronicles would know as the guy who was hunting for his Rudraksh while I was busily drowning in "Swimming like a stone") We had Guruprasad, Mahesh and Ashwini, as well as Swati from Bangalore other than myself; Deepak from Delhi; Suma from Vizag; Kiran, Asmita and Anjana from Rajkot. The trek guide was Rasesh, better known as Baba for his absolute resemblance to Baba Ramdev that it almost seemed a pity that he did not have a tic in his eye.


The first day's trek up to Deoria Tal was the proverbial walk in the park. Provided, of course, you thought of the park as ascending all the way. We took three and a half hours to walk what was, probably, an ascent worth an hour and a half, but then it was not exactly like we were on some race to reach the finish.

It has been my experience, as indeed must be the case with most of you, that places that look lovely in pictures are nothing like that when you actually eye-ball them. You sometimes wonder whether tourist spots are also enhanced digitally and made up to look better than they are, like your cinema idols. Deoria Tal was nothing like that. The place looked as lovely in reality as it was in the pics. And, of course, you can never ever get the full impact of the beauty of a place, the harmony and serenity of its ambiance, from pics. You have to be there!

We took a walk around the lake. Vinod had, these days, stopped hunting for his Rudraksh, and started hunting for birds. The sheer variety of lovely birds that we sighted (Nope! Not like in Chilika where the horizon was literally awash in birds. Here the birds are comparatively few and far between but of various kinds) was amazing (and the sight of the flock of birds taking turns to bathe in the lake and drying off still lingers in my mind). Mahesh, though, was moping about the weather. Intrepid photographer that he was, the clouds obscuring the distant snow-peaks were a source of disappointment to him. Luckily for him, the next day morning dawned with clear skies and he was like a child let loose in a sweet-shop.

When the rest vanished into their tents for a siesta, I realized the first problem with that sore back of mine. Bending, squatting and other such exercises seemed to set the back on fire and, if there was a way to get into a tent without doing all this, no-one had invented it yet. True that it would inevitably have to be done at night but I preferred doing it as little as possible. So, off I went on a solitary walk around the lake again.

Oh, did I forget to say, that my manly admission to snoring when asleep had set off such a scramble for other tents that I had a three-man tent all to myself. Congratulating myself for the unexpected bonuses of 'sound' sleeping, I sprawled in my tent looking forward to a good night's sleep - only to find that the cacophony of snores from all the other tents kept me awake half the night.


The next day was a longer trek to Rohini Bugyal. Through forests, and involving ascending and descending, it was a pleasant though testing trek. There was a time when a trek like this would have hardly counted as testing but then there was a time when I could do a lot more things with greater ease. The lack of water sources on the way was a bit of a problem though especially considering that I sweat enough for people to mistake me for a water source. We had packed lunch en route in a small meadow and went on to hit Rohini Bugyal about six hours from the time we set out. (I suppose it should not have taken more than three hours or so but then, as I keep repeating, this was no race against time to save the world.)

Again! This is one trek that stands out for its camping spots - each one picture perfect and, surprisingly, an improvement even over the lovely pics of the spot. Meadows in the Himalayas always have a special place in my heart. The tiny flowers littering the landscape, the vistas of green, the forests, the brown peaks and the distant majesty of snow-clad mountains - these are all visions that you need to be in the middle of to appreciate the feeling.

A fox ran down the sloping meadow and we just caught its tail disappearing. Vinod went after it, his red jacket flashing down the slope. We lost sight of him for so long that we were seriously expecting the fox to come trotting out, clad in a red jacket, when he came trudging up the slope. No, he could not find the fox.

The next day, as we were brushing our teeth (and curbing the urge to check the foam that we spit out for any teeth that had fallen out due to the coldness of the water) when the fox trotted in front of us and ran down the slope. As luck would have it, it was the time when Vinod was doing his own imitation of animals (as has been mentioned in other trekking chronicles, his morning Kriya included cawing like a raven and hissing like a snake) and, thus, missed the fox, again. It was but sheer bad luck for, given time, our resident animal-lovers - Swati and Mahesh - would probably have tamed it and had it answering to 'Kutti' or some such name, thereby ensuring that Vinod had a good look at it. As it happened, though, we had to start on the day's trek to Bhrujgali.


Back again on the trails through the forests towards Bhrujgali. En route there was this lovely waterfall leading off into a stream. For Vinod and I, the eternal water babies, it was off with the outer-wear and into the water in a jiffy. How refreshing it can be to dunk yourself in a cold pool, when you are hot and sweaty, cannot be told. Though, yes, in the Himalayas, it does help if you have the skin of a buffalo. Swati, enthused by our antics, washed her head and hair in the water. Once her scalp thawed out, she did admit that she found it refreshing but till then...



Onwards again through the forests. The pace was nice and easy, as usual, so there was a lot of time (and, more importantly, breath) for banter. The trek, though, was the up and down as was the day before and, thus, you ended up doing a lot more climbing than the eventual altitude gain would warrant.


There was a twist in the tale, though, on this day's trek. The clouds that had threatened all along opened up and it started raining. Within five minutes or so, the rain became a heavy snowfall. If you thought that we spread out our hands, turned up our faces with beatific smiles and went around singing "Yeh haseen waadiyan....", you must be allowing your movies to do your thinking for you. When snow pelts down, you do not feel romantic. You feel more like Goliath when David is slinging stones at him. All you want to do is to reach shelter before he picks a big enough stone to brain you with. Luckily, we were near our campsite and rushed into the dinner tent and huddled in our wet clothes.

The brief sight of Bhrujgali that we got was about the possibility of a green meadow again but, by the time the snowfall paused a couple of hours down the line, this was the sight that met our eyes. The pic below is my tent with Rasesh contributing the totem pole made of ice.


A 4 AM start is not one of my favorite ideas but, on treks, there are times when you just cannot avoid it. The heavy snowfall had made it necessary to make an early start and complete the trek before the heat converted the snow to slush, and made it impossible to know if your next step would be merely that or a slide into oblivion. We were equipped with gaiters and crampons but, as in everything in life, there are no unmixed blessings. Crampons would ensure great footing on ice and snow but would be a positive menace on rock, since the spikes could catch on projections and ensure that you tumbled down the mountainside instead of merely stepping down.

For once, the trek was unrelieved ascent and, for the first time, my back acted up while on the trek. It was possibly the cold or possibly the unrelenting pressure of climbing or, perhaps, the fact that I had perforce stayed on my feet all day during the previous three days to avoid the pain of squatting down and standing up. Anyway, I made heavy weather of the climb up to Tung Nath temple - a Shiva temple counted among the PanchKedar temples, purportedly set up by the Pandava Arjun and the highest temple. The last stretch was a real tester. My first step sank me knee-deep in snow and, as anyone who has been in that position knows, pulling the leg out places a lot of pressure on the back. With every other step sinking in snow, shooting pains through my leg made me realize that I could not really trek much longer in this sort of terrain.

I reached the temple, where Vinod was in an ecstasy of grace. I checked with Ashish, the tour guide other than Rasesh, who said that the ascent to Chandrashila would likely be as bad in terms of having to wade through snow. I decided to stop right there. Guruprasad, Deeksha and Kiran decided to truncate their trek there as well. (Did I fail to mention? Deepak strained a knee near the beginning of the day's trek and dropped off.) The rest went on while we stopped off at the tea-shop, which had opened for business just before that last ascent.

One of the pleasures of trekking in Uttaranchal is the friendliness of the local people. Amit Rana and Arvind Kumar, who were running the tea-shop were all courtesy. While the others trekked up the mountain, this duo entertained us with an impromptu snowman construction. The pains they took over making it - collecting moss for the hair, ice spicules for horns, running up and down the slopes like goats - was a treat to watch. The three hours that we waited there passed in a jiffy and, when the others came in screaming and laughing with the joy of sliding down the mountain, Amit refused to take money for the teas we drank and had to be forced to accept payment.


Considering the possibility of snowfall again, Rasesh decided that it was best to descend to Chopta the same day instead of doing it the next day as scheduled. The half an hour descent was truly a walk in the park - the slope being gentle enough to not test the knees and ankles too much.

It is always the case that the journey back is anticlimactic and there are withdrawal symptoms. Especially when you have been in congenial company, it is also imbued with the sadness of parting.

But, then, there is always another trek and another journey into the majesty of the mountains.

Photo-Credits : Swati, Mahesh or Deepak. (Need I say it - none are by me)

48 comments:

  1. Your trek tales are always fun to read. Are you really that injury prone? The pictures are great even though you didn't click them. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Specifically because I did not click them, Rachna :)

      Actually, I am really not very injury-prone. Accident-prone, yes, but, as they say, fortune favors the fool and, thus, injuries are limited. My worst injuries have always been in cities - never on treks - as witness this one :)

      Delete
  2. This was such a good read! I'm pretty sure that a few years (or months) later, I'm going to come back to it simply to relive the trek. I love how it's so personal and not just like a description of the trail or something. :P Yay! Thanks for putting this down. I'm inspired to maintain a day-to-day trek journal/diary now. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Swati! Glad that you found it interesting to read. I, normally, do not enjoy dry renditions of paths and listings of places to see - so I prefer to see if I can write personal experiences.

      Delete
  3. Wonderful Suresh! Wish I had a sense of humour like yours which keeps you going even in trauma and distress:) Get well soon for the next trek:)
    Lovely account and awesome captures by your teammates:)
    I thoroughly enjoyed this post barring the news of your accident:(

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. When you are accident-prone, Amit, and can trip on your own bootlaces time and again, it is better to be able to laugh at it - else you would spend a lifetime weeping :)

      Thanks.

      Delete
  4. Have been to chopta twice and somehow missed Chandrashila due to some silly reason or the other. Your post has inspired me to finally go for it!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Do go for it. If it does not snow, it should be an easy trek.

      Delete
  5. A beutiful post with beautiful photographs & the trademark Suresh humour intact!

    ReplyDelete
  6. Too bad you fell down the day before but you valiantly carried on.
    The post was a great read and the pics were great.
    All of it made me go green :(

    ReplyDelete
  7. Enjoyed reading your blog sprinkled with wit and humour. Made me relive the trek again. Miss all the people in our trek. suma

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Suma! Great to hear from you. I miss you all too

      Delete
  8. Admite your strength and courage to go on even in pain...and not to forget your awesome sense of humour that probably gives you that power!!

    The pictures look like paintings!! and reading this I wonder if I have the fitness and strength to go on these treks...the desire definitely being present!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Do - Some of these treks are really not too testing.

      Delete
  9. Kudos to you for having made it despite all odds! Your trekking posts always spur me on to begin this adventure...someday I will...

    ReplyDelete
  10. Good to have you back .... the Mustang group was worried sick that you would have been buried under tons of soil (the earthquake at Everest base).

    Great reading your blog .. wishing I was there ..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes - that earthquake spelt a lot of anxiety for people close to me, though I was blissfully unaware till I hit Haridwar on the way back.

      I wished you had been around too :)

      Delete
  11. Loved, loved, loved this post! Makes me want to actually do this trek, so it adds itself to my endless list anyway :) Did you go for some trekking company organized trek?

    Aditi's Monologue

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yup! Indiahikes

      Thanks for the love :)

      Delete
    2. Thanks. I have an idea, if you're interested in treks - let me know and I'll surprise you. Mail me: aditimathurkumar at gmail dot com

      Aditi's Monologue

      Delete
  12. Falling a day before the journey is not good. I have experienced that, but like you, I somehow went ahead. I love hiking and trekking. I haven't done something like this but I want to.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Do it next time you are in India! There are a lot of easy trails even in the Himalayas

      Delete
    2. I will. My parents live in a small village which is not connected with pakka road. I have trekked all routes to my home. It's so much fun. I have trekked a lot in Himachal, but those are not marked routes.

      Delete
    3. These are also not marked. Only that someone in the past, or the organisers of a trek, decided that this route shall be called 'so-and-so' trek and that will be called 'such-and-such trek' :)

      Delete
  13. Nice blog. Thanks. I am debating between Deorital or Har Ki Doon. In May-Jun. Which one would you recommend?

    Thanks a lot.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hi. I'm planning to do this trek in May this year. Is it necessary to book a guide in advance or can we just land up in Sari and book a guide then and there? I ask because that is how I have organised my treks till now, be it in Kerala or Sikkim. Also, is there chance that I'll see snow if I am going in May?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I do not know - since I always go on pre-organised treks. By that, I mean I do not know if you can do it from Sari. It is not a big place - unlike Uttarkashi or Rishikesh where you can find a lot of guides to hire.

      Getting to see snow in Uttarakhand is certainly possible, though there are no guarantees. Half the treks I have not merely seen snow, but have been caught in snow-fall as well, as in this trek and this one too was late April/Early May as you can see.

      Delete
  15. if you are planning to enjoy with chandrashila peak than get your heart strong. because the peak of trip can make to heart break fail.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The heart was and is strong - the back was injured then :)

      Delete
  16. I am planning for the Chopta trek this October. Was searching for trek reports and read your page. Really enjoyed reading your story mixed with humour. Burst out laughing reading this line - 'Ah! The illusions of youth do not vanish even if youth itself has deserted you for a decade or so'.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Very well written blog. Kudos to you for keeping your humour through all of it. Am going on the 25th of Sept and am truly looking forward to it. Thanks for the detailed information.

    ReplyDelete
  18. Very well written!

    I intend to do this trek with India Hikes in this November.Is this a good time(I want to experience snow)? With whom (group or company) did you trek?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Depends on where you go and the weather conditions then. I have experienced snow even in March/April at times.

      I have trekked with both India Hikes AND GIO. Both were good.

      Delete
  19. Very interesting post. Well written.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Hello suresh,
    Your trek tales always put a smile on my face and the pics are really goooood. Thanku..

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Jenny! The pic credits go to my trek mates.

      Delete
  21. I am planning for the Chopta trek this feb.what trek equipment's and charges.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Check on the India Hikes Site. They will have the details.

      https://indiahikes.com/

      Delete