First Part : To Auli; Second Part: To Ghangaria; Third Part: To Valley of Flowers; Fourth Part: To Hemkund Sahib; Fifth Part: To Badrinath, Mana and Back
The cavalry regiment was back with a vengeance. Whether it was the forced 'demotion' or the previous day or the fact that the Hemkund Sahib trek was supposed to be far tougher than the previous day's trek, I do not know. It started off with almost everyone deciding to join the cavalry from both groups. Hemant, of the other group, checked with me about my intentions and I told him I intended trekking up (Yes! I do have my insane moments). Hemant was also of the same opinion. He ended up convincing Suhasini and Nikitha to trek up as well. Geeta, the intrepid night-trekker of the previous day, also joined that 'I shall walk up or bust' contingent.
Chandru, still not recovered from the leg issues of the previous day and developing a mild fever to boot, opted out. He refused to ride mules, maybe because of the fact that he had grown up without restraint and, if he bestrode a mule, there would probably be the strange sight of a mule with six legs. So, he stayed back in the camp in solitary splendor. Shanthi, despite a similar fever, was insistent upon making the journey up by mule and, as events panned out, did make it.
The depleted infantry set out at about 6.30 AM with the cavalry to follow around an hour later. Hemant , Suhasini and I were in the lead and, in short order, Hemant was very much in the lead. Just after we crossed the Check-post, a group of Sardars joined us on the trek. One, in particular, took a shine to me, probably because I was nearly 80% of his weight and had this attractive habit of stopping every twenty paces to blow like a bellows, which so endeared me to him. Matching pant for pant, I never noticed when Suhasini too fled ahead to join Hemant nor did he notice that his companions had raced up the trail as though they were on a mountain marathon.
The trail was virtually all ascent with no small declines or flat parts to provide a breather. Up, up and up we climbed or, more to the point, up, gasp, gasp, gasp, up, gasp, gasp, gasp, oh shit, up...we climbed. My new companion was full of advice about how best to climb the trail. Over time I realized that there was a lot more talk about trekking than there was trekking. Three hours down the line, we caught up with his companions waiting for him at a tea-stall. Our man was a man of strategy - he was carrying all their way-eats and water!
It was somewhere around 9.15 AM and, though we could hear the chants from the Gurdwara, the flag of the place seemed far away in the distant horizon. My sardar friend was happily talking of the fact that the Gurdwara would close by about 12.30 PM and, going by the distance and the exemplary pace we had set till then, it seemed unlikely to me that we would hit the place anywhere before 3 PM.
I, rather selfishly, abandoned my companion (not exactly alone, was he now, busily wrapping himself around cookies that he was digging out of his bag in the company of his friends?) and pressed onward. After another twenty minutes of ascent, there was one small blessed stretch of flat track and back it was to the same up, gasp, gasp, gasp, up routine.
The cavalry had passed by me before that tea-stall stop, gaily waving at my toiling self and passing encouraging comments about how I had barely done a fourth of the total distance. Ignoring them with haughty disdain, I had pressed on and I continued to press on, though the haughty disdain seemed to have leaked away through some hole.
Eventually, I reached a place where I found that I could either climb up steps to the Gurdwara or take the long path around. I stopped and considered. Both were inclined upwards, of course (rather tough for the path to incline downwards and yet lead to place some 500 feet higher) with the steps being steeper and, thus, promising to be the shorter route. Since I was panting anyway, it looked like the gasping would happen on either path and the steps promised a lesser period of gasping.
Up the steps I went and, after about 45 minutes of climbing, I staggered into the Hemkund Sahib at 11.30 AM. Almost immediately, I was partaking of the delicious Khichdi and tea that was being offered to all comers. Revived, I went to the serene Gurdwara and soaked in the ambience.
The Hemkund is such a beautiful serene lake that it is no wonder that this place was chosen for the contemplation of the divine. Dipping the feet in the ice-cold waters of the lake was such an invigorating experience. People who know my penchant for jumping into Himalayan lakes would be surprised by the fact that I did not venture into this lovely lake. The problem is that I am wary of dipping in ice-cold lakes when the sky is overcast and a breeze is blowing. Hypothermia lies that way. (No matter what you think, I am not exactly insane).
After an hour or so at the Hemkund Sahib, we started on our return. I decided to take the long path down this time. Just as we started, Geeta and Nikitha - the last of the infantry - reached the place. Leaving them to enjoy the place, we started down. The view of the flower-laden mountainside, with a profusion of the rare Brahma Kamal, made it a wise decision for me, since this was not visible from the steps.
The Brahma Kamal was not in bloom, but the buds were lovely to view. We stopped on our way down to have lunch at a tea-stall, the GIO Adventures guys - Yashpal, Hari and Mahaveer - having lugged the lunch for us, as usual. After lunch, I rushed down back to the camp, since the sun was out by now and I had an aversion to getting dehydrated. (Yes - the sweating is not something that creates a problem only for you).
Of course the day did not end without further drama. Geeta and Nikitha had not come back to camp by sunset. After the previous day's experience, though, we were sort of blase about it, only pausing to comment about the foolhardiness of Nikitha in trekking along with Geeta, knowing the latter's penchant for night-trekking. The ever-suffering Yashpal was with them and, as expected, the trio landed at the camp about the time for dinner.
That was about the end of the trek, though we still had to trek back to Govindghat the next day. If weather permitted, we intended visiting Badrinath and Mana before reaching the Auli Guesthouse at night.
The mountains decided that the three days of good weather had left us feeling that things were as predictable as in our homes. It was time to show that taking things for granted does not work on the mountains.
But that is the tale of the next day.