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It’s not the mountain we conquer but ourselves

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Call it an escape from the drudgery of daily life or a desire to experience nature in its most pristine and pure state or simply to bring out the best within, once you are hooked on to trekking it becomes a part of your chore and it keeps drawing you back to the mountains. 

Probably this is why we chose the Kuari pass Pangarchula trek as we would get a shot at scaling the Himalayan peak of over 4,700 meter (15,420 feet), more than half the size of Mt. Everest, experiencing the thrills and chills of high altitude trekking.

So here we were, me and my partner in adventure Maithili,lugging our way through the sweltering Delhi heat, en-route to our third trek this season to the Lower Himalayas. 

Our destination and goal this time was the Kuari Pass and the Pangarchula summit, a challenging climb at the end of beautiful trail hidden in the depths of the Garhwal ranges in Uttarakhand. 

DAY 00: Delhi-Haridwar 
For some mysterious reason, as if to cleanse you off your karmas and give you a fresh start, most of the treks have holy places as its starting point.

This trek too started from Haridwar, the ancient and holy pilgrimage city where river Ganga is worshiped by performing the Ganga aarti every evening on the Ghats of majestic Ganga. We had reached Haridwar well in time to check-in into our budget stay hotel right in the middle of the shops and shanties of the Haridwar bazaar bustling with pilgrims, hawkers and reckless cycle rickshaws. 

We managed to attended the spectacular Ganga aarti which goes on from 6-7 pm along with hundreds of other devotees, some of them even managing to take a dip in the holy Ganga waters amidst the hustle bustle.

The Ghats were generously lit and decorated on the occasion of the ongoing Ardha Kumbh Mela.

Day 01: Haridwar – Auli 

We met our guide and fellow trekkers early morning at Haridwar station and began the long and tedious journey of 280 kms from Haridwar to Auli through the beautiful Garhwali ranges accompanied by the jade green river Alaknanda lazily snaking along the entire route.

This route take your through Devprayag, a confluence of river Alaknanda and Bhagirathi and offers you views of the Rudraprayag as well as the  Vishnuprayag.

We reached Auli and settled into the comfortable Himalayan eco-lodges getting to knowour fellow trekkers, a total of 17 of us, over tea and dinner. 

We had an early start the next day, so we wound up enjoying every bit of the lovely cool Auli night sending our sweater clad pics to the lesser fortunate folks suffering in the Pune heat.

Day 02: Auli – Taali 

We finally began our trek from the Auli ski resort, the next few hours took us through the vast ski slope rang via the forests into the Gurson Meadows.

The vast open spaces, snow clad mountains and the height of the slopes are enough to pump up the adrenaline in any ski enthusiast, however at this time of the year the cables of the 500 meter long ski- lift rest patiently waiting for the next season.

We also came across an artificial lake used to churn out ice for skiing in case of low snowfall during the season. 

After a very long uphill hike , we decided to break for lunch,our first actual stop since we had set out early that morning.

Lunch was at the beautiful Auli meadows whose beauty transported us into the Swiss Alps replete with snowcapped mountains in the background, lush green meadows, grazing sheep and not a soul in sight. We almost had our DDLJ moment…minus SRK of course .

Post lunch the terrain began to get steeper and trickier with lot of narrow crossings and ridges. We treaded cautiously taking each step carefully on the slippery gravel filled path.

Clinging on to the mountain on one side with the deep valley gaping on the other, thus began the thrill and adventure we had secretly sought albeit in varying degree.

Around tea time we finally reached our first camp site Taali cozily nestled between the thick forests and towering mountains.

After the much needed tea and refreshments, we decided to explore the forest and hoped to warm by a bon fire , but the rain gods had other plans. We were caught in a sudden downpour and a mild hailstorm that lasted almost the entire evening and night.

Dinner was hence a rather quick affair though our guides and porters miraculously managed to cook and serve a sumptuous meal in pitch darkness and rain. With nothing much to do we chatted across tents over the sound of lashing rains and thunder lying in our sleeping bags trying to get as cozy and warm as we could.

Day 03: Taali – Kuari pass (3650m) – Khulara (3225 m)

The day began with beautiful sun shine and thus began our journey towards Kuari Pass taking us higher and deeper into the Himalayan ranges at 5:00 am.

We started spotting many well-known peaks like Nanda Devi (7816 m), Dronagiri (7066 m), Haathi Ghoda and Nilgiri as the path became steeper and narrower. 

As we neared the Kuari Pass we were struck with another downpour which translated into a beautiful snowfall.

Since we were navigating a rather treacherous patch our guide advised us to take a break in case the snowfall got converted into a storm.

He managed to find a cave hidden somewhere in the mountain crevices and even lit a nice warm fire. We tried our luck by going deeper into the cave with the crazy hope of bumping into Jon Snow.

Once the weather cleared we continued towards Kuari Pass with the weather growing colder and the peaks getting higher. Kuari Pass offered the most spectacular photo opportunities which we made full use of. We even experienced the first snow patch of the trek and made the most of it. Little did we know what held in store for us the next day!

We reached our second camp site Khulara by tea time and the view from the camp site literally took our breath away. 

I think no amount of words can do justice to what we witnessed and experienced. Having the great Himalayan ranges as our drawing room view aka tent was simply out of this world.

The weather was lovely and we enjoyed the peace and serenity in our own ways, unwinding and giving in to the beauty and serenity around.

Day 04: Khulara – Summit of Pangarchula peak (4700m) & back

Since we were to have a rather early start (3 am) the next day our guides advised us to catch as much rest and sleep so we were hauled into our tents by 9 pm.

The temperature dropped as the night progressed,not only were we cold but the the excitement of the final summit also kept most of us awake all night.

We were ready well before time and stepped out of our tents at 2.30 am for an early cup of tea. The sight that awaited, left us awestruck. The beautiful peaks were bathed in silver and glowing in the full moon light. None of us had seen such beauty studded with a sky full of stars and we witnessed the out of world experience of the entire galaxy laid out in its full glory in front of us.

Soaking in the beauty around us we began what was supposed to be the longest day of our lives, for most of us at least. 

Walking like a caravan with the headlights on we started our journey in the dark towards the Pangarchula summit. The predawn stillness in the air made us feel every breath that we took with each step. 

The early rise was well rewarded with a fantastic sunrise for which we will consider ourselves blessed to witness. No amount of photography can describe fully the beauty of sun god in its full glory bathing the peaks in myriad shades of gold and yellow!

A quick breakfast at 6 am and we continued towards the summit. After couple of hours of steep climbs through many narrow ridges we reached the base of the snow clad peak and thus began our tryst with snow.

Pangarchula at the base itself was rather steep and we had to take each step carefully and slowly following in our guide’s footsteps as the snow was slippery or hollow in most of the patches which we had to avoid.

Though we were guided and supported well most of us had couple of dangerous moments where we slipped and hung on to the ice or went waist deep into the snow till we were pulled back on our feet by the guides.

The journey was painstakingly slow as each one of us trudged along one after another hoping we were landing on safe ice. The slope gradient kept on getting steeper and steeper slowing our steps further. 

As we reached the height of 4200 m also known as mini Pangarchula the effects of high altitude started to set in on some of us.

Typically beyond 3,500 m human body begins to react to high altitude changes and we were already way beyond that mark. Some of the folks began experiencing high altitude effects in various forms like headaches, nausea and nose bleed and decided to stop at this point. 

7 of us along with 2 guides continued towards the final summit which was another 500 meters ahead. It was almost noon and the sun shone high on us. Though this meant we had a good chance of a clear summit attempt, it also posed the danger of snow starting to melt making our journey further difficult. The next couple of hours, as we literally inched towards the summit, the snow began to melt making each step an ordeal.

The incline was more than 70 degree adding to the level of difficulty

Some of the patches of snow were so tricky that we had to literally jump over the rocky patches testing our parkouring skills.

Just as we were 100 odd meters away from the peak one of our fellow trekkers lost his footing on one such tricky patch of snow and went down nearly chest deep. 
As he was being pulled up he hit his foot badly on the rocks hidden inside the snow and that prevented him for going up further. After placing him on a relatively safe place to rest we continued ahead hoping to catch up with him quickly on our way back.

If there was to be a record for the slowest possible 100 meters I think we would have won that hands down that day as it was the most difficult 100 meters journey I would have ever covered in my life.

Call it willpower, inner strength or the sheer perseverance of our guide who kept pushing us to keep moving ahead we finally reached the summit around 1.30 pm exhausted, starved but victorious nonetheless.

My friend and I almost had tears in our eyes as we hugged each other and rejoiced in the simple fact that we were still breathing. We had our share of the summit photo session perched on the narrow peak with little space for movement. Celebration comprised of son papdi as that was the only meal available, our lunch being left behind at mini Pangarchula. 

As the celebrations ended, we began the even trickier journey downwards. By now the snow had started to melt and each step downward at that incline became more and more unpredictable.

Our guide finally suggested us the rather seemingly easy but risky way of sliding down. He slid down first creating a trench and then stood there ready to catch us as we slid down one after another. 

This was definitely difficult and not as fun as it sounds. Maintaining the course was critical but the melting snow and the gravitational forces got most of us off balance as we slid downwards going off-track towards the cliff or head onto the many rocks on the way.

After many such slides and torn pants (yes all of us had torn pants with all the sliding) we reached the mini Pangarchula. We were soaking wet by now with all the ice inside our boots, gloves, pants and everywhere possible. Exhaustion and hunger didn't help our morale and it only began fading and as time flew and as darkness started to set in. 

In this chaos my friend had a mild case of frost nip where your toes become numb and you stop feeling them. This caused her to panic as she started to imagine the movie Revenant and Everest-like extreme frost bite scenarios. The guide finally managed to calm her down and we started to get out of the snow as quickly as possible as it had already become dark. 

I too started to feel the effects of the day’s toil and had my own minor attack of snow blindness stumbling and tripping on every possible slippery snow patch. Finally we were out of the snow and I not only hated snow at that very moment but even managed to hate Jon Snow for a fleeting moment. 

By then it was already pitch dark and we were a good 2 hour walk away from our base camp. The rest of the journey was a test of patience and resilience as we continued to move ahead without food, water and light as all 3 had been exhausted.

Luckily we were greeted mid-way by other guides who had taken back the other batch of trekkers who had stayed back at mini Pangarchula. They had returned for us with piping hot tea that brought the life back into us to complete the rest of the journey. 

As we reached the camp site after 17 hours of walking we were greeted with many congratulations and hugs from our fellow trekkers making us realize that each one of us had indeed achieved a great personal victory that day. At the end of the day all we craved was for some dry clothes and our sleeping bags to rest.

Day 05: Khulara – Dhak – Auli

Still soaking in our experiences and adventures of the day before, we began our downward journey back to Dhak village.

It was a quiet walk down with aching feet due to the ordeals of the days before. We passed through many tiny hamlets on the way admiring the tranquility and simplicity of the lives of the locals.

After many breaks, grunts and groans we managed to reach Dhak around 3 pm and were taken to Auli eco lodge in a short 45 minute drive.

The evening was spent in luxuries like showering, cleaning and other ablutions and we looked forward to spending the night in warm beds after a hearty meal.

Day 06: Auli – Haridwar drive

The long drive back was spent in exchanging photos, mail ids, phone numbers, gossip and reminiscing on the good times spent and the adventures encountered. 

As we neared the end of journey our guide jokingly asked how many of us would come back for another trek.Not surprisingly most of us had already started time lining the next adventure and yearning for another encounter with the mighty mountains.

“Climb mountains not so the world can see you, but so you can see the world”!

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