Pangarchulla Peak Trek:Credit:abinshiv
So, the Diwali holidays were almost a month away and I wanted to utilize those holidays to go to some place which is serene but also has some adventure element. For some reason, my mind decided that it had to be a Himalayan trek, so all I had to do was to decide on which Himalayan trek to go. After a few days of research, the place I decided to venture was Kuari Pass and Pangarchula pass trek at Garhwal Himalayas, Uttrakhand. I booked the trek with GIO adventures through Thrillophilia. With nearly a month to go, I started physically preparing myself everyday by going for run and doing few breathing exercises. As this was my first trek in Himalayas, with much excitement, was eagerly waiting for the day I can start my venture. And as the day came, I packed all the stuffs required and geared up for the trek. The meeting point with the GIO Adventure guides was at Haridwar Railway station. So, en-routing Mumbai and Delhi, I reached Haridwar after 16 hours of travel. After reaching the railway station, I was immediately contacted by the trek guide Mr.Dishendra and met him with the rest of the trek group. The group comprised of 18 people from different parts of the country, most of them came with friends and family. The first destination was Auli which was an 8 hours long drive. We had split into two groups and started our journey in a van with another guide Mr.Prashant. The drive, accompanied with Bob Marley’s music, was beautiful with the spectacular view of different mountain ranges, Alaknanada river, Devprayag and occasional glimpse of snow glaciers.
Devprayag of Alaknanada and Baghirathi rivers to become river Ganges
We reached the Himalayan Eco lodge at Auli (2450 meters) around 6, but the darkness had already engulfed the sky with no clue of light. The temperature was 6°c, with trembling hands, we had a hearty warm dinner and then resided to bed early, as the trek starts the next day.
View outside the place we stayed
With full of energy and excitement, everyone got ready for the trek the next morning. The temperature was bearable as the sunshine was spreading its warmth across the clear blue sky. After a fulfilling breakfast, I bid good byes to my worried parents as I would be In no man’s land and out of contact for the next four days. We took a 15 minutes short drive to the starting point of the trek. Around 9 a.m., with four guides, we started the trek into two groups. The path was little steep for a couple of hours. Then came the meadow with an alluring view from where one can have a great sight of the Nanda Devi and Hathi parbhat peaks.
We took a short break for lunch and to enjoy the view with photo shoot. We were at the altitude of 3400 meters and I started having, what they call as altitude sickness. After the lunch, suddenly I started feeling dizzy and short of breath for every few steps I took. My pulse kept rapidly increasing even if I walked. Every step became a burden. On top of it, as the evening started, cold winds decided to show its devilish play. I started losing my motivation and strength to go any further and soon I reached a state of mind where I did not care about anything at all in the world. I was not enjoying the trek. The altitude, cold winds and erratic temperature changes took a toll on me. The only thing that kept me going was the constant push from the guides. We were 3 hours late, by the time we reached the camp site Thali, it was already dark and everyone was exhausted. The temperature was exponentially dropping. By the time I got myself into sleeping bag (which took tremendous efforts as it was the first time) after dinner, it was 4°c and with the breathing trouble, my mind was clouded with negative emotions for undertaking this trip. I was surprised at myself that I had given up so easily. I felt very ashamed and defeated. Maybe, it was the surrender of my ego. I couldn’t believe that I had come all the way here to feel this way. I couldn’t wait for the trip to get over.
After everyone fell asleep, the camp was engulfed with an eerie silence with no sound of a buzzing bug or rustling leaves. It was too quiet that if I drink water, I could clearly hear the sound of the water passing through my throat and my food pipe. It just made me very uncomfortable. So, I put my headphones on and turned on the music. Around 2 A.M, my mind finally fell asleep.
I got up around 6 a.m. fatigued with numb hands and feet due to cold and still finding hard to breathe. Dishendra suggested I should take an easy 2 hours trek to Khulara camp and give my body more time for acclimatization. Few more people in the group also opted this trek with me. Rest of the people went for 6 hours trek to Kuari pass. With much relaxed trek through the jungle, my mind was at ease and I started enjoying the tracks covered with snow and frozen streams. Around 12 p.m., we reached Khulara camp (3200 meters) with breathtaking ranges surrounded by it. I was in awe looking at the peaks and decided to take a detour from the group to have some alone time with the nature. With few precautions and advice from the guides, I took my camera and started sweeping the camp area by myself and relished the glamorous sight bit by bit.
Partially frozen stream in the woods
Cloud trying to give camouflage to the peaks
After lunch, I decided to trek for a couple of hours more to check my physical condition. Accompanied by Hari, a trek guide, I took the route to Kuari pass which was nothing but sheer rubble and started ascending with the view growing wider and wider and my confidence increasing on each step. After an hour or so, I reached one of the ridges of Kuari pass. I still had trouble breathing, but I found my rhythm to cope with it and to keep moving up. I felt energized and hope welled up in my mind. I promised myself, no matter what happens, I would give my best shot to reach Pangarchula peak the next day. Hari advised me to descend to the camp as I needed to save energy for the next day trek. After having a moment, I took his advice and returned to the camp. The people who went to Kuari pass had also returned.
As the night fell, it was camp fire time to survive the cold weather. But no one expected the beauty that was about to unfold later, i.e., the sky full of stars. During day time, the virtuous peaks leaves you overwhelmed and during night time, the sky leaves you breathless. Millions of stars decorated the whole dark sky, so imperfectly yet so beautifully. There were few comets flashing across to hear you wish. Waiting for my wishes to come true ;-).
After a delicious dinner, there was a serious discussion about the Pangarchula trek we were about to undertake the next day. There were two peaks to be attempted in the Pangarchula pass via two different routes. One is at the altitude of 4700 meters, a difficult 12 hours trek and another one at 4200 meters, moderately difficult 7 to 9 hours trek. The trek had to be started at 4 a.m. early morning in the shivering cold of -4 to -1°C. On hearing this, only 9 people were ready to undertake this mission. 5 of them decided to attempt 4700 mt summit and remaining 4 including me decided to go for 4200 mt summit. After having a hot black tea, resided to bed early around 7.30 p.m. for the next day journey. The weather was colder than the previous night and I was shivering inside the sleeping bag and my breathing problem gotten worse as I laid down. Somehow, with the help of music, I managed to get sleep for a couple of hours.
Next day morning, with hands and feet completely frozen, we geared up for the trek by wearing four layers of clothes and two woolen socks for the feet. I splashed some water on my face and found it crystallized a bit before I could wipe it off. The stream which was the water source for the camp was frozen partially. Had light breakfast of cornflakes and packed up lunch and fruits for the long trek we were about to pursue. The group attempting 4700 mt left before us. And we, the 4 of us, left around 5.30 quivering, with Dishendra and Hari, praying for the sun to lit up the sky and our hearts soon. After a 30 minutes of trek on rubble, a girl who accompanied us did not feel well and decided to go back to the camp. So, it was just us 3 and two guides on the journey. Again, my struggle with my lungs started with each step breathing in the cold air. A part of my mind asked me to stop and go back to the camp like that girl, but my sheer will squashed the thought and kept pushing me forward step by step. With baby steps and deep breathe, we reached the altitude of 3900 mt. It was around 10 a.m., we took a little break to rehydrate and energize the body as the route was going to get steeper. We sat on the ridge and gulped the fruits into our mouth and the view into our mind.
After the break, we continued to ascend and with much efforts, reached a ridge at 4000 mt. We, again, took a break there, rejoicing the view and clicking pictures. Four more hours to trek to reach the summit at 4200 mt, we noticed the distant peaks were getting surrounded by dark clouds. Dishendra and Hari decided to not to trek further, as the clouds might reach this peak in few hours and start raining which would complicate the down trek. So, we decided to spend some time there and start the descent. I was already content on reaching 4000 mt and my mind was clear and focused. I was in the moment, living in the present and relishing each part of it.
At 4000 mt altitude ?
I decided to start the down trek early, as I might take more time than others to reach down. Hari accompanied me and I started descending the steep very carefully. I was feeling energized and my breathing trouble seemed to have vanished. I reached the ridge at 3900 mt and noticed that there was some elevation at the northern side of the ridge giving a picturesque view and a perfect spot to sit and relax. Feeling excited, I wanted to take a detour and go there. Surprisingly, Hari agreed with me and we changed our direction towards north.
When I reached the spot, the scenery was just perfect. The beauty of it was beyond words to explain. My mind was boggled by the sight it was seeing. I couldn’t ingest its magnificence, the power the place holds. It looked so peaceful, so boldly beautiful yet so unattainable. It was my moment. I have accomplished to see this, to drown in its amazement. So, I sat there breathing in the dramatic sight and eventually lost in it. Never relished the solitude so much in my life. I was there where I meant to be. Every moment of my life pushed me to this. The trouble I went through to reach here, it was all paid off. My mind was clear, focused to the present and happy. It was the best moment of my life. I forgot who I was, my identity in my earthly life, my problems, my desires, all faded away. Hari, too was having his moment and occasionally clicking pics of the ranges with my camera.
Just me and the mighty mountains
It was hard not to think about the concept of “God” at that place. One can easily argue that God doesn’t exist, while sitting in his air conditioned office. But, with the splendid ranges and admirable natural beauty surrounded by you, it was hard to deny the possibility of the existence of a higher power and Her handwork in this creation. If I were a God, I would definitely take a great pride in designing Himalayas.
As I was scanning through the peaks, suddenly, in a distant summit, I noticed a silhouette of face formed on a rock covered by snow. I was astonished as my mind figured that it resembled very much of Lord Shiva. I showed it to Hari and he too was equally surprised and mentioned that the peak in which the face-like had formed was Dronagiri and he had come to Pangarchula many times but never noticed it before. Once again, my mind was flabbergasted about what it saw and tried to find a logical explanation behind it but it went in vain.
Silhouette of Lord Shiva’s face in the middle
With having so much of memorable moments, we started descending and as I got nearer to the camp, an inexplicable sadness dawned inside me. The incredible journey was about to end. By the time, I reached the base camp, I was feeling detached and blue. People who stayed back were congratulating me and asking me about the experience, I couldn’t get more than two words out of me as a reply. My mind was zoned out. I excused myself to my tent and laid there and eventually fell asleep.
After a couple of hours, I woke up and saw the black clouds were upon us and as a silver lining to the trek, there was a tremendous snow fall revamping the entire camp site to white.
Incoming murky clouds
Before and after snowfall
The camp fire was set and everyone was playing or singing songs in groups and were glad that they would be returning to the normal life in next few days. But, I couldn’t shake the gloominess inside me and I couldn’t figure out why I was feeling this way. On the first day, I wanted this to be over, but then, I was feeling the exact opposite. Usually, after a trek, I feel energized and enthusiastic, like the crowd around me, but this time, to the contrast, I was feeling low. I didn’t talk to anyone the entire evening. and went to sleep early hoping I would feel better the next morning.
The next day had born and we had to down trek 8 km to reach Dhaak, from where we get the transportation to Auli. I came out of my tent and as I saw the sunrise and the tip of the peaks glimmering in gold, I knew why I was feeling sad. I had fallen in love with this place. Had fallen in love with the serenity, the enchantment the place provided. And I couldn’t bear the thought of getting back to my noisy civilized life. I broke down and shed a few tears not wanting to say good bye.
Is there a beautiful view than this?
I didn’t want to leave the place but I knew I had to go. Out of nowhere, I recalled a poetry I learnt in school. “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” by Robert Frost which made sense to me in that moment.
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
I knew I had promises to keep before I sleep. So, with heavy heart and loads of memories, I left the camp site. We down trekked through a small village Karchigaav and reached Dhaak around 2 p.m. The place had good network signal and everyone was already on the phone. I was dreading to turn on my phone because I knew, it meant getting back to my old life, which didn’t seem to be a life I wanted anymore. But, I had no choice but to turn it on and inform my parents about my safe return. They were happy that I was back and my mobile too, happily started chirping to notify me of whatsapp, facebook and mail messages.
We reached Auli in the evening and I never felt so grief-stricken. Everyone else were planning for a beer party and I was in no mood to socialize, so I enclosed myself into solitude and stayed in my room recollecting the entire trip.
The next day, we reached Haridwar and bid our goodbyes to each other. Now, I have gotten back to my old life and it has been more than 10 days, still I find it difficult to get re-adjusted to my current life. Every minute, I miss the mountain ranges and the tranquilness it gave me. I pass my days feeding on the memories and photos clicked on the trip. The journey is one of the best things that ever happened to me and I am glad that I found a place where my mind is at peace, content and happy. I, for sure, will get back to my new found home, because, in my life journey Himalayas is my destiny!
Hari, the trek guide, had shot a video clip of the ridge I detoured to, during the descent. It is a bit shaky, but still, it is worth having a look:
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