This is the second part of a 3 part series about The Journey, Visit to an Old Friend, The Climb, Temple of the Snakes, A Folk Song, the Fire, and the Ganges
“KNOCK! KNOCK! KNOCK!”
As I knocked on the door of Mr. Ruskin Bond’s house, I was greeted by a voice, followed by a familiar face. Even those who’ve never met him know he’s a gentleman and a very humble person. I guess the child in him is still alive and kicking. We chatted for about 15 minutes, where we discussed our mutual interest in books, bits of Hindu mythology (e.g. the meaning of my name), etc. I also complimented him on his collection of books. Time seemed to fly past and when I looked at my watch and it was already 6 pm. With a heavy heart, I bid farewell to him, and wished him good health. He wished me good luck on my endeavours to go beyond the ‘gunas’ (you might want to Google the term ‘Gunatita’).
As I reached my hotel, my friends we all getting ready to go out for dinner at the famous ‘Lovely Omelette Centre’ in Mussoorie. I joined them, and we headed out to eat the cheese omelettes. Post dinner, I made a few last-minute food purchases for the trek the next day. One of the things that I purchased was “Yak Cheese”, a tasteless, hard and solidified cheese made of Yak milk. From my previous experience, I had found Yak cheese to be a very useful food during trekking, as it gives tremendous energy. After the purchase, I went back to the hotel where we had another briefing about the trek and were reassigned a new group. My team consisted of team leader Narendra, Amit Bhil, Synrop, Prateek, Chanakya, Manmit, Prabhu and myself.
As per the course requirement, we were supposed to climb a hill. The locals call it Nag Tibba, which is one of the highest peaks in the lesser Himalayan range, standing at about 10,000 feet.
We started for Pantwari from Mussoorie (about 60 kms) at 9 am, three hours late from our scheduled departure. Luckily I got to board the trekker and not the bus. I was accompanied by Kim, Divya, Pushpa, Indu, Keerthi and Prabhu. We completed the journey, replete with a winding ride and scenic beauty all around us, in about two and a half hours. Once we reached the base, i.e. Pantwari, we were told to be with our newly assigned group mates. After we had had our breakfast of oat meal, eggs and tea, we were given instructions for the climb. A packet lunch was handed over to us. There were 6 groups in total, and we were the last group (Team 6) to start the climb with a difference of 25-30 minutes between each group. The instructor, Mr. O M Brahma (no relationship with the writer), told us that the team that reaches the summit first will win.
We started our climb at around 12:40 pm. From our base, the Nag Tibba point is about 9 kms, with goat tails and less travelled roads. We were told to follow our instincts if we got lost, but needed to maintain a distance of 30-50 meters between groups. We might cross a group, but could never leave any team-mates behind.
The first 100 meters was an up and down slope, but I got bit exhausted while walking the trail. We left Team-5 behind in the first 100 meters. Due to this initial triumph, we missed the narrow trek on our left and instead took a right. We travelled the vehicle trailed road for about 1 km, when we meet the Team 4, consisting Tony, George and others. We thought that we were on track, but while interacting with the villagers, came to know that we came the wrong way. So we travelled back again while Team 4 took another route, and searched the narrow trek that we were supposed to take.
From that point, the climb was steep and getting difficult. With boulders and rocks in the trek route, I was finding it difficult to get a grip, but somehow managed to do just fine. My backpack was heavy as I was carrying loads of food and water. Thankfully, my team leader swapped his bag which was lighter with mine. Post that, I got a bit of enthusiasm and inspiration to climb and not let my team mates down.
There was lack of water in the hills, so we drank whatever we carried, and after that we filled up from the village well. The villagers were kind enough to let us use their well and help us with directions. The well water was very sweet and rich in minerals. After drinking it, a new wave of energy swept within our team, and we went gung-ho to master the summit. We climbed quite fast in order to leave behind few more teams. At a short distance, after taking very little rest, we saw another team going just ahead of us. While we tried to move ahead of them, we saw that all the other teams were just ahead of us, along with few of the trekkers from India Hikes team. The trekkers (locals) told us to take some rest and have our packet lunch, and that our basecamp for tonight is just half to an hour climb ahead. Two more teams were yet to reach the site where we were having lunch. The final league of the climb was very competitive as all the teams had to start at the same time, and the winning team needed to have all its members in the basecamp. With hard work and heightened spirit, our team climbed the very steep hill and about an hour later, became the first team to reach the basecamp, with all the members. We celebrated the moment vociferously.
Later Mr. Brahma joined us with the rest of the teams, and after resting for a while, briefed us and showed us how to build a tent. We built our tent, but because of the slope, couldn’t get a proper location.
Post those activities, and a few photographs later of the setting sun, we sat down for our bon-fire and reflection session. After the dinner, we retired in our tents with weary and tired bodies. The weather was very cold and I wore about 3 layers of clothes to protect myself.
TEMPLE OF THE SNAKES
After waking up at around 7 am, and having a quick breakfast, we started for our trek to the Nag Tibba temple and the summit. Nag (Snake) Tibba is an ancient temple and the villagers come there to pray to the Nag devta (God) for protecting their harvest and cattle. From the base camp, it is only 3 kms, but a steep climb.
I was the last to start the trek for Nag Tibba along with Mr. Brahma and Divya. Mr. Brahma taught us few breathing techniques to be used for high-altitude trekking, and told us to climb at our own pace, enjoying the scenery around. Due to the fast climb the previous day, my right knee was paining severely, so I had to take a branch as a support. With slow paces, we reach the Nag Tibba temple at around 10 am. After visiting the temple and seeking blessings from the Nag devta, we continued our trek to the top of the summit. Pushpa, Amit, Alok, Jaitun and Panda joined us for the final climb. The most enthusiastic among us was Amit, who in a playful way, was selling tickets in his imaginary vehicle to transport us to the summit. Limping for most of the last climb, I, along with my other friends, reached the summit at around 12 pm. After spending some time in the summit, clicking few photographs, Alok showed me the tip of a distant mountain covered in ice. The whole panoramic view was beyond what words can describe.
After about an hour in the summit, we started our descent back to the basecamp. Climbing down the hill is more difficult than climbing up, and I learnt it with an injured right leg. While coming down, Amit declared that he had lost his mobile’s SIM and that we would have to revisit the temple again. After some 15 minutes of searching near the temple, Amit finally found his SIM near the temple.
At around 3 pm, we reached the basecamp, only to realise that most of our friends had already started the descent, and another group of friends, who started the climb early morning for the basecamp, were about to reach. After having a light lunch, we started our descent.
(to be continued…)