Kedarkanth Trek ( One of the best winter trek)
I have never been a trekking person my whole life. The idea of struggling to take in precious oxygen while at the same time climbing an inclination has never sounded appealing to me. I mean, why put your body through that much torture when you could enjoy the planet’s abundance right at ground level. It has always seemed like a waste of time, energy, not to mention money, to plan such a trip and go about it. BUT, I found myself one day being persuaded by my husband to join him on this “easy” Himalayan trek (kedarkantha trek) with his friends. Oh, I had my doubts (pretty huge ones) if I could successfully make it to the summit in one piece.
Well, finally the day we leave was upon us. By we, I mean a group of eight around-30’s people. Some of them have been on tougher treks and the thought of me going along with them was scaring me to bits. I was equal amounts embarrassed and proud of myself to be even attempting a trek. All the while questioning myself if I had done the right thing in signing up for this. Ah! no matter, what is done is done, the only way ahead is forward (God! sooo cheesy! I know). Now, I have had the opportunity to visit the Himalayas a few times before. It is nothing short of magnificence (I should probably pull open a dictionary and throw in some complicated-sounding adjectives to describe it). It is incomparable to anything that I have been accustomed to in the three decades that I have lived. There is an essence of purity of both body and soul in that piece of land. One can literally feel the mountains’ aura oozing out onto the valleys in-between. Imagine if someone said you could go on top of one of those gigantic mountains, could you even guess at the kind of sights you might see?
Let’s get back to where I was- the day we start from Bangalore. Our itinerary was such that four of us would take off from B’lore at noon, touchdown in Dehradun around 4:00 p.m. and enjoy the rest of the day at our leisure. The other half of our crew would join us the next day morning and then we would journey together to a tiny village called “Sankri” from where the trek would commence. Now, to be honest, we had heard-no, we knew the weather would be cold, but we did not expect the level of frigidity that hit us right on the first day we stepped out of the blanket of warmth that was our southern climate. I realized at that moment that, we who live in the warmer regions of the world hue and cry at the decrease of every single degree on our weather apps. Our minds rebel at any thought that pushes us out of our comfort zone be it as simple as a temperature change. Anyway…we carried on. It was an evening in search of “hot jalebis and spicy golgappes”. Unfortunately, neither was meant to be found that day, we brought our cold, sorry asses back to the hotel we were to stay in and retired for the night. (Of course, we did do some crazy good shopping but that was not the mission of the evening.)
The rest of our team flew over to Delhi (while we were on our hunt to pacify our cravings), caught an overnight train to Dehradun, and were ready and waiting for us by 5:40 a.m. (I swear, they must be Ninjas). After a quick morning tea, we left together on the road trip to Sankri. The picturesque winding roads of the mountains rocking some of us to sleep while some struggled with motion-sickness but otherwise urging everyone to click away on their optical gadgets. For the most part of the journey, the river Yamuna and her tributaries kept us company alongside the road providing a pretty image of cool blue waters in a deep valley. Each mile we traveled further into the wilderness leaving the urban jungle behind, our minds lost its worries; our cellphones lost its signals. The moment you shut out the incessant buzz of your cellphone, your thoughts become so much calmer and your life that much more peaceful.
The incredibly peaceful morning of a waking Mussoorie
The perennial Yamuna
Intro 1: This girl (Swati, that’s her name) is the best!
It was again around 4:00 p.m. that we reached Sankri. Our trek would begin after breaking our fast on the morrow. So we had the rest of the day off. We spent it shivering our teeth and bones off! Just as planned, the next morning, with good food in our bellies, off we went on the well-beaten path trailing behind the mules that carried our food supplies and such. As we climbed higher into the woods, the wide pristine scenery that opened up became clearer with the trees growing small and the mountains standing tall. Sometime later, we met a group of women coming downhill carrying hefty bundles of grass hay on their backs. Those bundles probably weighed around thirty to forty kilograms, if not even more, which was obvious in the way it bent their bodies to help carry them. I couldn’t help admiring their strengths and fearlessness. The terrain was not an easy one. The path was quite dangerous if you were to descend even with a slight misstep. This, with a crazy heavy load of raw grass. For some reason my friend and I got this weird impulse to try and carry that load (yeah, we did it for a picture! We behaved exactly like the ignorant city fools that we were), but they were happy enough to let us carry them for a minute. Only then did we realize the amount of effort it took to bear that weight. But that was their life and they didn’t mind it. The way they giggled at us when we struggled to stand up told me that they would have a good laugh at our expense when they got home. My heart broke for their physical struggles and pains that they endure every day while at the same time my heart warmed at their minimalist lifestyle, that they are probably happier than us who live in big cities having everything at our beck and call.
Mandatory start-of-the-trek picture. Yeah, I know, ignore the canine!
The pretty treeline
See what I mean?
Me (in the background): Struggling…
Swati: “I’m a superhuman!” 😀
Me: Still struggling.
Swati: “Meh! I can stand all day carrying this. I could even run like a cheetah with this!”
Me: Still struggling…
Me: “Huh! Finally!”
Two steaming “hot chai” breaks, a luncheon break, and a gazillion photo sessions later we reached our base-camp sometime before sundown. Our summit was visible right in the background of our pantry tent. The white peak gazed down at us, challenged us more like. It seemed fairly easy at that point in my mind. It was only a thousand more feet higher and I had finished five thousand already! (I was thanking all the possible Gods for giving me the good mind to start walking and preparing for this trek back home). Now, I have to mention this hilarious incident that happened to me. As is normal with any human being, I made my way to the potty tent. I had taken extra care to make sure all my jacket pockets were zipped up and nothing would fall out, especially not my phone. But fate had other plans. My phone decided that remaining inside the jacket was too stifling and made a beautiful dolphin dive into the hole dug in the ground, all the while me standing dumbstruck admiring how awkward and weird my life is, wondering how things could go any more wrong for me. “SH*T! Why??!”. A small consolation may be that I was one of the first who used the potty tent so the pit was empty and clean. But how do I pick it up? The pit was deep and my arms could not reach the phone. I ran out of the tent calling for help (Damn! So embarrassing!). Now the guys who were present there at the time were my husband Kiran and his mentor/father-figure Vinod (I was basically on this trek because it was his plan). When I explained what happened, Kiran was disgusted, and Vinod was doing his best to keep a straight face (I’m pretty sure he mentally decided not to bring me on his next trek that day! “Oh, the idiot who drops pretty important things in the potty hole, right, not gonna invite her next time!”). I couldn’t help laughing at my sorry state while they inspected the crime scene (my phone lying in the deep potty pit sans any poo- thank the Gods!). As I said, Kiran stood a little away disgusted by the whole idea of this, while Vinod (poor soul), tried to reach down and grab the phone. No such luck. So he called one of the cooks in our kitchen tent to help us out. That person (bless his heart) brought the kitchen tongs (I hope he cleaned it thoroughly later) and successfully pulled out my mud-caked phone. The rest of the evening went by thankfully without any further accidents.
This thick bed of snow was a joy to walk on!
Intro 2: The girl team (Ramya looks cool!)
Intro 3: The guy gang
The silent yet-to-freeze Juda Ka Talab on our way to the base camp
The brilliance of the different mountains is mesmerizing
The Kedarkanth peak from the base camp
As expected, the temperatures after dark in the mountains dropped into the negative range. While waiting for dinner, we found it quite hard to cope with it. It was biting cold and our fingertips and toes started to numb, pain, and burn, all in that order. Huddling together in a common tent all eight of us exchanged stories and past experiences. I remember feeling grateful to have known these people that sat around me that day. Each having a different take on life but somehow our thoughts matched, our goals in life matched. It was after all one of the reasons why we were together at that particular instant of our lives. We were stripped of our daily chores and mundane activities and what was left of us was only body and soul a little closer to nature. Maybe this has something to do with the concept of pilgrimages in Hinduism. The thing is, you carry out all your necessary mortal duties and in your winter years, to attain salvation, you give up everything and go to places “closer to God”. But what exactly is closer to God? Maybe it is just this place, maybe it is this vast dry landmass of brutal chillness that leaves you feeling bare making you realize the meaning of life. And maybe that is what salvation means, experiencing an environment so utterly alien to what you are familiar with will somehow bring a new dimension to your views… Right, anyway, I think this is enough philosophical drivel to eat your brains for now.
The next leg of our Kedarkantha trek began with us waking up in the middle of the night and making a beeline towards the peak. Head torches gleaming one behind the other, our ascent was slower than ever. An advantageous concept of a night trek is that your vision gets narrowed down to a single spot in front of you, so there is less to none chances of you getting distracted from your course of direction. Thus, making you gain distance far more quickly when compared to trekking in broad daylight. Basically for us, the whole point of it was to catch the first light at the peak. But God, it was not easy! The inclination increased as we climbed higher. I can’t say for others, but my ankles couldn’t maintain an angle of forty-five degrees. With each step I took, my heart was screaming “STOP! STOP! I need air! I need water! I need to sit! I NEED REST!!”. But the thing is, if you sit for even a second, getting up and walking again will feel like the hardest thing to do (basically, strictly no sitting!). And so, the interval between our breaks got closer to 1-2 mins. The steps we took were tiny anyway, added to that the infinite number of pauses we took, significantly slowed us down. It so happened that somewhere along our climb, our group split in half, with Swati, Anant, Kiran, and myself going 200-500 feet ahead of Vinod, Pankaj, Chetan, and Ramya. We started leaving messages in the snow for them (It actually started with us writing our names! Ugh! Self-obsessed!). We finally found a tea-stall sometime later (I literally had zero track of time) in a clearing of some sort. The air was freezing but while we walked, we did not feel the chill. It was only when we stopped at the tea-stall, did the cold really seep under our layers and froze our bones. So we hurried inside the tent to find ourselves welcomed by a thick cloud of smoke.. and maybe a tiny bit of warmth. Now, none of us had slept a wink of sleep that night. It was our first time using a sleeping bag, it was uncomfortable, stuffy, and downright awkward. Not to mention we had set our internal clocks to wake ourselves at 1.30 a.m.! So, all in all, even though that tiny tea-tent billowed ounces of smoke, we shut our burning eyes tight and sat snoozing together waiting for the rest of our group to join us.
After what seemed like an hour, they finally joined us in the tent. But the four of us decided that we should probably start climbing again if we wanted to witness the daybreak, so we left them behind again and continued our snail pace to the summit. Just as we exited the tea tent and started on the trail, I remember thinking to myself how beautiful it looked. Beautiful just does not feel enough to describe what it was. The clear starry sky had started to lighten and the surrounding vista was revealing itself. It was like opening an unknown gift and seeing something magical happen. We just stood there taking in the pure magnificence of the world. All around us icy mountain peaks jutted out of the surface of the earth against a clear pale sky. Not a single bird marred the scenery. The tranquility of that space took my breath away. Those mountains some dark, some bright white, if you stared at them for a minute in silence you could almost see them smoke like ice. My whole self was reeling from the sheer sense of purity radiating all around. I could hear my friends whipping out their gloves and cameras readying themselves to capture the views, but I could not move a single cell in my body. So drawn to the transcendence of that environment, I could feel tears welling up behind my eyes so much so that my cheeks and jaws hurt. It touched me on a deeper level of self-realization. I had never in all my years thought that the scenery could move me to tears. It was something so personal that even now when I type this out, my eyes are misty.
My poor husband had a fever yet he still managed to be ahead of us (great going babe!)
Well, we still had to see the sunrise at the mountain-top, so it did not take me long to snap out of my internal enlightenment. From here on, anywhere we looked, the sights couldn’t compare to anything on this planet. The world was getting brighter every second with the snow-capped peak straight ahead, beckoning to us with its mighty stance. And the four us tagged behind each other wondering when we would ever reach it. We could tell by the color of the skies and the flame hued mountain-line that we probably might not reach the summit before sun-up but that kept us climbing the pretty steep mountainside. All of a sudden, it finally happened. No, not the peak, not yet! But the daybreak, we caught up with it about an hour or so before we reached the summit. And it looked as satisfying as ever. It felt extremely rewarding to experience the crack of dawn at twelve thousand odd feet above sea-level. After pushing ourselves out of our comfort-zones, this was a sweet victory of sorts. It took only a few seconds for the sun to slide out from under the mountain ranges. Shining brightly, washing us in its warmth, it lifted our spirits to go higher.
Flames. That was all that ran through my mind when I saw this
The first light
The 360° view of the peak exactly at sunrise
A silent path to the top
After what seemed like an eternity later, all eight of us (and our cool guide- Ganga) made it to the snowy peak. The feeling of content stamped on each of our faces was worth all our sweaty efforts. The Great Himalayan mountain range encompassed us in its flawless white folds, all the while providing us a sense of elation. The impression of being suspended in between the rich blue skies and fair white lands is beyond surreal. The bland contrast it creates is hard to explain to an eye that has never seen it. One must experience it for themselves to relish the beauty of it. The sights are now stuck in my mind’s eye like a thin veil, always reminding me of its magic when I look on at anything. Not for nothing, many great guys who’ve done this before I say that somehow they are changed for a lifetime! When you have witnessed something more majestic and powerful than you, you will end up humbled with a transformed version of yourself (and if not, you are doomed to be forever ignorant of the magic of mother Earth).
Advertising my Conti woolen cap
The untamed landscape at the summit at kedarkantha Trek
This was a lame attempt at capturing the clouds in the middle. Can you find them?
My new favorite combination: Blue on white
We were lucky that at the time we spent on the summit, it was empty sparing us. The one hour that we were there passed like a minute with all the touristy kind of photography. You know, the usual “stand/sit-at-the-cliff”, “I-am-not-posing-I-am-looking-at-the-view”, “hug-your-best-friends”, “I-am-so-happy-I-have-to-jump-to-make-it-obvious”, “I-love-my-spouse”, “I-want-a-picture-without-my-spouse-in-it (for-social-media)”, “we-finally-reached-the-peak”, “stand-in-a-height-wise-manner” etc. After a light breakfast comprising of a cold slice of sandwich and a tiny carton of fruit juice, it was time to head downhill. And this was the most fun that we had on the trek; we got to slide down the mountainside! Sliding, rolling, and falling in the knee-deep snow, it was like we were kids again. The feeling of sand-like virgin snow slipping under my feet making me fall in no particular direction, oh! I wanted to squeal like a delighted baby. The rest of our journey downwards went by with us descending at a higher pace than while we climbed uphill (yes, I know, it is always that way!).
It literally looked like you would fall off the mountain if you went any further
In the afternoon, the snow in our paths had melted and turned to ice. So many a fall and the breaking of two trekking poles later, just before nightfall, we reached Sankri and the cold finally crept back to us. The excitement of the trek was over and now we were sinking back to reality. All those beautiful moments were past us but our hearts were content to the brim. The others in my group were either seasoned trekkers or physically fit, but I was neither. As I sat in the crowded tent waiting for dinner in Sankri, I could only wonder at how I even lasted till the end. I had pleasantly surprised myself and inwardly acknowledged that MAYBE I could do this again. I say maybe because I am a lazy-ass person who likes nothing but to sleep all day (the fact that I took two and a half weeks to finish this blog must say something about it!). Anyway, after receiving our “successfully-completed” certificates the next morning, we headed back to Dehradun with sore limbs (believe me when I say we struggled to climb on/off the airplanes!), a happy soul, and thankful for all the experiences we shared together.
Author – Ashwini Aithal
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Admin is the Chief Editor at Discoveryhike. She heads the content team and runs a video series called Trek With Admin. Before joining Discoveryhike, she worked as a reporter and sub-editor at Deccan Chronicle. She holds a Masters in Digital Journalism and continues to contribute to publications such as Deccan Herald.