Starting our journey to Sankri, an early morning at Dehradun Railway Station
We walked to Dehradun Railway Station parking before the sun could come up. There was nip in the air and excitement in our hearts. With our backpacks and trolleys, we made our way through the narrow gullies, uneven and potholed roads to the parking lot. We were there by 5:30 a.m. sharp–as mentioned in our itinerary. It was about 7 degrees Celsius, cold but not too cold.
From Dehradun to Sankri, we were to be transported in jeeps. A 10-hour ride up the mountain roads was supposed to be the order of the day. I started following up with the driver to figure out where he had parked the Mahindra Bolero. Soon realized that we were on time (read: early by his standards) and the driver is just around the intersection (read: that mythical intersection that is as near and as far it can be).
Our trek organizer was ‘Trek The Himalayas’. Very soon one of the Mahindra Boleros pulled into the parking, Chanchal walked up to ‘The Driver’ (a.k.a Pavan). We loaded our backpacks atop the vehicle and waited for our fellow trekkers to join. In about fifteen minutes, a few people walked up to the vehicle–one girl who looked Indian and some tourists from the U.S (little did we know these strangers will become good friends as the days unfolded). Brief introductions were made — six of us in one cab — Chanchal sat at the seat next to the driver; I, Karishma and Eric in the middle row and Sussie and William on the rear seats. And off we went. Up and down the winding roads of Uttarakhand.
Breakfast at Kempty Falls
In about an hour or so, we reached Kempty Falls. We stopped at a restaurant for breakfast. Instinctively, I knew that Chanchal is going to devour a whole lot of parathas and Chai. I had Maggie–there is nothing more stereotypical than having Maggie on the hills.
I was curious to see the American gang enjoying parathas and asking for second, third and fourth serving. Over the years, I have met tourists who either kept to themselves and to their native ways or mingle with local people, culture and food. I always found the latter kind to be personable and interesting.
We all knew deep inside that a heavy breakfast was bad news. An entire day’s mountain road trip was ahead of us. A full stomach is recipe for some blend-o-rama.
By the River Tons
Our driver pressed on. Chanchal and I had some amazing conversations with Eric and Karishma. While Sussie and William were largely to themselves — sleeping a bit and just soaking it all in.
I started to enjoy their company and was fascinated by this bunch of four brilliant people taking a vacation in a land far away, their bond and camaraderie reminded me of my friends from back in the days.
At this juncture, I was most impressed by Eric. A gentle being who was ever so thoughtful about those around him. Always looking out for others, polite and respectful, generally apologizing on behalf of the world. What a class act of a human being!
More on the fab four in the upcoming posts.
We had entered the Purola Tehsil within the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand. The landscape was breath-taking and welcoming. A river was flowing alongside the road we were on. It was a sight to behold. We decided to take a break, walk down to the river bed and spend some time.
It was River Tons, which came to life with the meeting of two rivers ‘Rupin’ and ‘Supin’. Like two brothers joining hands to form a formidable alliance.
There was almost a childlike excitement in us when we bounced off our vehicle and started our descend to the river. These are not sights or experiences that we get to have in our day to day mundanes of the city lives.
Tried our hands at Stone Skipping. We threw pebbles into the river, trying to get them to bounce off the water as many times as possible. It became quite a rage during the short excursion to the river. Everyone was trying their hand at it. Some were good at it than others. There was physics, force and poetry involved in getting it right — and I think all of us were hoping to get the mix right.
Karishma was perhaps throwing it like a baseball and was unable to get the pebbles to bounce off the water. She was relentless. Kept at it for far longer than most people cared for. Initially, I thought may be it was her ego that didn’t allow her to let go. Later realized that she was one heck of a persistent young women.
The next popular occupation of our little excursion was building mini structures. People have made mini structure by mounting one pebble over another. Seems like an ancient instinct to make something, a structure, we see some stones or pebbles lying randomly, we want to rearrange them in a certain way, gives us a sense of achievement, balms our ego that we made a change, created what was not before.
I looked around and realized that there were so many of these minarets. Everyone who stopped here tried to make one perhaps. There is a myth in this part of the country that if you wish from deepest part of your being and built a structure here, it will help you realize your dream of building your own home.
I looked back and saw Sussie had made a tall one. Not sure if she knew about the myth — may she build up her dream everyday.
We had lunch at Purola and bonded closer as a group. Chanchal and I felt at ease. It always makes it so much fun if you have a great group to hang out with on treks. You are away from your daily comforts, it is unfamiliar territory and a different and trying routine. Good company is like a ‘secret sauce’ that make it all warm and fuzzy. Well, at least for me.
Reaching Sankri by the evening
We slept for most part of our journey. Woke up for some time, picked up a conversation, agreed to pick it up again when we felt sleepy again. In between, managed to buy some Pulse candies — or what I started calling Pulse attack.
All through the journey, our driver was playing Garhwali songs. Some of them were very nice; while others were straight out of a playlist from hell. But we made it through. It was important that he doesn’t feel sleepy.
Towards the evening, we were at the gates of Govind Wildlife Sanctuary. Sankri, a small village, from where our trek was to start, is within the wildlife sanctuary. We all got down from the vehicle to enter our details in a long visitor journal. Three beautiful Garhwali women were responsible for the check post. They had beautiful smiles and a captivating rustic accent. I realized that the local government was perhaps supporting women be gainfully employed and financially independent. These are tiny steps towards an empowered society.
From now on, the roads gave way to dusty goat paths. Our vehicles made uneasy noises, swayed from all sides like a forty-year old over-sized couple, and seemed to move at a very slow pace.
In about hour and a half, we reached Sankri. Getting down from our vehicles, knowing we could stretch and lie down was a thought that was so alluring. We were also getting closer to our trek day.
TTH had arranged for us to stay the night at Wild Orchid Inn. We checked in and found the room to be cold as hell. We freshened up and came out to the terrace for a cup of tea. As soon as we came out, it seemed as if being slapped by the hand of Cold Wind God. I immediately named the hallway as Kamar Taj (from Doctor Strange). It felt about right.
You could stand on the balcony near the common area and view the majestic mountains. Oh what a sight it was! In the evening, as it started to get dark, we saw a forest fire raging in the mountains. Not sure if it was a controlled fire to aid re-cropping or was it one of these out of control forest fires. Columns of smoke filled the distant hills, it seemed eerie and surreal at the same time.
At night, we were given sumptuous dinner and had a round of introduction with the entire trek group. It was fun to get to know everyone, where they were from, what they did. After all we were to spend the next five days as a group.
We were also introduced to our Trek Leader – Abhishek and our Trek Guide – Kuldeep. Both seem to be experienced at what they did. Our trek awaited us on the other side of the night. This was our last point of sleeping in a bed. Hereafter for five days it was going to be sleeping in tents in the mountains and dealing with the elements.
Starting tomorrow morning, we will be foot soldiers.