Kedarkantha Trek – A Himalayan Adventure (5 of 5)

Last day of our Kedarkantha trek

Waking up early amidst the towering Himalayas was a routine we had gotten used to in our Kedarkantha trek– this was a routine we could really get used to. The Hargaon campsite in the morning was idyllic. Tall oaks surging up to the skies, clear blue sky, unending presence of the Himalayan range all around, birds chirping, Himalayan squirrels making a running around, mules quietly socializing in a small herd. Green grass, blue skies and thriving life.

Our trek group knew this was it. The last day of our Kedarkantha trek. We decided to have our breakfast near a lookout point adjacent to our campsite. The food, like always, was out of this world. Aloo paranthas, Semolina upma, hot piping chai and a whole lot of magic.

Breakfast at Hargaon Campsite
Breakfast at Hargaon Campsite

We had our breakfast basking in the early morning sun. Recollecting experience and stories from the previous days. Looking curiously at the Youth Hostel Association of India (YHAI) Camp site in front of us. There was much action happening on their side, while we were quietly soaking it all in. In a few moments, the camp leader of the Youth Hostel group walked up to our group and to strike a conversation. He asked each of us about where we were from, how many days we trekked, small banter and then moved on. But not before Chanchal and I were able to extract some details about YHAI from him. You could become a member of YHAI at a nominal fee and enjoy benefits of subsidized travel or accommodation world wide. Sweet!

We decided once back home, we will find out more about YHAI and enroll.

  • Have Breakfast – Checked.
  • Soak it all in – Checked.
  • Feel emotional – Checked.
  • Pack your Bags – Checked.
  • Leave for Sankri – Checked.

Our final descent to Sankri

One by one, like a row of ants, we started to move out of our campsite and into the woods. Slowly finding our way down. The knees knock when you go down the mountain. Different set of muscles come into play to support your body weight when you descent. You of course discover muscles you never had.

The sun was beaming like a giant yellow smiley ball. The weather was getting a bit warm, we were working up a sweat. Slowly fatigue was setting in. Some of the group members – Anirudh and Puneet – started asking riddles. Very soon the fatigue was forgotten and we were merrily trying to decipher the riddles. Good exercise of the cerebral kind. Some people were singing songs, while other cracking jokes, some looking around the trek path for interesting flora and fauna and some just lost in their thoughts or soaking it all in.

Bichubutti, loneliness of the guarded

Abhishek (our Trek Leader) plucked a stem of a local shrub and said “Yeh, Bichubutti hai, current marti hai(English translation: This is Bichubuti (Stinging Nettle) deriving its name from the Scorpion ‘Bichu’), it will gives an electric shock.)

Bichubuti_Stining Nettle
Bichubuti_Stinging Nettle

And then, he brushed it against my hands. Within seconds my hand was in pain and swelled up to rashes that pricked and pained for an hour — sharp stinging pain to start with and later diffused to dull and pricking pain.

It was a shrub with tiny thorns all over the stem and on its leaves, it had some type of chemical that irritated anything that it came in touch with. It was perhaps a defense mechanism against goats and other herbivores.

On our way down, we saw more patches of Bichubuti  growing on the way side. It looked violent and brash. Nothing grew near it and no one came near. I wondered how some of us become this lonely, thorny and toxic weed in life. The defenses don’t only save us, they isolate us. Let the guards down. You might die, but hey you might live as well. I read up more about this interesting shrub and realized it had eclectic medicinal properties. There you go.

An ode to Abhishek, our handsome trek leader

I admired our trek leader. All of 22 years, Abhishek was a man of the hills. From Manali, Himachal Pradesh. A good looking, lean and tall chap – the kind that perhaps make girls weak in their knees. Especially because what met the eye was juxtaposed by simplicity, soft-spoken demeanor and interesting stories. He seemed the kind girls want to take under their protective care and safe from the world.

He talked to me about how he initially hesitated in striking conversations with the trek group members. He confessed, “I didn’t know what to talk with city people. They all are more educated and speak English well.”

A shy chap who was now slowly coming on to his own. He had a likeable quality about him. We had long conversations about our respective lives. Chanchal and I kept asking him about his life back home, in the mountains of Manali, in the orchards, among his kin.

He seemed cut-off from life back home, seeming to enjoy life away from the constant pressures of familial life back home. He enjoyed his time trekking up the mountains with new people.

He will become wise. You could tell.

 

Our Last evening in Sankri 24 Dec

At Sankri, after finishing our trek
At Sankri, after finishing our trek (left to right: Balaji, Abhishek, Kuldeep, Eric and Chanchal)

Last evening in Sankri – Reflections come close, but experiences are always elusive to articulate. So I start by giving up. Submit before I start. I repeat.

The Kedarkantha trek was done. We were at Sankri. Our last evening together. We were handed over our Trek completion certificates. It was Christmas eve and the town was about quiet compared to the occasion. We wanted to do something special — but our options were slim to none.

We just huddled around and talked. The six of us. Suzzie, Karishma, Eric, Will, Chanchal and I. We exchanged perspectives and memories, got our Hebrew names and shared their Hindi ones. Listened to Sunscreen by Baz Luhrmann. The dinner area was dimly lit, almost egging on melancholy of a wonderful experience that was sun-setting.

Suz gave Chanchal and I our Hebrew names
Suz gave Chanchal and I our Hebrew names

Being and finding friends

I always maintained that age has no bearing on maturity, development of wisdom. We spent these six days with amazing people from the U.S. I would be remiss if I do not dedicate a section to our new friends.

William Palmer a.k.a Will a.k.a the one with the wild hair

Will

Someone I related most with. I thoroughly enjoyed my interactions with him. Found him to have clarity of thought. A thorough gentleman, quiet and insightful. Wise beyond his age and the one with raging and wild hair. Someone I started to miss the moment I knew the trek was drawing to a close.

Eric Bai, with most pleasant demeanor

Eric

From Thank Yous to Sorries, no one does it better or more often than Eric. It was as if these two expressions were created so that one day Eric Bai could give them relevance and meaning. No kidding. Such a gentle being – there is such goodness inside of him that rubs off to everyone around. Eric the ‘Buddha’ – Our Chinese-American friend is one of a kind. Everyone would agree. I wish I could take him home with me.

Shoshana a.k.a Suzi, the rose

SuzThe rose. Poised. Chilled out. Pragmatic. Someone who teaches you to be comfortable in your skin and not fetch for validation. Seemed a bit reserved all through our trek. And then she was the one to shun the handshake during our parting moments and wrap me up in a bear hug – another lesson about how connections go beyond warm and fuzzy words. She gave me and Chanchal our Hebrew alphabets – our name in Hebrew.

Shoshana, you have taught me to be comfortable around quieter and calmer people. Thank you!

Karishma, the Sindhi Kadhi

Karishma

The NRI gang leader. You got to meet her to know her. She broke almost all of the NRI stereotypes. Knew more about India than most resident Indians I know. Knew more Hindi songs than the entire group put together. Super proud of her heritage. She was the doting mother to her friends. Flapping her protective wings over her American friends. It was a treat to watch her in action. We spoke about so many things and I walked away feeling that she will change the world one day – no matter how small the change, it will be meaningful. We trekked for so many days together. But I think she and I are one walk short. So I hope someday she and I will have our walk and talk.

I truly hope this friendship develops and lasts a lifetime.

 

After dinner, Chanchal and I went out for a stroll in poorly lit streets of Sankri. It was pitch dark, our head lamps were giving us glowing company. We looked up to see a star studded sky. What a beautiful and fulfilling sight it was!  

We retired to our rooms – yes rooms. After almost a week, we were going to sleep in a room and not a tent.

It was Christmas and my dad’s birthday

Next morning we got ready and boarded our Mahindra Bolero where Pavan, our driver was waiting for us.  We were heading to Mussoorie and our four friends were heading further down to Dehradun. Abhishek and Kuldeep were waiting for us outside, waving us good bye and wishing us safe travels.

Abhishek and Kuldeep_waving us goodbye
Abhishek and Kuldeep_waving us goodbye

I was eager to call and wish my dad on his 76th birthday. The mobile signal was elusive. So I had to wait.

Breakfast at Purola

A local woolen shop at Purola
A local woolen shop at Purola

We stopped at the market street in Purola for breakfast. We got into a small eatery serviced by a middle-aged women who was kneading fresh dough for paranthas. While she was preparing the food, all of us loitered around the street shops. I got some snacks from a local sweet shops including Samosas, Jalebis, Namak Paras, and packets of munchies and snacks. I wanted our American friends to try these knick-knacks. Of course, we had our white Punjabi – Suzzie who was gobbling down ladoos at a rate through the Kedarkantha trek.

 

The food was amazing and we did stuff ourselves to the brim – Indian style 🙂

To ease the motion sickness, I started focusing on Karishma’s insightful review of Kuch Kuch Hota Hai for our American friends. It was hilarious, original and swashbuckling.

Somewhere near Kempty falls, an hour before Mussoorie we started to get mobile signal. Chanchal and I wished appa happy birthday and spoke to our parents after nearly a week. We tried but could not extend our trek experience and excitement to them. You have to experience this first hand.

Parting ways at Mussoorie

Since it was Christmas, Will wanted to visit a church. I wanted to make sure he did get to visit one. I knew Mussoorie did have a couple of churches. So we decided that we will park the vehicle at Hotel Fortune Grace where Chanchal and I were to stay for a few days.

We did just that. In the hotel’s lobby, they were playing some music. Will mentioned that it was exactly how it would be in the church where his parents were pastors. Wow! I can only imagine how he must be feeling.

Will and Xmas Tree @ Hotel Fortune Grace Lobby
Will and Xmas Tree @ Hotel Fortune Grace Lobby

We walked out of the hotel to the mall road in Mussoorie. Searched for a church, found a quaint and beautiful one. It was closed but we got it opened. I was glad Will could visit a church and he mentioned that the church was of the same Christian denomination that his parents (and perhaps he) subscribed to. It ought to have been really special for him.

Will at the Church in MUssoorie
Will at the Church in Mussoorie
Inside the Church in Mussoorie
Inside the Church in Mussoorie
Taking a stroll in the street of Mussoorie
Taking a stroll in the street of Mussoorie

After visiting the church, we had our late lunch together. It was now time to part ways.

Deciding on Lunch _like a study group
Deciding on Lunch _like a study group

It was a special moment, we hugged each other. Wished each other well and promised to stay in touch. The Mahindra Bolero pulled out of the parking and off they went. Safe travel, fellas!

Saying goodbyes (Left to Right: Chanchal, Suz, Eric, Bala, Karishma, Will)
Saying goodbyes (Left to Right: Chanchal, Suz, Eric, Bala, Karishma, Will)

And that’s how our week long Kedarkantha Trek rolled.
Chanchal and I looked at each other, and got ready for some Mussoorie magic in the evening. 🙂


Read the more about our enthralling Kedarkantha Trek in the following posts

 

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