Time : 4:30 am | Place : Khullara campsite | Alt: 11000 ft
“What’s the time ?” a tent mate mumbled in a croaky voice. The light outside the tent appeared significantly bright. “04:30 am” I replied adjusting my hoodie to block whatever little cold draft that was coming through. We giggled, yet again our body and minds were synchronized to beat the alarm clock. That was the best part of being amidst nature. Jumping out of our sleeping bags we made our way to the top of a small rocky hillock near our campsite. Shivering in our night suits, yet again we found ourselves gazing at the horizon. This horizon was dotted with shades of white and grey from peak to peak. Trees from the foreground threw in a touch of magical black to counter any bright effect the shades created. In a matter of ten minutes the master of the game, the Sun, took center stage and the show began. We witnessed another enticing sunrise from the meadows of ‘Khullara’.
It was summit day – the day we had all dreamt of for a long time. Felt our energies channelize towards the goal. Each one of us was determined to make it. Some of us had fought bouts of mountain sickness from light nausea to headaches and fatigue in varied intensities. Today, the body felt strong and confident and full of intent than ever before. We began our trek at 07:00 am. The timelines were drawn. It would take us 3.5 hours to summit, spend some time there and approximately 3 to 4 hours to negotiate our descent to our campsite. A flat 6 to 7 hours of trekking time for the day sounded doable, but the additional bearing of weight of the summit in our minds had already started to play.
Dropping off our offloading backpacks near the dining tent, we set off slowly. Our trek guide Kushalji had this mysterious pace at which he walked. Hands folded, trekking trousers neatly tucked inside his high ankle trekking shoes. Adjusting his cap once in a while he would glance ahead and quickly back like “master shifu“, at the rest of us who looked like a bunch of out of breath ‘pandas’ leaning over our trek poles attempting to breathe from the nose, eventually ending up gulping in huge volumes of air through wide open mouths. Standing calmly, till the point he saw someone about to crawl, he would raise his hand in style to signal us to take a break on the treacherous first leg of the trek. We would happily plonk our poles, backpacks, food items, water bottles and our heavy bodies on the grass. An opportune moment to take some pictures and revitalize energy levels through generous exchange of dry fruits and energy bars. Sharing food during a trek is the best thing to do. You can increase bonding and most importantly, reduce backpack weight.
After a few stops we reached a slightly steep ascend that took us right onto the famous Lord Curzon trail. Lord Curzon was the one who had found the trail and also had named the pass as ‘Kuari Pass’ – an unexplored place, if I may. The view on both sides of the trail was magnanimous. Peaks and mildly steep valleys divided by a stone pitched trail upto Kuari Top.
While most of us were deeply inundated in admiring the peaks on display, the actual Kuari Top summit caught our eye. It stood there, looking formidable yet inviting. Our trek leader Ankur, quickly traced our path down the trail into a valley where we would cross a stream. Hopping back on to the trail and what looked like a relatively small ascend – SUMMIT at 12556 feet !
Anxiety was creeping in. On the other side we saw ‘The Ridge”. This was a part of our descent so none of us looked that way. In a jiffy, the sun disappeared and the mercury dipped. A nip in the air made its presence felt. We pulled out our gloves, down jackets and balaclavas. After a quick exchange of fruits and dry fruits we headed back on to the trail hoping that we make summit and then stop.
Just at the base of our final climb we stopped again ! Some of the trekkers had strayed. Ved, our youngest climber at the age of 6 had sent almost a bunch of the trekkers on a wild goose chase in hunt of snow. Whatever the team brought back he would reject calling it ‘Ice’. After a few failed attempts, someone managed to convince him of finding snow somewhere ahead on the trail and finally we all moved ahead.
Moments later, we were climbing to reach the summit, Khushalji kept turning back to see how the group was doing. We finally hit the highest altitude – 12556 feet above sea level. The altitude was not making its presence felt, or maybe that was how it was supposed to work. It was a dream for us, all 26 of us, who had set out to summit. Among us were three brave kids who had been walking for the past three days, matching step for step all along the way from our starting point. Samara, Isha and Ved. Kudos to their will and spirit !!All three of them had achieved a feat that was by no means anything under super human at that age.
Braving sun, wind and high altitude trekking these three and the rest twenty three finally reached Kuari Top at 12556 feet. As the weather gods had been kind, we decided to head on and visit Kuari Pass. The perfect place for a group picture – and we did take a supershot that will remain with each one of us forever.
An elated group, we rang the bell at the little temple that was on the edge of the valley that opened up wide giving us a grand view of the Roopkund Valley. We ate the dry fruits that were distributed just before the heavens announced – party’s over !! The skies turned grey and the wind picked up. Before we could realize a light drizzle had picked up. Cameras, cellphones quickly found their way back into our backpacks and out came our Ponchos. This I must say was the clumsiest I felt during the entire trek. Pulling over that poncho over my head and back over my backpack made me feel like I was about to enter a space shuttle. To add to the woes the poncho kept flying away reminding me of Marilyn Monroe on a couple of occasions. We had no choice, and yes, it did play a vital role in protecting my camera.
The rain had turned into hail and the wind had picked up decent speed. We hurried back towards Kuari Top and began our descent to the ‘bhagrabadda‘ site. We were greeted by another trek team from IndiaHikes that had camped there for the night on their way to Pangarchula. The packed lunch we had in the tent at bhagarbadda camp was the best one or the most satisfying one.
Soaking in sights at the campsite, we made final adjustments to gear and attitude to begin our descent. The descent from that point onward was painfully slow. Each step was a potential slip and fall possibility. Mixture of sleet, dry grass and wet mud had created puddles at strategic points on the trail. Prodding ourselves in wet track pants, we continued across the ridge where sometimes the trail got really narrow and slippery. With kids at the front we managed to negotiate some amazing pieces of the trail. Incessant rains and hail had ensured our cameras stayed in. At Jhandi Top, one of the higher points on our trail, we had to climb over a huge boulder while Ankur and Kushalji our trek leader and guide stood at its edge just to ensure we made it across safely. It was a risky manoeuvre, but it paid off and we could continue our journey.
Just as we finished negotiating the slippery, twisting trail, it opened up into a beautiful meadow where clouds had descended to add to the the already picturesque scenes.
Drenched in body but not in spirit we crawled at an agonizing pace to reach our campsite for the day. The mere sight of our yellow and orange tents made us heave a sigh of relief. Exciting, enticing, stressful, testing and memorable are some of the words that can begin describing the days trek.
After a sense of achievement followed a sense of fulfillment. Sitting in the dining tent all of us celebrated our summit by indulging in veg rolls and sweets (gulab jamuns). The kids had their share of fun by drying up in the warm kitchen tent and then singing the night away as temperatures fell way below normal. Most of us spent time drying our socks, hoodies, jackets, gloves over a petromax stove that the kitchen team had provided. Arun and me found ourselves digging into delicious vegetable rolls one after another. We had made most of our leading arrival into the tent. The kitchen team lead by our ever smiling Harpalji, fondly known as HP bhaiya cannot be thanked enough for the delicacies they dished out before and after the days trek. Who would imagine unlimited supply of milk, cereal, rice, rotis and even sweets like Gulab Jamuns at approx 11000 feet in chilly, rainy weather.
While the rest of the trek gang slept peacefully, I did not sleep the entire night thinking of ‘Kuari Pass’ and how it happened.
Each one of us went through a mix of emotions from the time we had started the ascent, reached summit and had come back to the campsite. It was about understanding what life is all about when you have nothing around you but just nature and wilderness. Knowing what you need to let go and what you need to hold on to. Quiet moments of reflection that led to positive introspection in building a foundation of a new ME.
Coming Up : The final leg : to Auli
picture credits: Suneel, Aarti, Saikat, Shrirang & Mukta, Arun & Suman, Abhimanyu, Trupti & Komal and the rest of the Special 26 gang. (thanks Suneel for the name)
Read the entire journey here:
- Soul Searching in the Mountains : Click Here
- Soul Searching in the Mountains (Dhak) : Click Here
- Meadows of Khullara : Click Here