Nature is great! We can see its different forms at different places and also at different times. I had been to Himalayas a couple of times, but being in Himalayas during winter would be a totally new experience. And I didn’t want to miss any opportunity to be in Himalayas during winter. Planning began way back, even before I planned for my seventh semester examination. As soon as I came to know that Youth Hostel association for India is organizing winter trek in Dalhousie I contacted my fellow trekmates. Attending a conference at Delhi on 18-20 December, also gave me a reason to proceed further north.Youth hostel association of India – http://yhaindia.org – organizes this trek every year during last week of December and first week of January. At a cost of 1200 rupees, which includes stay at Dalhousie, food and trek expenditures, one can have a chance to trek in the snow.
My trek began a week early on 16 December, with journey to Delhi. Since I was traveling alone I was bored. Nevertheless Micheal Crichton’s “The Lost World” entertained me. I had always heard of malpractices used by rickshaw drivers of Delhi, but one of fellow train passenger was kind enough to give me lift upto IIT Delhi. In Delhi I was greeted with 8 degree celcius temperature and heavy fog. I was feeling glad to have such a nice start to the trek J.
Then the next few days at Delhi was occupied by the National conference for Machines and Mechanisms. I had to present a paper regarding my BTech Project there. After long first day of technical sessions at the conference I suffered from Technical Indigestion. My turn of presenting the paper came on the second day at the end of the conference. Within 7 minutes I had to present the work done in front of people from industry and academics, with help of few slides. Overall presentation went fine. Made few friends from other colleges. Was decent experience, but I was mainly looking towards the coming trek. On 20 visited Sona Koya Steering company as a part of conference. Time seemed hard to be passed. On 21 took a pass of Delhi bus and roamed in Delhi. Saw Qutub Minar, Connaught Palace, India Gate, National Museum. Finally came 22, when my friends from IIT Bombay would join me for the trek.
We were a group of five- Harpeet (Sardar, Sardy, Happy Singh), Akshat (kawwa), Rahul and Prashant. I was knowing only Harpeet, others were his friends. I joined with Harpeet at Nizamuddin Station and got a train for Jalandar. From Jalandar we took a bus to Pathankot. It was evening by then and we were surrounded by dense fog, visibility was less than 10 feet. Bus driver had to peep out of window to find the lane. Finally we reached Pathankot. At Pathankot, stayed at Harpeet’s Uncle’s home. Got cozy bed and delicious food to eat!! In the morning Akshat, Rahul and Prashant, who came by bus from Delhi, joined us. Again after a delicious breakfast we left for Dalhousie.
Way from Pathankot to Dalhousie is about 80 kms by road and most of it is through the lower Himalayas. Lots of hair pin bend in the way, the bus driver deserved appreciation. We reached Dalhousie by evening.
Dalhousie is much colder than Delhi, maximum temperature here was 8, and minimum reached 3 degrees. Reached YHAI, completed formalities and took accommodation in the tents provided by them. YHAI provided accommodation in rooms, but our group was crazy enough to stay in the tent. I was bit disappointed when I came to know that we were a group of 77, I usually like smaller group, which provide opportunity to interact properly. Nevertheless made few friends, there were people from all over the country. Kushal from Yeovatmal, Rangila from Delhi, Pikki and Ravi from Jaisalmer, Ketan and Gopi from Mumbai became good friends.
On the first day at the Dalhousie basecamp, we got sleeping bags and rucksack. In the night we had orientation and campfire(?). It was hardly a campfire, we were sitting in chill cold open with a candle in between : ) YHAI doesn’t burn wood for campfire. Nevertheless was a nice gathering, some devotional songs, some gazals and shayari was good to entertain. Next day started early at 0530 with a bed tea and queue at the toilets! After this we had a light exercise and then went on acclimatization walk. We walked to place called Panchcula some 2.5 kms from Dalhousie. In the way found some glimpses of snow. Rest of day went in roaming in the surrounding, sleeping and preparing for the trek. We bunked an orientation session and went to hotel at Dalhousie to eat! Not that food provided by YHAI was bad, but Sardar was over enthusiastic of eating Chicken. In the night had a star gazing session organized by youth hostel member from Nehru planetarium.
Next day morning we actually started our trek. Our next camp was at Kalatop. Dalhousie in total has some 7 hills, Kalatop is the highest place in the hills. Our initial 5-6 kms were on road till we reached place called Lakhadmandi. In the road we found lots of patches of snow, last night snow had fallen in this place. Felt very happy and lucky to have found snow. Actually snow fall is found in first week of January, we were lucky to have found it early. During the way collect plastic waste on the road, but were discouraged when we saw few fellow people throwing plastic themselves. This is the problem of a large group, you don’t have similar interest. There are some people who come just for trek, some for change and very few to enjoy nature. At Lakhamandi we found a large snow field. Was the first to have a slide in the snow, later people joined me. Had a snow fight!! The youngest in our group was 74 years old, he seemed to be younger than the youngest of all in our group. He too joined us in the snow fight, while there were few older people who just enjoyed by seeing us.
Road from Lakhadmandi was through pine forest! It was quite dense, and still looking fresh in the autumn. After some hours walk we reached Kalapani. It is the place where part of film ‘1942 a love story’ was shooted. Here we were accommodated in few huts. Huts were not that much proctected from cold but were warm enough. In the evening played frisbi, and had early dinner at 1900. It was starting to get cold, and also the place being at high altitude the wind had a chilling effect. We slept early by 8.
Next day had a bed tea at 0430 and breakfast at 0700. It was in the morning when we found that the temperature at night had fallen below zero! Palms and feet were feeling numb. One of the water tap was leaking at night and in the morning we found a meter high rod of ice formed under the tap due to the dripping water. Even the water in the pipe had frozen. Was feeling great!! Infact was feeling more lively. Nerve endings had become more sensitive. We could feel the cold air going into the lungs and warm air coming out of the nostrils. I was alive!!
On the third day we had to reach the third camp at Khajiar, one of the tourist place near Dalhousie. We started downhill through the forest again. We traversed some 6-7 kms along the ridge and came to a water stream. Had our lunch there, and then started a steep climb of about 2 hours. The forest was quite good and dense. Lot of vegetation of different kind. I could identify only the olive trees and some young bamboo shoots. Due to our large group we dint find any animals or birds in the way. After a couple of hours through the jungle we reached the place Khajiar.
This place is also referred to as Mini Switzerland. There is a large meadow, with a lake in between and pine trees circling the meadows and snow clad peaks seen. However due to the tourist attraction this place has become dirty and filthy. Lake was not worth seeing. Since we were the fastest in the group, we reached early and found time to roam and do some hoteling. In the evening after the orientation played football. My team won the first game 7-0 and lost the other by 7-8. We were enjoying the every moment of the trek. At night we had a campfire(?) in the huts. This time too were feeling hot with gazals, shayari, and song.
At night and in the morning we found some snow fall. Small white snow flakes seen floating in the air. In the morning we found a pair of mongoose and a group of fly catcher paradise(Himalayan birds with large tail). We proceed from Khajiar to other base camp Mangla near outskirts of Chamba. Chamba is located on the banks of river Ravi. It was about 8-10 kms downhill from Khajiar. In the way we met with intense snowfall and as we came down we found some rain. We reached Mangla camp by lunch.
We decided to leave for Dalhousie on the same day, so as to avoid some traveling on the next day. Trekked some 4 kms from Mangla to Chamba and boarded bus to Dalhousie. Within 3 hours we reached Dalhousie. The road was along the banks of river Ravi. Was a great sight of the river, it appeared bright blue even from some height! At Dalhousie, we met another group from IIT. This time we stayed in a hotel. Hotels were cheap in the off season. Dalhousie at 3 degrees was feeling hot this time after having come from even cold places.
Sleep in cozy beds, and a much needed hot water bath was an end to our trek. Next morning after breakfast we boarded bus to Pathankot. Had tea at Harpeet’s Uncle’s home. Finally took train from Pathankot to Delhi.
We thought this was an end to the trek, but we never knew of the adventures we would have to see after that. Our train from Pathankot to Delhi was late by 6 hours and it halted due to some technical faults at outskirts of Delhi. We had to alight at Narela a station some one and half hours by rickshaw from Delhi station. We were sure to miss our connecting train to Bombay. We were one hour late on the station and had missed train.
Sitting on the platform we were thinking of how we could get to Mumbai. Thought of having break journey to Indore, staying at uncle’s home there and then to Mumbai. Other option was taking a waiting ticket to Mumbai. We were in all three this time; Harpeet and Akshat. Rahul and Prashant already took a bus to their home. We decided to stay together. When we went to take tickets for Mumbai, the person at the counter, said that he can give us RAC ticket to Goa. We thought of getting down at Manmad and then continuing to Mumbai. After waiting for a hour, the person failed to provide us confirm tickets, but only waiting tickets. We could do nothing but curse our bad luck. Finally decided to take the train to Goa and leave Delhi as soon as possible. From the reservation charts we found out coach in which two people were boarding from Gwalior, some 6 hours from Delhi. Aleast we could sit there for 6 hours. This time Lady luck favoured us, there were two boys of our age, who had 2 extra seats. We managed to make friendship with them and got seats till Gwalior. The two other persons who boarded at Gwalior were policemen and again seemed to be friendly. They even tried to get seats for us from the TTE. Most of the journey went by talking with these people. At night, two other persons were allotted the seat which the boys had cancelled. These people had one extra berth, which they offered to us!! Things seemed to be working in favour of us. Night passed away soon. In the morning Manmad came by 11. From here we took rickshaw to bus stand and then bus to Nashik. The bus also took 3 hours to reach Nashik. At Nashik when we were asking lift to trucks to reach Kasara, we found a luxury bus which offered us to take to Dombivli!! Great luck again. However we were not lucky when we lost 2 hours in the traffic jam in the Kasara ghat. But finally after almost 50 hours of traveling from Delhi we reached Bombay!!!!!
In the end, was a great trek, totally new experience, great weather, only had problems interacting with people due to large group, still managed to make few good friends. Lowest temperature I ever had been in my life was during the trek!! Trek made me feel lively, very much alive!
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