A first-hand account of a first time trek,to Devbhoomi and back
It all started with a pair of shoes,a pair of sneakers to be exact. Having comfortably led a wallflower existence for the past seven odd years,one hadnt had the opportunity,or even desire,to wear anything apart from the highly desirable,barely durable,chucks manufactured by the Converse company and so sneakers had become an inalienable product. However,at the Mothers insistence on a family trek up the rugged slopes of Auli for her birthday present this year,it was clear that chucks wouldnt fly. So after much sole-searching,I bought a generic pair of sneakers. This then was the first intimation to the four-day trek that was to come.
In the interests of brevity and the desire to produce a piece slightly shorter than a Tolkien manuscript,instead of describing the trek and what each day brought,this piece will deal with the reactions of three fourths of an urban family to the wild.
For the uninitiated,Auli is a tiny (but important,according to Wikipedia) ski resort 14 km above the cantonment town of Joshimath,located in Devbhoomi,more prosaically marked as Uttarakhand in maps. Situated at a respectable 3,000-odd metres,Auli seemed the perfect nest for the Mother to push her reluctant offsprings out of,unleashing them into the big,bad,tarpaulin-toting world of trekking and outdoor camping. The Sister,whose entire existence has so far been eked out in the great indoors,was reluctant,to put it mildly. I having been parcelled out to a number of camps (well,three anyway) in my formative years,was more enthusiastic,albeit warily,the lack of plumbing in the past weighing heavily on the mind,as well as other anatomical parts.
At any rate June saw us set out on the 519 km journey from Delhi to Auli,punctuated by an overnight pit stop at Haridwar. Joshimath was to serve as base camp,with the Father (whose bad knees prevented him from accompanying us) and all excess luggage stationed there for the four-day duration of the trek. The Mothers Machiavellian meanderings on the internet had led to the services of a local trek company being engaged. The company would provide indispensable camping paraphernalia such as tents,food,a guide,a cook,two horses for portage,and one horse-boy (not a centaur unfortunately) to look after the same and act as a general Man Friday. They would also provide one toilet tent (chargeable at Rs. 500 a day),which consisted a narrow columnar tent wherein lay a dug hole,leaving little room for the imagination,never mind anything else.
Aware that we were rank novices,the companys four day trek consisted 5 km on the first day (to Gorson meadow),6 km on the second (to a nearby lake which resembled a puddle more than anything else),10 km on the third (to Khullar top and back),and 11 km on the last (from the lake back to Auli). Aware that this was an itinerary that hardened trekkers probably subjected their toddlers to,we duly protested,and were duly told off. More than the distance,it was the altitude and the resultant thinness of air that would be our biggest challenge (climbing up a steep slope in the aforementioned altitude wouldnt help either),we were told. We discovered the veracity of this statement within the first 50 m of the trek. While the horses,their boy and the cook set off at an easy pace,which was approximately 10 times the speed of ours,our guide,Sanjay,gloomily accompanied our huffing and wheezing trio.
After the first days trek,our exhaustion waned,and our appreciation for our surroundings grew. The meadows we traversed were carpeted in multi-hued wildflowers,with purple and yellow being the dominant shades. The forests were populated by golden oak,birch and rhododendron. The Mother,a perennial garden nut,went into paroxysms of joy at the variety of different rhododendrons,their colours ranging from a blushing pink to widow white as well as the more common crimson red. We saw clouds forming and growing,deciding whether to be Nimbus or Cumulus. The adolescent clouds gleefully tore around the mountains like manic children in the food court. However,the cacophony of commerce seemed a million miles away (though there was a department store,er garage-like building,in Auli which dispensed pet bottles of Coke for
Rs. 60. The joys of monopoly). Indeed,in the entirety of the trek,we met only two other people,both of whom were shepherds,chewing away at bidis while their charges did much the same with the springy grass.
Speaking of lamb,our entire trip was marked with a lack of non-vegetarian food altogether. This was after all Devbhoomi,remember? Our gloom at this enforced non-violence to delicious animals was accentuated with regular,nay frequent,encounters with sheep,goats and cows. While politeness forbade us from asking shepherds the price of one of their herd,it was the cows who aroused the most ire. At least for me.
Sanjay,having grown accustomed to our inadequacies as trekkers approved of these outbursts,peppering our walks with interesting snippets on life in the mountains. He spoke sagely of the dangers of mountaineering (the success of a mountain expedition is dependent 75 per cent on weather condition,15 per cent on skill and knowledge and 10 per cent on luck) as well as more earthly matters like the Chinese penchant for Jiaogulan (local name keede ka patta),a herb which grows at an altitude ranging between 3,500-4,000 m and is highly prized as an adaptogen (herbs which increase stamina and strength) and even more prized because it fails to register on dope tests conducted on athletes. Enterprising localites make day expeditions to these heights to procure the herb for Chinese agents. However,most interesting was his labelling Mount Everest a picnic spot. According to Sanjay,the worlds tallest peak is inundated with sherpas armed with oxygen cannisters,rope walkways,pulley systems that hoist you up the slopes and all manner of mechanisms to make scaling the Everest slightly more arduous than ascending the escalator at your local mall. Perhaps well go there next time. At least,therell be non-veg food.