kedarkantha When I went Solo......On a trek with Indiahikes!

Keeping up with my travel goal of covering India’s 10 best treks, I decided to set out on number 8 -called Kedarkantha. Having done number 10 - Sandakphu, 9- Hampta Pass, 7- Chopta Chandrashila, and a few other shorter ones, I was prepared to strike off the next one on the list and this time all by myself.

Indiahikes was my choice for the sheer professionalism and accountability they demonstrate in organizing these expeditions for trekking enthusiasts. This was my 3rd trek with them. As we were inching close to the date of trek, we started receiving a stream of emails from them notifying us about the preparations we need to make, things we need to carry and getting us all on a WhatsApp group for us to start interacting.

I had booked-DDN express (I didn’t realize at the time of booking that it starts at Madurai) – a train, I realized closer to the date of the trek, was getting delayed consistently. Fortunately around that time, one of the trekkers in our batch sent a message on our WhatsApp group mentioning she had extra tickets for Nanda Devi (another train to Dehradun which starts at Delhi and had a comparatively better running status) as her friends had to pull out at the last minute. I jumped at the opportunity and decided to travel by Nanda Devi and cancelled my existing ticket.

Interestingly, the whole situation made me meet 3 friends Aishwarya, Pranay and Varun – all Charted Accountants from Chennai and Sonam – another solo traveler from Mumbai who utilized the opportunity just like I had.

It was the night of 23 Dec, while we all met on the train, we got along pretty well, so much so the noises we made while interacting had put all the fellow passengers at unease.

We arrived at Dehradun the next morning at about 7 am and had to board a mini-bus for our 10-hour drive to the basecamp – a small village named Sankri. While the five of us waited for the bus to leave, we were joined by Tejaswi and Avinash – two more CAs from Delhi. By now we had 5 CAs in a group of 7 people. And if that wasn’t enough we discovered, 2 more CAs were joining us from Bangalore making it a total of 7 CAs. It was raining CAs and that was purely coincidental.

Apparently all the CAs on board were a tad bit disappointed for running into their own fraternity for the want of running away from them. The non CAs were wondering if 'CAs are the new engineers'!

Well the ice-breaking happened with all the banter that took place on the bus. And in no time we were chit-chatting, laughing and grooving to the soulful music of Amit Trivedi- courtesy one of the CAs.

We reached Sankri at dusk and met Tanmay Bain – our trek lead for the next 4 days. We were stay put in a guest house. The rooms were allotted to all the trekkers on a sharing basis. The first thing we were given, was a health card which we were asked to carry with us for the entire duration of the trek. Our blood pressure, oxygen levels and BMI were recorded in that health card.

Tanmay giving us first set of instructions. Check out Bablu Bhaiya's expressions, always shaandar :)

This was one practice which was religiously followed for the entire duration of the trek at every campsite. Our health was kept a close check on to ensure we could undertake our journey successfully.

After settling down in our rooms, we gathered for the first briefing of our impending trek and met other fellow trekkers. We were a group of 29 people from various parts of India. During the quick round of introduction which included talking about our trekking experience, I discovered, I happened to be the most experienced trekker in the group. And while I rattled off the names of the treks I had undertaken, some of them seemed flabbergasted. Well, I was surprised as until my last trek I probably was the least experienced trekker and suddenly, I was there on the pedestal.

The briefing was followed by evening snacks and early dinner. We got together to play cards that night, after a few rounds of playing bluff, and speculating whether or not it will snow, as all the previous batches had returned disappointed, not having experienced snowfall, with an unrelenting hope in our hearts we proceeded to our respective rooms and called it a night.

It was 25th of Dec, when we woke up in Sankri, the day of Christmas and the first day of our trek. I had heard the sound of the raindrops falling on our roof the previous night and voila! we woke up to a chilly morning with glimpses of snow from afar on the mountain peaks, which weren’t there the previous day.

1st snowfall on the mountain peaks - View from Sankri basecamp - P.C Pranay

Well, the excitement was building up, as now there were chances of finding snow on our trail. Kedarkantha happens to be a winter trek, essentially a trek defined by its snow covered landscapes, in the absence of which we would have had to return disappointed like most of the previous batches. But now we had seen a ray of hope, up in the mountains.

We got ready, had breakfast, offloaded our bags and gathered to begin our journey. A few of us were late and we only started the trek 15 mins later than our scheduled time. A stickler for time, our trek-lead wasn’t very impressed, he used his quick wit to get the message across and finally led us to our day one climb.

We were at 6400 ft. and were to gain 2700 ft. to reach the campsite called Juda Ka Talaab at a height of 9100 ft. – one of the prettiest campsites – so we had heard.

The trek began with views which had autumn hues, the lush greenery – a prominent sight in monsoons was taken over by the sun-dried trees, a carpet of brown leaves, faded hues of the fall, a seemingly worn-out ambience with a rustic charm and a rugged terrain. We started our ascent crackling our way up on the fallen leaves.

About 20 minutes into the trek, we noticed feather like particles falling on us. The contemplation went from rain-drops to hail to finally snow-flakes. By the time we concluded that we were being blessed by season’s first snow, we were almost covered in a blanket of ‘millions of feathers of white doves' like untouched snow.

Enroute Juda ka Talaab,when it just started snowing
Look at that bag...

It seemed as though a white linen swept the environment clean and some-one painted it white. The excitement was palpable, the joy unprecedented. How often do we get a sight like that in our so called normal life! While it may seem so commonplace to the ones for whom it’s a regular sight, well for us it truly was a sheer treat.

P.C. Sarthak

The snow went from slo-mo to almost time lapse. It continued snowing, we got our rain gears on and kept walking until we reached the campsite. Amidst those tall pine trees, lay placid a lake which exuded a surreal peace and calm. The first view of the Juda Ka Talaab was breathtaking, the 360 view was a natural black and white, and the only sound we could hear was of the bells around the mules as they walked with our bags.

Juda - ka - talaab in full view
P.C. Sarthak

We identified our campsite by our signature orange camps along with the dining tent where we were all supposed to gather. It had been snowing for about 3 hours, we started feeling the chill in our spines and pangs in our stomachs.

We were served Rajmah-chawal for lunch that day post which we all got out to have some fun, we had almost half of the day left and the view of the surroundings was magical. On one side we had these tall pine trees covered in snow and on the other the beautiful mountain peaks. The lake or talaab as it is called nestled amidst the trees right in-front of our camps. There were other groups that were camping as well, and if you looked around it seemed like a small little community far away from the civilization.

Experiencing season's first snowfall
Reflection of snow covered trees in the lake.
Photo ops at Juda ka talaab. P.C. Pranay, Sarthak

The absence of phone networks and technology pushed us to explore something beautiful- a total Digital Detox and a genuine human interaction.

From pulling each other’s leg to playing with snow to learning about one another – there was one thing that was constant. We were all there, in the moment, living life in present.

Groupfies near the lake...courtesy - the tallest man of the group - Avinash!

Hours passed quickly and before we knew it was dusk, we had all gathered in our dining tent – another round of briefing followed, for the next day, and soon we were served hot soup.

The dinner was served next – another round of absolutely delicious food that tasted just like ghar kha khaana – the awesome support staff which was so hospitable and always wore a smile on their faces, was heart-warming. And then we had our ‘butterrr-boy’ as he was fondly addressed by everyone and our food guy – designate for the sheer amount of eatables he had carried. From aloo bhujiya to laddoos to butter to gulkand, Nitish had every sweet and savoury treat you could think of.

While we were all enjoying our dinner inside, the night sky was lined up with stars, I stepped out, it was biting cold, the cool wind had frozen my nose and as I looked up, I saw a grand spectacle in the sky, well, I could see the milky-way.

Soaking in those views, I got inside the camp and realized my camp-mates were already asleep. I slid into my sleeping bag and with some discomfort tried to sleep.

P.C. Pranay

It was about 10:30 pm, suddenly I hear Sonam groan in pain. It was her first Himalayan trek and she was experiencing some discomfort while sleeping. She was slightly cold as well, after a few attempts at tossing and turning, she said, “Do you think we can step out, I have a nature’s call to answer.” I broke into laughter as I had been toying with the idea of one last time, but couldn’t gather enough courage to step out in such bone chilling cold. But there’s something about this thought, once it crosses your mind, especially at night, it is difficult to sleep thereafter. The thought is so contagious that listening to our verbal exchange, Aishwarya joined the bandwagon too. After much deliberation we realized we won’t be able to sleep, so with much reluctance, we got out of our cozy sleeping bags, put our jackets back on, wore our shoes and got out to do our business. Finally we made our way back to our camp and fell asleep.

Day 2 at Juda Ka talaab. The lake had frozen by the morning, however the sun was slowly melting the snow on the trees

The breakfast was served near the lake, next day, once again we all got together later than the scheduled time, and this time only to face the wrath of our trek lead. He was furious, and was almost going to reprimand us however his compassion took over and we progressed after a warning of consequences if the behavior was repeated. Well it had been long, being treated like school kids. All of us with our heads down in guilt walked one after the other in sheer amusement!

Breakfast by the lake..P.C. Pranay Sultania
Frozen Lake - Juda Ka Talaab Campsite.... P.C - Pranay Sultania

The next campsite was KK basecamp. We gained. 2150 ft and made it to the basecamp in about 3 hours. We were to summit the KK peak the next day so day 2 happened to be our acclimatization day. We didn’t have to trek a long distance that day.

Ascending to KK Basecamp, capturing the sun playing peek-a-boo

The warmth of the sun was comforting and view of the snow covered expanse quite exhilarating.

We reached our campsite and picked our camps and got together to play water-relay – a fun game that made us replenish ourselves with water while playing. We played a few outdoor games and were then given a demonstration of crisis management on a trek. It included learning how to make rope stretchers and how to carry ailing trekkers. The set of activities kept us engaged until the evening. Another round of health check and we were given micro-spikes which we were supposed to wear the next day.

P.C. Sarthak, Pranay

The briefing for Day 3 began and we were told that it was the most crucial leg of our trek as we were to summit the Kedarkantha peak, we were joined by 2 ‘technical staff members’ as they were called who were to help us scale the summit. There were about 250 people who were there with different trekking groups and were to summit the peak next day.

We were told that the morning tea was at 3 am, breakfast at 3:30 am and the ascent was to begin at 4:15 am. Jeetu and Deepu (the technical staff members) were very serious while giving these instructions, considering our record of delaying on the scheduled departure in the past, we were also apprised of the consequences if we didn’t adhere to the timelines. Of course it meant those who didn’t make it on time would be left behind.

The idea was to scale the summit before day-break to avoid walking on the melting snow. All the serious briefing instilled a fear of missing out in most of us, the result being, we all woke up even before Tanmay did.

So on day 3, we all were ready before time, for the first time and queued up. Women in the front and men at the back. Jeetu and Deepu- the ones leading, Tanmay patrolling from front to back, monitoring everyone and Mangal Bhaiya at the back.

It was pitch dark, with a star studded sky and a seemingly endless expanse of snow. The winds were chilly, with a shivering gait, we walked one step at a time behind one-another. Slowly as the momentum started to build we warmed up and the chill started to subside, a long human serpentine was scaling up the mountain radiating white light, in a view which was as much a scene out of Wildlings walking in a Game of Thrones episode as it was magnificent. I felt like I was sleep walking, with my head pulled down and a few yawns here and there.

The next pit-stop was a Dhaba, so we were told the previous night, the only stop before the summit and for some reason I kept hallucinating and spotting a dhaba which upon reaching closer, I discovered was nothing but a huge rock. The night and the chill coupled with sleep-deprivation was having its hilarious effect on me.

Finally we saw the Dhaba this time for real and some magical play of colours in the sky. We were a few moments away from sunrise and we could also spot the peak we had to scale from the distance. We stopped for tea and wore our micro spikes over our shoes. And made for our final ascent.

Someone's trying to wear their microspikes, can't tell who. :) P.C. Sarthak

A pinkish hue in the sky right above the Swargarohini peaks was nothing short of brilliance, the night sky was slowly preparing for a riot of colours that were to precede a full burst of yellow. Slowly the rays of the sun, pierced through the clouds. The view was captivating and an absolute delight to our senses.

Few moments before the sunrise over the Swargarohini peaks

The sky changing colours

All while making our way up the summit

I don't think Pavan even has a slightest clue of this picture. :) P.C. Pranay

Inching close to the summit, I turn around and get a picture with the 'background' and the 'foreground'. P.C. Pranay

Only I am posing here, for everyone else it was a candid shot, although it seems like we are all posing! P.C. Pranay (from my phone. :) )

Tanmay decided to put Srihari in the front who had been having difficulties for the last few days of the trek, and asked everyone to match her pace. A decision I later applauded him for, as it not only gave Srihari, the courage but rest of us a reason to motivate her and make it to the summit.

The moment when we finally reached the summit, Srihari was filled with emotion, while everyone congratulated her, she couldn’t help breaking into tears at what she thought she wouldn’t be able to achieve. She was on the trek with her husband and 19 year old daughter, whom she reunited with, at the summit.

The happy family at the summit.

Well the rest of us, finally at the thought of having made it, smiled in accomplishment and looked around to get absolutely floored by the surreal view. Snow-capped mountains in a 360 view, clear blue sky, fresh air –bright sunshine- a luxury for the urbanites, the best things in life are for free, as they say are not so free anymore. At least for us city dwellers, we had to make an effort of travelling far off distances, sleep in discomfort, walk for miles – but to finally experience what we did, well makes it all worthwhile.

P.C. Pranay
P.C. Avinash- the selfie man!

Views from the summit.......P.C. Pranay

Customary picture at the summit. P.C. Sarthak

The descent back to the basecamp was pretty enjoyable as there was warmth of the sun and an almost slide walk on the snow. In no time we reached the KK basecamp. That day after lunch we had to further descend to our last campsite. After finishing our lunch and collecting our bags we made our way to Hargaon at about 4 pm.

Dinner was served in our dining tent and Tanmay was hell bent on narrating horror stories which Aishwarya, Sonam and a few others apparently enjoyed. I for one can never partake in an interaction like that for my fear of supernatural so I receded early to bed and for some reason packed and unpacked endlessly that night.

"The boys played shaandaar,” – (a cricket catchphrase they used during the entire trip), like they always did, cracking jokes, poking fun at each other and our favourite Bablu bhaiya- another local guide on the trek, who would teach us a thing or two about mountains and life in general. That night everyone slept like a log and woke up unusually fresh the next day.

The last day of the trek welcomed us to a mannequin challenge Tanmay threw at us. The video came out pretty well and a few photo ops later we made our way back to Sankri to leave for Dehradun the day after.

Upon reaching Sankri, we deposited our eco-bags and our health cards and gathered in the briefing room. It was time for celebrating our accomplishment. All 29 of us had summited successfully, a feather in Tanmay’s cap, of course a glorious team and individual achievement for each one of us.

So started the felicitation process and we were handed out certificates of accomplishment, each one of us was called out and was asked to share our experience.

While some talked about how mesmerizing it was to experience snow for the first time, some narrated their emotional experiences. From ‘why am I paying to do this to myself’ to ‘I can’t believe, I just did it’- the multitude of emotions one person can go through in such a short period of time.

P.C. Pranay

Mountains - and how humbling they are- whoever you may be, the egos are crushed for the mountains are unforgiving and they do have the last word!

Some of the first time trekkers talked about the tremendous insight they got into themselves and how the whole experience was exhilarating as much as it was painful.

Srihari – who while narrating her experience was teary eyed too couldn’t help but thank everyone for putting up with her and motivating her to make it.

It was interesting to observe how a common experience on the outside was personally received so differently by each one of us.

It was announced that there were some special recognitions for Green Champion – awarded to 3 people in the group – ones who did the most to keep the trail clean.

There was yet another recognition for 2 people – called the Spirit of Trekking award- 1k worth voucher from Indiahikes – for those who uphold the spirit of trekking. This award was given by popular vote – and was handed out to my surprise to me and another member in the group.

I got up in amazement and went to collect my award, I couldn’t believe I was a trekker they aspired to be. It started with self-deprecation as I thought that 80% of the batch constituted first time trekkers – in that sense well it may not be as big an achievement to the realization that I should rather bask in the glory than be self-critical and accept the honour with humility.

Some final words of wisdom from our guide Mangal Bhaiya –"Decide what you want to be - a trekker or a tourist!”

We prepared for our departure the next day, dinner followed soon after. The carnivores got a scrumptious non-vegetarian treat that night, post which, we all gathered to play Mafia.

Rounds after rounds of Mafia were played sometimes to the extent of creating a nuisance for the others who were asleep. Personalities surfaced, inhibitions dropped, connections forged, observations turned to inspiration, you couldn’t tell this bunch of people didn’t know each other just about a week ago.

And while I did all my treks with either friends or my sisters, this time however when no one could make it, I decided to go alone with a bunch of strangers. As I look back, I think that was the best decision I made, for not only it was liberating, but so empowering.

That’s the beauty of these journeys, nobody cares who you are, what you do and where you’re from- you have a common purpose and that’s enough, for life is nothing but an Adventure which unravels if you let it!

Wanna know who you are? Go take a hike! You will be surprised at what you will discover! There is something so spiritually elevating about trekking in the mountains, a process of self-discovery and a revelation, an incredible experiential learning is what it is..
Created By
Neha Pant
Appreciate

Credits:

Most of the pics are shot on the i-phone 6s. Credits updated on the pics shot by Pranay and Sarthak- photographers designate of the group. Experience credited to the fabulous people of the group..

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