The Great Himalayan National Park shaonlee bose and saurabh ganguli

There are some things in life that books, photographs, music, poetry cannot quite explain. Art brings you close to it, very close, but not entirely. Like holding a gurgling baby in your arms, a walk in the rain, the first rays of dawn….some things in life need to be experienced, their joy tasted, their pain felt, their whispers heard. The unending walk along a mountain trail can bring you very close to experiencing all these. Whether you are a five years old or fifty, mountains tell you fascinating stories, if you listen keenly. It will sing to you too if you care.

The trek through The Great Himalayan National Park was supposed to be an opportunity to spend time together as a family, away from the distraction of devices, technology or work. We planned this, many months in advance, fervidly hoping that our five-year-old baby can deal with the ardors of living in the wild for four days. Our ten-year-old son is an active, adventure seeking soul always ready for new experiences, so we were less worried about him. I made lists and itineraries of each location and consolidated them, then scrapped them when they didn’t appear right and made it again. My urban, city-centric existence clearly out of depth. The experience, however, turned out to be different – richer, more personal – with each of us forging our own path, yet sharing a journey where we drew inspiration, strength, and joy from seeing each other achieve our goals.

We spent the first night in Gushaini, a small village in the Kullu District, in Himachal, 30 km away from Aut. Our stay was in a small hotel, more like a traveler’s inn and the gorgeousness of what lay ahead, was already visible in parts. The four of us quietly settled into the most open part of the hotel – watching the river flow by as we prepared ourselves for the long and rigorous hikes ahead.

The morning brought our trek guide Sanju and the promoter of Himalayan EcoTourism (, Stephan Marchal to our hotel. They spoke to us at length about what lay ahead, instructed us on how to manage physical stresses and how to use our equipment. We drove to the starting point after that and started walking towards The Great Himalayan National Park.

We walked along the mountain in a steep but gradual rise, leaving stray cattle and people behind, along the river Tirthan. She is a rare beauty, utterly impatient and sprightly – her gait brought a strange sense of joy, the gushing made us happy, she compelled us to move ahead, despite the breathlessness that was already setting in. The walk itself was difficult to describe. We walked with everyone, yet we walked alone. We spoke to each other when we needed to but mostly we talked to ourselves. Sometimes in the struggle to take another step ahead, I thought I heard a whisper that seemed to come from the mountains, through the cool breeze that blows around it. It startled me at first, but then I strained further to hear it, but it seemed distant again. When my body told me that I couldn't take another step, it greeted me again, this time like a song that rings through the forest, on the wings of a bird that appears suddenly but I know she has always been there, for weary travelers like me.

It is hard to say exactly when we found ourselves in a forest, but the vegetation started getting thicker, and the air became laden with an unfamiliar but fragrant smell of unknown fauna. For us, the lively chatter and excited screams of our children told us that we were in a forest, as they stopped to gather a fallen porcupine quill or marvel at a discarded snakeskin. We rested often, trying to take it all in – the views, the smells, the moisture in the air, the cold chilly breeze that was playing with our hair, and we began to feel a kind of a beauty that lies beyond the surface, perceive an existence that cannot be seen or heard. We continued walking and after a tough 9 kms trek, we reached a spectacular waterfall called the Hippo Falls, harkening our entry at the gates of the verdant park. The one we have wanted to visit for years.

A gate regulates the entry to the Great Himalayan National Park, and as we entered our names and signed the old register, we felt like we were in Alice’s Wonderland. We leaped into the park; the physical exhaustion was forgotten, and the Tirthan got even more alluring and wild. We could feel that we were now very close to an unbridled and untouched corner of the earth where nature was still tempestuous and unpredictable.

As evening fell, we saw a pair of mountain deer running full speed in playful abandon at the steepest part of a cliff, a tuft of brown joy, sprightly and happy in each other’s company, oblivious the world around them.

Another hour’s walk and we found ourselves next to a meadow called Rolla. An unassuming spot, next to the river but well suited for camping. We flopped ourselves next to the soft grass and looked at the cliff on the other side where no man is allowed to tread. That side is the home to wild animals and exotic birds. We stared at it in apprehension, but the light went quickly, and the chill of the cold Himalayan breeze compelled us to huddle up next to the roaring campfire.

The next day started early; the hike was only four kms long, we had done double that distance the day before. So we began rather enthusiastic and confident of reaching the destination in the next couple of hours. But we realized soon that this was going to be a walk that we will not forget for some time to come. We walked uphill, away from the water – a merciless, unrelenting climb that tested the limits of our determination and strength. We struggled to hike up a 70-degree incline, frequently climbing over boulders three times our size. The children, who we were most worried about jumped and pulled themselves up with the ease that both surprised and inspired us. They made it to the resting points much ahead of us – but what we lacked in agility and stamina, we made up in joy and pride of being the parents of two rather tough mountain goats. The last 3-4 km was a breathtaking walk through a pine forest; the trail cushioned with fallen leaves and soft foliage that doesn’t get to see any sunlight. Myriad shapes and sizes of mushrooms and a hundred Edelweiss that grew out of every woody nook greeted us as we stumbled through an unbelievably high incline that does not even give you a view of the next thing that lies ahead.

Personally, this was the toughest mountaineering stretch I have ever attempted in my life. The four kms felt a little over forty, and every step ahead was a struggle that tested both our physical and mental prowess – the body had given up by now, but I pushed myself ahead with will alone. The steep rise finally brought us to a gorge in a cliff – a rather small stretch of plain land, where we pitched our tent and hoped for good weather. But when we looked ahead, we were fascinated with the distance that we had covered.

The Shilt Hut is at 10,000 ft above the ground and the snow-clad mountains that looked like far off glistening peaks of diamond from the comforts of Kullu and Manali, seemed completely different. They appeared like some ancient, unmovable, living creatures, vast and mighty, unperturbed by our presence.

As night fell and the cold chill spread through our bones, and we made our weary bodies into the confines of our tent. We felt a strange sort of happiness, every single one of us, of having walked through the toughest four kms of our lives and yet emerged on the other side to find a home in each other, right there under the stars, without our phones, iPad, flat screen TV, and 1000 count white cotton bed sheets.

We walked back on the third day, already missing the Tirthan and the roaring song it sang to us - tales of love and loss, triumph and disappointments. While the journey was simple for most others on this trip, a single toenail injury made my journey excruciating and slow. As I inched forward, my body refused to move ahead in anticipation of the violent nerve ending shock waves from my toes; I felt the mountains signing to me again, through rustling leaves, helping me move ahead. (Although, Saurabh was convinced that these were the effects of the many painkillers I had popped midway). As I stumbled through the slopes, the buzz of the river encouraged me to take another ten steps ahead, and when the buzz became a roar, I knew we were close to Rolla again, although this time we pitched our tent near the gates of the park, very close to the enchanting Hippo Falls.

The nightfall was a bit like magic on this day; we sat surrounded by our guide and five others who traveled with us, telling each other stories of our lives- family, friends, and children. All of us relieved of having made it through the toughest part of our journey without any incidences. The three days together had forged us as a single unit, much like a close-knit family, supporting and encouraging each other through the journey; each invested in the others’ successes and failures.

On the fourth day, the hike back from the Park Gate to Gushaini seemed like the end of our holiday. In contemplative silence, we walked the first half, sad to leave the park that was in our thoughts and discussions for so many days. In the second half of the journey, we discussed our renewed respect for flushable toilets and hot showers, sang songs and told each other many tales– mostly unoriginal and made-up, heartwarming nonetheless. For we had trampled our misgivings and pessimism on the walk to the park and drowned them in the river that flowed alongside our trail.

Coming back to civilization was harder than we had imagined it to be, sure we were glad to have electricity again and use toilets that did not threaten to fly away when strong winds blew, but the sights and sounds of the forest followed us everywhere. I gave in to the yearning on the eve of my birthday and decided to spend a quiet evening flipping through the pictures of the trip reliving those moments, when my fellow travelers walked in with this cake.

Remember that song, the mountains sang to me - we all heard it again.

about the authors

Some of our friends and family call us a clan of restless, wandering souls. We are always either making travel plans or living them. Sometimes we fight about the choice of destination – as each one of us has a list (including the little one), and we are all vociferously arguing our case. Rarely does all our choice coincide, but we are still a buzzing happy clan when we are out on the road, all feverish and impatient to see the unseen.

Created By
Shaonlee Bose


Saurabh Ganguli

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