Day 5: Hora Thatch
Next morning was crisp and sunny. There were honey bees buzzing around the apple trees and I managed to get some pollination shotsJ Soon enough we packed up and headed to Hora thatch, our next camp. Again there were a lot of stops on the way. One thing that I noticed on the way was that there were some huge trees fallen. Before I could wonder why I saw the reason. The bases of some trees were set on fire! There were many of these huge trees with their stems smouldering. That would eventually weaken the tree and it would fall down. It was a sad sight. I wonder if we can do something about this... If you have any ideas to stop this, please let me know. By the early evening we reached camp Hora. Some went for a dip in the nearby waterfall. I could not even dream of getting into the water there at that temperature! The camp site was a small clearing in the jungle. Played frisbee for a while and then some cricket. Meanwhile there were stories going on between Adventura gang, the bong gang and the teachers of LNUP. Stories eventually shifted to jokes and then to riddles. Total time pass! Then it was chai and dinner. Camp fire followed soon after. The LNUP guys were ready with performances. One of the bong babu also sang a song. And boy he was good! What a voice! We never knew he could sing so well.
After the camp fire when most people settled into their tents, we [the Adventura gang] decided to spend some time outside. We got out blankets and settled on a rock in front of the tents. Cold, quiet and peaceful. It’s one of those memories that stay with you. Just what Sumaji wanted the whole trek to be like, I guess. But with the LNUP guys with us, most of the trek was a noisy affair! I for one did not mind the noise. It just reminded of my college days. Damn I miss those days. Now here’s some real motivation to do MS!
Day 6: Off to Maylee
Next morning was bright, sunny and beautiful. The light through the canopy was looked amazing. There some honeybees hovering near a tree and I wanted to shoot one in flight. After about 20 minutes of waiting, one of the blind shots paid off. At the moment I thought it was a very special shot. Later I realized it’s pretty common L. Went back to the camp for a quick breakfast and we were off on our way to Maylee. The trek proceeded at a lazy pace. The views got better and the snow peaks now appeared much closer. On the way we also came across a hashish field. By about 12 we had reached an opening where we stopped for lunch. There was plenty of time since we were close to Maylee camp. Some of us played Frisbee while some enjoyed the omlets, chai and maggie in the omnipresent yellow tent. Rakesh being an avid reader had got 4 books with him. Since he could not carry all of them on the trek, I had asked him if I could borrow one. He had graciously agreed and I had chosen ‘Anne Frank’s diary’. It was now coming in handy because most of the gang dozed off after lunch J
After trekking for a while from the lunch place we got to our first patch of snow. I had never touched snow in my life. So even though it was a bit muddy because of people treading on it, I dived right in. I wanted to take fistfuls of snow and throw it people. But in all the excitement I tried to grab the snow bare handed without gloves. Instantly all the excitement vanished. I quietly went to the place where everyone had put their bags down. Took off my bag, put on the gloves and then went back J
A short while later, we arrived at Maylee. Maylee was the most beautiful camp site of all. It was at the border of the tree line on the mountain. Behind the camp was the canopy of trees, where as in front lay the bare mountain covered with grass. We were just roaming around when a shower of fleet came down. Slowly it turned to snowfall. It was beautiful. What a place to see snowfall for the first time. Once the snowfall stopped we all gathered around the small fire in front of the camp site. I thought to myself ‘if I have 10 days to live, I wouldn’t mind spending 5 days here’.
Day 7: Climb to Dora
The next morning got up early to get some pictures. I wanted to get the reflection of the mountains and the sun on my sunglasses. Tried it but could not get a decent shot. I was too late and the sun was too bright for it. I had to wake up at dawn at Dora. I had come all this way hoping to get the pictures of the changing colours of the Himalayas in the early morning hours.
I distinctly remember that day about 15 years back. We were on our way to Badrinath. We had stayed at Joshimatt overnight. My dad had woke me up in the wee hours of the morning and we both watched the snow peaks as they went through different shades of blue, orange, red and golden yellow before they finally became white. All of this happened in a matter of minutes. We did not bother taking pictures. We just stood there and watched. I just wanted to see that magic again. But I missed my chance at Maylee and did not want to miss it at Dora.
On the way from Maylee to Dora, the mountains are almost bare. This makes it very scary since you can see all the way down the steep slope that you tread. I was not comfortable with heights to begin with. And I could not bear cold. I just realized Himalaya was not the ideal place for me to trek. There was snow along the way right from the beginning. We came to a place where there was nice fresh snow and we were given some time there to play. We could slide on the slope there [the guides allowed us knowing there are no jagged rocks underneath]. I never thought sliding on snow can be so much fun! But after you slide a few times, my clothes started getting wet and filled up with snow. But this was where we played in snow to our hearts content.
When we reached the lunch point that day, we came to know that the previous batch was just around the corner. Then some of them actually came down to meet us. It was a quick meet up and they were back on their way again. During lunch the weather kept getting colder and colder. Also we were wearing canvas shoes which were completely wet and partly filled with snow. My fingers and toes had gone numb and I was in no mood for lunch. Had some dates before we started. The moment we started from the lunch point we could see a huge cloud coming at us. Soon enough it started to snow and visibility dropped to about a meter. We came around a slope then reached a point where we had to slide down. There was no way we could walk down there. But at the foot of the slide there were the guides standing catching us as we came down. When I slid down I kept shouting at the guides to get out of the way but they caught me anyway. When I came around the next turn I saw why they did it. There was a cliff a short distance from the slide.
From that point on things started getting rough. The weather was really closing in. We could not see a thing. My shoes were filled with snow and my fingers were frozen to the point that I could not make a fist. After a while I could not feel my toes and that’s when started getting worried. I somehow managed to keep walking but then the guides told us that the camp site was just ahead and went back to get the people who were left behind. We could not see anything and did not know which way to go. Walking in a snow storm is difficult, but standing still is next to impossible. Finally when the guides came they took us to the campsite about 100 meters from where we were standing! And in those 100 meters I fell some 10 times because I had lost my dexterity completely. When we reached the camp, we were one tent short. So we had to take the tent where the blankets were stored. I was never so happy to get into a blanket before. But even after getting into a blanket it took me about an hour and a half to stop shivering. The dinner was prepared and brought to our tents. But I was not I a shape to get up and take it. I wasn’t hungry anyways. No camp fire either. Everybody just turned in for the night. I had dumped all my wet clothes and shoes in a corner and never thought about them until next morning.
Day 8: Saurkund Lake and the Saurkundi Pass
Next morning we woke up to a complete whiteout. We could not see anything outside the tents. It was snowing heavily. Tapas Chakraborthy, one of the bangali babus, was a camp leader on this trek some time before and he suggested we not trek in the kind of weather we had. He was a very experienced person who had been on mountaineering expeditions and he told us we did not have the equipment to get through that weather. Vishalda was also apprehensive of trekking in that snowstorm. So they called up base camp to warn them of the situation and stop the trek for the day. But people at the base camp were not ready to listen to any of us. They were adamant on having us leave the camp since the next group would be on its way to Dora. We had no choice but to leave.
When we started, Vishalda called the whole Adventura group and asked us to stay together. We all agreed. To begin with I walked with them. But eventually I could not walk at that pace anymore. I was wearing the same wet clothes, shoes and socks. My monkey cap was wet. So I had to use a towel to cover my head instead. Also my waterproof gloves were also wet. So no gloves either. I stuck my hands in my pocket and marched on. I felt like running. Although I hadn’t eaten much, I wasn’t feeling weak or hungry. I guess it was the adrenaline kicking in. Once I got into a rhythm, I just kept going. For the most part I was right in the front with the guide. At one point the guide asked us to wait back and drew a line with his ice axe a short distance in front of us. He asked us not cross that line. When we reached the line he told us that it was a the edge of the Saurkund Lake. Then we saw it. It was a huge depression between the mountains completely covered with snow. And we were standing right on the edge of it. A step across the line and we would plunge down to the lake. I could imagine how majestic it would look in clear weather. But we could barely see it in the snowfall. We kept moving from there on to reach the lunch point. By this time I had lost all sensation in my feet. My fingers were also frozen and I was finding it difficult to put them in my pocket. Without gloves every slide was a struggle. When we slide, we use our elbows and feet as breaks. With my feet stiff I was not able to control my slides. And when I started to tumble, I had to use my hand to balance. With my hands already frozen it felt like they were getting crushed when I touched ice.
At lunch point another guide was to take us to our next camp; Longa thatch. But when we reached the lunch point, the second guide hadn’t come yet. The first guide refused to move any further and told us to wait till the other guide came along. The wind was blowing pretty hard and it was snowing heavily. There was no way we could wait in that weather. After a lot of convincing, the guide agreed to take us further. I don’t remember much from this point on. Just that we reached Longa Thatch by which time my knuckles had turned blue. Once we reached the camp, it was big relief. When we began from Dora, we were not sure if we would make it to Longa. Eventually my fingers started moving! I was going to come back in one piece! Nobody was in a mood for any activity outside the tents. Inside the tents we were getting bored. That’s when style bhai [Jayanth] took out his cell phone which had enough songs and videos to entertain us for hours. He even had some sort of gadgetry to charge his cell phone! I don’t know how he did it but judging by the weight of his bag he must have been carrying a small motorcycle battery in it.