Some thoughts on our trek to Roopkund and Pangarchula. Part – I: Cast and Crew.

As I sit and try to take stock of things that have transpired over the last 16 days and attempt to put them down in a coherent manner, I realize that it has been quite overwhelming. Just like the mountains. Layer after layer. Different sizes, different textures, different terrains. Endless. They have the ability to entice you with their pristine pulchritude. But if you develop the hubris to think they’d be easy to scale, they’ll engulf you with their towering presence.

For me, it all started when I read this post by my ‘guruji’ (good example of praising by mild age-based trolling) Mohan Krishnamoorthy in Jan 2014. I was fascinated by the idea of subjecting myself to travails and ordeals under somewhat extreme conditions. The silver lining would be that there would be a group of like-minded zany folks who would risk their lives for a selfie at 15, 000 feet. So I got in touch with Mohan and expressed my desire to join him on one of his treks/expeditions (they are two different terms as it’ll become clearer in a bit). He was aware that I ran a little bit so he suggested a program that would be challenging enough, but not make me think of trekking the way I think of papaya or custard apple (i.e. repulsive). The program would be Roopkund lake (trek) and Pangarchula (expedition) over a period of 2 weeks. Over the next month or so, he managed to rope in a few more folks {Chuck, Pun, Divya Murthy (nicknamed SoBoD during this journey), Mahesh, Grond, Paddy, Arundhati and Sriram} to form a sizable group.

The Cast.

The first thing we did as responsible 21st century folks embarking on anything related to real life, as a team, was to form a Whatsapp group. Little did we know that this would soon become the “Mohan giving us exercises and workout plans to transform us from Homo Sapiens into some kind of Felis Concolor” group. But jokes apart, stuff like climbing 150-200 floors of stairs, strengthening your core, going for trial treks, exercising regularly etc really helped in building strength and stamina. I ended up expending every ounce of energy in my body during the trek/expedition and then some. Some sartorial advice was also dispensed, namely dry fit clothing, good quality jackets and gloves, so on and so forth. Things were looking good for the impending odyssey on Oct 2nd. On a day dedicated to non violence, we’d embark on a journey of self-flagellation. Brilliant.

Fast forward to second week of September, 2014. Like any other engineering student, I naturally postponed procuring all the necessary items till the last minute and therefore had to make several frenetic trips to Decathlon. Combined with booking my flight tickets, this resulted in a significant dip in my EBITDA.

Bare necessities:

Clothes (for ~10-12 days)

  1. Thermal innerwear (top and bottom). As they say, change begins from within.
  2. Regular Innerwear, 4-5 pairs.
  3. 3-4 dry fit trek pants
  4. 3-4 dry fit vests
  5. Gloves (stop hunting for gloves that’d let you use your mobile phone for god’s sake. It’s a trek. Not some Instagramepdition! But some folks (*cough* Mo *cough*) managed to Instagram with immaculate frequency and celerity.
  6. 1 Down jacket (preferably where the brand name matches the store name).
  7. 1 half sleeve jacket, could be fleece
  8. 1 rain jacket
  9. Balaclava (I didn’t get this and suffered a bit).
  10. Another jacket in case weather decided to change suddenly from freezer mode to dry ice mode.
  11. 1-2 Beanies
  12. Monkey cap, supply of paruppu and other assorted powders and thokkus from grand sweets
  13. Separate case of homemade snacks and homemade ghee laden dry fruit laddoos that add unnecessary weight and shouldn’t be lugged (but the resident Gujju would ignore this anyway).
  14. 2 microfleece or quick dry towels
  15. Earmuffs are a good idea in case your ears are sensitive to cold winds
  16. 5-6 pairs of thick, ankle length socks

Gear & other stuff

  1. Trekking boots, preferably with ankle support
  2. A pair of sandals/floaters
  3. Head light with extra batteries.
  4. 30-40L day backpack
  5. 70-90L bag for remaining supplies (and for post trek shopping).
  6. Walking stick (get a good one with adjustable height).
  7. First aid kit.
  8. Sun screen lotion and moisturizing lotion.
  9. Sunglasses for trekking (although the 100 Rs Ray Ban (with an additional RB insignia inscribed somewhere) that I bought at Rishikesh also worked to a decent extent).
  10. Medicine kit (make sure to have something for the eyes. E.g. TobaStar eye drops. This was one of the biggest learning from this trip as one could contract conjunctivitis).
  11. Hand sanitizer (copious amounts).
  12. Trash bags (black ones, medium size), about 15-20. Bags because you need to separate the filthier used clothes/items from filthy, unused clothes/items (as they remain stuffed in your larger duffel bag for days). And black because it is the color that absorbs all wavelengths of light, thereby shielding yours and others’ eyes from the visual appeal they acquire as a result of being used, scratched with and rubbed against several unimaginable and unmentionable regions over a period of several days. In summary, the exact opposite of soil erosion. They accumulate stuff.

Optional items such as solar chargers, additional batteries for charging your phones, toe warmers (it seems to be a SoBo thing), ankle and knee supports, board games, pack of cards, foam roller for stretching (seems to be a posh Aussie thing), lip balm, sleeping bag liners (for the hygienic types), wet wipes, so on and so forth would make your journey (especially nights) more comfortable. You could also carry some portable speakers. Yours truly gave a fascinating dance performance to the beats of Shehar ki Ladki, scarring many, but doing a great service to the sacred art of dancing by setting a nadir for reference.

Day 1: Compadres assemble at Rishikesh on October 2nd

I had arrived the night before so I decided to spend the morning taking a stroll to Ram and Laxman jhoolas. The lazy elegance of the ghats by the Ganga was only accentuated by the ochre tinge of the sunlight on the buildings. After walking for about 7-8 kms, I decided to stop by Chotiwala, a popular joint for a bite. I had the Navratra thali which had Kuttu poori, kuttu pakode, aaloo raita, kaddu ki sabzi and a lassi that was so thick, it had to be eaten towards the end.

Once I reached the hotel, I first met SoBoD. I think we may have crossed paths in Rishikesh at some point in time, not knowing each other. I saw this suave, urban type girl with a cool looking backpack, filmy style sunglasses and a mild “what am I doing in this village without any Zara and Salvatore Ferragamo outlets?” look and wondered if she was part of our gang (turns out I was right!). She lives in south Mumbai and has the educational qualifications to sue your rear end if you committed the chutzpah of saying something outlandish. But soon she came to know that with me, she was dealing with the bottom of the financial and social pyramid (a.k.a research scientists) so there was no point in exercising her legal prowess. She had come with her mother for some sightseeing before joining us for the trek. She is a totally bindaas Mumbai girl but so p0sh she once said “Platinum Mall is next to my house” (and not the other way around).

 At ~2 p.m., the rest of the gang arrived. Chuck greeted me with a grin and “So, you are the Ajit Bhaskar, progenitor of poor jokes”, which made me think “Finally, someone who gets me”. Chuck and Pun seemed like a fun couple (as confirmed later). I couldn’t gather much about Pun but that’s because there weren’t any four legged creatures around us within a 100 micron radius (more on that later). I then got introduced to the >6ft and athletically built Mahesh. He didn’t look like he was in his early 40s. I was truly inspired to see Paddy, Adundhati and Sriram (all in their 50s). The precise determination of their ages was and continues to be an enigma. The primary reason being any inquiry into their ages would result in a response referring to Mohan’s age, which also appears to somewhere in the 50s. Further probing turned them into Yetis so we decided not to pursue the matter further as we had enough mountain related challenges to tackle. Let’s just say some mysteries are better left unsolved. But I would draw quite a bit of inspiration from their grit and perseverance throughout the trek. And their sense of humor. Mahesh, Paddy, Aruna and Sriram had traveled all the way from Australia.

You don’t really need to see Paddy to know how he looked. Just imagine Al Pacino with a slight stubble and speaking in Tamil. That and if Al Pacino were hooked to a vial shaker (more on that later…again). Severe #sameguy, as they say on Twitter.

Arundhati is a teacher in Australia. What she teaches and her work hours are a matter of debate as the rest of the Aussie blokes claim that she goes to school, only to disagree with some policy and participate in strikes/protests and chitchat during the rest of the time. Arundhati denies these charges vehemently. I almost asked if PSBB had opened a branch in Australia, but realized that the “protest” part didn’t add up as nobody would dare to mess with the fireball called YGP. Sriram (Arundhati’s less better half) is a laid back ambi mama dude who endured all the high quality humor dished out during the trip and contributed several quips of his own.

Then I met Harshal (a.k.a Grond). He was (mostly) in charge of keeping track of financial transactions or the who owed whom and how much aspect of the trip. For the benefit of those who aren’t familiar with the fundamentals of financial operations, it is sufficient to know that Harshal is a Guajarati.  I also had the distinct privilege of rooming with Grond. He had this incredible gift of slipping into deep torpor within 5 minutes of hitting the sack. I think Mohan should have made that a key skill to develop as part of our training regime because on that night, there was a wedding at the hotel lawn, which extended close to 1130 p.m. While I am not against weddings, having subjected myself to one, I am not in favor of inflicting the denizen around the venue with bioterrorism in the form of bhotiya songs on autotune. After listening to some, I could clearly understand why certain folks approve of waterboarding. These songs are clearly worse. In fact, listening to a few hours’ worth of these songs should tantamount to climbing the Everest. For those interested in exploring this most fascinating form of  (music) (lulz) torture, here is a sample playlist:

  1. Lollypop lagelu:
  2. Chappan Lakh ki Choli:
  3. Sujit Kumar Tiger:

There are several more but I will add items to this list after registering my name with the Limca book of records for enduring the most number of bhotiya/bhojpuri songs on autotune while researching on a literary article.

And finally, Mohan. I won’t sing his paeans because this is a blog post and not a Steig Larson novel with font size 3nm and 700 pages. Even that space would be insufficient. And his motivational and influential skills are exceptional. He convinced folks from Australia to join, persuaded me to challenge myself, helped Grond train for this mammoth task in mere four months, converted Chuck into a disciple, made him defoliate his northern hemisphere and adopt his coiffure, the list is practically endless. Just like the mountains that we were about to explore. What a portent. But yes, a truly inspirational figure.

P.S: I intend to inflict you with a 3 to (max) 4 part series as there are several stories to tell (trekking and otherwise) and while I tried my best to write seriously, I couldn’t help but use (pitiful) humor to express my thoughts best.


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