Day 2: Drive from Rishikesh to Loharjung
We took off at 7 a.m. after grabbing some breakfast at the lodge. During this journey, Professor Chuck, under the tutelage of Mohan, briefed everyone on Twitter 101 for the benefit of the normal human beings who weren’t on Twitter. Namely Paddy, Arundhati and SoBoD. Thanks to the last person on the list, the average age of that list was brought down dramatically or else we’d be stuck with the negative stereotype that Twitter is not comprehended properly by the geriatrically gifted. But what is more surprising, is that SoBoD missed the memo on the most powerful medium, that has proselytized human beings contributing meaningfully to the society, into armchair critics and Wikipedia subject matter experts, who scorn those with a different point of view, often with embellished vocabulary. (mild #meta). I guess she was too nice for this 😉 We passed Devprayag and Karnaprayag en route. At Loharjung, we had dinner and dozed off.
Day 3 Loharjung to Didina
5.30 a.m. Sanjuji greeted us with his most effervescent smile and offered us bed tea. This would become a regular feature throughout the trip and deserves a special mention. How on earth could someone be so darn cheerful at 5:00 a.m (on one of the days, we had to get up at 3:30 a.m. but that didn’t deter his enthusiasm one bit). Either he was sent by Pharrell to enact his anthem in our daily lives or he had access to the highest quality of cannabis that the mountains had to offer. His joyful “Chaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiiiii” would become our alarm to get up and get cracking.
I didn’t have the best of sleep, probably in anticipation and excitement mixed with some apprehension. I somehow managed to get myself out of the coziest spot (the blankets at the lodge were so good, once you wrapped them around you like a swiss roll, you could stay warm even under liquid nitrogen) and get ready.
6:30 a.m. Breakfast Excellent spread of cereals, eggs, toast, jam and porridge. It became clear that one of my biggest worries over the trip (food) would become the least of my worries. Kalamji, Sanjuji, Bhattji and Chhotu (Chander…more about him later) would take extremely good care of us. Mohan and Paddy would meticulously take care of filling PowerAde/Gatorade and water in bottles and put exactly 1 vitamin-B and 2 vitamin C tablets on everyone’s plate. In addition, a bag of scroggins was also given to everyone. The packet had about 8-10 almonds, an apricot, a fig and 2 instant energy tablets for normal days and power gels for more excruciating days. The steel mugs for tea and coffee reminded me of “Havankund maston ka jhund…” from Bhaag Milkha bhaag. I was tempted to sing aloud but realized that there were no mules nearby to make my voice sound better by comparison so I decided against it.
7 a.m. Locked and loaded. Day pack with water, PowerAde, clothes etc. Check. Larger (70L) bag packed and tucked inside the read Grand Adventures bag. Check. Heartbeat. Check. We took off on time.
The first hour or so was either downward or flat. We were told by Rajuji that we were quite fortunate to have seen the mighty Trishul mountains from such a long distance. Weather gods were being kind to us by giving us such clear skies with superb visibility. I was tempted to tell him I live in a city where weather gods are always nice but realized Raju wasn’t from Chennai or Mumbai so it would not have had the same impact. I decided to enjoy the fascinating sights around me. Rugged trail, lush greenery all around, gentle streams of water every now and then, odd stone cottage moss covered rocks and the Trishul mountains that kept an eye on us. We took several breaks to attend nature’s calls and smartphone camera’s calls alike.
10:30 a.m. Suddenly, We reached a bit of an upward climb, at which point, Raju declared that we’d have lunch. While the thought of the lunch being served too early did cross people’s minds, but the fact that our legs would get some rest took over everything else and we decided to take a long-ish break. All lunches began with juice, typically lemon or orange. After that, on day 1, we had pasta, perk, beans and egg for lunch. I have to say that it didn’t feel like we were trekking at 2000 meters. It felt like some three course meal at a decent restaurant. But only for a brief moment because when you got up to get rid of your plate, your calves and glutes reminded you of the painful reality.
Post lunch session: We navigated a pretty stiff climb, making way for the mules, more ragged terrain along forests, leading to some villages and after 2-3 hours, there it was: Didina. The staff had pitched our tents already. The view was brilliant! We stretched (Colonel Mohan Krishnamoorthy made sure we stretched every day after trekking). Typically hands first and then our legs. We essentially rewarded our efforts by exercising the sorest muscles even further. It was like getting “no pain, no gain” tattooed on our muscles all day, only to take an oxyacetylene torch called stretching and scorching them just to make sure you remembered which ones suffered the most. Thanks Mo. But on a serious note, it is extremely important to stretch after any exercise otherwise the muscles could get stiff (more likely in cold weather) and you could feel quite brittle on the following day.
Evening: We enjoyed the view around our tents, walked around and found a clear, cool stream and dunked our legs in it. We also played some board games that Mohan had bought. While the games were named differently like “sell houses to random people” or “prevent someone from forming sets in card based games” but Mohan was really nice about giving us a simple mantra to understand all games in one go. It was “The anti-Law of conservation of rules”.
“Rules can be created or destroyed at any point in time and transferred from one game to another as per Mohan’s whims and fancies. Your objective is to battle for the second position after Mohan wins the gold medal”.
I loved how Professor Mo simplified things for us like that. We made another inroad into Paddy’s age. He quoted a figure of 48. Several attempts to probe into incidents and putting a
timeline on them resulted in severely anachronistic responses from him. He shivered at times but we weren’t sure if it was because of the questioning or the cold or him exhibiting his normal behavior on account of approaching his true age, which could be a couple of yottaseconds away from the tender figure of 48 years. But he remained steadfast on 48. We decided to add “scientific” as a prefix to this expedition and coined 48 yrs as Paddy’s constant.
We had a three course dinner (and banana fritters for dessert) at 7 p.m. Even folks (originally) from Chennai started complaining that the eating schedule was too early even by their standards. Also, I couldn’t help but point and laugh at the Bengali folks (with a different agency) eating Maggi with their hands in a dhonnai. Of course, I laughed in my mind as I was cognizant of the fact that had I laughed at them literally, they were perfectly capable of calling BongsForHire at 1800-CHOLBE-NA and stage a strike or dharna in front of our tents at any time. And for all you know, Arundhati would have joined them.
The day ended with a not so peaceful sleep and the knowledge that in case of snoring (particularly by Sriram, Mohan, Paddy and Harshal), the sound waves never interfered destructively and caused the amplitudes to cancel. Huygens didn’t think through clearly before formulating his wave principles.
A word on nature’s call. There were two separate tents (M and F). One would have to get inside, zip them shut, take a seat (modified stool, no pun intended) do the business, take a shovel and bury all the evidence. Who said perfect crimes weren’t possible? The kind staff even provided toilet paper. Also, I hope it is clear on why I insisted on carrying copious amounts of hand sanitizer. You’d have to pick up the toast with the same hands on the following day, after all.
Day 4: Didina to Bedini Bhugiyal
We took off at 7 a.m. sharp. A word about the crew here. They had to clean the vessels, fix lunch, wrap up all the tents, load stuff on the mules, overtake us, wait for lunch and reach the destination well in advance to pitch the tents and greet us with tea. They started at least an hour later than us and reached the destination with mules about an hour ahead of us. In other words, LOL at you marathon running, lyrebird stair training, stair climbing, biking 200 km city slickers. And Rajuji, who walked with us all day. He was the epitome of fitness. You could use him to calibrate a body fat analyzer as a standard specimen with zero fat content. Even his cheeks looked chiseled and devoid of any cherub. He walked with two walking sticks, with a characteristic gliding gait, as if he were skiing on land. Effortless. I have never heard him gasp for breath. It’s like he had some kind of catalytic converters, for converting fat into oxygen to power him all day, instead of lungs.
We passed the Tola Pani forest and traversed bugiyals (meaning meadows in local language). I’ll let the pictures do the talking. We got a bit of an unpleasant surprise after reaching Bedini Bugiyal. Chuck started complaining of some disturbance in his eye. He thought some insect might have got into his eye. We tried to apply small heat packs (with a cloth) and washing it repeatedly but the eye swelled a lot over the next two hours. If it was an insect wreaking the havoc, it had managed to get into Chuck’s right eye and dig up an entire Harappa and Mohenjo Daro. His eye was secreting gooey mass that would cause his eyes to shut if it dried. Chuck and Pun had to take a tough call and head back to the nearest village (Ghat) for some immediate medical attention. Unfortunately, they’d have to do it on foot (about 15-18km journey). Kalamji was asked to guide them. Chuck gave his DSLR camera to Mahesh, who would resume taking pics with them. In short, we would miss Chuck and Pun dearly for the remainder of the first leg of the trek until Roopkund. Turns out, they walked for almost 12-13 hours and then drove for a short while to get to ghat. Hats off to them.