Day 5 & Day 6: Bedini Bugiyal->Bugiyal Basa->Roopkund->Deldunga
Day 5 began with one of the most breathtaking sights. The tip of the Trishul Mountain was gently lit by the rising sun. It began as an adobe under dim light then changed into bright tangerine. As visibility improved, one could see the tempestuous winds blowing some snow off the tips, almost subliming the snow into a puff of gas. This plume would expand and form a cloud. And for some reason, it seemed to remain still. If you focused on it long enough, it would appear that time had come to a standstill.
The bell rang (Sanjuji banged a spoon against a steel plate), signaling breakfast and I was brought down from the clouds, back to reality. Long day ahead. Nearly 14-15 kms to go. We covered some more bugiyals and post lunch, navigated one of the toughest climbs so far. We gained nearly 400 meters in 1.5-2 hours to reach Kalua Vinayak, a small temple located at ~14,000 feet. This pic with Paddy summarized our predicament towards the end of a long, windy and excruciating day (conch blown).
Fortunately, after the temple, the last 3 kms were downhill. For some reason, I decided to move ahead of the gang with Sanjuji (confession: I can’t stop->trek->stop->trek. I need to keep moving. I suffer from restlessness. Also known as enthu pattani (overenthusiastic) syndrome). What I didn’t realize was that Sanjuji was pretty good at Mathematics. After walking for a bit on the conventional, visible pathway towards Bugiyal basa, Sanjiuji located out tents somewhere down in the valley. This made him apply the principle that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. The hell with the long winded conventional path, hurray to tumbling like a sack of potatoes down the rocky valley to reach our camp a.s.a.p.
Actually Sanjuji started running so fast, if ASAP were a human, it would have grabbed him by the collar and asked him to take it a little easy. The path was quite rugged and I could have injured, twisted, bumped, thumped, thudded, and crashed into various objects in several factorial ways. Fortunately, none of that happened and I ended up covering the distance in a mere 25 minutes. This translated into a velocity 8.4 km/hr. A 1986 model Premier Padmini on 1st gear could run faster than that but on that day, I felt like a sub atomic particle thundering at a rapidity of 1/(√(1-v2/c2) with my velocity v approaching c (speed of light). You know, about 128 million times faster than how fast I was actually running. Funny what the thin mountain air could do to you.
Once we reached the camp, I helped the crew with the tents. Once the rest of the gang joined us (about 45 mins later), we decided to relax inside the common tent. Grond had particularly struggled on that day. As we were leisurely sipping some tea, we heard a noise that resembled a top storey resident’s trash (when emptied surreptitiously without paying attention to the trajectory of the contents) landing on someone’s balcony instead of the street. Turns out, mountain folks do not live in apartments and it was just raining. In the next 10 mins, the rain drops became hail that looked like sago. And within the next 5 mins, the hail turned into snow. This was an ominous sign, as Rajuji would express his concern by telling us that if visibility were to be hindered on the following day, Roopkund might have to be postponed by an entire day. While we were in love with the mountains, the thought of camping on the ground at sub zero temperatures in the same clothes we’ve been wearing for 3 days, coupled with the lethargy with which your body demanded you to stay put and sealed like a mummy inside the sleeping bag, thereby putting all calls from mother nature on hold, sounded more ominous than trekking under poor visibility. Rajuji told us if Sanjuji woke us up at 4:30 a.m. on the following day with bed tea, Roopkund was on. Otherwise…sigh.
I had never prayed for a 4:30 a.m. wake up call so badly. Also, thanks to mother nature deciding to change the state of ambient water from liquid to solid, the temperature went to -3C at night so it was quite brutal. The next day, all of us were supremely ecstatic when Sanjuji woke us up at 4:30 a.m. with a loud “Chaaaaaaaaiiiiiiiiiiii”! But when we stepped outside our tents, the enormity of the task hit us. The valley we had climbed down was now covered with a good amount of snow, which meant we could slip. We took off around 6 a.m. to Roopkund. Rajuji and I set out in front (while I regret doing this on a regular basis during the trek, unfortunately, that is how my mind plays games with my body).
The last 45 minutes of climb were quite brutal. But the destination was in sight and we kept pushing along. And then, a few minutes, no 3.5 days later, actually 8 months later, finally…
Sheer euphoria! We made it! I was standing at the highest altitude in my life. I was mildly disappointed that Roopkund looked more like a frozen puddle but the part about the cursed lake with plenty of bones and skulls was true. We were spent but the adrenaline rush from conquering Roopkund gave us the strength to take a few pics and do a quick pooja at the small temple near the lake. I’ll cherish this group photo dearly. Special kudos to Grond for not only recovering but maintaining a great rhythm on that day.
After Roopkund, we started climbing down. During this, another unfortunate development took place. Mahesh started complaining of irritation in his right eye. It struck us then, that it was the same eye as Chuck and given that Mahesh was handling Chuck’s camera, it must be the same infection. The first thing we did was to quarantine the camera. We hoped that Mahesh’s predicament wouldn’t get as bad as Chuck’s. We urged him not to rub/itch his eyes. Mahesh showed great discipline in adhering to that rule. We retraced the path back from Roopkund up to Pathar Nachuni, and then went towards Deldunga. The long day ended on the most spectacular note. We were greeted to (in my opinion) the best view of the trek. We saw a mountain sunset, where the peaks were lit in scorching ember, as the sun was setting. We could actually see the moon peek out and rise entirely from the other side in a matter of just one minute! I will never forget that sight. And those beautiful mountains ahead of us. The varying hues of green, brown, amber and then pristine white peaks. All in one mammoth monolith. I was speechless.
Day 7 & Day 8: Deldunga->Sitel->Joshimath
Mahesh’s condition had gotten worse. By the time we reached Kanol on the next day, one of his eyes was almost shut and he had developed significant irritation in the second eye. We had received news that Chuck (and sadly, Pun too) had contracted conjunctivitis. We had about 8 kms to go to Sitel. Mohan suggested that Mahesh, I and Bhattji run to Sitel and get some medical attention for Mahesh. We did just that. We virtually sprinted our way to Sitel. Hats off to Mahesh for sticking along and running while being in a state of drugged stupor thanks to paracetamol and antibiotics. It’s amazing how desperate times make you reach for that seemingly nonexistent quantum of energy and propel you further. The climb down was difficult because you were rolling with gravity and it was hard, especially on your knees, to control and maintain your balance. We passed some villages, a bridge, a stretch where there was no defined path as it looked like King Kong and Godzilla might have had a serious difference of opinion, resulting in a landslide. We had to hop over rocks and one slip could have caused us to fall down a good 200 feet. We reached Sitel in 2 hours and 15 minutes (it took about 4.5 hrs for rest of the folks). Sitel is a town of 90 folks. My apartment complex has three towers and each tower has nearly 100 folks. We reached a pharmacy store and the owner of that store was the doctor du jour. He took a look at Mahesh and after deep consternation and searching his inventory, prescribed the only available eye drop at the facility. Not only that, he took a pair of scissors (we thought he was going to cut a piece of paper with it and create his business card for us for future correspondence), spread the ends and with a strong stabbing motion, poked a hole in the bottle. Apparently, he had convinced the microorganisms on the surface of the scissors to STFU and not invade the pharmaceutical formulation that was packed with great care under sterile conditions. One way to look at it was to focus on the lack of his knowhow. But I took solace under the fact that he didn’t use his teeth and go all Mike Tyson on the bottle. Mahesh seemed to feel better. In the meantime, I observed that in a town of 90, about 7 people were running for the post of Zila Parishad member. That meant no more than 13 votes per person. Even N Srinivasan would have found it hard to rig this Zila Parishad League. Once everybody arrived, we checked out the buzzing downtown of Sitel, which consisted of precise one Main street, about 100 meters long, including a 40 meter bridge. The most hardcore partying activity we did was buying a packet of Kurkure as SoBoD and I felt like eating something chatpata.
We drove to Joshimath on the following day, picking up Chuck and Pun en route. We were really happy to see each other (although I think Pun would have been happier crowd surfing on the armada of sheep that she and Chuck encountered during their journey). Somehow, when Chuck and Pun sat next to me, my PJ radar started working just like Jaya Bachchan’s “SRK mera beta” sensor in K3G that became paranormally alert when SRK was within a 500km radius of Jaya in three dimensional space. Once we reached Joshimath, we stayed in a bungalow that belonged to the Birlas. We also re-discovered an application of water that we had forgotten, having lived in tents like refugees for the past 4 days. In conjunction with a surfactant, it could be used to remove grease from your body! I don’t know about the trek, but I think I might have shed a pound or two after taking a nice, hot shower.
On that evening, we had some of the best time of the trek. We played some dumb charades. There is no point in describing a lot of inside jokes, but it suffices to say that Chuck’s giggles, Paddy’s vibrations (corrected for wind resistance), Mo’s imitating skills, my tendency to get frustrated when someone couldn’t guess the obvious, only fueling others to deliberately keep guessing wrong just to see my face, Arundhati’s SHUSHING, Pun’s complex concepts, SoBoD staying in Ananthapadmanabhaswamy pose throughout the evening and not acting a single movie, Mahesh’s sharp acting and Sriram’s sharp guessing (except Hindi words) stole the show. And Oh, Harshal’s list. The list that had truly wonderful movies like Murde ki Jaan Khatre mein, Jal Bin Machli Nritya Bin Bijli, Son of Hercules and Sone Ka Dil Lohe ka Haath to name a few. This is the most carefully curated collection of movies I had seen since my personal stash of audio cassettes (yes I belong to that era) that featured Raja Babu, Rakshak, Dalaal, Yeh Dillagi and Aao Pyar Karein. Any guesses into my age at this point might create a Bosskar’s constant (= Paddy’s constant/2).
We slept around 11 p.m., all charged up for the next leg – Pangarchula. Unfortunately, Grond decided not to risk his legs and stay back. So it’d be the nine of us for the next leg of the journey.