In July 2016, nine-and-a-half years old Upamanyu Mukherjee joined the Mountain Walker team on a trip to Kinnaur, Lahaul & Spiti, and took up the Chief Executive’s challenge to submit a report. He had one condition: If the report was fit for publication, he would earn the moniker “The Little Mountain Walker”. This is Upamanyu’s report on his 13-day journey including a 6-hour trek from Kunzum La to Chandratal Lake.
This July (my summer holidays), I went on a trip to Himachal Pradesh with my father and with Kaushal uncle. It started on 11th of July, when my dad and I packed our bags and got ready to leave from Pune. The next day, we met Kaushal uncle who came to pick us up. I said goodbye to my brothers and mother and set off for Mumbai.
First, we went to Thane, where we had to visit the Decathlon shop to pick up a few important equipment. At Decathlon, we met this girl who was riding an electro-scooter and she worked there! We learnt that her name is Sumona Banerji, she’s a dancer and she was working in Decathlon for a while, before she goes to college in the USA to learn Performing Arts. She’s 18 (same as my cousin sister, Mou) and when she learnt that we were going on a trek she told us about her recent trip to Mount Fuji in Japan with her dad! Sumona helped us get new binoculars, and high altitude sunglasses to protect our eyes. I realised my old binoculars can be fixed so I am going to give it to my younger brother.
From Thane, we went to Aureole, which is a hotel owned by one of my dad’s friends from when he was in college learning hotel management. I met him – his name is DK (Dharmesh Karmokar), and he’s a very cool person. He speaks English and Bengali and has a son my age who also likes football. DK uncle had planned that we would meet him and his son in the evening, but that didn’t happen, maybe next time. By the way, the rooms in his hotel have hammocks and a bath-tub in the middle of the room! We stayed for one day in Mumbai, and then next morning, we went to the Mumbai domestic airport to go to Chandigarh.
When we reached Chandigarh, we again went straight to the Chandigarh Decathlon and finally my dad got his mountain-climbing shoes; Wilson D’Souza at the Chandigarh Decathlon helped us – he had kept a pair of shoes since Chintu kaka had called to book it. He also has a very cool haircut. Then Parvinder uncle, our driver, drove us straight to Shimla. I was reading an Enid Blyton book and fell asleep in the car. In Shimla, we picked up Anshu bhaiya from Boileauganj. We had rice kheer and arvi-leaf pakodas in their house, and I was so hungry I ate many! Then we headed for Rampur and finally Jhakri – we started around 6 o’clock in the evening and reached the Guest House in Jhakri where we were to stay at midnight! There was a big grey spider in our room, and it climbed up the wall. I was worried about it so Anshu bhaiya climbed up on the chair and caught the spider in his hand, and took it outside and left him in the garden. Then, I could sleep!
The next morning, we started off early and went to Wangtoo, which I remembered from my last trip to Himachal with Kaushal uncle and Chintu kaka and Baba. On that trip my younger brother was also with us, and we had turned back from Wangtoo. But this time, we went ahead to Karcham, and then to Tapri where we stopped for breakfast. I had Milk and Aloo Paratha, but it wasn’t like the one my Mummy makes.
Parvinder uncle drove a long way, and we reached Rarang village in the Kinnaur district and we were going there to see a Buddhist Festival. I am not really sure what a district is. On the way we stopped at a waterfall that was really big and my father and I had a nice shower since the spray was so much!
There were so many people at Rarang for the festival – they were sitting on the ground, on steps, standing on top of roofs of houses! There were many dances where Buddhist monks had dressed up in costumes and I was thinking they must be feeling hot inside. After a while, everybody went down into the village to a Buddha temple where everybody was given lunch. We waited our turn and went inside and sat down with everybody. They gave us Dal and Rice, but the Dal was a mixture of Rajma, Paneer, Potato, Onions and normal Dal – it was a simple meal but it felt so good.
We explored the village and saw a new-born calf, who was hiding shyly behind his mother. Then we went back to the festival just in time to see the most famous dance that everyone was waiting for – the Dragon Dance. First, one dragon came and then another, and they were pulling people with their mouth, and biting them, and behaving like big mischievous dogs!
I was very tired and was happy when we started walking back to the car, and then I found an apricot that had fallen from a tree – I quickly picked it up and ate it before my Baba could say anything – it was yummy! This is something I can’t do in Pune, to eat fruit directly from off a tree.
From Rarang we went to Spilo but I don’t remember much about Spilo – it was very hot and dark, and I climbed up the hill with my bags to get to the guest house.
The next day, we had breakfast and set off for Nako. I did not want Aloo Paratha so I had bread and omelette. On the way to Nako, we stopped at a placed called Khab where the two rivers met – Satluj river and Spiti river. They came in a ‘V’ from different directions and then became Satluj river. Listening to Kaushal uncle and Anshu bhaiya, I realised that we were following the Satluj river till Khab. At Khab, I saw a tiny temple on the side of the road, and climbed down to it, but didn’t go in because the steps were very narrow, and i could have fallen right into the river, but I didn’t because I was careful.
Then Baba climbed up a small hill and I followed him up, and there we saw the Satluj river coming from big mountains … I intended to go to the big mountains but I didn’t because it led right to Tibet, so we didn’t go there of course. We went down to the road and into the car but this time we were going on the road following the Spiti river, not Satluj because Satluj led right to Tibet and we wanted to go to Nako.
When we reached Nako, we went to the Nako monastery, where I understood about the Buddhist Prayer Bells which should only be turned clockwise. Later, we went down another road through the village and it led us to Nako Lake, where we interviewed some children who were fishing. They said they were fishing for timepass and they catch the fish and put them back into the lake!
In the evening, we headed back to the guest house but on the way, we stopped to buy a Round Bowl (Anshu bhaiya said it is called the ‘Om’ bowl) and a wooden stick. You put the stick in the bowl and when you turn the stick around the bowl, there comes a sweet noise which continues on and on! I also bought some Turquoise stones and an old Trumpet-like instrument that I had seen at Rarang (but that was very very big) they had been playing it during prayers. At the guest house, I had coffee and I did some sketching whilst my dad (Baba) and Kaushal uncle and Anshu bhaiya spoke about work. I like their work – they travel in the mountains, going to very high and difficult places, and write about it, and take other people also.
The next morning I had a huge Aloo Paratha and milk straight from a Jersey cow! I don’t like malai, but this Jersey cow milk had cream, thick cream, which was yummy and not like the thin malai in normal milk. I had two glasses of milk!
After breakfast, we trekked up to the Big Prayer Wheel on the mountain. I had seen it yesterday and I wanted to go there, so all of us went up. I was so happy because when we reached the top, I spun the Big Prayer Wheel and rung it!
Later, we set off for Tabo. On the way Baba and Anshu bhaiya and Kaushal uncle clicked lots of photos like they always do for Mountain Walker. Before Tabo, we went to a village called Giue where there was a Mummy of a Buddhist monk. When we reached Tabo we had chowmein and then went to see the Tabo Monastery where we went into an underground temple and bought Buddhist scrolls and postcards.
The next morning we had a bath, had bread-omelette for breakfast and left for Kaza – I was waiting to get to Kaza because Kaushal uncle said I could have meat there. So far, we had been eating Rajma and Kadhi chawal. On the way, we visited Lalung Monastery. At this Monastery, there is only one Lama (monk), Tenzin Lama. He gave me a blessing and a white cloth full of Buddhist writings to protect me. He also made us green tea and told us a lot about The Buddha, his teachings, and other stuff. I was really happy to meet Tenzin Lama, I liked him a lot. He lives alone on that monastery on the hill. He stood on the hill and waved goodbye till we were out of sight and I was also waving back from the car.
Then we reached Kaza, and I had chicken curry and rice and got to watch TV! But after a while, I got bored and started reading my book.
The next day we went to Key Monastery and there I met a monk named Neema Lama who also gave me a blessing and another prayer white cloth. I thanked him and drank his special recipe – Butter Tea. I had never had butter tea before, it was pink in colour and very nice.
Later that day, we headed for Losar, and on the way we saw a really big field where Baba and I fought, but we soon enough said sorry to each other and went to Losar where we stayed the night.
The next day we left for Kunzum pass. I was excited because we were going to trek from Kunzum Pass, walking around the mountains all the way to Chandratal. It was a four hours trek but I did it. There were many slopes, uphill, downhill and some times I thought I would fall off but I didn’t of course. It was a lot of fun and along the way we were pulling eatables out of our pocket (Kaushal uncle had put kaju, kismis, badam, and chocolates into everyone’s pocket). Oh by the way we only stopped 4 times, 2 times to eat Aloo Paratha that Kaushal uncle had packed, and 2 times to drink water from the streams – the water was freezing cold but it was great to drink it.
After walking four hours, we reached some place, right above the camp where we would stay. So we asked a man called Kisang and he showed us the path which was very steep and going straight down. Kisang is a man who keeps the mountains clean and he made tea for us, and then we said goodbye and with Kaushal uncle I went down the very very very very very very very steep road. When we reached the road, we crossed a canal and went into camp. I was horrified when we reached because it was not like the camping tent I had been thinking of with only sleeping bags, but it was a luxury tent with a bed and a tiny toilet! But then I realised they had booked these tents because it is very cold, so cold that cold steam comes out of your nose!
We first had some tea and then started walking to the Lake. When we reached, the first thing I did was put my hurting feet into the water – but I took it out immediately because it was freezing, totally freezing cold!!
Then Anshu bhaiya and I started talking and after a while we walked along the lake. Kaushal uncle said he’d take a round of the lake, which was very big indeed, but he finished in 1 hour I think. In the meantime my father walked around on his own, whilst I and Anshu bhaiya sat on a hill and sketched.
Then we started walking back towards the camp; on the way we met this man named Dan from Manchester. He knew Manchester United! He has been cycling from there till Himachal Pradesh – isn’t that cool? He’s been to the whole of EUROPE, CHINA, and now he is cycling in India and he’s here in HIMACHAL PRADESH! We first saw him on a bridge eating a peanut butter sandwich and now here.
The next day we set off for Haripur near Manali. You know on this trip, we saw so many waterfalls on the road and they were so freaky, I felt scared I would slip but I also felt woohoo I’m alive. We jumped over four waterfalls you know and in most places we saw horses, sheep, goats, mules, and even saw yak as big as an SUV car!
On the way to Manali, we stopped at Rohtang Pass, where I had visited with Mumma and Baba when I was a baby and had played with snow! We also saw Himalayan Griffin vultures. Then we came to Haripur and stayed at LaRiSa hotel, where I started writing this report. I was so excited to be in LaRiSa – it’s huge, and they have mountain bikes, a swimming pool, non-veg food. We stayed there for three days and I spent the first evening just watching TV. The next two days I went biking, then swimming then biking again with Anshu bhaiya, tried to learn how to play pool, wrote my report, and biking again.
We are now in Radisson hotel in Chandigarh. You know I am very pleased my dad got me on this trip. It may not be how I was expecting it to be but it was really fun and I learnt a lot from the trip and I tried different foods which were nothing like what we eat at home. I also learned about Himachal Pradesh and about dishes I have in Pune but made differently, like aloo paratha. The first few days I did not like the taste, but I got used to it because I had to because I was hungry and that’s all there was in most places for breakfast and snack. I also tried Tibetan food like Mutton Thukpa, Tibetan bread with honey, Mutton Chowmein and local mountain mutton curry. Trying new food is tremendously exciting. Today for lunch I had interesting Punjabi Makki Roti (corn roti) with mah-ki-dal (black dal), ghee onion and rice. It is really really really very very very super super yummy yummy yummy! It all goes so well – the roti, ghee, the dal and rice.
Now at the end of my report, I was thinking about what I learnt on this trip. And I have learnt a lot:
- Not to make a fuss about anything when you are travelling
- How to walk properly and for long
- How to eat what’s given to you
- To stay without luxury
- Listen to your elders
- Listen to your guides
- Keep an open mind and listen to what another person says
- To not say no to other people’s ideas
- To behave
- To know how important writing is
- Not to argue for the sake of it
- Don’t fight with people much younger than you
- Listen to every monk’s blessing
- Spend time with mother nature
- To adjust when I am in new areas
- Not to demand things that aren’t possible
- Not to make expressions about other people’s food
- Listen to your mother and father
- To earn what you want
- That you can also learn from Youngers
I hope I can do more trips to the mountains and more treks in snow. I feel a bit jealous of Kaushal uncle since he climbed a snow mountain; While I was trekking from Kunzum Pass and waving to the snow-mountains across the river, I was thinking about Kaushal uncle who had climbed Mount Thelu. But that will be too cold for me, so I will do normal treks till I am a teenager!