Mountain Walking

Mirror Mirror on the Wall, Will I Make it Through the Walk

“It’s important that you – and not your bag – do the trek. So let go of the bag and walk without it when you can’t carry it any longer; for there will be other means to take care of your bag.” – This mantra from The Mountain Walker CEO, Abhishek, has had a great impact on me, and is always top of my mind when I set off on a walk or trek these days.

The Mountain Walker had planned a Pin Parvati Trek for September 2016. During the preparatory hikes to Serolsar Lake and Raghupur Gadh, Abhishek prepped me about the detailed nuances of climbing, walking, breathing, endurance, nutrition, etc. (I had been struggling on the walks and hikes). A week before the planned start, it became clear that the Pin Parvati trek couldn’t be undertaken due to inclement weather. Right then, an alternative was discussed and we decided to do the Bhabha Pin Valley trek. The plan was confirmed at 9.30 p.m. on 23rd September.

That night I dreamt about climbing difficult mountains – it was a very troubled sleep. For me, it was like a rebirth; born and brought up in Shimla, I had hiked and walked and explored extensively but on day-trips or drives-cum-hikes. This would be my first long-distance, high-altitude trek at the ripe age of 34. Now that the moment was here, all the guidelines and motivating speeches from the previous weeks simply evaporated into thin air. And I felt scared – scared of the unknown, unsure of my endurance, doubtful of my capabilities.

We now had just one day to complete our preparations, so we focused on packing our rucksacks. We were to meet our guide, Prem Chand Negi, in Kafnu the next day. We thought of various ways of reaching Kafnu and after hours of deliberation, eventually decided to take an early morning cab to Rampur and then take the noon bus to Kafnu. That night I slept comparatively better and as a result I woke up fresh and excited at 5:30 on the morning of the 25th. We were on the road at 7:15 a.m. and I soaked in the regular sights on our way out of Shimla. It was a crisp, clear day and right from the moment we reached Charabara till we reached Matiyana, I was busy admiring the different views and sides of Shaali Tibba.

We ate Aloo Paratha with butter and curd at our regular Negi Dhaba in Narkanda, and after a warm cup of coffee and picking up essentials for the trek, we took off again. I slept for a while on the way down from Narkanda to Rampur and although we were initially running behind schedule, we safely reached the New Bus Stand of Rampur by 11:20 am.

Abhishek immediately went to enquire about the bus to Kafnu, while I made a few quick calls to family. Abhishek returned to inform me that the Himachal Road Transport Corporation (HRTC) enquiry told him that we would have to take a bus till Wangtoo and then take another bus for Kafnu. While I was listening to this update, I suddenly saw a small bus come in, and from the corner of my eye, I saw Kafnu written on the destination board. I immediately ran towards the bus and spoke to the driver, who informed me that the bus would leave at 11:45 am. We quickly boarded the bus, kept our bags on the seat as a mark of reservation, and got down to have a quick cup of tea.

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The bus from Rampur to Kafnu; Photo: Ameen Shaikh

I called up Mr. Negi to inform him that we had reached Rampur and had boarded the Kafnu bus. He told me that his daughter was in the same bus as us, and that he himself would join us from Jeori where he had come to pick up some vegetables and other groceries. And while I was speaking to him, his daughter approached us to check if we were the ones who were to meet Mr. Negi. After an affirmative nod and exchanging a few pleasantries with Mr. Negi’s daughter, we felt assured that we were with known people. We then got onto to the bus and sat down on our seats in the middle of the bus. I saw that the front two seats were empty and considering we would get good views of the road ahead, we shifted to those seats. Within 10 minutes, we realised how cramped those seats were, but there was nothing to be done as the rest of the bus had quickly filled up. And to our surprise, even the driver and conductor of the bus were aware about us and this further made us feel totally relaxed and peaceful.

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Important information about the area we were going into; Photo: Ameen Shaikh

Everyone told us that we would reach Kafnu by 4:30 p.m. and our natural assumption was that this would include a quick stop for lunch; however, the lunch stop at Jeori was almost 45 minutes, during which time we met Mr. Negi and all of us had lunch. After yet another 20 minute stop at Bhabhanagar and then the steep climb over mountain roads full of hairpin bends, we reached Kafnu at the designated time.

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Yangpa village with its monastery; Photo: Ameen Shaikh

Soon, we were on our way to Negi Ji’s homestay “Tari Khango Homestay”. A quick 10 minute walk and we were warmly welcomed by Negi Ji’s younger son Gaurav. As we settled in with beautiful views of Yangpa village across the Bhabha Khud, we were informed about a marvellous spread for dinner. And with that, we started enjoying a beautiful evening in Kafnu.

We woke up next morning to a warm glass of tea and saw preparations in place for the trek. Negi Ji informed us that the horses for carrying the loads should arrive by 10:00 am and we would be able to start. This prompted us to get ready at the earliest, but providence had other plans. While Abhishek bathed in lukewarm water, power went off by the time I was to bathe. The easy going demeanour of everyone in the house gave me indications that the horses wouldn’t arrive on time and we wouldn’t start the trek today. So I relaxed for a while and soon enough, Negi Ji told us that if the horses didn’t come by 10:00, we will start the trek the next day as the horses might come by afternoon or evening. This totally changed our mode of operation, as we went from fully active to massively laid back passive. I got warm water for bathing and after a sumptuous breakfast, we just sat back to enjoy the day and recharge our mental and physical batteries for the 5 days that lay ahead.

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Trying to gauge how far Mulling lay into the mountains beyond; Photo: Ameen Shaikh

We had read online about this trek and most people worried about the 3000 feet of altitude that had to be climbed on the first day. We asked Negi Ji about it and he showed us the direction in which our first camp, Mulling, lay. It didn’t look too high, neither did it look too far. This eased me a lot as the mental picture of the trek that had been haunting me for the past few days, was replaced by the actual sight of the places.

We enjoyed another great lunch and after yet another round of lazing around, we finally went out with Gaurav to visit Negi Ji’s orchards. After this, we came back to the house and prepared for another evening of engaging conversations. During the course of the evening, Negi Ji gave us some interesting information – Wangtoo was opened to foreigners in 1992 and apparently, Negi Ji himself was the one who had brought the first international group to this area. Earlier, permits had to be taken from Rampur to come into Kinnaur, and people from the village had to take permission from Gram Pradhan to go down to Wangtoo and Rampur.

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The road and Bhabha Khud flowing down towards Wangtoo along beautiful villages; Photo: Ameen Shaikh

The Bhabha Pass route is an old trade route and was used by people from Spiti to come into Kinnaur and go ahead to Rampur. Cattle and goats used to traverse in either direction as soon as snow would start receding. And since Kafnu also gets pretty heavy snow, the villagers normally keep six months of stock always ready, comprising grass fodder for cattle, wood, cereal, etc. 

By now, I was used to the weather, the mountain paths, pace of life in the village, and with all the information and history I was gathering through the conversations, I felt I belonged. Spending time in and around a mountain destination and getting to know the people, the history and the aspirations of the residents is an important part of acclimatisation… and also in getting to know your own self.

We had a great dinner later that evening and Negi Ji informed us that we would start the trek the next day, irrespective of whether the pack animals arrived or not. He had arranged for an extra porter as a contingency. And so we crashed out early, eagerly looking forward to the next day, for if one idles too long in the wait of something challenging to do, the mind starts playing games, the body relaxes too much and laziness creeps in.

As I faded into sleep, a thought brought a smile to my face: I was ready.

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