Feature Story

“All Good Things Are Wild And Free”

Furious streams, nerve wracking boulder-bridge crossings, serene meadows, rock climbing in the company of lofty snow-clad mountains, and life! Human Resources professional, Isha Ray Samajpati, discovers the real-life colours of her childhood paintings on her maiden Pin Parvati Trek.

‘I swear to you, there are divine things more beautiful than words can tell’
– Walt Whitman (American poet, essayist, and journalist, 1819-1892)

Pin Parvati trek is a journey which cannot be described in words but can only be experienced. Considered one of the most difficult and challenging trekking trails in India, it normally takes 10-12 days to complete. We set out to accomplish this trek in just 7 days – an endurance feat – and the memories I made in these 7 days will always stay in my heart. Every single day we saw different terrain, different weather, different enthralling landscape, different flora fauna – I must admit that at the end it was an intriguing walk.

The first two days saw us starting from Barshaini (2174m) on to Khirganga (3100m) and then to Tundabhuj (3285m) through dense forests (with gradual ascent) – this was the part that I call “Me With Nature” walk. The trail involved walking across muddy patches, crossing small streams, regions with bright flowers shining like gold swaying in the soothing wind. I came across horses grazing on green, flocks of sheep guarded by Himalayan Gaddi dogs. I felt alive walking on those bright clear days, drizzling afternoons and foggy evenings. I will never forget the bon fire and cold weather while enjoying the moon playing hide n seek at night.

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Met this cute little happy-go-lucky boy on my way to Khirganga; Photo: Sonam Samajpati

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A walk to remember; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

On the third day we started from Tundabhuj to Odditach (3755m) via Thakur Kuan. The walk, which I thought to be easy initially, changed into a challenging rock-climbing endeavour. I have always been fascinated by rock climbing and wanted to try it – my wish was fulfilled on this day. The fear of slipping down and yet looking up to get a hand grip into the grooves of the rocks and putting the foot into the tight crimp kept me captivated throughout. The ecstasy of climbing rocks ended with a flock of sheep running into us on the mountain edge. It was funny, at the same it made us cautious too. After a brief game of who would give the passage to whom first with the flock, we reached the dangerous part of the trek – Pandu Pul.

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The bridge which I thought to be the great Pandu Pul… An honest mistake; Photo: Swarjit Samajpati

Pandu Pul is a pair of huge boulders (and I mean ‘huge’) over the Parvati river. Pandu Pul-1 was the first boulder to be crossed with a very very thin margin for foothold or any sort of grip. Accompanied by my inherent fear of heights, heart in my mouth and trust in my guide, the ordeal was soon over – conquering the fear was the biggest gift given by Pandu Pul. Pul No. 2 was comparatively easy of course after the experience of Pul-1, and every boulder looked comfortable! The rest of the walk and my day ended in the state of Euphoria.

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Oh Pandu Pul… I will never forget you! Photo: Swarjit Samajpati

The next day began with great zeal – we were to walk to the famed Maantalai (4107m). It was a walk through green pastures and moraines with the Parvati river flowing alongside. On reaching Maantalai I was surprised to see a Shiv Mandir at this high altitude. I took the blessings of Bholenath and continued to the campsite. The campsite near the Maantalai lake was breathtaking. It was a serene place surrounded by mountains on both the sides with glacial water flowing down forming the Parvati river.

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Jai Ho Bholenath! ; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

Early next morning, we left the stunning Maantalai lake campsite, and headed towards Parvati base camp (4516m). The walk comprised steady ascents through rocky patches and moraines. I had to concentrate and focus because of varying rock sizes ranging from powdery silt to small pebbles to large rocks and boulders. As I gained altitude the walk became more enjoyable. The enjoyment turned into delight, when it started snowing and the walk became more nostalgic – it took me back to the days of my stay in Manali and Shimla, where my Dad was posted. Every winter we had fun walking on the snow to reach the Mall Road to play video games and make ‘snowman’. My trip down memory lane got over after we reached the campsite amidst heavy snowfall and our dear weather God played his trick and made it all sunny again. After having hot soup and dinner early we slipped into our sleeping bags as early as 7 p.m. – we had to get up at 4 a.m. to reach the Parvati Pin Pass early so that we can walk easily on the firm snow before it starts melting.

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Oh I’m so High; Photo: Sonam Samajpati

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Challenging Myself; Photo: Swarjit Samajpati

Finally the day arrived when we were moving from Parvati base camp to Pin Pass at 5319 m, the climb I had been looking forward to since Day 1. We started at 6.30 a.m., a bit later than scheduled due to not so clear skies, and so we had to walk fast due to the changing weather conditions. The trek began with a steep moraine climb, which took me good hours, with constant reminders of sun and snow. The moment I stepped on the last of the moraines, I saw a sheet of snow waiting ahead. The thought of walking on snow slopes was exhilarating for me as it was the first time I would walk for so long on snow at such a high altitude.

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Rocky patches to soft snow… What a magical trip; Photo: Sonam Samajpati

With the sun blazing down, I realised within two steps that it wasn’t going to be smooth sailing here on. With each heavy step on the snow I kept on wondering how Swarjit did the Gangotri-3 expedition. Then I thought of how my father had walked from Stingiri to Manali? How do our soldiers manage to stay and work in Siachen? Salutations to all! Walking with sips of water with each step and being cautious about the thinning of the snow in the sun and avoiding skidding down, I reached the next part of the climb which was on glacier with hidden crevasses! Crossing over the crevasses within the rock fall area was indeed a chilling experience and then came the last hard climb to the Pin Pass. Grappling with varied thoughts in my mind, finally my tired body reached the top.

And the view at the Pin Pass made me realise that nothing comes easy in life. If you want something, you have to strive for it and once you achieve it, the feeling is invaluable. My mind and my body was rejuvenated within a moment of seeing the serene beauty of the mountains – a feeling that is best felt and beyond expressions. After staying at the top for 10-15 mins with strong cold wind piercing into our bones (but we had a great sense of joy), we started descending to our camp. The descent was through the avalanche prone area followed by slippery muddy spots to moraines. Later I came across the most nerve wracking river crossing of the trek, where each rock was submerged into water as river was flowing in its full fury under the late afternoon sun. I could not dare to keep a single step on the rock as it was slippery and then it was Swarjit who crossed the stream first showing the path for crossing for rest of us who were following. After I crossed that most furious stream, I gathered my composure and reached the campsite which was relatively warm and dry as compared to the previous day – after all we were now in Spiti.

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Cheers to us at Pin Parvati Pass; Photo: Abhishek Kaushal

My last day of the walk (the others called it my “Dandi March”) was the most comforting walk from Vickurung Thach (4516m) to Mudh (4111m) via Tiya with mesmerising views of the barren Spiti mountains. With each colourful mountain walking alongside, the walk took me to my childhood days when I used to paint mountains with a blend of imaginary colours. To see those colours in reality, made the child in me happy, thank you holy nature! Thank you for showing me that no matter which colour you belong to, your essence remains unchanged. With picturesque mountains etched in my mind, the 10 hours of nonstop walk with minimal ascent on easy trails in gentle wind, the rest of the difficult journey became all the more unforgettable.

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Thank you Mother Nature…!!! ; Photo: Sonam Samajpati

Being a beach lover who adores walking on sand, it was quite an experience for me – walking on steep climbs that require good breathing rhythm, balancing steps in moraines, adventurous rock climbing (which I treasured the most), the nerve-wracking Pandu Pul, cautious treading over glaciers with hidden crevasses, it has been quite a revelation for me. Every day’s walk in nature with amazing scenic beauty of the ice clad mountains, the freshness in the air, the peace, the enchanting small and big streams emerging out of mountains, the sunshine, the roaring sound of the flowing river makes me feel that all good things are wild and free.

“Although I deeply love oceans, deserts, and other wild landscapes, it is only mountains that beckon me with that sort of painful magnetic pull to walk deeper and deeper into their beauty.”
– Victoria Erickson (American Writer, Author of Edge of Wonder)

Waiting for the next Mountain Call.