March 28, 2018, Nagni, Tirthan Valley, Kullu, Himachal Pradesh, India:
So there we were on the main road in Gahi-Dhaar. And when I looked at the concrete steps that led into the path towards the Choie Falls, I thought about turning back. After four decades of hiking and climbing mountains, the only thing I dread are steps. Give me a path, a trail, a goat trail, or even just a slope and I’ll climb my way up and down without a thought; but steps are a killer for my knees and every step up or down is excruciating pain and dramatically destabilises my knee.
After a split second of thinking, instinct kicked in and I started lifting one leg and then the other and was soon past the first series of steps and onto familiar earth. Five minutes of walking later, I was cursing myself again because up front was a fresh series of steps and when I got past those, there was another … the pain became unbearable, mainly triggered by the thought that the whole climb might be just steps.
Then I just stood for a moment and looked down into the valley and the river and a cool breeze soothed my very soul. A calm descended upon me and I focused my breathing and started climbing again. After a while, there were no more steps and though the gradient was steep, it was earth, rock and mud all the way and I got my rhythm back.
Hiking in the Himalayas, especially the lower Himalayas isn’t an easy job. The terrain is unpredictable, there is vegetation of all kind, there are steep inclines, steeper falls, natural barriers, and of course human intervention. Whether you are new to climbing or a veteran; whether you are young or old; whether you are local or city-bred… the rules are the same: you have to respect the trail and give it due attention. Locals have a great advantage in the sense that their lungs and limbs are acclimatised to the air and the rigour through childhood years.
But, it’s a climb. Just like life. And a climb has ups and downs and one has to walk through it all and most importantly: stay on the trail. By the way, do check out the Miley Cyrus song, The Climb. It’s in the zone.
The Choie Waterfall hike is a relatively pleasant hike, taking you constantly up, up through vegetation and fields and village houses on steep gradients and then down across boulder and rocky surfaces and then further down on tiny paths till suddenly you can hear the water and then see it. It took me approximately 2 hours from the steps at Gahi-Dhaar, and the distance is probably something like 3 kilometres (up and down, so say 1.5 km each way). You will see a sign way up on the trail and all along the way, it’s quite easy to go off track or get lost because there are a few other trails going other places. But that’s all part of hiking.
My knees were done in at several places along the hike but that has more to do with surgeries and natural wear and tear. Most young kids above 7-8 years and adults would be able to do this hike easily with some care and exertion. Why do I continue to hike and climb? Well, along the way, when I stand at a crest or spur or half way up a slope and look at all that’s around, it fills me up with so much strength and energy that it makes the effort all worth it. Just like life. Like the sight of a Rhodendron tree with flowers in bloom. That’s a relative rarity and one which gives you energy to last a few years. Just like life milestones.
But when I reached the Choie Waterfall, and made a beeline past people at the pool, straight to the foot of the waterfall to have a spray shower in the ice cold water, that’s what’s up and why I still hike and climb. It isn’t always advisable to go straight up to the foot of the waterfall since the rocks are jagged and slippery and the moss makes it even more so. This one was relatively low-risk so I had at it.