The trek begins with a ride to Taluka from Sankri, where we spent the night before. Jeeps are the only mechanised mode of transportation between these two points. For the better part of the journey, there is no road, but that doesn’t stop the drivers from zipping along the perilous path. It’s insane how they zoom around hairpin curves without pausing. Taluka is smaller than Sankri, but it appears to be too modern to be classified as a village. Small shops with thatched roofs sold a variety of consumer goods—Maggi, soap bars, toffees—but no mineral water bottles. We heaved our rucksacks and began the real journey after a cup of tea.
Har Ki Dun Trekking began with a paved stretch of road. I recall it vividly because it gave me the (completely incorrect) impression that the rest of the journey would be similar to the first kilometre. But it wouldn’t have meant as much if it had been a trek on a paved path the entire way. It was as if the rocks that ached my soles at night had left an imprint on my mind as I gingerly walked over them.
After the first two or three hours, I had run out of energy. As a result, I don’t remember much of the scenery. We were surrounded by mountains on one side and a steep river valley on the other. You’d end up in the river if you slipped. The real question is whether you would drown or freeze to death, or if you would freeze and then drown.
On Day One, my emotional state was inextricably linked to the path we were walking on. I’d feel more at ease if the path ahead of me was clear. If it grew steeply, my frustration grew steeply, and I had an existential crisis.
But, ironically, the moment of reckoning came near the end of Day One, when we were very close to our destination-Seema. We’d been walking for six hours and our guest house was nowhere to be found. The sun had set beyond the mountains, and night was quickly approaching. Four of the nine people in our group had a significant advantage over the remaining five, including myself. We had a guide with us, the five of us.
In the dim light, he and I were leading the way. I couldn’t see more than ten metres ahead of me. Because the path was a little difficult, our guide left my side and returned to assist the others. Then I felt a wave of doubt wash over me. As I stood there, miles away from home, disoriented, completely reliant on the guide, as a blind person is reliant on his stick, I wondered what the hell I was doing here. I felt vulnerable, and all the horror stories about people getting lost in the woods flashed through my mind.
To make matters worse, I noticed a light bobbing up and down in the distance, becoming brighter by the second. I was certain it was the panther Sushant mentioned the night before. Among all the possibilities, it reminded me of a random clip I saw on NGC in which a lioness pounces on its prey even before it has stopped breathing. It’s strange how our minds work.
Fortunately, it wasn’t a man-eating panther. It was just a guy, which makes sense given that cats aren’t known to own torches.
When we arrived at Seema, we were greeted with hot tea and delectable pakoras. I decided not to go any further as we sat around the fire eating. I was broken in both body and spirit. My legs ached. My back ached. I had not anticipated the difficulty of this journey. It was extremely difficult! The ascent was difficult! The ice was treacherous! The cold was brutal!
A good night’s sleep is therapeutic. There are no sore feet. There is no backache. There will be no grumpy Adi. I felt so energized when I woke up that I was the first to shower. I walked out of the guest house and took in my first impressions of Seema.
Seema, I was told, was an outpost of a larger (relatively) village called Osla. It was just a collection of structures, our double-story yellow guest house being the largest. The cook informed me that a Shiv Mandir was nearby. He told me I could also go down to the stream. It didn’t have anything else. Nothing. Else. It was then that the light of realization dawned on me. What was I going to do for two freakin’ days while everyone else went to the top and came back?!
When the guys awoke and came down, their determination to continue grew even stronger. Six guys and the guide took on the task of brainwashing me while we sipped warm morning chai on the porch, according to Amandeep. And, as he later observed, it didn’t take long. I was struggling with a steep climb on my way to Har Ki Doon in about an hour!
The first few hours in Har Ki Doon were particularly enjoyable. I took my time walking down the well-worn path, taking in the scenery around me. The mountains were magnificent. They were devoid of forest cover because it was the dry month. The bareness added to their grandeur and gave the mountains the appearance of being dead, mummified. The river that ran through the valley was the polar opposite. You could hear it gush as it passed through rapids and small waterfalls, especially if the currents were strong. In contrast to the desolate mountains, it was lively, sounding young and energetic. (This is ironic given that Himalayan Rivers are geologically older than the mountains.)
My favorite part of Day Two, however, was the stretch across the flat plains. You wouldn’t have expected it all, especially since it was located right after a very steep climb. You’re standing at the bottom, and all you can see as you throw your neck back is boulders that are horribly angled. You ask the guide (twice) where the track is, and he finds your inquiries amusing. The climb depletes you, and you’re panting and sweating as you drag yourself across the last sliver of the stretch, realizing it was all worth it. Plains of lush green! You must be relieved! You haven’t seen the land this flat in two days!