Himalayas .. the name brings images of snow capped peaks to your mind. For every trekker, Himalaya is a dream destination. Ever since I started trekking, I wanted to visit, and trek in the Himalaya.
Sharing with you the memories from my first trek in the north.
How it all started:
Summer of 2007 .. I was planning a trek to the Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahib. All details had been chalked out, and I was all set and ready to go! Since this was to be my first ever trek up north, I decided to play safe and go along with some experienced trekking group… and decided to register with Youth Hostels.
The only catch was to go to the YH office and register for the trek. Well, that proved to be the biggest road block .. A bit of laziness came in the way, and I missed the opportunity to visit the VOF.
One opportunity lost.. I just had to make up for the lost chance, I just had to trek up north, in the Himalaya.
Around September 07, the winter trek schedules were put up on the site, and this time I decided, whatever happens, I’m joining one of their treks. Checked with some friends, if they were interested in joining. Two friends (my ex-colleagues) agreed. And thus began another round of googling and dreaming.
Dalhousie, supposed to be one of the easiest treks offered by YH. That was shortlisted to be our first Himalayan trek! Once the trekking destination was selected, we had to register ourselves for the trek. This time, it was a bit easier as there was an option for online registration! Ah, good news for lazy people like me 🙂
The travel plan :
We opted to register online, instead of visiting the office. The registration process was a piece of cake. Registrations done, we had to plan how we’d reach the base camp, Dalhousie. That too wasn’t much of a hassle, as the website had mentioned different routes by which one can reach the base camp at Dalhousie.
We had planned to take a direct train to Chakki Bank, which is the nearest railway station, and had already looked up trains that would take us from Mumbai to Chakki Bank. Our travel plan took a slight deviation, and we reached Chakki Bank in two stages. First we travelled from Mumbai to Delhi, and then Delhi to Chakki Bank.
Dreams unlimited ….
By mid October, every thing trek related was done.. Trek registration – check, Ticket booking – check, Information gathering – check, Dreaming – CHECK!
A Bit about the trek …
This is a 6 day trek, which include 3 days of trekking, one for acclimitization, one each for reporting and sign off formalities.
And finally, the D Day:
24 December 2007, the D day! The day of our journey to Delhi. A friend and me, travelled to Delhi, by Rajdhani. The journey was uneventful, except for a snoring co-passenger. Reached Delhi on Christmas morning, 25 December 07. Spent the day in Delhi, doing the usual touristy things … visited the India Gate, Qutab Minar etc.
Our next stage of the journey, Delhi to Chakki Bank, was a night train. After a short sight seeing drive, we rested for some time at our friends place. Soon it was time for us to leave for the railway station, for our train to Chakki Bank. The train was about 2 hours late, not surprising, as it was winter, and 99% of the north bound trains are late, due to fog.
The journey from Delhi to Chakki Bank wasn’t as uneventful as the one from Mumbai to Delhi. Here, we had a couple and their brat for company. The kid kept wailing all night.
Reporting Day : 26 December 2007, We reached Chakki Bank in the morning, around 8 am, It seemed like the town was still fast asleep. One of tha advantages of living in the countryside.. an idyllic life. A much needed, refreshing cup of tea at the tea stall on the platform, and we were off. We stepped out of the station, and realised that buses to Dalhousie start from the ISBT (Inter state bus terminal) located at Pathankot, which is about 15-20 minutes from Chakki Bank. There are plenty of tum-tums (also called “Dukkar” ..atleast that’s what they are called here in Maharashtra), outside the station. These 6 seater vehicles charge Rs. 5 per person for the short trip. The 6 seater is crammed to the capacity and is converted to a 12 seater. At the bus terminal, we found that a bus to Dalhousie was just about to leave in 15 minutes, and the next one would be after an hour. We decided to board the first bus. On the way to Dalhousie, we got the first glimpse of snow. I was super excited, as this was the first time I was seeing it “live”!! An hour and half later, we were in Dalhousie.. Our destination, the base camp for the trek! We were finally there. 2 months of dreaming, and there we were. In Dalhousie.
Youth hostel Dalhousie is a short walk from Dalhousie bus stand. We inquired about the place at a shop at the bus stand, and were directed to the hostel.
The first thing that struck me here was the time table. A white board was displayed at the entrance of the hostel, which showed the things we were supposed to do over the next 6 days!
The very idea of time tables freaks me out. But here, on a trek, it was the most sensible thing to do. It’s always better to be paranoid and disciplined, in unfamiliar territory, atleast.
After completing the reporting formalities, and lunch, we decided to rest for a while. Shortly, we were joined by a big group of around 10-12 people, from Mumbai. While filling up the reporting forms, we realised that we hadn’t got the two most important things required for this trek, Plate and ad mug!After a brief rest, we walked up to the market to buy the stuff.
There was a short introduction session in the evening, where we were told about the trek, and the things to do, or rather things not to do. They emphasised more on the do-not list. There had been accidents in the previous batches, where some over enthusiastic trekkers had slipped over the ice, and had suffered fractures. During this introduction/information session, we were asked to nominate a trek leader and an environment leader from amongst us. An environment leader is some one who would take care not to leave behind any garbage, or plastic bags etc. In short, some one who would ensure this would be a pollution free, eco friendly trek.
Introductions over, it was time for camp fire. This wasn’t the usual “campfire”. YH discourages burning of fire wood, so our campfire was a candle, lit by a senior member of the group. A short session of singing, and jokes, and it was time for lights off. We had a long day ahead.
Acclimitization : 27 December 2007, Since this place is at a height of 6411 ft above sea level, it is very important to get acclimitized to the high altitude, and rarefied air before starting any trek. We were up at 5 in the morning, and were taken for a jog. We jogged through the streets of Dalhousie, and reached a chowk. Here we did some basic stretching exercises. After exercises, we all were feeling a bit breathless. We stopped at the chowk for some time, to watch the sunrise. It was one of the most beautiful sights. I had not taken my camera with me, so couldn’t capture the beautiful moment. Back to the hostel for breakfast. After breakfast, we had to take our rucksacks, with two 1 litre bottles filled with water, and a blanket, for an acclimitization walk.
Acclimitization walk : We walked around Dalhousie, stopping plenty of times for photos, or just to admire the scenery. We saw some interesting places like, Sat Dhara (the place where Netaji Subash Chandra Bose stayed), and the samadhi of Shaheed Ajit Singh.
Day 2 also ended with the campfire.
The real excitement was to begin from day 3.
Dalhousie to Kalatop : 28 December 2007, The actual trek started on Day 3. We gathered on the youth hostel ground, after breakfast. We were told about the do’s and dont’s again. After a short send off speech, we were off. We were given a proper YH style send off, which is two short claps, followed by 3 claps. Each participant was given a packet, containing biscuits, and chocolates. and packed lunch for the day.
Our trek route was,
Dalhousie -> Kalatop -> Khajjiar -> Chamba -> Dalhousie.
This is one of the easiest YH treks.. actually, all treks are organised in such a way that anyone with a moderate level of fitness can take part.
So, we started from Dalhousie on the morning of 28th December. It was cold, but by now every one had got used to the cold weather. The sun was up, when we started, but there was a chill in the air. After trekking for some time, we reached Lakkarmandi, where we took a much needed break for tea, and snacks.
The real high point of the trek started from this point… Snow. It had snowed at night probably. We could see snow on the road, on the mountains, every where. There was snow as far as the eyes could see. From here to the place where we had lunch, Ahla, we trudged through the snow, slipping and falling many times. It didn’t matter for most of the group,including me, because this was our first snow experience.
After a short break for lunch, we started again. We had to reach Kalatop before sunset, and sunset in these parts during winter means 5:30 pm, and it gets pitch dark by 6:00.
At Kalatop too, we followed the same routine that we had followed on the previous two days at Dalhousie. That is, snacks and tea in the evening, followed by soup and dinner. A small campfire, and end the day with a ‘milo’.
Kalatop to Khajjiar : 29 December 2007, We woke up at 5:00 in the morning, for tea. Todays trek to Khajjiar was the longest in terms of distance covered, and the trail passed through a forest. After breakfast, we collected our lunch for the day, we started Trek day 2 to Khajjiar. The trail takes us through a scenic forest. The first part of the trail was relatively easy as it involved going downhill. The next part was a bit tough, as it involved a bit of a steep climb. We took a short break to recharge ourselves. Some locals had put up food stalls along the trek route, and they served hot tea, omlettes and maggi to the trekkers. I must mention here that I never enjoyed eating maggi at home, but here, in the freezing cold, the piping hot maggie was the best thing I’ve ever eaten!
After a long tiring trek we finally reached Khajjiar, also called “Mini Switzerland“. The temperature here wasn’t as low as at Kalatop. There is a huge, or rather enormous open ground at Khajjiar, where tourists can enjoy horse rides, zorbing, etc. Basically, its a very commercialised place, plenty of tourists around.
Khajjiar to Chamba : 30 December 2007, Last day of the trek. This was a slightly boring day, it didn’t involve any climbing, or walking through forest trails, and there wasn’t any chance of getting snow on the way. The trail moved through beautiful villages, before we reached Chamba town. The last one hour was walking on proper tar road!
We reached Chamba sometime in the afternoon. That was the official end of the trek. We had to go back to the base camp at Dalhousie to collect our participant certificates and also to collect our bags. We had taken only the essential things with us, and kept most of our belongings at the base camp.
Since we had the entire evening free, we decided to visit Chamba town, and its main attractions, namely, Chamunda Devi Temple and the museum.
Back to Dalhousie : 31 December 2007, We were transported back to the base camp at Dalhousie. It is a short bus ride, about an hour. On the way we did stop for some photographs.
At the base camp, we collected our belongings, and our certificates. And soon it was time to say good bye.
In the past 5 days, the group had gone from being total strangers to good friends. After exchanging phone numbers, and email id’s, we set off to our respective destinations.
We took a bus from Dalhousie to Pathankot, and then the group dispersed. Since it was new years eve, some decided to stay back. Others visited the Wagah border, and Golden Temple at Amritsar. Every one had their own plans for welcoming the new year. Mine was spent in the train. I dozed off the moment I settled in my seat. So, I missed the midnight madness!
I had to rush back to Mumbai, back to reality, to pollution, and crowd. We reached Delhi at about 4:00 in the morning on new years day. After an hour’s rest, and a delicious breakfast, we started for the airport, only to realise the flights were delayed due to fog.
Reached Mumbai in the evening, with memories that will last a lifetime.
It’s been more than a year since the trek, but I can remember the details like it happened just a few days ago.
A few pointers, some observations from the trek:
From Mumbai, you can opt for a direct train to Chakki Bank, or travel in 2 stages like we did. Swaraj express has a halt at Chakki Bank.
From Chakki Bank, you would need to go to the Bus terminal at Pathankot. There are plenty of tum-tums available outside Chakki Bank railway station, or you could hire an exclusive auto-rikshaw for yourself.
New Delhi is an important airport, well connected to all major cities in India. From New Delhi, one has to take a train to Pathankot, or Chakki Bank.
Bus to Dalhousie:
While travelling from Pathankot to Dalhousie, try to get a window seat, for the wonderful views.
Though this isn’t a tough trek, taking precautions and some basic common sense helps. Since the walking is at a high altitude, people do feel breathless, and tire out easily. It helps to walk at a slower pace, and also take frequent breaks. This isn’t a race, walk at an easy pace, enjoy the scenery, click plenty of photos
It is useful to keep lozenges, chocolates handy. Have plenty of water, even if its cold, you tend to get dehydrated. There are plenty of tea and food stalls along the trek route.
Camphor too helps in easing breathlessness. Keep a piece of camphor in your pocket or somewhere in your backpack, where you can reach out and get it easily.
Do not treat the mountain like a dust bin. Keep chocolate wrappers, plastic bags etc with you and dispose off at the next camp.
Respect nature, and nature will leave you alone!