…Aaaaaaaaand We’re Off!

April 21, 2011

Mrini woke up today and said, “We’re going to Himalayas today!”

They’ve been counting the days since the last two weeks or so. Well, truth be told, so have we.

We finally seem to have got everything done. I went to bed a little after 10.30 last night and when I woke up this morning, everything was squashed into three big backpacks and various small carry on bags. The carry on bags are a motley crew – a cloth shoulder bag for snacks like biscuits and things; a plastic bag for the kids’ toilet seat which Amit insists will be useful in Delhi; a large camera bag which, quite apart from a camera body and two lenses houses and assortment of things including spare underwear for the kids, books for the kids, a headlamp for Ballu, my precious Maglite (yes, the same one), spare batteries, and other stuff; and a pair of walking sticks which is too inconvenient to pack anywhere.

Oh and a formal strolley which has all the decent clothes we will need for our brief social stopover in Delhi on the way back. When you are travelling with two kids, you can completely forget about those wonderful words, travelling light. Light? Our luggage probably weighs more than I do! It would merit a whole extra seat on the plane, if it were a passenger. (And it would be much more inconvenient to accommodate.)

I have remembered to pack toothbrushes, rubber bands for the kids’ ponytails, and a comb. I don’t know yet what I have forgotten to pack, but I’m sure I’ll find out at some crucial juncture.

So we’re off, folks! Hopefully we will make it back in due course – in which case, you can expect several lengthy posts about all that happened and didn’t. Check this space in early May.

Three Days to Takeoff

April 18, 2011

So I got last week’s prediction half right. We did fight over how many backpacks we needed and we did drive down to Decathlon again (on Saturday, though, not on Sunday) to buy one, which we are (or rather, my better half is) now in the process of trying to make redundant.

We also got the kids raincoats, caps, gloves, and socks – all of which are fairly crucial and which we hadn’t managed to accomplish earlier. The gloves are for eight-year-olds, so they look a little ridiculous right now, but who cares? They will last a few years before the girls outgrow them, so that’s good.  The raincoats are even more ridiculous – the sleeves are at least double (maybe three times) the appropriate length, but who cares? They will keep them dry, if required, so that’s good enough. The socks appear to be knee-length, but that’s good, because their warm trousers belong to two years ago and are probably also only knee length by now. 😀 Ok, so the kids are going to look a little clownish. As long as they are warm and dry, who cares?

We haven’t completed organizing our medical supplies yet – we still need Crocin and other things. And of course we haven’t completed our packing yet – far from it. But we have assembled 90% of the stuff we need and thrown it in a jumble on the king-sized bed in the study. The bed has been covered with stuff we need ever since last weekend, though. It is still covered several inches deep. The disconcerting thing is that we have actually stuffed sleeping bags, sleeping mats, three-person tent, and loads of woolen clothes into the better part of four backpacks – and we don’t seem to have made a big dent in the mountain of stuff still covering the bed.

Regardless, after we’d finished buying all the other stuff, we went and stocked up on snacks yesterday evening. We even managed to get a good number of things that I can eat – so now life’s looking up.

Another thing that I didn’t foresee last week was that in all this melee, we’d actually have to have two lunches out. Yippee! Less cooking for me. Between 9.30 a.m. on Saturday and 5.30 p.m. on Sunday, I had a cooking holiday. I made up for it (grudgingly) by churning out two kinds of chicken on Sunday evening and doing the dosa-and-roti-and-rice routine this morning, but still – a cooking holiday is a cooking holiday and not to be sneezed at in my reckoning.

All in all, a good weekend. Nothing beats the excitement of an upcoming holiday, especially when that holiday is a trek, and especially when there are two under-fives involved. The photo in the previous post says it all. Of course, the person behind the camera should have been in the picture as well, but since he isn’t, just extrapolate the expression on three faces to the fourth face and then you’ll have the full picture.

You May Be Right – I May Be Crazy

April 8, 2011

…but that’s ok with me. It’s not such a bad thing, being a little bit crazy. Especially if one is crazy about the right thing.

In this particular instance, it is about trekking.

Most people know us well enough not to bother calling us crazy if they hear that we’re going off on another trek. But when they hear that our soon-to-be-five year old daughters are coming along on their first Himalayan trek ever, eyebrows (at the very least) do tend to go up.

Maybe it is a little bit crazy. But it’s probably not as crazy as you think. First, this is only a short trek – two days up, one day at the top, and two days down. Of course, we also spend two days getting there and two days getting back, but that’s on wheels, rails, and wings, so that (probably) doesn’t count as crazy. The altitude is not all that high. We start at about 6,000 ft, and the highest point is a little under 12,000 ft. The walking itself is only 5 days, one of which is a rest day. Also, on most days we won’t have to tent because there are lodges all along this route. Only on one night, we didn’t get a reservation at the lodge, so we might end up tenting for just one night. So it’s not all that crazy, see?

Of course, there’s the small matter of walking 13 km per day. And gaining 5,000 ft in two days. Are you asking me if the kids can do that? I haven’t the slightest idea – I don’t even know if I can do that. After all, it’s been four years since my last trek. This might come as something of a shock to you (especially if you’ve read my book; have you?) but I’m actually very scared of trekking. I mean, I get scared while trekking – when the dry, slippery pebbles start sliding under foot, I get terrified. I also get phobic about steep slopes and narrow paths. And heights. And descents. And boulders. And whatever else you can think of. It took me lots of practice to get my various fears under control, but now it’s been a gap of four years and I have no idea how much I might have regressed.

Of course I should be doing something to prepare. I should be working on my leg muscles. I should be improving my cardio-vascular fitness. I’m not really doing anything. I’m going to be in so much trouble. And, on top of everything else, I’m going to starve! Because I can’t eat most of the emergency food that we carry – biscuits, cake, bread, Maggi – and my lactose intolerance is also at its most intolerant in the mountains, so I can’t even have coffee, or even a good dose of ghee in my khichadi – not unless I want to risk diarrhea, which is not the best thing to have when on a trek.

And then I have to worry about the kids. I honestly have no idea if they will take to it – the whole wilderness experience. Will they enjoy doing nothing but walking the whole day long? They love to talk and they love to get the undiluted attention of their parents and they are very active all day long. At least I can be sure they won’t miss TV or battery-operated toys (they don’t have any). But will they enjoy the walk? How much will they be able to walk? Will they last the entire trek or will we have to abort after day 1? Will they be enthralled by the views and the sheer novelty of being in the mountains? Or will they start whining “I’m bored; I’m hungry; I’m tired; you carry me…” within the first 20 minutes and keep it up the whole damn day?

If they do get tired, will they agree to be carried? By a porter? In a sack? Will they (horrors!) both want to hang on to my hand and walk – on a narrow, slippery path with a steep fall on one side???

Worse still, what if I get petrified along the way and one of the kids has to come and hold my hand and pull me along? What kind of role model is that?

Sigh. Problems, problems…

But at least we are going back to the mountains. At one point, I doubted I ever would. If this works… there could be so much more to look forward to in the coming years. 🙂

I Don’t Think I Like This

July 12, 2010

Amit is off to the mountains again. For a trek. For three weeks.

I shouldn’t grudge him this. When we decided to have kids, I knew I would have to give up travelling. I knew I’d have to give it up for several years, at least, and after that, if we did return to it, it would be very, very different. So I did all I could before the kids came. I took a three-month break from work and spent it in the mountains. That was in 2005; and after that, our treks in 2006 and 2007 were an unhappy bonus, granted to me by the same Fate that denied me the babies I wanted to have. But at last, in 2007, our babies came home and we started on a new journey called parenting.

At that time, I was resigned to giving up travel the way we knew it then. Because, after a while and a lot of miles, you begin to feel like a marble rattling around in a tin can. I had realized that if it is a family you want, then travelling, no matter how much fun it might be, is not a substitute. The more I tried to relish the freedom of travel, the more I wanted, paradoxically, something that would tie me down, something to go home to, something to dedicate myself to for practically the rest of my life. Irritating, but true – you can have too much of a good thing.

We’ve travelled a bit after the kids came. According to Amit, we could have done a lot more, and a lot more adventurously, but I don’t agree. Travelling, the way we like to is such a selfish activity. It’s all about our own enjoyment – and there’s nothing wrong with that, but when you begin to drag two little girls around and subject them to significant inconveniences and discomforts, when they’d much rather be playing or sleeping in their own home… it all seemed more than a little unfair to me.

So we go with them to more safe and sanitized places than we used to. Of course, Binsar and Lakshadweep might not be everybody’s idea of a safe and sanitized vacation – nor Devbagh and Cauvery Fishing Camp (Doddamakkali), come to think of it; especially when you consider that two of these four places don’t have electricity and all of them don’t have a reliable doctor anything less than two hours away… but I agree that we didn’t do anything really adventurous, like going off for a trek in the Himalayas or heading for, say, Tibet or Outer Mongolia (both being way up there on the list of places to visit next).

I always knew I’d give up travelling with a pang of regret, but I’d give it up nevertheless. The problem with travelling is, to do it properly you have to make a job, even a career out of it. Vacations are just not enough. One or two weeks – or even one or two months – of travel each year does not make up for the rest of one’s life. Those who’ve been reading this blog for a while know that parenting was not something that came quickly or easily to me. The decision was slow in the making, and even slower in coming to life. It was definitely not something that just happened to me – I had to go out of my way – far out of my way – to make it happen. So by the time it happened, I was sure of one thing if nothing else – I really wanted to do this. Even if it meant giving up the joys of rattling around like a marble in a tin can.

Amit always maintained that even when we had kids, we should travel. At any rate, he said, when I expressed my reservations, he would travel. I had no objection – I privately thought that when push came to shove, he might not want to. As it turned out, what he wanted was for all of us to travel together, but without making any significant change to our rough-and-ready, backpack style of travel. He didn’t think much of my objections to how the kids would handle it. He thinks of travelling more as a broadening of horizons and perspectives, even educational in value, and less as a selfish indulgence. In his book, travel is good for the soul. The kids, he said, would love it. I remained stubbornly unconvinced for the most part.

He surprised me recently by acknowledging (spontaneously, albeit reluctantly) that the kids were not really of an age yet to go trekking with us; but he assesses their tolerance of discomfort at a much higher level than I do.

In any case, Amit never attempted to give up travelling. He would have to travel for work, of course, when occasion required, but he steadfastly maintained that he would continue to travel for pleasure as well. And he would do his best to make me come along, kids in tow. When the kids were not even two years old, in a moment of madness, he persuaded me that it was not such a bad idea to take them on a flight to Leh. Thankfully, the flight got cancelled, so we never had to put this crazy venture to the test. We took them to Chandigarh and Kasauli instead, where they got sicker than they have ever been before or since. (If you really want the gory details, read this.)

Last year Amit called off his trip to the mountain for unspecified reasons, so this year he was long overdue for a trek. My going was out of the question, of course – I have very little leave. So he planned to go on his own. He had no enthusiasm for it, though. It’s been a whole year since he went anywhere for business or pleasure and he’s not used to going away any more. He misses the kids even when he spends an evening away from home, so the prospect of three weeks seems like eternity. It’s worse now that the kids are old enough to understand and express things. We’ve been talking to them about Amit’s upcoming absence, of course, and told them where he’s going and what he’s going to do. We showed them Amit’s tent and sleeping bag, and showed them plenty of pictures of a previous trek in Ladakh.

On Sunday afternoon, Tara woke up from her afternoon nap, came to me, snuggled into my lap, and asked in a small, wistful voice, “Ladakh is very far away?” It almost brought tears to my eyes – and I’m not even the one who’s going away! Mrini wanted to know, in a more matter-of-fact way, whether I was going as well, and if so, what would she do, where would she stay? They haven’t yet thought of asking why he has to go there and do that… at least, they do ask why, but they accept “to walk in the mountains” as an answer. In another year, I’m guessing, that won’t do.

The weekend passed in a flurry of activity. We tried our hardest to get a tenant for the apartment before Amit left, and whatever free time was left from that endeavour went towards getting Amit prepared for the trek. Trekking involves so much more preparation than a more ordinary holiday – you need so much more equipment! Medicines, shoes, absurdly heavy warm weather clothes, tent, sleeping bag, pots and pans, plates and spoons, all kinds of emergency and contingency equipment such as needle-and-thread, matches, candles, cutting implements, rope, crepe bandage… the list is complicated and endless!

For two nights, our dining table was piled high with a mass of assorted stuff. When I fell asleep, exhausted, last night at midnight, a few parts of it were just becoming visible. Amit watched the football, caught up on office work, tidied up odds and ends of household chores, and cleared the dining table. He got to bed at 4 a.m. When I woke up at 6, I found the dining table largely cleaned up, and three huge sacks neatly assembled in the living room. At last, it was beginning to look like he really was going for a trek!

It’s the strangest departure he has ever made from home. His mind is full of work and household tasks left undone. I’ve been given a long list of tasks to complete, right down to filing his tax return if I can (yeah, right – I can barely manage my own). His eyes are missing the sparkle of the impending trek, his voice is toneless, and a teary goodbye to the kids at school was just a heartbeat away – but they ran off giggling and spoilt it! All the same, I’ve never seen anyone this reluctant to leave on a holiday – and when you consider that it is Amit leaving for a trek in Ladakh, it is completely… unexpected is the best word, though not incomprehensible perhaps.

Strangely enough, this time we both felt compelled to consider the worst-case “what if” scenario – though there’s really no reason to get that melodramatic about what is, after all, just another trek in the mountains. It’s just that the entire spark of travel is missing from this venture and it’s more like he’s dragging himself off for some particularly tedious obligation instead of embarking on yet another exciting rendezvous with the mountain gods.

Meanwhile, I’m completely, unabashedly envious. I watched him pack and wanted to pull out my own stuff and throw it in the sacks as well. I can see in my mind the fantastic landscape he’s soon going to be walking through. I can feel the peace and solitude of that ethereal place. I can hear the tinkle of the horses’ bells far away in the vast, silent, eternal universe. I can feel the weight of everyday life falling off my back as I hoist my backpack and become a wanderer once more.

But even as I envy him the trek, I can quite understand how leaving home is breaking his heart. Kids do that to you. Three weeks is a long time.

We were lucky that we shared ten great years of travelling together. And we are happy to be on this new journey called parenting. And we can still choose to take our more adventurous holidays alone, while the kids enjoy the comfort and security of home. And we all know that you can’t have your cake and eat it too…

But I don’t think I like it!

Walking in the Rain

September 1, 2008

I hadn’t had an afternoon off for a while; I was supposed to get one every weekend, but it doesn’t always work out that way. So this weekend, I was determined to get away, at least for a couple of hours. Saturday didn’t work out for various complicated reasons, so it had to be Sunday.

Lunch at Eden Park is not really conducive to anything other than an afternoon snooze, but I made a Herculean effort after getting home and left before the sleep managed to ensnare me. Ostensibly, my goal was to buy a large number of ring folders so I could spend the next several weeks filing away my papers methodically and systematically, as the income tax audit had revealed that they were anything but. But that was more of an excuse than a just cause for leaving the house; the real reason, of course, was, as always, just to get a break from home and kids for a bit.

It’s just as well that I had decided that hell and high water would not deter me, because high water was descending soon enough and hell pretty much described the state of the roads as the water level rose.
Umbrella in one hand and ring folders in the other, I trudged through the downpour, without much hope of staying dry for long. I was thinking of a previous and most memorable experience of walking in the rain. That was in Ladakh.

One day, we spent about 8 hours and 15 km in a steady downpour. I would hardly describe it as beautiful; and Amit was not in good spirits, so I had a task on my hands just keeping him going; but looking back, I have to admit it was one hell of an experience. (Of course, it was a terrible year in Ladakh, with unprecedented floods, and our trek ended with Amit’s father sending out the Army and the CBI to search for us… but that’s another story, and a very long one.)

And there were other memories – of rain and slush and mud mixed with dung, calf-deep and black as night and more slippery than an oiled eel; of solitude and companionship and nights alone in my tent at high altitudes and cold places; of nights spent awake and shivering and hoping the rain would not find a leak in my tent, and knowing that even if I stayed dry, others in neighbouring tents would not be so lucky; of wet shoes and cold feet and a fresh set of warm and dry socks and a cozy sleeping bag that has somehow avoided getting soaked; and so much more.

Repeatedly, over the course of many wet treks, I came to realize how important it is to keep one’s feet and crotch dry. And how much effort one is willing to expend towards this end. And, most importantly, how life becomes so much easier and less worrying once you give up on this and resign yourself to even these all-important regions of your body being cold and wet.

Sure enough, in the brief Bangalore downpour, my shoes were soon soaked through and I stopped stepping carefully to avoid the fast-flowing streams by the edges of the road. My jeans were wet at the bottom and I could feel the dampness inching up, so I stopped worrying about the passing vehicles splashing me. My upper body was still dry, thanks to the variety of bags I had saddled and draped around me and the umbrella held low over my head. But by far the more important function of the umbrella was to hide my face from the masses of people crowding under bus stops or squeezing flat against walls in an effort to stay dry – if they had seen the broad grin plastered on my face, they might have thought that I was completely crazy.

As I turned into the apartment complex, just for a moment a complete calm descended on the universe. There was no traffic on the road, not another person in sight, the trees and buildings were absolutely still and even the dogs and birds were in hiding, so there was no movement at all except the steady falling of the rain, and no sound other than that of the falling rain. Just for a moment, I felt that wonderful sense of alone-ness and calm that’s normally so impossible to find in the city and that repeatedly lures me to the remoter parts of the Himalayas. Now, with the twins, I wonder when – or whether – I’ll ever have a chance to find those quiet places again.

A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush

December 24, 2007

This one is pretty much a classic amongst travelogues and I can see why. Whereas Seven Years in Tibet by whatsisname grew to be rather boring once the author actually reached Lhasa, this one, focused as it is only on the journey, is thrilling. In addition to the landscape, which his words recreate right in front of the reader, the experiences are enough to make to wonder that he ever survived to tell about it. Dervla Murphy’s Where the Indus is Young, which goes to a nearby area, is equally entertaining, though, and perhaps even more hair-raising.

Lost in the Himalayas – Part 4 (the last)

July 25, 2007

Were we lost???

It was 4.30, when I at last forced the issue with Ballu. He, too, was loath to concede that we might very well be. But, by this time we had come in view of two wonderful peaks that should have been visible on the route to Thochuntse – the only problem was that we seemed to be behind the peaks, when I could have sworn we should have been around in front of them, at quite a different angle.

We held a quick round-table conference (minus the table). As a first step, Ballu was dispatched to investigate whether Thochuntse perchance lay around the next bend. The second step was to fortify ourselves with whatever little food we were carrying – we certainly looked as though we were in for a long, long day, and perhaps, in the worst case, a cold and hungry night.

I explained why we could not be on the right path to Thochuntse.

“You see that ridge over there on the left?”

Everyone looked ~1500 ft upwards and nodded.

“Well, if we could get over that and around the foot of that peak there, we’d be at Nimaling – that’s where we want to be tomorrow.”

The thought didn’t seem to lighten the mood much.

“Let’s not panic,” said DDB sagely.

Everyone nodded.

Why would we panic? We only had to retrace our millions of steps of the last four hours, and we’d be back at Hankar. Surely the villagers would provide us some food and a place to sleep – then we’d go on tomorrow and everything would be fine.

But, what had taken us four hours on the outward path, would certainly take five, maybe more, as tiredness and as darkness enveloped us.

To make matters worse, the sun, which had been shining brightly earlier in the afternoon, seemed to have been vanquished yet again by rain clouds; and each of us had carried only a light jacket with ourselves.

At length, Ballu returned with a crestfallen look. He had hurried a long way ahead and seen no sign of Thochuntse. The fact that no horses and no people had passed us in four hours seemed the clinching consideration – we must turn back.

We were a worried lot, as we picked up our stuff and turned around, but this time, now that things had gone seriously wrong for once, there were no recriminations, no raised voices, no drama. We just turned around and started back.

It wasn’t long before we heard the welcome tinkle of a bell, signifying that a horse was nearby. Another few minutes, and our own horseman appeared in view, riding his best steed, a light coloured horse with a flowing, blonde mane. We were never so relieved to see anyone or anything as we were to see that horseman and his horse. He, apparently, was equally relieved to see us.

It transpired that, after reaching the campsite at Thochuntse, he had learned from others at the campsite that we had not yet arrived. As he had not overtaken us on the way, he deduced that we must be lost and came back to look for us. There weren’t, luckily for us, too many wrong turns that we could have taken, so his search options were limited.

We should not have crossed the bridge at Hankar, he told us cheerfully. Having done so, we need only have continued on our present course a fortnight or so and we would have reached Tso Moriri. While Tso Moriri is a beautiful lake and any of us would have loved to visit it, 15 days of walking without horses, without food, and without finding any villages en route looked like a scary prospect even to the most experienced of us, and we were doubly grateful to the young chap for having had the sense and consideration to come out looking for us.

What’s more, much to our delight he announced that we need not walk all the way back to Hankar, where we had stepped off the beaten track; there was a shortcut to Thochuntse. Tired, but relieved, Amit and I walked the fastest we possibly could behind the horse, almost causing the horse to break into a trot, till we reached the point where the shortcut to Thochuntse diverged from our Hankar-Tso Moriri path. It was nothing but a gap in the hills, with a narrow stream flowing through it. “Just cross the stream and follow the route, and you’ll find Thochuntse after about an hour,” our rescuer assured us, as he settled down to wait for the others.

And so we did – we stumbled into camp at around 7.30, before the onset of darkness, to be greeted by worried, relieved, friendly, sympathetic, concerned, and drama-seeking countenances along with a flood of questions and comments from the score of people already settled there. We must have walked more than 20 km, instead of the leisurely 12 we had expected… but we had survived, and that, without panic.

The next day, despite the exhaustion, we left for Nimaling by 8 a.m. The one thing we were clear about was that, if we were to get lost again, we wanted to have plenty of time in hand so that we could be found during daylight hours. We adopted the strategy of trying to keep other trekking parties in sight, ahead or behind, and so made it to Nimaling before lunch and without incidence.

It was a little hard to appreciate the beauty of Nimaling, tired as we were, but Nimaling did her best to impress us – the weather remained clear, and the sunset was sublime. DDB and I found the energy for a short excursion up the slope behind the campsite that afternoon, but did not really get high enough to experience the best of Nimaling. I, well aware of the treasures in store, could hardly wait till the next day, when we had planned a “rest” day at Nimaling.

Our adventures were not yet at an end, though. Over the past several days, we had all watched with baited breath as Amit’s enormous, kiloton-weight, steel-tipped, ankle-high, inflexible leather, water proof, ice proof, wind proof, truck-proof workman’s shoes came apart at the soles. A couple of tiny tubes of Fevikwik (?) and Dendrite that DDB&B happened to be carrying had been put to use and the boots had been weighted down with some REALLY HEAVY stones overnight, but they had resolutely opened up again over the next day or two. Multiple water crossings had not been of much help. The situation was so desperate that Amit had even suggested taking a quick detour from Chilling to the nearest town that offered the services of a mochi, but since that town was likely to be Leh, he was persuaded to abandon this crazy undertaking.

It was clear, of course, that no other shoe would fit Amit apart from his own. Luckily, he had carried a pair of floaters (sandals) along – but these were so old and decrepit that the sole of each one was cleanly split in two across the middle. As they were made for use more as bathroom slippers than trekking footwear, the grip of the sole, even when new was not in the least confidence inspiring. I had been reassuring him that, apart from the descent on the last day, the terrain was not such as to make heavy demands on the footwear, but events so far had not really shown the truth of this statement. When the adhesive solutions failed, we tried Leucoplast (a somewhat stronger version of a bandaid) and later took to tying the front of the shoe together with whatever strands of rope were at hand. As the strands never survived very long, we were always on the lookout for stronger and stronger bits of rope, and eventually were reduced to pulling strings out of DDB&B’s jackets. From bright blue to mousy brown to dirty white – all manner of string were wound around the shoes, and each of them eventually fell off. If we had had no other form of entertainment at all on the trip, this would have been sufficient to keep us well occupied.

Amit decided that he wanted to look “presentable” on this trek, so he had started out with every intention of bathing and shaving. (It seems to me that he would have done better to dress more sensibly. He had elected to wear shorts and T-shirt, with the result that his arms and legs were excruciatingly sunburnt. I had sunscreen, of course, but covering his never-ending limbs with it would have required carrying a bathtub-full of it, and an extra horse to carry it.) However, dry, dusty, scratched and sun-burnt limbs notwithstanding, he wanted to look presentable. So far, he had managed two “baths” and one shave. Nimaling was too high and the water too cold to allow another bath, but the rest day was duly designated as shaving day. Having completed his shave satisfactorily (with warm water, of course), he set about slicing open his thumb with his safety razor.

By the time that damage had been controlled it was past 10.30 a.m. – and we set off almost lethargically for the climb to the foot of the Kangyatze. Amit was looking his resplendent best in his T-shirt and shorts, with deeply sunburnt limbs on display, cleanly shaven, wearing his they-come-apart-in-the-middle floaters and with a ragged and ineffective bandaid wrapped around his butchered thumb.

The walk up from the campsite – ~1500 ft – took almost two hours. The walk down took well over one. And yet, those four hours of exertion, panting at 16,000 ft and upwards, were a small price to pay for the one hour of sheer bliss up there at the base of the Kangyatze.

Photos will paint a better picture of the place than words can, but I’ll try to give some impression of it.

First, there was the exertion of the slow and steady climb. Upon reaching the top of a quite marked ascent, you’d find in front of you not a grand view, but another rise. You struggle on, upwards, wondering when it will end, and suddenly it does. It is quite a small crest, but if you are at the top, you are really at the top.

On your left is a sloping shoulder, dropping down behind you to the valley you’ve left below. In front, there stands a mountain, hitherto well hidden from view, with ridges extending in both directions. The ridge on the right curves around and links up with the Kangyatze you’ve grown familiar with, which looms above you. From where we stood, we could make out the rope that had been fixed just below the summit, and the steps of climbers across part of the snow on the face. It didn’t look so far, or so impossible, a mere 4,000 ft or so above us. The two climbers who had made it to the summit the previous morning had crossed our campsite on their way down.

Swivel around with the hidden peak on your left, and the view opens up to offer a limitless panorama, with ranges of mountains stretching into infinity. The farthest range, identified by DDB as the Karakoram, lies more in Pakistan than in India! Nearer at hand are the ranges that mark the path we have traversed in the past so many days. DDB tentatively pointed out Konzke La, which we had crossed on day 3, five days ago!

Swivel around a little more, with your back to the Kangyatze, and you’re facing the Stok range, which runs down from some high peaks to the low saddle that is Kongmaru La. Just in front of and below Kongmaru La, invisible to us from here, is our campsite. Further on, the Stok range seems to run out completely, with the ridge sloping down to create a gentle cradle for the valley.

To this panorama, add peace, stillness, quiet. No animals other than an occasional lizard and no plants. No sound is to be heard except what noise we make. There is scant movement, other than that caused by us. This is nature at its most undisturbed. I can understand why hermits legendarily sought high Himalayan peaks for their centuries-long meditation.

The altitude made me cough, but a few minutes’ complete stillness helped. We wandered around that high place, going in different directions, then shot some photographs. The group photographs required immense physical effort by way of a 100 m sprint in the ten seconds it took for the camera’s delayed shutter action to kick in. (Notice, in the picture, that I only just made it – not bad at 17,000 ft!)

In all too short a time, we turned around and went back, to the lunch that was waiting for us.

And from there, it was all downhill. Of course, the next day we had a similar climb of ~1,500 ft to reach Kongmaru La, and the views from the pass were perhaps just as good, but for me, this time as before, the high point of the trek was not the pass but the rest day at the foot of the Kangyatze.

The walk to Shang Sumdo was a formality. It had its moments, but they paled in comparison to all that had been. We walked, we tied up Amit’s shoes, we didn’t get lost, we crossed streams, we went slithering down the slippery bits, we admired the gorge, we stopped for tea and Maggi, we reached a village, and still we walked, and walked, and walked, and at last, around 5 p.m., we reached Sumdo and found our car waiting for us. And so our trek came to an end at last.

I would not call it the perfect trek. I wish our cancelled flight out had not caused us to lose a day; I wish it hadn’t rained even as little as it had; I wish Amit’s footwear hadn’t been so troublesome; I wish we had not got lost; I wish it had not been so long and so tiring a trek… but none of that really matters. We had spent two wonderful days at Nimaling and the weather had been glorious. What more could anyone want?

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