Thursday, 7 December 2017

The Rupin Pass Himalayas Trek May-June 2017: Afterword

Describing the Rupin Pass Himalayan expedition undertaken between May-June 2017 on these blog pages required selective text and a general tone. I have withheld a major part of my personal notes and experiences, for they won't serve the purpose of a travel blog.

There were several wonderful fellow trekkers who were part of the travel narrative. Barring a handful, I have omitted mentioning about most of them, to serve the travelogue's linear, minimal storytelling pattern.

The importance of having a good morning shit, mules, sharing water bottles, the thrill of playing Mafia, an afternoon of playing cricket, lining up for food and the final train journey to Pune are all elements that didn't make it to these travel blog posts. The ripples of the journey will be felt over the days to come. 

au revoir

goodbye until we meet again

Special Mention: My Walking Stick

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

The Rupin Pass Himalayas Trek May-June 2017: The Kalka-Shimla Toy Train, Deadly Chicken, Etc (Day #12)

Enroute to Kalka

The famous Kalka-Shimla railway line ran parallel to the road, for an ample duration of our bus journey to Kalka Railway Station.

Toy train journeys have always fascinated me. The Kalka-Shimla narrow gauge railway service has existed since 1903. It was only in 2010 that the 105-year old steam engine was replaced by a diesel locomotive. Having rediscovered the quaint ring of childhood during the scenic and wonderfully slow-paced Matheran Railway trip, I could only imagine the joys of journeying on the Kalka-Shimla-Kalka toy train.

       The Kalka-Shimla Toy Train

Drowsy, Sleepy Afternoon at Kalka
Kalka is a sleepy railway station, just the kind of place to laze away to boredom and an afternoon nap. The train to Delhi was to arrive in another three hours. The luggage was deposited in the waiting room. We refreshed ourselves and some people stayed back to guard the luggage, while the rest proceeded for lunch. 

The Deadly Chicken 
The Kalka railway station canteen was an old-time eatery with bearable, edible food. I broke my "only-veg" vow again to order chicken curry. It was a disastrous decision. The chicken tasted like it had been dug up from its coffin, drowned in brown liquid and served. The canteen manager only looked more bored when I complained. He had the quiet conviction of a man who knew that nothing was going to happen. So I posted a picture of the dish with the Indian Railways "handle" on Twitter, along with a written complaint. Yes, they never responded. 

The steam engine as showcased on the Kalka railway station waiting room wall

One Dull Looking Train 
Post lunch, I strolled down the deserted station, gazing at a passing train or two, just to while the hour away. The Kalka-Shimla toy train was ready to depart from a platform and despite the unattractive color combination and drab look, it was worth a glance. At the time of writing this blog post, there is news of reassigning steam engines to all operational heritage trains across India. Now that would be something. Hopefully, the trains will be tastefully redesigned and repainted in brighter colors.

The Kalka-Delhi train journey was largely uneventful. We arrived at Delhi the same evening and ambled to our hotel room in a single line. Many of the group members would be departing Delhi by flight, a dozen of us would be on the train to Pune the next day.

My first Himalayan trekking expedition was done. It had been one rollercoaster ride in continuous slow motion.That I had walked over the Himalayas and was now returning home, was a growing, pleasant feeling that was finally sinking in. 

Tuesday, 5 December 2017

The Rupin Pass Himalayas Trek May-June 2017: From Sangla to Shimla (Day #10, Day #11)

Cell phone towers, power grid wires mar the view at Sangla

For sheer exasperation, the latter stages of reaching Sangla was the most testing part of the trek. The initial phase of the trek was magical, with mountain folk passing by, a jungle of pine trees, resplendent greenery, a gentle aromatic breeze floating across and a yak.

Yak of the Groovy Hairstyle 
Did I say yak? Midway through the trek, Rushikesh, the group's mischievous, adventurous spirit, called out in strange loud tones to a baby yak doing its own thing over a hill far above. The next instant we see the yak tumbling its way in a left curve down to us.

This baby yak had thick groovy hair falling over its face like it had been to some cool dude hairdresser. It seemed driven by curiosity and yet held back with an inherent coyness. An absolute cute, tantalizing combination, that. I recall someone trying to feed the animal a green stem. This was the only vivid animal-human encounter that occurred during the trip.

Fragile, Handle With Care
The Rupin Pass trek is in many ways about experiencing the Himalayas in a full circle, to an extent. From snow, grass, desolation, teeming forests, roaring pure water bodies, you also witness the ugly beginnings of urbanization.

The last leg of the trek was mostly a devious mix of mud and rubble. When we finally reached Sangla, walking across the bridge over a roaring river, it was evident how the Himalayas could be ruptured by human habitation, oh so easily. Suddenly the beauty seemed marred, though the mountain air still exuded its effect.

The walk from the outskirts of Sangla to our hotel rooms seemed to exhaust us more than all the hiking we had done over the week. Maybe it was to do with climbing stairs and stepping on tar roads again. After a week in heaven, we were inching once more to the self-destructive hellish gateways of widespread human habitation.

A more comforting view of Shimla from the hotel room window 

Shimla Calling 

Restaurants, hotel rooms, toilets and the prospect of bathing after a week! We collected at a restaurant and gobbled our lunch like lost and found travelers. Evening walks, Dim Sum feasts, hot beverages and sleeping on actual beds followed. The eateries close shop pretty early at Sangla, as is common in villages. It isn't a village unless they retire early.

Sangla is merely a transit point with no distinctive feature or beautiful landmarks. Except for the snow-powdered mountains, looming like generations of ash smoke, as we caught the early morning bus to Shimla. It was late afternoon when we reached our destination.

Sangla at Daybreak

Dark T-Shirt Secrets
The evening was spent at Mall Road. We had dinner together at a restaurant, roamed around aimlessly, checking out eateries and stores.

I bought a dark gray Superman t-shirt because my present stock was best packed in. I am a Batman fan, they just didn't have one of him. A dark t-shirt seemed the right thing to wear for the remaining two days of travel. A dark t-shirt meant you didn't see my sweat patches, for one. Basically, you couldn't pinpoint where that attractive, perfumed musk-like manly body odor was emanating from. Stealth mode activated.

Shimla, At a Glance
Of what I saw of Shimla during that evening and morning after, it still had a charm and a restrained degree of development, not yet overtly dealing with air pollution, plastic waste, and other Indian city evils. At least, that is what it appeared to be, during our brief stay. The next morning we would be on our way to Kalka to catch a train to Delhi.

A roadside view of the Mall Road, Shimla

Sunday, 3 December 2017

The Rupin Pass Himalayas Trek May-June 2017: Hailstones and Other Stories (Day #9)

I poke my head out of my tent at the Ronti Gad Camp and this is the surreal sight...

As we trekked down to the Ronti Gad camp, the ground was a shiny, blazing green again. The mountains were all around us, submerged in vision. We were all more relaxed and conversational now.

But as we neared the camp, the cheery weather began to change its texture. We placed our backpacks in the tents and began settling in when the clouds gathered above, passing swiftly. The porters began running for cover. Then the hailstones started falling like mini cannon balls. It was quite a sight, catch a glimpse of it in the video below.

An Afternoon of Mountain Gazing 
For my first Himalayan trek, it made some story that the weather finally gave away hours after the summit climb. That this happened after we comfortably made our tents, is another notable occurrence. I couldn't imagine making that final climb with hailstones dropping heavy on us.

A major part of the afternoon was spent in the tents as rain followed. When the weather began to clear again, the great Himalayan summits further away came into view. Sitting there huddled in a group, gazing at a distance, as clouds and mist momentarily revealed majestic mountain tops was a glorious sight.

Dancing and Dreams   
Before dinner was served, the evening was spent dancing in a circle to the latest Hindi film dance songs. Apart from the fun, the dancing also helped generate much-needed warmth. We had descended from 15,250 ft and were camping at 13420 ft. It was chilly after the passing shower and we needed the body heat. Most of the group members and a couple of enthusiastic, cheerful porters joined in. The porters were simple, open-hearted folk, they seemed at home in the mountains.

The night got colder as we retired snug into our sleeping bags. This was our last night outdoors, in such close proximity to the mountains.