The peaks glistened golden in the morning sun as the clouds cleared to give us a sumptuous glimpse of the Nandadevi East and Nandadevi main. Balwant had created the perfect atmosphere of excitement and enthusiasm as we climbed towards the Nandadevi base camp on the final day. Emotions stirred and camera-shutters moved back and forth as everyone tried to gather this sight in their memories forever. I had no camera with me, but that just makes me feel special, because what I saw after 150kms of trekking remains only mine - like a sort of reward. But don’t worry guys, I have put up a few pics for your benefit.
So I approach the station and look at the swarm of trekkers with rucksacks and suitcases (who brings those on treks!), plastic bags filled with goodies (or so I think), caps, glares and all the knick-knacks that makes them look like trekkers. NO familiar face… I realise I am standing with another trek group. Oops, gotta get next to Kiran - our instructor - very few people from the Nandadevi trek are here. I hear that almost six have dropped out. I’m quite glad, the group will be smaller. I am hoping there are no kakus, the Panchachulli experience was quite traumatizing.
So I smile at one guy - the name is Siddharth Joshi - he has done quite a few treks before. We speak about the train timing and whether there will be a ghoshana. Two girls walk over, gushing with excitement. One looks familiar - is she from college - she smiles and after a few minutes she says - “You are from ILS na? - I’m Bhavana.” Aha! Introductions made, we gather for the last gyandan (lecture) from Prasanna and then head towards our train.
The journey will be hot. But I get people from the compartments adjoining me together for a game of Contact, followed by Zip and some other jazz. There are these two guys who keep dropping in to see what’s up in our bogie - Pushkar and Mangesh - the latter is quite nice looking… hmm, but the former is from COEP. Intelligence or looks? - I wonder!! Bhavana is nice and sporting - considering that it is her first trek. Joshi is the regular trekker. Ashirwad and Prasad are dragged into the game. They just gave their tenth and while Ashirwad insists on reading The Borne Identity, Prasad is keen on getting into IIT and is already reading up his chemistry notes. Of course, they are jerked out of the whole serious mood and made to sing, dance and carry out conversations with odd members of other compartments as punishments that interlude the Zip-zap game. Finally when I am punished, they all get together and make me present Pushkar with a rose and sing and dance with him. Hehe! The poor fella is quite taken aback at the venture and especially the murjha hua phul. We meet Vikram…serious and composed he is popular with the kiddos as dada.
Delhi is not as bad as I had thought. We get a clean bathroom and a nice cosy room with an A/C for Bhavana, Amruta (her sister) and me. Gayatri who refused to make conversation with us until now, asks to share the room with us. She is stuck with the kids… poor thing… totally understand her plight. There is one kaku and I keep her at bay. We order food really late. Pushkar and Mangesh are still obsessed with their game - Who’s on my mind - geez they so took us for a ride. Some random connection they would establish between three odd things and we had to figure who they were talking about. Apparently only one of them to point out the three things and it was always the other who knew the right answer. Of course at times there was a miscommunication of the eyes (I’m sure) and both of them had different people in mind. Some logic, I say.
Morning I take everyone to Roshan’s at Carol Baugh. Some girl called Avanti Godbole has suddenly become popular. Guess why? Well she missed the train yesterday and now Kiran has gone to pick her up. How can anyone afford to miss a train that you have received a ticket for the earlier day? You need skill man! The train was delayed and consequently our bus to Almora. Lassi and chole-bhature …Delhi! I really miss you sometimes. Gayatri wants cold coffee - wishful thinking I must say - and that too on a trek. Bhavana runs around for an ICICI ATM. We end up at one open general store at 8am in Carol Baugh and he offers to give our lady a lift till the ATM. She definitely has a way with words and smiles. I travel by bus is Delhi - talk about saving money!
Almora seems far-far away. The bus journey isn’t as entertaining as I thought. I have a bad throat, can hardly speak, but I gear into a game of Antakshari. Nobody seems very interested. There are lots of kakas - one Mr Divekar - seems especially irritating. We were all fast asleep in the bus, when a blast of shrill music pierces the atmosphere and guess who is smiling right into our faces - Mr Divekar - “Arey jhopta kaay? It’s time to rock and roll young ones!” and with that he begins to click his fingers. God…he is definitely going to be a handful. Almora approaches only late at night. We drive past the hotel and have to go all round the mall road to return the hotel. More time wasted. The last few hours in the bus are spent in chatting up the driver and his friends.
Warm water - two baths - vow. Kaku and daughter Ashwini share our room, but we ignore. Bhavana and Amruta are yet to pack their trek bags. I’m sleepy. Early morning, the hill Maina and Koyal call and I visit them, all fresh, with a cup of hot tea. The chilly mountain weather, the warm smell of smoke in the air and the eager chirps of the birds - Oh! How I love this. Musiyari, here we come. Five jeeps - 37 people. Bhavana and I try to get everyone into the same jeep. Somehow we squeeze in. Our driver seems enthusiastic and gives a dose of pahadi music. “Bubbly tero mobile, vow hai tero ismile…” Suddenly in between he halts and asks Mangesh and Pushkar to get off - “Itne logon ko mein kyoun le jaoon. Sab ko paise de rahein hai, to equal distribution hona chahiye.” RDB, Fanaa, Pu La and pahadi Kajra re make up for the rest of the journey. Guruprasad and Shraddha along with Avanti Ka Avantika join us in the jeep. Guru and Shraddha are the couple of the trek…lovey dovey … they claim to be cousins (!!)… prem mhanje prem mhanje prem asta, tumcha amcha sagla same asta.
Munsiyari is cold and we reach in good time. For the first time have reached some place in broad daylight, and that too, in spite of the several stops that our driver insisted on taking. Who is that - aha - someone to brief us on the trip. The route has been changed and here comes Mr Bhandari. “Paani bahut pee jiye or else dehydration. Hill side se chaliye, nahin to gir jayenge. Bakri aur khachchar se sawadhan rahiye, nahin to gir jaayenge. Aur ek saath chalane ki koshish ki jeeye, nahin to…” He basically seems to be obsessed with falling off the cliff… vow! I speak to Amol and Mayura, wish they were here. It begins to pour and we retire for the night.
I knock at Gayatri’s room for the early morning call. She has managed to get an attached bathroom. Kanade kaka wonders why there isn’t a line outside the common loo this morning. But we keep quiet about the connection, lest kaku decides to grab the opportunity as well. Gayatri and me finally have some conversation…interesting notes exchanged I must say. The rain continues to pour and we set out for Leelam.
The first two days I am right ahead. Walking quickly, I’m eager to get to the campsite. But I soon realise that there is little use in getting to any place early. The Laxminarayan, Aloo Bhujiya and ladu-chivadas open only on everyone’s arrival and anyways before I manage to get my hand onto anything it’s almost over. The chakali session with Yogesh Sir was enough of an experience. Gawd, so kiddish - I chased him all around Leelam campsite among berry bushes and rocks, dodging bichchu kata and leeches, only to get my hands on the chakali packet. Tuk Tuk! Anyways I decide to walk last with Kiran sir and there is some sort of a group that seems to be getting formed - Gayatri with her digital SLR, she stops every corner and bend, every butterfly and stream to take a shot; Mangesh with his dry fruits, Pushkar who follows suit with Gayatri, Kanade kaka who is most popular with the youngsters cracking dirty jokes and teasing all the way, Kiran who is now a friendlier soul, more casual and happy and Yogesh the other instructor.
Kaku walks slowly. Even if we hurry her out of the campsite to begin first, we end up catching up with her. Now we have a jig that we perform each time she is within sight. Even kaka joins in and then we waste some more time before she is out of sight. The layers of clothes on her never seem to decrease. Hand gloves, monkey cap, cotton balls, sweater, muffler - all this and her bag. Mind you she has a couple of other bags on the khachchar. Wonder what all she has gotten along - none of the goodies seem to be reaching us. The “Kaku dislya - dhinchak dhinchang”-jingle keeps us entertained. The dhabdhabe, the pooor (flood), changing colour of the river, the bhoka (holes) and bombarding are little jokes that have me and Gayatri in pits of laughter all the time. In fact, I have realised that the last 2kms seem to be taking the maximum time.
Balwant and Ashok are really nice. They have dragged along a friend of theirs - Mohan - who is a fabulous cook. The poor guy was told that he would be allowed a mule ride, but was made to walk. Food is a feast everyday - soup, dinner, dessert and hot drink. Gayatri and I never miss any of this. Come rain, come wind, come snow - we have to have the warmth of the bonfire at night along with the hot chocolate. The bombarding happens almost twice a day - considering that the India-Tibet border is close-by it isn’t surprising.
On our way to Rilkot, the road has broken down. So we have to climb up a steep route. Sarkar kaka with his watermelonish tummy turns to Ballu and Ashok - “Yeh kya bekaar ka rasta bana rakkha hai!” He passes them huffing and puffing, although he has no weight on his back. They roll on the grass laughing and Gayatri joins them only to be poked by a bunch of thorns - Kaanta laga.
The Dholi Ganga keeps us company all along. Rushing through crevices and around bends she is a beautiful sight and a perfect frame at all times. Icy cold to touch, she begins from the Milam glacier. The weather is rainy and we are unsure whether the clouds will allow us to sight the peak. We visit Martoli a small village, where we take Nandamayya’s darshan. Though dark and chilly, the interiors of the temple don’t seem strangerly. When I catch sight of the golden peaks the next morning from Ghangar, I feel blessed. Balwant welcomes us to the base camp with a tight hug and rasgoollas. At 15,000 feet - eating rasgoollas with a hot cuppa tea is a strangely unique, but an achieving experience!