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11 Hamptans!

Day 0 and Day 1: Journey from Delhi to Chika

Scene 1: Conversation between Srikanth(S) and Ishan(I) over phone
S: Hi Ishan, where are you?
I: Hey, I am at Chandani chowk. Where are you?
S: I am also at Chandani chowk near the Gurudwara.
I: Oh nice, I am standing on the opposite lane at a lassi shop. Why don’t you join?
S: It is fine. You carry on. We are all here.
I: Cool, let us meet at the bus station.
S: Sure!

Scene 2: Conversation between Srikanth(S) and Ishan(I) over phone
S: Hi Ishan, where are you?
I: I am at the bus station standing on platform number 20 from where the buses for Himachal Pradesh depart.
S: I am also there, near the blue counter.
I: I am at the same place too. (How come are we not able to see each other?)
In the meantime Monisha intervened and we saw each other. (We both were standing at the same spot with our back facing each other’s) 

Our journey to Manali began as scheduled at 9:50pm from New Delhi. As I was meeting most of them for the first time and as it was quite late, we took our seat in bus without having much interaction. On the way we relished the lichis, which were brought by my friend.

Most of us were quiet and were in their own world except one. She was talking a lot. When others in the bus (fellow passengers) were trying to get sleep, there was this girl who was speaking, speaking and speaking. Someone from the front row even turned back and gave an angry look, but she was in no mood to retreat. I came to know two things about her by her conversations: first, she was from Venky’s tuition and she had learnt a lot about life there. Second, her husband was also from the same tuition (I thought, wow they met in tuition. Lucky!).
After dawn, enjoying the scenic beauty of Himachal Pradesh we journeyed towards Manali. Somewhere before Mandi, the Beas became our constant companion till our destination. At times high current, at times spread out, at times narrow passage – a mountain river is full of surprises on its course.
At 1:15pm we all reached Manali. After having lunch we started our journey towards Jobra, the place from where we had to start our trek. Welcome to the “no network zone”! From there on till the way back to Manali, we were all out of network. It turned out to be a good experience.
We met Shyam bhaiya, one of our trekking guides, at Jobra. They were going to be us for the next 5 days. We started our trek to Chika (10100ft), our first camp site. The trail was full of greenery, among the mountains with a stream flowing beside. Then not knowing much about the trails over the next two days, I was excited to be among such a beautiful landscape. There was water and it was drinkable. Want to fill your bottle, just put it in the flowing stream. Clean and cold water for you! I had a burning desire to put my head into the stream against the flow but, as it was getting late I decided not to. Climbing up the rocks, hopping from one rock to another and enjoying the nature, we reached our camp after a two hour trek.
Though I knew that we were to camp, those blue tents under the fading natural light gave an impression of a dream stay. After putting our backpacks in our respective tents, we strolled around. What a place it was! A mountain river on the right, a waterfall at the top left corner which joined the river next to our camp, forest at the top of the mountain on the left and bare high rise mountain on the right next to the river along with lush green grass carpet beneath us.
Hot tea was served, which was followed by soup and eventually dinner. There was a mess to take care of our hunger and the cooks were having amazing culinary skills. In the meantime, we BTCians had a formal introduction session. After having dinner and a little chit chat we all went to sleep. It was my first experience with a sleeping-bag. Though it was narrow, it was warm and comfortable.

Day 2: Trek to Balu Ka Gera

While sleeping inside the tent, I heard birds chirping. It was nature’s wake up call. The sound of running water drew me towards it. Wow, the first touch of stream water. It was so refreshing. Should I put my head into water? No wait not now. The dawn showed us the true picture of the beautiful landscape. We could see the snow-capped mountains at the far end in east. They turned orange with the first ray.
After having breakfast and some group photographs we started our trek to the next camp site. The first step was to cross a wooden bridge over the stream. Though not difficult, it turned out to be a perfect impression of what laid ahead. The trail throughout was tumultuous. For the first few hours the trail was in between two arms of mountain. Climbing up somewhere, getting down at other places became a part of the trek.
Then came what was most talked about- the river (we had to cross with bare-feet).  We removed our shoes and threw the pair to the other side; as the width was narrow throwing was possible. We crossed the river forming a human chain. The water was chilled. Wow, what a feeling it was! I stood in water while others were crossing. The idea of taking a holy dip crossed my mind but it wasn’t possible so I postponed it to a later time. After crossing the river we reached a small shop where we all rested for some time before continuing our journey.
(Throughout the first half of the second day trek I was oscillating between the front and the back, at times staying in the middle of our group. Veena, one of our group members, was trekking at a constant pace without stopping much. She was always at the front, and she didn’t even sit before reaching the shop. During this part of the trek, I became friend with Sandeep, who was our trek guide. He is a true mountain boy. Mountains are his best friend. Where we were having trouble along the trail, he was just jumping around and crossing. Shyam bhaiya was another friendly guy who was full of energy. He was always pushing us and giving some wrong information about the distance left (just to motivate us).
Sundeep clicked so many photos throughout the trek. He was so nice. Always ready to click but, was never ready to get clicked.
Monisha loves flower. There was a saying in our group, “If you have seen flowers don’t click them, Monisha would definitely have clicked.” She was busy clicking them at the tea shop).
We continued towards the second half of our journey. The path remained same. The only change was that we were now walking right beside the river. Then the moment came: to have a little adventure. I put my head into water for the first time. The feeling can’t be described in words. It was like meditation.
Just before reaching Balu ka Gera, we had to choose one of the two paths. One was climbing up a small hill and then cross. Another was a little short through water. I choose the second one. The rain was chasing us through the trail. We both arrived almost together at Balu ka Gera. It was sometime close to noon.

Unlike Chika, there were a few more groups camping at Balu ka Gera. They had their trek planned to Hampta pass on the day we arrived at Balu ka Gera. We met a few of those in the evening.

As it was relentlessly raining we had had our lunch in a make shift mess. While having lunch we met trekkers from other groups, those who had returned by that time. There was one Mr. Samir, professor IIT, Delhi. He has done his PhD from IISc, Bengaluru and, because of this connection a natural bond was formed. He was barraged with questions from us.
When the rain retreated we came out of our mess and planned for a siesta. After an unsuccessful attempt, and hearing Sandeep shouting that it was sunny now, I came out of my tent. The view as usual can’t be described in words. There was a frozen bed of river at a walkable distance. This time the stream was flowing on both sides. The snow-capped landscape became closer. A few of us went to have the first touch of the frozen water and to click a few photographs.
 (At the camp kitchen I met this mountain kid, Vijay (a teenager). He would be trekking with us the next day to Hampta pass.)

The sun was playing hide and seek among the mist. As times it was foggy, at other times it was cloudy and sometime sunny. It was a sundry weather.
I was trying to take a few photographs with my camera and was confused with the adjustment when Vivek joined me. He explained me a little about focus and shutter speed and finally the photograph came out well.
(Vivek, one of the BTCians, was the one who was clicking most of the photographs alongside Sundeep.)
Close to the dusk, a few came back from the Hampta pass. Because of gloomy weather it turned out to be a difficult trek for them. We decided not to discuss this and I had decided to close my mind to thoughts except one: I would make it!

Sandeep came with his own experience of not challenging the nature. He said that in Rishikesh there was a saying, “Ganga se sart nahi lagate” (never challenge Ganga). He had done a lot of camping in Rishikesh.
After dinner we discussed about our plan of the next day. At what time to leave, what to carry and others. As we were getting back to sleep, different thoughts were crossing our mind about the next day. Before getting into the sleeping bag I heard someone talking. Oh, it was Kirti again.
(The kitchen guys were amazing. Even in those weather conditions they prepared tea, soup, dinner. We relished kheer at 11900ft! They served hot water to those who needed.)

Day 3: Trek to Hampta Pass

Part A:
What are these? These are crampons and they help to maintain balance in snow. Those were like ghunroos; the only difference was that we had to wear it on our shoes. Do we need to wear it now? Does this size fit? The next day’s trek started with introduction to crampons. Because of unpredictable weather it was decided that we had time only till 1pm. If we reached then fine, else we would return back from wherever we were. It was the Jai Hampta day!
After about fifteen minutes of the start we were walking on a snow bed. For about first three hours, the trail was interlaced between snow and rocks. We could see water fall forming, as the snow melted at the top of the mountain at our right. Then came a flat bed of settled snow. I decided to run over it. My backpack started moving left and right, and I was about to lose my balance when I struck my stick in the snow, and thus gained balance.

It became sunny again. A few of us were relaxing at a spot and were waiting for others. I could see the stream flowing a little far from us, beyond the rocky patch. It was time for the second little adventure. I ran towards it, filled my bottle, dipped my head into the water and came back running, and then continued on the trail.
After a trek of about half an hour there was a continuous snow patch, we decided to wear the crampons. Walking even for 10 metres in snow is difficult. From then on it seemed as if we were standing in a school assembly line (we were all walking in a queue). There were two differences: one, the line was not according to height and the second, we were not in uniform.
As the time was running out and the mist thickening, the trail became tough to trek. After the first snow ascent, we had to climb up a rocky terrain to go on to the left trail. But before climbing we again had to cross the stream by jumping from one rock to another. It was spread over an area. There were moments where we splashed in water. In the absence of snow the crampons were creating weird noise. Some of us put it out and decided to put it on at the next snow ascent. The rocky terrain was formed of big rocks and at times we crawled to climb a few of those big blocks. It took us around three-fourth of an hour to cross that rocky terrain. It was really exhausting. I thought that we were near the top but that I was wrong.
There was another snow ascent and from then on till the peak it was going to be the same. At the left and right, we could see water flowing inside the snow bed. It meant that it needed to be extra careful. I never imagined that it would be such a scenario.

Monisha called from behind to wait for others as there was another snow ascent ahead after a flat bed of snow, and it would be difficult to keep an eye on our guys. Vivek, Sundeep and I decided to take rest beside a big rock. After resting for a little while and after having energisers we all started again. We four were almost together. Suddenly Monisha squirreled ahead and the distance between her and us was constantly increasing. I was thinking that I stopped for you and now you became a hare (on the fun side).

After crossing the first ascent, the second ascent became visible but still no sign of Hampta pass. The wind was blowing hard and we were trying to cover us tightly, and here was our dear younger brother Vijay without any winter cap. His face was all red but he was all smiling as if he didn’t feel cold or as if the weather was his elder brother. He proved himself to be the mountain kid.
Beyond that point I continued like a tortoise. After somehow managing to cross the second ascent, hope lit again. Hampta pass was visible but there was still distance to cover. I could have managed to move only a little ahead when the wind became stronger and the cloud was hovering around. I saw a big rock block at my right and went to hide behind it, and felt like taking some rest. The scenario was like the last mile. All good things come after facing difficulties. Somehow motivating myself I started for the remaining distance.

I made it! Yeah I made! We made it! It was an achievement.
As oxygen level was low and because of the long trail I was too tired to speak. We clicked a few photographs and made a few videos. With weather not on our side we decided to get back soon.

Part B:
“Should I slide here?” At the beginning of the descend itself there was a patch where we could easily slide over the snow. A few slid down and were way ahead; I had been under fear and decided not to slide. With slow steps I was through with the first slope. With no time constraint we were enjoying the scenic beauty (even if would rain, who cared) and moving slowly chit-chatting among ourselves.

There came the second spot where we could slide. Only three of us were left at this place, Sandeep, Monisha and I. Sandeep asked us whether we would like to slide or not. Under dilemma, I accidently slid. Monisha followed me. Wow, what an amazing experience was that! I should have done the first slide as well.  Sandeep came down showing his snow skating skills. A few steps ahead, there was the third spot and I slid happily. A funny incident happened over here. Monisha was sliding down and Sandeep asked me to hold her at the end. I was ready to hold her but, somewhere in the middle of her slide she turned around. Hahaha! What physics worked there, I could not understand. What took us one and a quarter hour to ascent, took less than 5mins while descending.
Enjoying the trail, resting whenever we wished, we reached the spot where we had to cross the stream. The water had actually swelled up. This was another small water adventure which awaited me. Marking the stones, which would help me in crossing, with my stick I hopped from one stone to another. The whole trek always had something in store to surprise you when you least expected it.

Sandeep can walk across a rocky terrain like the way we walk in a park.  There was a big rock in front of us. He simply jumped over it and was waiting for us. He asked me crawl up the rock and asked Monisha to come by the side trail. Sandeep and I were standing on the same piece of rock and the next moment he ditched me! He hopped around and reached the above trail spot. I was still standing there and looking at him, we three had a hearty laugh. I am still laughing while writing this piece. Anyways, I managed my way up.
Ishan: Monisha look, there is someone there. (Quite ahead of us siting on a rock alone)
Monisha: He is Nagur. What is he doing alone?
Ishan: May be he is enjoying his own company.
(If I speak about Nagur, I would say he was the one who spoke the least. I didn’t have much interaction with him till then.)

Following our path we reached the spot where Nagur was enjoying his own company. We tried hard to know the reason but, except smile and a few words we didn’t get much. From there, we could see our camp site. We slowed down even more than before.
* * *
“Tell them that you had been afflicted with AIDS for two days”. Oh! Why did I say that? Thank God! He didn’t mind or he didn’t react.
We were sitting in our make-shift mess along with trekkers of another group. There was a guy, from a different group, who had to report to his manager the day after and he was thinking of a strong medical certificate. I blurred out that reason and though others were laughing their heart out, I was laughing and cursing myself at the same time. We all shared our stories of the day while having dinner. It was time to get back to the tent and sleep.

Day 4 and 5: Trek from Balu Ga Ghera to Chika and then to Jobra

There is an Italian family staying in Manali……………
There is an art gallery……………
In Delhi these places………………..
Hyderabad’s biryani and Ganesha festival there……………
Kirti, our encyclopaedia, was doing all the talking during our early morning tea time and with her information we roamed around the globe in those fifteen minutes. As gathering so much information at her age is beyond imagination we concluded that she remembers from her previous birth. If anyone needs a piece of information about a place, just get in touch with her.
We crossed the same landscape on our course back to Chika.  Water in the river this time had swelled up. I tried to find my way to cross the river by going a little up-stream but, it was in vain. I came back to the place where everyone was waiting. At the moment of crossing the river Veena called me. She wanted to cross the river along-side me. I don’t know when she developed this much of confidence in me. It was such a sweet gesture. I am indebted to her for this kind gesture. Puskar crossed the river running. Chap chap chap……. splashing water all around. He must have surely enjoyed this.
 (If I have to write down about Puskar, I would say that he was giving competition to Nagur in number of words spoken. Not on the higher side but on the lower side. He was from Goa so every time he has to face questions regarding drink, party and beaches.)
We reached Chika somewhere in afternoon. After having lunch, Srikanth and I decided to go for our holy dip. Finally the moment arrived. We both were having our holy dip when Sathesh joined us. We three had finally accomplished our only wish left.
(Srikanth is an avid trekker. I had been to a number of treks where he was the organiser. For him climbing rocks is a child’s play.)
                    * * *
That blue tent knows a lot of our secrets. I can’t let out anything but, inside that tent everyone spoke and whatever ice remained among us, all melted.
(Sathesh came out as a great story teller. Suman is well versed with so many Bengali stories. He has a collection of inspiring stories. Oh yeah, Suman was with me in the tent.)
Except a few, rest of us went up the hill to collect wood for the planned bon fire at night. At the time of bon fire the locals sang their folk song and we even did the local dance along with them. The day before the last day trek was full of fun.
                                                                        * * *
If you truly wish something even the nature conspires for it. I was carrying a novel named “Rain in the Mountains”- Ruskin Bond. On the last day in Chika, it was raining and I was reading the stories inside my tent. It was bliss. Reading about mountains, among the mountains!
We started our last day trek in the most relaxed way. As it was a short trail with no time constraint, we were all moving at the slowest possible speed. Strawberries, oh yeah! We found strawberries on the way.
                                                                       * * *
So much of traffic, everyone is honking. We were on the streets of Manali on our way to our hotel. We were back to the so called civilised city life.
We visited one of the temples nearby in evening. “Shall we trek to Solang Valley the next morning?” We decided to take a call the next day, and it was never discussed again.

Day 6: Last Day in Manali

After visiting Hadimba temple in morning we went to Solang Valley. A few of us were relaxing and others went for paragliding. When we all gathered up, we tried the traditional Himachal wear followed with a few photographs. At 6:50pm in evening, we boarded our bus back to Delhi. Look guys, he was the same conductor who was there on the bus to Manali. But, he wasn’t welcoming. May be was not happy to see us again!
As it was Sathesh’s birthday, we celebrated his birthday at Kullu bus station.
The trek completed with loads of memories and new friends. Jai Hampta!!
The mountain ghost and me
Where is the case of my pair of spectacles? I kept it somewhere here near my bag. It was perplexing. I could not find the case and I vividly remember that I was wearing it inside the car.
Where is my winter cap? It was lying there inside the tent. I searched but couldn’t find it.
At last before crossing Himachal Pradesh border I lost my handkerchief. Oh God! Was there a mountain ghost behind me?  May be I was born in the mountains in my last birth and that ghost was my brother. He was playing around with me.

Written By      : Ishan Deep
Organized By  : Monisha & Srikanth
Date of event  : 11th - 18th June, 2016
Place               : Manali
Members         : 11
Pictures          : BTC FB Page - Album1Album2, Album3, Album4

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