The mother of all tracks- Sunderdhunga
“A man of ordinary talent will always be ordinary, whether he travels or not; but a man of superior talent will go to pieces if he remains forever in the same place.”- Wolfgang Mozart
This thought had been hovering over my mind for the past few months while I endured for 9 hours inside my office space- a place I had started to abhor. Coming everyday on a fixed time, doing the same old things, talking to same old, pretentious and predictable office colleagues, while all this time wondering If I needed to change something. The lines between the ordinary and the extraordinary, joy and sadness, existing and living, real and imaginary, meaningful and meaningless, had been blurred, and it was hard to fathom what the future held. Anton Chekhov puts it beautifully- “Any idiot can face a crisis; it’s this day-to-day living that wears you out.”
My current predicament had paralyzed the mind and I was getting sucked into this gigantic black hole of routine and formality which had started to prove more lethal than any risk I had ever taken. After watching a nice movie- “Gifted”(I loved it, It brought me back to life) it seemed like the only way out of this rut was to go back in the lap of the Mountains.
And so I packed my bags and headed straight to Almora- the starting point of this incredible journey I am about to share with you all. The next 9 days were part of the most beautiful, challenging, and extraordinary time of my lifetime. It was a solo trip. The guide was waiting for me at Kharkiya-the last village accessible by road. First leg of the trek from Kharkiya to Jaitoli was about 13 km and the trail passes through a thick jungle laden with oak, maple, Deodar, and pine trees which are caressed by swooshing waterfalls and sweet bird songs. There are several wooden bridges at the base of the valley that helps bridge the gap between neighboring hills and villages.
The houses in the hills have their own appealing architecture. Every home is built by stacking big stone blocks one over the other. The roof and the verandah is also covered with similar stones, hay and wood. Every now and then one would come across a small school where small kids play in the open garden in the picturesque surrounding of a river flowing down the valley, temple bells ringing in the distant hill, sunlight splashing the white mountain peaks in tinge of orange hue and the silence of the place which makes you jump with joy when you realize that one has come so far in the hills and the noise and pollution of the city seems like a distant memory.
I stayed overnight at my guide’s home in Jaitoli. The last part of the trek before Jaitoli was a steep climb for 3 km and it had turned dark when we reached the village. I was famished after the long climb and after devouring a big bowl of maggi and hot tea, went straight to bed and disappeared into my blanket.
We started early next morning at around 7 am towards kathaliya. It is the most difficult part of the trek, the terrain goes over big boulders through the Sunderdhunga valley and there are multiple points where one needs to stretch the body and complete a stiff climb at an angle of 70 degree. The Sunderdhunga River runs parallel till the very end- cajoling you every step on the way to move forward. It plunges into the valley with a thunderous roar from the glacier. One could spend hour’s just sitting on any stone slab and admiring the great river chart its course like a savage animal meeting River Pindari near Jaitoli, and then gurgling towards the town of Karnaprayag finishing up the sacred union.
Jaitoli is the last village and till kathaliya the terrain is bereft of any habitat or civilization. One finds his humble abode in the small dilapidated Tourist rest house hut to spend the night at Kathaliya. It had started to snow when I reached Kathaliya and the snowfall didn’t stop till the next morning. It was freezing cold and the weather had turned from bad to worse. There was no sign of the sun till 12 a.m. We stayed tucked into our sleeping bags hoping for the weather to clear and first glimpse of the sun. Our next destination was Baluni top which was just 3 km ahead, but at almost right angles promised a tiring climb on 5 inch deep snow covered path.
The weather cleared at around 12.30 and we marched ahead. The Maiktoli peaks starts to unravel just after 500 meters of climb. It is a rare sight to witness a mountain in all its glory from base to top and Maiktoli is an extremely delightful peak to behold. Just few meters ahead- Panwali dwar revealed its full might. Panwali dwar appears like a big damn with its circular ridge and wide, erect wall. Nanda devi lies just behind it and one can get a full view of this holy peak from the top of Baluni meadows.
Baluni top offers a magnificent vista of the great Himalayas. It’s a site to behold and gives a wide 360~ view of the snow laden peaks. It would be extremely difficult to compare any other vantage point to Baluni top, for the jaw dropping scenery is hard to fathom by the human heart in one glance. It’s overwhelming to say the least for the grandeur of the Himalayas is second to none in this wide Universe, and if aliens exist and they got the chance to visit the earth I am sure they would agree that Himalayas is the sight they would won’t mind coming back to from the far reaches of the Universe.
This was my first solo trek and traveling solo opens up a whole new dimension inside a sensitive soul. I was afraid it might get lonely sometimes, I won’t have any friend to share and interact, Living without electricity and network for 5 days might be impossible. All these apprehensions were there, before I begin the journey. But after completing the trip I can say that it was the best decision to take this trip alone. I had gotten away from myself, life and happiness in the last few months and the trip brought me back to hope and vitality, and gave birth to a new perspective. If anyone reading this has any qualms about taking a solo trip, I would request you to take that plunge. Travelling solo is the best kind of travel. Because after it is over You will never have anyone to blame or praise, hate or love, except yourself.
“We travel not to escape life but for life not to escape us.”
The trip was a rare experience. The heart and soul had been dissolved together and the mountain air mingled with the scent of the pine, deodars, maple and oak, underneath the azure sky had refreshed the lost innocence. I was regaled back to life and the entire cell of my body was detesting the journey back to Delhi. Back to the normal city life- overcrowded, degenerate , lies, pretension, pollution,spiritless, mundane, and bereft of adventure.I was back to civilization. It seemed like another planet.We see the people going to market for provisions, eating by day, sleeping by night, talking their silly nonsense, getting married, growing old, serenely escorting their dead to the cemetery, and I wonder- When and How did we get used to living life like this?How can all this be so predictable and joyless.That is the dichotomy of a fulfilling trip to the mountains- You have grown outside the puzzle, and the puzzle no longer fits.
“If you think adventure is dangerous, try routine, it’s lethal”