I am here. I am living. And at 3.7, there is no other place that I would much rather be. These are the only thoughts that come to mind when you sit and write where I am sitting and writing. Shun the 7-hour excruciating straight climb up 3 mountains. Shun the fact that you virtually put your life at risk (sic!) when you go down slippery slopes and fallen trees. Shun the fact that you were supposed to be in Spiti and ended up here. Shun everything. Dhel is where you should be.
It does take 3 days – from Neuli to Lapa to Shakti to here. But then this is probably one of the best experiences that you would ever have. The Great Himalayan National Parkhas just opened. You are the only human (along with your guides and cooks and porters) in the entire park. Walkways have been covered by dried maple leaves and pine needles. Wild strawberries that taste better than the nonsense we get in Delhi are all along the route. Once in a while there is a feather of a falcon or a Munar. You would, in all probability, be following the tracks of a brown bear with loose motion. Such highlights make a journey.
After a couple of days in Manali with little hope of going to Kiato, we ended up at Sairopa in the middle of the night – somewhere between Kullu and… Delhi. A small jungle lodge to crash in, some chai and breakfast with eggs and off we were on what we had imagined to be a cakewalk. An hour later, our thoughts weren’t exactly the same. Neuli to Shangarh is all uphill – with Deodars to hang on to while it rained. Shangarh itself was something else though. Once a clearing area for the Pandavas, it is now a meadow with a small village by the side and a brilliant temple in the center. While we seesawed on 2 logs criss-cossed, we did seem perfectly at peace with the rain.
However, the Gods had different ideas. Apparently Lapa was supposed to be better than Shangarh. Apparently Shakti was supposed to be better than Lapa. Apparently Dhel was supposed to be better than everything else. Apparently. Never had apparently been so true. Past the villages and the lazy cow; past the laughing Buddhas and the stubborn guides; past supple mutton and Divisional Forest Officers, life did seem like a stroll. The unusual phone network did bother a little. And although we were happy to know that Germany had been beaten by Serbia, we werent exactly happy about office emails. Shakti took care of that. The bonfires took away all the muscle pain and the “plum ka daru” took away all worldly tensions. As we breezed through marijuana and poppy plantations, things did seem to finally fall in place. The world did seem round and life did seem to be good.
It was sylvan. The climb jerked us our of it. Our leader had been building it up for 3 days. Dhel is at 3700m. From Lapa its just a straight cimb of 5000ft along a mountatin ridge. We did 3 climbs up and 2 downhills balancing ourselves over rocky surfaces covered with moss and a fallen maze of deodars. At one point,licking glucose gave us two steps only. The rest was just a combination of the quest to see exactly what we were fighting for and the jealousy that we felt for our guide and porters who incessantly took us up gruelling straight “shortcuts”. When we did finally reach, it took us a while to get over the shoulder aches, the horsefly bites, and the cuts and actually stare at what lay ahead of us. And was it stunning! Surrounded by peaks and ranges on all sides and flowers and grass in our immediate vicinity, we were open-mouthed enough to let those itsy bitsy mosquitoes in. Dhel is at 3.7 and a true glimpse of how the spectacle that we call the Himalayas.
I had thought life would be monotonous after Dhel. Once you have reached what should be the highlight of the trip, everything afterwards should just connect you to the road. That should be the only purpose of places like Gumthrao, Shilt, Rola etc.
I could not be more wrong. The places are as magnificent as the routes are difficult. From Dhel, after and introdution of a meadow with Munals all around, we were shocked out of our wits with a route that primarily involves a 3-inch wide track with a rock wall on one side and a 1000m drop on the other. This continues for more than an hour and a half with us getting bored of hanging on for our dear lives. We were rewarded by a view of the ibex running across cliff faces that we would not dare to touch. Gumthrao itself was ok. We were a bit disappointed by the rain and the constancy of it. At one point the next morning we were contemplating staying over for one more night – something that would put a strain on our resources and our moods. Anyways, we did start and were glad that we did.
For we saw the musk deer and it was apparent that there was a leopard on the other side of the hill. For we could not have come to this place called the Shilt where we saw the Langur and the Mountain Hawk Eagle. As Paul went off to do his business among the nettles, these were my last thoughts.
Generally we (you and me) would not trek for the difficulties. As stupid as it may sound, we would not trek for the views either. We would trek simply to feel alone, to discover places that the road has not and never will, to feel the chill of the breeze or the wild, to live as part of the system that we generally believe we are kings of. In such circumstances, all treks are great. Walking to villages is great and we should remain connected to people without having to save their numbers or add them as friends on facebook. All that is great. But to be all alone. To have absolutely no one come up to you in the day, and to sleep under the stars with a slight worry that the bear might come sniffing… well that is something else. Peace.