Life is an adventurous ride; it has its own ups, downs, bumps and ghettos. 😛 Still it is beautiful! Going solo on a trek was in my bucket list for 2014. After a brief search for the most picturesque Indian trekking destination, I enrolled with IndiaHikes for the Kashmir Great Lakes Trek. (Yes, camping each day by the lake beneath starry skies. To know more click here)
The purpose of the trek was dual – First, to start working towards being fit for adventures like these. Second, to break free from the virtual world of internet and be IN THE MOMENT… Away from all hustle bustle and free to find answers to my questions. This post is about the former.
I started practicing 60 days before the trek. The guidelines required us to be fit enough to run 4.5 km in 30 minutes. After two months of jogs, walks and cross training, I was able to achieve this target. To some this might seem insignificant, but it was a major barrier to be crossed for me.
All set for the trek, I caught the morning flight to Srinagar and met people with whom I was going to do the trek. I was in touch with Chery, one of the best photographers I’ve met till date. Chery and his friends were regular trekkers and this was their second trek together. We boarded the booked cars and our 4 hour journey towards the base camp (Sonamarg) started with a stop at local Kashmiri Restaurant for lunch. (That’s another awesome story I’ll share next time ;-))
Due to bad weather – rains and lightning, we had to stay at a local Kashmiri’s home for the night. That guy was friendly and rented two of his rooms to us. We soon gathered all our backpacks at one end, making place to accommodate 16 people (12 stayed in other room). We then huddled up to listen to Vivian, our trek leader. After completing all formalities of signing disclosures, taking the green pledge, and providing legal identity documentation, we waited in silence for Vivian to say something about the weather. Trek would start the next morning depending on the weather. If rains don’t stop till 4 AM, then chances of starting the trek were bleak. All of us were pretty much in a state of denial about the thought of returning back if the weather doesn’t clear up. But our hope kept us on.
After having quick dinner, we decided to go to sleep as there was nothing else to do. A brief decription of the room – it was small to accommodate 16 people and their luggage. There was a dim bulb in the center of the ceiling. We opened our sleeping bags so that all of us could lie down for a while. The wooden windows were closed to avoid the rain from coming in. The door was closed to make place for an additional person to sleep.So here I was, lying in a sleeping bag in the corner of a room with 14 strangers and a bulb which didn’t throw much light! The way we had fit in the room was worse than the way I had filled my backpack :P. I was awake, thinking about Mumbai, thinking of a possible plan B, what if this trek isn’t gonna happen, see, you should never try something you have never done before; you won’t be able to enjoy the journey as you like everything planned and trek is just the opposite! I shunned these thoughts and tried to sleep amidst the sound of rain showers banging the windows!
The entire situation seemed quite funny the next day when rains stopped. Hardships faced became a binding force amongst us and a matter to laugh upon! Rains stopped at 3 AM and clouds had gone, sky was clear by 6AM and the trek was on!! Excited with the thought of having what we had planned, we boarded the cars to reach the base camp from where the trek would start. There we met the batch which had started the previous day and were stuck at base camp. So we became 52 from 28 – with two trek leaders and three assistant guides (one had to leave with 7 people who discontinued the trek)
Walking on the first day was more uphill. (Sonmarg to Nichnai via Shekdur) We passed green pastures and huge maple trees and silver birch trees for the first hour. Then the walk became narrower and more inclined – that coupled with the bright sun burning us out! (We didn’t mind it at all!) Kashmir Great Lakes Trek is the only trek in India where there is no major uphill climbing – For each ascent, there is an equivalent descent each day as the lakes are located at the base of the mountains.
Three hours into the trek and we were greeted by this view – a fallen tree trunk on green meadows and magnificent snowy mountains all behind. From that moment till the end of the trek, each walk was amidst bountiful nature too beautiful to be true!! I was broken by then – stopping moment by moment to catch breath under the pretext of clicking pictures. And as time passed, I became the person to walk the last on the route…
There were so many doubts in my mind; I felt I will not be able to make it. I was too busy catching up to see nature around! Finally we reached the last human point of contact on the route – The Maggi Point. Everyone had already assembled and were having lunch. I just put my bag down and slept for 10 minutes – that’s the most rejenuvating sleep I ever had in my life! After getting up I realised I was so famished! I ate three rotis with packed sabji and got up with others to walk towards Nichnai. We were halfway through! That worried me more rather than making me happier – there was still halfway to go…
Vivian asked me to walk faster and try and match others. I did that for another hour; but after that, my body seemed to oppose what my mind wanted to do. Those 60 days of exercise didn’t seem to be working at all. There was a huge internal fight going on, I wanted to just stop and camp then and there! Vivian had lost hope on me and I felt very lost. People had moved on and here I was trying to catch up behind – being hit by all repetitive thoughts – Trekking isn’t for me, I shouldn’t have tried this. What if Vivian asks me to leave the batch as I’m slowing down the group? That would be such a shame! A fellow trekker Ranjit stopped by with his friend Sampada to walk with me.
I didn’t know much about Ranjit. He was fit enough to be with the gang ahead. I asked him to carry on and I’ll manage my way. However, he was adamant and said trekking is about enjoying the moment, you don’t need to pace, you just need to enjoy the walk with friends! ‘I can reach first, but what’s the point if I don’t enjoy with my friend Sampada’… It doesn’t matter if we reach late by half hour! So we started walking again, at my pace but consistently without taking any breaks. Taking breaks and starting again impacts knees and leads to cramps. We stopped that cycle. Talking to Ranjit was fun; we got to know each other. Ranjit is a national mountain climber – he has won the international mountain climbing competition held in India! He explained, ‘If you are trekking for the first time, your pace wouldn’t be as good as others, and if you try and match them, your body won’t support you. That’s the reason why you’re getting so tired. Walk at consistent place and you’ll make it!’ He motivated me to continue and didn’t keep showing the carrot (lying about how far the campsite is – it’s just 10 minutes away)
Ranjit climbing a boulder
Ranjit and Sampada’s company made me enjoy the journey. I was no longer eager to reach the campsite. Ranjit would passionately climb big boulders, challenge me to reach to a certain point as he would take another route. He was one person I LOOKED UP to that day. The moment I stopped pretending to be walking fast and accepted I am slow and I’ll go at my own pace, things changed. Whatever was stopping me ended up empowering me! Ranjit’s words filled me with optimism and hope for a future of enjoyment! I didn’t feel sorry any more for the fact that I was slow; for like others, I had come to enjoy nature’s best at my own pace.
Ranjit helped me build confidence and trust in myself. And it worked! He was sure I’ll make it. On second and third day; I walked at my own pace, enjoyed nature and clicked awesome pics. On day 4 of the trek, I reached the lunch point first! And I ensured everyone stopped by for others to join in – We played UNO during that time!!
Sometimes all you need in the moment is a person to Look Up to and guide you!
I want to specially thank Ranjit, Sampada, Chery, Siddharth, Abhineet, Punitha, Chandan, Kiran, Irfan, Tarun, Karthik, Amit, Aarti, Himanshu, Kruti, Rohit, Udit, Swati, Homi Sir, Farida, Abhinav, Ritwik, Bhatiji, Ramneet, Amit, Vipul for making 7 days of trekking memorable!!