Thursday, July 12, 2012

Roopkund Conundrum - Part 2

Day 2:

The trek next day was arduous. Steep climb which seemed never ending. But what brought me down to knees literally was not the terrain but that amazing food item which prevents me from being a pure vegetarian: egg!

We were given couple of orange candies, a made-in-Hyderabad-overly-sweet chocolate, a boiled potato and a boiled egg. On the way up, while Lalit and I happily ate our potatoes and he ate the chocolate happily as well, the egg was saved to be savored later at our 'resting spot', Aully Bugyal. 

'Bugyal' means meadow in the local language and though we were only too delighted to see the vast expanse which pretty much resembled Windows XP default wallpaper (from some angles), the ascent didn't end immediately. Small flowers; blue, red and mostly yellow, formed motifs on the green carpet. Snow capped mountains overlooked the meadow from a distance. The guides were right; reaching the meadow revived us.

After reaching the final resting point where most of our group was already resting, I ate the egg, took some more pictures and tried hand at playing ballgame. Others ate some pistachios and empty shells were retained for later use (which happened to be acting as currency in the game of Teen Patti, another major learning I had on this trek.)

The trek continued through the meadow and was more or less pleasant as steep ascents and descents were substituted by milder ones, we got a new company. Of insects. Big and bold and fucking too many! After getting used to insects sitting on our clothes, backpacks and even goggles, mules and sheep grazing at a distance presented a pretty picture.

We were instructed by the guides to run towards forest in case it rains, abandon our backpacks and sit crouched. I can't express in words how comforting the fact that "sitting in this position would ensure lightening would pass through your bodies but spare your hearts" was. My worry about letting electricity pass through my body without any 'heart-burn' was quickly dispelled by the fact that the forest was not so close that I could take a shelter there if rain came without a warning. Mercifully it never rained and my dilemma of saving myself or my rucksack, as I had a single waterproof poncho was never put to test. The grass was green but not something you would want to walk bare feet. And I am not talking about the ladybugs which were here, there and pretty much everywhere!

After walking a while, my stomach gave first signs of warning. I felt nauseated. A tablet of Digene was followed by another but they proved as effective as PM's austerity measures are in improving fiscal deficit condition. Vomiting sensation kept on increasing and I called Anupam to give me some medicine. The climb had started again and with each step my condition was worsening. I started walking extremely slowly and each step seemed to drain me out. There was nice scenery all around but taking out the camera to shoot anything was the last thing in my mind. I kept on drinking water and finally I vomited. What came out was my latest solid intake. The egg.

I was able to walk again but each new bend which promised to end the day's trek proved to be just another bend, revealing more path to be walked on. Finally when I saw the campsite I felt relieved!

Bedni Bugyal is in sort of a valley surrounded by hills on three sides. The grass is green and coarse and gets lots of natural manure in form of mule, sheep and goat shit. Talking of shit, this was the first camp site, where the loo was not confined to four walls. And though there was no ceramic throne to sit on, the view was exquisite enough to make everyone feel like king (or queen!). However the process got a new name here 'cathole' and a new accessory 'kudali', a small shovel used to dig a small hole in the ground which was to be covered with soil after use. There was a 'toilet tent' meant for ladies but how much they used it, I can't really say. I remember Nishant got really loud cheers from everyone when he took the shovel and started his catwalk to cathole.

The pitch here was better suited for cricket and the boundary was marked by stones, shrubs and a skull. The reduction in oxygen seemed to spur the players to improve their cricketing skills. (Or was it the maggi being sold in the local 'canteen'?) Talking of canteen, the place not only served tea, maggi, egg curry (with potatoes), customized parathas (I saw Mohit bhai giving detailed instructions about how to apply oil and fry it more according to his satisfaction) but also charged cell phones using a solar panel. That there was no mobile signal is something totally irrelevant.

Washing utensils after meals was turning out to be a challenge as the water was freezing cold. Though it didn't get frozen itself, exposing hands to cold water for a few minutes was sufficient to nearly freeze them. Perhaps that was the reason the camp fire was well attended and well appreciated. This was also our first night spent in tents and sleeping bags. These high altitude sleeping bags were pretty comfortable if you could get inside them and they were not smelly or their zips malfunctioning. I am told Shankar spent a major part of his nightc appreciating the intricacies of his sleeping bag.

(To be continued ...)

Monday, July 02, 2012

The Roopkund Condrum - Part 1

This is first part of a series of posts I would be writing 'documenting' my experiences of the Roopkund trek from 9th-14th June 2012. As I said 'my experiences', so everything in these posts is from my perspective. 

Day 1:

As the trek started with a descent, I wondered why the trek guides have not given any tips about how to walk down on a slope without hurting one's toes. I remembered the advice given by YHAI trek leaders during Sandakphu trek that one should try to put the heel first to avoid damage to toe.

Earlier everyone had lined for trek poles. Some knew the importance of these aluminum frame sticks with springs, while some took them just because everyone else was doing so. Every gram of extra luggage was left at base camp. Every other gram of luggage was on the backs of either humans or animals. (I was carrying my rucksack but what seemed like a real weight was my camera bag which kept on slipping from my shoulder. Talk of 'albatross hanging around neck'.)

The first day trek was described as difficult. Not because it was considered difficult by the guides (for them nothing was difficult, and that is totally another matter!) but because people had to get accustomed to trek conditions. And accustomed they got, not only with the terrain but also with the amazing fact that how much ever time or distance remaining, according to our trek guides the distance was always one or two kms which could be covered in only 10-15 minutes!

I have a problem with all sorts of 'treks'. Apart from some really far-flung places, almost all the trek routes are used by natives for their daily movement. And when you see local people walk these 'arduous' trek routes with ease, all your bravado goes out of the window. So while we huffed and puffed our way on the slopes up and down in our Quechuas, Woodlands and Weinbreiners some or the other guy comfortably crossed us wearing nothing but canvas shoes!

But on first day, such thoughts were the last to cross my mind.

My rucksack being a sophisticated one, didn't have an easy mechanism for keeping water bottles. It was made for 'hydration packs' which I didn't have any clue about till this trek. Ignorance was a costly affair as to drink water continuously (which was mandatory to avoid dehydration) either I had to stop, keep down the rucksack, take out the bottle, drink water, restore the bottle, wear the rucksack again and continue or just ask a fellow trekker to take the bottle out, drink water and ask him to restore the bottle. I chose the simpler option and for my entire trek Lalit was to play this role.

Didina is a tiny village, according to plains standard. Didina is a pretty big village, according to hills standard. It was to be the final homestay for next few days which meant beds to sleep on and a loo to attend nature's calls. Predictably much of the talks that evening and next morning revolved around movement, of the bowels, that is. For the first time I heard words like 'business' and 'duty' being used to describe the 'process' and appraisal terms like 'meets expectations' and 'below standards' to describe the 'outcome'!

However more than a 'performance' which could be rated as 'meets expectations', what gave me particular pleasure was that we took gully cricket (read: if ball goes in that area directly, it’s out) to a whole new height (pun intended, 8050 ft above MSL to be precise!) The minor fact that cricket was being played on the slopes of a hill, which happened to a terrace farm, caused no sweat on anyone's forehead (on second thoughts maybe it was due to the nice weather). Only hiccup was that the boundary behind the wicketkeeper happened to be a dry naala, and when ball would fall in that drain, someone would have to go down the drain but not before cursing the bowler with some 'parliamentary' swear words. Suneel got some of the mystery from his more famous namesake (Suneel Narine) and neither keeper nor Lalit would know why the ball would go in that drain with amazing regularity in his over.

While a few of us roamed around the village in search of something or someone to shoot (to apply Chaitanya's tips about how to shoot people!), the majority junta played dumb charades and after some usual fare, Mohit and Ankur would enlighten the gathering with their vast and deep knowledge about cinema which transcends linguistic and cultural boundaries. And thus all the Kannadigas, Telugus, Hindis, Marathis and Paharis would appreciate the enactments of those little gems named ‘Haseenon Ka Kabeela’ and ‘Gabbar Ki Shadi, Basanti Ki Suhagraat’.

The meals at Didina were something to write about. Local flavors ruled the roost as curries of a native variety of kidneybeans (rajma) and a local fern called 'Lingoda' was savored by everyone. Vikrant later confessed eating a little more than he would and his dietary excitement had nothing to do with food being tasty. 

(To be continued...)