early morning the day of the trek to triund, i woke up with an unsure mind. i did want to reach the top and view the awesome view that i had last viewed a good ten years back, but my mind, and my body also remembered the treacherous trek well. something i wasn’t much looking forward to. so i closed my eyes again, trying not to stir too much. all four of us (i, cy, M, and Hir) were huddled under three heavy quilts in the same bed, pretty comfortably. i wanted to see what the next couple of hours would bring, without any dis/en-couragement from me. i could go on sleeping till 9 and then wake up for a beautiful walk to a beautiful cafe and a beautiful, lazy, breakfast, followed by shopping in some beautiful shops. or, i could wake up in a short while and start the trek to triund. our cab guy had told me last evening that he will call first and then come over, and that was another reason i urged my mind to relax and sleep some more under the cozy, warm quilt, waiting for his call, thinking that well, we could still cancel and ask him not to drive over. but suddenly i heard the hotel/inn keeper knock on the door announcing the arrival of the cab guy. we had decided to drive 2 KMs up, of the total 9 KMs of trek, knowing that Cy (she is 6 yrs old) might give up anytime, anywhere on the trek. hence, we had also hired the services of a “guide”, which turned out to be a boon later, i will reach that part soon. now this “guide”, sansar chand, is actually a coolie (luggage bearer) who accompanies trekking groups going with licensed guides. our cab guy had told us that licensed guides charge rs 1200 (sansar was costing us rs 500) and do not even carry your bags, if need be. we made up our minds fast. 🙂 i phoned praveen, our cab guy, who was waiting down the stairs, and requested him to give us another half hour to get ready as we hadn’t woken up in time.
it was 9 by the time we started out. after a beautiful and a bit scary drive up a winding, narrow, and a very broken, quite dug up mountain road we reached the “base camp”, dharamkot. we were awed, and quite fascinated to see a solid sheet of ice on the small pond right in front of the little shack that sold limited breakfast and chai to trekkers going up triund. rubbing our frozen hands, and talking excitedly about anticipated more cold as we go up, we finished maggie, a rockhard sandwich that Cy didn’t touch, and lots of chai. that was our … lag, that pinched us hard later. we spent more time than we should’ve, but we were having fun and after all that’s why we were doing everything that we were doing on this holiday. by the end of that day we had realized that having fun and doing things for fun also needs some thought beyond a point.
as we stepped on the trek trail, old memories flooded in. and i started remembering turns, and mountain bends, and stones, telling M and Cy (Hir had decided to skip the trek and went shopping instead) that this is where we had rested, and that is where there was a little rivulet the last time i was there (in 1998 me thinks). Cy happily hopped and jumped up one stone, then another. sansar looked at us pitiably mumbling that guys don’t take that long. apparently it was about a 2-2.5 hrs trek and we were taking just too long. we had started at 10:15 after the breakfast at dharamkot, the cold ice-sheeted pond place. soon our sweaters came off, and we were down to our t-shirts. the sun was awesome; bright, warm, and oh-so-loving. before we knew, three hours had passed, and we’d find sansar waiting for us at a mountain bend, sitting serenely on one big stone or the other, waiting for us to catch up .. just looking at us. he did volunteer picking Cy on his shoulders, but she resisted aggressively. forget being picked, she doesn’t even like being touched by someone she doesn’t know well. she gave up that resistance around the end of the fourth hour; but we were almost there by then, the top. the meadows beyond, the distant mountains and hills in the distant mist on the far-off horizon, the clear blue sky, just the thrill of being on what seemed like the top of the world made us forget the misery, the stones, the jagged, pointy rocks might be causing our feet, and we kept moving forward, upward.
it was 2:15 pm by the time we reached up. Cy readily hopped on to sansar’s shoulder for the remaining 10 mins of the trek, declaring loudly that “it’s a very bad plan”. but all that changed when she reached the top; when we reached the top. the beauty of the nearness of the snow-capped himalayan peaks took our breaths away. though i felt bad a bit as the very green meadows that i remembered and had described to M weren’t there. the grass had turned yellow for the winter. but i just couldn’t take my eyes off those mountains. so big, so strong, still, and silent. i too wanted to turn to stone, still, and just gaze at least an eternity. both M and i thought that it’ll be nice to stay the night there. of course we weren’t prepared. there was a forest lodge there, but one needed to book in advance. the guy in another little shack that we had lunch (maggie and omelets) at got us in touch with the forest lodge guard/keeper. he said if we wished we could wait and “see”. if no one turned up till the evening, we could get a room. we were very, very ill-prepared to spend a night in case we didn’t get a room. and when we talked to a couple of people around we realized that waiting for “to know” if we will get a room was a dodgy matter. and then everyone, everyone strongly suggested that if we are planning to reach back to McLeod Ganj, we better make it before sunset. we took the advice and started down at about 3:30 pm. this time Cy readily agreed to travel on sansar’s shoulders and they both soon disappeared down the track. we too, M and i, were more relaxed and took pictures and all, and breathed in the beautiful views coming down.
it was only after some time that i started to panic. sansar and cy had been out of view for quite some time now. i wished i had told sansar to not go far from us. but we soon found them both sitting and waiting for us. they seemed to have established a deep bond; they were chatting and laughing so merrily; my 6 yrs old and that sweet guide in his late teens. when i reached them, i gave sansar an ok to go ahead and go all the way to dharamkot, the base camp, and wait there for us; a decision i’m glad i made. M and i sat some more and then started again. we started worrying after some time though, as it was taking us more time than we had anticipated to trek down. there was a tea-shop midway. it just wasn’t appearing, we crossed so many mountain bends. also on our way down i was constantly trying to reach our cab guy on the phone, to tell him to be there at dharamkot for us, exactly where he’d dropped us. there was no network in the mountains, though i did manage to get through once and inform him that we were on our way down. i believe it was a helping hand from God. one small help.
we did reach that tea-shop eventually. the guy manning it informed us that sansar and Cy waited for us a long time and then made their way down. he asked us if we’d like to stay; he had a weirdly worried look on his face. there was no way we could’ve stayed. my child was down there, waiting for me with a virtual stranger. the tea-shop guy asked us if we had a torch, he said ominously, “you won’t make it”. by then we had been walking for what seemed like forever. we were dying to reach “home” … or at least civilization and besides i thought that he’s just trying to sell us just another thing from his little shop and said a loud no. i did have a small torch with me in my bag. it was soon enough i understood that concerned look on his face. and then suddenly, one minute the sun was just going beyond the horizon and i was photographing the sunset and M in the twilight, and the next minute it was total, complete darkness; we couldn’t even see the track. now the track, at any random place, is about a meter wide, rocky, jagged, and God only knows where we will land if we happened to step over the edge. soon both M and i were cursing the government and M was telling me how well the trail in the grand canyon is constructed and that they have loos in the little nooks and corners, and of course our tiny little torch (though thank God i had it with me) wasn’t much help. it emitted a dull halo in which we kept our feet and walked, hugging each other tight.
and so we were fearfully keeping one step after another clutching each other, trying to keep our feet on the ground that was visible in the small yellow halo/circle of the torch light, when the spookiest of things happened. the darkness got thicker, almost solid, right in front of us, and M said let’s go this way, and i said no silly, look, here’s the track. and there it was, to our left, going sharply down, an apparent track, flat stone slabs the only things shining (spookily now that i think) grey in the night, going steadily down, making a clear path. i tried to peer to our right, nothing but a dark, black wall, which i thought to be the mountain wall. i hopped on to the first stone and tried to assure M that that was the right way, though she kept mumbling that she didn’t remember a track that steep, or a turn (she was right). i ignored her and kept on hopping down one stone after another. soon i realized that M was sitting on a stone. “i can’t go on, my foot is hurting terribly”, she said making herself comfortable on a stone. apart from the fact that her shoes were killing her, the overgrown big toe nail had started digging back into the toe. she suggested that i go on down and then send sansar back for her. i thought for a moment and then kind of agreed. i had to keep the torch with me, and my phone too was very low on battery so i couldn’t give her that to use for light. but as soon as i hopped down some more, i noticed that she had risen and was following me down the path. by that time i had started having my doubts, as yes, though it was a steep climb, even i didn’t remember going up something so continuously steepily steep. but i was glad that she had decided against sitting there in that thick, scary, spooky black mountain dark. as soon as she was closer she told me that she had heard something ruffling in the bushes nearby, which made her change her mind. we both got scared as that place was known for big cats and sometimes bears, and besides, we both believe in spirits. just then we heard human sounds and noticed two lights way above us, torch lights, and i knew we were on the wrong path and were going down towards the jungle; as where the torchlight was coming from, that was the path, above us; we were going down, like i said, deeper into the jungle. i shouted “hello” twice. someone shouted “hello” back, and told us that yes they were coming from dharamkot, the base camp, night trekkers. the fear was confirmed, we both rushed up the rocks we had just climbed down. it was only after we reached up and caught the right path that we realized that both the voices and the lights had just as suddenly disappeared. they were on the path right above us, we should’ve met them when we reached up; but they literally just disappeared; there was nothing. and when we reached up back on the path, there was no dark wall as we had felt earlier, but a path that went ahead. we thanked the wood spirits from saving us going into the dark woods to God knows what eventuality. by this time M was in immense pain and had started cursing sansar for abandoning us. i was thanking him, and God, that Cy wasn’t with us, in that dark, spooky, very scary place. it was so dark that i can’t put it in words. it was black, pitch black, is we couldn’t even make our immediate surroundings. i felt fear creeping in, but kept telling myself and M that as long as we kept putting one foot in front of another, irrespective of however long it takes, we will reach dharamkot. and suddenly we saw another light, ahead of us on the track. i wanted to beg for help if it was a trekker and beg for help, to help us reach dharamkot. to our immense relief, it was praveen, our cab guy. he got worried when he saw only sansar and cy, and that it had grown dark and there was no sign of the two “madams”. so he had come looking for us, with a big torch that lit up the entire track in front of us. we eventually did reach his car, sansar and cy were happily chatting and playing inside. wow! i don’t think i will ever forget that evening. though we later agreed that it was nothing but darkness … like we believe that .. ha ha ha ha … 🙂