One Living Life: Across the Himalayas: Part II

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Across the Himalayas: Part II

It was an awesome journey till now and we were pretty content with how things went. Little did we know that, more than half of the excitement needed to be in store for the coming days.

Third Day: Puh to Nako to Jeori (Night Stay)
Snow & Trek at Nako Village, landslide on the way back to Shimla
We were quick to rise up and got ready within 8 am. Initially we had planned to visit Nako and head back to Shimla or Rekong Peo. But, the hills had something else planned for us. It was a known route from Pooh to Khab, but instead of the uphill road you need to take for Khab, for Nako, one needs to stay on NH22/NH5. Just a km ahead, you get the Sangam of Spiti and Sutlej Rivers. It was another unique valley spot where the valley just divides into two. The Spiti meets the Sutlej here. The colors of the water are different in the two rivers. While Spiti comes with greenish water, the Sutlej engulfs its color with its brownish tinge.
The different colored Sutlej & Spiti

The rivers were just a few meters below the roads and the mountains stood so tall and steep that you could never see its top from the Sangam point. The bridge constructed by Indian Army was the only way towards the higher lands of Nako. Winds here were blowing at extremely high speeds from the Sutlej Valley and as far as your vision goes, its just the steep mountains on both sides and the Sutlej in between. After a few photographs, we drove ahead towards Nako leaving the most beautiful part of the valley behind.

Sangam of Sutlej and Spiti

Over the Sangam
Nako was a steep rise as well but the roads here are well maintained. In fact, from Pooh onwards, you have beautiful roads that are well tarred and clean. That showed the maintenance done by a Army body as compared to a civil one. As we were driving uphill towards Nako, snow started to show up on the road sides once again. The roadside snow was not fresh one as dust and brownish color had covered it up. I also noticed that the snow only remained at places which were under the shadows and did not get direct sunlight. We took a break in between and an Army Truck halted at the same place. Had a few snaps there.
Somewhere in between Sangam and Nako - with some Army men

Right place to pose...

Small streams of water flowing down were found every now and then suggesting that summer had already crept amidst the highest places on earth. Nako was the highest place we were at throughout the trip. It was an altitude of about 4300 meters. Thats half of Everest and around 700 m shorter than Kilimanjaro. The air was definitely thin and I did not dare a sprint this time. We drove uphill non-stop for more than an hour and the gates of Nako welcomed us.

All the hotels and guest houses were closed and population was very sparse. It was a small village which was famous for a lake it hosted, Nako lake. The buildings in this place were completely different as compared to the plains. Previously, I had noted walls made of stone slabs lying on top of another, but this time whilst inside Nako village, I got the opportunity to take a closer look. It seemed as if the stone slabs and stone walls were just put on top of one another, in such a way that they snuggly fitted their grooves well. There was no bonding material like cement or anything between them. I confirmed that by putting a few small stones out of an animal hedge. Well, it was scary. I mean, I am still not sure about the way the walls are built but just imagine a pile of stones and rocks lying on top of one another fitting each others grooves to form a high rising vertical wall!!!
Village houses and fences @ Nako
We took a walk from the main road through the Nako village. Narrow pathways between houses with ice here and there were leading towards the Nako lake. In fact, we did'nt know where we were heading, but presumably we chose the more wider paths and got to the lake. In between, there were small buddhist prayer wheels. They were cute ones and their build told us that they were just for private use or for a small community. Mules and Horses were the most common animals here. Amazingly, I did not notice any Yak, which I thought would be the farming animal in these parts. Some farmers were at work in a small field hedged by stone walls and horses were pulling the plough.
Nako Lake
We reached the Nako lake amidst pretty much snow around. The Nako lake had already returned to its liquid state except one side which was still frozen and guarded by the shadow of a few trees. The water was crystal clear and we also spotted some fishes. I am 100% sure, that I spotted the crocodile/algae eater fish commonly found in domestic aquariums. The hill ahead of the Nako lake was pretty much covered on snow and this one was fresh and white and sushy one. Nako had received fresh snowfall just a day ago. I was the most enthuasistic trekker amidst the group and so made my way ahead without waiting for others.
I trekked over the rocks and over the snow. Well, about rock and general trekking, I had done it much during my stay in Pune but trekking over snow was my first experience. It was fun and I preferred trekking over the snow only. It was a good incline and I used my boots to dig into the snow and make a horizontal grip. Damn!!! My fingers suffered the most as I left my gloves in the car. Ummm!!! They were actually woolen gloves and I guess they wouldnt have helped much but a little bit of support on my fingers would have felt good. It was excitement which made my naked fingers dig into the snow. Within a matter of seconds as I made my grip into the snow, they went numb and I could'nt feel them at all. That was the hard part. But, how often do you even get experiences like that. I did not bother and dug my fingers into the snow. They went numb and white but I still enjoyed the experience. I had read lots of blogs in the past based on snow trekking expereinces and my situation was never so grave that I would have to cut off my fingers!!! I knew very well what I was doing. A few meters up that way and then it was a section full of gravel and rocks only. Small stones that started rolling down as I made my grip ahead. It was impossible. The stones were too roundish and rolled downwards easily. Making a grip on them would just make me slide down and if I slid down too fast, chances were not too low for me to slip down the edge of the cliff. I let go that way and came down slowly. I was extemely tired as well. I was breathing hard but taking in more air was not helping me this time.
Climbing up the Nako Hill

I took rest for a few minutes and waited for the others to come. We took another  way and our target was to reach the top of the hill where a buddhist shrine was located. It was a breathless view around. The quaint yet flamboyant Nako village surrounded by snow capped mountains. Even while we were there, we felt the silence around and could understand the peacefulness amidst which this villagers lived.
The Buddhist Shrine
Our driver manoj bhai also trekked with us to the top and maybe it was a little hard on him. We came down to our car and he had already vomited. Acclamatization problems were obvious and so, we had planned for a short stay at that height. We gave Manoj bhai some rest. We were tired and hungry and finshed off whatever food we had in the car. Oh!!! Did I forget to mention while on top of the Nako hills, the water bottle went empty and I had filled it up with soft sushy snow. Ahhh!!! Now you should guess why. We did'nt need ice cubes anymore for a drink 'On the Rocks'.
And, then his Innova got hit. Well, he was being a smartass this time. Driving for just 3 days on the hills made him a bit confident. He was not driving at 20-30 kmph speeds now. He was speeding at 40-50 kmph amidst the hills. The roads were single way with a few broad places in between for vehicles to cross each other. A bus was coming from the opposite direction and he had less time to brake. His Innova slammed into a rock by the side of the mountain. Although, nothing above got hit, the lower mud guard and the left-front door bottom got a pretty big dent.

With Nako covered, we drove downhill with the target to reach Rekong Peo by EOD. We started from Nako at 2 pm and drove back fast. We had little/no breaks in between as Rekong Peo was pretty far away and we had less chances of reaching their before 8-9 pm. Again, we did not want to take the risks of driving at night. On our way, we were stopped by the Army. They were blasting off the mountain rocks cause they were dangerously hanging above the cliffs by the road. The JCV, bulldozer and the excavator were all at work after the blast, cleaning up the huge boulders and pushing them towards the Sutlej. Dust engulfed the surrounding like fog after the blast. It took less than 30 mins to clean up the mess. The army guys were pros and we were on our way soon.
Rocks being blasted off
Manoj was driving a lot faster than before and we repeatedly asked him to honk and slow down at turns. We had actually covered the distance pretty fast and by 5 pm, only 9-10 kms were left for Rekong Peo. We estimated having an easy night at hotel today, as we knew what to find and where to find. But, the gods above had a different plan for us. Just 4 kms away from Nako we were stuck in a landslide. This was a natural and huge one. The big boulder sitting on the road was about the width of the road itself and there was no chance for the road to be opened sooner. There was only a single bulldozer at work and it had managed to clean up most of the small and medium sized stones. I never knew that the bucket of the bulldozer had power enough to break such big boulders. It hammered down a few of the medium sized stones breaking them to small pieces and removing them from the way. However, the locals were conspicuos about the big boulder and the authorities standing there as well as the bull operator told that they would not be able to break or move that one. The stone was pretty much the size of the dozer itself and its bucket would never reach that high up to hammer the stone.

However, the clearing was wide enough for 2 wheelers to pass through and some riders were lucky enough. 2-3 hours had already passed and we were still stuck there. It was the landslide in front, the Sutlej pretty below to our left, the mountain to our right and a long line of traffic behind us. Turning was not possible. And neither could we drive forward.
To our amazement, a local driver dared to cross the thin ridge. I watched him and took out my camera because I was pretty sure of an upcoming incident. OMG!!! He literally sped his Maruti 800 and while the wheels at the edge were 90% hanging in air, his speed helped him jump onto the other side of the boulder. I was shocked. I mean why the hell would you have to risk your life in such a silly situation. He came across and the locals around cheered. He was in fact the torch-bearer, showing light to the other drivers how to drive that thin ridge. Soon, a group of other cars jumped that broken edge. The drivers from Himachal are definitely brave. The shocking part was still left. A loaded Bolero truck dared and crossed. Locals and other drivers kept on cheering as if it was some dare-devil reality show. After, the Bolero truck driver passed the thin ridge, I did not know the Himachal drivers as Brave. They were foolish and childish to me now.
A Xylo and a XUV were still waiting on the other side to cross. An army guy came with a big hammer and started hitting the edge of the boulder hard. Well, a little more space was now available and it looked safer. Well, 'safer' here means all 4 wheels could be on the ground while crossing and you did not need to speed up but a slow and careful drive could do the cross.
Seeing the XUV and Xylo cross that edge, we asked Manoj to do the same. We knew that asking him was a big risk and we had decided to walk over to the other side with all the luggage and wait for him to cross in his car alone. I know it was selfish of us but who the hell would risk sitting in the car while he crossed. Well, he simply agreed that he was not capable of doing that and being a driver from the plains we did not coax him any further.
Rekong Peo was shown just 4 kms away on the map and the authorities told that the road would not open before 10-11 am the next morning. There was no choice but to spend the night in the car. Darkness had already crept in by then. We were short of water and food. We had one plan to walk to Rekong Peo and let Manoj bring the car to us next morning. While, it may have been difficult to walk to Rekong Peo, there was no suitable choice. I at least did'nt want to stay there till morning in the car. Not because, I was afraid of the cold temparatures or land slide or anything, but because of relieving myself early morning. Well, I have relieved myself amidst nature during treks earlier and I am not a shy-ass about that. But, you at least need a puddle of water or something to clean up!!! The Sutlej here was meters down the road and impossible to access from there. The road was just a few meters wide and because of being closed, traffic had brought in a bit of population. The mountain to the right was too steep to climb to a seculded place. I mean, not only for me, but where the hell would all these people relieve themselves in the morning!!!
The army again saved the day. A truck full of soldiers had halted behind us and one of them came in with a big hammer. Damn, by the power of almighty Thor he climbed on top of the boulder and started hitting it hard. These guys took turns and within 20-30 mins the boulder was broken into half. They were on an Army truck and this gave our Innova a chance. What machine could not achieve, was achieved by man, our Army guys here.
We could have stopped at Peo but Manoj all of a sudden expressed his interest and said that he could drive till Narkanda and we could halt there. Well!!! he had surely grown more confident after the risky cross at the landslide. While Manoj completely focused on driving, we were back to the spirits. Boozing off slowly and steadily we made our way amidst the same old mountains in the darkness. The roads were known now and we were relaxed. I must say the stamina that Manoj showed was really praiseworthy. We crossed the lands of Kinnaur and halted at Jeori for the night. It was not planned but the decision was left on Manoj. We had instructed him to drive as much as he could and keep 3-4 hours of buffer energy in him so that we could find a proper place to layover for the night.
It was around 1-1:30 am when we came across a crossing in Jeori and spotted a hotel. We did'nt think twice.

Fourth Day: Jeori to Narkanda to Hatu to Shimla and back Home

Snow & Trek at Hatu Peak, Stroll on Shimla Mall Road and back home

Early morning, we had a craving for some pahari momos for breakfast. Sadly, the Jeori hotel had made the worst stuff. Nevertheless, we left Jeori fast and early in the morning as it was our last day and we had more than 500 kms to cover.

We started at 8 in the morning and drove non-stop till Narkanda. We all were practically going through the sad thoughts and wishes of leaving such a great trip so early but we had no choice. We had to travel the whole day to reach home. I don't know how but our driver was more energetic than us this time and he gave us an option to travel to Hatu peak which was in another direction from Narkanda Hills. He had visited that place around 7-8 years ago and remembered that it was one place filled with snow. Snow!!! That thing was still precious to us and as for me, I could even take another day leave from Office to spend more time amidst the snowy lands.
Hatu starts
The base of Hatu peak is around 10-12 kms from Narkanda. We reached there only to find that an extremely narrow and wet path was leading steeply towards the peak. Lucky for us, the local drivers were ready to take up up there. Big ass cars like Innova or Xylo were nearly impossible on those terrains. So, only small cars like Alto or Wagon R was the best option.

We came to know from the local drivers that the Top of Hatu Peak is filled with 7-8 feet deep snow and that was the only thing that we had missed during our whole trip till now. The distance from the base of Hatu peak to the top is around 7-8 kms and the turns are sharp. None other than the local experienced drivers can take you up there. These guys would drop you around 2-3 kms below the peak & from there the trek amidst deep snow starts.

We all wore our warmest clothes and started the trek. Indeed, it was the maximum amount of snow we had seen till now. It was literally snow everywhere. Thick walls of snow covered the peak. We were all very much excited. I really wanted to slide down the slanting snowy hills and indeed I did so.

The road ahead was completely blocked by snow and a bulldozer was removing it ahead. We were short of time and so had to move ahead of the bulldozer amidst deep snow to reach the top. Somewhere, in between I remember I could'nt make a proper grip on the snow with my boots and it was too soft there. My right leg completely went inside the deep pile of snow over which we were treading.

 The air was really thin and cold here and my woolen gloves did no good. Mota on the other hand showed enough courage to reach nearly the top. We all did trek hard. These are the times when I feel the damage that cigarettes have been doing to me for the past few years. Gasping for breath and taking in numerous rests in between, we visited the temple on top of the Hatu peak. I little bit of hail storm started at that time and the trees and leaves also seemed to be painted white. While enjoying the time up amidst the knee-deep snow, I almost forgot how numb my fingers were and how wet my woolen gloves had become.

We came down tired, exhausted and I just wished for a bed, pillow and a warm blanket at that instant. However, hot maggi and spirits helped a lot. We sat in our small pahari Alto and as for the rest of the journey, I was awake but so tired that I hardly noticed or enjoyed the views around.
Temple @ Hatu peak
Moreover, we had traversed the same roads 3 days ago. On top of that, I had absolutely no more expectations from this trip. I mean, sights, experiences, fun and excitement all were enjoyed way more that what we had hoped for.

And, this is what I felt:

The trip did'nt just end there. We managed to reach Shimla that evening at 7 pm, walk around the Mall road, have snacks at the India Coffee House. We were literally moving on dead feet and no energy but somehow the hope of not ending this journey kept us moving. We wanted to cling onto the trip for some more time. Enjoy some more moments, remember and admire the bliss of nature that Mother Nature had created.

You get ONE LIFE. You get NUMEROUS CHANCES. Utilize them. TRAVEL AROUND. EXPERIENCE the world as much as you can. You may regret any other decision you take in your life. But, decisions like these. Never Ever.

The journey ended next morning at 6 am as I reached my home back in Ghaziabad.

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