WINTER KUARI PASS (WKP) TREK 16th December- 21st December 2017
Once a trekker, trekker for a lifetime
Those who have trekked earlier especially in the Himalayas can easily understand the title for the blog. In addition, even others may appreciate the same by the end of the blog. The reasons for me saying so are many viz. serenity and tranquility of the place, wonderful flora and fauna, a fabulous chance to introspect and know thyself better and most recently I got one more reason in this trek WKP- white SNOW. Even if it is slippery and difficult to walk at times, it is really a marvelous experience and a treat to enjoy the nature in its pristine form.
I chose WKP because my last trek Har Ki Doon (HKD), being an autumn trek, could not help me see and experience snow, which I really wanted to. Though HKD is a nice trek for beginners to Himalayas especially in autumn before snowfall, I had made up my mind that my second trek to Himalayas will certainly be a winter snowy trek and that too with TTH. This is because Trek the Himalayas as an organization provides the best of the elements needed for a trekker to enjoy the trek. Their expertise, trek leaders, local guides, fabulous food make it a worth and an easy decision to choose them to trek in Himalayas.
Day-1 Haridwar to Joshimath base camp 265 kms drive 6724 feet
WKP starts with a journey from your place to Haridwar as TTH staff is ready with their Safari/Traveller at Haridwar railway station, the pickup point. I too reached Haridwar on 16th morning at 4.30am from Nanda Devi express. As there was time for the other trek mates to reach before we could leave for Joshimath by 7am, I left for Har Ki Pauri via auto to attend and witness the mesmerizing Ganga aarti of the morning in Haridwar. Har Ki Pauri is a must visit place for all especially those who have not seen Ganga aarti earlier anywhere. Holy Ganga enters plains here at Haridwar and very soon becomes dirty, polluted and blackish after it had maintained its holiness, purity and greenish colour throughout the mountainous stretch. The dawn and pre-sunrise time of the day along with the various types of smoke and smell of incense sticks makes it one time must visit place, even for the atheists. People jumping in the Ganges to rob off their sins and funeral prayers are common things to watch out. I attended this 7 minutes aarti which starts at 6:30am and thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere of the place amidst the speakers playing Ganga aarti and priests performing it. Beware of numerous elements trying to sell religion through their activities like tika laga lijiye, photo khicha lijiye etc. Also many people would ask you for donations to Ganga trust, please check their identity cards or badges confirming their linkage with the trust before you donate for a noble cause. After a good two hours time here, I had to rush back to Haridwar station. A tea totaller can taste and enjoy the tea outside the Haridwar railway station. It tastes perhaps better than it is due to the weather (4-5 degree C).
Finally Ashish bhaiya, our Safari driver started for Joshimath, a 260 kms odd journey. Never calculate or underestimate the hours that it would take to reach a place in hills. 30kms/hour can be assumed to be an average speed in this terrain by an expert pahadi driver to help you reach your destination safely. I met the other trek members for the very first time sitting along with me in this vehicle. The three CA’s Archit (Acclimatizing), Aman (Amazing), Kiran (Kadam) and two 3rd year engineering students Viraj (Vishal) and Pratik (Passionable) made the journey more enjoyable. This journey is unmatchable as compared to Day-1 trek drives elsewhere which can be a bit boring sometimes as we don’t see anything but different mountains only. But here apart from several layers of various mountains and flora & fauna (monkeys mostly), we witnessed the four Prayags (confluence of the tributaries of Ganges) – (Dev, Karna, Rudra, Nanda) Prayag. One can see how Alaknanda and Bhagirathi meet at Dev Prayag and traverse towards Haridwar as Ganga. It is a delight to see this natural phenomenon. We took our breakfast break after Rishikesh. The restaurant seemed to be a nice one and food was fine but serving time was very high, making our stomachs curse the waiter and chef. Therefore, for future trekkers and us, lesson learnt was that one should ask the driver bhaiya to stop at such hotels that serve decent food at faster pace. Hygiene and quality are almost same for these mediocre dhabas cum restaurants that are affordable for all trek members. After lunch and chai breaks in the route to Joshimath, we finlly reached the Hotel Kamet, Base camp of WKP by 5pm. This is the place from where one was supposed to take a drive to Dhak village the next day and here only we would return on Day-5 of the trek. Collection of medical disclaimer forms, Id cards (Please link your Aadhar card to XYZ) and photographs from all 22 of us were taken after we had freshened up. Trek leader Pavan Jee along with Praveen Jee, Subhash bhai aka Organic bhai (His famous statement, “Say No to chemical food and Yes to Organic”) and base camp leader Abhishek briefed us about the trek iternary including the last snowfall (13th-14th December) event. The other requirements for successful completion of winter trek (snow gaiters, walking pole etc.) were communicated clearly and helped us in getting them accordingly. Awesome dinner (TTH is very famous for this) was served which included gajar halua in dessert. We were supposed to leave for Dhak at 9am sharp on Day-2.
Day-2 17th December- Joshimath to Dhak drive-Trek from Dhak to Gulling village 6-7kms 9600 feet
A 30 minutes drive to Dhak was followed with distribution of bananas as refreshment and energy tonic. We were introduced to Pushkar bhai (local guide; He has only heard about the place Pushkar of Rajasthan but has not ever visited it) and Mohit (Porter; fabulous guy, introvert, studying in 11th and working as porter to sustain his family after his father’s accident). The day was sunny and hence sunscreen is must (helps a bit but can’t prevent complete tanning). The trail is rocky and bears a couple of water points (natural streams perhaps its water is more pure than Aquafina). Water is an essential item in treks as it helps us in natural acclimatization (You do not need any Dimox then) and maintains a healthy level of O2 in body. Though it’s desired by trek leaders that the whole trek crew of 22 people maintain a common pace and move together, it hardly happens. Based on the varied speed of trekkers and their physical and mental strength (matters a lot, perhaps more than physical), formation of few groups and few front trekkers (Squadron leader Gopi Jee with his elder brother Gautam Jee, Ijaz bhai, Pratik, Viraj and last but not the least me too) are universal occurrences. Though there are enumerated rest points (by trek leaders) at frequent intervals, intermittent rest points get created by trekkers due to their stoppages. A dog named Shera (Obama) guided us throughout the day’s trail. Infact these pahadi dogs are very helpful guides and ensure that trekkers stay safe and complete their trek. We finally reached the day’s tent camp where now we can see snow below us i.e. trees and mountains below our elevation covered with snow. Infact few of us including me were very happy and enthusiastic in melting snow through our various activities. In the evening after yummy hot lunch, before it was dark, we played catch-catch with a ball, found near to the tents. As it was getting cold, it was difficult catching the ball and hence there were many drop catches, sometimes forcing the person standing in lower elevation to descend further to find the ball. Finally, it went too far and deep to cancel our game. Soon we went for acclimatization walk to a field nearby and played “NAME GAME” (The adjectives I have been using with names are products of this) and “Gilli-gilli and Jambuza” activity. These freshened us for a good sound sleep and trekking to be done the next day. Soup along with pop-corn triggered Antarakshri session where our group led by Ijaz, Pratik and Gopi Jee rocked the opponent group led by Rima (Ravishing), Ashwini (Angelicious) and other Freaky Travellers group (name of this group who had come from Thane; they trek and travel together), though they gave a strong fight. In mountains and while trekking, dinnertime is very early i.e. around 7pm, we used to sleep by 8-9pm to wake up by 6-7am (these timings may be very odd for many but this is how trekking is accomplished successfully). Sleeping in tents inside sleeping bags is another adventure in this adventurous journey of treks. One constantly fights and tries getting adjusted in the space constrained sleeping bags and tents along with tent mate. I slept after a nice sky gazing session where I could see Venus, Mars, numerous constellations, stars and Milky Way Galaxy.
Day-3 18th December- Gulling Top to Tali Forest Camp- 4kms trek 11070 feet
This was expected to be a slightly easier and less tiring day as it was only 4kms we had to trek in the day. But because snow increased to a considerable level as we ascended, falling of trekkers on slippery snow and difficulty in walking became common. Nevertheless, we encountered this successfully by diverting our mind on winter adventure sports like snow football, snow cricket etc. We clicked several pictures and made many slow motions (slomos) using cameras and Go Pros while trekking. I was amazed to see Mohit (Porter) and Organic bhai Subhash eating snowballs to quench his thirst instead of drinking water. This is a usual affair for the pahadi locals. A word of caution for the trekkers- Do not practice such adventure as it can be very dangerous. Finally, we reached the abode of snow Tali tent camp. There was snow everywhere here (Snow, snow everywhere, but not a single drop of water to drink). In fact we had to set our tents on the snow itself and it was a great experience sleeping here for two nights (though were initially skeptical and scared). Before we had left for Tali, we were taught by Pawan Jee how to open our tents and pack them. And here at Tali, we were taught how to set tents. This knowledge is very important and helpful for future treks. After eating another yummy lunch prepared by Bheem Jee and Kalyan Jee, I along with Pratik, Viraj started making Snow Man. Mufler of Amazing Aman aka Kejriwal bhai was used to decorate Snowman. Later few creative trekkers Rima, Dinesh (Dashing), Mohit made the snowman more humanly. We clicked many pictures with the snowman before the call and whistle for evening snacks and soup time. This was followed with acclimatization walk to Tali lake(this is done every day in evening and is based on the principle of “Climb High, Sleep Low”- this facilitates adequate supply of O2). Tali Lake was beautiful- frozen black lake (I wished it was white but due to dung of mules and other waste, it was black on top). Many pictures were clicked in solo and groups keeping the mountains and the lake in our background. After returning, we bought socks from Kalyan jee whose family was in this activity. These wollen socks knitted by hands were very warm and thus were going to be very helpful and handy for the summit. Later on, pre- and post-dinner time, instead of the songs, it was the stories session. Squadron leader Gopi Jee told us some stories of Leh when he was posted there and took part in several rescue missions. These were potent for us to feel the goose bumps. It was followed with amazing Aman’s amazing story whose crux was that he slept after he drank in a party given by his boss and hence couldn’t pick up his call in the night. Ijaz came up with stories of his corporate experience, motivating Aman to quit his job and discover his own path. We also had a secret superstar (Cricketer) from Mumbai, who could have represented India in U-19 and other platforms if he could afford to woo the selection staff. Either you should be a politician’s son (sons of Lalu Yadav and most recently Pappu Yadav) or should have enormous money or God Father type coach to get a chance to play for India. As he didn’t fall under any of these categories, he understood that it’s better to play abroad then waiting for his turn. He started playing for Yorkshire at UK. This can be considered another type of brain drain or talent drain where due to corruption and mismanagement in sports, we are losing some very fine talent. After his Masters there in UK, he returned to Mumbai and started to run a chain of gyms to keep himself and others fit. Dinner was served at 7pm and after consuming rice, dal, gulab jaamun, we slept early as the next day “SUMMIT day” was an early start at 7am. It was cold but less windy (Gullin temperature at 4am on day 4 was “-” 6 degrees C due to swift and cold winds) as we were surrounded with forest of Golden Oak trees.
Day-4 19th December Tali to Winter Kuari Pass Summit and back via Khullara top- 15kms trek 12763 feet
The day started early after waking up at 6am and after morning tea and breakfast, we left for summit at 7am. As summit day is considered the toughest day, we were geared up with several stuff including cramp-on to walk safely on snow, which was enormous. The lunch pack along with two water bottles (drinking water sip by sip is crucial on summit day as water points are rare in the snowy trail) were kept in day pack bag (sleeping tent cover can also be used for this). Walking pole or stick is very useful and handy while trekking in such exorbitant levels of snow (more than one feet anytime in the trail). The refreshments which were given to us by TTH included Parle G (Genius trekker), munch and toffees. These serve as energy boosters while trekking on such difficult trail. Pushkar bhai guided me and Gaurav (Gleeful), who were walking ahead of other trekkers throughout the journey. Subhash bhai told to us about the peaks viz. Pangarchulla, Nanda Devi, Badrinath, Trishul, Hathi, Ghora, Palki (nomenclature based on shape) visible in the journey after offering prayers to the mountain God. Though there were numerous viewpoints that can never be forgotten, one of them was walking on the frozen river stream, whose sound beneath our steps was marvelous. A bridge was constructed on the river several times but it could not survive the natural conditions of freezing and melting of the river. This broken bridge, sound of the stream and slippery ice was a delight to watch and a challenge to walk without falling. We moved ahead towards WKP and now could see the summit but it was still a long walk. I gained pace suddenly and walked under the guidance of Shera (Obama) and Pushkar bhai. This last push enabled me to become the first summiteer of WKP 16th-21st December trek. It was an unexplainable feeling of reaching this place. Words seem very small to describe this experience of accomplishment and moment of achievement. Though there was a fear of how to descend from this summit as it was steep at a place, the happiness and joy of ascending to summit outweighed the former. After sometime, Mohit, Gaurav, Gopi Jee, Ijaz, Pratik, Viraj, Vivek joined at summit and we obviously captured some beautiful moments. Lots of selfies, slomos and videos were captured by us to store them in our mental memories and relive them later. After enjoying this place thoroughly, came down a bit to have lunch with other trek members. Food becomes yummier after working hard. This gives us a good lesson in life: Respect those working so hard day and night in fields, factories etc. and help them get decent two meals a day. Gandhiji too had emphasized on the concept of bread labour and giving labourers respect and dignity.
Group photograph with TTH banner made us proud summiteers of WKP. It is a great feeling for all trek members and trek leaders when all 22 of the trekkers had successfully reached the summit. As the weather of mountains is erratic especially after the noontime, we started our walk back to Tali by 1pm. Descending was fun as we walked very fast and swiftly on snow. One can understand this pace by the time it took to descend the summit- it was more than one fourth of the ascent. Though I hadn’t fallen till now in the trek (even Ijaz had pinpointed this), I fell a couple of times while the speedier descent (Hail Ijaz) but the fall was enjoyable. We had a great time with Subhash bhai and listened to his stories about Uttarakhand and mountain culture (dowry free society). Very soon, we could see our Tali tents and along with them saw many other tents that were of 17th – 22nd December TTH Green Trail and India Hikes. The socks were wet since morning as snow had entered the trek shoes (waterproof not snow-proof). But one couldn’t change them till I reached my tent. Special snacks samosa-jalebi were served to us for trekking the summit successfully. Dinner was tasty and yummy as always, something you can bet upon while trekking with TTH. Birthday celebrations of Parag (Vivek and Parag celebrate their birthdays while trekking since few years) were memorable through TTH and Rima & Dinesh cakes. I along with Ijaz, Pratik, Viraj, Aman, Ijaz slept a bit late around 9.30pm after discussions of worldly affairs and Ijaz-Aman motivation session to quit his CA corporate job.
Day-5 20th December Tali to Joshimath base camp (Hotel Kamet) via Auli Bugyals- 10kms trek
Today was the practice session for opening sleeping tents and packing them. Pack lunch and refreshments along with water (warm, a privilege here in snowy mountains) were kept in our rucksacks before we left for the day’s trail. It was unfortunate and a bit sad (not very sad as all of us 22 members had successfully reached the summit) on our part as Dashing Dinesh and Rima had to leave the night before. Dinesh’s O2 levels (oxymeter readings were taken every day to keep everyone safe and healthy for trekking) had come down and the experienced TTH trek crew felt it is better to descend and reach Dhak from where they could get vehicle to reach base camp. Dinesh’s determination can be gauged from his statement that “he is fine and would not leave other trekkers like this”, even when his health was not supporting him. Sadly, he had to leave for base camp in concordance with the mountain laws and experience of TTH crew. Mithilesh (Mischievous) had also shown his sheer determination from Day-3 onwards by pushing himself despite cramps. When it became unbearable on Day-5, he chose mule (the ride on mule is bumpy, interesting, exciting, yet frightening) to reach base camp. Hence, now we were 19 trekkers and only 2 trek guides Pawan Jee and Subhash bhai. Today’s trail was through Tali Lake followed with a slightly dangerous 4kms path that is not advisable to be used in snow as it is a very narrow path (and one side being a deep valley). Hence we were advised to trek slowly and smartly (follow another mountain funda of using stick towards mountainside and never valley side). I was constantly giving this same funda to Ashwini who was behind me this day as she was following the opposite. Fortunately all of us got through this patch successfully and kept walking now in less dangerous and more exciting heavy snowy trail. Auli Gurson Bugyals (meadows) were filled with the white layers of more than a feet snow. Auli is one of the two places famous for snow skiing, other being Gulmarga. Best season for it is January based on the amount of snow available (more than 2 feet snow is apt). One can reach Auli from Joshimath using ropeway or car. As we trekkers had already enjoyed enough of snow at Tali, Chitrakantha, summit and WKP trek overall, we found it normal as compared to the Auli tourists. After a brief stay at Ropeway No.10 maggi point, we left for Auli Parking area where TTH vehicles were waiting to drop us to Joshimath base camp. The bodies had started itching in anticipation of a nice warm water bath as it had been 5 days we have not bathed ourselves. Infact the well-laid roads (black or grayish in colour) now looked so dull and boring. This is so as we had been acquainted with the slippery, non-regular, and uncertain snowy trails for almost a week. Even if we fell, it was fun and the pain was sweet not bitter. After reaching Hotel Kamet (base camp), we freshened and reached the dining room to find an electronic gadget named TV which we were seeing after a long time. Infact there was a feeling that has not the world changed a bit in our offline week (Gujarat & HP election results, Bitcoin Cash rates had surged though Ijaz had sold his stock for which he was deeply upset). People were back on mobiles and internet that was so restricted during trek (though some people even there tried for network to do the so-called important things even then, Personal Opinion Don’t Do It). The mental peace one garners because of lack of connectivity and network enables one to feel nature and surroundings more. In addition, one takes a deep dive into own behaviour and thoughts without any intervention or disturbance of calls and messages. Soon we settled for the certificate distribution ceremony (Man of the Match type feeling). Experiences of the trek were shared among the trekkers and most importantly every one of us thanked the TTH trek leaders, support staff, Mohit and last but not the least mules as without them we can’t survive during trek. We had another yummy dinner after which we settled in our back to room’s life (unlike sleeping tents and sleeping bags). We slept soon as we had to leave for Haridwar the next day very early at 6am. It was the last night in the mountains, which I had loved so much again perhaps more than last year’s HKD.
Day-6 21st December Joshimath to Haridwar (Rishikesh for me)
This day is one of the most awkward days as there is a sad feeling of leaving the serene Himalayan life and a happy feeling of returning to normal life. However, perhaps the so-called abnormal and non-routine life was much better than the latter. Still, we had to leave for Haridwar as the trek was over and it was time for planning and promising oneself to return here to Himalayas again very soon. After taking breakfast, we didn’t stop anywhere as we planned to have lunch at Chotiwala restaurant of Rishikesh. We reached there by 2pm to witness the unique and amusing scene- A chotiwala person sitting on an elevated chair (king’s throne) and constantly ringing the bell (like temple) to ask people to come and enjoy its cuisine. We ordered few dishes including make ki roti, sarso di saag and chaach as few people amongst us have not ever tasted this famous Punjabi dish. Later I left for Zostle, Rishikesh where I had a booking for site-seeing there. It’s a great place to come and enjoy. Living in dorm, chatting with people from all across the world, listening to music and singing with a local guitarist, eating food on the roof around fire, gazing sky (limited options here as compared to trek) etc. I enjoyed Rishikesh even in a limited span of time by visiting Triveni Ghat Ganga evening aarti, eating sweets at the famous Rajasthani Misthan Bhandar, sunrise point Kunjapuri Temple, Ganga river rafting with fabulous group of Neetu, Prarthana, Shashi and Anil. I returned to Delhi the next day with Shatabadi express, hence marking the culmination of the trek and trip. Life was back to square one and the traffic jams, noise and smoke (Smog) of vehicles and rat race to live in a metro city returned. I wished so many times while trekking during the whole trip that “Agle janam more pahadi hi banabo” (Next birth in the mountains).