continued from here.
We crossed a snow bridge on the way to Dhanderas. It was steeper than we had expected. We climbed very carefully. Almost at the end of it, it was no sooner that I sighed with relief that the glacier was over and we would step on normal ground again, than I realised that something weird was happening. Vishal and Dashodbhai along with our technical guide Ravikiran stopped before the snow bridge ended, let everyone reach up to where they were standing and then announced that we were going to slide down the snow bridge!
What! I got cold feet (except that all of us literally had cold feet due to the snow)! Dashodbhai was the first one to give us a demo. Then they made a small seat on the snow, made a trekker sit on it and then pushed her! Down she went on the slide.. Zoop zoop! It didn’t make me feel any better. I was the only one that day not to try the slide. People also made a train-slide!
Later that day, Ravikiran took us on an acclimatisation walk on a glacier near our campsite. He taught us how to kick into the snow so as to make a step on the snow and get good grip. e taught us how to climb straight up, how to climb sideways up, how to climb down step by step and finally, how to slide! He also taught us how to apply brakes to control the speed of our slide.
This time I did it and gosh! it was fun! In fact, I did it twice to even out the missed one.
During my last trek in Kashmir, only on the first day, the Indiahikes crew had set up the tents for us. On the second day, they taught us how to do it and we did it on our own for the rest of the trek. I always wondered what’s the point in carrying all the tents, sleeping bags and kitchen with us everyday and set up everything all from scratch at every camp. When we are assembling the camp at a new campsite after dismantling it from the previous one, another group would be doing the same at our previous campsite at the same time! Apart from the fun in setting up your own camp, it is a great expenditure if you look at overall trek operations. We carry additional mules to carry the tents, sleeping bags and the kitchenware etc. The kitchen staff spends hours in travelling between camps, leaving them less time to actually cook. As they have less time to cook, more number of hands are required in the kitchen, leading to hiring additional resources. It would make a lot of sense to just keep the camp where it is and let the trekkers move from camp to camp.
Of course, the fun in going to an absolutely uninhabited meadow and pitching your tent there would be lost!
In the current trek, I would wonder everyday that after reaching the campsite, we would need to set up our own tents. But that never happened. The camp used to be already set by the time we reached!
A few days later I came to know that there were no running camps on this trail unlike in Kashmir. In Kashmir, the entire kitchen staff would move with us from camp to camp, as setting a permanent camp wasn’t legally permitted. On Rupin trail, the camps were like a permanent settlement! The kitchen staff and technical staff used to live at their particular campsite almost throughout the season with the camp all set for us.
I didn’t know whether to feel happy that there is less wastage on the trek or to feel sad for losing the fun…
Lower waterfall – Dhanderas and upper waterfall – Rati Pheri. Two most beautiful campsites on the Rupin trail. Dhanderas is below the lowest stage of the three-stage waterfall, whereas Rati Pheri is above the onset of waterfall. In both the campsites, we had our tents right beside the running Rupin river. At Rati Pheri, the river even has a small island just in front of our tents! Surrounding mountains were half draped with glacial ice and revealed rocky patches amidst ice. As usual, Vishal made us do the regular stretches. Exercising on a meadow with these surroundings was felt as if we were in a dream. I am sure, had we not been wearing our sweaters and skull-caps and gloves, we would have looked like the lady exercising in the Santoor ad.
The evening time was getting more and more interesting, day by day. In first two camps, we were moving around the villages, talking to villagers, playing with kids and clicking hundred pictures. Two days ago in Uduknal, we had played two groups games and it had been fun. We had enjoyed the acclimatisation walk on glacier at Dhanderas the previous day. Now at Rati Pheri, our trek leaders took the last gem out to our amusement. They took us rappelling!
We had two new technical instructors with us – Yash and another instructor. Ravikiran had returned to Dhanderas to attend a new batch. We climb down a bit from the campsite to the rock. This is my fourth time of rappelling and I am still scared as my first time. I don’t know what exactly I am afraid of, though. But the setting make it totally worth. Glaciers with intermittent rocky patches in front. A herd of sheep is grazing on the other side. The upper waterfall is plunging on the background!
I was one of the last few to rappel down and hence one of the few who witnessed Dashodbhai’s rock climbing stunt!
Next day was the big day. We would be crossing the Rupin pass. Crampons are distributed. I took the smallest size and realised it was still a bit looser for me than everyone else’s crampon. Yup, my feet are too small. I always find a hard time finding a shoe, as no shops keep my size!
After going through all the pairs, I finally found a pair that was a better fit. We slept early that night. The timings were 3-4-5, meaning that we get up at 3, breakfast at 4 and leave at 5.
We left sharp at 5 in the morning. We were strictly instructed to walk in a single file. We walked almost without a stop. The last climb was quite steep. We came across verglas for the first time in this last patch. I came to know the correct spelling and pronunciation later on. At that time, we called it ‘burglass’ as the locals did. Verglas is a thin coating of ice on a stone surface. It’s not snow, but is formed due to freezing of rainwater on that surface. This layer is so wonderfully transparent that you don’t quickly realise that you are stepping on it. And then boom! off you slip.
Around 8 a.m., we found ourselves at a clearing. A glacier started here. And we came across another wonder. Powder snow. Spread in front of us until as far as our eyes could see. Sunglasses were must hereon. Crampons were on. It might seem childish, but I loved cutting the slab of powder snow with my steps. It looked like cutting some kind of burfi in it.
Almost all of us had seen powder snow for the first time. So we couldn’t stop playing with it and throwing snow-balls at each other.
We took a quick snack break and moved on into the glacier spread up to the horizon.
After walking for a while in the powder snow, my crampons gave up. They started getting stuck in the snow and coming off my shoes. I put them on again. Due to this, I had fallen behind the group and Yash was walking with me. After a few step, it happened again. Again I put them on. This continued a couple of times more. Finally, Yash had an idea. He untied my shoelaces, asked me to wear crampons and literally tied them to my shoes with the laces. This jugaad worked and I never had to touch my crampons again.
After crossing a large portion of the glacier, we were at the foot of the pass. This is where the Rupin river springs from. Our leaders pointed towards the rocky top of the hill, where the glacier seemed to take a slight left turn and disappear and told us that that’s the pass. It didn’t look that steep and difficult. Some of us expressed their disappointment.
We had another group ahead of us on the trail that day. They were climbing towards the pass when we reached this point. We wanted the pass to ourselves when we would climb; so we decided to wait until the group crosses. We were a bit tired and hungry. So we had another quick bite. Suddenly someone in the group ahead dropped their glove. The person shouted and requested us to bring it when we were coming. We shouted back and said we would. It came tumbling down and down and down.. and it just wouldn’t stop. That’s when we realised how steep and windy it was! The disappointment kinda faded.
The other group had reached the pass. Our technical guides were happy that they wouldn’t have to cut new steps, as the job was already done by the earlier group. They asked us to quickly get ready and start climbing behind Yash. There was a flock of sheep walking towards us. It was at quite a long distance. But we didn’t want them to reach us until we crossed the pass.
So we quickly started. The steps were ready, so it was easy. We would have climbed ten steps or so and we again saw something falling from the other group. This time it was a big rucksack. How many things were they going to drop! All at once I realised that I was mistaken and a chill passed through my nerves. There was a man falling along with the rucksack! And he came tumbling down just like that glove had…
Some people from our group ran and caught the man. God! Had they not stopped him, god knows what would’ve happened to him. He was unconscious. They took him down to a clearing, gave him first aid. After a while, he was back to consciousness. By that time, their guide had come down too. All of us were still in shock when all of this was happening.
When we finally started climbing, no one spoke a word for a long time. Yash had to cut fresh steps now, as the sheep-herd had crossed us and destroyed all the cut steps!
This climb to the pass seemed the longest and toughest one. Maybe it is the toughest one, or maybe it was because of the accident. But literally, phat gayi thi! (I was terrified!) So much that I did not even think of taking my camera out and clicking at least one picture of ‘the Rupin pass’.
All our leaders and guides were truly encouraging. Yash was there to show us where to step. Vishal and Dashodbhai would give us a hand and pull us up, whenever we were too scared of slipping and Lovely kept reassuring us, “Bhale aap gir jaao, main pakad lunga” (“Even if you slip and fall, I am here to catch you”)!
Honestly, I could pay attention to the beautiful walls in the pass only when I was a few steps away from the top. I am sure I missed a lot, just because I was too scared to look anywhere else other than at my next step!
Reaching the top seemed like the biggest achievement. I was super-happy. Not only because I successfully climbed the pass, overcoming my fears and so on, but also because I had tested my body to a slightly higher level than ever and I had proven my ability to myself. Firstly, this was the highest altitude I had climbed. I had completed it without taking diamox (and without getting a slightest headache). Secondly, this was the longest distance I had trekked for carrying my own backpack (this time heavier than last trek).
First thing we did was to throw away the backpack. The view from the pass was breathtaking. The long Kinner Kailash range was in front of us at the horizon, as if standing on the dias for a performance! On the right hand side, we could see the Nalgan pass.
When everyone reached, we performed a small pooja at a rock, which has been a tradition among the locals. We took a thousand pictures after that. Everyone was overwhelmed and was thanking all our leaders. Finally we have to leave and we say goodbye to Yash and Kiran with a heavy heart.
For our onward journey, we have a new technical instructor now. We stop once on the way for breakfast! Yup, we had packed another breakfast as the first one we had was at 4 o’clock in the morning.
During the descent, we covered at least half the glacier sliding down. This time, the slides were longer, hence faster and more exciting! At the end of every slide, we stopped feeling our bums!
The snow was thick here. Entire foot down. At times the snow was deeper, which we obviously wouldn’t realise from top and the next moment, the leg would be in knee-deep snow. We reached our last camp Rontigad around lunch-time.
We had gathered in the dining tent for evening tea. It started raining! I snowed a little too, if I remember correctly. So we refused to leave the tent and stayed there through the snacks, soup and dinner, until the good night hot. (Every night, for last few nights, they used to distribute hot water for night-time and morning, just before we went to bed.)
When we were having dinner, the cake arrived! Indiahikes has this amazing tradition to bake a cake on the last day of the trek. A cake, that too at over 14000 feet! Just hats off to the entire kitchen staff!
We had a small ceremony then. Everyone shared their thoughts about the trek, certificates were distributed. We just couldn’t leave the atmosphere in the dining tent. We left for our tents quite late after a lot of chitchat.
The last day. All the descent. I find it harder than climbing up. Knees and feet are dead by the end of it.
Now we walk along the Beas river, through gorgeous scenery. My friend twists his leg twice. So we are walking quite slowly. This gives me a lot of time to get back with my camera again and pick up a lot of garbage on the way.
Sometimes we fall back in the end. And Lovely would start singing his self-composed, funny sarcastic songs!
On our way down, we meet the trekker from the other group who had fallen down from the pass. One would have probably quit the trek and rushed to a city for medical help after such an accident. He had climbed the pass again. He completed his trek without getting on a stretcher or a mule.
We reached Sangla around 1 PM, had lunch in a small hotel. We have to rush, as Jayant has to catch a morning train from Kalka and we have only exactly enough time on hand.
We drop Vishal, Dashodbhai, Lovely to Rampur on our way, from where they would go back to the base camp to start the trek again with another batch. We move on to the city, to our same old, unromantic lives!
Let me know your thoughts in comments!
Thanks for reading 🙂