Sunday, June 27, 1999
What a sweet swaying
breeze blows gently over the flowers,
IVE just returned from a trek in the hills and so am still drunk on the sights, sounds and smells. The river, meadows, valleys and hills have seeped into my consciousness, and I feel their presence within me...
To me a holiday is a time of doing what Ive always wanted to a time when my present (with all its myriad demands and preoccupations) ceases to exist and I create and live in a world of my own. Trekking in Himachal offered me a rare opportunity to completely escape this frenzied world of frayed nerves. The 10-day trek to Brighu Lake, organised by Adventure Activities Promoters (AAP), provided wholesome holiday, one where I had both the leisure to roamaround and also indulge in thrilling adventure activities.
AAP has been conducting successful annual trekking programmes to various beautiful destinations in the Indian Himalayas from Pindari Glacier to Beas Kund, to Har-Ki-Doon, to Dodital, to Kafni Glacier, to Kushkalyan. Committed to promote the spirit of adventure and a love for nature, AAPs concept of adventure tourism is consistent with the principles of preservation of the environment, ecology, nature ad culture of the areas visited.
The 10-day-long trek to Brighu Lake (at 14,000 ft) in Himachal Pradeash began with our departure for base camp at Solang Nala, a few kms from the hill station of Manali. Approaching our transit camp at Bilaspur in the early hours of the morning I watched, mesmerised, the rosy dawn break, and the sky wear hues from orange and pink to grey and then back to an awesome orange. Bilaspur appeared a sleepy hill town slowly arousing to dawn. I also noticed (as most observant travellers would surely have) the atrocious spellings in small towns. A board at an eatery said Corn Falex and Secrem Bel, and after a great deal of perplexity, we deciphered Cecrem Bel meant scrambled eggs. Continuing our journey to Manali, we passed many other such towns and were slowly moving along sinuous winding roads. All the way upto Manali we frequently saw streams, thickly vegetated hills and also tourist lodges with interesting names like Blue Moon and Whispering Rocks.
In the beautiful Himalayan valley, the Solang Nala, where we had our base camp, we set up bright red and green tents amongst the tall pine trees surrounded by snow-covered peaks. The vibrant gurgling river took my breath away. The next day was the orientation day, a day to get acclimatised and oriented to the new environment. We were at 8000 ft. and the temperature was around 25°C. (It got chilly in the nights when one slept off to the gentle roar of the river). The river Beas (The Sanskrit name is Vipasa or Argikiya) rises on the southern face of the Rohtang Pass in Kulu hills not far from the source of the Ravi at a height of 4000m. It has a total length of 470 km and drains an area of 25,900 sq. km. We are taken for a short walk around the valley to familiarise us with the terrain and prepare us for the next few days. We see many coniferous species, and also mosses and ferns. The other trees that we are able to identify along the way are pine, deodar and fir. In the night, doing the Dandiya Ras (which I lernt from some Gujarati frients Id made in our group) warms us up.
The next day we leave for Kothi, where we have our first camp. The trek is relatively easy and we manage without much panting and fatigue. After lunch, I set off to explore Kothi village with a friend (Shes come all the way from Goa). Kothi is at a height of 9000 ft. and like most Indian villages, is in a state of transition. I spy a curious looking dish antenna and chatting with the woman, Kaushalya Devi, who lives there, I find out how she loves watching Star TV but only when she has the time. Hill women do a lot of work farming and household work besides tending children. Kaushalya tells me how she grows corn, beans, potato and cashew and how the apple crop has been particularly bad this year. Her house has a wooden roof covered with big slate rocks to prevent it from leaking or breaking when theres snow or a hailstorm. Kothi is a medium-sized village with about 30-35 huts/houses. The nearby villages, Palchan, Behang, Ruar, Kulang, Barua, the children there tell me, are bigger. Kothi has a little primary school up to class five and one has to go all the way down to Palchan (half-an-hour walk) of one needs to see a doctor.
After a wonderful time at the village, as we walk back to our camp, our ears pick up some melodious notes. We see a shepherd playing the flute. The cows too seemed to have been lulled and had stopped moving and grazing to listen with their heads turned towards one side.
However, while walking back, we also see a sight that saddens us. It is disturbing to see the complete lack of ecoconsciousness among the tourists the careless littering of waste paper, plastic glasses, wrappers, etc.. that are an eyesore and a blot on the lush green. In the evening we march off to collect wood for the camp fire. The children in our group are enthusiastic and with superb teamwork and coordination, we quickly gathered a big pile which we carry in bunches. After dinner the camp fire seems a grand cultural affair with people from different regions Gurarat, Punjab, Goa, Maharashtra singing songs. Everybody soon picks up the chorus and the hills are alive with the sound of music.
The next day is full of activity and we get doses of various exciting activities rock-climbing and river-crossing. With experts to teach us the basics, and after an exciting demonstration we are ready to take on the rugged rocks. We learn about the various footholds and handholds (like pinch holds, handshake, pressure hand, etc.), and the equipment used and their functions. With every precaution taken and safety ensured, rock-climbing seems easy and fun.
The next morning we were ready to leave for Gulaba, our second and last camp. This 4-5 km stretch, through jungle, streams and meadows, was difficult but exhilarating. The breathless uphill climb yielded breathtaking sights. We also realised how we had learnt in the past few days to move across different terrains, find footholds, tread cautiously when you have to and leap and bound when one wants to. Little streams flowed across our path and we drank and splashed the sparkling water across our faces. Walking through the meadows sprayed with tiny wildflowers yellow, mauve, pink and white and flitting colourful butterflies, was a delight. The medows were so peaceful that one could hear the fall of a leaf and we whispered to each other not wanting to break the serenity of the hills. The delicious breeze that whistled through the trees provided the necessary push and the vitality to keep going.
Finally reaching our camp at Gulaba, at about 11,000 ft. we were famished, but after a nutritious meal were off again to collect wood. The campfire this time had a different flavour with our Pahari friends singing their songs, Lokraj, whose horse Lalu had carried one of the older women in our group, all the way up, danced gracefully to the melodious songs. The hill people have a sense of rhythm that comes to them naturally, perhaps from being so close to nature. One of the men, Tej Singh, who was betrothed and was to be married in the following week, sang soulful songs about his beloveds beauty and about missing her, in their language Kullubee.
We were up early the next morning because it was the day when we should trek to our destination Brighu Lake. From our camp at Gulaba, we could see the Pir Panjal range. The 400 km-long Pir Panjal range is a part of Himachal or the lesser or middle Himalayas and extends between the Jhelum and Beas rivers. It stretches to form the Dhauladhar range to its south-east. The other ranges are the Nag Tibba range, the Mussourie range and the Mahabharat range in Nepal. Most of the trek from Gulaba to Brighu was covered with snow. After we had climbed uphill (about 4-5 km) we reached our skiing point where we learnt how to wear ski shoes and runners, hold ski sticks and ski down the slopes. Everybody, including the adults, enjoyed sliding in the snow, and playing with snowballs.
Some of us then took off for Brighu Lake, a 2-km trek in the snow. It was a steep climb and we cautiously made footholds and learnt the correct way to walk in the snow. Finally reaching our destination, we were enchanted by the awesome sight. The holy lake Brighu, at 14,000 ft. in the middle of the lofty snow-covered mountains, was a sight to drink in. This was the place where Rishi Brighu had meditated and written the sacred book, Brighu Samita in which the past and future of all humans can be read out. We were on in the land of gods and goddesses and spent some time meditating and contemplating. Everyday existence and toils and hardships of livng seemed so far away. The trek back was great fun, as we slid through snow most of the way, knowing how to stop and avoid rocks and treacherous snow. From up there, we could also see other Himalayan peaks such as Mt Hanuman Tibba, Mt. Friendship, Mt. Ladakhi, etc.
Returning to base camp
the next day, everybody was sad at the thought of
leaving. Time had ceased to exist and no one had noticed
how the days spent together had just flown by. The trek
had been a tremendous learning experience for each one of
us. It had brought out the best in all of us and we felt
we had grown to be stronger and better human beings. The
children, away from home and indulging mothers had learnt
to fend for themselves, wash their own utensils, carried
their own rucksacks, manage with available and limited
resources. Everybody felt refreshed, body, mind and soul,
and while the sharp hill sun had burnt our faces, our
eyes had feasted on the greens and the hills, and our
spirit revived. We felt we had gathered memories and
forged bonds that would last for life.
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