Saturday, March 27, 2010

On the trail of Gods - Part II

Next day we were up by six, but Kuldeep who had vanished the night before was nowhere to be seen. Bhandari’s son had assured us that he had gone to his place and should be back. We were still concerned that he had somehow forgotten that we had to leave early to reach Panar so as to reach well in time. This was going to be the toughest – if not the longest - part of our hike. But just as we had finished with morning rituals (read: ‘dumping’) and tea, Kuldeep turned up. Our bills settled with Bhandari and a few words of gratitude exchanged, we set out on our course to Panargumpha. A few women scurrying about their morning chores - with whom Kuldeep would exchange some words in a language completely incomprehensible to the three of us (I wondered at times if he joked with them about how slow we were) – and Kuldeep’s uncle’s home after, we were on a descent towards a ravine. The river flowing down there could be seen and heard too. There were a few women collecting grass on seemingly unreachable slopes. Suddenly Jayesh, Hrishi and Kuldeep started pointing towards something on the slopes far away. They thought that the small black figure could be a sloth bear. I joined them in their investigation. After a lot of pondering over the apparent height of the animal, the gait et cetera et cetera, we concluded that it was nothing but a cow or something since there were other of the kind as well. Wishing that we would come across some wild animal we climbed down towards the river.As we reached the bottom of the gorge, we decided to spend 15 minutes (strictly) on the river, refresh ourselves and take a few snaps. The place turned out to be quite serene. Gushing ice cold water with exquisite round pebbles on its banks, trees with their branches overhanging above the waters and some wonderful wildlife like the dippers dipping in the cold water to catch a beetle or two. Fifteen minutes over and we crossed the river to start on an ascent that Kuldeep informed us would not leave us all the way till Panar, still a good 10-13Kms away. As we walked along a path that hugged a high cliff on the right, we saw a figure in red and blue on the high slopes of the cliff, unusual colours to be present there. That turned out to be another woman collecting grass. Now that we thought was the height of it, literally and figuratively. We managed to take some snaps of her to remind us of how petty we were in our adventures. We carried on discussing how women here work harder than men. After some two and half hours of hard climbing later we reached a place called Tolitaal
. Taal is a lake and as the name suggested there indeed was a small lake. We had our much awaited Chikki Break and also gorged ourselves on the breakfast. As we started towards our path on the ridge above the taal Kuldeep asked us if we would like to have a cuppa (cup of tea that is). We were like…what could be better that a cup of hot tea in this beautiful weather. It was indeed a beautiful day. Sunny, yet with a slight cold in the air, snow capped peaks visible in the distance across the top of pine trees. Only if Sharmila was there, I would have felt like Rajesh Khanna from Aradhana. So Kuldeep took us to a small house (house, for the lack of a better word) of stone where a number of men including one very elderly one were sipping on their tea and were chatting (I don’t know about what). Kuldeep asked for tea and we joined the men in their chitchat. The old man turned out to be quite a chatterbox and almost delivered a sermon. He would talk about how the Almighty created this world and now how the man is making a mess of it, how he had seen his land of birth being changed in the name of development and how the God has His ways of expressing His wrath. As we finished our tea, we bid them all a goodbye and the old fellow wished us a safe journey ahead.
We were again on a road through the woods with all kinds of flowers all along, bhuila to munch on, butterflies and a rare sparkling blue feather which a man herding his cattle informed us, was of Monal, the most beautiful of the pheasants found around here. As he told us that the bird is often seen here, I was eager to spot one. But we were not to have a glimpse of the ‘out of this world’ bird until two days later. We reached the top of the hillock that we were climbing and clouds started gathering in a threatening fashion, as ever. Threatened they did not. They just delivered. It started pouring and it seemed that we had to face what was most dreaded. Getting drenched in the cold weather, with no food in our stomachs and another 5-6 kms to go. We took a shelter under a tree for a while as other passers by - mostly local folk - went by, much to our envy, with their rain protection. Thankfully it stopped raining. The rain had made it even colder and I thought I couldn’t go any further without satiating my appetite. So we had some food and boy…it was heavenly. From where we were having our meal, we could see the ponies that had passed us on the ascent blissfully grazing in the meadows across some distance. With some respite from hunger, we again set out on doing what we had come here for. Walk walk and walk.
Panaar, our destination for the night wasn’t far from here. A bunglow kind of structure (only with two rooms filled with hay) and a hutment cum kitchen of the caretaker. That’s all there was in that place. Human creations that is. Bang we went in to the kitchen and enquired if the caretaker had anything for us to eat. It turned out that his rations had almost been exhausted and would not arrive for a day or two. All that he had was lots of Maggie. Garma Garam Maggie. Who would not want that?! We sat by the fire (It was quite cold even though sunset was an hour away) and joined in the conversation of the caretaker and some his folks by the time he prepared our meal. Ask Maggie people to promote their 2-Minute campaign to these people. They would laugh at them. It takes quite some time to cook even though it’s not really very high altitude. One particular thing hanging from the ceiling caught our attention. A Cowboy Hat. That was a strange place for the hat. The caretaker tells us that his brother got it for him from Nagaland. Hrishi went so crazy after that hat that the salesman in him kicked right in. He wanted to convince the guy to give away the hat to him. Sadly, the guy turned to be a hard nut to crack. He just didn’t give in.
Well….having finished Maggie, it was time for the roll. Out we went and started rolling some stuff. The site and the sights were breathtaking. From where we were sitting, we could see a valley and a river gorge. On the other side were the majestic ranges of snow capped mountains. Suddenly there appeared this huge flock of goats n sheep. The shepherds here are a rich lot. I mean the flocks are literally huge. Nothing less than 200-300 animals. It was quite amusing to watch all these animals pass by us onto the meadow right opposite the kitchen-hut. And they would give us such curious looks, as if we were some aliens from other planets. We were, in fact. Especially the males ones would look at us as if we were going to steal their ‘wives’. Some of these males were like…huge animals, with huge horns. Some of them really scared the hell out of us with some threatening looks. To add to it, some of the rival males, among the goats as well as from amongst the sheep started fighting among themselves. That was some fighting to watch. The whole flock eventually settled down at the sundown. We also decided to arrange our beds (or rather sleeping bags) inside one of the rooms in the ‘bungalow’. Bed time had always been early since we started on this trek. By 8 we were curling up inside the sleeping bags.
Next morning, we were up by 5. The caretaker had already started putting some fire for hot water for us to bathe. This was the first time during our trek that we were bathing out in the open. It gets real here. It took quite some guts to bathe even with the hot water. The moment one is done with it, by the time one dries oneself, the breeze just whacks the shit out of one. Anyways, we did manage some feats up there. What a boost for the ego. We were to start towards our next destination, Rudranath, supposedly the toughest of the Panchkedars to reach

cont. on

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