Peek of a Peak: Kang Yatse 2

On our way from Thochungtse to Nimaling valley

After finalising on Kang Yatse 2, I had my travel arrangements in place and waited eagerly for Jul 12. I had stopped my cross fit training a couple of days before leaving to give my body the required rest before starting the expedition. Plus, I started experiencing lower back pain which would turn out to be a slipped disc case just after a month. Ignoring such rarest possibility emerging out of a lower back pain, I started visualising the summit day and my excitement to be on the top of the world. Having said that, I was also prepared for possibility of being barred from attempting the summit by the trek leader.

Clouds hovering over Kang Yatse
Unpredictable weather on the peak

On 22nd of July at around 12:15 AM, I could sense some bustle going on around the tent. I was unable to sleep due to anxiety over the summit chase we were attempting this night. Last afternoon, we could spot some trekkers coming down the glacier after their summit who looked so minuscule on this mighty creation of nature. I woke up Suresh and Siddharth and we packed our bags with crampons, ice axe, water and food. It was pitch dark and cold. Also, it was a lucky day for us as the weather was calm, both at the base camp and on the peak. Geared with a layer of breathable thermals, quick dry t-shirts and down jackets, we started climbing towards the glacier. I must say it was pretty steep. We couldn’t climb more than 15 steps at a time. The oxygen getting diminished gradually could be felt. After 3 hours of climb, we reached a point at around 5700m where actual glacier trek would begin. After adorning ourselves with harnesses, gaiters, crampons, helmets and ice axe, the guide called upon us to come one by one so that he could tie us by the rope. And then, we continued towards the silent dark.

All 8 of us were in-line secured by a rope. It was a good slope: some 45 degrees. We had to dig our crampon-ed feet in the snow to stay still. One step at a time without wasting much energy. Anyone barely spoke, except the guide. We just treaded through the way, in the dark. Dawn broke over the mountain at around 05:30. With slight light to guide our way, we could see the whitewashed arena. So sacred it felt! Not a single speck of dust, not a single change in colour: Just White! And what’s down there on right hand side? Vast emptiness. It was such a huge glacier! With this kind of slope, anyone would be afraid to slide down. After some 20 minutes of sluggish walking, I asked my friend to look right. He got equally horrified as I because what we were looking at was a whole mass of black cloud approaching us from a distance. I have never seen such a huge black vapour ball so close in my entire lifetime. ‘It must be normal‘, I convinced myself, as the guide was not bothered about it coming towards us like a storm.

Moving ahead, the light got stronger and the views got more astounding. Even though the atmosphere was harsh, the ultimate landscapes paid for it. The clouds disappeared for some time. It gave us a scope to greet other mountains surrounding Kang Yatse which were relatively smaller. The sole fact that no other mountain in my farthest sight was higher than the one I was standing on right then made me feel contended and proud. The patterns formed by the snow-topped Himalayas were breathtakingly fantastic. It seemed like the mountains had draped white rugs to beautify themselves. Some beautiful things come at a good cost and I am glad I paid that cost. (Don’t think in terms of money!)

Also READ: A nature trek at Bir, Himachal Pradesh

Time was an illusion there; so was space. When your mind and body both start playing games with you, you might not know how to react. That’s why rigorous physical and mental training is required. My body weight suddenly felt doubled to me. Each walking step was a mourning gut. Crampons can be blamed as equally as should be thanked. Without them, you are nowhere on a glacier. Wind gushed through us from all the directions. What we wore: The scientific layering of clothing, seemed useless suddenly. Never had I ever felt so dry from inside, constantly in a need of a sip of water which, given our task, was pretty much limited. Even to reach my water bottle strapped in my backpack, I couldn’t garner enough courage to remove the double-layered gloves. We were so exhausted that after every 4 steps, we would need a break. But no one is ever rich enough in terms of time when we do an expedition. There’s a turnaround time and there’s a protocol. Mountains should never be underestimated.

We were gaining height with every step. With every other climbing step, the air became thinner. To survive in this beautiful abode was a test of our ability and will. It’s also important in such conditions how supporting your partners are. Fortunately, I had great motivators in my gang. I remember when one of us at the end of the rope felt disgustingly frightened and was shouting at this height because one of our climbing guides, the only person behind him, took a short break to fix the rope, all of us energy-deprived guys motivated him till the guide returned. Anyone among us in his place would have got terrified. Loads of love for this group!

After some time, we encountered a steep slope to climb to save some time. It required strong use of ice axe. This half a kilogram tool could support more than five times my body weight if properly affixed by the pick. The quality of technical equipments and the expertise of guide matter a lot on the mountains. We encountered a minor crevasse on our way up the slope which we had to jump through by fixing our axe above the crevasse and bouncing our bodies with the push of our legs with full power to get to the other side. It was a daunting task at that altitude for us. Strength training came to help during this moment.

We kept climbing the mountain until we came to a small plain area. Well, it looked relatively plainer. Resting our backs on an elevated, tilted portion of a huge rock, we took out our food supplies. After 10 mins of breather, our guide called to continue. With huge spirits, we all got up on our metal feet. Our trembling legs just had some 200m left to climb for the summit. My breathing frequency had escalated to 5 times the normal. My limbs felt numb. My chest expanded and mouth wide open in search of oxygen. The two sides of the brain started debating with each other whether to continue or not. The side which suggested to continue won. But merely after 20m further, the other side reclaimed its victory. Yes, I stopped there. It seems like a difficult decision but believe me, at that altitude, in those conditions, it was so simple, so relieving! The others continued, apart from us two.

The trek was a much required experience. It officially started on 16th July after two initial days reserved for acclimatisation at Leh during which we strolled down the main roads and small streets of the city and had local cuisines serve our guts.

Chilling (3200m): some 55 km from Leh, served as our starting point as it does for some real good treks including Chadar trek. From Chilling, we had a small trek of around 3-4 hours towards Skiu (3400m). The terrain was monotonously barren on the first day. Skiu was relatively greener and had a river by the camp side. To our excitement, we spotted a double rainbow carving its way between the mountains and forming a canopy over the river. Day 2 showed us a long trek from Skiu to Markha (3700m). Markha valley is so beautiful that in the arid deserts of Ladakh, you cannot imagine such a green place. Thochungtse (4200m) was our next destination which again proved to be an exhausting trek of 7 hours. The locals we met on the way and the journey itself was so beautiful that all our exhaustion melted away. On day 4, we camped at Nimaling (4720m) which was a pretty exposed plain green area resting between Kongmaru-la on the left and Kang Yatse base camp towards the right. The last camping site would be the base camp at 5150m. From here, we could see our goal: KY2. The hide and seek between the clouds and the mountains didn’t allow us to get a clearer picture of Kang Yatse twin peaks till the next day. It looked beautiful and dreadful at the same time.

I would never say I would regret the decision to stop before the summit. The mountain will always be there and I can always come back provided I am alive, fit and fine. It is really important to know our limits and stop whenever required to. It is not about proving our mental fitness but it is about being wise in a calculated manner during such situations. You can map such situations to real life and see the results for yourselves.

This blog comes in relevance to one of my previous blogs on preparing for high altitude treks. Also, if you are planning to build up stamina and endurance, running is a great exercise. Visit my blog on running to know more.

Preparing for high altitude treks

Kang Yatse

And finally, after months of contemplation and efforts, I could manage to do my first high altitude trek. A lot of questions revolved around my mind when I planned to invest nearly all my vacation days in a solitary, outlying place in the depths of Himalayas. I thought of sharing some common concepts here about high altitude treks. Inbox me if you still have any questions.

Idea in mind

The whole idea of a trek erupted after I read a Facebook ad about Stok Kangri by an adventure group emphasizing the statement- ’Highest trekkable peak in India’. Such ads quite excite the target audience like me. I did a real good research on what this peak is, whose name I haven’t ever heard of. Web search dictates this peak as one of the highest trekkable destinations in India with a cloud touching altitude of 6153m. Six thousand meters! The highest I had ever done till that date was 4200m in Himachal and never thought that some normal naive trekker with limited climbing experience can summit a SIX THOUSAND meters peak. It really excited me to dig further about it.

Further reading and a few discussions with diverse adventure groups suggested that Stok Kangri has become a commonplace. People don’t even get proper place to erect their tents at the base camp. And indeed, it is very much crowded. You won’t be able to figure out  if your tent is on a poop. Even people who haven’t got trained enough for the trek attempt the summit. They face the consequences later. Neverthless, the word ‘CROWDED’ itself drained all my interest in this peak and I began my search for similar such peaks in India. As a matter of fact, the peaks in 6000m club are mostly at Ladakh. I found a couple of others, certified as ‘trekkable or require minor mountaineering skills’. These peaks were namely Kang Yatse 2 in Markha valley (6250m. Remember, Kang Yatse 1 at 6400m is very much technical.) and Mentok Kangri (6400m) in Tso Moriri region of Ladakh.

Kang Yatse 2 or any such high altitude peak for that matter, I later learned, is not that straight forward and requires you to build quite a good amount of endurance, strength and stamina. If you are going there without getting trained, you might end up quitting even before you reach the base camp. In many circumstances, one might face AMS as well. So beware to do your homework starting a couple of months before the start of your trek. I did a lot of crossfit sessions and running sessions before I considered myself fit for it.

READ: My adventures during Kang Yatse 2 trek

Reason to train

Okay. I got your question. Why do we need training?

In the Himalayas, it’s not just about going down the trail. After a certain altitude (say 2500m), human body faces the effects of altitude. This is because of the decrease in environmental air pressure as the altitude increases, which results in decrease in the amount of oxygen. If your body doesn’t get the required amount of oxygen, it will not work efficiently. The brain itself, even though it weighs just 5% of the total body weight, uses around 15% of the oxygen the body gets.

Building physical endurance

Now how does training help?

  1. Proper cardio exercises like running, swimming or even cycling can help build the cardiopulmonary systems stronger and also build the required endurance. If your lungs have more capacity to hold oxygen, it will be beneficial where the oxygen is less.
  2. Breathing exercises will help you gain control over your heart beats.
  3. Some high intensity trainings like crossfit and boxing will make your body adapt to less amount of oxygen.
  4. A little strength training can add icing to the cake as you need to carry your own body weight plus the backpack up on the hills while ferrying from one camp to the other.
  5. Apart from this, it’s better if you follow a proper diet (not for reducing weight!!). Increase the intake of protein, iron, antioxidants and vital vitamins in your food. This will help build immunity and increase oxygen-carrying red blood cells in your body.
  6. Plus, a complete no-no to cigarettes and alcohol before a couple of months and during the trek.

Also READ: How to start running

Building mental endurance

Physical training is absolutely necessary but what most of the crowd miss out is a proper mental endurance. Due to high popularity and glamour such kind of expeditions carry, most of the people don’t understand the importance of mental preparation which is required. This is mainly because majority of the crowd is first timer for high altitude treks and have not been exposed to such unforgiving conditions before.

Following are some of the ways to build the same:

  1. Build confidence in yourself that you can do it. Be prepared for adverse weather conditions and the resulting effects on your body and mind.
  2. Visualize the game before starting it. Look for the complete picture, read the blogs by people who have already did the trek, converse with your trek leaders about diverse terrains to be encountered.
  3. Build your passion towards travel and motivate yourself and the team. As your brain might not function normally at higher altitudes leading to depression and negative vibes, it’s your will power and the control over your mind which will define your achievement in the end.
  4. Understand your limits and build tendency to accept failures. Even if you are not able to do it today, you can always come back with better preparation tomorrow. Mountain will always be there. At least, you will get to know your limits and the areas to work on.

Things to carry

For the summit day, you will require crampons/snow boots, gaiters, ice axe and a helmet which are normally provided by the adventure group you would be associated with. You are required to get your own basic trekking and winter gear. For me, the most difficult part was to decide on what to wear during the trek and how much to pack in the bag. It’s a common rule that your backpack should be light.

You should read about a real good explanation on the concept of layering of clothes here.

I carried the things mentioned below for the trek which I have shared on my Insta as well. I got nearly everything from Decathlon.

Backpack stuff
Things to carry for a high altitude trek
  1. 60L backpack
  2. Rain cover for the backpack (40-60L)
  3. 20-35L backpack (useful for the summit day)
  4. 10L daypack (useful in your initial acclimatization days)
  5. Couple of quick dry breathable t-shirts
  6. Couple of pairs of quick dry breathable socks for trek, woolen socks and one pair of woolen gloves (just in case), muffler
  7. Waterproof trekking shoes (>=5000mm. Make sure the midsole of the shoe is not very soft. For me, Forclaz 500 did the job. It costed me around 5000 bucks.)
  8. Flip-flops or sneakers (useful while on the camps)
  9. Biodegradable garbage bags (can be used as laundry dry bags as well)
  10. Toilet kit (sunscreen with >=40 SPF is most important)
  11. Notepad and pen, energy bars, reusable water bottles(2), napkins, head cap
  12. Tiffin box, cup, spoon
  13. Quick dry towel
  14. Down jacket (or a fleece jacket, for the cold)
  15. Waterproof and thus, windproof shell jacket (RET 12. This will not keep you warm. It will just protect you from wind and water.)
  16. UV protective polarized sun glasses (most important), night glasses (optional)
  17. Breathable inners or thermals
  18. Light weight hiking pants (couple of them will do)
  19. Baliclavas
  20. Identity documents (for permit to climb mountain)
  21. Headtorch (you will need it for the summit day and while on the camp), lighter, compass, camphors, insect repellant, playing cards, carabiners, scissors, clips, fevi sticks
  22. Medical kit

It was a mixed feeling of gamble, mystery, excitement and fear.

At an altitude of 6200m, this summit chase was my first ever high altitude trek. Proper training is required to conquer such a height, as already mentioned by me, and Cultfit helped me in my quest.

A lot of time, energy and money was spent for this trip and it is worth all the resources.

Seeking peace at Gokarna!

Gokarna

I am always enthused about beaches. My long list of travel in this division includes Digha, Mandarmani, and Pondicherry on the west coast of India, Mumbai, numerous popular as well as hidden beaches in Goa and so on. This time, the long awaited, mostly unexplored, silent beach town of Gokarna robbed my heart. This place never caught my attention due to a lesser-acclaimed, self-absorbed nature of this place. But after visiting it, I wonder why people want to compare it to Goa. It has its own essence, its own rhythm. And I loved the way it is and want it to be what it is now, forever!

gokarna map
A short depiction of the outlines of Gokarna

We were 5 this time. 3 girls, 2 guys. An unanticipated weekend plan it was during the month of December when most of the vacationers get on the beaches. We all were traveling from Bengaluru and booked an AC-sleeper bus from Race course road at 8 PM. The journey takes somewhere around 8-10 hours from Bengaluru, a mere 500 km. After a couple of hours of games and chats, the journey paused with a dinner break at a Dhaba near Tumakuru. Thanks to the short duration of halt, we had to hurry up eating the junk, all-prepared food. Thankfully, we had enough bites before boarding the bus at Bangalore. Being full and well fed, everyone went back to sleep as soon as the bus kicked off.

Early mornings while traveling are always special. You get to see the difference between this new place and ours. Different types of farms on the roadsides, different culture of the locals, different landscapes! Being a coastal area, Gokarna seemed full of coconut and Banana trees. The sun was rising up amongst these tall, sturdy, natural structures. The conventional art of a school kid on paper went real! Such a  beautiful morning it was!

The bus reached at sharp 6:30 AM. As soon as we alighted, we saw deserted roads besides some autos standing in the corners. Unlike other places where auto-wallahs rush up at the bus gates to catch customers, this place was quite at peace. We had to reach out to an auto to take us to our destination – Zostel. We were getting a knack of this less-commercialized place. Leaving aside some shacks and resort, the most economical and backpacker-friendly stay we could find was Zostel. It seemed like auto-wallahs had formed a union to quote 100 bucks for any customer, wherever you go in this small town of 11 sq km. We settled them down at 80 and got hold of two autos.

Zostel is around 3 km from the local bus stop. It is located at the hill top near Gokarna beach. As soon as we reached there, we could spot some wooden shacks on the left which were private rooms and a dormitory building in the front. The dorms were relatively clean and well equipped at Zostel, a backpacker’s haven. We reached out to the reception to find out that rooms shall be available only by 12 noon as it is an official check-in/check-out time. We were given this common area until that time which was pretty cool. We had our luggage kept there. After getting fresh, we had some guitar time on the wonderful terrace they have, which has a splendid view of the surrounding beaches and town. It felt so awesome this morning. The only sound of the strings amongst fresh breeze and treat-to-the-eyes-view. So silent it was that it felt like we were hearing what we played, so properly, for the first time.

zostel cafe gokarna
The rooftop cafe at Zostel facing Gokarna beach

There’s this rooftop cafe at Zostel where you can enjoy your meals and drinks while watching the mighty, blue Arabian Sea. We took our sumptuous breakfast of veg cheese sandwich with a much-needed cup of hot coffee. On the suggestion of the Zostel manager, we decided to trek from Gokarna to Kudle beach. The trek is on the sidelines of the sea among the jungles. The magnificent views of the sea this trek provided us are incomparable. Most of the times in our trek, there were rocky parts all the way down where the white waters gushed with a burst. The sound of the waves flooding the black mountains was audible even on the top where we were trekking. The trek was fairly easy. After numerous halts to watch the awe-inspiring views and of course, for photography, we managed to reach Kudle in a couple of hours. There, we found a nice shack called Ganga Cafe offering chilled beer and great food. By the beach we sat, holding the beer in hand, singing songs of love, and thinking of all the precious things God had just shown us.

Also READ: 9 reasons to travel Goa during Monsoons

When you have a DSLR in your group, photography never ends. It continued for one more hour. We had a walk on this clear white sand beach with slippers in hand. The sand was so fine grained, so soft, so tender. This feeling of soft touch below the feet with slight waters oscillating seemed to have a direct connection to your mind and memories. It makes you think. It helps you meditate. It makes you love isolation.

 

meditating at beach
A perfect place to Meditate – Silent Beaches!

 

“Anna, 300 per person to cover all the beaches in a boat”, said a voice from behind. Now Gokarna has overall 5 beaches which can be covered up via trek or a boat. It was late afternoon and Kudle beach has the best sunset view as it faces the west side. So, we went for the latter option after bargaining till 200 per person. On our way, we were able to spot some lovely dolphins slowly swimming their way. It took us an hour to get back to Kudle beach where we happily settled down in front of a resort and watched the orange ball submerge gradually into the waters. It was fabulous.

We decided to gulp one more beer. We had our guitar. We played the strings and sang the songs. Songs of friendship, songs of youth. It was getting duskier with every passing moment allowing the stars to glitter and the tides to rise. It was time to decide a dinner place.

Beach Trek
Trek from Kudle to Om beach

And Cafe 1987 it was. It was dark out there with a full HD, somewhere around 55″ TV with Avatar movie playing on it for some customers. Luckily, candles were another source of light at this popular place at this time. At first, it seemed like we made a wrong choice. But after having all Italian food, our opinion altered. Also, you must try the yummy pancakes here. With heavy tummies, we went back to Zostel by walk. It was hardly a kilometer from Kudle beach to Zostel if you opt for tar roads. Some notice board mentioned, “Beware of robbers!” And from that moment on, our eyes and ears became open 360 deg till we reached our destination.

Back to Zostel by 11 PM, we went to bed as we had decided to start early trek (at around 6!) from Gokarna beach to Paradise beach facing south with Kudle beach, Om beach, Half Moon beach on the way (Refer the map above). This could easily consume more than half a day. The shacks provided us a really comfortable sleep.

graffitis
Graffitis all over at Zostel Gokarna

Mornings are always lazy for me. Our plan got delayed by a couple of hours, making us trek in scorching heat in the end. We had light breakfasts before leaving to garner some energy. We decided to trek from Kudle beach this time and so, had a road walk till Kudle beach. Our trek started effectively at around 9! A slight ascend for some 15-20 minutes followed by a completely straight path, on the edge of the mountain, with just the blue sea below us. Our right side was a full panoramic view. Sitting on the historic mighty walls of Chapora fort at Goa also gives us a similar view. It seemed like we were the only ones on the trek. And it was good in a way. Just the jungles, sea and us. After an hour, we reached Om beach. It got its name as it is shaped like the auspicious ॐ symbol. It is also the center for several water sports activities such as surfing, water-skiing, parasailing, and banana boat rides. 

As soon as we reached there, we encountered this very famous cafe in nearly all the travel blogs – Namaste Cafe! Awesome ambiance, awesome food. Awesome sandwiches actually! Though we didn’t find the service good. Post that, we had some good time on the white sands of the beach. Fortunately, the weather was on our side that day. We sat on the edge of one of the many huge rocks Om beach has, feeling the moist winds on the face, witnessing the astounding beauty of the place. We tried capturing boomerang videos with our names written on the sand being whitewashed by the sea. Amazing time!

Time to move on to another beach – Half Moon. The crowd was even lesser here. Separated by a cliff from Om Beach, this beach is a perfect spot for unwinding and relaxation. With umpteen hammocks set amidst trees, you have splendid reading spots here. If camping is in your mind, just jump right in. We had a good time swimming here as the water is shallow for quite a considerable distance from the shore. And I realized, my swimming movement was so jammed for years! It was already past noon and we were famished. So we decided to have a good lunch in a nearby shack with beers to fight the increasing temperature. This shady shack was home to a couple of nice kittens whom we fed. The beach was so attractive that we went for another round of swimming! All done, we were set to leave for Paradise.

This is the fourth and final beach along the coast of Gokarna town. The hike was a bit tricky but took not more than 25 minutes for us to reach there. This beach is very small, just 150 meters in length. It used to be a Hippie’s paradise a few years ago. It is also ideal for camping at night. It is a perfect place if someone wants to get disconnected! Pure solace. Unfortunately, we didn’t have much time to stay here as it was already late and we had to rush back to Zostel and catch the bus back to Bangalore. We reached Gokarna beach in about 15 minutes in a boat we hired. Back to our rooms, we packed the luggage and booked a couple of autos for a drop to check post.

Paradise beach
The final beach of the trek – Paradise beach

A journey of a couple of days but it was a feeling where I felt complete satisfaction. A satisfaction of a travel. A satisfaction of isolation from the world. A satisfaction to be at peace. And ultimately, what a person demands from a vacation is satisfaction. So, here I sign off happily from Gokarna! I will visit it again really soon.

Also READ: TripHobo: A review

A nature trek at Bir

We had quite a considerable travel for this year. And by considerable I mean, it was an experience, an amalgam of varied people and varied souls. It was merely an experiment to dig off this place called Bir, which I had never heard of in my whole lifetime, but supposedly is an amazing destination, quite unexplored till now. It holds the credit of hosting the Paragliding World Cup in 2015. This comes to it with its naturally apt place for paragliding which is the second highest place in the world for this adventure. And can you believe it’s just a couple of hours journey from McLeodganj? Bir is one of the most amazing paragliding destinations in the world.

We had a wedding ceremony to attend at Chandigarh on 25th Oct 2016. Our plan was to hit the mountains before the ceremony as we seldom get a chance to travel to the northern parts of India. Flying off from Bangalore, we reached Delhi early morning on 21st. We didn’t even have a half-baked plan till then. 3 places continuously hovered our minds regarding the final destination to opt for. Priority wise, the list seemed like Manali, McLeodganj, Bir. We were then at ISBT, Delhi, half an hour distance from the airport. All the inter-state buses originate from here. Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Rajasthan, name it! All the transport departments have their buses present here. We were constantly enquiring about various timings, duration and other things for that matter to reach the above places. Ultimately, after strenuous 2 hours, we found out that we will be able to visit Bir only, given the constrictive time frame. So here the story began.

We booked our tickets for the evening bus to Kangra and planned a visit to Chandni Chowk in Delhi in the leftover time. Without any doubt, Chandni Chowk has the most diverse and authentic food items than any other street in India. We tasted around 10 different dishes on a single lane leaving aside some. The nature of this place is such that any Indian would feel connected to the country here. It has all sorts of religious places side by side. A mighty Gurudwara, a silent Church, an architecturally marvelous mosque, a pure Jain temple and colorful Hindu temples. All at one place. And yet, there are no fights. A kind of unity that we read in our textbooks is visible here. After a long walk in this Bazaar, we headed back to ISBT. We left Delhi at around 6.30 PM amidst the blowing horns, unmoving cars, the overloaded buses and smoky air.

The beautiful Kangra valley
The beautiful Kangra Valley

After a long journey of 12 hours, we reached this place with beautiful mountains all around. The world’s largest peaks are here, the Himalayas. Though the season wasn’t snow-favorable, we loved the exquisite beauty of these mountains. The dense lines of Oaks, Rhodendrons, and Deodars makes this place so green and cold. After getting down from the bus, we had to hire a cab to reach our stay at Zostel. Zostels are among the best backpacker’s hostels in India. With quite an economic pricing, open and cool nature, and awesome customised itineraries for their customers, this place has gained attention not only of the Indian backpackers but of the foreigner travelers as well.

Zostel Bir
Zostel Bir

We got dorms for us and had our unpacking started. After getting fresh, we had a walk around the silent town. Villagers say, all these hotels, restaurants, cafes have opened up in a year to satisfy tourism. People are gradually putting this place on their travel list. Thank God, we came here before encountering any more rush. We had a delicious English breakfast at this beautiful place called Joy Cafe. After this, we went back to Zostel and found out some people are leaving for a couple of days trek followed by Paragliding. We initially had a plan to do paragliding alone and leave for Mcleodganj for a couple of days there. But looking at the number of people and the nature of trek, we thought and confirmed our inclusion in this sudden plan.

We were a total of 12 people. Most of them were solo travelers. The trek began only after we reached the base village after three hours journey from our hostel in a jeep. The village seemed quite friendly. Before the villagers, we trekkers needed to be friendly with each other. After already having some basic conversations during the travel to base camp about each other’s how-abouts, we mixed among ourselves so quickly that the bond still exists. We walked among the bushes and the moderately difficult terrains. Our trek was mostly along the unmotorable paths. We waved our hellos and namastes to the villagers, “gadariyas”. We had hold of some really sweet little sheep on the way. They undergo a lot of pain to give us a bunch of wool. What a sacrifice and no one counts! Initial day trek plan was to reach a village and stay in tents overnight.

 

The first-day trek was approx 8 km and took us 4 hours including all the breaks. In between, we crossed River Uhl in Barot, which is a part of the watershed of Beas river. There is this man-made bridge above the river to connect the two sides. Man-made bridges are considered risky by many as it shakes with every movement of yours on it. The rope tied structure and wooden platform take the shit out of you. And you see down, it’s cold fierce white river! We decided to have a halt by the riverside. I tried putting my hand in the river and my hand froze for a few seconds. The river water is the fresh molten ice of the Dhauladhar ranges, Himalayas. I took a pint of water in my enclosed hands and gulped it straight in my mouth. The divine feeling is still engraved in my mind. So cold yet impressive, takes everything in its way yet tastes the same at every point, so emotionless yet takes out the emotions from every other living being on the earth. A river is a perfect example of solidarity.

 

We left the riverside in an hour and the skies already began to turn dusky. We had our mobile torches handy and after a simple trek of a couple of hours, we reached our destination. It was a small guest house amidst the mountains. We had an option to stay inside the rooms or outside in tents. Of course, tents! Before going to sleep, we had hot tasty dinner prepared by the caretaker of the guest house. The campfire was arranged by our guide. We already had a good stock of rum and whiskey. What else is needed to feel warm? People began to tell their horror stories one by one drinking sips of whiskey in this cold planet. The singing session followed, again, one by one. Then the usual talks about the nature of jobs everyone had. We had 4 IRS officers, 2 software engineers, a CA, a medical student, an architect and a marketing executive in our group. Everyone had a different story and a diversified life. It was a pleasure hearing them all.

 Also READ: My adventures during Kang Yatse 2 trek

Everyone was tired and went to bed shortly. We had a great sleep inside the tents. Really great, at effectively around 5 deg Celsius.

The next morning, we could spot the sun coming out of the mountains gradually and throwing light on our drowsy faces. Sunny faces rose up and everyone was awed by the beauty of this place. Imagine a place with no city culture, only trees, mountains, rivers and you! We all had a sumptuous breakfast. The place is so serene that we thought of having a stay there for a day. But given the timelines and our further excitement for Paragliding, everyone revved up and got ready for yet another day of trekking.

 

Soon, the weather turned hot. We were segregated into groups. The trek was quite beginner level but a lot of walking. We walked and walked till we got to a place where we saw sheep being shaved for wool. There was this human-heighted machine and the sheep were being pulled between that to razor them. Poor little sheep. Felt bad hearing their screams and realized how selfish humans are. Soon, we returned to our track and within a couple of hours, we had a bright resting spot. We could even see the Billing mountain from that place. The place was quite photogenic and hence, we all had several group shots. After around half an hour of rest, we moved on, to cross yet another mountain. This one was the last. Our patience was being tested. We could see paragliders hanging in the air and gliding like eagles. So high they were. It felt like colorful kites are flying.

Paragliding
Flying without the wings

After another couple of hours, we reached this mountain called Bir-Billing. Finally! The first thing that came to mind was food. Definitely, everyone was hungry. We ordered the special north Indian Maggi, which is quite common in Indian mountains and among trekkers. And the cost? Just 25 bucks a plate. Now, we can see our goal in front of our eyes- paragliding.

The wonderful group
The wonderful group

Everyone seemed afraid at first. Everyone had a different guide stitched at the back of the glider. The first thing the guide did was hook us inside the belts which would form like a seat when you fly up. The next thing was an instruction to run as fast as possible down the hill. Oh! Now, that was the only and most difficult part. Down the hill, there’s nothing. First timers would definitely fear for what’s going to happen if the belt loosens. So, here it went! The guide started shaking the glider so that necessary air pressure would open up the glider fully with force. Now, we had to apply a near to equivalent force against the air and the mammoth glider so that when we reach a certain point when there’s nothing beneath our feet, the glider would make you fly in seconds. Ahh! The guide shouted, run run run! I started to run as energetically as possible. Before my turn, I had seen my fellows trying their best to run but fell. I didn’t want to fall. Luckily, things went perfectly for me and I had a safe take off!

There was a lot of air pressure building up. I sat comfortably in my seat. The guide was behind me. He was pulling 4 strings attached to the glider body at a time. There were around 18 of them. He had to analyze which strings to hold in which condition. The guide was quite experienced in his field. 13 years of that flying. He had flown from Bir to Manali as well and had competed in several paragliding events. The moment I asked him about his native, he took a sharp left and then took us further up. And I was dumbstucked after that. Thankfully, I was guarded with a quite thick jacket, which my sister had brought for me from London. Else, it would have been a shivering experience up there as it was effectively too cold. I could feel the speed of winds and I could hear them. They were quite loud in their mission. Their mission to flow and take anyone aghast. It felt like the winds didn’t want any disturbance in their area. Quite protective! The next thing I see is the beautiful Bir town in the bottom. I had a 270 deg view of the area. I could spot the monasteries, the temples, the lush green farms and the colorful houses of its farmers and I had a dream then. A dream to fly once in my life on my own. How lucky the birds might be who were flowing beside us! No equipment required, they had all of it naturally!

Paragliding site at Bir Billing
Paragliding site at Bir Billing

We flew for about half an hour when the guide started taking a descent gradually. When we reached near the ground, he instructed me to keep my legs straight for safe landing. I followed and we had a remarkable landing! The photographers were all around! As if some celebrity has just landed on some grassland. I liked a couple of pics and took them. The guide began to wrap up his kit. We had a handshake and he went off. I found my friends sitting nearby. The obvious thing to follow was the discussion about the short glide and their guides! Everyone had a good experience and seemed satisfied.

After another half an hour of discussions, we had to leave for Zostel. Everyone was damn tired. After reaching Zostel, every one of us planned one more night stay there, except the IRS guys as they had their office next day.

The night stay at Zostel went great with Old monk and Signature in place. A lot of childhood memories rose up. We got to know different people more. And I realized, everyone is same, everyone has a similar set of cultures, a similar set of problems, and a similar view of solutions for these problems. Where we differ is personal opinions, personal ambitions and most importantly, the environment in which we grew up. And I really loved this way to socialize with people instead of hanging around in bars and have a silly conversation under a decorative rooftop and unwanted noise. I wish to continue my journey of inner observation, outer exploration, and learning. 

Also READ: Preparing for high altitude treks