Har ki Dun
I rounded a curve and stopped in my tracks. From left to right stood peak after peak, slopes covered in thick green pines; here and there a slash of white to announce a frozen waterfall. My eyes weren’t used to seeing such things – a scene that looked untouched since the time of creation.
This was my first trek up North. We were heading to Har ki Dun (loosely translated as the Valley of Shiva), located in the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand. Our guide, Srichand Rana, would smile and say “Bas, chalte raho, chalte raho,” when one of us, in more mental agony than physical, would ask him “How much further????” I must have asked him that question many times on the first day of the trek. I reminded myself of a child in the car, incessantly asking “Are we there yet, are we there yet, are we there yet??” Our first day started in Taluka, and we followed the course of the Supin river as it led us through deep forests and rocky climbs, to the small village of Seema.
By the second day, my body seemed keen to start walking. The crisp, fresh air and bright sun called to every bone in me – get out and get moving! From Seema, we set out to reach our campsite, Har-ki-Dun. The second day’s climb was tougher than the first, but I enjoyed the view much more. We followed the trail as it wound around the mountain, traversing fields of wheat, forests of birch and pine, and the occasional flock of goat and sheep; the beauty cannot be described.
In the mountains, a whole year passes in a day; and a day stretches endlessly. Summer, Monsoon and Winter came and went in a span of 24 hours. I learnt how to tell the weather by looking at the sky, instead of my phone. I learnt how to smell the rain 30 minutes before it came down. I learnt how a clear, baby-blue sky dotted with cotton clouds, could turn dark and cold in under 10 minutes. I learnt that the best way to wait out a small hailstorm was to wait under a thick tree, while hugging my freezing hands under my armpits. I learnt that a poncho is useless in a mountain shower – the wind blows it up in your face and you often can’t see where you’re placing your foot. I also learnt that you can keep going, long after you think you can’t. And believe me, I was close to giving up on the first day, after a hailstorm.
On the evening of the second trekking day, we reached our campsite.
As we were sitting in the kitchen tent and having some much-needed chai, one of us saw a big, white mist come rolling down the plain. “What’s that, what is happening?” someone said. Turns out it was a cloud, making its own climb to the ice-capped peaks. For close to an hour, we were dipped in a thick white mist. It was like something out of a supernatural movie! This was also the first time I saw snow fall! Our third day, spent at camp, was a peaceful one where everyone was free to do what they wanted. Towards sunset, the weather suddenly turned very, very cold, with a chilled wind cutting through my face. A group of us were sitting inside the kitchen tent, huddled together for warmth, and we were all sharing stories and chatting. Suddenly, it went quiet outside; the wind had dropped and not a sound could be heard. I stepped outside to see the most magical sight I have seen – soft snow, falling silently. The tree tops, the tents, the grass beneath my feet – everything was white.
After a brief snow fight (toooooooo much fun!) we all snuggled into our warm tents and slept soundly. The next day, we were to pack up and start our walk back the way we came. This time, the trek seemed much shorter and more enjoyable, mostly because we were familiar with the route.
While walking back, the one thing I kept thinking was “I wish I could bottle up this crisp, clean air and take it back with me.” The weird smell that city air carries with it was not something I was looking forward to. The water that we drank during the trek came from the river – sparkling clear, with a chilled, crisp taste of the kind that no bottled water can ever give.
In short, the mountains left their mark and I’m absolutely sure I will be visiting again soon. Thank you, Wonderful World, Sejal Mehta Srichand Rana and the entire crew for making it an unforgettable experience.
Image credit – Amita Major and Jyothi Jayan Warrier