Far from the monotony and strain of everyday life is a place we all dream of. I dream of the mountains. To me they represent the most tangible and powerful face of nature that makes me feel both incredibly insignificant as well as absolutely in sync with the universe. I had been hankering to go to the Himalayas for a while, so when I had the opportunity to go to Kafni and Pindari glaciers in Uttaranchal, I was overjoyed.
I must admit I started the trip in an anxious mood, wondering whether the trek would be easy and how I would fare in the mountains. Admittedly, there was also a sense of pride in going for a trek at such a young age. We started off from Bangalore on the fourth of October. I met most of my fellow trekkers on the train and was amazed at the camaraderie and friendliness. Most of my apprehensions melted away along with my sense of importance when I realised that most of my new-found friends were my age.
Train journeys are fabulous; the colours and tastes of India, the different facets of our diverse culture. After two days, during which I met a number of people and discussed subjects ranging from local politics to global warming, we reached Delhi. From there we took another train to Haldwani, at the foothills of Kumaon. The station at Haldwani took my breath away. For the first time as I stood at the station, I felt truly alive. Somehow the air seemed sweeter, the birds and insects sounded melodious.
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All thoughts drifted away until all I felt was mere sensations - pure feelings. Waiting for a bus I looked around; behind me were the vast plains, ahead were the foothills beyond which I could see the hazy silhouette of the Himalayas.
We set off on the 8-hour bus journey to Song, a small mountain village from where the trek began. On the way, most of us felt queasy just looking at the hair-raising hairpin bends on the mountain roads. I met another student from Bangalore who shared my interest in music and as we started talking, time flew. Reaching Song, we had a much awaited break from the motion of travelling. After a light meal, we set out for Loharkhet, our first camp. We were hoping to trek both to Pindari and Kafni glaciers if the weather permitted.
By now I had got acclimatised to the mountain air and was able to enjoy the verdant green, and help in pitching tents. At Loharkhet we had our first glimpse of the river Pindar Ganga. The sight of the river some 3,000 feet below, surrounded by towering mountains all around, filled us with enthusiasm. Everyone had already become friends. We had a campfire that night where formal introductions were made amidst much revelry and banter.
From Dhakuri to Khati is a leisurely walk, and we spent the night at the edge of a forest, close to the last village en route. From Khati, we reached Dwali mainly through forest paths. This was the camp from where we would go to Kafni glacier. After an early lunch here, we reached Phurkia. We learnt that the weather had been bad the previous week, but it was picture-perfect when we reached. The next morning we had to wake very early to go to the glacier as we wanted to catch the early morning views of Pindari, and return to Dwali the same day. When I came out of the tent at 5.15 a.m., all I could see above me was a canopy of glittering stars, seemingly close enough to touch. For those of us who have grown up in a city, it was such an engrossing sight that I was hesitant to look away and get my backpack ready for the day's trek.
We set off for Pindari glacier. On the way we stopped at the ashram of a holy man called Pilot Baba. We were amazed to hear that he lives high up in the mountains and comes down only in the winter months. It really made me think about man's endurance and will power. All around me was utter silence and a carpet of frozen snow, with an occasional wild flower that had survived the inhospitable wind and snow. If I shut out the voices of the others I could almost imagine myself to be alone.
We reached Zero Point, as the glacier is termed, and went through the usual confusion of taking photographs of everyone with the team flag. But once that was over I stood to one side overwhelmed by a sudden sadness. Now was the time to head back and it broke my heart to leave all this beauty behind. We returned to Dwali the same day exhausted, but totally satisfied. We were delighted that the weather had held and spent the rest of the day singing songs around a campfire and planning for the next day.
Early next morning we set off for Kafni glacier. The trek to Kafni was very tough as the going was mostly uphill. We met several people returning from the glacier and that gave us the inspiration to push ahead. When we reached Zero Point I felt it had all been worth it. There was a sea of white as far as the eye could see. In the distance I could see the Nanda Devi mountain. I stood at the lip of the ledge on which we were walking, with a sheer drop of hundreds of feet on one side. The exhilaration of the moment overtook me. I felt I had been touched at the innermost part of my being.
We completed the rest of the trek in a relaxed and carefree mood. Most days the path overlooked valleys and riverbeds. I could see the red, yellow and rust colours of autumn around; they never ceased to amaze me. It was all so different from the everyday sights and sounds we are accustomed to in the city. We would stop occasionally for no other reason but to look around and experience the magnificence and sheer glory of our surroundings.
We returned to Delhi and stayed there a day. To say that the city was a culture shock is a major understatement. After being so close to nature, the vehicles, the pollution and the sheer numbers of people around us felt so abnormal. But we recovered soon enough to revel in the fun of exploring the city.
If someone asked me what the best part of the trip was, I don't think I could possibly answer. Meeting strangers, making friends, seeing sights and destinations I had only dreamed of provided a strange sense of joy and contentment that warmed my heart. I felt like the surface of a pond, after all the unsettling ripples have settled. It has calmed the restlessness and the wanderlust in me. But I wonder how long it is before I get my catalogues and maps out and start planning the next journey.
Editor: Romola Butalia   (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.