'So, tell me, why do you like travelling to incommodious, unusual places?' A less interested friend asked as we sipped from our mugs in some outdated tavern. The tone of the argument was defamatory, and I surely wanted to come out all guns blazing with the perfect answer, but, did I really have one?
I have always known there's something about travel that I like, and this little something made me feel good about life. The definite answer, however, was what I lacked, until very recently when I came to know what the wild basically means and what wandering is all about. This piece accommodates all the answers I never had, and the rest of my story on one of the most challenging trails in India, the Pin Parvati Trail.
About The Trail:
Located in Kullu district of Himachal Pradesh, Parvati Valley has nowadays become the hotshot destination for backpackers in India. A lush green setting and some of the country's finest footslogs make it worth a visit. Apparently, it was during one of these visits to Kullu, that I came to know about the Pin Parvati trek, and ever since, I had been intrigued by the idea of isolation that this one had on offer.
Pin Parvati trail marks the shortest route between Kullu and Spiti. It traverses the extents of Parvati Valley before crossing into the colorfully deserted Pin Valley, over a massive Pin Parvati Pass (5319mts).
The more I investigated about the trail, the more compulsive I became to explore the mystical valley to its depths. Pin Parvati Pass found a place on the bottom of my to-do list, a list lengthier than the Indian Constitution. All thanks to a silly miscalculation, though, that I forced myself to give priority status to Pin Parvati.
In June, 2016, while on a motorbike ride to Pangi & Spiti, I had plans to traverse all accessible terminals of both. However, due to loss of time on some severely damaged terrains in Pangi, and my inability to keep up with the itinerary, I had to skip visiting certain corners of Spiti. Pin valley was one of such corners.
This abdication did not go well with me. I felt stifled by my corporate responsibilities of returning to work. All I could think of was the one, single advice that each of my Royal Enfield cowboys had for me, 'Dude, you do not want to miss Pin Valley.' This abdication did not go well with me at all!
Hence, coming to grips with the fear of screwing-up the rest of my Spiti ride, I made myself a promise. I told myself, 'Does it matter much if I couldn't take the road to Pin valley? It does not! I’m going to gather all the balls that I can and I’m going to walk up to this place in a year's time starting now.' Evidently, the pep talk came good. I found a new adventure to look forward to, and here I am, writing about the finest of all my quests.
Now, that the foundation was laid, I spent the next few months contemplating how best I could prepare for a trail this big. I leafed through article after article, blog after blog, just to realize how limited the available content was. All of these pieces had the need of physical stamina written all over them, but none did mention how important psychological preparedness is. Sorry guys, for writing you off, but, I don't see a 5km daily run getting me through an expedition like this, I need more that than. Above all, I need to have basic levels of respect for nature, and isn't that the whole point of doing such a trek?
So, hybridizing all that is making rounds on the internet and all that I think is important for a hike of such magnitude, hope for the best and prepare for the worst. You are going to walk on some of the highest reaches of the highest mountain range on this planet, do you really expect it to be easy? With all this in mind, I moved on to level 2 of my groundwork, which was to find a suitable trek operator.
Having a little bit of trek experience to go with, I knew what sort of trek operator would suit me the best. More than anything else, I wanted an operator who could offer me a small group size (which is always the best practice) and a spare day on my itinerary. This spare day would eventually aggrandize my team’s chances of successfully completing the expedition, even if we get hit by a bad weather day or any other likely to happen incident. Conspicuously, calling off the climb was the last thing that we wanted.
So, after a month-long research and dozens of interviews with numerous operators, I finally struck a deal I was hoping for. A very special thanks to Thrillophilia, my newly found travel experts, for fixing me up with Kailash Rath Treks. Kailash Rath, as a trek operator, were humble and diligent right from the onset. These guys had answers to all my silly problems; the load was finally off my back. It was about time to start gathering the supplies and load the frigging rucksacks.
Apparently, I have been an inactive, perfunctory sloth for most parts of my life. As my mum would put it, many of the things I do, I just do, without any fire in my belly. Thankfully, structuring my rucksack is not one of those things; I prefer investing a lot of time in planning the weights on my shoulders. This particular part of the column might just be the deal for those planning their first big hike.
Here’s all what you need to do! First up, save a Microsoft Excel file somewhere in the secluded corner of your desktop display. Then, start jotting down all of the most essential commodities that you shall / might need to survive the trek; no fancy items please, none at all. Now, as you start realizing that everything you need for survival is there on the excel spreadsheet, call it a wrap! Trust me, there is no room for even a few grams of non-essential crap on your rucksack, and this I learned the hard way. Being a rookie, I was foolish enough to carry all sorts of space-occupying weights on my first trek. Novels, note-pads, stationery to name a few. I ended up cursing myself almost every single time I opened my baggage. From then on, I’d made it a point not to waste important space on a never-to-be-read book, or something similar. Days, in the high Himalayas, are spent negotiating harsh terrains, and the evenings are mostly about getting along with the team and the support staff. It becomes hard to find time for any other hobby.
So, summing it up, this is how a weight effective rucksack should be organized: Picture your rucksack as a bundle of four, vertical compartments. The top compartment should hold everything that you might need in case of emergency (rain covers, medicine kit, etc.). The second layer should hold the heaviest of all commodities in the baggage (jackets, woolen lowers, etc.); it certainly becomes easy to manage a rucksack, when all of its heavy chunk is concentrated at the back of the rib cage. Subsequently, the third compartment should be used to stuff-up all the rest of the things, except for a fresh pair of clothes. This fresh pair, which will come in handy towards the end of the hike, should constitute the forth and the lower most compartment of the rucksack. These four compartments, with balanced weights on either side, make a formidable rucksack.
From failing to complete my bike ride a year ago, to planning the most audacious of all non-technical climbs in India, I surely had come a long way. And even though I was applauding myself, I had no idea of the magnitude of mess I was about to get into. My team was going to be among the first few to attempt Pin Parvati Pass in the annual season. All gunned-up for the mammoth hike, we made way to Kullu on the 23rd of June.
Day Zero: The Elementary Education of What Lies Beyond
After an overnight drive from Delhi, we checked into the trek operator’s basecamp. Located in a small Himachali village named Rumsu, the basecamp was an impressive setting deep into the woods. On entering the premises, we were given a brief on what the day’s chronology is going to be, and what regulations need to be followed in the camp. We felt like being back to school, but notably, this time we were sloshed with hangover. We soon found ourselves in the midst of an adventure we didn’t prepare for.
As the day progressed and we sobered up, things started to get much interesting. We had an hour-long session with one of the founding members, who told us everything we didn’t know about mountain sickness. We came to terms with the deadly HAPO and HAKO, and ways to survive such catastrophes. It, most certainly, was like being back to school. By the time we were done with the lecture, supper was served and soon we slipped into our beds. We were glad to have come this far. Finally, it was time to call curtains on the planning stage, and chalk-down the most fascinating chapter of this story.
Day One: Waking Up On a Vacation Day
A lot of things we do in life, involuntarily trigger a vivid, unique emotion. A vibe so positive, that it’s hard to be surrogated. Waking up on a vacation day has always been one of such feelings for me. Even as a child, nothing was more stimulating than getting ready for a picnic or a school trip. Apparently, things were not much different this time.
Woken up by our psychological alarms at 3 in the morning, we got some added time to freshen up, and more importantly, to get last-minute-assurances of everything being in place. The plan was to depart from the basecamp by daybreak. Soon, the rucksacks were loaded on the roof-rack of our transport vehicle, and a hot cup of farewell tea was served before we finally made way to Barshaini.
After a three-hour drive from the basecamp, we hopped off at Barshaini (2200 meters). This small himalayan village on the confluence of Tosh and Parvati rivers, marks the starting point of the Pin Parvati trail. Here, we got the chance to formally meet our support staff for the trek, and with them, we began the long walk.
The itinerary for the day was a moderate 12 km hike to the picturesque Kheerganga (2800 meters). Initial stretches were a fine walk through boundless apple orchards, before we arrived in Nakthan village; the last village along the course of the trail. Nakthan, surrounded by some staggering landscapes, is a perfect place to cool off and get a breather.
Moving on, the trail gradually transmogrifies into a dense jungle of long-standing Deodar trees, as we make our way to the spiritually acclaimed Rudra Nag. Now comes the sole grueling part of the day’s hike! Plentiful water crossings and a steep, yet spectacular climb through the woods, guide us to the Mecca of hippies in India, Kheerganga.
Kheerganga, as I have known from my previous visit, is a serene setting deep into the mountains. However, today was a different story, the long weekend story! I was flabbergasted to see thousands of people running around, whining over unavailability of accommodation. Thankfully, we had tents of our own.
As soon as the tents were up, we dumped our baggage and moved out for a walk in the area. It was time to pay the mandatory homage to Lord Shiva, and to cram-down some nutella pan-cakes (No prices for guessing what I mean).
By the time we returned to our crew, dinner was almost ready. We had our bit, and soon retired in our tents.