Chapter 2: AN EVENING IN LOHAJUNG
The Second Day(29th May, 2017)
Adventure begins at the end of the road you know..! At a point of time you realise you’ve nothing to lose and a whole world to see. Regardless of how mournful last night was and how panic struck we were, we pulled ourselves back for the beginning of a lightsome adventure. There was no time to get bored, scared or submerged into fear of demising in a world so beautiful like this.
Earlier night, we tried to get as much sleep as we could. We had to reach Kathgodam at around 6.00 in the morning. Its a part of twin township Haldwani-Kathgodam. It was a completely misty and gloomy morning until the upper edge of the sun appeared over the horizon. I am always overwhelmed by the rising sun. It was yesterday’s sunset which taught me that beauty sometimes only lasts for a couple of moments and it was today’s sunrise which was showing that all it takes is patience and courage to experience it all over again. I was deluging the thoughts through my eyes and then I realised I’m finally free, free from the chains that bound my soul for so long. There was nothing to fake anymore. I gently put my hand out of the car window and I touched the rays of the sun. It was warm, soft and it travelled through my veins and started shining through my eyes.
I didn’t notice Sam capturing some of the candid moments when I was lost in thoughts, with his camera all the time. When I took notice of that, I simply smiled at him. Sam and I are good friends since few years and we share so much in common. Though he is a bit of introvert and has a very keen choice in making friends; somehow we got connected so well. Most of the time he stays calm, reserved and he is adorable that way. Sometimes our thoughts doesn’t go together and a simple discussion ends up with long faces. But, I still hold on to him cause he tops the list of my friends. The so called adorable Sam wickedly looked at me and asked:
“Maya..! You were so busy in talking with the sunrise, tell us what you discussed..!”
“Di is always into her own thoughts and I’m hungry..” my brother replied. I realised I was feeling to eat something too. We made a plan to have our morning tea after reaching Kathgodam. While crossing one of the most picturesque locations situated in the Bhabar region, the foothills of Kumaon Himalayas. I was spellbound with the loveliness of the woods before the sunrise. Kathgodam is the last station on its Indian railway lines. The cab dropped us near the railway station. After paying for the cab we quickly grabbed a humpy corner of the road side and Sam started stretching his hands and legs.
Abhi, my brother is always into two most important goals of his life. The first one is eating and the second one is releasing, so that he can again start eating. He rushed towards a public toilet for the noble purpose. We were at 1483ft above the sea level and it was giving a bone chilling feel that was quite different, when compared to other regions in India, specifically during summer. A picture perfect morning with winter jackets, gloves and mufflers was still incomplete without a cup of hot steamy cutting tea and Sam fulfilled that desire. Soon after Abhi joined us, we started counting the hours until we catch up with rest of the trek mates.
Around half an hour later Sam called the guides. We got two guides Santosh & Chandar and supposed to catch up with them at the base camp. Sam collected all the information from Santosh and we walked few yards from there. We got the bus and there was no-one yet. Praise to ourselves for being punctual for the first time in life.
In next few minutes we were about to catch up with people who were literally strangers. For a moment, it was an amazing feeling just to think that I was going to spend the next whole adventurous week in the Himalayas with people I didn’t know. Everything was novice in that moment. The place I have never been before, the friends I haven’t met yet and the much awaiting experience I have never lived until today. And then I thought, who cares about consequences when you are all set to live care free. So chin up, walk ahead, smile at a stranger and you never know, you might just change a life.
We met the first guy, his gesture and dusky complexion gave a feel that he might belong to Karnataka.
“Awwwwww! A South Indian. ..” I am not sure that expression of mine was pleasant or just a spontaneous reflection to my intuitions.
” Hi ! I’m Chakri… and you?”, he was looking forward to a handshake and an introduction. Before I say anything, Sam volunteered.
” Hello ! I’m Sam, this is Abhi and she’s Maya. By any chance, are you from South..?”
” Oh Yeah..! I’m from Bangalore. I’m a Business Analyst.” The conversation went on with knowing each other and I was quite proud of my humerous intuitions. After a while Joseph joined with his wife Sneha and sons, Dave and Jonathan. Few others were supposed to join but they didn’t, they might have cancelled. Well, this was our team. We took few moments to know each other and then got into the bus.
I took a seat near the window and Sam was sitting right next to me. Abhi grabbed a double seat as he really needed an extra space for himself. Joseph is quite a decent man, from his busyness with his wife and kids, which was giving a relationship goal to all of us. At the same time he and Sneha were sharing their recent travel experiences with Sam. I always desire to have such an extended family of my own, who can join me anywhere I travel. Talking about Dave, he is the smartest kid I had ever come across. He is very friendly and shockingly intelligent. For a 12 years old lad, its worth appreciating. Jonathan was only 8 but he was literally making everyone astonished. He was way more confident and representing himself as an experienced campaigner in trekking where as, I was still feeling like an amateur horn. I was pretty amused by young Dave and John. I must accept one more thing without hesitating, The mystery man Chakri was quite different from all of us. A more reserved and preserved into his own world and I gave him a new name as I didn’t like the pronunciation of the name Chakri. I was very careful that he shouldn’t know that a girl on the same ride has given him a creexotic name and that was “Villain”. Well, there is an obvious reason behind choosing the word ‘creexotic’ with a mixture of creepy and exotic here. He came all alone on a trek with a backpack that was quite a huge one for a lone traveller as if he was carrying a country in it. He was maintaining a safe silence and distance from us thinking that we held a plan for his assassination. Anyway, for the rest of our lives, he would be fondly called as Villain by all of us.The bus was carrying an absolute diversity. I was sitting in third row from the last seat and I could clearly see everyone and the excitement on their faces. The amalgamation of different languages, regions, appearances and way of communication was unfurling an ecstatic feeling of discovering and knowing more and more about each and everyone around me.
I could barely see the Kathgodam station behind us as we came across a long way from the point we started. Sun was rising higher and we were all set to sit back, relax and enjoy a long, hide and seek road trip with the sun and the mountains. Lohajung is about 220km far from Kathgodam and takes approximately 10 long hours of bus journey. Before we starve, the bus halted for a couple of minutes somewhere in the middle of Bhimtal and Almora. We decided to have a lighter breakfast there. Even a Medu Vada(a savoury fried snack from south India) was giving a mingled flavour of kumaoni cuisine. Appearance of mysteriously attractive mountain chain view from a tiny terrace of that decrepited restaurant was breathe taking.
Within half an hour, we again boarded the bus. It was 5387ft altitude by the time we were passing through Almora. This mountainous kingdom was found in 1568 and is known as home of the ancient tribal civilisation of Nagas, Khasas and Kirates. It also holds a place in mythological Indian epic Mahabharat as Almora was ruled by Pandavas and kauravas of Hasthinapur royal family. While passing by, the city was reflecting its footprint in the primitive history of India.
Mountains are the beginning and the end of all natural scenery. I may speak Spanish to God, Italian to women and German to my horse but I felt spell bound to explain how fascinated I was by the vastness yet the calmness of these young chain of mountains. These giant saints of nature made a path for river Koshi to flow with all her pride and respect. It was resembling like, no matter how high you grow, let the flow of worship pass through you.
The spiral uneven road was leading us ahead towards our destination through Kausani hill station. A couple of hours left in bus until our eye catches that panoramic view of three Himalayan peaks Trisul, Nandadevi and Panchchuli. This place was once called as ‘Switzerland of India’ by Mahatma Gandhi, due to similarity in landscapes. We halted for our lunch at a restaurant enroute. I grabbed some fruits from a local fruit seller for my afternoon hunger. By that time, we already started being in harmony with each other. I would never forget my lunch that day as I ordered a plate of green salad but got nothing green served on the plate. Sam and Villain started making fun of me being a racist on salads. Sam was showing some really amazing pictures he captured to Abhi and Villain, when I escaped myself to a corner to give a call to my mother. I tried hard for a FaceTime call to show myself to Mum but got no network. Anyway, I managed to send her a text updating that we were alright cause in the next days we won’t be able to get network coverage for any further communication. The journey resumed soon after we finished lunch.
Sam felt sleepy after lunch and dozed off when we were on the track of Gwaldam which was once built by a famous Britisher Curzon, passing through various places like Devtaal, Nandkeshri, Dewal, Mundoli and Waana gaon. There are many more ancient historical places among the legacies of British Raj, the Barudghar (explosive store house), Dakkhana (post office), Chaykhana (Tea Factory), Janglat Dak Bungalow(Forest Rest House). Monuments are only survived as heritage buildings. It was all like watching a blend of the nature and a whole history through the window. It started drizzling and suddenly we witnessed the nature turning in to a mesmerising enchantress. No matter how hard one tries, he can’t take his eyes off the graceful rare showery looks of the lush green woodlands.
While getting closer towards Lohajung, the rain fall became heavier on the street. Driver was requested by Joseph and rest of us to slow down the bus as it was turning into a cloudburst. Spiral narrow mountain roads were now slippery enough and the blind turns were added risks to the misfortunate accidents to be happened. Joseph and Sneha instructed Jonathan to sit quietly next to Dave as he was messing around though we were really enjoying his childish behaviour. Seeing a landslide from a far and passing by the happening one were completely different experiences. I must say, the driver was skilled enough to overtake a collapse of a mass rock from the mountain we were passing through. I was looking out of the window for most of the times while Abhi and Sam got their evening nap in multiple instalments. I had absolutely no idea how the mystery man Villain was able to sleep the whole ride and miss the fanciable process of the nature turning unpredictable in every other second. Probably he was preserving all his energy for later to carry his mountainous backpack and funky woollen hat. Sam, Abhi and Joseph were now interlaced themselves into finding some major solutions to random issues happening in India. I occupied myself in looking down the edges of the narrow road. Sneha must be in some of her fruitful thoughts while we were crossing a narrow stream that connects with the Pindar river down the hills.
The sky turned dusky and it stopped raining. The ride through the mountains has given an alluring view of sunrise, a country side golden afternoon and a rainstorm evening. The sky was gloomy and it was chilling inside the bus, so we decided to close the windows. We stopped the bus at a tea stall somewhere near Dewal, a small village on hilltop. Each one of us grabbed one hot cup of tea. I am not much of a tea lover but at that moment the steamy cup of hot beverage was more than a need to us. Holding that clay cup gave a feeling that, every moment of life is a journey and the journey itself is home. I felt home. I had the best tea of my life there at that tiny stall. The authentic flavour of boiled raw tea leaves with an accurate quantity of sweetener and herbs can only give a taste that touches your soul. We gave our heartfelt thanks to the Chaiwala(the maker) and started towards base camp without any halts further. It was a necessity to reach the base camp before it gets too dark.
At around 6.00 pm, we arrived at Lohajung Base camp. Santosh(Guide) was waiting for us. We got down the bus one by one with our bags and started walking towards the guest house. Lohajung and Wan are the last villages, which one encounters before starting their trek to the higher altitudes of Garhwal Mountains. There was no time to walk around the villages and learn about their way of life, customs and festivals of the locals as there was a briefing session about the adventure on mountains. Santosh and Chandar helped us understand the difficulties and challenges we would face for the whole next week. Though it was drizzling outside and we were strictly guided to take rest inside the guest house, we went on a short walk to see the land of green pastures and the snowcapped mountains. I found my heart upon mountains I didn’t know I could climb or not. They were beautiful yet so vast and out of my reach at that moment. Then I recalled something my dad used to say to me when I was a kid: Be the wolf. The wolf is relentless, never quits and doesn’t look back.
As it was getting darker and freezing outside, we decided to go back to the guest house and spend a night under the roof. May be I would have to leave in order to miss this place. May be I would have to travel to figure out how beloved this starting point is. May be I would come again to say a final good bye with a heart full of gratitude for making me courageous and determined to follow the most intense obsession of my life . My soul had already started chasing angels on those mountains and I don’t remember, when I fell asleep humming a popular track sung by Elvis Presley:
“Take My Hand, Take My Whole Life Too
For I cant Help – Falling In Love With You…..”