The thought of climbing to a height of 3,350m had me in a tizzy because the last time I trekked to a height of 2,975m left me gasping for breath. But here I was again walking the same path, which looked even more magnanimous than the last time and that much more hard to climb. The only difference this time was that I was much prepared to take on the monstrous walk head on.
A day back at Moolraj's office in Bhagsunag, I still could feel the uncertainty gripping me as I discussed the schedule and bored him with all my questions but Moolraj with his toothy grin assured me every time that I would do just fine. So here I was all dressed to trek with me new back pack and only the necessities for the next two days in the wilderness.
Step by step
The Dhauladhar started to reveal its rocky grandeur as we treaded along its sides, Gallu Devi temple, where we had started our hike seemed to have vanished behind the huge rocks. Mcleodgang now seemed miles away and the Dharamshala Cricket stadium somehow had become my point of reference as I tried to conquer the stony path that challenged my will each time I stepped further. The heat of the sun that I enjoyed at 1,800m now seemed a bit too harsh and made me yearn for the cool windy breeze which left me refreshed each time it went past us, making the Rhododendron create music as it brushed its leaves. It all seemed way too surreal and easy this time but I could not help but remember the last time I tried to make my way through this mammoth like trek that would take me to Triund. And believe me it was not such a cake walk as compared to this time. "It's a simple trek up till Triund, you'll make it in no time" said my last guide who arranged the entire trip the last time round. The trek was far from easy and I remember cursing him for giving me the wrong picture because when someone says it's an easy trek, you for sure do not think of huge rocky boulders and extremely steep paths to cross. But this time I was more prepared for what I was going to face because this time Triund was not my destination it only happened to be on my way as I was headed up to 3,400m to Laka Glacier.
After walking for two hours straight I really needed to sit and give my shivering legs a break. Our first stop was after Best View cafÃ©, which is the second cafÃ© (read stop) on way to Triund and further up. I quickly spotted a cozy spot in the small court yard that was made facing the sun. The heat made me feel very comfortable and cozy in the plastic chair and the chilled glass of lemonade and by that I mean Limca mixed with salt left me refreshed and gearing of for the rest of the trek as the next resting spot was about four kilometres away and knowing Moolraj, he would not let me stop for more than five minutes just enough to take a breather so I could walk further. As I sat in the chair sipping my lemonade I noticed three plastic bags which weren't there the last time round labeled "Recycle", "Reusable" and "Plastic" to collect the garbage instead of it being thrown around. Moolraj had been complaining about how over the years trekker's irresponsibility towards the environment has lead to harm it and handling piles and piles of garbage at such pristine heights was turning out to be quite a disaster. But seeing this effort surely did put a smile on his face as he religiously put all the empty water bottles in the bag labeled 'plastic' as we picked our bags to continue our journey.
The sun kept playing hide-and-seek throughout the trek, making me shiver as the cold breeze touched my skin. It's a known truth that the mountain weather is as unpredictable as the rains in the dessert. One second you see bright shining snow peaks from afar and the next moment they challenge you to even find them from behind the thick black clouds.
I tell Moolraj, "It looks like it's raining hard up there you think we'll reach there in time before it gets worse"? In his pahadi accent he replies "Don't worry madam before you know it the clouds will vanish as if they weren't even there to begin with". And in the next five minutes just like Moolraj had said the peaks were back, shining bright as ever. It's like they were playing a game with me saying "now you see me and now you don't". But as we got closer up to the mountains the views started to become larger than life. With every 100 m that I trekked it seemed like the peaks became bigger in size and the valley behind me grew deeper leaving me breathless with spectacular views that one had to be there to really understand rugged natural beauty. But all this comes at the cost of the loss of lots of body fluids. By now I could literally taste the salt on my face and the thirst was making me a little uncomfortable and I could see my next stop just 1.5 kilometres away and a cafÃ© about 50m ahead. Moolraj insisted on me having a chai instead of a cold drink, saying "you'll feel energetic after the chai plus we are a little behind schedule". But was I glad to have the "pahadi masala chai" as it did exactly what Moolraj had said. This is the last cafÃ© that one would find before Triund and it also happens to be the start of the hardest stretch to reach Triund. This 1.5 kilometres is a steep stretch and it will make you want to turn around, but more often than not everyone reaches Triund, just like I did the last time and once you get up there you forget the pain and the struggle you went through.
The plateau of pure bliss
You are welcomed by the majestic Dhauladhar range, which up till now was playing hide-and-seek with you. As I tread the last 50 m or so the excitement had surpassed all the other feelings and I was just happy to be there and proud because even though Moolraj had expected us to reach Triund around 2:00 PM we were happily digging into our packed lunches by 1:40 PM. A proud moment for a non-trekker!
I had found a perfect spot where I could see the snow peaks on one side and Kangra valley on the other. A sense of satisfaction dawned on me as I sat relishing my cheese sandwich and a hot glass of ginger lemon and honey tea having which has been quite a tradition now at Triund for me. For the half-an-hour that I sat resting I saw many trekkers setting up their camp for the night. Couples enjoying their alone time, groups of men chatting over their cup of tea and bowls of maggi being passed around and the local gaddi dogs jumping from one group to the other managing to get as much affection and food of course in the meantime. While I admired all this my attention was caught by this loud swishing noise coming from above my head and to rest my curiosity I look up to see a man parasailing right above us. But with all this going on I had my own mission that I had to complete so ready with my guide and backpack intact, I headed to snowline which was another three to four kilometres away from Triund.
The real deal
The higher we got the greener pasture was now replaced by rugged mountains. The Deodar and the Rhododendron trees were left far behind and they were replaced by the Golden oak. Walking further brought us to a huge green patch rightfully occupied by hundreds of sheep grazing around aware of our presence as many stopped and looked up but then got back to their peaceful grazing which we felt responsible for interrupting and hence after clicking some shots we quietly continued walking towards Snowline which by now was not more than ten minutes away. It was here that the porters hired by Moolraj finally caught up with us and kept us company. Minutes later, we were at Snowline.
There are no words that can perfectly describe what I was looking at. Here I was, staring straight at the gigantic Dhauladhar range which up until now was just the snow peaks that I could see on my way till Snowline. On my side was another green patch that was s