In the last 2 years, entire world has been through a difficult time. Normal things like travel became a distant dream. I could only imagine the beautiful locations in the Himalaya and feel happy. As the situation started improving my desire to be there also became stronger.
In my previous treks, I was lucky to see some of the most pristine places in the Himalaya and witness the magic of its star-filled night sky. This time I was keen to take along my wife, Nirja to share this experience. My friend Dhirendra and his wife Mayuri also agreed to join us. That’s it! Rest of the planning was left to my trustworthy Whitemagic Adventure and our plan was ready for October trek to Panwali Kantha in Uttarakhand. Here’s the story of our journey…
First day, we started from Rishikesh at 10:30 am for Ghansali about 80 kms away. This route itself is marked with some excellent views. The most remarkable was the highest dam in India -Tehri dam built on Bhagirathi River. It has resulted in the formation of Tehri Lake, one of the largest man-made lakes in Asia. The lake accompanied us almost the entire route to Ghansali. Midway, we met our trek leader Pawan and two more trekkers – Shuchi and Smiti.
Ghansali is a small town in the Tehri Garhwal district of Uttarakhand. During dinner, Pawan briefed us on the trek related itinerary and precautions. Some problems are always expected during any trek. Therefore, he encouraged to stay together and be confident of completing the tour. Trek is not a competition and unless every member completes it, nobody wins.
Next day, we left Ghansali at 8:15am for our starting point – Ghuttu. Nobody perhaps knows Ghuttu but it remains happy in its pristine environment. Our vehicle did disturb its peace but the town didn’t complain. Its gentle routine life continued without being bothered about our presence. Perhaps when one is free of senseless ambitions one feels absolutely secure. We soon met Whitemagic team – Yash, Namgyal, Anup and most importantly our cook Rameshji. They soon loaded the luggage on ponies and we commenced our trek at 10:30am.
Ghuttu to Gwan Manda. Pictures by all group members
Even in a moderate trek like ours, the walk in a dense jungle is through a mix of rock and soil layers. In such situations, a cheerful guide makes the effort memorable. Ramprasad Bhatt was the perfect fit. A simple man with an extra-ordinary personality and smile. He kept us engaged with various jokes, anecdotes, stories from Ramayan and Mahabharat.
After a delightful 4 kms walk, we reached our camp 1 – Gwan Manda (height 2610 mts). We were tired but happy that all group members were doing well. Here I met Nawang (from Whitemagic) under whose guidance I had trekked earlier and those memories were refreshed. Ghuttu valley was clearly visible from the camp but I was waiting for the night sky. The evening sky gradually submerged in dense clouds and fog. Sun made its presence in between and soon made its way down the Western horizon.
Sky cleared around 7:30pm and the stars were there! It’s the most amazing sight to see a sky full of stars. My key objective in this trek was to identify Andromeda Galaxy and some constellations. Stellarium app was very useful in spotting Andromeda. With naked eye or binoculars, it’s not very clear and it appears like a tiny circular cloud near Cassiopeia constellation. I was happy with what I saw and had the pleasure of introducing our neighbour residing 2.5 million light years away to the group. Many constellations also were so clearly visible.
Third day was a 10 kms trek but jungle takes care that the effort is worth it. Tall trees and plants provide shade while allowing sunlight just enough to keep us warm. Aroma of its flora and fauna keeps the environment pleasant. It is indeed sad that jungles which give humans so much are being destroyed all over the world at an alarming pace. It is a costly side-effect of the progress and development seen by our modern civilisation.
We had lunch at 12 noon at Pobhagi and walked for another 4 kms to reach our camp 2 – Bijola (height 3260 mts) at 3pm. It felt good to have come so far. No matter how fit and strong one is, after completing a trek for about 6-7 hours a good rest is always welcome.
Bijola camp was in one of the most amazing places that I have seen in my travel experience. It was picture perfect with clear blue sky, thick white clouds over lush green meadows and hills all around. Such beautiful places give reason to make the effort and witness nature’s creativity. In some time after sunset Milky Way Galaxy made its royal entry over South West horizon extending its other arm over Cassiopeia in North. My dear ‘twinkle twinkle little stars’ too joined the party. It was a sight I had been waiting for such a long time!
Gwan Manda to Bijola. Pictures by all group members
Sunrise over Himalayan peaks is an out-of-the-world experience…and for that one has to be ‘early to rise’. So, we started at 4am from Bijola. Night trek was a new experience and with excellent support of Whitemagic, we reached Panwali Kantha (height 3650 mts) at 5am for the divine blessing. In the elegant twilight, we saw silhouettes of some high peaks like Shastratal, Chaukhamba, Kirtibhamak, Thalay Sagar, Kamet, Kedarnath, Neelkanth, Hathi Parvat. But where’s Mt. Nandadevi? And then as the dawn approached, it was visible…far from our location but its mighty peak stood tall against all others. Afterall at 7816 mts, it is the second highest mountain in India and the highest one located entirely within Indian boundary. Himalaya inspires me! I feel peaceful and protected under its shelter. It stands tall and mighty but with feet on the ground, deeply rooted to the core of mother Earth. Not an iota of pride over its well-known importance. The morning light was changing its colours across the sky canvas. While we remained awestruck the Sun in all its glory rose behind Nandadevi and engulfed it with its golden rays.
Energy of the morning light was now spreading all over the place. None of us was in the mood to return. We could see the mountains all around us. In the North was the mighty Himalayan range and Garhwal mountains in other directions. From the top, our Bijola camp looked cute on a green patch in the middle of trees and hills. After about 2-3 hours of breathing in the best part of our trek, we descended from Panwali Kantha. Clouds, who allowed us uninterrupted sunrise view, were now conquering the sky. Chaukhamba mischievously peeped at us through them for some time. We had now truly earned our bonus to laze around for the rest of the day collecting our thoughts in a string of memories.
Bijola to Panwali Kantha. Pictures by all group members
Next pre-dawn, I was absorbed shooting star trails from the comfort of my tent when at 5:30 am Shuchi called me, “Vivek! Look, Nandadevi is right here!” We were lucky to again see the sunrise over the Himalayan range from Chaukhamba to Nandadevi from a different perspective. Our delightful experience over the last 4 days was Nature’s gift for the efforts. With gratitude and respect for the elements, we started our return journey and reached Ghuttu in the evening.
We learn by our experiences in life and remain curious in search of more answers. I often wonder what did I gain from Panwali Kantha trek? What is the significance in my life of those far-away places…blue sky with puffy clouds, lush green meadows, mighty mountains, fresh air, gentle touch of the sunlight in the cold mornings, starry night sky? They don’t provide me livelihood, solutions to my problems or ways to achieve my goals. Still, I get absorbed in them and my heart always wants to keep them with me. Remembering the child that I once was keeping his toys close-by…
ए फ़लक ! तेरा यह अज़ीम तिलिस्म क्या है,
अब्र-चाँद-सूरज-सितारों का साज़ या खयाल है
सोचा देख लिया जो नज़ारा नसीब हुआ,
एक नज़र और देखूँ तो कोई नया सवाल है
इस रंग बदलती दुनिया में सुकून कहाँ,
हाँ ! तेरे हर रंग में जमाल-ओ-ख़ुमार है
किस कदर रहेगा अब शहर में विवेक,
कहेंगे लोग दीवाना है हद से पार है