(I couldn't reach Khalia Top because of excessive snowfall, so I am not able to describe how beautiful Panchuli range of Himalayas would be watched from the top, though I could understand the feeling of Panchuli magic where I spent my days in the mountain.)
“Aren't you scared of living off the land alone?”
“What do you do alone in the forest?”
There are some questions randomly shot at me ( I say randomly because most people do not think while asking) whenever I return from my camping trips. When I show my pictures of camping or tell them my (brief) stories about my experiences, there is an air of disbelief, a sort of mixed feeling of amazement and disgust. If I remember correctly, I never felt any type of trepidation so far. It is also a fact that I do not feel any extraordinary feeling in those places as people may imagine seeing my pictures.
|Winding roads in Kumaon
A peculiar sense of emptiness grasps my whole being, a power that is inconceivable by reason and logical gymnastics. Every place has its own energy and when you place yourself with a little quietness, the place reveals itself slowly the secrets. Perhaps, that is the outcome of my travel or living off-the-land for some time. It cuts down from my usual self, and usual thoughts, but attached with something that heightens my perception, can feel things from a different level of life.
I like the Himalayas, more than anything else, because the energy is so wholesome, too complete. If I have to strictly tell what part of the Indian Himalayas I prefer, I would say Garhwal. This is the land where great souls are buried, not essentially in a sense of last rite or incineration, but the energy buried here for hundreds of thousands of years. After so many years have passed, even today you can sense the subtle energy if you are sensitive enough to feel that. The silence is exquisite, but many people can't contain it because they aren't accustomed to it. The tranquility of the region may bring a familiar sense of sadness and remorse. Nevertheless, within this peculiar sense of sadness, one can find a direction.
Travel journey to Munsiyari
|Munsiyari in March
I noted down most of the things during my journey, lest things I can't recall. Sometimes, small things can turn out to be a crucial part of the journey. For example, my night bus journey was unmentionable but became a part of my note because of an incident.
A girl was sitting beside me. She was quite noticeable for two things – her continuous hard efforts to sleep in the bus, and her strong scent and hard-bitten good looks. The more she moved position, the more she created disturbance, not essentially irritation but a peculiar attractive disturbance. At one point in time, she literally rolled down to my shoulders with her hair slightly touching my body. I had this experience before when I was coming back from Dharamsala and a Tibetan girl fell asleep over my shoulder with her hair all over my face.
Anyway, this miniature love story ended soon when she dropped at Rudrapur and my ordeal thankfully concluded with a sweet sleep for 40 minutes. When I reached Haldwani, I was utterly disappointed with the fact that I came at the wrong time. Because of Holi, a few buses and shared taxis (with double fares) were only plying to distant places. I had been warned by a fellow on the bus about this possibility. This bright young fellow, working with Indian Oil Corporation was patiently listening to me while we were waiting at Dominoes. We had a long or rather one-way conversation about travel where I was speaking about traveling and he was patiently listening to me.
I was standing at the bus stand, thinking what to do. I wanted to go to a new place but there was not a single vehicle going to Munsiyari or any elevated mountain range. Once again absence of cohesive thoughts had fallen for a gentle yet forceful invitation from a taxi driver who was supposed to go to Pithoragarh.
I and two soldiers
I was traveling in a small hatchback with five people, two were soldiers returning to their homes in Didihat. It was again a long journey and quite painfully sandwiched between big-sized soldiers. I was reading and sometimes talking to one of the soldiers who was quite friendly. They were returning from Siachen and looked totally jaded. I was contemplating why for a small piece of land two governments spending lots of money. The average temperature of Siachen is 2 degrees and in the winter months, temperatures can dip to -50 degrees.
We reached Pithoragarh around 4pm. I already realized that it was nearly impossible to find any commutation to Munsiyari because the market was desolated and only one jeep was there to Dharchula. At one time I thought I must take a ride to Dharachula and then decide what could be done. However, after taking suggestions from the soldiers, I decided to stay in Pithoragarh for the night.
Final journey to Munsiyari and failed Khalia Top trek
The next day early morning my travel mate whom I met in Pithoragarh started the journey. He is a 16-18-year-old guy with an unbending intent to go to Munsiyari to find a job. He was carrying 300 rupees, out of which I lent him 150 rupees for his bus journey. I also paid for tea and breakfast without any problem because I liked the attitude and nerves of that teenager. He already talked to some hotels in Munsiyari and told me twice that he would pay me when he reached the destination. So, I had to pay the taxi fare from Thal. I already knew that and had no issue in paying.
We reached Munsiyari in the afternoon, and he dropped in a hotel. I didn’t have to pay the fare as he borrowed it from the hotel manager. I took a picture of him and he left. I spent the whole evening, night, and half of the day with this guy, and probably will never meet him again, but this small incident and selfless friendship remain very valuable to me.
|Desolate Pithoragarh town
I had my lunch in a small restaurant and with some guidance from locals took the journey to Khalia Top. Well, I took the shortcut and soon I realized that I had made a mistake. At one point in time, I was simply lost in the forest, thinking to camp and the next day started again. However, it was quite dense and there was a source of water very nearby. I don’t camp near the source of water because animals generally come in the night to drink water.
Finally, after a long and tiring hike, I ultimately came to the main road. Then, I couldn't walk anymore, so I preferred to wait for transportation. Fortunately, I didn't wait too long and got a shared car, which dropped me to my destination.
Evening loomed large and I had to climb for at least 2 hours to reach the top. It seemed impossible because of snowfall, so I decided to climb till I got sufficient sunlight. Finally, I found a nice place to pitch my tent, which was at a good height, and the mountains were nicely captured on my camera.
My journey stopped there. I didn't feel anything more, no tiredness, no hurry to reach the destination, not a single thought came to my mind, except to stay in that special moment for at least some hours.