Dream away, shedding the pursuit of lucre,
Dream away, those beautiful eyes,
Dream away, the pursuit of the holy,
I have never been a language person; Even though I’m supposed to be eloquent in four languages and have the ability to understand a couple more, the hideous creature of language has always haunted me. Like the devils in the Calvin and Hobbes cartoons, my life has also seen many imaginary battles between the devils dwelling and hiding behind the letters, grammar and words of various languages.
The language which I first learnt, Tulu luckily has no script. Otherwise god only knows for how many more days and nights I would have had to be awake studying it. This being my mother tongue, I never had to put in a sweat to speak it, but this was just the beginning of the story. When I was sufficiently grown up to engage outsiders in a conversation I found out to my horror that there are many versions of Tulu. The version that I had learnt so seamlessly was known as the Shivalli tulu which is hardly spoken by less than 10% of the Tulu speaking populace. In fact with this statistic I was as good as dumb when I stepped out of my home. Even to this day the Tulu that I know is only Shivalli Tulu and I shamelessly use the same whenever I speak to the 90% of the startled non-Shivalli people. It is not only me who had this Tulu trouble; even my parents had a taste of it. My father is from Udupi and my mom’s home is near Sullia which are separated by about 100Km’s from each other and due to the theory of evolution the Shivalli language had also evolved into different branches. My parents could not make much sense of each other with their respective versions of Tulu after marriage and had to switch to Kannada, To my beautiful luck it was only a few months before I was born did they switch back to a newly created version of Tulu, freshly minted by combining the two versions and me being the first disciple of the new language.
English and Kannada suddenly started making their appearance in my life when I started attending the nursery school. Again speaking Kannada was never a problem but the written script had my head in splits. I with my simple mind could never figure out as to why and when I should go for the big letter compared to the smaller ones, the small streaks of lines which are put at the bottom of the letters always baffled me. I literally always took my chances on these underscore letters and used to get royally beaten up both at home and school. My best performance in Kannada came when I got 98 out of hundred in my first standard. Courtesy of this performance I also got the first rank which unfortunately was my last as well. My tryst with learning Kannada ended soon after I completed my fifth standard as my father got transferred to Ahmedabad. To be frank only once in these past 18 years, I went as far as writing a sentence in Kannada. One of my non-kannada friends in office had a Kannada maid at home and he wanted a note addressed to her saying that he didn’t want her to cook dinner for that day. Suddenly my mouth went dry and the old days of confusion and tension came flooding back. After a struggle of more than 5 minutes I did manage to write something. I guess the maid must have got the idea since my friend didn’t complain the next day. Even though my affiliation of writing in Kannada is almost dead and buried, this is not the case in terms of reading. I sometimes pickup the Kannada daily that comes to our home and I’m able to read at a pretty good pace. Over the last few years due to the influence of some pro-Kannada friends I have been reading Kannada novels. I have found them to be very different from the English ones as they are set in environments which are much familiar to us than the English ones. I hope to continue this association with Kannada over the course of my life.
I don’t exactly remember when I first learnt my ABCD’s but most probably I must have learnt it like a duck taking to water. It was only later in my life that English, which I was considering as my pet, started raising its ugly head. The world of tenses had me in a complete maze before twirling and twisting me into the endless realm of vocabulary. After studying in Bangalore at a pretty good school I went to Kendriya Vidyalaya in Ahmedabad. With the limited capabilities that the students possessed as far as English was concerned I soon became a star. I used to sweep all the debate and essay competitions. But nobody knew my dark secrets; I was a dud in terms of grammar. This mask was ripped apart when a harmless question in the class exposed me to the core. Our English teacher was asking a student to identify the tense of a sentence in the class; the student put his head down. Then came another students turn and the same posture was repeated. Finally the teacher after de-riling the class asked me to tell the correct answer, it seems I missed the mark by a very long shot since the teacher was flabbergasted with my reply and the whole class had to endure some 5 extra classes on the tenses. My affinity to the language grew with my interest in reading novels. Near my home in Ahmedabad there was a library called the Karnataka sangha, this was the place where Kannadigas who were feeling home sick used to have a get together. On one corner of this library there was a collection of English books. I started off my reading career from here. The first book that I read was the Arabian nights followed by the Hardy boys, the Nancy drews, Famous five and many of the Enid Blyton stories. She was my favorite writer at that time. After completing my 9th standard we shifted back to Mysore and accordingly I shifted to the bigger Novels. My father had a small collection of Novels and among them was David Copperfield. As a young kid I was fascinated by the size of the book but could never go beyond the first page as the language was too heavy. It was in Mysore that I got into the world of Dickens, reading David Copperfield was like reading about a boy who was so like me, I was hooked. My dad had studied in the Mysore University and he still had his library card. After some persuasion, my dad took me to the library and got his card renewed. From the hallowed halls of this library I borrowed books ranging from Dickens, Dumas to Narayan. The world of books took me and swallowed me completely. Later on with the advent of internet and e-books, I used to download free novels on the net from Gutenberg and read it on the computer. I had read several big novels on the computer, looks almost impossible to me now. After joining my job, I started buying books. Now 7 years later I have a pretty good collection at home. This is a treasure I cherish a lot and get lost into whenever time permits.
Hindi was more or less a step-motherly language to me. I started swimming into the alphabets in my fifth standard in Bangalore but was soon thrown into the sea of Hindi when we moved to Ahmedabad. Staying afloat was getting difficult and had to struggle left right and center with endless beatings from my parents and late night studies. Finally I reposed whatever faith my parents had put on me by passing the mid-term exams. The struggles of choosing the right letters etc continued but it looked a lot easier to navigate in Hindi since it didn’t have the killer underscores unlike Kannada. Even after coming back to Mysore, I stuck to Hindi till 12th standard.
Finally the language that gave me the shudders was Sanskrit. This was one language which used to puzzle me a lot, gave me nightmares and even after endless toil I was nowhere near understanding a proper sentence. After we moved into Ahmedabad in my first Sanskrit class I was asked to read a passage, I was rambling through the passage when the teacher showed me the stop signal. For the next 5 minutes, I was bombarded out of my wits and would have crawled through a mouse hole if I had the capability. Later my father had to come to the school to convince the teacher that I was starting fresh in the language and asked her to give me time, from that day onwards she didn’t point me out for any passage reading. It was only after some 3 years that my turn to read a passage came under the same teacher’s class, I pulled out no stops this time and rammed on the accelerator. The teacher was stunned and praised me like hell; she didn’t know that I had no idea about the meaning of the sentences though. With my sprouting but growing desire of reading the ancient Indian texts such as the Gita in their original form I have now in fact decided to give Sanskrit another chance. Hopefully this time I will be successful in grasping the language which is considered to be one of the ancient and the most complete languages.
Day 5: Ghora Lotani to Bhaguva basa
Far over the misty mountains cold,
To dungeons deep and caverns old,
We must away, ere break of day,
To seek our pale enchanted gold.
These lines from a Tolkien’s poem aptly sum up the mornings on our trek. Today it was no pale of gold that we were searching but a good spot to answer the natures call. We were up by 5 in the morning and after a mini trek of sorts finally found a pretty secluded spot away from the line of sight of the camp. From our YHAI experience we knew the best technique was to dig a pit, do the job and cover up the pit but unlike sarpass trek the ground was very hard here and digging a small pit turned out to be a very laborious effort. Breakfast as usual was served pretty early and finally after a round of warm up exercises the trek to Kalu vinayak temple began. The path from Ghora Lotani to Kalu vinayak is pretty steep and there is no letup of any sort in terms of the ascending gradient. Sandeep who had been trekking till now with his sandals due to a shoe bite continued doing the same.
We got some wonderful view of the Bugyals after climbing up for a couple of hours. The air was getting thinner as we moved up and the wind was also to an extent gaining speed, the weather started getting worse and a drizzle started. Cursing my luck, I took out my rain sheet and tried my best to cover myself and my bag. Krishna and Satish had slipped on their ponchos and were comfortably walking around without any kind of bother. The drizzle thankfully stopped after a short while and the sky cleared out to an extent. We encountered some villagers on the way who were collecting some roots which grew in these altitudes, apparently each root could fetch them more than 100 Rs. We reached Kalu vinayak in pretty good time and after paying our obeisance to the lord who presided on the Roop kund trek route we climbed the small hillock which is next to the temple. You could get an almost 360 degree pan of the area from this spot.
From Kalu vinayak we had our first view of Roopkund and Junargali, Of course we couldn’t see the lake since it is located in a depression on the top of the mountain but we could make out the saddle of sorts in the mountain in which RoopKund was present.
The trek to Bhaguva basa from here is pretty easy and is a gradual downward sloping stone paved path. I was wondering as to the reason for paths to be paved with stone at such a height and then I came to know about the Homkund Yatra, this is a Yatra that happens once in 12 years and thousands of people from the surrounding villages go to Roopkund and cross over Junargali to Shila samudra and then make their way to HomKund lake which is under the feet of the Nanda Ghunti mountain to make their offerings to Nanda devi. On the way we encountered our first snow patch of the trek and some of the trek members who were seeing snow for the first time in their lives were pretty excited. This stretch of the trek I did it alone along with the company of the mountains and the mystical nature of the Himalayas started to seep in through my pours. The mind finds a lot of peace when you listen to the silence of the mighty mountains.
We reached the camp by around 12 in the afternoon and promptly got into one of the Green hut like structures which were built by the forest departments for the trekkers. After resting for some time we got to know that we had to vacate one of the huts as it was booked by another group, being the relatively young guns of the group we had to vacate out the hut and move into tents. I had a bad feeling that the night was not going to be easy and the tent was not looking sturdy enough to braze out the night at an altitude of 4600 meters. For lunch we had maggi and everyone was very happy to have broken out of the Roti-Sabji routine.
During lunch our camp leader proposed doing Roopkund on the same day as the weather looked great but most of turned it down as it would have been very tiring to climb further up after having trekked so much, instead we spent our time exploring the places near the vicinity of the camp. One small group decided to go to a waterfall that was visible in the valley facing the Roopkund lake but they soon turned back as the way was too steep for comfort. Some of us just sat around taking in the beauty of the mountains and nature.
The weather suddenly changed color and it started to rain, we ran into our tents and within no time the rain had turned into a snow fall. Many then ran out to enjoy it; I spent some time enjoying the snow and then made my way to the relative safety of the tent. Snow had started accumulating on the top of our tent and we had to shake it off at regular intervals fearing the tent would collapse under its weight.
The snow fall finally stopped late in the night and the temperature had dropped to very low levels by then. Dinner was served around 7:30 today and I decided not to make use of the plates, instead took three rotis and put Bhindi sabji on top of the Roti and had my dinner. There was an egg curry as well but being the holistic person that I was, I stuck only to Bhindi. Sandeep graciously offered to share his plate and we both ate some rice from the same plate and which he later washedJ. Krishna was not feeling well and he decided to skip his dinner. The sky had not yet cleared up and the possibility of further snow and rain was very high. In the night, the rain again started and the temperature had hit rock bottom outside the tent. I snuggled myself into the sleeping bag and was completely oblivious to the surrounding until the next day morning.
Day 6: Bhaguva basa to RoopKund and then to Bedni Bugyal
The morning outside looked very bleak, the night’s rain had not yet stopped and the Roopkund area was completely shrouded with clouds. This was not an ideal weather for the trek and it looked like Roopkund was not possible today. We had almost given up hope of making it to the top when at around 7:30 the weather cleared out and the sky turned into its characteristic shades of deep blue. Ajoy decided that the weather was perfect for the trek atleast till Roopkund and since it was already 7:30, Junargali was ruled out.
In a hurry we started off without having our breakfast since it was not yet ready. The path was damn slippery due to yesterday’s rain and thin sheets of ice had formed over the stoned paved path. The initial part of the climb is pretty easy but after some time we started to encounter a number of small glacial crossings. Crossing over these snow patches is never easy and it is important to exercise your utmost caution. After the glacial crossing of more than 7-8 the path starts taking a gradual upward accent, at many places the mountain requires you to use all your fours.
The sheer drop on one side of the path sometimes rocks you back. Even without our bags this stretch was getting tough. I was having crampons which my brother had brought from his Korea trip but didn’t use it during the accent thinking that they will get damaged as there was not enough snow. After huffing and puffing on the high altitude for oxygen I finally seemed to have made it to the top. The last stretch was the most difficult as the oxygen levels here seemed to be pretty low and I was left gasping for it.
Finally I was there at the lake, the destination for which we had given six days of toil to reach and at an altitude of nearly 5000 meters. The lake was completely frozen and there was no signs of the innumerable skeletons, all of them were covered up by the snow on the lake. We spent close to 25 minutes sitting at the lake as the other team members were slowing making the final assault. The breakfast which was supposed to be carried by the porters was nowhere in sight. Finally after shooting some photos of the skeletons kept near the small temple, we decided to move back. Some of our team members had not brought their sun glasses and they were suffering because of the blinding light reflected from the snow.
The weather started to turn cloudy and we feared the worst, the breakfast had by then arrived but I was in no mood to eat it and then be stranded somewhere on the dangerous curving paths. I took out my crampons and decided that my life was more important than the crampons. With the new gear the climb downwards was pretty easy, many of the curves which had looked dangerous while climbing up looked less imposing during the decent. We had made a major mistake of not carrying our water bottles and hence I had gone without water during the accent. While climbing down we ripped open the frooti tetra pack which was given to us along with chocolates by the trek organizers and used it to drink water from the many streams we encountered along our path.
By 12 in the noon we had made our way back to the Bhaguwa basa camp, without food I was completely exhausted. After taking some rest we had our lunch and then we soon packed up to reach Bedni bugyal before night fall. We took the same path which we used for the ascent. For most part of this stretch I did it alone again enjoying the Himalayas all by myself.
Except for a place near Bedni bugyal where the wind speed became so fast that I had to hug the mountain, it was pretty incident free. By around 5:45 I had reached the Bedni camp and soon crept into a tent for rest. Others also made it in pretty good time and every one were in pretty high spirits after having completed the trek successfully. During the night we also had a camp fire in celebration.
Day 7: Bedni Bugyal to Wan
The four of us had decided that we would try to make it to Joshimath by nightfall and hence embarked with another group of 4 to Wan by 6 in the morning itself. The other group members were scheduled to start at 9.00. After saying our goodbyes we hit the road.
The path from Bedni to Wan is completely on a downward gradient except for a small stretch where you need to climb up. This trek was mainly through the dense forests and didn’t afford us any view of the valley or the mountains. It took us close to 5 hours to reach Wan and seemed to be an endless walk. The Wan village itself stretches by around 2-3 kms and our initial joy of encountering a house turned into despair as the walk continued to stretch on and on. Finally around 11:30 we reached the motor-able road and one of our porters who had gone ahead of us had a jeep ready. We reached Loharjung base camp after a ride of close to one hour on the curving roads of the valley. Lunch was ready and we had a sumptuous and delicious meal. After collecting our certificates from Ankit we embarked on the jeep which was arranged by Ankit to Karna Prayag.
Thus ended the memorable RoopKund lake trek. The organizing of the trek by India hikes had been good except for one complaint, about their habit of serving the dinner very late in the night.
Roop Kund is not an easy trek and it is necessary to have good physical and mental strength to be able to enjoy the trek. There is no fun in reaching the destination unless you enjoy the journey. I had a heavy heart while climbing down from Bedni to Wan as I was going to miss these mountains which had been my silent companion for the last 7 days.
Adieu, I say to the majestic Himalayas,
With a heavy heart and keeping tears at bay,
With a soul rested and mind at peace,
I walk back into the world after having been healed.
Day 3: Didna to Bedni Bugyal
The sun in these parts of the world comes up at an unearthly hour of 4:30 but since we were sleeping in a big room which had only two doors and no windows it was not possible for us to determine if the day had begun. Reluctantly I came out of my rajjai and had a peek at the outside world, already some people were up but the makeshift toilets were free. Going for the natures call in a makeshift tin structure with the wind outside always banging on the door is not a very comfortable feeling. Today, choice was available to select between veg and non-veg for the packed breakfast, the non-veg consisted of two boilded eggs whereas the veg pack had two boiled potatoes. Swapnil the camp leader made us do some stretches with Naren adding some punch lines from the shilpa shetty videos. Now finally it was time for us to embark on the most difficult part of the trek, Swapnil divided us into three groups, the slow, the medium and the fast. I and Sandeep had become trek buddies after we completed yesterdays trek together. At first both of us opted for the medium group but suddenly it started looking to me that the medium group was going to stick to group discipline to the T and would not tolerate anybody breaking the flank and moving ahead. Finally at the last moment both of us switched our allegiance to the fast group which was led by Rohit, a freak in no uncertain terms as he was freaking out all the team members with his audacious climbing which was bordering on madness on many occasion. Surely there was not going to be any team play here and that is exactly what we wanted also, to be able to go at our own pace.
The slow team was the first to leave, followed by the medium team and the fast team was allowed to take off only after 10 minutes from the medium team. The trek started off on a path which passed along a small stream and then in no time the Oak forests began. The path like yesterday was again very uphill and meandered through the thick foliages. From the gaps between the trees we could get glimpses of the valley now and then and based on that we were making our own assessments as to how much distance we might have covered.
Our leader’s life ambition now was to overtake the slow and the medium teams as soon as possible and took upon the ominous job of motivating the team members by running up and down the track, man this guy was looking really inhuman, where was he was getting all that energy from. The forest nevertheless was a bit monotonous and we took almost close to three hours to see the trees around us thinning out. The landscapes suddenly started changing and behold in front us stood the famous Ali-bugyal. After an uphill trek of about half an hour we reached the Ali bugyal. The fast team had reached the top first to the utmost satisfaction of our leader.
We took a very long break of more than an hour here as we waited for all the team members to join us. The majestic peak of Trishul was in sight and would remain to be so for the next 4 days of our trek. I had my breakfast of Aloo paratha and boiled potatoes and then explored the flora of the Bugyals. Apparently during the months of September these Bugyals are decked with countless flowers, unfortunately we were a bit early to witness this event. From this point onwards the trek was to be an easy walk on the Bugyals till we reach the Bedni camp which was situated on the Bedni bugyal. The landscape was straight out of the Microsofts trademark wall paper.
After everyone had had their food we started out for the Bedni camp. The path is more or less flat except for one region wherein we had to climb up a hillock. On this path we had our first glimpses of the Himalayan vultures, the Lammergeier also called as the Bearded Vulture. Apparently these vultures disdain from feeding on rotting meat and their diet consist of mainly bone marrow. They break open the bones by dropping them from a height.
On our path we also encountered some wild horses. There was also a foal grazing among the herd. Some people in our group even got their photos shot with the foal. Clearly these horses had gotten used to the human presence and were the least perturbed on our being there and taking photographs.
Finally at around 2:15 in the afternoon we reached the Bedni bugyal camp. Bedni had some man made structures and was not as untouched as Ali-bugyal. The reason for this is the fact that there is no water source at Ali but in Bedni a water source is present. For the next three days we were supposed to stay in tents and we could spot around 5-6 tents here.
Ajoy was the camp leader for Bedni and he welcomed us in. Tomato soup was ready on our arrival and after drinking loads of water we had our soup. After all the members of the team had arrived we were allowed to get into our tents. The tent was more or less perfect for the four of us and looked capable of withstanding rain or bad weather. After our lunch we went and sat on a grassy path overlooking a beautiful valley. The Himalayan vultures were full of activity in this valley. Naren and Jaggi joined us here and we got to know that Naren was a Para-gliding instructor also, he had an in depth knowledge of these vultures and it was great listening to him. Finally it started getting cold and we lumbered into our tents, in the horizon we could see clouds accumulating and after about half an hour it started raining. Our main worry now was, how will we have our dinner, since we were almost chilled to our bones inside the tent itself. Everyone was peeking through their tent flaps to check whether the food was ready. The rain finally stopped before dinner time and we had our dinner in the biting cold. Washing your plates is not very easy when the water is close to freezing. Krishna and Satish slept near the tent flaps whereas I and Sandeep were safely and snugly located in between. The reason for the arrangement being Satish usually gets up very early and Krishna was supposedly the last one to wake up, little did he know that he was going to go sleepless for three consecutive nights. The night was more or less eventless except for some water condensing on the tent ceiling, and Krishna stepping on Satish’s feet while trying to get out of the tent for a leak in the middle of the night. The sleeping bags given to us were also very good.
Day 4: Bedni Bugyal to Ghora Lotani
At around dawn I heard Satish shouting to us from outside that he was getting an excellent view of the mountains around. Cursing him for having woken up so early we went out to catch a part of the action. The view was really fantastic. We could clearly see the peaks of Chaukamba, Neel kant and Trishul as the whole region was cloud free.
Today’s trek was supposed to be a very easy one; in fact the guides were saying that it was nothing but a simple walk. One of the highlights of my previous trek was going out in the open for natures call, out here we had makeshift toilets at all but two of the camps, and hence literally we missed out on the fun. After having our breakfast we again divided ourselves into three groups and this time Satish also joined us in the fast group. As the guides had stated earlier for most of the walk there was only a very gradual accent and hence didn’t bother us much. Everyone was in very high spirits and we encountered groups returning from the top, who had completed the Roopkund trek, after exchanging some pleasantries we moved on. Most of the walk was along a mountain and about some 50 meters below its top, hence we could have a view of only one side of the valley. After about a couple of hours of easy walk we came to some kind of a pass wherein we could cross over the mountain and could get on to the other side. At this point the view was simply fantastic; it was one of those moments, when you are least expecting to find anything and suddenly in front of you appears a beautiful vista. The team was asked to take some time out here, we were told that the camp was very close by and it was a gradual decent from now onwards. Everyone were surprised as to how can the trek get over so quickly, anyway I was not complaining. After yesterdays climb this was turning out to be a very welcome rest.
After more than an hour’s break we started for the camp and reached the place within less than an hour. The tents were being set up by the porters and most of us roamed around the place gulping in the fantastic view that the mighty Himalayas was presenting to us. The weather was perfectly clear till now and probably all my worries for the poncho were now turning out to be completely unfounded. Ajoy, the camp leader from Bedni had accompanied us here and he would come further up with us till Roopkund as well. For lunch we had Kichdi which was spiced up to the extent that it tasted like our south Indian Bisi-Bele Bath. In the afternoon the wind started blowing heavily and all of us huddled back into our tents. One disadvantage of having a clear sky is that you cannot sit in your tents, the sun beats down on the tent and we literally start getting cooked up under the sheets. Finally braving the wind was considered to be a far better option than sitting inside the tent. Ghora lotani is almost at the end of the Bugyals, the Bugyals which had started at Ali terminates at Ghora Lotani. The horses were supposed to turn back from this point onwards, but the poor animals were not given their due rights and the mules were made to climb up till Baghuva basa which was the final camp of this trek.
The four of us roamed around the area admiring the place, it is a completely different as well as humbling feeling to be standing in front of these mighty mountains, the mind feels a lot calmer under their shadows. Everyone were plotting and thinking on the course that we were supposed to take tomorrow and the temple of Kalu vinayak was visible from this camp, it was like a tiny speck on the top of the mountain. Krishna was furiously thinking on his strategy and the other members of the trek team also had some anxious look on their faces considering the difficulty of the task ahead.
The dinner was served pretty late here too and washing the plates was again a very big pain. After every one had gone back to their tents, I decided to indulge myself in some night photography and took out my tripod but unfortunately it was not possible for me to take good snaps with my camera. Finally Krishna also came out after hearing my loud lamentations that they were missing a really good opportunity, With his Canon 50D we were able to take some decent pictures of the night and the stars. The silence of the Himalayan night was really beautiful, It was like a poetry but very difficult to explain. After this short photography session, we called it a day and Scooby dived into our sleepy bags.