The trek through the Himalayas was everything I had hoped for and more. It was intense, and physically and emotionally strenuous; at the same time, it was the most magical and transformative experience of my life. The long drive to the trailhead was even an adventure alone. The narrow, winding road and near misses of oncoming traffic made it impossible to sleep.
Each campsite had its own unique view and sense of wonder. We were lucky with fair weather the first night, so I decided to sleep outside of the tent and enjoy the stars and mild temperatures. Fortunately, the bugs were kind to me, and I was not eaten alive by anything despite our campsite being set up in a field. In the morning, we scrambled to take down our camp and hit the road. We packed slowly the first few days due to a mix of inexperience and calculating the careful balance between how much we thought we could carry, and how much we actually could manage. Eventually we were able to hit the road and continued on our way to our first village, Bhitri. When we arrived, we had our first Hindi 101 lessons so we could try to communicate with the people there. It proved to be useful, because we had to ask for directions often in the later days of the trek.
We left the village shortly after lunchtime to look for our next campsite. Dark clouds appeared over the horizon, which made us anxious. We set up our camp early since a friendly local offered us a field in which we could stay. Thunder could be heard off in the distance, so we hastily set up our tents and began cooking dinner under a tarp. It was a tight squeeze trying to fit everyone and the food under the tarp and the potential of an incoming storm had us all anxious. It was a tense and difficult time cooking, but the food turned out well in the end. Even better, the worst of the storm missed us, and we were only hit with a light drizzle of rain.
The next morning, we had a very late start due to some miscommunication and still inexperience in tearing down camp efficiently. After a long delay we were back on the trail. It was a long and steep uphill climb, and the terrain was very rocky. Soon enough, we entered a forest and it felt like I had stepped into a whole new fantasy world. The ground was covered in lush green grass, colorful wildflowers, and scattered with gray rocks ranging from the size of massive boulders begging to be climbed to tiny pebbles. The sunbeams danced through the pine and fir trees in a way that made me feel like I should be seeing fairies waltzing through the air or an enchanted blade waiting to be pulled from the stone. There were also cool streams flowing down which offered us relief from the hot sun.
We entered a clearing and decided to make our camp there. Being that we were on the side of a mountain, there was not much flat ground, but we managed to find enough suitable area for our tents. We also ran into a shepherd there and he stopped by to enjoy some afternoon chai with us. Unfortunately, his flock decided to join in as well, so we spent a good part of our evening guarding our food and tents from a horde of loud, salt starved sheep.
Since the campsite was pleasant, we ended up staying there the next day as well to rest and reflect on our journey so far and our goals moving forward. The downtime also allowed me to maintain some of my equipment and catch up on journaling. We also tried making a fire that afternoon, but a rainstorm came through and prevented us from making much progress.
The fourth day of hiking was quite a slog. The weather started out fine, but the mountains can create a storm in the blink of an eye. By noon we were hiking in the rain, and it was only getting worse. The clouds also blocked what would have been a fantastic view of the mountains on the horizon, so we were all a bit sad that we were missing out on it. The trail was also difficult because it was covered in rocks and very steep. On the bright side, the rocks were mostly comprised of plagioclase feldspar, and many were speckled with pyrite inclusions, so at least the tripping hazards were gorgeous.
As we approached the ridgeline, the rain and wind picked up. We were forced to retreat back to some trees and set up the tarp for some temporary shelter. Once the rain began to subside, we decided to venture out on the ridge in search of our next campsite. Unfortunately, just as we approached a suitable location, the rain picked back up, so we rushed to set up camp. By this point, we had also crossed the snowline, so we were cold, wet, and downright miserable. Some people jumped straight into their sleeping bags to wait out the storm while others finished setting up camp by fetching what little water we could from the hillside that was bleeding out the muddy rainwater into the trail below us. By the end of it, I was soaked, muddy, and hungry; however, I was not completely miserable. The snacks and hot Tang that some people made kept us going, and the clouds slowly cleared to reveal a magnificent view. The campsite we picked had a perfect view of the snowcapped mountains in the distance and the forests and villages far below us. We were all too enthralled by the picturesque scene to even remember how cold, wet, and miserable we were just hours ago. Everything else, including dinner, was put on hold so we could take pictures, joke around, and just enjoy the golden hour at the end of a hard day.
The next morning was difficult. Although there was plenty of rain the previous day, we did not have a reliable source of fresh water. We needed to ration the little water that we had left and prepare for the trek to the next campsite. This trek was also the hardest one of the whole journey because the trail had been smothered by thick snow. We had to forge our own path through the snow, across a steep mountainside. It was incredibly dangerous, and slipping was a common occurrence. We hiked across the dangerous terrain for what felt like an eternity. If the option to backtrack and go through the Mines of Moria was there, I would’ve taken it- Balrog and all. But for better or worse we pressed on, and eventually made it back to the clear trail. Although we felt victorious in our achievement, we were stuck yet again between a rock and a hard place- there was no suitable campsite with fresh, running water nearby and dark clouds were yet again looming over us. We had three choices: set up camp on the ridge and boil snow to get us enough water, find a pathway downhill to a clearing that may, or may not have running water, or press onward to a site about 5km further to a campsite which would have running water (the option to go into Moria was not given). We didn’t want to give in easily and camp on the ridge, nor did we like the idea of hiking downhill on the hope of finding water. So, we decided to keep going onward to our promised land. We gave a resounding rally call, donned our packs, and quickened our pace. Soon enough, we reached yet another beautiful campsite even earlier than expected. As promised, there was a cold, glacial stream flowing from the peak, and flat ground for us to set up our tents. We were filled with relief in ending an extremely difficult but rewarding day.
We took the next day to relax and enjoy the scenic view of the mountains. After the previous day’s ordeal, we certainly needed it. The rest day also allowed us to make big, heavy meals to aid in our recovery and burn through some of the heavier food items. We had a lot of good food that day, most notably chocolate cinnamon rolls.
We began our descent down the mountain the next day. I hoped that the journey downhill would be easier, but it presented its own challenges since it is strenuous on the knees and loose rocks are even more of a hazard. We took lots of breaks that day, especially so we could enjoy seeing and learning about various birds and plants what we noticed along the way. We also took plenty of photos, especially at the clearings along the way. Our next campsite was in a wonderful, rolling field. There were a few trees spaced around, and a few narrow trails cut across the hillside. We could see a river far below us and a village about two kilometers away. After setting up camp, we had a brief rain shower. Luckily, it cleared up by dinner time, so it wasn’t a major inconvenience.
The end of our trek was rapidly approaching, and the small village we could see from our camp was supposed to be our pickup point. Instead of hiking to a new campsite today, we decided to celebrate our achievements with a big dinner. We planned on making lamb curry, but we were missing a few key ingredients- such as the lamb. There were a few shepherds in the area, so with the help of our guides we were able to buy a lamb off of them. I didn’t exactly want to stick around for the pre-dinner show, so I lead a short excursion to the village to pick up the other ingredients we needed to make it. Armed with a shopping list and enough Hindi to get us by, we marched into town to find a store. There wasn’t a Giant Eagle or Aldi there, but we did find a little shop that had almost everything we needed. After our little trip, we headed back up the hill toward camp and delivered the ingredients to the chefs and helped gather firewood. By late afternoon, we had a good fire going and enough coals to start cooking up our dinner. After a few hours. We got ready to eat what would likely be the freshest food any of us would ever try. It was absolutely delicious, but we all felt a little guilty when the rest of the herd wandered a little too close to our campsite.
The next day would be our last day of hiking. Since some of us already saw the other village, our pickup point was changed to a different village called Phitari. After cleaning up our campsite and covering up the firepit from last night, we made our way down the road to the village. We stopped a few times to ask for directions, and soon found ourselves looking down on the rooftops of many houses, buildings, and a temple. As we entered the village, we were swarmed by an army of schoolchildren who were curious about us. We happily followed them into town, and they brought us to the schoolyard and invited us to play cricket with them. Most of us were exhausted and just happily sat by and watched, but two people decided to make an attempt at pitching or batting. Admittedly I don’t know all of the rules, but based on the amount of laughing I suspect that they won’t be getting drafted by a major team anytime soon. When the kids got called back into class, we said our goodbyes and left to eat lunch. We were also invited to witness a religious ceremony, which was a very unique and enlightening experience for us. Afterwards, we set off to look for a shop so we could buy some extra snacks such as biscuits or chips.
As we left the village to head to our final campsite, it began to rain. We quickly pulled out our rain gear and continued on our way downhill. The rain made the trail extra treacherous, and I nearly fell several times. Thankfully it eventually stopped when we were about halfway to the site, but the storm clouds still threatened us. We quickly set up camp which was a beautiful section of land at the intersection of two rivers. Almost as soon as the tents were up, the rain started again. Most of us sought shelter in the tents, but some people stayed under the tarp to make chai and snacks. It cleared up again just in time for us to make a simple, but filling dinner before coming back with a vengeance. The wind picked up, thunder boomed, and lightning flashed directly above us. Unfortunately, the storm forced us to split up our group and spend the last night in camp together in our tents instead of relaxing and reminiscing about our adventures together. The final morning of the trek was miserable. Nobody had the energy to cook a solid breakfast, and the weather was still gloomy. We were all tired and keenly aware that we were all ready for a shower, real bed, and food we didn’t need to cook ourselves. Once the jeeps arrived to take us home, we loaded our bags and began the ride back home.
Overall, I had a great time on the trek, but we did face our fair share of challenges. The environment and interpersonal differences threw many difficulties and curveballs our way. For many of the environmental challenges, such as weather and terrain, we worked as a team to overcome them. We checked up on each other, took water breaks when needed, and reminded each other to either layer up or apply more sunscreen as needed. In my opinion, those were the easiest challenges. The interpersonal struggles, miscommunication, and difference in opinion were the hardest to overcome. These challenges also appeared more often when we had free time in camp, or when the consequences of our decisions were milder. We fought over things like misplaced gear (which was almost always found buried deep in someone’s bag), getting water when the source was far away, or how much more weight each someone can or should be taking on. Usually for me, I had to overcome these issues by reminding myself to take a deep breath, see the bigger picture, and take a step away from the issue and come back to it with a clearer head. I also relied on the guides or other friends to help ground me and help me get control over my emotions when they started to get the best of me.
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