Wednesday, 17 June 2009

It’s not about the Hike

This post about my trek from Solang to Beaskund was written practically under compulsion: my college seniors who organized the trek invited me on the express condition that I would blog about it. The transition from my preferred anecdotal style of posting to a full-fledged trip report did not come easy. I had to consciously avoid an atavism to the style of the identikit essays we used to write in Class 2: Last Sunday, my family, that is my parents, my younger brother and I, went to the zoo/circus/seaside…

Further difficulty was occasioned by the memory of this long-ago webcomic, which cropped up every time I sat down to write and made me acutely self-conscious. But on the plus side, this post allows me to settle a personal score: Rahul Saha, this is where I get back for what you once did to me.

When we landed at the Manali bus terminus, a well-meaning gentleman asked Tewary which hotel we were staying at. Tewary turned to look at him incredulously. “Hotel?! Azad panchhi hain hum, aasman ke nichey, paharon ke chhaon mein...” (Hotel?! We are free like the birds, under open skies, in the shadow of the mountains...)

Our reputation as nutcases was firmly established within minutes of our arrival.

For the four magical days which ensued, we tramped through snowfields, trudged across valleys, clambered over boulders, and waded across ice-cold streams. Best of all, we lived in bright yellow tents.

Too many Boy Scout camps in drab khaki tents have given me a weakness for brightly-coloured tents, and I was ecstatic when I saw the ones we had hired for this trip.

Such pretty tents demand tasteful interior decoration. Cows grazing on the steep hillsides sometimes lose their footing and dash themselves to pieces on the rocks below. So the valley in some places is strewn with bovine skeletons.

I found this nearly intact skull and wanted to take it back to adorn our tent, but the others didn’t let me. We have ambiguous and irrational attitudes towards death.

We also have ambiguous and irrational attitudes towards shit. In accordance with childhood habit, all four of us preferred water over toilet paper. So we designated one of our bottles as the pootle (Latin: poo + bottle). After the first day’s trek, we discovered in the evening that we were running short of bottles, and this led us to deliberate over the ethics of using the pootle also as a drinking-water bottle. Despite the telling arguments which I advanced, I believe the debate was settled against the motion.

But skulls and pootles were forgotten as soon as the smell of dinner wafted into our tents. We poked our heads outside to find that Dharam-ji, our intrepid guide and cook, was roasting rotis on the embers of our bonfire. Soft, slightly-charred rotis with a whiff of the wood-fire – on that bitterly cold night, they tasted like nothing on earth. I did not count how many I ate, but the tally easily runs into double digits.

Dharam-ji warned us that the next day there would be no bonfire, because we would pitch camp higher up at Bhakarthatch, where firewood is not easily available. Pramit said we should carry twigs in our pocket and make a tiny bonfire “just for the heck of it.” I don’t know why, but I found his suggestion unbelievably hilarious. I am laughing as I type it.

The next day we reached Bhakarthatch and pitched our tents. It snowed in the afternoon. The day after, we trekked to Beaskund and back to camp. We made good time, though we stopped occasionally to have snowball fights and eat apples. The scenery on this leg of the trek was the most stunning.

As you see from the pictures above, and at the risk of stating the obvious, the Himalayas are big. At close range, it is easy to be overawed by their majesty. Occasionally, to restore my sense of scale and to keep myself from going dizzy, I would desist from craning my neck and closely inspect the ground. To a probing eye and a powerful macro lens, a new and equally wonderful world reveals itself.

When we had dragged our rucksacks and our travel-weary bodies back into Manali, we set about finding ourselves a room for the night. And find one we did – a backpacker lodge in old Manali. You know the type: the sort of place that Lonely Planet describes as ‘basic’, dirt-cheap room charges, hippy inmates, an affable owner, grass on demand, and the trippiest colour scheme you have ever seen.

That night’s dinner at Johnson’s Café, Manali was on Pramit, Tewary and Archana. (This is why it is useless to go on trips with juniors, and highly profitable to go with seniors.) Over pasta, smoked trout and a celebratory bottle of wine, we relived our favourite moments from the trek.

For me at least, this unwinding after an outdoor expedition is as delightful as the trip itself. Because it is not just to see new places and enjoy new experiences that we travel; it is not just for the heck of it that we undergo myriad discomforts and inconveniences, physically push ourselves to the limit. We travel, as much as anything else, to return to familiar comforts and a broadband connection. It is a shopworn saying, but we travel to come home.

In Tremendous Trifles, G. K. Chesterton writes how, when he was leaving for a holiday, a friend walked into his flat in Battersea and asked where he was going. Chesterton baffled his friend with the reply:
I am going to Battersea, to Battersea viâ Paris, Belfort, Heidelberg, and Frankfort. […] I cannot see any Battersea here; I cannot see any London or any England. I cannot see that door. I cannot see that chair: because a cloud of sleep and custom has come across my eyes. The only way to get back to them is to go somewhere else; and that is the real object of travel and the real pleasure of holidays.
Chesterton, that canny old codger, had nailed it as usual. The hike is awesome. But it’s not just about the hike, is it?


A Cameo said...


Jesus Christ. Some fortunate vegetables get to travel so much. And see such places.

And write such blogs.

Excuse me, I would be delighted if you were to elaborate on the model number and configuration of your camera. Those are some seriously good shots. Granted, of course, that a photographer of calibre is also essential.

However, you don't LOOK the OCD type. :D

Tewary said...

Thank you!

Shrabasti Banerjee said...

I love xkcd and this post. :D

Anonymous said...

Hobbies plays a key role for the people who really came to the earth for this purpose, one or the other day people around the world would be discussing about the people who have collected Many World Coins,monuments, old stamps, old notes who will be positioned in the world of Guinness records.

Abhiroop said...

Lemme see:

1. Shantineketan and Garpanchakat.
2. Ranchi
3. Orissa
4. Guwahati
5. Beneras
6. And now the Himalayas.

Its been three months since College got over.

God, what the **** am I doing here?

Sroyon said...

@Cameo: That's because I'm NOT the OCD type.

@Tewary: No, thank YOU.

@Shrabasti: Which one more? :)

@flowers: People collect monuments? :O

@Lahiri: Not Guwahati. That didn't work out. :(
But you went to Chapramari, didn't you? And what is more, you are Earning!

Opaline said...

That skull is toooo bloody cool. I would've fought tooth and nail to bring it back.

Abhiroop said...

@Opaline: Tooth and nail AND bones, eh??

Ok lame one: blame it upon way too much association with Merchant bankers- those chaps have a real sweet way of bringing all the sunshine back into your lives...


Pratiti said...

You know, I think I am going to stop being madly envious of you because you travel so much. Posts such as these are really the closest one can hope to get to experiencing the real thing without actually travelling. Love this. *As much as xkcd*, I think.
PS. I'll compensate for this comment with silence/caustic remarks in the next, umm, FIVE, posts. Fair enough?

new age scheherazade said...

This is one of my favourite poems:
Dekhite giyechhi parbatmala, Dekhite giyechhi Sindhu, Dekha hoy nai chokhhu meliya, Ghar hote shudhu dui pa feliya, Ekti dhaan er shish er opor ekti shishir bindu.
But yes, Chesterton hit the nail on the head, too.
On Outdoor Action last year, we had to dig a hole, our business, and then bury it with a trowel. Every group had to name their trowel, though I believe unimaginative names such as Mr.Poop were common.
And I have always wanted to sleep on a riverbank in one of those yellow tents. I think I'm living vicariously through you..

Tommy said...

Great trip report!

I would've let you use the skull as tent decoration.

Rahul Saha said...

Basturds. No, that was not a typo.

Mer-curial-maiden said...

Lovely post. :) I really should stop moaning over beautiful traveloguish blogposts and just go somewhere, already.

Sroyon said...

@Opaline: Since Lahiri started with the PJs: You would have made the skull a bone of contention?

@scheherazade: But you realise it would have been slightly ironical if I quoted that poem in the post? Parbatmala is precisely what I went to see, and the Beas is a tributary of the Indus.

RC said...

Fantastic post .... and by the look of things, a fantastic hike! :)

Indecision Personified said...

oh my God!!! you ar HAVING FUN!!!! I join Larry in asking - WHAT am I doing here????

And Very few people could convert an 'essay type' post into something so much worth reading. I am glad to be a regular on the blog of one such person!

P.S: Maybe for this I will compensate for the next 10 posts!

Shrabasti Banerjee said...

*As much as*, if not more :). I think this is one of your best posts so far. One of my favourites, at any rate. :D

Doubletake, Doublethink. said...

I had to comment here because of the Pootle - here I was thinking Haagu Mug was a perfectly innovative name for the mug we carry on our hikes.

At least it had a huge 'H' painted on it with nail enamel :(

Tewary said...

Was reading the post again. I advanced arguements too - for using the pootle as a drinking bottle . Dont take all the credit for it!

sreejita said...

I just love this post.It reminds me of my camping days especially the ones at Pedong and Neora valley(Samsing).......I miss them so badly:(...