Towards the end of April 2017, I set out on my first Himalayan trekking adventure – to a place that I had not heard of more than 2 months prior. Pangarchulla. Honestly, it took me about a month to get the name right without having to look back at the website or my email! To the uninitiated, Pangarchulla is a peak in the NandaDevi Natural Reserve, towards the north of Uttarakhand. It is approx. 5000m above the sea-level and is considered a moderate-difficult trek. The tour guide had it down for a 4 day trek with a couple of more days thrown in to travel between Haridwar and Joshimath.
I started off with my backpack weighing in at about 10-12 kgs, from Bengaluru, on a flight to Delhi. An overnight train to Haridwar found me at the station at 4 a.m on the first day of the journey. I walked from the railway station to one of the hotels that I had booked online, not more than half a kilometer away. It was dark and deserted. A few guys were hanging about on their two-wheelers, looking suspicious. I kept telling myself that they would have seen thousands of travelers like me, in that city – popular for the river Ganges that flows through it and an untold number of ashrams and temples that call that town, their home. One of them accosted me – would I need a hotel? I declined and instead, asked for directions to the hotel that I had made a reservation in. He directed me down the little by lane that served as the entrance to the hotel. It was like one of the hundreds of hotels in that area – a concrete, nondescript building with a signboard that had seen better days. 2-3 men were sleeping the foyer area inside. The one that did wake up on my arrival, did not seem excited to have a customer. He informed me that there were no rooms available. I did not stay to argue with the man at 4 a.m and instead turned around and walked straight back on to the road.
This time, when a man asked me if I were looking for a room, I said yes. He walked me down the road with a few short turns and soon, I found myself at another similar hotel where again, there were 3 men asleep on the floor and sofas. I paid the man for the use of a room for a few hours, made an entry in the register and found myself in a room with a bath. The plan was to nap for an hour before heading out to the rendezvous point at the railway station. I got in about a half hour’s sleep before my phone rang. It was one of the trek companions-to-be. They were waiting at the railway station at 6:45 a.m., the taxis were there, ready to leave if they had 5 people on board. If I could come on over, I would be the 5th person and we could leave for Joshimath right away. Would I? I jumped at the idea of meeting some of the fellows and immediately agreed. I packed up (an hour before my scheduled nap time) and quietly let myself out of the hotel, thinking that I might as well have simply walked up to the room, used it and walked out with no one at the hotel front desk being any wiser for it! The guys were fast asleep and wouldn’t have known if a family had walked in and out of the hotel.
Daylight was upon us and it was a windy, cloudy sort of day. It was at the onset of summer in Haridwar and I had on me a t-shirt and shorts – my favorite travel attire. A short walk took me to the railway station and a few taxis parked there. There were a few people already sitting in the Tata Sumo vehicles. 5-6 drivers were milling about, cracking jokes in their native tongue as I identified myself as one of the folks to be picked-up for the journey to Joshimath. The people that had called me were nowhere to be seen, but there were a few other guys that I did talk with, briefly. It was windy and drizzling and soon, everyone was in the cabs. Now, the Tata Sumo is an old vehicle. It was one of the first Indian made SUVs and is quite spacious on the inside, but it does not favor those sitting in the last row. They tail of the vehicle always seems like it is drifting, especially on the roads through the mountainous regions. Not surprisingly then, all the guys traveling in groups made a beeline to the front two rows of the jeeps, leaving the last cabin for me. I preferred to wait it out until the end. Finally, I got into one that had a seat empty in the 2nd row – with 4 other guys already in, and we were off on a 10 hour journey to the base camp at Joshimath.
The journey itself was quite uneventful. The driver was good and the company in my cab was good too. We stopped a couple of times for breakfast and dinner. I got a couple of good photos during the break and we reached the base camp at approx. 6 p.m in the evening. Joshimath is at an altitude of approx. 3000m above sea level and the day we reached there, it was cloudy and raining and really, really cold! All those of us, who were in shorts and a t-shirt, quickly brought out our jackets, woollen caps and sweaters. We were informed of a briefing scheduled for 8 p.m. and shown to our rooms. Our room was two levels downstairs and walking up and down those stairs was good practice for what was to follow over the next few days.
The briefing was in cold, windy conditions in a place which only had a roof on top – it was more like a balcony, looking over a Thermal power plant and the mountains. The wind blowing from the mountains was enough to chill us down to the bones. I am sure some of us had real worries about the feasibility of the trek through this cold weather. I was a little apprehensive of the possibility of the trek being canceled due to inclement weather! Unfounded thoughts and I am glad to say, they had no such intentions. Trekking involves coping with whatever weather is thrown at us by nature and that weather would have made the trek that much more adventurous. Anyway, the briefing lasted for about 45 mins and was followed by dinner, which was quite good. We had roti, daal and subzi, rice and some other munchies thrown in. We were told to be ready by 9:00 a.m the following day. A little bit of shopping for those without some trek essentials (I needed a pair of thermals to deal with the cold) scheduled for 10 mins and we were to start the trek of 6 kms at 10:00 a.m. I chose to offload my bag to a pony for an extra price. I did not have a rain cover for the bag and was lucky with the weather over the next few days. We were off to our rooms for a much needed sleep on a cot with a mattress and a thick quilt and my lights were out by 10:00 p.m.