Trekking up 40 million different hills and passes and covering a total distance of 110 kilometres is not something that one would expect to be doing at the start of a summer vacation. But our group of 12 students, 10 boys, 2 girls and 2 teachers, thoroughly enjoyed this particular trek up to two glaciers, Pindari and Kafni. The trekking program that has officially been introduced to Pathways has been named “Chal”. It stands for Climbing for High Altitude Lovers. During our trek, we all felt like refugees. We moved around sometimes silently and sometimes noisily, stopping when we saw a clean water source, or a rare bird, picking up berries, or just extending a helping hand to an injured fellow trekker, or motivating a slow walker. Our team was as co-operative and as fun as we could be.
The day after reaching Phoorkiya, was the trek to the first glacier, The Pindari Glacier. We began at around 6:00 in the morning trekking past a river with lovely large boulders and stepping stones, through long, windy path that drove us up and down very frequently, and shook us to move faster and faster. Our legs were aching, not from the walking, but from the cold, and our hands and ears had practically frozen. One of the rules of the trek was to keep our hands out of our pockets and our ears out from underneath our woolly caps, so that we could get acclimatised. It was this one very evil word that got us spewing lava from our ears every time we heard it, and keeping us warm. We were absolutely fed up with the word “acclimatisation” and the words “High Altitude Sickness”.
After walking quite a bit, we reached a large field, with lots of little mounds and rocks of grass. There was an ashram there, and a priest who served us some lovely warm tea. This priest had been in this particular ashram for fifteen years. Dharma sir had first met him when he was six years old. The tea was warm and provided a source of heat to our frozen taste buds. As the wind travelled, it dried our faces of any moisture that had collected. We were all icicles. Icicles that were eating boiled egg and Puri with potato for breakfast.
After our breakfast break, we began walking again. There were lots and lots of uphill slopes, and it really drained us of any energy that we had, but when we finally got there, there was a sign that read “You are now at zero point”. The whole team had gone slightly further uphill from where the sign was, to get a better view. The reason why one couldn’t go beyond zero point was that there had been a landslide area, and a huge gap that was between the zero point and the glacier. Sitting on the closest possible point, we took thousands of photographs. In some of them, we were smiling, in others; we were expressing how absolutely exhausted we were.
We all felt really good; almost refreshed actually, there was nothing in the world like achieving a goal like this trek. It gave us an opportunity to think, to clear our thoughts, and to focus on one of the world’s most famous treks. It was great! One Glacier down, one to go!
The Kafni Glacier
Two days after our trek up to Pindari, we were staying in little hut-like structures in a place called Khatia. It was our second visit to a glacier, the Kafni Glacier. Just as it had been during the Pindari Trek, the route to the Kafni Glacier was long, and wound around vast fields. There was one difference though. Giant boulders surrounded us, and enormous mountains unfolded on either side of the route. But, ahead of us, we could see the most mesmerizing view of all. The snow-capped peaks of the Kafni Glacier. It was marvellous.
Most of the trek was uphill, and we had been given our tuck bags for that day, which contained a chocolate called “Safari”. It was a strange chocolate for that particular day, as we weren’t trekking in the jungle, or through a forest, we were on plain grassy lands, trekking to a mountain blanketed with ice, whether it was white or black, it was still ice. As we reached our first rest stop, the slow walkers were told to speed up ahead of the fast walkers, and once the fast walkers caught up, they were allowed to overtake the slow walkers. It was a strange and unfair idea to all the slow walkers, because we knew that once the fast walkers overtook us, we wouldn’t be able to catch up.
During our second rest stop, we were informed that we had to start walking fast in order to get to the glacier on time. Some of the fast walkers who needed short breaks were sent ahead, but the ones who needed longer breaks were told to stay longer, and that it wasn’t their fault if they didn’t reach the glacier on time. Many of the slow walkers started to speed up, and tried furiously to catch up with the people who had been sent ahead.
Everyone crossed a giant patch of ice which was slippery. I personally felt it fine to walk in this weird manner across the ice-patch, because I knew that I could keep my balance by doing so. It was more like a dance than a walk. A few endless minutes kept all of us going further and further, till we reached a point, a rocky area. Dharma sir was at the back walking with two of the other slow walkers and we couldn’t go further than the point without his consent. Manoj sir, or Penguin sir (as he was fondly known), went ahead to search for a safer spot with a better view. After ten minutes he came back and told us that we couldn’t actually touch the glacier as there were rocks tumbling down the enormous black wall of ice. But, some of the kids were taken up higher, and some chose to stay down.
Twenty minutes passed, and the people who chose to stay down, were called up for breakfast. We all thought it would be a long way up, but when we reached, we saw what an illusion it had been. There were lots of enormous boulders that were clustered together, where we took photographs with the flag. Then we descended down, nearer to the river and ate a breakfast of nutella chocolate spread with parathas. It was an enjoyable experience. As we all climbed down and trekked back, I had some time to reflect on the entire experience of both the Glaciers. I was much too excited to go back home, but I felt as if something different in my life had suddenly occurred. It was an opportunity that I was glad I didn’t miss, and I wouldn’t have missed it for sitting around at home and doing nothing.