By Mridula Dwivedi
McLeod Ganj near Dharamshala is a popular tourist spot as it is the seat of the Dalai Lama in exile from Tibet. In a restaurant we overheard a tourist asking a waiter how she could get an audience with the Dalai Lama.
We had other ideas. We were there to trek from McLeod Ganj through Indrahar Pass and wanted to exit in another town, Chamba. But the weather had other ideas about our trek.
Reaching McLeod Ganj
We went in a very roundabout way to McLeod Ganj as we had some work in Chandigarh. The straightforward way to travel is to take a train to Pathankot and then from there a bus to either Dharamshala or McLeod Ganj.
We took a Shatabdi Express Train to Chandigarh, and then didn’t find a proper connection by bus from there. So we traveled to Jwalaji stayed there for the night because we were too tired to travel any further and took a bus to McLeod Ganj the next day.
Where is the Water?
When we got down at McLeod Ganj by 11:40 am we were properly zonked because of the Avomine (anti-nausea medicine). On top of that we had two big rucksacks with us and it was threatening to rain.
So, when Sesha said that he could go and look for a room (we almost never pre-book a hotel room) I gladly sat on a bench with two rucksacks for company.
Soon he came back and we started walking on the Jogiwara Road and reached the hotel. The room cost us Rupees 400 (10 dollars roughly) and was the usual run of the mill budget affair which Sesha is very fond of in spite of his six figure monthly salary.
It was only later that we realized that they would give water in the bathroom for a few hours in the morning and evening. There was no hot water too! Anyway, I was so sleepy that all this barely registered.
I told Sesha that I am going to crash but he had other ideas. He asked me to lock the door; he would go looking for a trekking agency.
The Colorful Streets of McLeod Ganj
After a few hours Sesha came back with the news that Indrahar Pass had too much snow at the time and it wouldn’t be possible to trek through it but we could go up to Lehs Cave (3700 meters, 12,139 feet).
I was quite OK with the change in the plans. That evening and the next day we just roamed around the streets of McLeod Ganj. I have to admit that apart from visiting the Dalai Lama Temple Complex we did not explore any other monument in the city.
We just roamed around the town and ate the good food available in plenty in almost all the shops and looked at the colorful souvenirs for sale. Do try something from the Tibetan menu there; chances are you will like it a lot.
The Uphill Road
Monday arrived fair and fine, and we were raring to go. We met our guide Babu and porter Darshan after breakfast and soon they were leading us out of the town. Triund is a very popular trail and we kept meeting many people on the route.
The walk is 9 km long, mostly uphill, but moderately uphill. Along the way there are small tea shops where we would invariably stop to have chai (tea). Thus walking for 4-5 hours, often pausing to click a picture and catch my breath, we finally arrived at Triund (2827 meters, 9275 feet). There was a tea shop right in front of us too and Babu had already ordered tea for us. I needed it badly.
The campsite is vast. We realized that because at least 50-70 school children were also camping there and yet it did not feel crowded. There are quite a few shops at Triund that serve tea, make food and rent out rooms and tents for night.
So you can basically turn up with warm clothes and can camp here as well as at the Snowline (also known as Ilaka), the next stop. Up to Snowline the route is also very well marked and people just walk up following the arrow marks.
Babu decided to stay with the topmost shop a little away from the main campsite and that was an excellent idea. Apart from our group there was a shop in-charge who had a German tourist as a guest with an Indian guide and that was all.
As the dusk fell they lit a fire that drew all of us like a magnet. Food was served near the fire and after a while (can you believe that it was just 9:00 pm?) when we all decided to call it a day. At home 9:00 pm doesn’t even feel like evening! For example, it is 9:06 pm as of now and I am busy typing this; sleep is still quite far away!
Walking Up to the Snowline
The next day we got a breakfast of bread and omelet with porridge and on a trek that is lavish. We were told that the snowline was a short walk and would not take us more than two hours and that is right. Even at the snow line there is a shop where you can put in for the night. There are small caves nearby where people camp for the night too.
A Wedding near the Campsite
However, the campsite was abuzz for a different reason. There was a couple from Mumbai and their friends and the couple was getting married at a temple called Kunalpathri!
Now after six years of trekking this was the first time I heard of anyone getting married at this altitude in the Himalayas apart from the locals!
By the evening I had the pleasure of chatting with both the bride and the groom. They decided to do so because they had first met on a trek in the mountains. They said they would have another wedding in Mumbai for family and relatives as not everyone was willing to trek.
I wonder if this idea of getting married at high altitude will slowly become more popular? This wedding was organized by a trekking agency from McLeod Ganj.
In Each Trek Some Rain must Fall
The next day we were walking up to the Lehs Cave. It was a bright sunny day when we started. For two days I had been carrying our raincoats and there was no rain, so we decided to chuck it out!
The walk up to the Lehs cave is gradual till you cross a nalla (small stream); after that it decides to go sharply uphill. Both us can walk slowly, but for hours, so we were OK. We reached Lehs Cave, admired it, and then decided to go further.
Now when I look at the photos I can see the dark clouds even before we crossed the Nalla but at that time we were blissfully ignorant of that fact!
And soon enough two fat rain drops fell and we decided to turn back. The trouble with both of us is that even though we don’t get tired, we descend almost at the same speed we ascend! And soon enough there was hail.
By the time we reached Lehs Cave again I was wondering who had asked me to climb higher up ignoring all those clouds.
We asked Babu if we should stop there and take shelter. He said, “You never know how long this would last. We would reach camp soon.”
So walk we did in hail and rain and wind for two hours. My hands were quite numb by the end of it, but otherwise I was not too cold as we were walking as fast as we could. Thus we reached the campsite again and that chai shop was such a welcome site and so was our tent.
After a change of clothes we ran to the shop for food. We decided to go back to the tent and read our books. But the wind was howling by this time and we felt that the tent would be blown away. We crept out of it and ran into the shop again to confer with Babu.
They decided to put the tent down. In the meanwhile a nearby kitchen tent (of the marriage party) got partially blown away and had to be flattened too.
We sat in the Chai shop and listened to the howling wind while reading out books. I was reading ‘Into the Wild’ by Jon Krakauer and I must say it is quite an engaging even though tragic account. Someone had said to me the day before that I had picked an apt book for the trek!
Then towards the evening the sun came out and I ran thinking there might be a rainbow, but it was not to be. We shifted our tent to a different place, where it was protected by a few rocks and not directly exposed to the wind.
Three people from Israel had already pitched a tent in this excellent location and we put ours right next door. Our sleeping bags got a little wet but we put them out and they dried soon.
And then there was a Rainbow!
The next day we were walking back to Triund. It was an easy walk and during the morning the sky was once again quite clear! We reached our old campsite and said hello to the shop in-charge. Had tea and then I read Sesha’s book while he had started reading ‘Into the Wild’ which I had already finished.
And after a few hours the skies opened again and called on their good friend the wind too. Only this time we were inside one of the guest rooms that you can rent at Triund chatting but we had earlier pitched the tent too.
So Babu and Sesha had to bring it down for the same fear that it could get blown off! After a long while the sun came out again and this time with a magnificent rainbow!
The next day we were walking back to McLeod Ganj retracing the path. Usually when we trek we exit in some other town. I was wondering all the time did I really manage to climb all the way up? And I call this a vacation on top of it!
But then there were people of all ages and size who were on the trail and they call it a holiday too.
On our other treks, we hardly met anyone but this one was different. I did a lot of talking with people from Germany, Israel, Switzerland (she was in India for the third time and was staying for more than 6 months) and the US (the boy was staying in India for a year and he had already completed 10 months) and of course the shop owners and the guides.
But there is one conversation that has still stayed with me. I was talking to the groom at Snowline thinking that there were just two of us around. When he walked away I realized there was a figure in a sleeping bag inside the chai shop behind me.
He said, “God, the way you talk, for everything you have the same intensity. You don’t differentiate between topics at all!” I am now back at home typing this and still wondering what to make of this remark!
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