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Himalaya Adventure

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  • 1. Himalaya Adventure - September 2008 by Jayant DoshiA Trek with Charitable Objwective.(The opinions expressed are mine, though many comments were given by other participants.) At the end of a trek in Nepal, there is a huge bill board which says “Never Say Good Bye to Himalayas.” This is so true. My trek to Beas Khund would be my sixth foray into the lovely Himalayas, and it shows how one gets attracted to this lovely creation of nature. The chief aim of the trek was to raise funds for Sankara Eye Foundation Europe (SEFE) which aims to build a modern eye hospital in every state of India. The funds to be raised under this trek would help to build a hospital in Punjab. SEFE is a well established charity in India, and already runs several eye hospitals. Recently Sankara won an award from Indian Government. The award the “FICCI Healthcare Excellence Award in thecategory of Best Community Driven Healthcare Program for 2009” was won by Sankara withtough competition from big name hospitals in India also in contention. The trek was being planned since the beginning of 2009. Twenty eight participantsenrolled for this trek, and it was decided not to take any more. There were eleven ladies. Theage group was quite diverse with seven between 19 and 25, 10 in their 40’s and 9 in their50’s, while one was 67 and myself making twenty eight in the group. The original target wasBeas Khund, but later the more ambitious target of summiting Sethidhar Peak was added tothe schedule. Beas Khund is situated in the northern state of Himachal Pradesh, south ofKashmir. The state is at the foot hills of Himalaya range, and the beauty of the state isenhanced by mountains, valleys and hills, greenery and rocky mountains, streams rushingdown to the plains, and falls trickling down the mountain surfaces, higher mountain peakswith snow covering, and barren hills with colourful surfaces. The beauty of the area isamazing, and one has to experience it to appreciate it. While I arrived a few days earlier in Delhi, the whole group arrived on 29 th August,and we met at a hotel before overnight journey to Manali. The bus journey to Manali waslong and tiring especially for those who had already flown overnight from London. We madea stop for our dinner. A month or so before, we came in contact with some one associated with a school inManali. He suggested that we can take some useful things - things which we normally wouldthrow away in this country - for these poor children. We appealed and soon we collected lotof old shoes and clothes, school books, toys and games, musical instruments, pens, sweetsetc. We also arranged to buy note books and erasers from Delhi. In total we took forty twolarge cartons of these items and gave them tothe children of the school. On reachingManali, we dropped all these cartons at theschool before proceeding to our hotel. We weregiven brief details of the plans for the comingdays and had the afternoon to ourselves.Some of us took advantage and visited thenatural hot water springs, and later hadmassage. The trek was arranged by a newlyformed company called National Adventure
  • 2. and Leadership School (NALS) with the aim of providing leadership and survival skill training through outdoor and adventure experience. It has big plans to establish such schools in various parts of India, and to provide this training to schools, colleges and corporate sector. Unlike other tour operators who specialised as trekking experts, NALS was experimenting with the concept of trekking, and the difference this made could be felt during the trip. NALS was catering for its first large overseas group whose main aim was trekking, though over the next few days we got aninkling of its main training agenda. I am not sure if the aim was to give us a good trekkingexperience or was it to promote the image of the company. From next day, our meals were organised at its camp site on the fringe of Manaliwhile we were to use the hotel to sleep at night. We moved to the camp site early nextmorning. The camp site was on the shores of a river, and we had to cross a wobbly bridge toreach the same. Due to heavy rains, the river waters were flowing with full force. Due toheavy rains, the morning walk was postponed and we were taken to a warehouse to befurnished with all the equipment requirements. First we were given a talk on safety andother issues during the trek. Later we were given all the equipment that would be requiredduring the trek, including walking on ice. While most of us had brought most of theequipment, it was nice to see that every item we needed for the trek was being provided.Perhaps, the cost of hiring these was already incorporated in the charges for the trek. After lunch, we were taken on a small trial trek to the hill top. We walked up theslope in heavy rain. At the top of the hill, we had a chance to visit one of the local homes,and the host even offered us tea. By the time we came back to the camp site, the rainintensity increased. We later played some games that gave us an insight into the leadershiptraining undertaken by NALS. Our hotels were changed as the hotel we spent the night wasnot to standard. We moved hotel and started packing for the trek. We were to keep our extraluggage in the hotel. Next day we were divided into two groups. While one group did long walk, the othergroup did river crossing. The long walk was over difficult terrain and was meant aspreparation for our forthcoming trek. River crossing was fun. Ropes were tied to tree trunkson both side of the river, and each participant was tied well with harness and made to slidealong the other ropes. Later I noticed that I had some pain in my shoulder muscles, but Iapplied some gel and that gave me relief. With the presence of one doctor, and a fewpharmacists, medical advice with medicines popping out was to be expected. It is sosurprising that while we are so fussy about what we eat or do not eat, we do not hesitate toput these medicines into our bodies without second thought. Few of the participants startedtaking medicines for altitude sickness, even though few suffered from any effects of thesame. At night we had a birthdaycelebration for my room and tentpartner. Our trek began on Wednesday,2nd September. We woke up early andwere at the camp site for our breakfastby 6.40. We got into our taxis whichtook us to the point where we startedour trek at around 9.00. At first wewalked along the road, and every onefelt happy thinking it will be like this allthe way. But soon we were walking on
  • 3. a very narrow ledge on top of a ridge. We stopped for lunch on a river stream, where some of us dipped our legs in fast flowing water. At lunch time we had some showers, but rain intensified after lunch. We had to cross a furious looking river. The crossing was on two tree trunks, and the fast flowing water underneath was frightening. We reached the camp site at Solang valley at 4.00. The camp site was beautiful with lots of greenery, surrounded by mountain peaks, and behind those were more peaks with snow.Later we played a game based on the techniques of leadership training. After dinner we weretaken for a walk in the moon light. We were encouraged to switch off our lights, and to getused to using the moon light to find our way. Due to heavy rains, walking uphill in muddyconditions was difficult. But I found coming down even more difficult, with the fear ofslipping uppermost in the mind. During my first long trek to Everest Base camp nothinghappened, but after my return, I slipped on my very first golf round and I broke my wrist.The fear that created has not left me since and I am extra careful when descending whentrekking. I slipped a few times in the slimy mud, and had to take help of a guide to steerthrough slimy, slippery surface in the dark. This was a large group for trekking by any standard. My other treks have hadnormally between two and four people. On Kilimanjaro trek we had 21 people. While twopersons shared tents like any where else, this trek lacked the facility to meet and enjoytogether in the evening. A large tent was provided for our dinner but we had no sittingfacility, and the tent was not large enough to accommodate all the participants. For methere was an additional problem. Because of my height, I could not stand in the tent in mostparts without keeping my head bent – not a very comfortable position. While others chattedand laughed, I had to come out of the tent. As standing outside was not very comfortable orconducive in wet or cold weather, my only choice was to go to my tent. So on most days Imissed out on the briefing after dinner. I would have expected that for such a large group,the organisers would have at least provided two tents. That night it rained incessantly –heavy most of the times, but taking abreather in between. Thunderstorms kept usawake. Water seeped through in some tents.Next day the program was to do anacclimatisation walk to Patalsu peak (4350m). Because of heavy rains our walk wascancelled. Some went for a walk while Ispent time in the tent talking with my tentpartner. After lunch, I joined others in awalk to the Solang village. It rained all theway, and we were drenched, wet and cold bythe time we came back. The first snow of theseason had fallen previous night, and mostof the higher peaks were covered in snow.Rain is not too pleasing during a trek,especially when you have limited clothes supply, and there is no chance of drying or taking
  • 4. a bath. In all my treks in the past, I rarely faced any rain, and I thought our trek might be spoilt because of the rain. On Friday we moved to Bakarthach (3270 m) camp site. In the morning the rain had stopped, though rain drops kept falling and possible downpour appeared in the horizon. The mules which were supposed to carry our equipment were delayed, and we kept taking too many breaks. The idea was not to reach camp site quickly as we will have to wait for our tents and equipment. Itwas 5.00 by the time we reached the camp site. Some tents had been put up, and six of ussat in one tent waiting for our equipment to arrive. It was 8.00 by the time rest of the stuffcame. Our dinner was delayed, and it was past 10.00 when we went to sleep. With five trekking experiences behind me, I felt that this trek lacked the very essenceof a good trek. Trekking should not normally allow for an escape hatch. On this trek, formost days, a person could easily decide to skip the day’s program and take it easy. On allthe treks I have done, there is never a choice not to do trekking on any day. If one is notable to do walking, then the choice is to go back or wait until rest of the group finishes andcomes back – and this would be allowed only in emergency. Normal trekking would startwith four to five hours of walking, and then it would get longer and longer ending in may beeight hours or more of walking. It would allow for breaks, and time to appreciate naturearound us. Each day had a target, and we had to make to our next camp site no matterwhat. This trip seemed to concentrate more on training. The trek also seemed to lack intermingling, and enjoying at night in a group. This trek totally lacked any facility to sit andrelax. The only choice was to either stand or lie down in the tent. Many of this group werefirst time trekkers, and I have a feeling that this trip did not give a true taste of trekking forany one to fall in love with it. The guides, instructors and other staff were very jolly, helpful and mixed with everyone. I have always found this great thing every time I have been out trekking in theHimalayas. The hospitality, the helping nature and the jovial nature of these people issomething they have got in their culture. Many of the participants, first time ever in thispart of the world, were very taken back by these qualities, but I know that people in theHimalayas are all like these. My memories of the past treks have always been wonderful,and some of the guides still keep in touch with me. On my other trips, in the evening thetrekkers, the guides, and cooks and porters would sit together and enjoy themselves andgive all an entertaining evening with singing and laughing. Saturday was to be ice walkingtraining and experiencing, and wasdescribed as the most exciting day of thetrek. We could see the ice from our campsite. The guide gave an estimate of thetime by which we should be near the iceand that we will have plenty of time topractice ice walking. Of course there wasno mention that we should walk fast. Asat other times, his estimate was wrongand we all reached much later thenanticipated. We had to carry all the icewalking gear with us which includedcrampons, ice boots, and ice axe. Thewalk to the ice walking was steep anddifficult, and most of the participantsstruggled. At no point was there even a
  • 5. mention that next day we would be doing the same walk – and that it would be a race to beat the clock. After the ridge we had to struggle over sea of rocks and boulders – covering a vast area. Three participants quit, while most others were knackered. When we did reach our destination, it was much latter then anticipated by the guide .The ice walking practice was rushed and soon we saw winds and snow flakes and we were advised to move back to our camp site before the weather deteriorated. So the ice walking exercise, supposed to be the mostexciting experience, turned out to be a flop, and most participants hardly got a few minutesto try it out. The walk back to the camp site was as difficult and most struggled and foundthis as the most difficult day of the trek. We had early dinner. Of all the participants in this group, I was in a way the onlyoutsider. Others were either related or knew each other for long period of time. I knew someof them from my last trek to Kilimanjaro, but still the acquaintance was limited. Of course, Imust admit that the respect and treatment I was given was overwhelming. However, whenthe talks meandered to the past, which was natural, then I would have to listen only. I wasone of the first to finish dinner, and as it was difficult for me to stand in the tent, I came outof the tent where the cold winds made it difficult to stay for long. So I decided to retire earlyto my tent. Many would think that I retired early every day because I was tired. But reallyspeaking I had no problems at all during this trek. Except a muscle pain in my shoulderand calf pains in my sleep at night, and scare of diahorrea on the first day, I found notiredness, pains or any other ailments all these days. I was scared of knee pain, but I had noproblem with my knees either. I found this trek haphazard and not at all challenging. In myother treks, we kept moving further and further to a target, and each day we walked moreand more, at times up to eight or ten hours. On this trek I found the “stop – go” sort oftrekking allowing one to skip as and when they felt like. Over the week we stayed at twocampsites only. There was no packing and unpacking every morning and evening, there wasno excitement of a new camp site every day. And the camp site did not offer any where tomeet, sit or just mix and talk with others except in the dining tent where one had to standin crowded space. I missed the briefing the previousnight. My tent partner briefly gave me thegist of the announcements. For the wholeweek we were advised, cajoled and toldagain and again not to rush, not to walkfast and to put safety first. Onlyyesterday we did the ridge which we wereto do again today. But the difference wasthat yesterday there was no mention ofrushing or walking fast – but today atime limit had been set. Whoever did notmake it by 11.00 would not be allowed togo further. We could have been toldyesterday to walk faster as next day wewill have to make it within a specifiedtime. To me, this was wrong. Why suddenly this restriction and a race for time? All the weekI had kept the pace and led the group. The guides were impressed by my stamina and abilityto walk at speed for considerable period of time. I was quite often told to slow down andwalk slowly. Why this sudden change in thinking? Why was a time limit set which theguides knew from experience that most of the participants will not be able to complete? Only
  • 6. yesterday we did the walk and the guides knew that we were delayed because most participants took much longer then they anticipated. Then why was this time limit set? Was it to restrict numbers who actually made to base came one? All the talk of all twenty eight summiting seemed to have evaporated in thin air. We started at 8.30. With my speed of walking I was in the front group but with the steep climb in front I started struggling with my breathing. This has always been my problem and I have been told by many,advised by many, that this was due to the way I breathed. But all my attempts to improvemy breathing methods failed to help. In spite of this handicap, I never had problem going tothe top of Gokyo Ri and Kala Patthar at 18500 feet, nor the steep mountains we had tocross on Makalu trek, nor in reaching top of Mt Kilimanjaro at 19500 feet. But this timesomething changed, my mind started thinking and this weakened my determination andresolve. While walking I learnt that some one with thalessemia did not come because shefound breathing difficult while ascending. I learnt that thalessimia reduces haemoglobin inthe blood, and this reduces the capacity of the blood to absorb enough oxygen. After fiftyyears I at last found out why I always was huffing and puffing when ascending when othersdid not. This knowledge at this juncture started train of thoughts and that in turn slowedme down. I kept stopping more and more for taking breath compared to normal. My mindgot diverted, and I lost my aim of keeping up with others. Surprisingly, the guides today kept quiet and did not even once goaded me to movefaster, or encouraged me that I can do it. I could have done it. Had I known the previousnight of this time limit, I would have prepared myself mentally for it or perhaps decided tostart earlier. After giving hope to all for a week that all twenty eight will be going to the top ofSethidhar, it was cruel to impose this condition at the very last moment. After advising everyday to walk slowly, it was cruel to tell them on the last day to walk fast or forget aboutSethidhar. I did not make it. I accepted it but I felt disappointed. I could have made it, andthat would have been a matter of pride for me, and perhaps for the group, but it was not tobe. We were denied a fair chance – perhaps we were misled. We were not allowed to beprepared for this time race. Three had decided not even to try, eighteen made the time but three turned back forvarious reasons, and fifteen made to the base camp one. Rest of us walked to the BeasKhund. Beas or Vyas is named after Vyas Muni who wrote the great epic Mahabharata. Thelake is small, perhaps no bigger then a foot ball pitch, but is reputed to be so deep thatscientists have not yet been able to find out the exact depth. It also is supposed to spreadout under the mountains. Some prayed at the lake and collected the holy water. We had ourlunch and then started the walk back. Thediscussions on the way back was about theirfailure to go up to the base camp one. Someblamed the guides for bad planning, someregretted their decision not to go on andsome were angry at this last minutedecision. Questions were raised as to whythe camp site could not have been set upt atBeas Khund, thereby allowing every one togo to Bas Camp One. From our camp site we could see theother group camped on the snow at basecamp one. We got the news that the portershad abandoned all the stuff at the snow line
  • 7. claiming that they were not prepared for snow nor were they informed that they will be going that high up. We were told at the beginning of the trek that there would be as many as ninety five porters, guides, cooks etc on this trip. I could not see even half that number over the whole trip. Instructors made at least four runs to bring the luggage to the camp site. Dinner and early to bed plans were delayed. The instructors were too tired to tie the ropes for the early morning climb. Instructions were givenfrom our camp that the leader should take the decision in the morning as to whether to trySethidhar climb on Tuesday morning or if the group should come down on Monday. At thatpoint the leader said that no attempt will be made next morning. Without their ruck sacks, sleeping bags and extra clothes, the group at base campone shivered in cold, huddled together in some tents and tried to keep warm. Sleeping onsnow was their first time ever experience, and without proper sleeping bags, most found itcold and uncomfortable. But in the morning the news came that the leader had decided toselect three best persons based on his observation, and attempt the climb on Sethidhar.However, soon after we learnt that only one, Shashikant Patel, was selected for the climbtogether with two instructors. Shashikant, of course, was the fittest of the lot, and I hadalready predicted that if any one could make it then it would be him. But others, especiallythe youngsters, were disappointed. The excuse given was that some instructors had to staybehind to look after the rest. But the rest could have stayed at base camp one while all sixinstructors could have taken three participants on the climb. We walked around the camp site for two and half hours. After lunch few of us went toa spring for a bath. Only three of us dared to dip completely in freezing cold water. Othersjust dipped their feet and enjoyed the experience. Around 5.00 p.m. the fourteen came backfrom base camp one. They were welcomed with hugs, hot tea and snacks. Each one hadtales to tell, and groups huddled around to hear of their experiences. Most did not regretthat they did not go any further, but some showed their disappointment and disgust at theway the decisions were made. At around 6.30 p.m. Shashikant appeared – fit and strong as always, smiling andshowing no signs of tiredness, proud of his achievement with a clear cut statement that hewould never try it again. Talks centred on plans for next year, and some discussion aboutwhat should have been done, what went wrong and what could have been avoided. But bydinner time the anger and frustration had simmered down. It was decided that instead ofspending another night in tents in Solang valley, we will all move to Manali directly andsleep in comfort of our hotel beds. On the morning of 8th September, ourfinal day of the trek, all the equipment usedfor ice walking and getting to Sethidhar werelaid out and lots of photos were taken. Westarted at 8.30, and every one seemed in ahurry to get back to the hotel. Going downhill was easier and faster. Fewer breaks weretaken, and we were in our hotel by 4.00p.m. On 9th September, our last day inManali, it was planned to go to NALS
  • 8. campsite from the morning but due to heavy rains and very cold weather, it was postponed to 10.00 a.m. At the camp site there was a review of our trek, and questions were raised by participants. For a week we were advised to walk slowly and steadily, keeping safety in mind, and then suddenly on the last day we were told to complete the walk in limited time? Why was one person taken to summit Sethidhar when all along we were told that all 28 will summit the peak? We were promised all along that two attempts will be made to summit thepeak, but the second attempt was not even contemplated. Doubts were raised that therewere not enough instructors or equipment to take even the fifteen who made to the basecamp one. While the claim was made that the leader felt that he could not take the risk of asecond attempt on Tuesday because of weather conditions, this did not make sense. OnMonday the weather was perfect – sunny, no clouds, or wind or rain. How much betterweather is required to make a second attempt? It defies logic. On Monday and again onTuesday, the weather conditions were most perfect, and if these conditions were consideredas not conducive to take the risk of a second attempt, then what weather conditions wouldbe required to decide on a second attempt? At every juncture the point was made that they had to consider safety of each andevery participant. But the question is - was this uppermost in their minds? Did they reallyput safety as top priority? Most of the group was between 45 and 70, many suffering fromdiabetes and hyper tension. While we had eight instructors, seven went to base campleaving only one to look after rest of the group. What would have happened if any one in thisslow group had twisted their ankle, or broken their leg, or hurt their knee jumping fromboulder to boulder? Who would have been there to take care of that person? One person,who did make the time, went almost half way to base camp one, had problems and no onewas there to take care of him. Because he walked fast, he sweated a lot and lost saltsresulting in him getting severe and serious cramps. It was lucky that he struggled butmanaged to come down to Beas Khund. The “race” to base camp one could have been costlyfor some – and it could have been avoided. With age profile of the group, a professionaltrekking operator would have not taken this risk – he would have planned it better. The answers given were not satisfactory. Decisions and actions were justified but theanswers did not seem plausible. I mulledover the questions and answers, andsuddenly I felt that I had been throughvery similar situation in the past. I couldalmost feel that I had heard similarexcuses, similar explanations, similarsituation where at first trekkers areassured that every one will, and can makeit and then suddenly when the timecomes, the tune changes and all theexcuses and reasons are given why itcannot be done. Twice before I wentthrough this, and each time I refused toaccept that – and both times I completedthe mission without any problems. Ofcourse, both times attempt to stop us failed, and after our successful completion, the tunewas changed and we were congratulated. After lunch, some of us went to the school for which we had brought forty two cartonsof items from London. We were given a traditional welcome, and after tea and snacks, we
  • 9. distributed note books and erasers to all the children. After that we were entertained by thechildren who presented an hour of classical dances which enthralled each one of us. A stagehad been erected for the program in the grounds, but it had to be moved inside due to heavyrains. Each one of our party was presented with a traditional hat and a shawl. Later wevisited the new school beingconstructed just outside the townin beautiful surroundings. That evening we hadplanned a farewell musicalparty. The Delhi agent who hadbeen taking care of our travellingand hotel needs, had promisedmusicians but when the partystarted no one was present. However,the guides and instructorsentertained us all by some wonderfulsinging. Farewells were saidand greetings were exchanged. Next morning we found out that the Delhi agent had made arunner without paying for the coach or our hotel bill. I had planned to send my extra bagwith him, but it was not to be. What was supposed to be a wonderful trekking experience, turned out to be anattempt to make us into mountaineers.(Comments to jubhai@aol.com.... To read other reports of past trips and adventures visit my websitewww.jayantdoshiwebs.com ….more photos on Kodak Gallery)