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Literally Off the Trail

By Alison de Barros, a student of Goa University & a participant of our Himalayan Adventure Journey 2015.

A few months ago, a post appeared on my Facebook timeline regarding a Himalayan Adventure, and being the adventure enthusiast that I am, I decided to find out more details about this trip of a lifetime. With a convincing deal at hand, and the dates of journey being perfect after a torturing month of semester end examinations, a well deserved break was mandatory to de-stress. And what more can one ask for when you get to spend it in the Himalayan mountain peaks!!

So as the departure date approached, there was a major setback – the two massive earthquakes that struck Nepal. Sigh! Apprehensive about the safety in the mighty Himalayan mountain range, my family and friends voted against this trip. Oh, how would I have so regretted missing this experience of a lifetime, had I not made the trip! And yes, I did board the train at the very last minute after a great deal of convincing my folks at home. And I must say the trip was definitely worth the effort!

On the 19th of May, a group of 30 of us boarded the train from Margao and reached Delhi the following day. Afterwhich, we took a bus to Manali. The 16-hour, not so comfortable journey due to the badly potholed ridden, narrow and windy roads was tiring, yet a thrilling experience watching the expertise with which the bus-drivers rule those roads. On reaching Manali, we were unfortunate to bear the brunt of a transport strike, and to our good luck, a military truck was kind enough to take us to Solang Valley – our base camp. And I can now strike another tick across my wish list – a ride in a military truck!

Solang Valley, known for its picturesque surroundings, left us spellbound as we caught the first glance of the untouched snow capped mountains and the breathtaking scenery. On high altitude expeditions in the Himalayas, one is supposed to get acclimatized i.e. a gradual process of adjusting to the change in environment. On day 1 itself, we undertook our first acclimatization walk to a nearby waterfall, which falls over a Shivling, and is considered a place of worship. I would consider it an easy trek over a lush green landscape with a few rocky areas but what was exciting about this walk, was the unexpected shower of hailstones that plummeted down upon us on the journey. Thus, another tick mark across my wish list – Hailstones!

The next day, we started trekking to Dhundi camp (9,300 feet), our second camp site. It was roughly a 3-hour trek, mainly by road with a few steep terrains to surpass. But with our experienced guides, we successfully completed the first leg of our expedition. Dhundi camp was a very cozy and inviting place, nestled on a plateau amidst the mighty mountains all around. And I must say, the mountain atmosphere sure makes you hungry and thus I fell in love with paneer, something I detested even tasting throughout my life. After a huge lunch, we relaxed for a while and then headed out for a game of cricket. Alas, the unpredicted weather played spoilsport and with the sudden burst of rain, we called off play after the first innings.

The following day we undertook the second leg of our expedition. Aptly dressed with warm clothes, sweaters, thermals, jackets, gloves, monkey caps, etc., we started trekking to our final destination – the source of the 470 kilometers long River Beas, that runs through Manali to the Sutlej River in the state of Punjab, i.e. BEAS KUND. The trek route was very challenging as a major part of it was covered with snow. However, under the able leadership and guidance of our guides, Bianca Dias, Nigel Dias and Poonam Beas, and with constant motivation and determination, 17 out of the 30 trekkers accomplished the task of reaching the finish line. Yes, myself included! We conquered our goal after a thrilling battle with snow and rocks. And what an accomplishment that was! The breathtaking view!! A lasting memory that will forever be etched in our minds!! The feeling of being at a height of 3600 meters cannot be jotted down in words!!! We were literally on top of the world!!

The weather in the mountains changes almost every minute, as a result of which, we could only manage to spend a few minutes at the summit. The foggy weather indicating either rain or snowfall forced us to quickly resume our return journey back to camp. On reaching camp, after an adventurous day, rain forced us to stay in our tents. And yes, the close-knit batch that we became over the last few days, saw us all huddled up together in a tent meant for 4 persons.

Spending two nights at Dhundi camp were truly remarkable. It was, indeed, a sight to behold – waking up to the beautiful sights of the Himalayan Mountain range, the sound of the birds and the gushing River Beas. This place somehow reminded me about Heidi – a story of a little girl who lived in the Swiss Alps. I grew up watching the program on television and constantly dreamt of doing the same someday. And yes, I was living that dream right here in the Himalayan mountain range. Walking through lush green terrains, crossing rivers, climbing rocky mountains, sliding down snow covered terrains, making a snowman, drinking ice-cold water right off the rocks and streams, resting beneath the shade of huge conifers with their downward-drooping limbs to help them shed snow, encountering goatherds looking after numerous grazing cattle, etc. Here formed my tryst with the Himalayas and its tremendous beauty of the snow-clad mountains in the backdrop with the sturdy conifers at its feet. It truly was a surreal experience enabling another stroke across my wish list!

With beautiful memories to cherish for our lifetime, we then marched back to our base camp in Solang Valley. It was a relaxed trek with a lot of photo sessions, and fun and laughter along the way. The pleasant weather in the evening made it possible for us to undertake a few activities like river crossing, zip line, cable car, etc. which was a great experience for all. We then all jammed up for a super fun and crazy sing-song session which lasted almost 4 hours. We retired for the night to our cozy tents and warm sleeping bags in anticipation of another beautiful day.

Merely trekking in Manali didn’t satiate our adventure craving! How could one leave this place without experiencing the thrill of rafting in the gushing icy-cold waters of River Beas? And yes, the next day we headed off to Kullu for an exhilarating rafting experience. We thoroughly enjoyed the adrenaline pumping rafting session on the Beas River, safely negotiating between rapids of high grades. We definitely had the time of our lives amidst the waters of Beas! Thus marking another strike on my list – Rafting!

Camps are incomplete without sitting around campfires. And after a splash in the icy waters of Beas, we headed back to camp yearning for a cup of hot chocolate and the warmth of a glowing fire. Being the last night, we all sat around the campfire sharing our experiences of the trip, along with the mandatory laughter and fun sessions. Everyone had mixed emotions as we awaited the dawn of our last day in Manali.

We woke up the next morning to witness the stately and majestic snow peaks covered with an additional fresh blanket of white. Oh yes, the high altitude areas experienced a moderate spell of snowfall overnight, unfortunately not where we were staying though. Nonetheless, experiencing snowfall still remains unmarked on my list! A reminder that I must visit the Himalayas another time!

We spent the last day sightseeing in Manali. Some visited the Hidimba Devi Temple, others roamed the bylanes in the downtown area, either shopping or feasting at the local eateries. While still others chose to leisurely march downhill from Solang Valley and capture the scenic views to upload new profile pictures and cover photos. Come eventide, and it was time to say farewell to this heavenly place. We boarded the bus for Delhi with our hearts overloaded with fond memories of this veritable showpiece of nature with its unspoilt scenic beauty.

Out of the fridge and into the fire!! Yes, Delhi warmly welcomed us with a temperature of 43 degrees Celsius. Sigh! Nevertheless, with just a day in hand, we braved the heat and visited the Qutub Minar and India Gate before embarking on a shopping spree at Palika Bazaar, Connaught Place. In this metropolitan capital of India, although we enjoyed the metro trips, we managed to survive the crazy rickshaw rides, the polluting air and the terrible heat wave.

After a comfortable night halt at the Indian Mountaineering Foundation (IMF), we boarded the train to Goa. Thankfully we were travelling in a group due to which we were able to survive a never-ending, nerve-wrecking train journey with a 6-hour delay, courtesy: Great Indian Railways!!

Taking this trip with OFF TRAIL ADVENTURES gave me a whole new experience to the little things that matter in life. It taught me to survive, bearing all odds, by stepping off the regular trail I’ve always tread on and helped me realize that it’s only determination, along with efforts and hard work that lead you to achieve your full potential. And thus, I’ve realized that adventures are the best way to learn!

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