Expedition to Jagatsukh Peak- Day 2

Memories are the threads of the cosmos. What ties me to my yesterdays, my last years, my ten years ago aren’t my experiences, but my memories of my experiences. If with the dawn of each new day our memories of yesterday were to go up in smoke, would we be able change over time? Or would the times merely change while we remain exactly where we were when we were thrown into this world?

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Introspecting while waiting for a cloud to hit camp.

Our destination for day 2 was this place called Seri, which is about 400 metres higher than Panduropa, our campsite for day 1. After a night of constantly waking up because of the loud sounds of horses and mules munching on grass right outside our tent (those hungry bastards), we left Panduropa at about 8:30am. The beginning portion of day 2’s trail involved ascending through a slightly steep stampede of rocks. Within the first 15 minutes, I was already panting. Eventually, the ascent levelled out and the rocks cleared into a meadow within which several cricket stadiums can fit. We set up camp at the extreme end of this meadow and close to the foot of a mountain that we would have to work our way through the next day.

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View of a meadow in Seri once the ascent levelled out. Photo credits- Tejas Luthra.

Before making it to camp though, we had to take off our hiking boots and wade through the calf level waters of a freezing cold stream. Those cold waters knocked the air right out of my lungs.

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Iqbal crossing the stream that lay in our path

Although it was only day 2, I was already feeling the difference between this expedition and Everest Base Camp, which I went for in 2017. This was the kind of terrain and altitude that I only started to see 4 days into the trail at Everest Base Camp (EBC). Moreover, on the trail to EBC, there were always people around us and small lodges and stuff. Over here, it was just us, our tents and the supplies that we carried along with us on mules.

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Camp for day 2

Although Everest Base Camp is at a higher altitude, this particular trail was harder and more intense. That was definitely something that I didn’t foresee, because I always thought that higher the trail, the harder the climb.

As I sat in my tent writing this entry in my journal, small droplets of moisture pitter-pattered on my tent’s roof. In the distance, a waterfall sang its perpetual lullaby and my sleeping bag invited me into its warm embrace. The mules that came along with us were on the other end of the meadow. Good, at least I wouldn’t hear them munching on grass tonight.

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Inside my tent. It’s quite orderly, isn’t it?

On day 3, our journey would take us to Tainta, the base camp of both Jagatsukh peak and Deo Tibba, a 6001m giant. Stay tuned for the next entry!

 

 

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Expedition to Jagatsukh Peak- Day 1

There was a road. It twisted and twirled and then it disappeared.

Then there was an Alpine forest and towards the clouds we neared.

Soon the clouds seemed closer and the forest farther,

Until the trees vanished and the terrain became harsher.

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Climbing mountains is hard.

You’ve got to keep climbing until you feel like giving up, but you can’t because the trail goes on regardless of how you feel.

You can’t bathe up there because the facilities that allow you to do so soon disappear. If you want to take a shit, you’ve got to find a nice rock to crouch behind. If it’s too cold outside your tent, then you save the shit for some other time. The list goes on.

Why do I still feel like going back then?

I feel that through the course of our lives, we are often presented with experiences that help us to shape our personalities. While facing these experiences, we shed the unnecessary parts of our personalities and are left with those that’ll help us to keep moving forward. Our experiences convert us from rugged stones to finely cut diamonds. After all this shedding, we finally catch a glimpse of what lies at the centre of who we truly are; we finally get closer to becoming our true selves.

Time and again, I have found that spending time in the mountains has enriched me in ways that nothing else can, and it is due to this that I’m always ready to go back.

It’s in this backdrop that I began my attempt to summit Jagatsukh Peak, a 5300m mountain in Kullu Valley.

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A picture of Jagatsukh Peak (to the right) and its neighbouring mountains. The summit is the triangular rock at the extreme right of the picture.

We started at about 8am from Naggar, a town that’s pretty close to Manali. After an hour-long jeep ride that involved traversing a road with approximately 45 hair pin bends (I didn’t count, they were numbered), we finally reached the road’s end. It’s from here that the actual trekking began.

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Ready to rock and roll. From left to right- Iqbal, Abhimanyu, one of our guides, Saleem, Me, Tejas, The other Iqbal (crouching on the floor), Ali, Farid and Mohit.

Most of the trek involved going through pristine alpine forests until we got closer and closer to the clouds. Soon, the trees disappeared.

Our destination for the day was a place called Chikka. Having made good time however, we carried on and instead set up camp at a meadow that was approximately 3700m high.

Believe me when I say this- that campsite was unreal. To our left was a massive rock that could have easily been 12 stories high. To our right and at a slightly lower elevation, a river.

On this meadow, several horses and donkey’s grazed on what could possibly be the greenest grass that I have ever seen. There were however occasional spots of brown in the grass, which was basically the shit of all those horses and donkeys.

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Through the forest. This was the easy part.

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Camp.

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The massive rock towering over the left side of our camp.

For me, this first day was like a slightly firm tap on my head. While it was the easiest part of the trail, it was still harder than I thought it would be. Additionally, a little altitude sickness did kick in because of the elevation gain from Naggar. It was pretty mild however and rather than making me feel nauseous, it made me feel a bit like I’m in a dream.

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“There’s more? Fuck!”

After reaching, we pitched our tents and chilled for a bit before calling it a day.

The climb had begun and I was pumped.

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Stay tuned for day 2 of my Jagatsukh expedition!

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The Beginning of The Trail (Kathmandu-Phakding )

“For every unhappiness, there is an equal and opposite happiness.”

To be able to attain one state, you must expose yourself to its opposite.

Is that why some people choose to expose themselves to the harshest conditions possible? Do they venture into the depths of nature’s most powerful forces so that the chaos outside enables them to find peace on the inside?

I don’t mean to sound unnecessarily profound, but these were my exact thoughts as our miniature plane passed by the colossal peaks of the Himalayas. As the plane fluttered in the breeze like a butterfly’s wing, I thought of all the people who attempted to summit these peaks, wondering what their true intentions were.

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The trail to Everest Base Camp (EBC), or as a great man (me) would call it later, ‘the trail to the snake’s head’, begins at a place known as Lukla. I met the group that I would be trekking with in Kathmandu and from there we flew on a 14-seater plane to Tenzing-Hillary Airport in Lukla. Incidentally, this airport is fondly referred to by many as the world’s most dangerous airport, since its sloping runway literally ends on a cliff.

 

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Tenzing-Hillary airport at Lukla

 

I’ll be honest here, that plane ride gave me one hell of an adrenaline rush. When we were approaching the cliff on which the runway was, I was already saying my prayers. I was also parallelly thinking about what I would be having for breakfast (strange how that works).

After landing, we had a quick breakfast and began our trek. Lukla is at an elevation of 2,860m and our destination for the day was a place known as Phakding, which is 2,610m high. Although Phakding is technically lower than Lukla, we still had to cross quite a few uphill stretches before descending. Being no stranger to trekking in the mountains, I really enjoyed this day.

One thing that really struck me when I was on the trail was how simple things were. If you want to reach your destination, you follow the trail. If you feel thirsty, you stop and drink. If you feel hungry, you stop and snack. If your skin burns, you apply sunscreen. Everything was in black and white and there was no grey area- we all knew what we had to do. The lives that we lead today, however, are not as simple as that. We’ve complicated things so much for ourselves that we now literally live in a grey area, where a lot of things aren’t clearly defined. Whether this is a good thing or not, I’m still not yet fully sure of.

On the way to Phakding, we crossed several suspension bridges, Buddhist prayer wheels and even some bars. Our meals for the day consisted of a Nepalese version of dal and rice since they are easy to digest and give you the energy that you need. While walking, I took the time to get to know a little bit about our 2 Sherpa guides. They had ferried groups from Lukla to EBC and back countless times by now. This trail was their life.

 

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The bridge to another world

 

We were also joined by John, a 40 something American guy who was heading to EBC to try and summit Mt. Everest. He had some nice stories to tell, especially the one about his colleague whose father was in the Italian Mafia. That made me think of lasagne.

 

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Our group (from L to R): Sumeet, Nandita, Pallavi, Ajay, Simrat, John, Me and Aditya

 

By the evening, we finally reached Sunrise Lodge in Phakding. It was a small lodge that provided us with the most basic of amenities.

Our arrival in Phakding marked the end of our first day. For me, it would also mark the last time that I would have a bath for the next 9 days. At this point, it may also interest you to know that I did not carry a deodorant with me.

 

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The Prequel To Everest Base Camp

“I don’t think I should be drinking right now.”

Seeing that this was the last of that quarter of Old Monk rum, I guess that it was a little late to be stumbling upon obvious universal truths.

It was March in Bombay and exactly one and a half months prior to my Everest Base Camp (EBC) trek. I had a torn hamstring from a careless session of High-Intensity Interval Training, and walking felt as difficult as explaining my life plans to a person who is fast asleep. Thank god for physiotherapists and muscle relaxant sprays.

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Ever since I was a young boy with a massive jooda (hairball) on my head, I’ve always felt the need to physically exert myself and push my body to new limits, simply because it eased my mind a bit and filled me with a sense of achievement. My decision to ditch a Eurotrip and go for a challenging 15-day trek to Nepal was probably a direct result of this, but it’s much deeper than just that.

I’ve always looked at adversity as something that is physical, a force that you must use your brute strength and willpower to overcome. You may disagree with me on this point, but this is how I see the world.

After getting caught up in the daily rut of working late nights and missing my early morning workouts, I found my life lacking the adversities that I craved; I wanted to be more than just a working professional, I wanted to do something that made me feel alive. It was perhaps perfect timing then when I found out about a trek to Everest Base Camp that Ankur Bahl and his wife, Sangeeta Bahl were organizing (incidentally, Ankur Bahl had summited Mt Everest a couple of months prior to this). It took a little thinking, but I knew that this trek was exactly what I needed.

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Preparing Myself For Everest Base Camp

Preparing for EBC was no easy task, especially keeping in mind that I’d torn my hamstring and had a bit of difficulty walking. But that wasn’t all, I had to also ensure that I had all the necessary gear that I needed for the trek. I needed a plan.

For me, it was simple- do whatever you have to in order to prepare your body for the shock that you are about to put it into. This meant going for several physiotherapy sessions a week to help my hamstring heal and rehabilitate, as well as increase my protein intake to as much as I could, sometimes even opting for a plate of fried chicken liver for dinner (I don’t and never have believed in taking protein shakes- but that’s for another time). Once I was up for it, I started climbing stairs with a backpack full of bricks every night before sleeping to prepare myself for the ascent that lay ahead. I also had to ensure that my BMI (Body Mass Index) was not above 25 and that my lipid profile seemed sound, and obviously, not drink or smoke at all.

15 days prior to the trek, I gave my body strength by gourmandising on all the food that I could get my hands on, while at the same time doing a lot of cardio. Much of my cardio came from doing a lot of walking and climbing stairs. By this time, I could climb approximately 90­­ storeys at one go.

In my opinion, this was the relatively easy part. The hard part was acquiring all the gear that I would need. Thankfully, Impact Mountaineering (the mountaineering tour group started by Sangeeta and Ankur) gave me a comprehensive list of everything that I would need. You can find the list down here.

Gear 1Gear 2

At this point, I must admit that without my sister and my mom, I would have never been able to acquire all the items on this list. Their proactivity and nagging is what really helped me to achieve this particular goal.

Thankfully, figuring out where to stay and getting a tour guide and everything wasn’t something that I had to be even a little worried about, as Impact Mountaineering had that sorted, right down to the daily itinerary. It’s for this reason that I would highly recommend going with a tour group if you plan on embarking on such a trek.

You can check Impact Mountaineering out here.

 

Documentation Required and The Total Cost Of The Trip

To be able to go for this trek, you would need a Visa to Nepal (It’s Visa on arrival for Indians), a permission to enter the region that EBC is in (you have to pay extra for this), a health certificate, and of course, flight tickets (don’t attempt walking to Nepal).

Impact Mountaineering sorted all this out for me and the total cost for everything (including lodging and meals at the lodges) was about 1.35 lakhs. I spent an additional number of Gs on the gear.

 

In the end, everything finally came together- my gear, most of the torn muscle fibres in my hamstring and my leave from work.

Early in the morning on the 17th of April, I made my way to the airport for what would be a very fine adversity indeed.

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Them Digits

We now enter a world where you’re fucked if you don’t remember your digits.

See that old man sitting there in the corner seat of the metro trying to type his grand-daughter an SMS? Doesn’t look like he remembers too much, now does he? Let’s see if he remembers.

“Whaaaat? Of course I remember my digits! I’m not a savage you know!”

Did you see his expression? Did you see the way his eyes became larger and his nose smaller? Did you see how his forehead became furrowed, how the lines around his eyes became deeper? That man was shocked at the nature of the question. It was almost like we asked him if he remembers his name. See, even that guy remembers his digits.

 

What about her? Yeah, that girl sitting at 12 o clock taking those selfies. Whoa, that’s like 10 selfies in like 10 seconds, each with a different expression. Are you seeing this, mate? Let’s ask her.

“This your way of asking me out for a bevy huh? I don’t give my mobile phone number to strangers. Oh, those digits! Well of course I remember, why? Oh, you’re doing some research for a documentary on Discovery? Wow. Where did you say you wanted to take me for a bevy again?”

Dumb woman. Nice cleavage though, I’ll give her that.

 

Let’s ask one final person. Look around you, who should we ask? That guy in the suit? Cool.

“Digits? Hmm…digits…digits. What are my digits? Oh shit, I think I forgot my digits. OH NO, MY DIGITS! I FORGOT MY DIGITS, HELP!”

Oh, we have one here. This guy is losing his shit. He’s taking his tie out and trying to strangle himself, screaming for his digits all the while. The metro has stopped, here come the police aaaaand they’ve taken him.

“Digits…digits….digits. What are my digits?”

Poor guy, he’s gone mad.

 

So, ladies and gentlemen, whatever you do, do not forget the digits in the pin of your credit card.

You’ll be fucked if you do.

 

 

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Behind Your Head

No matter what you do, you will never be able to see what is behind your head.

What lies hidden in this blind spot of your existence? It could be the face of your worst fear hiding, breathing down your neck. You’d expect to scream once you turn around to look at it, but then you realise that it’s still behind your head and that you’ll never be able to see it; you’ll only ever be able to feel it.

Sometimes it doesn’t bother you, its existence is negligible. But then again, there are these notorious situations known as ‘the other times’. Yeah, those times.

“Gaberliski?”

“Huh? What?”

“Didn’t you just hear what I was telling you about this pretty cool sausage festival?”

“Sorry Neorcoro, I think I got a little lost in thought back there.”

“So, you don’t remember anything about what just happened?”

“No, I think that you’re going to have to start over.”

“Then who was I talking to right now? You seemed pretty normal till about 30 seconds ago.”

“Oh, yeah, sorry about that. I put myself on autopilot so that I can venture into the depths of the land behind my head.”

“I hate it when you do that.”

“Well, you know what they say- you’ve gotta do what you gotta do.”

“I prefer- you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. Anyway, looks like we’re done here!”

Gaberliski paid the barber for the haircut and ran his hand down the back of his head so that he could try to assess the situation back there; feeling it with his hands all the while because he knew that he could never see it.

 

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The Proofreader

“ Please line up in a single file and do not loiter! Lost thoughts will not be entertained after 11 PM, as that is the stipulated night night time for today!”

The line was long, like really long.

The cleric behind the desk leaned out of his chair to examine the exact length that he would have to go through before night night.

The line extended far and long and the end of the line was as nigh as the end of the horizon usually is.

“Looks like it’s gonna be overtime tonight, Pineal!”

The blob like figure turned his head from his otherwise slouched bag of potato chips position and let out a huge heave.

“I’m still processing. Do not disturb me.”

“Whatever, nobody really understands most of what you say anyway.”

Pineal slouched back into his position and let out a soft heaving kind of sound. Maybe it was an external sign of his irritation or maybe he was agreeing. Like the cleric said, nobody understood that purple blobbish guy.

“And what is your purpose here?” Asked the cleric as he went on with his colossal duty of burning through as much of the long line as he could before night night.

The cleric pushed back his specs and looked at the tiny lean man standing in front of the desk from the tip of his nose. The man looked nervous.

“Actually sir, I represent the thought that we should go out and get wasted tonight.”

“You again! You come back every night. To what ends do you suggest this course of action?”

“Um, i-i-it would be fun?”

The small thought’s offer did not impress the cleric even one bit.

He pulled out a placard from his draw and put it in front of the weak thought.

“Do you see this?!”

Said the cleric as he pointed towards the words “Proofreader” written on the placard.

“Do you know what this means?!”

“N-no sir.”

“This means that it’s my job to proofread the hell out of distracting thoughts such as yourself. How can I do my job if you keep coming back every day!! Now move out of the line!”

The clock struck 11:00 PM.

“Lights down mode, I repeat, lights down mode.”

The lights became dimmer as the loudspeaker blared the unseen voice.

“Great, just bloody great. We only have 10,00,001 thoughts to go before this is done, and it’s already night night! Pineal, it’s time for you to help me out here!”

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The boy tossed and turned in bed as he tried to get some sleep.

It was already 11:30 PM, half an hour past his bedtime.

“Damn, I think a lot.”

Little did he know that he was going to be bombarded with a couple of hundred thousand thoughts before the sleep could actually kick in.

 

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