Saturday, 27 August 2016

Roopkund - about trust, trash and toilet tents

Scan. Squat. Squirt. This is the standard modus operandi to pee on a long trek.

It's easier if you are a man because:
a) you needn't squat and
b) your scan span goes further, so you can guard your privacy easily and efficiently.

We, the women folk, have to rely on others to be our scanners. It's all about trust. You trust that your scanners will ward off wanderers and keep your dignity in tact. 

So when we reached Patar Nachauni and spotted big boulders, our bursting bladders ordered us to find spots to squirt. This was also the last spot for any phone reception. While some of us clambered down to squat, others climbed up to the highest point and called home to inform loved ones that we were alive and well and that they won't hear from us for the next 24-30 hours or so, as there would be no phone reception after this point.

From this point onwards, sharp incline and rocky terrain tested the trekkers' strength and will. While some in the group suffered from symptoms of altitude sickness (breathlessness, dizziness etc.) others managed by pacing their stride.


When the going gets tough, trust yourself.

I did.

Thick fog descended and all I could see was the next bit to climb. In a way, the fog helped. I was forced to focus on just the patch I could see in front of me. It made the climb easier.

Sometimes, it's best to take the next step and not worry about the bigger picture.
Climb. Stop. Breathe.

Climb. Stop. Breathe.

The rhythm lulled me into oblivion. I was alone but didn't feel lonely. It felt like I was back on my yoga mat -- in sync with myself, my breath, my body and my soul.
And every now and then, I'd stop to:

The fog engulfed the terrain. It gobbled up the trekkers behind me. For the duration of this laborious climb, I trekked alone.

Was it wise?

In hindsight: NO!

Trekking as a group requires trust. We trust our guides to keep us safe. But, we also trust each other to keep pace.

I was lost in myself for this stretch of the trek. It's okay to do that when one is on a solo trek, but not when you are part of a group.

'Anything could've happened.' I was told. 'You could've twisted your ankle.'

Sense was knocked into me when the rest of the group caught up with me,

I could see the folly of my ways.

Not once during that 4 km stretch did I think of anything or anyone-- not even my son who was trekking with me. When I try to recall that time, it feels as pure as silence. There was magic and I think I felt it and was enchanted by it.

If I were single and if I had no worldly ties, I'd go on solo treks all the time. In fact, I met one such man one morning at a tea stall in Bedni.

He's 55 and single. He lives and works in Kolkata. He picks a trek that calls to him from trekking magazines he subscribes to. 

'You must be reaching Nirvana.' I remarked when he told me his story.

'Far from it.' he said. 'I still like money. Still need to earn it to be able to afford treks. But only when I come here, I feel truly alive.'

Trekking is as much about such chance encounters as it is about traipsing through tricky terrains and synchronising  the self with sunrises and sunsets.
Kalu Vinayak temple marked the end of the steep ascent. 
It's all downhill from here till we reached Bhagwabasa.
According to a guide I overheard, people take a vow to do the parikrama with the statue of Ganesh (looks pretty heavy to me) for their safe return from Roopkund.
I waited here for the rest of my team to catch up.

Lessons learnt today will come in handy the next day when  at 2 am we will set out on the most treacherous climb I've ever attempted.

But before we go there, let me show you our camp site at Bhagwabasa.
Do you see the slate like rocks? Yes, they were sharp and uncomfortable. We didn't pitch a tent. Instead, we were given a shed to squeeze our cocooned bodies close together for warmth. It was cold and extremely uncomfortable.

Basically, once you found a spot where the rocks poked you the least through your sleeping back and through the mat below it, you lay still -- like a mummy.

The good news was that we had to be up around 2 am to get ready for the climb.

'We will be preparing porridge and you all will eat some before we head out.' announced Chauhan, our guide as we settled to sleep. ' You will all need the energy.'

We all groaned collectively. Who in their right mind was going to eat porridge at 2 am?

But we all did. And relished it. And asked for more. It was the most delicious sweet porridge (sans milk, but stuffed full of energy boosting almonds, cashews and raisins), I've ever tasted in my life. Yum!

Clad in all the warm layers we were carrying, we stood ready on the grey stones.  An early start ensures safety, we were told. Melting snow makes climbing dangerous.

Torches -- Check

Last loo run ---Check... hold on a tick! Who's been using our toilet tent?
Yes, those are our toilet tents: the beautiful red one and the one next to it.  As Bhagwabasa is the last and only campsite before Roopkund, it gets busy. As trekkers, we trust that other groups would use their toilet tents (even if they are pitched a bit further). We also trust that trekking companies who bring large groups (almost 30 in one) to the Himalayas would ensure that their 'groupies' observe certain civil etiquette to make the experience pleasant for all.

Sadly, that's not the case.

Toilet tent misuse may be overlooked when the terrain is tough and the cold is biting, but there is no excuse whatsoever for littering the place. The sad and bitter truth that one faces on such remote and beautiful parts of the country is that trekkers and visitors lack basic civic sense. It's a shame.

Come on people, wake up! Take your trash with you. It's not rocket science. Leave only your footprints behind-- the Himalayas don't need your plastic sweet wrappers, discarded cans and bottles-- take them home with you and then recycle them. Or better still, don't bring plastic with you.

Can we trust ourselves to keep the Himalayas safe and clean and litter free for the generations who will come after us? 

A clean India is not impossible to achieve.

This kind of behaviour gets my goat. TV and radio ads can blast out 'Swachch Bharat' or 'Clean India' slogans till the cows come home, but India will be clean only if the people who live there take care of their trash like it's their responsibility and not just the government's.

Back to the trek, then.

It was dark. It was damp. But, at least the rain had stopped. Had it been raining, we wouldn't have carried on.

Chauhan's instructions were very clear-- keep pace with each other and keep hydrated.

The first light...

We stopped to put crampons and gaiters on just as the sun was streaking the sky red.
We could see what lay ahead. It was stunning. It was scary; so scary that I tucked my camera away to keep my hands free.

Jagat (the best guide in the world, according to my son) who is also a minefield of information about peaks and everything else used his ice-pick to claw out a foot hold, the person behind him would put his foot in and then the next, and so on. The progress was slow but steady.

When I reached the top, I took my camera out.

 We DID it!!!
photo courtesy: Rajat:)
Almost as soon as this picture was clicked, the sinking feeling that we had to climb down sunk in. NO!!!!
Temple at Roopkund Lake.
Climbing down may be easy on the lungs but my poor heart was petrified of falling off the mountainside!

Splitting headaches (thanks to altitude adjustment) greeted us back in Baghwabasa when we reached at around 10 am. Strong cups of tea and a little rest sorted us out. The day had only just begun and we had to make our way back to Bedni.

Come along and watch the sun light up the Himalayas; the abode of snow ('him' means snow and 'alaya' means abode).

The same temple (Kalu Vinayak) on our way back, when the sun shone in the bright blue sky.

I met a local family who were carrying these flowers as an offering for the temple at Roopkund. They were climbing up the path like you and I stroll in a mall-- totally chilled!

these flowers have an amazing scent and they paint the mountainside purple.

Halfway down, it started pouring buckets. My IKEA poncho didn't hold out. I squelched my sodden body back to camp.

But look what happened almost as soon as we reached Bedni -- the sun smiled and shone through the blanket of clouds.

 Our beloved toilet tents.
If I tell you that we saw yellow daisies next to the hole in the ground the next morning, will you believe me?
Well, it's true:)

A clear morning the next day-- Bliss!
All we had to do was walk downhill for about 12 hours through a thick forest of Juniper, Pine, Oak and Rhododendron to reach the point where a vehicle would pick us up. 
That should be easy, right?
The rain soaked forest floor of Wan forest will make the climb downhill slippery and slushy.
We will play many rounds of 'antakshari' to keep an 'ear' out for each other.
The thought of a hot bath at the end of the climb down will keep us all motivated and chirpy.
I'll demonstrate the zig-zagging technique of climbing downhill to Arnav. He'll ignore my suggestion but adopt the same technique when Rajat will show him after a few slips.
I'll shake my head at his teenager ways and carry on enjoying every moment of this precious 
mother-son trek.

If, like me, you are fascinated by myths and legends, then check this link out: 

Hope to see you all soon. Enjoy your weekend 
Better still,
RECYCLE, if you can.

In case you missed part 1 of this trek, here it is:


  1. Wow Arti! What a trek, what photos and what prose!! Fly high!

    1. Thanks Doc. I know Roopkund is on your list. Hope you get to do it soon. You'll love it.

  2. Written in most awesome manner. Enjoyed reading it.

    1. Thanks Vivek:) Glad you enjoyed reading it.

  3. Written in most awesome manner. Enjoyed reading it.

  4. Arti, I have so enjoyed reading about this wonderful trek of yours! And your son is such a handsome young man. I read every word (on both posts!) and I "oooo-ed" and "aaah-ed" at the end of every sentence. :) Your photos are absolutely stunning and I love how well you share the connection you make with others along your path, and with nature. I feel like I am there with you. :) I have also had a busy summer, and like you, blogging has "suffered" here too. I hope to get back to a more normal way of posting soon. In the meantime, it's always such a pleasure to catch up with you here. We are kindred spirits, my dear Arti. xx

    1. Yes we are that Pauline, kindred spirits:)
      Thank you for visiting. It feels good when old friends come by. xx

  5. Loved Part II too Arti! Your photos were beautiful as always plus the plea to keep every place litter- free - an essential one .

    1. Thanks Sharmila. Litter is an eyesore anywhere but when you see people discarding plastic wrappers etc. on hikes, without a second thought, it hurts. You know the green hills and pristine paths you see in the photos are already witnessing this careless attitude. WE have to take a stand-- pick up rubbish we see strewn and empower the locals to take a stand against the trekkers who litter. I think trekking companies can and should take the lead here. After all, this is their bread and butter.

  6. wow arti, i can't believe you did this hike!! this brings back such sweet memories of hiking to temples at the top of steep mountains... there's something so incredible about these places, you receive so much though such an experience, right? thank you for the magical moment! xoxo

    1. Thanks for visiting Ananda. You are right-- there is magic in those places which is easy to embrace. xx

  7. Very impressive again, Arti! And I don't mean just the writing. It takes guts to undertake something of this magnitude (and altitude) and it is equally hard to relate in mere words such an intense experience. Bravo! Congratulations to you and your son for completing such a demanding trek.

    As usual, amazing vistas and amazing pictures. Can just imagine waking up in the morning to behold this! Thank you for sharing these.

  8. Very impressive again, Arti! And I don't mean just the writing. It takes guts to undertake something of this magnitude (and altitude) and it is equally hard to relate in mere words such an intense experience. Bravo! Congratulations to you and your son for completing such a demanding trek.

    As usual, amazing vistas and amazing pictures. Can just imagine waking up in the morning to behold this! Thank you for sharing these.

    1. You are welcome Ruchita. It's a pleasure to share with kindred souls:) xx

  9. Lovely pictures. It was as if I was going through old pictures! Picture of Bedni Bugyal with clouds over the valley is superb! And yes these red GIO adventures toilets do stand out! Lovely pictures AArti!

    1. Thanks Arv:) It's only been a couple of months since the trek but I wish I was back there already!

  10. Wow! I salute you my friend and your young son, for doing this very arduous trek!!! I could almost hear myself huffing and panting as you inhaled and exhaled your way up....
    Lovely photographs as usual. Thank you sharing your experiences and the breathtaking sights and sounds of the trek.
    Good on you for flagging the trash issue.. so important. when will our desi bhais learn to be more civic and caring about nature? sigh

    1. I saw a 'foreigner' picking up trash (discarded plastic wrappers and bags) on this trek and decided that apart from flagging the issue, I'm gonna pick up any trash I see and deposit it in a bin from now on---wherever I may be. I've been picking up some even at Aspire on my morning walks. Thanks for visiting and commenting Ketaki.

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