Monday, 15 August 2016

Roopkund -- of moss, meadows and motherhood

Wash your hands!
Have you washed your hands?
Did you wash your hands?
I hope your hands are clean.
When was the last time you washed your hands?

Summer 2016 started a day before my son's school term ended. He and I flew to Delhi to start our first ever mother-son trek along with my usual group of 'adult' friends in the Himalayas. We were Roopkund bound and I was in my element -- my nagging element.

Nagging my sixteen year old son to maintain hand hygiene became my prime occupation as soon as we set foot inside the night bus which would take us to Haldwani. I had visions of Delhi belly forcing us to abandon our trek and head home. I HAD to pester. I'm sure mothers of teenage sons understand.

'Give him space. Let him be.' was the advice I didn't want to hear, but I got it all the same, from a fellow trekker who was new to the group. Her words stopped me in my tracks. I had never seen myself as a 'helicopter' parent. Secretly, I pride myself as the kind of mother who doesn't hover over her children, one who gives them space, one who has a life of her own; i.e. a cool mum. Obviously, I'm not. If a stranger can offer this advice after two days of trekking with us, then I must be a version of Debra Barone (Ray's mom from Everybody loves Raymond) without realizing it.

It was a wake up call and time for me to introspect.

Himalayas helped.

I wish I had carried my copy of Parent's Tao Te Ching with me. I hadn't. The beautiful and breathtaking (literally- as there were times on this tricky trek that I thought I may be taking my last breath-- more of that in another post) beauty of the Himalayas calmed me down. The mountains have this magical power to bring out the best in me. It's only when I get back down to reality that regular reminders penned down by wise men like William Martin are needed. He says:
"You cannot force your will
upon other human beings.
You can not hurry children
along the road to maturity.
And the only step necessary
on their long journey of life,
is the next small one. "

Don't get me wrong; I loved his company and so did the others in the group.

"We must make it mandatory to have one sixteen year old on all of our future treks!" declared a dear friend one evening by the campfire, where we were drying our sodden boots like cobs of corn--turning them every once in a while to ensure they were dry enough for the next day.

A few tips for those of you who are planning to go trekking with your brood in the future:

1. If your offspring doesn't fill your water bottle, or run to fetch sun cream when you ask him, but does all these jobs willingly, quickly and with a smile for all the other adults in the group, pat your back and say to yourself:
'Well done! You raised a helpful kid."
They will take you for granted; even in the Himalayas.

2. Be prepared to be made fun of; of your technically challenged brain and your TV serial choices in front of strangers for this is how teenagers bond with other adults. Just pray that there are a few others like you in the group who will come to your rescue as some of my friends did for me.

3. If you are sharing your tent with your teenager-- BE WARNED-- it will turn into a bomb site every time  they need to change, even if it's just the wet socks. Trust me!

4. Any safety advice should come from the guides or other adults. They listen, period.

5. Enjoy the times when they bring you a hot cup of tea without being asked or insist on carrying your bag at the end of the trek when you know they are as shattered as you are. They will soon become adults and go on treks of their own. Time we have with our children is finite.

6. Relish the pride you see in their eyes when you get rid of spiders or mosquitoes that have entered the tent.


7. Carry a pack of cards.

Before I get all emotional about how great trekking the Himalayas was with him, let me dig the photos out and take you to my home state in India, Uttrakhand--all the way to the lap of Trishul massif-- to the glacial lake called Roopkund with me. Are you ready?

An almost ten hours' ride from Kathgodam (last train station and close to Haldwani) led us to our first camping site: Lohajung.

One of the first things we spotted when we started our trek the next morning were these locals sorting 'moss'. They were sifting through the moss that grows on oak trees in the area, separating twigs and other dried wood. Apparently, this stuff sells for a decent amount of money. I had no idea.

Lush bamboo and gurgling brooks kept us company.

Stunning creature, don't you think?
 And this my dear readers is monkey corn. Only monkeys eat the kernels that grow around the black stalk. We spotted many more as we climbed higher.

The first day's trek was a stroll in the park compared to what was in store for us later!
We reached Didna village, stopped for chai and carried on to the spot our guide had picked for us to camp for the night. 

It was a little piece of heaven. 
Birdsong chirruped all around us.
 The next day took our breath away- literally!
The climb was intense, but the promise of walking through India's most beautiful meadow (bugyal)kept me going and of course, the suggestion made by Chauhan, our guide, that there would be a chai stall in that meadow made it easier to cope. 

 The moss collectors:
'My photo?' he looked surprised, but struck this beautiful grin for me anyway.
He also told me about the many uses of this moss. It's used to prepare medicines, shampoo and even paint!
 'What will you do for the rest of the day?' I asked her.
'I'm getting old now, so by the time I reach back home, it will be late afternoon. I'll eat and rest.'

'May I take a photo?' I asked. 'I may never come back here.'
'Of course, you will!' She declared.
'This is the land of the Goddess, you will be back.'
I like her confidence.

 The moss eventually destroys the oak.
I guess, this is how nature balances it all out.

Aaah...! Ali Bugyal

'My photos have gone to Germany.' came the happy reply when I asked for his permission to click.

 Water is always on the boil in this pateela. He then uses boiling water to make chai on the gas stove. We devoured egg bhurji with chai at his stall.
He operates this stall for 3 months -- for the trekkers! So glad he does.
We were cold.
The wind was harsh-- bitterly cold and strong-- pushing us back. The climb after this lunch break wasn't too pleasant.

 But, just look at the view ...
Bedni Bugyal: our camp ground for day 3.
 I was too restless to sit when we reached. The sky was blue. My camera and I decided to explore...

Just a short walk from the camp and the temples above was this temple-- encircled by a stone wall. Legend has it that this lake (which fills up with rain water and is now marked by the stone wall) was carved out by the local goddess.
Here's a more detailed explanation:
"Bedni too comes packaged with a legend as informed by our guides. ‘Bed’ (pronounced baid) is a unit of hand measure/hand span. The reigning goddess is said to have carved out the lake using her hand span (‘bed’) after doing a parikrama  (inspection) of the area and choosing the spot for the water body. Hence the name ‘Bedni’ (carved by the hand of a goddess)."

Insomnia becomes my companion when I'm trekking. Lucky for me, most sunrises happen early in the morning too:)
And how can one sleep when this is what you see when you peek out of your tent?
That night in Bedni, sounds of bells kept waking me up. I wasn't sure why the donkeys (who I had seen with bells) were so active at night.
It was this pack of Bhutia dogs, not the donkeys.
These three came up to the top of the hill and petted each other for a good thirty minutes, stretched...yes, downward dog, no less...and climbed down the hill to start their sheepdog duties for the day.

 We started our day. 
 Himalayan Iris
 and stunning views.
 Look! A dolphin!

 The point where it got tough...
 really tough...
We are headed to Bagwabasa: den (waas) of tigers (bagh).
It's the last campsite. 
We will be starting our trek to Roopkund at half past two in the morning the following day!
Yes. In the dark-
with torches lit!
Listening to our guide, more than seeing him--
after getting our oxygen levels checked for fitness the previous night.
We will thank our stars that we started the trek in total darkness when the sun will shine the next morning at 5,029 metres OR 16,499 ft!
Because, we (most of us, at least) know in our hearts that had we seen what we had to climb to reach Roopkund, we would've chickened out.

Hope to see you soon with the last leg of this trek and a few shots of the beautiful Roopkund.
It's been a busy summer and blogging has suffered.

Meanwhile, here's an account of the trek by Vani, a fellow trekker who became a friend:)
She tells the stories and retells some of the legends here:


  1. So happy to 'read' from you today, Arti! I have missed your words and writing spirit. I am also a tad envious of your trek. The journey alone is a marvel but to have done it with your teen son, is just amazing -and so very heart warming too. I look forward to reading more.
    Welcome back, my friend.

    1. Thanks April. It feels like coming home (to blogging) after being away for this long!I thank God/Universe for giving me these opportunities. I know I'll cherish them. So happy to share the experience with friends like you:)

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  4. Fantastic pics and beautifull words takes one back to the amazing bugyals. Also the opportunity of spending some quality time with an amazing teenager.

    1. Thanks Kushwaha. Every trek I'v been on with Vistas has been 'perfect'. You guys know how to tick all the boxes.

  5. Fantastic pics and beautifull words takes one back to the amazing bugyals. Also the opportunity of spending some quality time with an amazing teenager.

  6. Beautifully written. It is so lively that it seems we are actually on the trek with you! Waiting for more blogs! Good luck!

    1. Thanks Manu. That's the whole point of writing and that my family and friends can get a glimpse of what I see in the amazing outdoors. xx

  7. Beautifully written. It is so lively that it seems we are actually on the trek with you! Waiting for more blogs! Good luck!

  8. Beautifully written. It is so lively that it seems we are actually on the trek with you! Waiting for more blogs! Good luck!

  9. So glad to see you back here! Checked a few times in the past months hoping to see a glimpse of your latest excursion....finally it's here:-)

    Stunning images and enviable journey! Really impressive writing! Waiting for part II.....

    1. Hey Ruchita, you know me...I would've made sure you find out about my new posts:)Thank you for your comments about the writing---coming from an English teacher, this means a lot!

  10. lovely write up of your journey with beautiful pictures Aarti! was your trek undertaken with some trekking agency? GIO?
    I'm sure you'll cherish this trek forever in your heart and mind! Himalayas have that power! :)

    1. You got it - it was with GIO via Vistas. I think GIO do a fab job. Thank you for visiting and commenting. And you are right...The Himalayas have that power--they seep into your soul and pull you towards them.

    2. You wanna know how I guessed it? The trunk that serves as a table!! :)
      Yes, GIO does good job! so which is your next trek?

    3. Good eye:) I haven't a clue. 'Vistas' do all the planning and since I don't live in India, I join them when I can manage -- usually when the schools are shut for the summer.

  11. Hello Beautiful, welcome back! Your post instantly transported me to 'Roopkund'. I have jotted down all your declared points if I happen to ever encounter a trekking with my offspring. 'Moss' story was interesting. Hoping to read you more often :)

    1. Hey Pinkz, thank you for visiting and commenting. It's lovely to see you here. There are so many hikes around where you live, I'm sure you can start with one as soon as your 'teen' is ready. Hope to see you soon. xx

  12. Hi Arti,
    I dont know why, I have this feeling I have read and commented on this blog, but since I cant seem to find that comment I re-read the blog....just loved it.
    You do have a special way of taking us along with you on your journeys and I thank you for that. Not sure I am going to be making such an arduous trek myself, so am ever so grateful for the opportunity to trek with you up to the bugyals and lakes and temples in the Uttarakhand Himalayas.
    Keep trekking and keep the blogs coming

    1. Thank you for re-visiting Ketaki:)
      And I'm so glad you enjoyed the trek...yes, it feels good to share the beauty of the mountains. xx

  13. I see I have missed much. Will come back and read. As usual lovely pics

    1. Looking forward to your visit vanderloost:)


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