Mcleodganj - 2008 By solo_trekker
I initially didn’t want to post this article on my solo trek adventure as it’s something that might just put people off solo trekking, and that definitely wasn’t my intention. But then, there is always an opportunity to learn something from every experience. What to do, and what not to do, usually become evident and known only after the blessed experience.

The perils of solo trekking: learning to expect the unexpected, and what not! It’s always an education, and sometimes, even an enlightenment. And one thing is for sure, despite my near-death experience on this trek, I shall always remain as passionate about solo trekking as I always have been.

My Solo Trek – The Beginning

Having roamed around McLeod Ganj for over a day and still not having run into His Holiness The Dalai Lama, and also having already met up with someone I had proposed to meet via the net, I had finally decided to hike up to Triund and Lahesh Cave and as far as I could venture towards the Indrahar Pass. Most of the trekking agencies and people on the net had suggested that I should definitely avoid this stretch in the rains, and surely not even think of attempting it solo. But me being me (read ’crazy’), I just had to carry on.

Day One - McLeod Ganj to Triund

It was His Holiness The Dalai Lama’s 73rd birthday and the entire town was practically shut down. Having fixed up with a trekking agency to rent out a sleeping bag, a mattress and a raincoat the previous night, I woke up as early as around 3.00 a.m. after hearing the rain come lashing down. It kept pouring till early morning and unfortunately, the agency guy who was supposed to be at his shop before 8 wasn’t around even till an hour later. Finally, after being assured that I could pick up the stuff I needed at a tea shop next to a Temple en route, ahead of Dharamkot, I started my trek quite late in the morning around 9.30 a.m. or so.

The trek from McLeod Ganj to Triund was a decent one by itself, 9 km long with the last kilometer being the really steep stretch. From the Town Square, I went along the Mountaineering Institute route which went along some dense forests of Deodhars. From the Dharamkot road crossing, went along the road leading upwards towards the Rakkar village. Very soon, the road turned into a rugged path, and then the path into a trekking route marked by cobbled stones. My first destination was the Galu Temple from where I was supposed to pick up my stuff from some guy there. Galu Temple is the point where various trekking routes via McLeod Ganj, via Bhagsunag Waterfall, and via Dal Lake, all merge. The route from here onwards has dense Oak, Deodhar and Rhododendron trees.

 Mcleodganj - 2008 By solo_trekker
My solo trek to Triund soon came to an end. And I won’t say ’Alas’.  I had for myself two cute Korean girls for company, who were just waiting for someone to guide them at a fork along the pathway, close to Dharamkot itself. And I, ofcourse, had to help the damsels in distress.  Not that they knew much of English, and I, even a blessed word of Korean, well, we managed.

Sadly though, the guy at the tea shop wasn’t even around, so I had no choice but to simply carry on without any equipment. The views on the trek were just great and every once in a while, around a bend along the mountain, one could even see the plains of the Kangra Valley deep down below. The girls treated me to some Korean energy bars, and I offered them dry fruit, and some Glucose powder, which I always carry on treks, for instant energy. And the sweet girls just loved the sweet Glucose. And we carried on. They expressed their desire to see a Hindi movie in a Multiplex in Delhi, which I promised them.

As it had poured right through the previous night, the trekking paths were occasionally slithery. There were just no other trekkers to Triund, owing to the lousy weather probably. We did stop at a tea shop called Magic View Cafe where I helped myself to a cup of hot tea.

By the time I reached Triund, I was totally pooped out.  The last kilometer was unrelentingly formidable. Triund had beautiful grassy meadows which were absolutely lush green in the monsoons. The views on either side were also amazing. On one side you had the Dhauladhar peaks covered with snow; and on the other you could see right into the plains of the Kangra Valley even from that height of close to 10,000 feet above sea level. After resting for a while at Triund, and some Hot Chocolate to replenish my sapped energy levels, and having said my Goodbyes to the Korean girls, I carried on. The climb was reasonably alright as I had had the time to rest at Triund.

 Mcleodganj - 2008 By solo_trekker
At the Snowline Cafe, I met up with three American girls, who were camping there. One of them happened to be working with Lehman Brothers at New York, and she said that she wasn’t sure if she would still have her job once she’s back from her holiday, owing to the financial mess the investment bank was in. And her prophecy has unfortunately just come true with Lehman Brothers having filed for bankruptcy! The girls were trekking ’Sahib’ style, unlike me - they had all the possible equipment at their disposal, with tents and all the paraphernalia that goes along with it, a guide and two porters, who also doubled up as cooks. And they were shocked when they saw me in my state and all solo. I managed to get a sleeping bag and a mattress from here; actually this was much better than lugging it all the way up from McLeod Ganj. And I tied it up to my small rucksack using the best possible thing that could be used when there is nothing else available - dental floss.

’Illaqa Got’, my next destination, was another small meadow with large boulders strewn all around and with a Gaddi (Himachal shepherds) shelter also built. For my additional pleasurable viewing, there were close to around 500 sheep of all shapes and sizes just hanging around. There were innumerable of those cute lil’ lambs and also the stern-faced rams just waiting for me to make the wrong move so that they could try and gore me with their horns. I met a few Gaddis there who suggested that I could spend the night in an unused Gaddi shelter close to the glacier. I thanked them and carried on. To my left was the expanse of the glacier, a stretch of over 150 feet, and extending northwards, till as far up as the eye could see. The area was dotted with hundreds of Cobra-lilies with their glaring hoods popping out in bright green and purple; and I kept stopping every now and then to take yet another picture of the rare flowers.

It was almost dark, and I had carried on along the right side of the glacier for quite some distance. I even went up the mountainside looking for the path to cross the glacier; and also for a cave or a rock under which I could possibly spend the night. Thankfully, better sense prevailed, and grudgingly, I walked my way back to the last Gaddi shelter. I had my sleeping bag, and a roof over my head even next to the blessed glacier at over 11500 feet above sea level. I lit up my candle, had my fill of chocolate, dry fruit, cheese, glucose and juices and just slithered into the bag. Sleep, unlike in the cities, came in just no time at all.

Day 2 - A brush with Death

 Mcleodganj - 2008 By solo_trekker
I Woke up pretty early in the morning - it was not yet even 5.00 a.m. I ventured out to be greeted by a beautiful sight. It was blue all around me, blue in all its hues; the blue of the late night sky, the reflected blue of the glacier, the dark blue of the grass on the mountain-sides, and the even darker blue of the rocks strewn all around. Gosh, it was just unbelievable. Heavenly!

I never reached the Indrahar Pass. Not even close. I crossed the 150 - 200 feet glacier towards the Lahesh Cave.  Initially, I prodded on over the glacier with a flimsy stick quite reluctantly, checking each slab before I set my foot on it. The glacier was like a mass of fish scales stuck to each other in a zig-zag fashion… zillions of them, all around me. It was amazing. Once I reached the half-way point, I dug my boot heals into the ice and clicked away to glory. It took me almost half an hour to cross the blessed glacier.

 Mcleodganj - 2008 By solo_trekker
But then, I went in a different direction, away from the Lahesh Cave. Actually, there are two ’Glacier Nullahs’ along the West-side of the main glacier Nullah. The Lahesh Cave is along the second ’Nullah’, and distance-wise, it is quite close to the bank of the Main glacier itself. And I went up the other way, along the first ’Nullah’, and kept going and going and going. I literally clawed my way up the ’Glacier Nullah’.

As there was just no visible trail, I actually climbed up rock faces along the Waterfall going up the ’Nullah’ and just kept going. Soon enough, I knew I was going along the different ’Nullah’, but the innate need of venturing along the unknown path made me simply carry on and on, as far as I could, till the time there was a vertical rockface of the Mountain in front of me.

I first climbed up the rocks and sometimes the sheer mountain surface if the rocks weren’t climbable. I then went past yet another huge glacier, and then crossed a high waterfall, which was falling right into the edge of the glacier and flowing under it… and then another waterfall along the mountain surface. I just carried on and on without a path.

Till the time I just couldn’t go any further as there was an almost 90 degrees rockface in front of me. The fact that I had just about somehow managed to go up even at upto 80 degrees (rest assured, I’m not exaggerating) was definitely something more than major for me, without any technical equipment, and all alone.

 Mcleodganj - 2008 By solo_trekker
I started my descent when the fog was at its densest - could hardly see anything beyond a few meters. And the way down definitely seemed to be and surely was much more difficult. I had pulled myself up along most of the rocks on my way up, but these same rocks now seemed like precipices with sheer drops, which they unfortunately were. I tried going up the almost vertical incline along the mountain-side to come down a bit further ahead. I soon realized that this course of action seemed to be even more treacherous than I had imagined. And after a while, I decided I had had enough of slithering down the dangerous slopes.

And then the inevitable happened.

The weather started turning bad.

It started raining.

First it was just a tolerable drizzle. And then it started pouring. A torrential downpour.

Cats and Dogs, their cousins, and all their blessed country cousins too - all of them decided to come down together, and in a torrential fury, the kind one can only imagine.

Then a sight I can never forget for the rest of my life.

Jesus. It sends shivers down my spine even as I think about, and relive what actually happened.

To escape the stinging rain, I managed to find a huge boulder along the Nullah, which by now was actually a major Waterfall, owing to the downpour. The boulder had a slant edge on one side and I sat on a small rock, slouched under the slanted edge of the boulder, trying to save myself from the biting sting of the pouring rain. But I continued to get wet from the rain coming at me from all angles, but this way was managing to at least avoid most of the sting. The water coming down ferociously was thankfully going mostly under the big boulder.

 Mcleodganj - 2008 By solo_trekker
But soon enough, right in front of my eyes, the entire scenario changed. The ferocity of the water flowing down kept increasing and the water level kept going up. Even after continuously moving to slightly higher rocks to sit on, very soon, I was literally sitting in the water, with water coming down the Nullah in full flow - right at me, and the rain also hitting me from all sides. I managed to get up and dug out a few huge rocks from the mountain-side, as the water level had submerged all the other rocks - these I threw under the boulder for me to sit on. The water level kept rising in front of my eyes from zilch to over three feet. And on the side was the almost vertical mountain wall, which I was forced to climb to atleast avoid the waterfall.

I was caught in the middle of a flash flood!

The way I had chosen to go up, which was unfortunately the only way, could obviously not be taken on my way down. That route was currently being used by the waterfall to send down all the torrents of water. I was on top of an almost vertical surface with just no way to go down and the rain didn’t seem like it would stop for the next few hours. I had already been under the boulder for over two hours, and I had to make a choice soon. And to make matters worse, I was drenched to the bone. I had been shivering for all that time from the biting cold water with even my teeth chattering away to glory. It was no longer possible to take shelter even for my little toe under the big boulder, and there was no point just standing in the middle of the freezing downpour and come down with pneumonia. The visibility was really bad with the rain, the dense fog and even the blessed clouds, all continuously playing hide and seek. I pondered and pondered, and finally decided to take the risk.

After measuring both the notional as well as the actual distances in my head, and thinking of the possible angles that I would fall in once I made the decision to go down an almost vertical rock-face which had a mini-stream flowing all over it, I actually slid down the surface, lying back down, hoping against hope that my boots with their heels and their grip, would possibly hold onto against a protrusion in the rock surface that I was eyeing. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, and I slid past it, down much, much further. But wonder of wonders, I then came to a sudden halt. My old leather boots had saved my life. I was lying down on my back against the smooth rock surface, almost in the vertical position, with my heels dug into the point where the rock surface ended and another one began. And to my side and far below me, were the rocks and the gushing waterfall.

As I look back, I think it was a combination of various factors which helped me. My boots were the life-savers, no doubt. My denims, something I usually avoid wearing on treks but thankfully had on this time around, helped in adding to the friction between the rock surface and my butt, and thus slowed my slide and allowed me to get a grip. My not wearing a rain-coat or poncho also helped as the plastic would have only reduced the friction and I would surely have slid much further down. My flimsy stick also helped in controlling the slide, but not really. The timing of the slide - a bit earlier would have meant that much more water on the rock surface that I was sliding on which could have made it dangerous; and a bit later would have meant continuing to shiver from the biting cold water and possibly encountering a bigger mass of water when I went further down. The belief that I could actually do it definitely helped me attempt something that I otherwise might not have. I remember an occasion when while on top of a mountain ledge, I’ve suddenly been compelled to just stand still and not move at all - I just froze. It happens. But thankfully, it didn’t on this occasion. The fact that I managed to stay cool when the easiest thing to do would be to panic made sure that I remained in my senses and took rational decisions. And finally, plain luck, of course.

With my heart still beating like African Tom-Toms, I found yet another rock which was slightly away from the gush of the waterfall. I managed to slouch under it for more than an hour. Had to crouch at an awkward angle to try and escape the rain. But it was much much better than the awfully scary scene I had just witnessed and was a part off.

After all those hours in the rain, I decided that I just had to keep trying to move down somehow or the other. I again went up the grassy mountainside to avoid a small stretch of the waterfall on the rocks. For my way down, I just sat down and slid down a step at a time while digging my heals into the wet mud to get a foot-hold to keep myself from falling all the way down into the waterfall and onto the rocks. I would dig my boots into the mountainside, make enough place for my heel, slide myself forward, and dig further ahead for my next step, all the time walking sideways and keeping my weight towards the mountainside. And every few steps there would be a tiny rivulet flowing down the mountainside which I had to be careful about. Had several more skids, and would just about manage each time around. By now, thankfully, it was only raining, and not pouring like it had been for all those hours. Mind you, I didn’t say it was only drizzling - I said it was only raining.

 Mcleodganj - 2008 By solo_trekker
Soon enough, the main glacier was visible again - and that sort of lifted my spirits. I didn’t stop after that and either kept slithering down those rock surfaces; or kept finding those foot-holds to find my way down the mountain-side. Towards the last part, I remembered, was a near impossible climb I had managed on my way up; but was now beyond me, as it was now in the middle of the waterfall. So, I looked for a part of the waterfall where I could possibly jump over it and cross over - a spot where the waterfall was getting split up. Luckily, I found a good spot and managed to cross-over without a hitch and then again trudged and slithered my way down to the main glacier.

I felt like screaming with joy. And I did. I had made it. The main glacier was crossed like I was walking across a flat football ground - in just a couple of minutes, not even one-tenth the time I had taken in the morning. I just breezed through it, like a normal brisk walk. Compared to what I had just been through, this, now seemed a cake-walk.

From there on, it was a celebratory walk, first to the Gaddi shelter, where I had left my things. Then through ’Illaqa Got’, where I walked through the tonnes of shit left by those 500 odd sheep I had crossed the previous day; and I still had a big smile on my face. Returned the sleeping bag to the Snowline Cafe owner and had a cup of tea with him. Hot chocolate at Triund was duly had to refurbish the sapped energy levels. And then, I carried on for the next 9 kilometers without stopping at all. The last stretch of the trek to McLeod Ganj was actually done in pitch darkness.

It was 9.30 p.m. by the time I reached the Town Square, exactly 36 hours after I had last left it, and having traversed over 32 kilometers in that period.

Jesus Christ.

Was I glad to be back.

Alive ‘n Kicking.

And in one piece.

One tiny twist of the foot, and everything could have so easily gotten really nasty. A fall, and I wouldn’t be here writing about the experience. Thankfully, apart from a few minor scratches, I didn’t have any other problems at all. And though I had assumed I would surely be coming down with at least high fever or maybe worse, I didn’t even catch a blessed cold.

Thank God for His divine intervention.

 Mcleodganj - 2008 By solo_trekker
Yes, there were a lot of things that I could have done better, and a lot of things that I should not have done at all. But then, my adrenalin levels have never ever reached the highs that they did on this trek. And how could I have otherwise ever come to know about my inner strengths - a possession that everyone has, but only few get an opportunity to try out the potential of. And for the rest of my life, how can I ever forget those African Tom-Toms beating in the background, and the sound turning out to be just my blessed heart beats.

No way was it possible for me or anyone else to have had written the script better. And yes, all the money in the world couldn’t have bought me this sheer high, even if I had actually planned it. Though I would actually rather not have a similar experience, but still, that exhilarating feeling is something I would do anything to experience all over again.

As long as I come out of it alive, and am there to write about it, that is.

I guess, as they say, All’s well that ends well.

Note: There’s just one regret that I have. Unfortunately, while I was having this life-threatening experience, I was too shell-shocked, continuously shivering away to glory as I was downright drenched, more than a vee bit scared, and my mind was working overtime planning my next move in the survival plan, so I could obviously not even think of taking a single photograph. If I had a television air crew following my each and every move, am sure this would have more than qualified for one of those ’Man v/s Wild’ episodes on Discovery Channel. Well, that wasn’t the case; and so, those five torturous hours can and shall remain only etched in my memory for the rest of my life.