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Journalist: Priyanka Chanda
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Start Date: Sep 27th, 2012
Last Update: Sep 27th, 2012
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Description: Where is the Life we have lost in living?

#1
Bhyundar Valley, Hemkund Sahib, Badrinath, Haridwar - August 25th to 30th 2012
Date Posted: Sep 27th, 2012 at 21:38 - Comments (1)
Valley of Flowers, valley of colors, valley of clouds, valley of an evening sun, valley of mellow mists, valley of magic, valley of mystery, valley of enchantment, valley of liberation….. The emotions are just endless!

This trip was long due. I had been planning for it for the last two years, but somehow it did not materialize until now. But as they say, some things happen when they have to, and I am glad it did… I don’t much believe in co-incidences, I was destined to be with some chosen friends at a certain place in a certain time, and so I was.

24th August, Thursday, I rushed through work somewhat absent-mindedly. I could not much hide that known telling smile that told everyone else around, about my excitement and anticipation of the unknown… that day I didn’t even fight with the auto-walah who refused to give me change, on any other day he would have had it, I tell you!

It was pouring when the craft touched down on the capital. We were stranded inside for about half an hour, before collecting our luggage. And then I was on my way to the ajmeri gate side of New Delhi Railway station, through the good old, dark and deserted roads of Gurgaon and Delhi. Traffic had thinned by then. I bumped into my colleague Ankita, right outside the entrance, who had reached Delhi the same day morning. We were to catch a train to Haridwar, the same night at 11:55pm.
In some time we were joined by Richa, Ankita’s friends from Chandigarh. After a quick introduction, what followed were… pringles, jalebis, photos, and giggles.

Through the mail strings that were exchanged in the last few days before the trip, we got to know that some of our fellow-trekkers were boarding the same train, but did not get to meet them until next morning, the 25th day of August, upon reaching Haridwar at 4am.

Moumita, our group leader called me, we gathered at the waiting room and met Moumita and Anurag for the first time. After exchange of minimal greetings, I, Ankita and Richa went back to snoozing. One time Anurag woke me up to guard his luggage while he went on for tea all by himself. Little did he know, that even in the middle of the deepest sleep, I would not have mind a cuppa!

In some more time we were joined by Shweta, Ranjan Ji, Chaitanya and Anshul. Pleasantries were exchanged, groggy and dazed we sauntered towards the car around 6am, we were headed to Govindghat, or so was the plan!

The morning shone through cloud and mists while our sumo roared away into smoky bends. The whole time went in gasping and gazing at the sudden Himalayan beauty that greeted us through the drive. Rest of the time went into some futile captures, swapping of seats, and a delicious breakfast with maggi, aloo paratha and tea, for the famished souls.

Through the drive we got talking…wonder why almost always when people meet for the first time, they get discussing work… GE, IBM, Unilever, Syntel, and dotcoms!

Monsoon befriended us right from the onset… We could not make it to Govindghat, because of roadblock due to rock fall. We broke for the night at Pipalkoti… We were 9 of us, with 5 girls making for the majority. Two dorm-like rooms provided us with shelter and hot water, that night. While Shweta successfully negotiated the deal for Rs.20 per bucket, Ankita shammed smiles and pouts for the camera….

By an hour and a half, we girls were ready for dinner, by then our male counterparts had washed, dined and retired. We binged on some idli, maggi and adrak chai. On our way back to the hotel, Ankita went chasing a cute pup down the alley, until his mother showed up with a far-from-friendly look!
Looking back, I realize how precious my sleep, that night was, for sleepless nights stole in without warning, through the next few days!

26th day of August, the following morning we started early for Govindghat. Upon reaching we met Dinesh Ji, our guide for the trek. We were advised to leave excess luggage behind, and soon it was time to hit the road. On the way some of us picked up these walking sticks, which later proved to be really useful. More bonding happened with the fellow trekkers on our way up. The plan was to offload the luggage with a porter, but before long we learnt that local porters had gone on a strike to oppose the launch of helicopter service by Deccan, on the same route, from Govindghat to Ghagharia.

That day turned out to be the longest and toughest of all. We started by 9:30am and didn’t reach until 7:30 in the evening. Had it not been for Dinesh Ji, who carried my offensively heavy backpack through most of the way, I would either not have reached at all, or would have only reached after midnight. Half way through the way we luckily found two porters, who agreed to help me, Ankita and Richa, with our luggage. Tired, aching, wet, we staggered along somehow, as Dinesh Ji kept encouraging us to what seemed like an illusory lunch!

Illusion turned to reality as we gorged on roti with dal, aachar and chai, around 3:30 that afternoon. Cold from the newly gained height and soaked to the bones, that hot sumptuous lunch provided magical relief. We continued the expedition, with renewed energy. The climb got steeper hereon. Rocky, wet, uneven roads made for the remaining part of our journey. Each time Moumita, slowed down under the weight of her two (omg!) rucksacks, Anshul cheered her unfailingly. Strangers in the morning… friends by daybreak… my feelings later found expression through Anurag, “you make some great friends through such travels”, he said to me and Chaitanya, as we stood chatting, in the balcony the next night after dinner, overwhelmed with the beauty of what we had just seen and in anticipation of the morrow.

Climbing up, Dinesh Ji pointed to us a sight that for a few moments stole our realities away. A soft inverted curve comfortably nestled between two ancient fortresses likes mountains that, as if, stood guard to this paradise. That in fact was the valley we all had come to visit from across regions, our primary reason for this whole undertaking. To be able to reach it and to believe that it was our next destination in the trek was nothing short of incredulity. I suspended my disbelief temporarily, and tried to soak in as much beauty as possible. My mind, like an eager child rushed to collect as many poppies from the bush, as those two little hands would permit, and looking upon the borrowed treasury, I find, I have just as many or little as two or three buds in my basket. The green-ness of the meadow that also acted as the helipad, soothed the eye with a veil of calm and exuberance at the same time.

A kilometer before Ghangharia, the porters returned our luggage. They could not have gone any further, as they were supposedly on strike! That one kilometer, as was in the beginning of the trek, now aggravated, with the fatigue and cold, seemed like atleast 10 more. It had darkened by then. Darkness and silence in the mountains have an entirely exquisite yet eerie definition. I measured my steps more carefully and gradually realized that I have entered the town, as the open meadows and woodlands that were bordering the road so far, started getting replaced by makeshift stables and shuttered establishments. The darkness continued through the length of it with a few people here and there. By then, I had lost sight of Dinesh Ji and the others. The battery of my phone died from cold and exhaustion. I did not know the name of the hotel we were supposed to be at. Choice less, I stood at a turn, trying to rejoice the feeling of getting lost in mountains, but my head and back (aarghh!) hurt terribly and would not let me! A glimpse of fluorescent from a distance, told me Moumita was coming in my direction. She was also lost and understandably not in the least amused. I almost knew we were headed to some wrong direction, and decided to check with a local, who confirmed my doubts saying that was the way up to Hemkund Sahib! Wonder what it would be like to have trudged on with that backpack for the rest of the night… We reversed our direction and met Shweta, at a medicine shop. We learnt from her that the strike was being continued at Ghangharia, and that we were about to go shelter less, but for the Gurdwara that night.

Those few days, life was all about raincoat, walking stick, bottles of precious water, and a destination….


Dinesh Ji, resourcefully accommodated all 9 of us, and also himself along with Mahipal Singh, his 18 year old assistant, at the Gurdwara. We went to the Gurdwara, and found Anurag, Ranjan Ji, Richa and Ankita, on the lowest rung of the bed. I could not say if they were merely lying there or sleeping! From a distance they looked like clothed logs. Shweta, Moumita, Anshul, Chaitanya and I had to negotiate with the middle rung of the three-tier bunk bed while Dinesh Ji and Mahipal ocuupied the one on top. My stubborn backpack would not bend into the space available, I had to stack it in horizontally by my head. By this time, I felt my head splitting into two equal halves, the back pain shooting up, and my unprepared mind not being able to adjust to a situation as this, gave me away. It now shames me to think how inflexible and unaccepting that was. Had I accepted the situation with a little more poise, a crocin 650 from Chaitanya would have done the magic. As Anurag would later put it ‘travel is a leveler’, puts a lot of things to perspective.
With three blankets and three layers of clothing underneath, I made an attempt to sleep. Around 10:30pm Chaitanya and Shweta woke me up. All of them were done with dinner barring Ranjan Ji, Dinesh Ji and me. I knew my headache worsens with hunger, so I decided to get some food. Roti and dal were served at the Langar. It is an extraordinary arrangement at such a remote altitude with everything else shut, not even one person goes hungry or shelter less. Thereafter I did not sleep too well. Chanting for Gurbani started at 4 in the morning, by 5 someone tugged at my blankets saying “Kambal Jama Karo” and I woke up to the reality of my surrounding.

Dinesh Ji hurried us to freshen up and resume the trek to the valley, on the 27th day of August. At some of our request, he supportively gave us a room at Hotel Pritam, where we were supposed to be staying otherwise. We crept in stealthily through the medicine shop, which led us to a dingy room and further into a courtyard which was lined by rooms on one side. The whole mission was performed with caution so as to not raise any eyebrows through the strike. The water felt like ice inside the mouth, we tidied up somehow. After a quick roti, sabzi and chai at the langar, we started for Bhyundar valley.

The roads twisted and turned around the mountains, tripped in places and rose again while the glacial river, Pushpavati rippled past in its own pace. These narrow mountainous roads were almost uniformly skirted by myriad colored blooms in dense thickets. A lot of time went into admiring and capturing the wilderness here. It was an easy, relaxed, pretty path, which did not call for much rigor either. Ankita, Richa and Chaitanya were about me and Anurag, while Moumita, Shweta and Anshul strolled up along with Dinesh Ji. I assumed Ranjan Ji must have reached the destination and won his self-announced Marathon by then.

What many of us might have noticed from the first day was Shweta’s climb. Chaitanya named her the ‘Queen of Sheba’ because of the crowning raincoat that intensified her gait. Very aptly named, this queen, I noticed, graced the mountains and meadows, with every step she took. She walked in unison with the mountains. Perfectly poised, ready for more beauty, composed and self-contained, she came along. Sometimes when I looked back, there she was every bit lost in the surrounding splendor with an unfazed gaze afar.

While crossing the make shift tin bridge with Anurag, we dutifully and unsurprisingly posed for each other’s camera. After all where does one get roaring rivers and foaming cascades every day? Plus the additional responsibility of profile pic.s! Resplendent in red, he beautified the surrounding green and white a little more.

It was time well spent with some new friends, new conversations, posing for and sharing pictures and cherishing every moment of togetherness…

The entrance to the valley is marked by two huge rocks. We rested for a while before moving on. Pink of the crowding dog flowers, White of the clouds and Green of the Himalayan pasture made the valley astounding. I will not even attempt to capture that in words, you know what I am talking about already! And sometimes when the clouds cleared, an all-pervading azure smiled down on the meadows. The clouds tricked us throughout. The shining peaks of Rataban and Kamet were visible for minutes before the clouds decided to drift in again. After walking for a while we found a clearing where we decided to pause and wait for the others.

Slowly there were more colors all around. Richa’s unmistakable blue raincoat, Moumita’s fluorescent jumper, Dinesh Ji’s vibrant turquoise track suit and the ruby red Anshul. We got busy doing what we do best. Each captured the other, sometimes single, sometimes hurdled together. Ankita’s oh so (Read Oh No!) awesome ‘titanic’ pose, would found expression in almost all the pic.s, had me or Richa not have dissuaded her. Sometimes she was incorrigible nonetheless! While all of us were still marveling and basking in the glory of the valley, Ankita pretty much decided her future thereon, “Get me a local guy, who I can marry and settle down here. It would be the most AWESOMEST (coinage-Ankita) thing to do!” Indeed indeed indeed!! While you said it Ankita, we all secretly wished for similar fantasies. The only words one could voice were …I wish….! Amidst all this, Mahipal hurriedly went to search for the self-proclaimed champion. He was nowhere in sight. After sometime both of them came back though.

I had rarely or perhaps never seen so much of beauty together. I will try and express the feeling through Plath, “I felt my lungs inflate with the onrush of scenery – air, mountains, trees, people. I thought, this is what it is to be happy.”
It was not impossible to believe in the myth of Sanjeevani Buti growing right here in these meadows. The surrounding aura was such that it cleansed the senses, relaxed the mind and purged our souls.
We spent considerable time walking through the meadows, cheeks brushing against impregnated clouds, mind besmeared with hues unseen hitherto, it was such magnificence, such glory, that despite our aching limbs, we did not want to come back. The vision is plastered to memory now.
While all of us would want to go back, and some of us will surely do, Anurag has another reason to return to the grasslands, he has left behind a bottle… Talking of bottle, I recall how we stopped both times, while going to up and returning, at one of those shining mountain streams to refill our bottles and because we had nothing else to contain it with, we drank the elixir directly from the stream.

Anurag and I joined Shweta at the entrance of the valley, we sat there waiting for the others but after a while the cold became unbearable, and we decided to trek back. We took it easy, actually very easy while coming back. Since the trek that day was not that long or rigorous, we had time to spend. It was also because we wanted to stay a little longer in this heaven, somewhere the fear of not being able to come back any time soon, tarried us. I knew then how badly I would be missing it. I suffer just the same now.

Did we ever imagine… winding slippery roads, gurgling brooks, stoic mountains, lush meadows and stash of colors would be our reality, so what if short-lived ?!

On coming back we were greeted with a happier town. Life had crawled back, strike had ended! All of us called home after around 2 days, at Rs.10 a minute. We feasted on a sumptuous lunch soon after. Happy, having seen the valley… happier, having eaten well, me, Anshul and Chaitanya sat with chai and gulab jamun, discussing my aspirations of joining a bschool and the impossibility of it! All this while, madame leader was missing. Dinesh Ji found her after quite some time. Later we learnt that she had fallen in love with the valley a little more than the rest of us, and so she had decided to stay a little longer…

That evening was well-spent with massage, a short film on the Bhyundar Valley and her flora, priceless buckets of hot water at Rs.50 each and Dinesh Ji’s story of the trekker who, “baithey baithey nikal gaya” for having defied medical advice to get to Roopkund.
It was decided that me, Anurag, Shweta and Moumita would take mules to get to Hemkund Sahib the following day, while Ranjan Ji, Richa, Ankita and Chaitanya would trek. As much as we tried to persuade Anshul to stay back with us, by then his legs had given away, and his mind had drifted back to Delhi!

After a delicious dinner, we tried to get some sleep, as next morning called for a higher, tougher and longer expedition. I kept staring outside through the window, trying to tell the rain from the darkness… both the attempts went in vain. Chai arrived at 5am, morning of 28th day of August, what absolute luxury in the mountains! We often tend to overlook these small but priceless efforts that others put in to make life easier for the rest of us. Mornings are grey in the mountains, but a happy shade of grey they are! Shrouded in fog and cloud, we headed for breakfast. Some group photos were clicked, goodbyes were exchanged with Anshul, trekkers started their journey and we mounted mules (mules?!! how unheroic, does that sound!) Shweta and Anurag trotted off while I and Moumita followed close;y. Despite a million warnings to not let go off the mules, ten steps down, the horse-man let the beasts be, not much choice there, inevitably I had to dismount.

Some people I met on the way, seeing me trekking, openly voiced their doubts about my ability to make it to the top. Unnerved, unsettled, I dragged myself somehow. In a while Dinesh Ji’s voiced reached me from the back, “aram aram se chaliye…” I have no qualms admitting, I would not have been able to make it that day but for him. The trauma faded away into the silent clouds that accompanied me up the rock-strewn road. Dinesh Ji’s extremely comforting company, my first view of wild cobra lilies (chaitanya you will always be remembered at the mention of this singular flower!), those ancient trees, the skin of which were used for writing in earlier days and some very pretty birds made it, as Ankita would call it, the most AWESOMEST journey, and wonder of the wonders in some time we caught up with our very own marathoner. The remaining journey went on smoothly, barring the delay caused due to the precarious roads. made slippery by rain and dung. Hemkund Sahib, being a holy place in India, was not free from the regular ingredients of devotion, packets of Lays chips, mazaa bottles and the like!

Richa, Ankita, Chaitanya had taken numerous short-cuts through the trek, we met them a couple of times, once we even took pictures together at the wondrous Hemkund glacier, but they were mostly ahead of us. Anurag, Shweta and Moumita were way ahead with the mule. During my last kilometer, I met Anurag, he was on his way back to Ghangharia, with the intention of traveling back to the paradise again, time permitting.

My body went numb at the temperature atop. An emerald lake half visible, a melodious chant from somewhere afar is all I could take cognizance of. I met Dinesh Ji a few steps ahead. He guided me towards Mahipal, and I went into the the gurdwara along with Richa, Ankita, Chaitanya and their new friend Vikas. We sat there for how long, I would not know. Hurdled in a blanket, numb against my own skin, I sat trying to gauge the severity of the beauty around. Delicious halwa Prasad, dripping with ghee (thank god, I did not mind the calories), dry fruits and then khicdi, kheer and chai, restored my energy level. We went for a darshan of the Lakshman temple, and sprinkled holy water from the lake, to fulfill the quota of blessings that we had come for.

The rainy sunless sky made for a cold, throbbing weather. We had to brave it with layers of clothing and rain-guard. The view from the top was surreal. It took only a moment to wrap the whole valley up in vapors of mystery, which was otherwise perfectly visible right down to Ghangharia, from where we had started.

Starving, we ran straight to our eatery, where we met Anurag and Shweta. It was almost evening by the time we returned. After a hearty meal, we went back to the hotel for some more massage and conversations. After much speculation, Badrinath was decided upon. While Ankita, Richa, Shweta and Moumita rested, I participated in the discussion of what started off as the nomenclature of Roopkund, but soon hiccupped into the non-accepting nature of Bengalis, the problematic South Indians and the virtues and sobriety of the jat-land, up north! In an attempt to defend my brethren I pointed out that after all, sometimes everyone likes to be in the company of their community, to which Anurag promptly replied “except Biharis”. Conversation dwindled into North-eastern parts of the country, and eventually to Bengalis and their semblance to the inhabitants of Assam. I stole a shy look through the mirror, at my new found Assamese features, and left the room! The day concluded on maggi and chai!

Tel maalish, garam chai, gulab jamun, aloo paratha and a workshop of raining memories …

It was the 29th day of August. I woke up at 5am, to Shweta’s shrill quest for bed-tea, piercing the surrounding silence of the dawn. Chai in the morning, chai through the day, chai at sun down, chai by night fall, I was a happy soul. As usual, Ranjan Ji vanished from sight even before we could begin the trek. In clusters we trekked down, until we all met again at the same dhaba, where we had stopped for lunch on our first day of trek. On the boulders, in the middle of the mighty Alakananda, we feasted on aloo paratha yet again, with dollops of melting butter and achar and some freshly brewed tea. Unanimously we agreed that to be the best and most exotic breakfast of our lives! That was the last we saw of Ranjan Ji, in our trek, as he would already have left for Rishikesh, even before we would have reached Govindghat, that day afternoon. Hesitantly we walked back, taking numerous needless breaks.

Upon reaching Govindghat, Dinesh Ji arranged for a sumo to take us to Badrinath, with Mahipal as our guide. After freshening up, collecting our remaining luggage from Hotel Ganga, and a hearty lunch it was time to bid adieu to Dinesh Ji. Good byes are never pleasant. We reached Badrinath within the stipulated time. For a change, the men shopped for new clothes, while we girls continued to the mandir. Anurag, Chaitanya and Ankita proceeded towards the hot spring, while Richa, Shweta, Moumita and I awaited their return. We were blessed with an amazing darshan, without any crowd, as is otherwise the case in these holy places. Gratified, we returned back to Ghangharia, dropped off Mahipal, said one last good bye to Dinesh Ji, and moved on with the intention of covering as much distance possible before Haridwar.

Trapped in the circle of life, we were confronted with yet another landslide exactly at the same place where we had encountered the first one. To worsen matters, we did not stop for tea anywhere since breakfast. I tried to mention once, but Anurag shushed me into the gravity of a situation marked by landslides and delay! That twilight saw us returning to Joshimath for a night-hault. Ankita, Chaitanya, Anurag and I checked out hotels in turns, before finally deciding upon one that looked good enough for those few hours of night, for we were to resume our journey early next morning. Like most other days of the trek, the scene in our room comprised of shampoo and shower, with buckets being replaced by geyser. Another meal with many cups of tea, and we passed out for the night, it had been a rather long day!

And I was secretly thankful for all the landslides, rolling boulders, singing away time through the long waits for the roads to re-open and those unscheduled turn of events…

Next morning, on the 30th day of August, Anurag woke us up by 5am, after his morning stroll to Shankaracharya’s math, after which the town was named. Traffic had queued up due to the roadblock, the scene did not look very favorable. We gulped down some tea quickly and recommenced the journey. We stopped for breakfast at Pipalkoti, where we had dined on our first night and then did not stop until lunch at around 3pm. Through most parts of the journey Richa and Moumita had ipods for company, while Anurag, Shweta and I did well with the live concert by Ankita and Chaitanya. They had songs for every occasion, even for the landslide! And a few times, in the middle of nothing, Anurag turned back from the front seat to share his disbelief of Ranjan Ji’s sudden departure. We found it weird that he did not accompany us to Badrinath, as he was one of the initial enthusiasts while planning for it. A rift between South and North of India, had an unreasonably serious effect on him. The mountainous landscape gradually receded in the background, as we approached Haridwar. We rushed to the ghat, but missed the aarti by minutes. Nonetheless we sat on those pious stairs silently for quite a while. I cannot explain the reason for this silence. Sometimes one just tries to listen to that inner voice, and what better place than this! After a quiet conversation with Anurag about the history of these ghats, we took turns to worship the temples and proceeded to find rooms for Chaitanya and Moumita, who were staying back that night in Haridwar.

We stacked our luggage in Chaitanya’s room and freshened up a little. Richa, Moumita and Ankita chose to stay back and rest, while the rest of us went wandering in the busy bazaars of the temple town. Shweta treated us to chat, puri and sweets. And when I lamented the end of the trek, Anurag comfortingly added, “and every bad thing comes to an end too…” agreed Anurag… just that it lasts a little longer every time!

And finally it was time to go…. We said bye to Moumita. Chaitanya was evidently upset. All of us had bonded very well, within such short time, and whenever was a good-bye easy!? Two rickshaws headed to the sleepy station, unhurriedly. Ankita and Richa with Shweta perched on the driver’s seat went in one, while I and Anurag followed in another. While Anurag shared his tentative plans about some more trips, treks and NGO, I kept on wondering about the ephemeral but eternal moments that call for joy and grief in equal measures. Upon reaching the station, Anurag directed me to the ticket checker and I managed a confirmed ticket for the journey back to Delhi. We parted where we had first met, completing yet another circle!

My story cannot end before I talk about some of these friends I made here on this trip, all of who contributed to the making of such a fond memory. Chaitanya was the oldest 22 year old I met. Seemingly upset at the world still calling him a boy, he in more than one ways established his maturity and spirituality that befits, as right said by his father, a 62 year old. We girls, especially Ankita and Richa, did not let go off many opportunities to remind him of his boyishness. Taking all that in the right humor, he came across as an extremely level headed person, with knowledge and experience expected beyond his years. Anurag observed his maturity and humility with which he tackled the situation when Ranjan Ji announced a vocal battle on South India. Chaitanya, my help in the Gurdwara, comforted me with the cutest south-indian hindi accent, “tuje kya chaiyye muje bol” (with the t as pronounced in toy and j in japan) handing across a crocin 650 to me. Yet again Anurag could not stop expressing his wonder at seeing Chaitanya sitting meditatively at Joshimath, in Shankaracharya’s cave, such depth and calm of mind at 22, repeats the question again and again…22 or 62? I am yet to find that out…

The other member of the mutual admiration society was Anurag. He and Chaitanya were most impressed with each other. Amazingly well traveled, extremely knowledgeable, he spoke about those nuances, which one doesn’t acquaint with, unless delved deeper. Humble to the core, he remained a perfect contrast to Ranjan Ji. I shared some time and a lot of beauty with him, while walking through those green corridors of Bhyndar. Now whenever I remember the valley, he shows up alongside!

I shared my pace with Anshul, Shweta and Moumita through the initial days of the trek. Anshul came across as a constant source of motivation, whether to Shweta feeling nauseated with the climb, or to Moumita braving the ascent with two bag packs or to my futile wishful attempts at GMAT. I owe him a special thanks for the gulab-jamun, that we shared that rainy afternoon to celebrate the withdrawal of the strike.

Moumita was the lost leader of the trek, both literally and figuratively. She was with us and not. She lost herself in places anew, made newer friends and charmed them to click fancy photographs as well. I still wonder what that propulsion had been that thrust her to complete a 13km journey at record speed, putting even the mighty Mahipal to shame! Languidly she would stare out of the window, lost in melody unheard to the rest of us. When the rest of us could not stop cribbing at the price of hot water, we had to pay for cleaning up, this beauty, would play spa with it. While all of us are carrying forth memories of the valley within us, she might as well have left a part of her wistful self, there. (Remember, the extra time she spent in the valley!)

Richa was the early-bird among us. She would always be ready even before the others would wake up. Our room every morning was a nosiy scene of continuous repeat alarms, with mostly Richa trying hard to wake the rest of us up. While Shweta and I would shake ourselves out of slumber with difficulty, Moumita would straight dive into prolonged meditation, and all this while till about all of us were ready Ankita would continue sleeping, happy soul that she is! Spirited to the hilt, Richa won the marathon every day, without running one consciously.

Anki-panki as fondly called in office by the others, and Mata Ankiteshwari, as she calls herself, is an animated package of effortless entertainment. She is blessed with a calm that is rarely disturbed, whether at landslides and roadblocks or at not carrying confirmed train tickets. Even numbers and targets cannot do the magic! Jokes apart, her company and spontaneity soothe the likes of me.

I had mentioned to Chaitanya before, that if I ever wrote about this trek, I would not have too many things in mind about Ranjan Ji. And I still don’t. He was a bit of a miss-fit unfortunately. Be it in Kolkata, his current work place or in Uttarakhand, with us, bonding remained a challenge for him. Commendable fitness at his age, he would put many of us to shame. I wish him peace and happiness to tide over the trivia someday!

It would be most inappropriate to not mention my highest regard for Dinesh Ji and my sincere appreciation of Mahipal, Arjun and his team. Most excellent arrangements with detailed attention to our best and smallest comforts, kept us happy and healthy throughout. It was way more than value for money. We could enjoy the trek so much, because of the support extended by Dinesh Ji and rest of the team. Extremely hospitable, cheerful, patient, amicable and principled Dinesh Ji proved to be the best guide ever. Not once, did we see him complain, not even in that trying night of strike, he remained perfectly composed and used his best resources to rescue the situation.

This trek would obviously not be the same without any of the above mentioned experiences and people. And that we cherish the memories of it so much goes on to show how wonderful it really was. True to our promises, we have exchanged numbers, mail ids, travelogues and pictures. We are also sharing virtual space with each other. That is adequate source of memory for the rest of our lives. And I have still stored some more in fallen leaves and dried petals that I have brought back with me, from the valley of flowers.
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