One of the reasons I signed up with iSPiiCE was because of the extra activities they offer. Each weekend involves a trip, and the first of these involved climbing up and trekking along part of one of the region’s most famous trekking routes. My enjoyment of this trek would depend, on other things, how stable my bowels were. I wasn’t going to take any risks, however, so I popped a couple of Imodiums and we were soon in a taxi on our way to McLeod Ganj.
Myself and Vineet were hiking up the first part of the Indrihar La Pass, climbing from McLeod to Triund. It is a distance of 9km, and is a climb of a little over 1000m up to a height of 2875m. We were waiting for our guide when I saw familiar faces walking down the street. Once again, I had randomly bumped into Steph and Niamh without either of us knowing we were in the same area. It happened in Pushkar, and it has now happened here. We must be following each other around!
Our guide was a young man called Vijay, and we immediately set off up a rather steep hill. The first hundred metres are actually the steepest, but as I didn’t know this I was silently cursing my lack of exercise over the last two months and my sickness that has considerably weakened me. But the sun was out, it was a clear morning, and we soon hit our hiking stride.
It was a rather easy hike up, but we opted against charging up the peaks: instead, we decided to take a few chai breaks to appreciate the rolling hills and lush trees. Vineet started drinking something stronger than tea. I’m not sure if rum at 11.45am when hiking a mountain is a good idea, but it made him happy. I politely refused: it’s been almost a month since I touched alcohol. Water and chai will do me just fine on an uphill trek.
Sometime around 1pm we made it up to base camp at Triund. It wasn’t what I was expecting – it seemed to resemble a Snowdonian hill as opposed to something more spectacular. I guess the goat droppings reminded me of home a bit as well. But then you look into the distance and see giant snow-capped peaks looming large, and you realise that you are in a very different place. I’m guessing the lower parts of the Alps are somewhat similar, and similarly breathtaking.
We took a brief rest before Vineet and I headed in the direction of the gleaming white monsters. Once again, it wasn’t an overly difficult hike, and after an hour and a half we found new terrain. We were standing in grey-black slush. I was sweating from the heat, yet our feet were lodged in snow. It was a stunning setting.
We had to return – I made the mistake of clambering around in the dark in Gokarna, and was not going to do so again – and upon our return we played more cards and built a fire as the sun dipped below the treetops. It is difficult to talk to Indian men when all they talk about is girls; it gets a bit monotonous after a while, and Indian men are a bit blunt in their manner. I considered getting some peace in my room in the rest house, but then looked at the night sky and saw a shimmering selection of stars in the clear heavens.
My serene star-gazing was firstly interrupted by dal and rice, but then by a cacophony of high-pitched voices. Thirteen Indian girls had arrived at base camp in the black of night, and needed somewhere to stay. All of a sudden, having been about to go to sleep in my bed, I was told that I was sleeping in a tent. The men who I had had to endure throughout the day became very excited that they had girls to actually look at. I ended up talking to one of the girls for a while. We think she liked me, as she kept on asking for me not to go to sleep and if I had a wife. I gave her the bad news on both counts, and was soon wrapped up in my sleeping bag, topped with a blanket. It gets cold in the Himalayas, after all.
I awoke to rays of sun piercing brightly through the lighter faces of our tent. Time? 6.30am. Brilliant. Vineet and I – it seemed our actual guide couldn’t be bothered leading us anywhere – went on a third hike to collect some water. My legs, and particularly my left hip, had a numbing pain, but I was loathe to suggest I had any problem. The water was fresh and cool, which was very nice. The return hike up a rather steep incline was less pleasing, though our mood was helped by a breakfast of egg on toast.
The hike back down to McLeod was quick and easy, apart from one moment when Vijay had disappeared and the two of us weren’t sure which way we should go. Great guide, Vijay. We were soon back in the backpacking town and had the opportunity to sample its eccentric vibe. Lots of purple robes are worn in this place, as it is the home (albeit in exile) of the Tibetan leadership and, of course, the Dalai Lama. So what better a way to spend a Sunday than to see his house?
Well, sort of. We visited the Tsuglagkhang Complex, which houses some of Tibetan Buddhism’s holiest sites. The big man’s dorm is here somewhere, but isn’t grandiose or overbearing. The temples are impressive, as is the number of pilgrims present. I was expecting a beautiful mansion, but that would go against much of what the Dalai Lama stands for.
So a very interesting, exhausting, exhilarating and stimulating weekend has drawn to a close. It’s good to know that I still have a limited level of fitness after spending the last two months eating chapattis and drinking sugary tea, and it’s great to see yet another face of the Indian landscape. A great trip, and one that has left me breathless for so many reasons. Snow in India – not something I envisaged upon arriving almost two months ago.
Love you all