Battered but not beaten
India certainly does not reward those who embrace it, after a good couple of days in Mumbai it was time to move on. Our destination was Rishikesh (altitude 365m), a 2 hour flight and a 6 hour train journey. The flight went smoothly but you should never let India lull you into a false sense of security, the train was an hour late, and then proceeded to get steadily later, we ended up in Haridwar 4 hours later than we should have been, as it was just before midnight we decided against trying to catch a taxi to Rishikesh. It was a thoroughly miserable journey and very very frustrating as our average speed was around 26 km per hour, we could run faster!! The next morning we set off early to Rishikesh, the home of yoga, and billed as a tranquil place. Guess what, it was noisy and dirty, so pretty much like he rest of India. Still a true escape was on the horizon, for Heathers 28th birthday we had decided to go trekking in the Himalayas.
The trek started early on the 16th of April, and for a balanced account of what happened between then and the 19th we are each going to write our own account.
After a 7 hr drive we reached the start of the trail. It was just a short walk today, only an hour to the camp. After only 5 mins I looked back to see that Heather had stopped, I knew that she would love these views, but really if she just waited to the top it would have been even more impressive, still it is nice that she was so excited. When we got to the top a beautiful lake opened out in front of us, after getting our puff back we went on a romantic stroll around the lake.
Up bright and breezy, if I am honest the nights sleep hadn’t been the best, it was a tad colder than I expected. Not to worry though we were greeted by fantastic views of soaring peaks. After a hearty breakfast we set off, again Heather seemed to find the view captivating, she was really enjoying it. She was so excited that she was even breathing heavily. So off we trudged again, trekking is great fun you can just let your mind wander and day dream. The final ascent just after lunch was actually quite tough, and not the best with a full stomach. When we reached camp that day we had made it in less than 6 hrs and the trek was supposed to take 6-7, which made me smile. That afternoon we had a fantastic storm, with huge hail stones, I have never seen anything like it.
The Final ascent, after waking Heather up to look at the views (what a way to wake up on your birthday) we set off. The first part was a scrabble up a mud bank but after that it was a fairly gradual climb, until we reached the temple. Unfortunately at the Temple we encountered some shitty weather, we pressed on but 200m from the summit it got too dangerous to carry on. Getting back down to the temple was tricky as the snow had frozen solid, I think Heather was trying to give me suggestions on how to walk in the ice but I couldn’t hear her over my mantra of “don’t fall, don’t fall off the mountain, don’t fall….”. I didn’t fall and I found that sliding down is much faster than walking, but I didn’t fall. When we got back to camp the sun had come out, but Heather didn’t seem inclined to try to walk up the mountain again.
Packed up ready to go, on the way to the truck Heather got a bit freaked out by a cow/bull (it had horns), it mock charged her, I told her not to worry that it was just a mock charge and carry on walking. She was fine however when I came to walk past it, it did it again, though this time it wasn’t a mock charge, the bugger head butted me, fortunately I was carrying a box of pots and pans so I hit it on the head. Holy animals my ass they are psychos, all I can say is I am glad I eat meat again; we need to control these pests.
Monday morning 0630hrs alarm goes off, somewhere, oh wait that’s in our room, our room that has cost us only $8US dollars, our room where the power has been off all night which meant NO fan. The sheet comes with me as I roll out of bed to shut off the alarm. I decide to have a shower because it will be cold because there has been no power, it’s warm, hot actually and I can’t seem to add any cold. Good start to the morning, go out for breakfast, nothing is open. Strap on our packs and march down to the office where we booked the trek. Things start to look up, Vikram our guide, is a sweet, our cook Sol looks capable, and our driver Mr B, well whatever he looked like every other Indian driver, but at least he was awake. The drive to the start of the trek took 7 hours, with a delicious lunch break en route. The trek was starting from a place called Sari (altitude 1250m), it was sunny but not too hot (finally). Sol arranged the porters as we headed off for out first camp at Lake Deoriatel. I kept looking around for a path but couldn’t see one, all I noticed was a zig zag of stones climbing steeply up the side of the hill – that was our path. Approximately 5 minutes into the “walk” (I will refer to it as a climb from here on in because that’s what it was) I couldn’t breath. Now I admit that I’m a little out of shape, but my goodness they’re not kidding about the thin air. I look at Dan, his breathing is a little heavy, I look at Vikram but all I can see is the back of him disappearing and I decide for my birthday this year I’m gonna die!!!! The climb was supposed to take an hour, after an eternity of climbing we finally flattened out and it was actually quite pretty (and it had only taken an hour) we marched on to Lake Deoriatel (altitude 2350m). It was a beautiful lake, we took a walk around it hoping or sweat would dry before it got cool for the night. In the meantime the porters and Vikram set up camp (this aspect of camping seems reasonable, someone else does the boring work). When we came into tent we were served tea and cookies! (I felt I had earned it) We slept in a tiny expedition tent that came with roll mats; I’ve always thought of mats as being soft, silly me. They did help a little with the cold though. We ate dinner that night in the kitchen tent (again I like this aspect of camping when someone else cooks for you) it was delicious and we quickly realized we would not be losing any weight on this trek. Before bed we stopped by the toilet tent, yes we even had a toilet tent. Basically it was a tall skinny tent that someone had dug a hole in, I almost considered camping not so bad…
Once in bed I tired to get comfortable but I couldn’t, I was so tired and just wanted to sleep but somehow the roll mats made the ground harder and Dan didn’t really fit in the tent (it was too short) so he was curled awkwardly and we had to keep our small packs in the tent at our feet too. Oh well at least it’s still warm I thought as I drifted into sleep. An hour later I was awake, it was freezing!!!! I had stupidly put on my pj’s to sleep in and now I wish I had stayed dressed. I was too afraid to reach out of my sleeping bag to find anything warmer in case I got frostbite. So I tied the mummy part of the sleeping bad around my head and face and tried to snuggle up to Dan. Except then my face got too hot and I couldn’t breath and Dan had turned over and his knees were jutting into me. I spent the rest of the night willing the sun to come up.
We were out of the tent by 0600 hrs and it was quite a sight. The mountains looked gorgeous bathed in the light of the rising sun. Vikram was explaining all the mountains we were seeing but I couldn’t hear him over my teeth chattering. After we finished breakfast it had warmed up and we started the days walk/climb 10 minutes into it I sweating like nothing else and having that breathing problem again. I think Vikram was wondering what was wrong with me, Dan was trying to be supportive telling me to take my time and that this was supposed to be fun as well…who in their right mind thinks walking up the side of a mountain is fun???? I was ready to jump if it meant we could stop. Anyhow as you can probably guess I trudged along, it was a day of big climbs then big downhill’s, although I never could let myself enjoy the downhill bit because I knew there would be another up! We stopped for lunch by a river, my hands were so swollen (something I will need to check out when I get back) my wedding ring was hurting, so Dan suggested I put my hand in the water to see if that will help. It was freezing!!! I couldn’t keep my hand in for longer than 5 seconds at a time and then I couldn’t feel my fingers (and the flipping ring still wouldn’t come off!). The last little bit to camp was once again straight up (even Dan found it hard, Vikram still hadn’t broken a sweat); we camped near a place called Chopta (altitude 2990m) in a field, with cows. We arrived around 1330hrs we were relaxing on some stones (?) when it started to rain a little and the temperature suddenly dropped, so we figured we’d sit it out in our tent and read our books. The rain really started to pick up, I was concerned that the tent would leak but Dan assured me that it was a good expedition tent and wouldn’t. Then the rain REALLY picked up, so I thought I’d take a peak and guess what I saw?? No really guess. It was hail the size of marbles, not the little ones the big super ones. I started to freak out, so of course the wind picked up, I was sure we were going to blow off the side of the hill and I would never make it to my 28th birthday. Dan found it hilarious, of course. It didn’t let up for almost 15 minutes, and then it slowly turned back to rain. Vikram came to check on us and make sure we were still dry (which thankfully we were). Unfortunately there had been a little problem with the kitchen tent and it had flooded, but we were not to worry because we would still be served tea at the usual time of 4pm. Vikram then had to go and fix our toilet tent as it had been bent badly in the storm but survived. We couldn’t have a fire that night because it continued to rain, but dinner was great once again, just hard to enjoy sitting crossed legged on the ground (the yoga hasn’t helped that with me). That night I slept fully clothed and still froze.
Next morning it was rise and shine, but without the shine. I was 28 years old and about to climb over 1000m, not quite what I had imagined….Anyhow we set off up a steep, steep grass/muddy hill. Took 10 minutes to climb, I was done. However we had not actually reached the part where today’s “walk” started. So we climbed and climbed, today our driver Mr B, tagged along wearing jeans and a jumper and a pair of cheap track shoes, he wanted to visit the temple near the top, he also smokes and he also beat me….sorry I’m rambling. When we were 45mins from the top we could actually see the peak we would be reaching, Dan took a picture then because I was still alive, and it’s a good thing too, as we continued to climb some bad weather moved in Vikram was disappointed that the view wouldn’t be very good from the top. Well, things actually got a little worse, by the time we reached the Tungrath Temple at the end of the path (altitude 3680m) it was freezing raining. But we pressed on, now we had to climb a snow covered mountain a few hundred metres, but the freezing rain was (surprisingly) making it a little icy, we really needed crampons and ice picks, but we didn’t have any. Vikram decided we had to turn back at 3800m only 200m from the top (but a scary 200m). We had to descend very carefully, this is where I learnt something new about Dan, he is not so good on the snow and ice. I tired to explain how to aim for the little mud patches that were around and once your foot was grounded to stamp your other foot to clear the ice and snow. I thought he understood but he must has started on the ice because he came down behind me very quickly and then almost over the edge and then almost into me again (I think some lessons may be required before he will be allowed out on his own during winter in Canada). Once back at the safety of the Temple we had tea and sandwiches (I don’t know why they insisted on feeding us all the time) We then had to walk although way back down in the pouring rain, both of us realizing our waterproofs are not meant for that kind of rain. Once back at camp, it stopped raining and the sun actually made an appearance so we could dry off. We were also able to have a fire that night; Vikram enlisted the help of the local hill people to collect wood in exchange for some medical treatment and supplies (?!). It was in the end not a bad way to spend my birthday, just a way I never want to do it again.
(Back to Dan)
After our trek we had planned to hang around in Rishikesh and do a bit of yoga, this proved a lot more difficult than you might expect, everywhere wanted a 2 week commitment, some even wanted us to stop talking writing, eating meat, and garlic. The last one has me stumped guess they don’t like the stinky sweat. So we decided to skip onto Agra early.
I made Heather get up at 5.30 so that we could be at the Taj when it opened at 6, it was well worth it there were next to no other people there. The Taj Mahal is truly spectacular; it actually lives up to all of the hype. It is said to have been built as a monument to love, but I watched a program on the discovery channel a few days before we went that suggested that it was an act of megalomania and represented gods throne, the Maharaja was proving that he could create something to rival the gods. Whatever the reason it was beautiful. That Afternoon we visited the fort, it was average.
Next stop was porn (Khajuraho) a town famous for temples depicting people in the act!!! The temples are stunning and the carving is exquisitely explicit. We spent a coupe of days exploring them, but I’m not sure my back could take recreating any. We spent a day a Raneh Falls, on the drive there I noticed that a lot of the rivers were dry and a thought started to form. We arrived to find the falls dry; they hadn’t flowed in 2 years, that will teach us for not doing our homework better. Actually it was still stunning, it had an otherworldly feel to it. We did also fit in an afternoon next to one of the towns swanky hotels pools, where we were hit by a mini tornado, no really. Last stop was panna tiger reserve, no tigers, but still a nice ride out, I think Heather enjoyed the 4.45 start to the day. All that remains of India now is a couple of days chilling out.
Sorry this one's so long.
P.S. More photos from India have been added!