–An Adventurous trek in the Gharwal Himalayas
It’s often said, “Go to the places, where you feel most alive” and if there is any place on the Earth which can make you realize what life is, it should definitely be the Great Himalayas. Not that many saints live here, but this colossal mountain range itself is like one undisturbed, sacred saint in meditation, unmoved for thousands of years. Just the thought and feel of Himalayas itself will send a beautiful vibe through oneself.
For any crazy traveler, a trip to the Himalayas is always a fantasy. And for any adventurous mountaineer, a trek in the Himalayan mountain ranges is always on the bucket list. Let me introduce to one of the less traversed Himalayan jewels, The Pangarchulla. Pangarchulla in the Gharwal Himalayan mountain ranges of Uttarakhand is one of the most serene places in Himalayas. The mountain range is quite less explored and beaming to raise its popularity among the Himalayan trekkers. It is one of the very few Peak treks in Himalayas that offers you all the rich and grandeur experience of Himalayan treks.
My trek to Pangarchulla with Trek The Himalayas organization was an amazing lifetime experience. And I’m happy to share about those lovely times here. Quite informatic, more takeaway and much more of the emotions.
As this was my first Himalayan trek the post is described from a perspective of a debutant Himalayan trekker. After all, anything first time needs some guidance.😉
Choose your Agency Wisely – Choosing the right trekking agency in an Himalayan trek plays a pivotal role considering the various factors involved in the whole process. Himalayan treks are usually group treks and there are very well-established organizations which facilitate you with pick and drop, take care of setting up the base camps, arrange food and importantly guide you in the trek with a certified Trek leader. Trekking solo is not advisable in the Himalayas and you might not get the required legal permissions on yourself. So, the trekking has to be done in a group even if you travel alone from your place.
There are few very good Trek organizers like Trek The Himalayas(TTH), India Hikes, Bikat Adventures etc. Of course, they charge you based on duration of trek and place and its totally worth. On my trek to Pangarchulla I opted for TTH. And my personal experience with TTH was really satisfactory. All the arrangements including food and the trek leaders very all up to the mark.
Prepare Yourself – Even an easy-moderate Himalayan trek is definitely are not like an evening stroll in the park. As beautiful as the treks are, they are quite challenging and require good amount of stamina. Our body is normally used to the environment we live in and trekking in Himalayan environment requires would require more and more stamina as the gradient of the trek keeps increasing. But it is nothing impossible. In fact, all the trekking agencies will provide you the list of exercises which you can work out for the required trek. These exercises need to be taken seriously and followed mandatorily. You may have to start your preparations about 3 months before your trek. You can even scale yourself with the stamina checks.
For Pangarchulla, you can prepare yourself with these set of exercises in the link. Always remember, you can enjoy your trek only if you have prepared well. Or else you might end up getting exhausted.
My Trekking Experience to Pangarchulla Peak with TTH
You can always check the brief and detailed itinerary on website. https://www.trekthehimalayas.com/pangarchulla-peak-trek/#brief.
But the below is all of my experience, as I felt.
Pangarchulla is best suited as your second Himalayan trek with a prior trekking experience in Himalayan terrain. But I made a courageous decision to choose Pangarchulla Peak for my very first Himalayan trek with the confidence of good trekking experience over the years in the Western Ghats mountains. Still, I followed the instructions and prepared myself well. I booked my slot with TTH 4 months prior to trek dates and made all travel arrangements.
I traveled from Bangalore to Delhi by flight and took an overnight train to Haridwar. Along with me, 8 other trekkers were picked up from Haridwar by TTH team. 4 more trekkers joined us from Rishikesh. Our first day was a good long travel for about 300Kms to our base camp Joshimath by 8pm. The travel was tedious but the spectacular views of these rocky Himalayan mountain ranges along the way made up for it. And our trekking group was already transforming into friendly gang. Thanks to all those beautiful like-minded fellow trekkers. The trek leaders Naveen & Pankaj, joined us in Joshimath and briefed us about the plan for next 5 days.
Next morning, we traveled further 10kms to Dhak village which was the starting point of our trek. The energy and spirit of the team was high and there were all broad smiles around. As it covered a Himalayan village area, the first half of the day’s terrain was quite easy, even though we covered more elevation and distance here. The path offered some beautiful views of Tapoban, India’s rarest Hot Springs venue with the backgrounds of Himalayan mountains. It was quite a sight to behold.
Also, those interactions with mountain villagers along the way lifted our spirits up. After about 6kms of trek we reached our campsite, Gulling Top by late evening. It was first day’s stay away from civilization. And we could spot the beautiful famous Himalayan peaks like Nanda Devi, Dronagiri etc. After the delicious snacks and dinner provided by TTH we all go to relax, lay down and look up at the night sky. The night under the stars was just remarkable.
The second day we continued along in the Himalayan forests and it was like almost a jungle hike. We were surrounded by variety of Himalayan flora. And our very friendly trek leaders along with a local trek guide, kept telling us inspiring trekking stories and also gave information about the vegetation we were seeing. By half way of the trek we started to spot the snow and within minutes it was all snow at our feet to look down and sky kissing long trees to look up. The dense forest and a chilled weather. Ahh..!! A lovely feel that was. As camping in Khullara was not allowed, we had to camp much earlier at Tali. And later in the evening we took an acclimatization walk for an hour. And luckily with clear sky we were able to witness a marvellous sunset over Dronagiri, one of India’s highest peaks. The group here had some good fun time and played a lots of games together. We were all just like kids playing with the snow ball throws, the ultimate Snowman making competition, the trekkers all-time favourite Mafia game and dumb charades. There was no network and no signs of civilization but there was a sense of satisfaction and inner peace.
The next day, was the Big Day. The peak summit had to be achieved and it was 8km trek one way. That might not sound like much, but the terrain was the toughest. Our TTH group was the first batch in the year to attempt the peak and we had to open the path all along the way. We started as early as 2am and the adventure kicked-in. We knew how dangerous the terrain and surrounding is. But we stuck around together. We crossed one of the famous passes in Himalayas, the Kauri pass.
However, the best was yet to come! It was around 5.30 am when the true magic began to unfold. We had attained almost 13,500ft elevation by that time. And it was 360o view of majestic Himalayas. To say it was a breathtaking view is an understatement. There were no words coming out, I was stunned and speechless. To be on one of the most serene and sacred places of earth witnessing the true beauty of nature – I was just blown away. And it didn’t stop there. We continued on the terrain which was getting tougher and tougher, steeper and quite dangerous. But when my mind was enjoying the serenity of those mountains these troubles were completely ignored. And it was around 6.30am, when we saw the first rays of the Sun emerging shining behind the Himalayan mountain peaks. The sights for the next half hour were out of this world! We were amidst fresh deep snow, trying hard to place our steps carefully. But the sight was at skies. Such was the beauty. And once the Sun started to show up, I felt like I’m in a whole different world. The inner serenity hit me so hard that I was numb about everything else around me. There were some deep thoughts about life running through my mind. It felt, as a human being this is where we belong. That every day’s materialistic life made no sense at that moment. My soul was touched and the heart kept smiling. All of sudden there was a new sense of living my life. A new perspective and I was truly emotional. All I did was to thank the almighty for this beautiful life and salute the mighty Himalayas. The exact words I uttered to myself were “Man, I love my life”.
For the next one hour I was so high with the spirit that I didn’t even realize how much distance we covered. But After 8am at the elevation on 14,000ft. the terrain got really harder. The snow was around 6 feet deep. We fell in hundreds of times. And kept pulling ourselves out. We could see the peak at a very near sight. But the terrain to be covered was long and highly difficult. And as I said, we were opening the track that year. It made the things tougher. But that didn’t stop us. The leaders kept encouraging us. When it was very steep, we had to use snow spikes with our shoes, thanks to TTH. It gave a good grip on the snow, but it added weight to our shoes. Remember, once you cross 14,000ft. elevation the oxygen falls down almost to 50-60% of sea level. You may not require oxygen cylinders at this height. But your body would need more energy than usual and carrying anything would feel twice heavier than it actually is. And we dragged ourselves further for may be another 500 ft high.
At last, only few of us in the team could proceed till the foot of the peak and the last few 20-30ft. of climb was called-off as the snow on the ridge was melting down. Mountaineering or trekking is not about reaching one point. It is all about the journey you traverse. And I had hit the saturation level of satisfaction. It was the time I felt like I need nothing else in life. What more can you expect? And, we started heading back. By this time sun was right above our heads. The whole area was covered with snow which kept reflecting the sunlight and began to drain our energy more. We stopped to have our packed lunch and continued later. There were few places where we slid down on the snow like 30-40mts down with proper instructions from our trek guide to avoid walking. That was fun. But it was not all. The path seemed very long in the hot Sun. At some places we all got separated though we tried to stay together. We were in visible distance but far from each other. The ridges were just half a foot wide and the view of the bottom of the valley was really scary. In addition, at few places we had to cross mountain slopes of almost 60o by making our own pathway. This is when again for the second time of the day the thoughts of uncertainty of life hit me hard. The place was dead silent apart from the noise of the wind blowing at high speed. I was surrounded by snow mountains completely, no signs of vegetation too. And the body was taking a toll. I slipped few times, but managed to get up and walk again. The mighty Himalayas which seemed to be the most beautiful thing ever on earth few hours before, was now showing us how scarier it can be. But the sights were still amazing. We could see the Badrinath, Hathi Parvat, Nanda Devi, Mt. Trisul, Mt. Dronagiri, Nanda Ghunti, Kedarnath and many more famous Himalayan mountains in their full view. As beautiful as the scene was, it was scarier in reality. It felt like the Mother Nature held the supreme power. And that’s true, isn’t it?
Somehow, I managed to cross those steep descents and reached the vegetation again. To avoid dehydration, we had to melt the fresh snow in our water bottles and drink it. There was a sense of relief. A long breath. And again, a heartfelt thanks to the almighty for this beautiful life. The more scarier things you do in life, the more you start to value the life.😊
The noon was tougher in a different way. The snow was soft by hot Sun overhead. And at many places we couldn’t predict it. There were numerous occasions where we stepped in and got sunk till our hips. Had to chose our step very wisely. And after a long walk for around 5 hours I finally reached our base camp by evening, followed by rest. The waterproof shoes and gaiters were soaked to core, leaving our feet completely numb. After all what could possibly stand against nature? We had trekked for almost 16 hours straight that day. And coming back safe and sound was a whole sense of accomplishment. Not of climbing mountains but realizing what mountaineering is. Realizing what life is…!!
We changed our clothes, had our dinner and slept peacefully. There was not even a bit of energy left. It was one of the best sleeps I can say, though the temperature fell down to negatives at night. We still had a day planned in the mountains. And the next day, team trekked towards Tali lake. After spending some good time at the Tali lake the team headed back towards Dhak village. And we had to cover the descent for the same ascent we did for first two days. But it wasn’t tough. After we reached Dhak village, we got picked up by TTH team vehicle and left to Joshimath to our base camp. After a week, our bodies felt the warm water. It was a delightful feeling.
Personally, I always like to visit the local places wherever I go. And Joshimath has some beautiful places of its own, mainly the temples. The Narsingh temple, dedicated for Lord Vishnu is a beautifully sculptured art work. During the period when Badrinath temple remains closed during winter every year, the idol of Lord Badri is brought to this temple and worshiped for six months. And nearby is the Adi Shankaracharya’s math, along with the Shakthi peeta which he established, in four corners of India. This marks the Northern Shakthi peeta. And with the feeling of being blessed, our lovely trek to Pangarchulla came to an end. Next day morning we were picked up and dropped back to Rishikesh and Haridwar.
A week’s trek brought a new meaning in my life. I carried back that whole new level of respect towards life in my heart. Not everything can be explained. Few experiences are truly beyond explanations and my trek to Pangarchulla is truly one of that. Yes. I didn’t conquer the mountains, but I’m sure that I won myself.😊
10 things to know for a 1st time Himalayan Trekker.
Again, these are from personal experience. The agencies might or might not mention about these. But it is always good to have this information before.
- Acute Mountain Sickness (ACM): The most important thing to be taken care in high mountains about Acute Mountain Sickness. You can be perfectly fit with good stamina and still can end up suffering with ACM. It is nothing major but the common headache, cold and nausea, which can affect anyone after crossing the elevation of 8000ft due to pressure drop. But what makes it worse is the climate and whole different environment for your body. Avoid headache tablets. That can make the situation worst. Follow your trek leader’s advice. They are trained for these kinds of situations.
- No bathing during trek. Either it is a week trek or two week’s treks, you won’t be having bath at any campsites. Your last bath would be at your base campsite. Do keep this in mind and be prepared for this.
It is advised, even not to wash your face in the stream water. As the streams flow through some tough terrain, the hardness in water can be very high which can make your skin dry.
Best thing to do in the morning would be to brush your teeth, wash your eyes with little water and wipe your face with wet tissues.
- Carry at least 2 rolls of toilet papers. If you had ever wondered what might be the toiletry arrangements in a trek, let me tell you. It’s quite a nomad style. The agency will pitch in a common tent where you have to finish your business, cover it with mud and use toilet papers. Nothing to be ashamed of. This is your body. This is biology.
- Pack appropriate. The agency will guide you with the luggage to be packed. Adhere to that list. No extras or no backups. No ifs and buts. Any extra luggage will make you more exhausted. As I said, at high elevations anything you carry will feel twice heavier. But, you shouldn’t miss anything suggested for your trek by your agency to safeguard yourself.
- Protect your skin and eyes as much as you can. If you think you will be in snow and cold environment and no need of any skin care, you are wrong. Especially in summer treks like Pangarchulla – at these heights, the sun rays are much stronger and harsher on your skin. Sunscreen lotion (SPF 50) is must. Also a good pair of sunglasses for your eyes. If you try to walk around without sunglasses at noon, you can catch Snow Blindness. As all the snow around you reflect the light back to you, your eyes would suffer temporary darkness. Sunglasses with UV protection is a better choice here.
- Prior trekking experience is must. If not Pangarchulla, even if you are trying any easy treks in the Himalayas also, you should have some prior trekking experience. Don’t treat it as a fun outing to hang out with friends. Trekking in the Himalayas needs a whole new level of strength, stamina and good knowledge of do’s and don’ts during a trek. Also, a strong mental strength. A trek leader can only guide you. At the end it’s you who must take care of your body and yourself.
- Stop your trek if needed. An utmost important thing to note. If you feel you are running out of energy, stop your trek immediately. It is not a defeat. You aren’t in a race with anyone. They say, if you reach summit with all your energy and if someone else has to carry you down, your trek is an absolute failure. Don’t get into that situation. A good trekker shouldn’t cause troubles to his fellow trekkers. There might be a peak point to the mountain, but not for mountaineering. So, if your body feels it has had enough, just stop your trek. Ask your trek leaders and make arrangements to go back.
Additionally, in these kinds of week-long treks, the trek leaders will check your blood pressure and body oxygen level every night. If it is not satisfactory, don’t insist on taking next day’s trek.
At the end, all that matters is the journey you took and not the point you reached. “Human life is far more important than just getting to the top of a mountain”.
- Respect the Mountains. If you show respect to mountains, the mountains will take care of you better. You might be a more adventurous person, but when a trail is led by one person, just follow it. Maintain discipline in your trail. There will be a local trek guide in your group. Treat them with respect. Follow the instructions. These pointers aren’t just for the sake of mentioning it. Remember, you will be far away from civilization. No one can guarantee you immediate medical help at any time. Not even your trek agency. Stay cautious.
- Do enough research on your trek. The usual mistake the first-time trekkers do is to choose a trek which they heard from someone as good. It might not be right all the time. Even if you are going with someone’s suggestions, do some research on your own. You usually get detailed information from trekking agency websites. Know beforehand the camping points, trekking distance for each day, elevation covered on each day and all the basic things. When you have a clear picture of what is in the store for a day, your mind will be free of confusions and your mental stamina will be high.
- Take no litter, leave no litter. I said take no litter in your mind. When you are trekking in Himalayas, keep in mind that you are traversing through one of the loveliest places on this earth. Don’t drag your personal problems along with you. Don’t keep discussing your personal things with your fellow trekkers. Travel with a fresh and clean mind. The land will offer you some of the lifetime experiences, you should be open to inhale it.
And also, don’t leave your physical litter/garbage lying around. Leave only your footprints and carry back the memories in your heart.
Looking back, this trek gave me a whole new perspective on life. It made me realize how small the human beings are in the nature. I don’t remember exactly how I crossed those steep edges all alone. I felt like I had given up at many places. Even I had thoughts if I can really make it back to camp alive or not. Few flashes of scenes keep coming back to my mind where I kept slipping in the steeps but my trekking pole held me in position. And here I am, after a few months, writing down my experiences, remembering them like it was yesterday. Even though you decide to give up, there is always something holding your back. Trust yourself. Trust the almighty. Trust the Mother Nature.
In the pursuit of adventure, I was able to rediscover myself. Standing at the heights of nearly 14,500ft. with my arms wide open, I felt like embracing the whole mountain ranges with a tight hug. It was such a heavenly feeling. A complete heartfelt satisfaction. All I could do was to thank myself for making a courageous decision in choosing Pangarchulla as my first Himalayan trek. And some hard guts for never giving up.
“Man, I love my life”. 😊