On The Trek to Chopta-Chandrashila peak, Uttarakhand

It starts to rain, and my raincoat is on the helper boy’s back. My American windcheater is of no use; I am already soaking to the skin and the cold wind blows my breath away. Deepak the restless has gone ahead with this helper who has my camera bag. K – U – L – D – I – P, the loud call that Suruchi sends goes up the hill and fades into the distance. Is that Kuldip answering or could it be the call of a Himalayan bird? The trees stand silent, moved only by the wind and slashing rain.

We are on the trek to Chopta, a fifteen kilometer walk from Deviriatal, in the Himalayas. No doubt an organised trek, we are scattered in a kilometer range, Suruchi and I had just caught up with elusive Kundan the Garhwali, who was with Deepak the restless, and the chit of a boy both of whom disappeared into the far reaches of the mountain. Desperation saw Suruchi and I clamber after them, but only after Kundan the mountain goat had tracked Kuldip and made him wait.

Quickly drowning within my oversized rain proof robe, we follow Kuldip. Even after strict instructions to keep within sight, Kuldip vanished into thin air a second time. Suruchi bravely followed what was the ‘right path’ with me following her blindly, for the entire hillside beckoned me on saying, ‘this way up’.

The thunder rumbled through the mountain; it was hard to separate the thunder from the echo. Blasts of wind separated my thoughts from myself. I was at least thankful for the suffocating robe. I huddled into it like a shy tortoise going into its home. Once or twice I almost went over a cliff; in full concentration of where to place the next step, I lost sight of the steep fall ahead. Catching myself I time, I now watched the bend on the path just as intensely. In unison we noticed the path meandering downhill instead of uphill, and winding its way around to some distant destination. We gazed at the endless path dismally, with the possibility of being lost. Another peal of thunder, the sky darkening, and the rain picking up momentum, helped us decide to retrace our steps. An old hut that had caught our attention earlier was our point of reference now, and Suruchi bellowed out loud and clear- “KUNDAN.” Deadly silence returned the call. Thoughts of spending the night in these vast mountain ranges sent shivers down my spine. The possibility of this seemed imminent.  The light at four in the afternoon was nonexistent. Now, without even the bird call, the swish of the trees sounded ominously like the sea in a cyclonic fury. Even my footsteps on the wet leaves made no sound. The rain had made them soggy, and they sank without a crunch under my feet.    Dark shadows transformed themselves into unknown forms playing truant in the fading light.  Fallen tree trunks seemed to have a life of their own. A sudden dart of lightning lit up the greens for a fleeting second; then the ominous thunder issued its dire warning to lost souls. Just as we lamented on not having a whistle to attract attention, a faint call sounded in the distance. Was that Kundan?  We had not come across another soul who was in our group, so what was that sound? Closer to us, we could make out the distinct voice and our joy at not having to spend a night waiting for a search party cannot be expressed. With relief, we joined the group.

How and where did you get lost, Amit asked. The path is simple enough. Yes, I still don’t know where that long winding path that we were about to take went. It’s right here, we said, but no there was no such path. You cannot go anywhere else, he said in disbelief. Sure enough, hardly two hundred yards on the prescribed path found the two vehicles on the road, a wet and cold Deepak in it, and the little boy laughing and chatting with the drivers oblivious to the world outside of his conversation; and a mere fifteen minutes had turned into unforgettable eternity…..

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