Part I – Base Camp
This Summer I decided to do something different. I decided to climb. When I was in college we used to go on these one day trekking expeditions to nearby Ooty and Kodaikanal. Now I was older and significantly heavier but still wanted to find out if I had it in me. I had heard about the Youth Hostel Association of India (YHAI) from some friends at work and talked to some of them who had participated in their numerous trekking expeditions and zeroed in on the trek to Sar Pass at 13800 ft. The programme was for all of 11 days starting from Kasol which was the base camp.
As I was saying, the YHAI at both the national level and state level conduct lot of recreational activities which include trekking, cycling, motor cycling and picnicking. The programmes are always nominally priced and with the only criteria being that one must be reasonably fit and of course a paid member. YHAI memberships are pretty cheap and can be made online at their website www.yhaindia.org. Most of the national level programmes can also be booked online. Bookings for the Himalayan treks open in the month of Jan – Feb of every year for treks in May-June. They get filled up pretty fast as there is a lot of demand especially from cities like Mumbai and Bangalore.
The Sar Pass Trek itself is for 11 days with 3 days at base camp, 4 days climbing and 3 days descending and breaking on the last day. It costs around Rs. 3000/- per head including accommodation in tents at all base camps, Rucksack, Sleeping Bags and food for the entire 11 days (Vegetarian). Participation is very heavy averaging about 55-60 per group at the rate of one group per day for 30 days.
So, I duly made my bookings got the necessary permissions from the Office and patiently waited for D Day. In the mean time preparations were on in full swing – medicines, winter wear, rain wear and most important – Shoes. I did so much research on shoes to wear – Hi Tec, Action, Bata Hunters, Merrel, Woodlands – There were so many brands and so many recommendations on so many websites. I finally zeroed in on Weinbrenner from Bata and I was not disappointed.
Kasol is located about 30 km from Bhunter which incidentally is the airport nearest to Kullu. Any of those numerous Volvo buses from Delhi to Manali will drop you at Bhunter. From there an hours ride to Kasol which is just 5 kms before Manikaran. The camp is located just outside of Kasol with the Parvati river flowing right beside it. The camp is made entirely of tents. There are bout 18-20 tents for the participants, Ladies on one side and gents on the other, A big lounge tent, Reception tent, Kitchen tent and the Camp Directors and other camp staffs tent. The only permanent buildings are the toilets. Each tent is large enough to accommodate 14 individuals – bit of a crush actually but the company is really good.
YHAI follows a very strict schedule and are very particular about camp discipline. Breaches in discipline will not be tolerated and reprimands are frequent and sometimes rude. Sleeveless shirts / shirts, Shorts, Half Pants, lungis etc. are simply not permitted. I know its a bit childish but then one must remember that at any given point of time there are about 200 participants in the camp and sometimes it is a bit chaotic There is also a camp fire every night at about 9 pm where the each batch are required to showcase their talents.
My reporting date was 17 May and hence we were called SP 17 or Sar Pass 17. 50 of us reported for registration that day and filled up the tents. Participants ranged from 15 year old kids to 60 year old senior citizens. By evening camaraderie was already being made in each tent and we soon got together and decided to name ourselves the Rangeen Pandas (there’s a long story behind that name which I will not explain now). The first day is free after registration and we took the opportunity to roam around quaint Kasol. As mentioned by Vikas Kapil in his post here http://www.ghumakkar.com/2010/03/31/in-search-of-some-trance-kasol/ , the town is overrun with strange Israeli men and beautiful Israeli girls. It’s as if Grass is available only in Kasol. The shop signs are in Hebrew and if you want a taste of Authentic Israeli food without going to Israel then this is the place. I believe there’s even a Jewish worship centre. Well we roamed around the town, eyed the girls and had our fill of momos and went back to camp.
Our First day dawned bright and clear. There’s a fantastic view of the Himalayan ranges from the Base camp. People were busy photographing this scenery until someone warned us that battery life is a scarce commodity and to conserve the same. Charging points are available at Base camp and in the first higher camp but after that it’s jut you and your spare batteries. There are group exercises in the morning. The exercise is a bit strenuous and I suddenly found how out of shape I was – I was sweating like a pig and breathing hard within minutes and the doubts started to creep in – what was I getting myself into? Worse was in store as the day progressed. Kasol is at 6500 ft and to acclimatise ourselves to the change in height an acclimatisation walk is organized on the 1st day. A small mountain maybe about 700-900 ft has to be climbed. Well we were climbing to 13800 ft and this was small in comparison and we attacked the mountain with gusto. Within minutes the difference in fitness was obvious – panting and wheezing our way up, many of us learnt that slow and steady is the way to climb. Still the doubts persisted.
On the second day some training on proper rock climbing techniques and repelling is given. The repelling is compulsory as we are required to use the technique during the trek while the rock climbing is optional. The repelling is really enjoyable. There are trainers from the Indian Mountaineering Academy in Dehradun who assist us and as usual they are damn strict too – no hanky panky with these guys.
In the evening there is a kit inspection where the camp leaders check if the ruck sack provide by YHAI for the trek is of the correct weight after packing. If it isn’t we have to unload some stuff and bring down the weight. That evening as we lay down to sleep the doubts intensified but we were cheered up by the fact that all 50 us would be together and come what may, we would be fighting against the elements as one with everyone helping each other to cross the summit of Sarpass and come back home. D Day had arrived.
To be continued……..