Sigh! I breathed heavily once again and wiped the beads of sweat off my face. My backpack was getting heavier by the minute. Lack of preparation for high altitude was evident. Oblivious to all the noise around me, I was lost battling my own thoughts on how I ended up here in the first place. Here I was at the base of Kuari Pass trail, backpacking my way to reach the Pangarchulla Peak.
It all started when I decided to go on my first Himalayan trek. Two months and a lot of researching later began the soul-searching journey from Bangalore – Delhi – Haridwar – Rishikesh – Auli – Kuari Pass – Pangarchulla Peak. 30 people from different parts of the country with different ethnicities and backgrounds gathered together to be part of the mystic Himalayas.
Kuari pass is an above moderate trek when coupled with Pangarchulla peak. It offers breathtaking views of the highest peaks of the Garhwal region including Nanda Devi peak with the right amount of challenge for trekkers, making it a well-rounded trail. The vista changes from green to snowy pristine white during Spring offering a treat to the eyes. Although, during winters, the Pangarchulla peak hike is on the technical side(with gears and harnesses). This trek was special to me since it involved a lot of firsts – first Himalayan trek, first time camping, first time experiencing and trekking on snow.
Also called Lord Curzon Trail.
Location Garhwal Himalayas, Uttarkhand
Maximum Altitude Pangarchulla Peak summit(4700 m) , Kuari Pass(3650m)
The journey from Haridwar to Auli was a long 12-hour drive. The treacherous drive owed to steep and winding roads; often had board signs indicating landslide zones. However, most parts of the drive were along the Ganga & Alaknanda rivers. Enroute we crossed the holy towns of Devprayag & Rudraprayag. One thing was certain – I never got bored of the views. Once I reached Auli, I was even more elated. Surrounded by the mighty Himalayan range, Auli is a quaint town, an upcoming skiing destination. Difficult roads indeed lead to beautiful destinations. The starting point of the trek was just a 20-minute drive from here.
Enroute to Kuari Pass and Pangarchulla peak, each step was a delight. The pristine blue sky seemed fictitious after being used to the gloomy city skies. And the surrounding snow-capped mountains seemed so majestic and mysterious alluring with its tales and enigmas locked within its magnificent stature. And the sky full of scintillating stars forging a magical setup.
The bustling of the trees and the chirping of birds all around felt like a lullaby in the arms of nature. A gentle stream of water splashed against my face gave a refreshing feeling.
In the mountains, it is really living in the moment. You don’t know what treasures and surprises the mountains are going to unfold or what whims of nature you are going to be a part of. All you have to do is take one step at a time and keep moving forward. I got soaked up in the tranquility of my surroundings. It’s inevitable to forget all the mess and madness going on in the outside world and you just live one moment at a time. The Himalayas is a whole different world in itself. You realize that you could get used to this simple living. There is a certain charm in the wilderness which makes you beg for more.
Wilderness is definitely not a luxury but a necessity of human spirit.
One of our trekking guides was a retired army man – also a mountaineer and a skier, who walked with more ease than all of us combined. Furthermore, he has represented India on a global level in skiing competitions. Before the advent of harnesses and skiing equipment – learning skiing was tough, he said. He talked about avalanche training courses, rescue missions, and trekking expeditions. A life full of adventure!
The other guide was giving us lessons on the shifting nature of weather in the mountains. He witnessed rain, snow and sunny weather- all on the same day when he was trekking at Har Ki Dun, he said. “Pahadon ki mausam Bombay ki fashion ki tarah badal ti rehti hai” ( Weather in the mountains changes like Bombay’s fashion ), he kept reiterating.
Till Kuari pass, the trek was fairly easy but it was about to get challenging because of the snow trail on the way to Pangarchulla peak. Equipped with gaiters and walking sticks, we charged ahead. The guides were making way for us with zig-zag trails all throughout the ascents. The intensity of the heat was very high due to light reflecting on the snow. Dehydrated, we filled our bottles with ice which was readily available and drank out of the melted water.
Owing to strong winds and melting snow, it was time to head back, just off the peak by 200 meters. The bitter disappointment of not climbing to the top of the peak was soon diminished by the thrilling experience of sliding down the snow. It was more than a fast getaway, it was sensational. After close to 12 hours of demanding trek, we reached the camp.
I ended up burnt face, chapped lips, severe cold resulting in running nose and of course exhaustion which was definitely a small price to pay for the incredible experience. And I knew right then that I’ll always come back to the mountains.
Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air and behold the view. Climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you. ~ David McCullough Jr
On a side note, be cautious while trekking and put safety first. Listen to your guides. They have a lot of experience in the mountains and know what’s best for you. It’s better not to venture out on your own or just group of friends on Himalayan treks. Always travel with a guide or a local.
I vividly remember this incident while sliding down the snow. It was a hot day and with the sun over our heads resulting in melting of snow, it was definitely tough to walk around and I slipped and fell several times. On top of that, my weak legs weren’t helping either.
I had no other option but to slide down and I wasn’t complaining. However owing to a steep slope in the area, I was going faster than I expected and I wasn’t able to control myself. With all the fuss going on, I ended up turning towards the mountain. I tried to remember seeing the guides down there. So, I thought of enjoying the moment and let the guides take care of blocking the slide while I headed down.
Little did I know that just a few meters from the guides, there were piles of rocks which would have crashed my bones into pieces. And, the guides really stopped the fall but not before I had a head-on collision with a guy sliding down the slope. It resulted in a severe pain in the neck and I was only able to turn around in slow motion for a while after this incident.
Thankfully, I didn’t have internal injuries and got away easily. It was the guides who saved my life that day and these kinds of incidents are not uncommon in the mountains. Anything can happen over there and you need to be prepared for it.
Closest Airport Jolly Grant Airport Dehradun. Nearest Railway Station – Rishikesh Railway Station. Find more information here.
|In Auli – Himalayan Eco Lodges|
Booked through GIO Adventures. Total Duration: 6 days. 4 days of trekking and 2 days of traveling between Haridwar and Auli. Around 15k INR for to and fro from Haridwar. Includes everything from transportation, stay at Auli, food, and tents.
Best time to visit March to June & September to November(Winter trek)