Monday, October 23, 2017

Rupin Pass Trek, Part I - The Treknic

In September this year, I landed in Leh with an aim to climb Stok Kangri. Given I had turned back from 5900 m at Island Peak, I badly wanted to summit this 6000 m peak. But as luck would have it, I couldn't even start the hike to base camp - I developed a bad tooth ache which on closer inspection (in Bangalore) turned out to be fractures in both roots of that tooth.

While I was still waiting for the dental surgery, AA asked me if I would be up for a hike in October and without even thinking I said yes - and within hours I had made the payment to the organizing agency (TTH) and booked flight tickets & hotel stays for both of us.

The hike was to begin about 2 weeks after my dental surgery and I was convinced that I had ample time to get fit for it. Well...that didn't happen because my surgery site hadn't fully closed the day I flew to DED. AA was worried that I might quit in between - AGAIN! And to be honest I was worried about it too...but then I decided to not think along those lines and leave it to mother nature instead.

I had booked AA on same flight from DEL to DED as mine and another fellow hiker (UK) met us at DED airport, so we 3 cabbed it together to the city. As per the plan, we were to get aboard a vehicle for Dhaula at 6:30 am next day from the Dehradun Railway Station.  However both AA & UK overslept - thankfully I decided to check on them at about 5:40 am (despite the resistance they exhibited previous night when I suggested that I give them a wake-up knock).

Anyway, we did manage to reach the station a few minutes before time and within 15 minutes, the first Tempo Traveller was full, so we started for Dhaula a few minutes before 7 am. The second vehicle decided to wait for a guy whose train was many hours late.

In the TT,  was a Bangalore couple living less than a mile from my place (S2), two ex-army guys from Singapore (J & H), a young chap from Assam with two sets of names (AS), two guys from Chennai (A & K) and a girl from Kolkata (KS). Overall the journey was uneventful - we made a few stops for breakfast and lunch etc and finally reached the destination at 16:30. AA, however, did manage to soak the empty seat next to him - with water (we all assumed for our mental peace!)

The camp site was next to a small village, so was a bit cramped. It also had copious amounts of stinging nettle all over - some of it touched me over the trousers and managed to cause localized swelling and pain. After tea and biscuits and a quick introduction to our trek leader, some of us settled into the tents and waited for the second bus.

The second bus arrived a little after 7 pm and soon after we were given a briefing by the trek leader and guide staff. The briefing included the usual - everyone's introduction & trek experience, the route information along with altitudes, AMS, daily routine etc. After a sumptuous dinner, I decided to retire early (as compared to others - though 9:30 pm bed time is late for a hiking trip).

Day 1 - Dhaula (5500 ft) to Sewa (6300 ft)

First group photo - @ Dhaula
Today was the first day of the hike and it was expected to be easy especially because we weren't that high in terms of altitude and the gain was minimal as well. The weather was quite hot for 5500 ft and month of october - thanks to the bright and almost scorching sun. The breakfast was porridge (dalia) and cornflakes (with sweetened milk), the lunch (3 chapati and pickle) was packed and handed to us in aluminium foil and some biscuits, chocolate & candy were provided as snacks.

Waiting for the mules
We started at 9 am and by 11 am we were all feeling tired due to heat and accompanied loss of water. Around that time we also hit the ascent portion of the hike - it came upon us suddenly and felt kind of relentless - more so  because of the sun. Till the ascent I was quite slow in my progress but during the ascent ordering of hikers changed. However, the faster of us had to always wait for the rest of the group to catch up - so it felt as if we were walking less and waiting more. We reached Sewa village around 1 pm but our mules (carrying tents, offloaded bags and supplies) were far behind - so we all waited around in a hut (meant for storing fodder) a bit before the campsite.

While waiting some of us started stretching and noticing that AS starting doing push-ups. Soon it turned into a competition - H (one of two Singapore guys) did 60 in 42 seconds, AA did 60 in 44 seconds and AS did 40 in 45 seconds. AA's performance was even more impressive given his age group!!!

Setting up tents at Sewa campsite
The mules arrived around 3 pm and soon all of us got busy pitching the tents - the kitchen staff focused on getting tea and snacks ready for us and we hikers started erecting the tents with help from the trek leaders and guides. This site was even smaller than Dhaula but felt cleaner as it was in front of a temple. It was also close to a few houses - resulting in our toilets being the regular squatting kinds (instead of the tent covered pit latrines that are the norm at camp sites)

Due to excessive sweating, I was desperate for a shower and proximity to the houses allowed me to explore its feasibility. In search for a loo before the camp site was set up, I had chanced upon a clean bathroom of a house - so I went there again and persuaded the lady of the house to allow me to bathe in exchange for money. She agreed - even provided me with hot water :)

Enjoying Soup in the nippy weather
My evening became even better as hot pakoras were served along with the tea - hot  bath, hot tea, hot pakora on a chilly evening - what more could I ask for!!! Some of us were disappointed with the plain chapati and pickle lunch but the pakoras managed to calm down all the ruffled feathers!

We hung outside our tents, sang songs and enjoyed the evening till it became completely dark - the dinner was served again around 8 pm (late in my opinion) and while having same, the astro hobbyists in our group pointed to us the constellations and stars visible that night. Sated with good food, we all retired by 9 pm. Thus ended the day 1 of the Rupin Pass Trek.

Day 2 Sewa (6300 ft) to Bhauta  (~7300 ft)

First photo op for the day
Bhauta Village wasn't listed in the original itinerary sent by TTH, this change was informed after we reached Dedradun. Our local guide hailed from this village and hence the plan was to do a homestay at his house. We left Sewa at around 8:30 am after breakfast & after dismantling our respective tents. The day that had started cool, soon began to heat up. The initial few minutes were easy and took us to Rupin river where we all had a leisurely photo-shoot :)

Bridge between UK & HP
A few minutes later, we crossed a small bridge over Rupin river and were informed that we are now in Himachal Pradesh. The trail then started to ascend through the forest and after about 45 minutes opened up to a motor-able road. Till the road, we didn't feel the heat much as forest cover was sufficient to block the sun.

We stopped just after forest trail ended, for instant noodles and tea. The previous day there was to be a "Maggie point" en route but same was closed - so folks were thrilled to be able to partake those today.

Waterfall along the way
The weather was quite hot  by now and route was a bit boring (mildly ascending road) but soon we encountered a nice waterfall - the mist from the fall was cool and again we all spent significant amount of time trying to get closer to water and taking pictures

Our lunch point was also close to another waterfall - we had our lunch of parathas & potato subzi in the shade of a big tree near the fall and continued to rest a bit. One of us decided to climb up the water fall but instead landed in the water below - drenching himself from head to toe. Thankfully he was backpacking and had access to dry
Lunch halt for the day
clothes - so he was able to save the situation.

After the lunch, the road became narrower and soon after we started another ascent to the village. The ascent wasn't  really tough - it was the heat that was making it so. We reached the village around 13:30 and decided to have another Maggie/ Tea break. The home stay was less than 10 min away so no one was in a hurry to get there anyway.

Enjoying the evening sun at Bhauta homestay
Our final approach to home stay was short and under the shade. The arrangement there was 4 rooms - now we were 20 of us - 14 men, 2 couples and 2  women. One lady among the two couples insisted they want to be together for the night, so KS and I decided to spend the night outside on the two single beds. This way 2 couples could get a room and 14 men somehow adjusted in the 3 remaining rooms. Even in my earlier hiking  experiences, I have found that men are able to adjust better than us women!

Before dinner, we decided to play a card game called Bluff in one of the rooms. Some folks were new to it but soon they got the hang of it and we had a fun time.

The foyer didn't have any glass over the windows but since weather wasn't truly cold, I wasn't worried. However what I hadn't signed up for was the torchlight in my eyes whenever someone decided to use the loo and with 18 folks inside the 4 rooms, even if everyone uses the restroom once, there wouldn't be any sleep for the ones sleeping in the foyer. And that is exactly what happened, so I gave up all attempts at sleeping around 4 am and decided to make use of time for my morning routine (there was only one toilet for about 30 of us, including staff)

Day 3 - Bhauta (~7300 ft) to Jhaka (8700 ft)

In original itinerary,  Sewa to Jhaka was to be done in one day, but since the hike was broken across two days - both days were fairly short and easy. We started at about 9 and and after just 15 minutes halted at Jiskoon village for some shopping - some folks needed rain ponchos, some needed a backpack, some even needed shoes (the soles of ones they had were coming off). No one was in a hurry due to short route and another home stay for the day (no tents to be erected means cooking can begin as soon as staff reaches the location). Our assistant guide hails from Jhaka so this stay was at his house.
Another Maggie Point!!!!

A few minutes after leaving Jiskoon, was a water source where again we were provided with a leisurely photo opportunity. The trail across this water source, was hard ascent for about 20 minutes and we again halted for maggie/tea break - this was getting too much for me because honestly so far the hike time had been lesser than halt time.

 After this halt, we continued with the ascent and reached Jhaka home stay well before lunch. Here also we were given 4 rooms and even though the same lady insisted that she wants to be with her partner, I was adamant that I need my sleep before the 12 km hike the following day.

While this ensured that all women get one room, she chose to sleep in foyer with her partner (and they faced the same issue of flashlights that I had encountered the previous night)

Soup time at Jhaka
After hot lunch and tea, the group went for a short walk which I skipped as I was tired due to lack of sleep. I used the time to clean myself up (managed to get a bit of hot water for same) and rest up.

After the soup, some of us again played Bluff till dinner time - the dinner time had a pleasant surprise for us in the form of Jalebis!!! Hot crisp Jalebis on a cold evening - man this was luxury - I have never been spoilt like this on other hikes :)

On this sweet note ended the three easy days of  this hike - which I choose to call "Treknic" (trek+picnic). While it had been fun, I was more excited for the upcoming 3 days where we would walk for long hours, establish camps in open and enjoy the raw natural beauty of the Himalayas (as against the cosy homestays in the inhabited villages)

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