Rajith, Pavitra and me reached Sankri at 5 in the evening, after a rickety clanky bus ride from Dehradun to Purola and another bus from Purola to Sankri. Cool air, majestic mountains, crystal clean rivers, deep gorges, narrow roads and the occasional road block due to mud slide were our constant companions throughout our journey. Our bus driver gave us an impression that he was practicing for WRC and was determined to take us to our destination beating all odds along the way. I guess he took pride in making fun of the poor people who had put up cocky slogans of “Better late than never” all along the road.
Sankri is one of the those nondescript towns that one sees in India, which have one main road, a couple of shops, a house cum hotel, kids playing on the road and a small community. The one aberration to this is the GMVN guest house perched on an elevation which was our abode for the night after the back breaking bus journey. The guest house canteen proudly said it serves organic food but was not yet open as the tourist season is yet to start in full steam. The balcony adjoining the dormitory of the guest house provided a panoramic view of the surroundings with distant snow capped mountains taking the boundary positions. As sun went down so did the temperature, making us dig our back packs for pull overs. We called it a day, tucking into the creaking dormitory beds covered by blankets as thick as the mattress we were sleeping on.
We booked a jeep to take us from Sankri to Taluka, with two teenagers, Raj and Sanjay, our porters cum guides in tow. The jeep ride on the narrow rocky road, etched into a mountain’s belly with a deep gorge being our destination in case the driver took off his attention from the vehicle provided us our first adrenaline fix for the day. After a breakfast of rotis and rice in Taluka we started off on our trek to Har Ki Dun.
River Sufin was our constant companion till we reached Seema, our resting place for the night. We trekked on a narrow path used by villagers, climbing up and down, with the imposing trees and the foliage protecting us from the harsh sun. We constantly hydrated ourselves with the sweet mountain water available from various sources all along the way. We did not break a single drop of sweat even though we walked almost continuously for 14 kilometers thanks to the temperate climate of the region.
We refueled on hot Maggi and tea in the hotel adjacent to the GMVN guest house in Seema. The sight from the footsteps of the guest house reminded me of the drawings I used to draw in my childhood, a small hut, a tree adjacent to the hut, a river beyond it and a mountain overlooking all this. The mountain in front of the guest house was dotted with a small cluster of huts, which was the village of Osla, from which our porters hailed. The hotel caretaker reluctantly gave in to our request for a camp fire, which provided relief from the cold, which had passed the threshold of convenience by now.
Rain gods played havoc at night and the morning sky looked bleak. With it our hopes of a trek to Har Ki Dun also dwindled. I guess the rain God heard our prayers and by the time we had break fast he had obliged us with a moderately clear sky. With a packed lunch of Potato Paranthas we started to our destination, Har Ki Dun.
After a steep climb through a mountain which was supposedly the most difficult part of the trek, we were granted our first snow fall of the day, my first one in life. None of us were prepared for snow, but it was not much of an inconvenience as it did not wet our clothes. The riot of colors along the way will forever be etched in my memory. Verdant wheat fields along the hill sides, gray sky, white snow capped mountains, red, purple and yellow flowers along the way, sun dried yellow grass, crystal blue rivers and waterfalls. It felt as if I am part of one of those scenery photos one sees in India.
As we climbed higher, temperatures went lower and by the time we reached the guest house in Har Ki Dun, our tooth were chattering and goose bumps were norm. The guest house from far looked like a tiny blip in the middle of a snow field. As the guest house came into view so did Swargarohini, which holds a special significance in Indian mythology.
Hot Magi and tea at the guest house was a welcome relief, but the greater relief was the warmth radiated from the cooking fire. All of us jostled for space around the stove, with each one warming his hands and legs in turns. Our room had a fire place and for hundred rupees the care taker lit it up, and we huddled around it like flies around a sweetmeat. The bed and the blanket was extremely cold until our body heat warmed it up. Till then, it was a torture to sleep, with everyone cussing around.
The next morning the weather had cheered up and we were greeted by a clear blue sky. The sight of sun rays, bumping off ice, added to the morning charm. We started our trek to get a close glimpse of Jamdhar glacier. The trek took us through a valley carpeted with ice.
We took a shot at a snow man, which turned out to be lousy, threw snow balls at each other and frolicked around. The trek became treacherous once the valley ended. We encountered a steep incline and occasionally we used both hands and legs to climb. Once in a while, our legs got buried in knee level snow. The end result was a face to face meeting with Swargarohini, with a deep gorge dividing us. Our guide pointed at a distance and said that that was the Jamdhar glacier, but I could hardly make out anything. Instead of trekking down, we slid on the snow until we reached the valley perimeter. This made me jealous of all the snow borders and skiers who get to do it everyday.
The next day, we trekked back to Seema, which was not as strenuous, owing to the fact that it was a descent. Night at the GMVN guest house in Seema and the next day trek back to Taluka. Night at the GMVN guest house in Taluka and the next morning, trek to Sankri on the motor able road which we had traversed earlier by Jeep.
As we reached Sankri by one in the afternoon, we thought of going to Purola and then take a bus early morning the next day, to Dehradun. But the last bus to Purola from Sankri had already left. Thanks to our stars, we caught a taxi that was heading back to Mussurie, after dropping off tourists in Sankri.
As none of us had seen Mussoorie before we decide to stay there for the night, and then take a bus to Dehradun the next evening. As soon as we entered Mussoorie, we were greeted by a throng of people who looked more interested in strutting themselves with the most fashionable of clothes and accessories rather than enjoy the mountainside. After spending five days in calm and quiet, far from civilization and crowds, the horde of people in Mussoorie looked surreal.
Next day we roamed around Mussoorie. Mussoorie is a thoroughly commercialized hill station that has nothing much to offer except the cool weather. It looked as if it is the favorite destination of the Delhi and Punjabi crowd and newly weds. Visited the Buddha temple, Company garden and the Gun hill rope way. Nothing to talk about and we were thoroughly disappointed.
Due to an ongoing bus strike we were forced to take a cab to Dehradun in the evening. Checked into a hotel, dumped our back packs and headed to Palton market in a shared auto rickshaw. These rickshaws have a buzzer which you press indicating the driver to stop. Also, they ply on pre designated routes with each route represented by a number just like city buses. Pretty neat.
Palton market was abuzz with people, cows and vehicles, all competing for space on the road. Reminded me of the Mumbai roads around the local railway station. We discovered a wonderful shop called Cliff Climbers which housed adventure gears. After a bit of shopping headed back to hotel.
Train to Delhi at 5 in the morning. Our flight back to Bangalore was at 8 in the night. So, after consultations with a couple of Delhi based friends, headed to Humayun’s tomb, which is a world heritage site. I was not very enthusiastic as my last experience with Red Fort in Delhi had let me down. The whole place was stinking of urine and was very badly maintained. Humayun’s tomb is well maintained with a neat park around it. It is one of those huge imposing structures that looks good in photos but once you are close, there are hardly any intricate details to take in. Actually, the tomb and Mosque of a noble man whose name I forgot adjacent to the Humayun’s tomb is comparatively better than Humayun’s tomb.
Without even climbing Swargarohini(ascent to heaven) it feels as if I scaled heaven and came back.