A Trek To Har Ki Dun – The Valley Of Gods

After having contemplated at length about which Himalayan trek to choose, I decided on the Har Ki Dun Trek with Indiahikes. Since their usual batch size consisted of about 25 people, I, being slightly introverted, was skeptical. But boy, was I wrong! It turned out to be everything I had dreamed of… and more!

I’m going to cut straight to the trek.

Day 01 – Dehradun to Sankri

There we were, all of us, gathered at the Dehradun Railway Station at 06:30 AM on the 23rd of November to board our shared vehicles to Sankri. I wasn’t aware of the crazy fun I would be having with my batchmates through the trek then. Back then, we were just a bunch of slightly like-minded strangers, embarking on a much-awaited Himalayan adventure. And so, with dreamy eyes, we boarded our cars and began the 10-hour drive towards Sankri.

Within about an hour though, my motion-sickness started to kick in. So, after a hot and sumptuous breakfast, I popped in an Avomine tablet and tried to doze off. Before lunch, we took a brief halt to go dip our toes in the freezing Yamuna river. The beautiful ribbon of green-blue was flanked by nearly white, barren land. How I wish to camp there someday, but camping so close to a river might not be a good idea. Oh well.

For lunch, we had paranthas, rice, and the delicious dal that North India is applauded for. Soon, after a series of conversation and erratic naps, we’d reached Sankri, the base village for treks like Har Ki Dun, Kedarkantha, Bali Pass, Borasu Pass, and Devkyara-Obra valley.

Sankri is a quaint, little village with about 250 houses, sprawled under the loving gaze of the Himalayas. It greeted us with colourful skies and a slight chill in the air, which was a very welcome change, compared to the blazing heat of Mumbai. We were greeted by our trek leader, Syama, and guide, Dev Ji.

After having freshened up in our assigned rooms, we convened with our leader, and guide for a briefing. They informed us about the trek, safety protocols, how to avoid / battle Acute Mountain Sickness (AMS), and my absolute favourite part – Green Trails. For those of you who haven’t trekked with Indiahikes before, Green Trails is their thoughtful campaign which aims at leaving the mountains in a better condition than we found them in. As a nature-lover, pantheist, and, simply, a human being, this campaign matters a lot to me. We were told about waste segregation, waste management, and what things to avoid taking up to the mountains (wet wipes and disposable plastic are a big NO.) Each of us was assigned a green ‘Eco Bag’, in which we were to collect all the waste we found on the trails. This bag would be emptied at every campsite, and the accumulated waste would be brought down to the village for segregation and management.

We also met Ashish, the young and passionate Green Trails coordinator who spent 7 hours of every day in waste segregation, recycling and upcycling. I wish I had spoken more to him about this, instead of having put it off till after the trek.

Next, after a fun round of introduction, we were called in for our first health check-up for the trek. Again, for those of you who haven’t trekked with Indiahikes before, they demand that we follow a regular workout routine, track it with a fitness app, and upload a screenshot of the same for fitness approval. At the base camp, these details are reconfirmed. The trek leader recorded our oxygen reading, blood pressure, and pulse rate, ensuring everyone was at their healthiest.

Post the check-up, we found a piping-hot, delicious dinner awaiting us. While trekking with Indiahikes, you need to carry your own set of cutlery and wash it yourself after every meal. It is unfair to ask the kitchen staff to wash all our utensils in the freezing cold. Not to mention, they have a truckload of big kitchen utensils to wash already! Well, it isn’t as difficult as it sounds and takes barely 5 minutes, tops, to clean up.

With happy tummies and light hearts, we retired to our rooms, eager to wake up early and begin the trek the next day.

Day 02 – Taluka to Bhida Ka Thach

After a cold, albeit good night’s sleep and a refreshing breakfast with chai, we were ready! Syama demonstrated the correct way of packing and wearing a backpack, after which, Dev Ji informed us about the trail for the day. He also enlightened us with stories about the villages we would be trekking past, along with the diversity of flora and fauna that the area was blessed with.

The drive from Sankri to Taluka was to be about an hour long. We had an option of sitting inside the car, or sitting on the roof, which, although terrifying (especially if you have weak grip), was a whole other adventure in itself. So, of course, Devanshi, Richard & I chose to hog the roof. With the cold wind hitting our faces, we started off. Soon, the big mountains rose up to greet us, and we spent the hour listening to Syama’s crazy adventures. Once off from the car, we began trekking towards the first campsite of our trek – Bhida Ka Thach. The trail was relatively easy, with the gurgling, glacial river Thamsa keeping us company throughout. And just like that, within 2 hours, we reached our campsite!

As soon as the backpacks were off, we gathered around in a circle for a round of massaging, stretching and cool-down exercises to loosen up. Once our muscles were relaxed, we learned how to pitch tents! After our health readings (thrice a day), and a hearty lunch, Richard & I decided to go down to the rocks by the river. It was beautiful, listening to the soothing music of the river, under the canopy of lofty trees. The sun came filtering through the trees, and ended up as incredible photos and warm memories.

Since we were still warming up to one another, Syama made us play a couple of games that helped us remember the names of our fellow trek mates. Laughter  soon filled the campsite. Just before the dusk set in, Richard, Devanshi & I went for a short walk up the trail towards Datameer and turned back halfway since it has gotten quite dark. After savouring the baingan bharta at dinner, and having our reading taken again, we called it a day. Some of us stayed out, admiring the stellar canvas of the night sky, trying to draw out constellations. And that was day one.

Day 02 – Bhida Ka Thach to Chilurgad / Puani Garaat

Following the morning schedule – tea, breakfast, un-pitching the tents – we gathered for a quick warm-up session. Syama and Dev taught us a great warm-up dance, which we tried and failed comically at. So started the second day of our trek. After a briefing about the trail for the day, we set off with our packed lunch. The trail was a bit more challenging than the previous day’s, and also much longer. We started off energetically, and Syama and Dev Ji ensured that the energy never dwindled, even during stiff ascents. We crossed two bridges that day. The dhaba where we had lunch and hot chai was run by a humble man called Vijay. We had really warmed up to one another now, and the interesting conversations we had made even ascents more manageable. Once we reached the campsite, we followed the cool-down routine, and gathered around for snacks – Mathri and sauce! After our readings, we played a few more games, followed by a round of poker & UNO in the dining tent. Right before dinner, Syama and Dev Ji thought it was a good idea to give us a good scare by telling us about their scary experiences in the mountains. Some of the stories had left us rattled, to say the least. Well, our fear died down as soon as the tantalising aroma of dinner filled the dining tent, followed by some mouth-watering halwa!

Soon after dinner, most of the people had retired to their tents and some of them were still huddled inside the dinner tent, playing cards; while a handful of us were just wandering outside, admiring the night sky. That’s when we saw it. The majestic mountain peaks, beautifully overshadowed as the Moon began to rise. It haloed the peaks so perfectly, that for a moment, it looked like a throne. The entire moonrise took a mere 4 minutes! Bathed in the gentle moonlight, the night became twice as mesmerising. We exchanged some of our own scary stories that night, and then rushed off to our tents (with a leap in our hearts).

Moonrise
The phenomenal moonrise from Chilurgad

When the moon rose that night,
It bore a song of love, and of magic,
The mountain silhouette carved over its face,
It smiled a smile brighter than the sun

Day 03 – Chilurgad to Kalkatiyadhar

Following the same morning routine, we embarked upon the trek to Kalkatiyadhar, arguably the prettiest (and coldest) campsite of the trek. The trail was going to be quite challenging, but we’d be taking enough pit stops to battle the fatigue. Off we went. We halted every 2 hours for 15 minutes, and I went galloping in search of rocks to climb (I have a thing for rocks).

We devoured our lunch by the riverside, and spent 30 undisturbed minutes on the rocks, drinking in the warmth of sunlight while it lasted. After about 5 hours of trekking, we finally made it to Kalkatiyadhar. Mt. Kala Nag and other splendid peaks chaperoned our campsite.

Post the cool-down session and readings, we gathered for pasta and tea. Nakul, one of the trek mates, and I made our way to the top of the adjoining hill in order to appreciate the sunset. The hill was steep, but we managed to ascend. The sunset left us spellbound, and the food lay abandoned, for such was the beauty.

The sky was soon splattered with a beautiful medley of pinks and reds as the sun graciously went down the horizon. The descent was a real pain in the ass (pun intended, as the hill was lined with thorns!). We painstakingly navigated our way back down.

Another round of UNO in the dining tent, with lighthearted jokes as Pink Floyd slowly gave way to other beautiful songs in the background. That night I stayed up late, admiring the night sky and hoping to catch some shooting stars (I spotted 3 in an hour that night!).

It was a truly magical night – circled by mountain ranges on all sides, the stars bore witnesses to the raging madness inside my heart. Swaddled in a Himalayan embrace, I lost and found myself, and forged stellar connections. After a while though, once the cold started chilling me to the bones, I retired to my tent for a good night’s sleep, dreaming away of the next day – the ultimate trek to our final destination.

Day 04 – Kalkatiyadhar to Har Ki Dun & Back

Up at the crack of dawn and eager to get to the valley, we set off with our daypacks after breakfast and warm-up. The trail was challenging, sure, but the exhaustion paled in comparison of our excitement and the surrounding alpine beauty. Some of us would be seeing snow for the very first time! The trail that I would most miss. We stopped frequently to admire the surrounding beauty. The wind sang a beautiful lullaby for us, and the very air seemed to be intoxicated. The sky seemed to be a seamless fabric of blue, embellished by cotton-candy clouds.

With the first patch of snow, the child inside us all sprang to life and we thrashed each other with snowballs. Shrieking and laughing, at that moment, we were all high – tripping on the gaiety and warmth that filled our hearts. It strung us together as if we had known each other for years. Richard, Nakul & I even found an old jaw-bone (with a chunk of teeth still inside!).

Soon, with a mirth-filled heart and dewy eyes, we made it to our destination. There was a boulder, graced by the holy Shiva lingam. Right next to it, a quiet sage sat guarding a little mandir, where we paid our respects. The magnificent Har Ki Dun peak rose up right beside us. It seemed so close that I felt we could’ve scaled it with comfortable ease – an illusion! We found ourselves a cosy vantage point and flopped down for lunch.

We ate in silence, Devanshi, Richard, Nakul & I; the magnitude of it all, the sheer grandeur of the mountains gripping us. We were, all of us in awe of Mother Nature. The pantheist in me came kicking alive, and everything else, even if momentarily, ceased to exist. The world dropped away, layers came off (no, not literally), and I bared myself, surrendered to the mountains, down on my knees. Everything melted, including me. And for one moment of epiphany, I was one with everything. I was the mountains and the mountains were me. My hair flowed with the cackling Thamsa river, and my head rose to meet the lofty peaks above; the trees and plants were my garb, and the animals, my children; the air was my own breath, cold, comforting, and somehow, warm, singing a lullaby through the wind – WE WERE ONE.

Soon, Dev Ji rounded us up for a detailed story about the mountains, Mt. Swargarohini, especially. Swargarohini I is the very mountain through which the Pandavas are believed to have ascended to Heaven. Since then, no human has ever been able to scale it successfully, owing to the extremely challenging terrain and a treacherous glacier that haunts the trail. The power of the mountains came alive as we heard the story with the very same mountain in the backdrop. I had goosebumps (no, not because of the cold).

Soon, too soon, it seemed, we bid the mountain our goodbyes with promises of returning soon. The way back was quite easy, with few ascents. Chattering away, we made our way back.

As soon we reached the campsite, we crashed down on the mattress near the dining tent, admiring the evening colours. Yes, we were high on the adrenaline, it seems. Mad laughter rose and encompassed us, and we happily gave in. That night, dinner tasted a little more delicious, and there was a little more love and warmth among us all. Life was a lot more enjoyable then.

Day 05 – Kalkatiyadhar to Chilurgad via Osla

The trail was very easy today, with almost continuous descent all the way. We took a different route than the one during the ascent. This new route passed through Osla, a beautiful, pristine, sleepy little village caught in a loving embrace with the Himalayas. The village was magic. Everything was beautiful times infinity – the rosy-cheeked kids, the men & women, the dainty little temple called ‘Someshwar Mandir’, everything. On the temple exterior, one particular wall was riddled with several coins which were hammered inside as a prayer. Legend has it that if you nail a coin to the temple wall, whatever you wish for comes true. The downside – women aren’t allowed to do it. While that miffed me a little, I didn’t want to disrespect the village norms and culture. I asked Richard to do it on my behalf and he obliged.

We sat on a rock overlooking part of the village, and took everything in; let it become scorched in our memories forever. The houses were beautiful and looked cosy. I didn’t want to leave Osla. I made myself a promise that when I trekked to Har Ki Dun solo, I would include an extra day or two at Osla.

Leaving behind the homely village of Osla (with a heavy heart), we descended to Chilurgad. Near the end of the trail though, I saw an old, abandoned cafe called ‘Doon Cafe’, and asked Syama if we (Richard, Nakul & I) could come here for lunch. We came with dabbas filled with rajma, chawal, and savoury raita. Lunch was beautiful, with sprawling views of the mountains, and Cigarettes After Sex blaring through the speaker. 

After lunch, in the same cafe, we gave each other a good massage. Well, Nakul taught us how to give massages, and we sat, one after the other, trying out his tips.

In the evening, Syama gathered us all in the dining tent and engaged us in a peaceful meditation session. His speech about the trek was warm and moving, and we felt re-energised. Soon, the sky took a fiery turn, and shades of red and pink melted in its fabric. 

The rest of the day went by quick. A few us of stayed out late to see and photograph the stars. (I spotted 7 shooting stars that night. 7!) Nakul taught me the basics about astrophotography, while just then Devanshi emerged from the tent, saying there was a mouse inside it! Once it was out, we settled in for the night. It was a weird night. I was woken up by a frantic Devanshi at 02:00 AM, listening to a dog’s incessant barking. It was on for another half an hour. After all the scary, ghost stories we’d heard through the trek, we were scared shitless. We squeezed in tightly but slept uneasily that night. Everything was alright by the morning, all our scares forgotten.

Cake
We were treated to a delicious cake by the kitchen staff :’)

Word of advice – If you have to relieve yourself in the middle of the night, NEVER go out alone. Take your tentmate along, always.

Day 06 – Chilurgad to Sankri via Taluka

Green Trails waste segregation
Segregating waste we collected throughout the trek.

The final trek. I was filled with mixed feelings – the elation of having completed the trek successfully, and the pain of leaving the mountains behind. Well, okay, the former trumped everything. Once back at Taluka, we dreamed about hot showers (we were dirty and grimy AF), hot chai and snacks.

I spent the drive back to Sankri in silence, bidding the mountains ‘until next time’. We were lodged at the GMVN for the night (it has amazing views!). After having cleaned up, we gathered for a debriefing, where we were all given certificates for having completed the trek successfully. Most of us were moved to tears, and the finality of it hit us. We were leaving home to go back to our mindless city lives.

A hot dinner cured that to an extent though. Once the power went out (I love power-outs!), we came back to our room, and the 7 of us – Deepa, Rajat, Devanshi, Richard, Nakul, Syama and I – spent a few hours talking. The conversation went from hilarious to horrifying to hilarious again in a matter of seconds! It was raging madness, but we had shed all our inhibitions, a lot of layers, and really warmed up to each other. We shared haunting, harrowing tales, spurting things out. When everyone was sleepy, we tucked ourselves in for the night.

Day 07 – Sankri to Dehradun

I have nothing to say about this day, except this little poem I scribbled for a caption-

The skies smiled down upon us, a kaleidoscope of colours,
and the heavens stretched out their blazing, celestial arms,
to envelope the sky,
to watch over us.
A fiery amalgamation of pinks and reds,
embraced us for one last goodbye,
as dusk melted into the night sky.
It sang of love and hope,
of the moon and stars,
etched in our eyes,
and cradled in our arms. 

And that’s how the trek ended. With hope, warmth, memories, and love; with endless promises and heartfelt ‘see you again’s. Choked up, we bid our goodbyes to the trek heroes – Syama, Dev Ji, and Subhash Ji.

The drive was beautiful, but the pang of leaving the mountains could be felt in our hearts. Once we reached Dehradun, we got together for one final dinner and a round of the famous Dehradun rabdi at Prince Chowk and parted our own ways.

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