The Himalayas are a trekker’s delight and thousands flock to various trekking destinations each year. A handful never return. A first-hand account of why you should never take a visit to the mountains lightly.
It was my first trek ever and I was really excited that Kheerganga would be my second trip to Himachal Pradesh, the Himalayan state in north India.
Kheerganga is a spiritual destination located at a height of 2,960 metres above sea level where Lord Shiva is said to have meditated at for 3000 years. Located in Parvati Valley in Himachal Pradesh, the trek is almost 13 kilometres starting from Barsheni, 2 hours away from Kasol. The trek route is mountainous with a number of waterfalls amidst pine trees. The glittering rocks strewn along the mountains here make it a surreal experience. If this place isn’t heaven, I don’t know what is.
We were a group of six when we reached Barsheni but I stayed with a friend who had to turn back to retrieve his camera. The trip cost us 4 hours! Once back at the starting point, it was already 4 pm. It’s a 7 hour brisk walking trek and if we started then, we could hope to reach our camping site only at 11pm. Which sane human being would go ahead with that? Well, we did.
To top the existing odds, it started to rain! So, there we were, trekking along an uneven muddy path with several waterfalls, no electricity or cell phone signals.
We opted for a shorter but steeper jungle path and arrived at our first pit stop, cold and ridden with doubt. With no means to connect with the rest of the group, we chatted with another guy at the shack who wanted to continue once the rain stopped. Motivated, the three of us set off.
The first hour was soul wrecking. My nose was cherry red from the cold and I was trying hard to not slip and fall. We came across some retreating trekkers who advised us to return since it was “too late to start from where we were”. Yes our hearts sank at every comment but we kept going. I was really sceptical about making it the same day but the other two were determined, so we carried on.
Soon we were at the second last pit stop, Kheerganga was still about 9 kilometres away. We knew that if we continued with the trek after dark, we could not return and would have to have to spend the night in the jungle if we did not make it to the top. We decided to continue.
Throughout the way there were arrows painted on rocks and trees to guide the way. We were the last lot attempting to reach the top that day. On the way, I came across a poster about a young guy who died falling from the spot I was standing at. My feet froze and so did others’ when I brought it to their notice. Further ahead there were many such posters which mentioned the deaths of many young trekkers and how careful we should be.
There was one that particularly mentioned not to take the short cut.
We kept walking across beautiful water falls, some with a strong flow. Our trousers and shoes were wet and muddy and walking fast was the best way to keep ourselves heated.
It was now almost 7, the sun had set and we were under the moonlight, blocked by pine trees. Despite a torch and two phone lights, our speed obviously halved. Each of us slipped multiple times but we stayed quiet to not discourage each other. Many times I was just inches away from falling off the cliff. The way is rocky and muddy, mostly a feet or two wide.
After dark, it got colder. I was wearing a high neck-full sleeve-tee, jeans, shoes, a hoodie, a wind-sheeter and gloves and yet shivering like a leaf in breeze. I don’t know what happened inside but I was more than determined to reach the top and sleep in a tent. All this could not be for nothing.
It was almost after 8 when we reached the last pit stop. The locals said it would take another 2 hours to reach the top. It was pitch dark, cold and scary but I wasn’t going to stop.
We reached the shortcut the signs had warned us against but it was too late to consider. This path did not have as many signs and we often feared having lost our way. That’s when we saw an arrow on a standing stone that pointed towards the sky at 90 degrees. This was the shortcut. It’s a muddy hill with a 70 degrees incline!
My feet had given up and I could only crawl between steps. Somewhere on the path we heard a man asking us if we were headed to Kheerganga. He passed us within seconds, sprinting in the dark down the hill without any light wishing us the best! A few metres below us, he stopped and said,” Humari mulakat ho ya na ho wapas, tum tumhari manzil pohonch jaoge. Jai bhole naath!” (Whether we meet again or not, you will surely reach your destination. Hail Lord Shiva!) My friend directed the torch at him. He was a scary-looking old man with a grey beard, holding an axe in one hand that rested on his shoulder. Moments later, he ran down the slope and disappeared in the dark.
15 terrifying minutes of climbing after the encounter, we reached the top. We had done it!
Hundreds of tents and shacks glittered across the meadow, solar lights at some spots, bonfires and a sky filled with a million stars. As we started looking for our friends, the people there were shocked to know that we reached the top through the shortcut! We couldn’t find our friends there and we were too tired and hungry to look. We got ourselves some blankets and ordered coffee and food. We hogged on it like we weren’t fed in years. I met the rest of my friends only after I returned to Kasol. And I was glad to see them all alive and well.
– Text and Images By Swastica Swapn. Please see the detailed original post here.