Trekking has always been fun, hasn't it? We get to walk amongst the mountains, be one with nature, drink pure water from streams, breathe fresh air and most importantly, have a high chance of being out of network so you have less chance of annoying clients or bosses calling you. (Yes, it is the most important point, I know) But want to know what's even more fun? Exploring a new trek!
Trekking on your own:
Yes, exploring a new trek has a lot of adrenaline, fun and well, even danger involved. But when you go and try to do a trek on your own, while carrying your own gear, cooking your own meal, finding your own route, you will definitely come back much more satisfied and confident about pretty much everything.
And that is why we have wilderness backpacking on our list of activities and not the usual trekking. We know it can be scary to simply go out and do it all on your own, so we decided to help you learn how to explore trek. We will guide you. teach you how to read maps, how to cook in the wild and all the necessary skills to survive; then all the mountains in the world can become your playground!
So, before we can take others, we have to explore the trek on our own to have a good idea of the surroundings and the trail. And for that Himanshu and I reached the base village of Lohajung, to explore the Bagchi bugyal trek. After a 9-hour journey from Dehradun. we were in Lohajung, walking on its main street, talking with the locals and acclimatizing.
The next morning, we got a tent from a local shop, bought some ration of rice and dal to make kichadi, carried peanuts, Channa, some dry fruits, a pressure cooker and 2 butane stoves. Then we left for Wan, which is an hour away from Lohajung. We spent the day at Wan at a locals place, someone we knew very well and discussed the route. By late evening, when we had a fair idea about the trail, we moved on to packing our bags.
On a trek where you are venturing out on your own, you will need to carry everything. And so packing your backpack becomes an extremely important task. Here is how we split the weight 'equally' - Himanshu carried the tent, the pressure cooker, the butane stoves, 2L of water, the rice and the Dal. I carried my sleeping bag and a bottle of water! And little peanuts and dry fruits. Both our bags were full ;)
The medicine kit was with Himanshu, but I had the local plant a Dadi had given to repel leeches. The power banks and chargers were with Himanshu but I had the phone which was going to track our routes. Equal packing FTW!
The next morning we left by 6.30 AM from the local's house. Dadi made Rotis smeared with ghee for me to eat and carry up. Trekking on your own gives you more chance of experiencing the true pahadi culture, talking to people, getting invited for Chai or Chass and who knows maybe even dinner if lucky - it is a big advantage over trekking with a big company. The local food is extremely delicious and cooked in a Chula usually. Rotis made from fresh wheat grown I their farm, cooked in the fire, potato and pumpkin are also cut right before cooking from their fields. oh, it is heavenly.
As we started our trek, since I knew Wan better than Himanshu, I led the way. Since he walks fast and I am slow, when he stopped to take photos of the trail, I decided I would continue walking up and he could catch up in no time.
7.00 AM: Alas, this was the first mistake of the trek- bad communication. I lost him within 15 minutes of the trek! My backpack felt heavy as I ran up and down looking for him, and after half an hour of looking, I was tired already. I then decided to wait at a temple, where a guy walking down from a nearby village said, "Mam, you are here, there is a boy looking for you all the way up, near Ranka dar!"
So to understand that, let me break up the day's itinerary:
Wan- Ranka dar (1-hour ascent)
Ranka dar to Neel Ganga (Half an hour descent)
Neel Ganga to Geroli (4-hour steep ascent)
Geroli to Ali bugyal (2-hour ascent)
Ali to Balan (3 hours of up and down)
I laughed and wondered how I could have lost him on this trail of mine and decided I was indeed not capable of being a trek leader. With that, I started my stroll to the top. For the next half an hour, I kept meeting villagers who would say, 'there was a boy waiting for you here, he just left after waiting for so long.' Unfortunately, my speed in climbing mountains is limited, so I simply walked up at my pace and almost an hour after I lost him, I finally found Himanshu waiting up at Ranka Dar.
8 AM: After a joyful reunion where he spoke about how much he looked for me, and I mentioned how I looked for him, we decided to not let each other out of sight for the rest of the trek. The person ahead would walk and stop when the person behind wasn't visible. Now that communication was established we started our descent down to Neel Ganga. And this is where we found our local guide- a dog, ready to accompany us up the trek and save us from wild animals.
Oh yes. trekking on your own gets you the best of the best when it comes to guides.
Delighted with the dog as our guide, the next four hours passed by slowly. Little breaks were taken, peanuts were eaten, gossip was shared, and stories were exchanged. We were really getting better at communicating!!
The weather also worked in our favour and though we were doing a monsoon trek, it didn't rain. It was cloudy throughout, but we could walk in our shirts and thin jackets.
By 11.45 we reached Geroli, where luckily for us, a forest officer had opened up the dhaba there and was making hot chai and lunch. I grabbed the opportunity to hydrate myself and had two cups of tea along with the roti dadi gave me in the morning while Himanshu munched on the peanuts we had bought earlier. By 12.15 Himanshu gave me the get ready we are going to leave sign; he wanted to try and reach Balan that very day, so we set off to Ali bugyal. We knew the trail till Ali, and till Geroli, it is very evident. So there was almost no scope of getting lost.
The altitude slowly started getting to us and our pace got slower and slower. The dog would run faster and wait for us at some spots. When he spotted Langurs, he would wait for us to trek by and chase the monkeys away. I felt so much safer when he was around. Although at one point, despite following the dog, we got confused with the trail and walked in the wrong path for about two minutes. But we found a shepherd in his house there who told us which to way to go.
We managed to move ahead through some of the most serene landscapes the trek had to offer at an extremely slow pace. At around two, we finally saw the meadows up ahead. It was so close, yet felt so far for our slow steps. But since we could see our destination, we somehow got that last bit of energy needed to push ahead and made it to the peak. What a beauty it was. Unfortunately, the clouds came in no time and we were lost in a cloudy haze. On the peak, we met an elder couple who were walking from Balan to Wan and told us if we continued on the trail we would reach Balan in a few hours.
2 PM: Overjoyed, we started our trek down. Alas from Ali, our beloved guide dog went missing. We couldn't find him anymore and we started out on our own. Since it was cloudy, Himanshu thought he was following the right trail and ventured into a forest. Though I was a little concerned, I still followed him downhill until we reached a river about an hour later.
Though the last fifteen minutes of our descent was through a bamboo and shrub vegetation with no trail, we made our own way to the river as we could hear it and we knew it was down there. The locals had told us we would reach a river with a bridge, and the river we saw. but the bridge was nowhere in sight.
LOST IN THE JUNGLES:
So, we walked along the river to the right, hoping that in some time, we would come across a bridge. Alas within two minutes, the rain gods expressed their displeasure with the route we were taking and it started showering. And the path along the river also vanished into high boulders, steep edges and thorny bushes. So, we decided to cross the river- on foot. Now, this was the next thing I learnt in exploring a trek on my own- cold rivers flowing with force during monsoons are not easy to cross.
4 PM: The first dilemma I faced was whether to keep my shoes on or take them off. Himanshu went in with them and crossed the stream. Since daylight was essential, I decided to venture in as well. Alas, with the very first step I took in the river, I slipped and fell - hurting my wrist. But I was close to the banks, the water flow was less and I got up quickly and ventured across.
I managed to cross the stream and we were on the other side, walking through a little field of random plants. Again, within five minutes, this piece of flat land vanished, making way to a small almost non-existent trail through the bushes and trees. Holding on to local bamboo, we then made our way through vegetation, slipping, falling and tumbling, all while trying to find a bridge in vain.
We reached a dead end soon enough and had to cross the river again. Back to the other side, we crossed from before, as steep rocks and trees blocked the way ahead. This time, I was a little scared. The water seemed fierce, and if I fell again, I thought I would be taken away by the current. Himanshu gave me a hand and though I slipped again, wet my hoodies, my watch and my pant completely and I might have used a little swear words thinking what am I trying to do, I crossed the river successfully. Alive, oh so alive.
4.30 PM: Finding no route and no bridge still, Himanshu turned to me and said, " Neha, you know that the situation is bad right?"
I smiled, saying, 'Of course. We were lost the minute we left Ali bugyal in my mind.'
I remembered seeing an open grassland when we first crossed the river. It looked like a good place to pitch the tent and get dried, instead of venturing left and right, looking for this bridge that didn't want to be found. And I definitely didn't have the energy to trek back up to Ali bugyal, the last place where we knew the trail. So we decided to walk back the river trail, to where we first came down and camp there. We had walked about 13 km and gained an altitude of more than 3,000 feet already. Our bodies were definitely in need of a little rest.
He agreed and we start our trek back. We had to cross the river again, the third time in half an hour. By this time I was fully drenched and the fear of falling and flowing away was still high. Also, since the water was so cold, it kind of numbed my feet and I was wobbling as I stepped in. Since the water is pushing you, the stones are trying to block your way and the pebbles seem like they are placed in the bottom of the river just to make you slip, this crossing of rivers is an adventure self.
Despite it all, we reached the clearing about fifteen minutes later, where I simple sat with the bags while Himanshu tried to look for a bridge on the other side. There I was, sitting soaking wet in the rain, all alone, lost in some jungle, where no one knew we were, with two bags next to me, laughing at how warm and safe I was right yesterday having chai at the local's house. And how, Himanshu had gone exploring while I told him all horror movies start with people splitting so we should not be doing that, but he said he would be back within ten minutes and went.
Luckily he did, and by 5.30, we pitched our tent in the rain. By 6, I was out of my cold wet clothes into dry warm socks and clothes. By 7 our kichadi was ready and we were fed and happy to be in a warm safe place in the jungle. Then we took out of phones to GPS track ourselves and figure out where this Balan was. This Balan which everyone told was right down the hill, Maps.me told us it was 7 kilometres away, Wikiloc also told us it was far away. But why did the old couple at Ali tell us it was not so far away we wondered as we went into our sleeping bags and called it a night.
6 AM: We didn't really sleep well that night. Our tent was pitched on sloping land, and I had a small fear of wild animals coming and making a hole through the tent. When the alarm rang at 6 AM we were both half awake, half tired. But he got up to look for a trail on the left side while I made breakfast. He said he would come back within an hour, and if he didn't, only then should I come looking for him. I had learnt communication was very important by now.
He came back within fifteen minutes as he didn't find any bridge/ route, so after a good breakfast, we started our trek back up through the jungle we came down in yesterday back to Ali bugyal. We had been recording our trail on an app called Wikiloc, so it was easy to follow it and come back up.
8 AM: An hour later, we were back on Ali where the sun was shining bright. I spread my mat and clothes to dry and took in the sun while he went looking for a shepherd to ask for directions. Half an hour later, we were on the right trail, and we came to the bridge an hour later.
Now a new problem arose, there was a landslide across the bride and we couldn't find a way ahead. So, Himanshu who by now loved walking across flowing rivers once again puts his shoes in the flowing water and decided to find a new route. Round 2, shoes and socks wet again. Again, I didn't find any trial, and by this time my body was tired. As we slowly made our way ahead in the no trail/ some-random-trail-suddenly-appears path, I felt like we were getting lost again.
11 AM: Luckily, just when I slipped a foot back on a slippery trail and felt like giving up, we heard some men who were cutting wood and ran to them asking for directions. They told us we could go up from the trail we were on, but for villagers and even trekkers, there was another well-marked trail from the top. We had taken the wrong path but this would work as well. It would eventually lead to the same trail we were told.
As we trekked up and down through forests, we were wondering how we would have made it had we found the trail yesterday. It was not an easy descent as we were told, it had quite some ascent as well. About an hour later, we met a few more men cutting wood, giving me some more confidence that we were on the right trail, though it was not the one we were asked to take. Half an hour later we joined the main trail and reached a big hidden meadow, where I decided it was time for lunch.
1 AM: But we came across a shepherd who told us Balan was just half an hour away. So I decided to push it, and not cook lunch in the meadow but in Balan. Oh, how wrong that shepherd was. In half an hour we reached a clearing from where we could see a village down, but far down, on the other hill beyond. It was not a half an hour trek for sure. And then started our descent.
By about 4 PM we reached the top part of Balan where we met some kids, who were curious to know who we were. We sat there for half an hour and gossiped. As I took off my shoe, I saw the little fella sucking my blood. Mr Leech. After flicking him off, we started our way down to the school where we were told we could pitch our tent. This walk downhill felt more challenging than most of the trek.
After an hour of walking through the village, which Himanshu ran down in half an hour and I walked down slowly and carefully we came to the school to be told by the boys playing volleyball there that we had to go to the Pradhan on the other side of the village to get permission to pitch our tent. Luckily, seeing my exhausted, disappointed face, they said we could pitch our tent on the lower side of the village without permission. We walked further down and after half an hour, at the lowest end of the village, we pitched our tent.
Five minutes later, we were bombarded with kids curious to know what a tent is, what we are and everything else. Himanshu entertained all our guests while I went into the tent to lie down. I was in no mood to talk. It was 6.30 in the evening when we finally could cook our meal. I was exhausted. We soon called it a night.
7:30 AM The next morning, when I counted the blisters on my feet due to wet socks/ shoes, I found three big ones and the fourth waiting to sprout. After bandaging them up, on an empty stomach, we started our hike down to the road where we could get a car to Ghes. The monsoon had broken the bridge where we could trek to Ghes and I was not in a mood to trek in the water again.
With our luck, after trekking down half an hour, we had to cross a stream again. Himanshu went in with his shoe as usual but this time I took off my shoes and socks, but the cotton and tape on each blister remained. It got wet and soaked in all the water, so as I trekked to the taxi, my blisters were getting bigger. An hour of a fast no break descent later, we were near a taxi. An hour later, we were at Ghes. Another hour of an uphill trek led us to Sarmatta, where we met villagers who were ready to guide us to Bagchi bugyal. Alas, I was drained. I couldn't walk without food, and I decided to stop there while Himanshu trekked up two more hours to Bagchi.
11 AM: My wonderful exploration of the Bagchi bugyal trek ended up with me not exploring the very meadow after which the trek is named! I simply followed him to a point where my phone got good network and called my mom up. The villagers were being too nosy and I was in the mood for peace. So I sat up there for an hour, while Himanshu went up and explored the meadow.
I came down in time for lunch, spent the day with local women, talking, admiring the view and going to fetch the buffaloes in the evening. Himanshu came back down by 5 after finishing Bagchi bugyal. We ate dinner at a locals house and slept there.
The next morning, we packed our bags and trekked back down to the road. We got a taxi guy who was on his way to Dehradun and off we were. What an exploration it had been!
I most definitely have come back stronger both physically and mentally. And now I am rearing to go explore more. Join us sometime, I assure you it will be a story worth telling your grandkids decades later!!