Knocking on Heaven’s Door

ได้เวลาอัพเดท…เผอิญมีคนบอกมาว่า อยากให้เอาบทความท่องเที่ยวที่เคยเขียนไว้มาลงในเว็บ จะได้อ่านได้โดยไม่ต้องเสียเงิน (เอ๊ะยังไง?) ไหนๆ ก็ไหนๆ เลยเอาบทความเก่าๆ (เก่ามาก) มาลงให้อ่านเล่นกัน…จริงๆแล้ว บทความอันนี้ เขียนลง Bangkok Post ตอนที่ไปเที่ยวที่นี่ใหม่ๆ แต่พอมาดูอีกที โอ้โห…ลงไปตั้งแต่ Sept 2004 โน่น…ยังไงก็ เอาไปอ่านกันเล่นๆ…เย็นๆใจละกันนะ…อ้อ…ให้เครดิตอีกนิด บทความนี้ คงไม่สละสลวยเท่านี้ ถ้าขาดคนเอดิทคนสำคัญให้…(พอเอดิทแล้ว…มันดีกว่าที่ตัวเองเขียนเยอะเลยอ่ะ)…ขอบคุณ คุณ MDR ผู้ช่วยขัดเกลาภาษาที่ไม่ใช่ภาษาพ่อภาษาแม่นี้ให้ดูเป็นผู้เป็นคนมากขึ้นค่ะ…

ถ้าขยันอ่านจนจบได้ ช่วย Comment หน่อยก็ดีนะ…เออ..

Here is one of my travel articles written 3 years ago (2004).  This one was published in Bangkok Post (newspaper) in September 2004. Thanks to MDR who helped editing this article to make it much more interesting and better than the original one I wrote.

もしもし。。。これはね。。。3年前書きまし記事です。 その時はBangkok Postというタイの英語の新聞のために書きましたのです。 どうぞお楽しみに。

Knocking on Heaven’s Door

“Om”

Incantations of the sacred word rolled from the depths of our stomachs before we started trekking each morning.  We would hold the word in a single exhalation for as long as we could, before taking a deep breath and repeating the process over and over again.  We believed it to be a calling to the spirits of the sacred gods, asking them to bless and help us complete our daily trek.

A 9-day trek to Har-Ki-Doon Valley in the Western Garhwal Himalayas of Uttaranchal Province, northeast India was our mission.  Recently opened in 2002, this route of the ‘National Himalayan Trekking Expedition’ was arranged by the Youth Hostels Association of India (YHAI).  This was the third year that the route was being followed and we were the third expedition group of the season.  It was a long 9-day trek covering approximately 92 km.  We began at Sankri Base Camp at an altitude of 5,800 ft., before climbing to 12,000 ft. and traversing the snow-covered peak of Kedar Kantha.  We then dropped slightly in elevation to reach our destination at 11,200 ft. before trekking back down to Base Camp.

Normally, when travelling privately, the Har-Ki-Doon valley can be reached by a two-day trek from the village of Sankri.  However, our expedition followed a back-route across the mountains, taking us 7 days to reach the valley and a further 2 days back along the normal route.  Our extended route was opened just once a year during May and was arranged by YHAI, who prepared the campsites, veggie food and other basic facilities at various locations along the way.  A group of foot-loose trekkers started walking each day from May 1 to 31.

The expedition itself actually started after checking in at the Youth Hostel in Mussourie, ‘The Queen of Hills’, a popular Indian hill resort at an elevation of 6,000 ft.  The site was discovered by British troops during their period of colonialism and has now become a popular spot for newly-weds and vacationing families, since it is only 270 km. from Delhi.  The area has several waterfalls, cool weather, and superb views of mountains and valleys.   After a night in Mussourie, we piled onto a specially arranged ‘trekkers’ bus and transferred to Sankri Base Camp.  Though only 175 km. away, the journey took more than 8 hours!  The route twisted and turned through hills and valleys till some of us started to feel very sick.  We stopped briefly at a local village (mainly for a pee and a cup of tea) and then once again in the middle of some pinewoods for a lunch that had been prepared by the youth hostel.  Hanuman Langurs, macaques, and several species of high-altitude birds could be seen along the route so long as the long, tiring, bone-numbing journey didn’t kill you first.  We arrived at Sankri Base Camp at 5 p.m. where the camp leaders and other staff were waiting to greet us.  They gave us an orientation of the site and then allocated us to large tents that separated the men and the women.  This was the only campsite where we had proper toilets.  We did not start trekking the next morning, but instead had a day acclimatizing to the altitude, which included morning exercise, a two-kilometre uphill trek and abseiling.  The day finished with a short visit to the local village and stunning views of the sunset over the majestic snow-capped peak of Swargarohini, towards which we would start trekking tomorrow.

The first real day of trekking had arrived, and our task was simply (?) to trudge up and up and only up over a distance of about 4 kilometres to Camp 1 at Juda Talao at an elevation of 8,000 ft.  Our backpacks were limited to 6-8 kg. per person but they felt as though they were filled with tons of rocks.  We passed through rich forests of pine and rhododendron; sometimes we saw vultures soaring overhead.  Juda Talao had a lake with a small island in the middle (Juda Talao means separated lake).  The camp leader warmly welcomed us with juice and some very nice tomato soup.  However, there were to be no baths or toilets this day onwards.  Today we had forest and a tiny stream next to campsite to do our business.  After our vegetarian dinner (actually all meals were vegetarian), we had a small campfire (actually it was candlelight) and a cup of tea before bed.  The next morning and for each morning that followed, we were awoken with a cup of tea in bed, before having breakfast, packing our bags and lunch boxes and setting out towards the next destination of the day.  Day after day, at each campsite, our routine would follow this pattern.  There was no change until we got back Base Camp.

The highlight of each day was therefore the trekking.  The distances we travelled over the next few days became longer and longer, we also continued to climb higher and higher.  On the second day, as we headed towards Kedarkantha campsite at 10,000 ft., we passed fields of montane flowers and green pastures with grazing herds of sheep and goats.  Several birds, especially vultures and raptors, were seen.  No need to mention the beautiful plants and insects, which were everywhere.  The campsite was located on the grassy foothills of Kedar Kantha, surrounded by snow-capped mountains.   Kedar Kantha is the abode of Shiva and the next day we would we would see a small shrine at the top of this 12,000 ft. peak.  Trekking to the peak required a lot of energy due to the thin air found at high altitude, but when trekking down from the peak to the next campsite we had to be a lot more careful due to the stresses on our knees, especially at one particular “death slope”.  However, the scenery was breathtaking.  All around were the distant peaks of snowy mountains, though we hadn’t, as yet, walked on snow ourselves.

One of the highlights of the trek occurred on the fourth day when we actually got to walk on the snow.  The guide and his staff prepared safety lines for us whenever we had to traverse the snowy slopes of the mountain trail.  Slipping was of course unavoidable, but we had to make sure that we didn’t slip over a cliff from which rescue would be Impossible.  It looked so dangerous but the safety was there.  It was great fun, especially for those of us who live in countries that never experience snow.

Days passed.  We were now on the long trek to Har-Ki-Doon Valley, following trails created by local villagers along the mountain ridges.  Our destination was clearly visible in front of us but we never seemed to get any closer.  Mountains, more mountains, rice paddies, forests, grasslands, waterfalls, we walked passed everything, but still couldn’t get there.  Luckily, there were a couple of local shops on the way, where we stopped to eat omelettes and curry-flavoured instant noodles!  It helped a lot since the daily vegetarian food was becoming somewhat monotonous.  The final stage of the trek, to reach the destination, seemed to be the toughest for everyone.  We saw a sign welcoming us to Har-Ki-Doon, but where was the camp?  All we could see In front of us were the peaks of mountains, streams, rocks, pine forests and lots of birds.  We saw a second sign – we should be there soon, and finally…  There!  The campsite was deep in the valley, down a slope that fell away at about 70 degrees!  The final descent to reach camp seemed very difficult after a long, tiring day, but what helped us enormously were the tremendous views of Har-Ki-Doon Valley.  Small tents had been set up on a large grassland that was surrounded by crystal-clear streams that tumbled from the stunning snowy peaks.  Our final efforts were put into reaching that heavenly site.  Swargorohini, Har-Ki-Doon, and several other peaks surrounded the campsite making us feel miniscule against the sacred power of the gods, and Mother Nature.  Our exhausted bodies were rejuvenated by their power.  The freezing night was filled with joy and happiness.

The sacred “Om” was raised once again in the warming rays of the morning’s sun.  It was time to let go of heaven.  The final two-day trek back to Base Camp seemed a lot easier.  Even the 70-degree climb back out of the valley seemed much easier today.  We couldn’t help turning our heads to look back at heaven, a sight that will be engraved upon hearts forever.

Was it worth coming?  Was it worth enduring nine days trekking, plus the four-five days journeying to and from Base Camp, the lack of baths, toilets and meat for those of us who are accustomed to the niceties of life?  For me, the answer is an absolute “Yes!”  But for you, well you’ll just have to go find out for yourself.

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