Kalga to Khirganga - We were supposed to do most of the height-gaining in those mountains in the first two days. So we started our first hike on the route from Kalga to Khirganga. That was the first trek-day and we were given detailed instructions along with our pack lunch, which usually had chocolate bars, and glucose drinks. As per plans, one leader Sushrut led the group & the main leader Amod was the last man in the group. Of course there were local guides, Kamlji, Bhagchandji and other porters with our tents, food and cooking material. As we discovered in the next few days, these locals were incredible, they were traveling on the trek route as if it was just another stroll in the garden.
As the sun started rising, we started noticing few snowy peaks far away for the first time in the dense fog. We walked on; this walk was mostly through dense green trees on a slightly slippery steep gradient with deep valley on the left and mountains with thick green woods on the right. I had this new hunter shoes, and they detested that I didn't have any practice session earlier, so they started registering their protest. My lungs and back also decided to grumble, and after few kilometers I realized that I was lagging behind by quite a significant distance. At high altitude respiration becomes slightly difficult and like Indian cricketers, lungs also take some time to adjust to difficult weather conditions! Typical response while adjusting is usually cough & cold, which started making their presence felt & they loyally accompanied me for the entire trek.
We had our pack lunch in between on the route near a small waterfall. And finally, after walking tough 12 kilometers, I reached Khirganga at around 1 PM and found that most of us were already there; and they looked equally exhausted. That was some comfort; I was not the only one! Of course, my condition was worse - I dropped my sack, and I laid down on my back facing the sky with my eyes closed. I couldn't speak for several minutes as my heart pumped some oxygen. After some time I opened my eyes and found the sun behind the clouds blinking at me and saying - "Welcome to Himalayas son, how's it going dude?" I smiled and said to myself, "I am loving it!" and that lingered on as the slogan for this entire trek. (You know, like those McDonald Ads!) Slowly I started realizing beauty of the place we were in - Khirganga.
Khirganga - Khirganga itself is located on a gradient, there are still plenty of big trees around, so it's not too high. Tree-line starts disappearing as you climb higher. At lesser height there are regular big trees, you grow higher and there are bushes, you still go higher and there's only grass and after that there's nothing green, just the snow. One of the main attractions of Khirganga is the hot water springs. It has got few huts, few tents and few hut-hotels. Soon we all had our tents set up, and dumped our stuff there. Then we had our lunch, as usual the food was great; with Zhep food is always delicious and abundant. None of us had any significant weight loss during the trek!
After lunch we were ready to enjoy the campsite. Obviously, main appeal was the hot water bath. There's small pool at the end of this Khirganga gradient, which has natural hot water springs. They contain Sulphur (yeah, the same chemistry stuff with symbol 'S' and atomic number 16), so in a way it is good for skin but if you're in this water for long, it could cause some problems as well. We all really enjoyed our hot water bath there; it was indeed very relaxing and we knew that we wouldn't be able to take bath for next few days. It was evening by the time we changed and walked towards our tents. The evening was simply beautiful there; the sky had very unusual shades of golden and there were few cattle on their way back and that gave an amazing silhouette effect on that Khirganga gradient. Ajinkya managed to capture a masterpiece with his Fuji Finepix there.
The evening turned into the night, we had our dinner, washed the plates (Yes, we had to do that with cold water after dinner) and got into our sleeping bags in our tents. But I discovered that I was not the only person with cold there, someone else from my tent also had cold with snoring and that managed to keep me awake in my sleeping bag whole night. I knew it would mean problems next day, but I was helpless and sleepless!
Khirganga to Thunda Bhuj - Next day our route was from Khirganga to Thunda Bhuj. This again involved some major height-gaining with several steep ascents. The route itself started with a climb on gradient trail and slowly we were going higher and higher. My cold was aggravated and shoes gifted me few painful blisters. What's more, I didn't even have any sleep/rest previous night. Within an hour I realized that I was having some serious problems while breathing and my heavy sack was making it worse. I had to stop on the route twice and when I stopped for the third time, group leader Amod approached me & forcibly took my sack from me and asked me to walk without the sack. Along with Arjun, he carried my sack for next one hour or more. This guy Amod has some stamina & strength when it comes to hiking in the mountains; he's almost as good as locals there. Hats off to him for being a real leader! Our pack-lunch spot was at some distance from there, so I walked without the sack till that spot. When we reached there we found that Mahajan uncle also had some problems, so we both decided to have a quick nap during this mini halt that we took. After this 15 minutes nap I was feeling much better, so I took my sack and started with others. This route was mostly climbing the height and we had river Parvati with us most of the time on this trail. Unlike the rivers we see here, Parvati river is full of life. It has got force, exuberance and unadulterated freshness. It doesn't flow, it just rushes and gushes through those mountain ranges. I had a much better walk from there till Thunda Bhuj.
Thunda Bhuj - Thunda Bhuj camp was just after crossing a small hanging wooden bridge. We reached there and I decided to catch-up on my sleep after lunch. So I took a tablet and slept whole afternoon. When I got up in the evening, I was feeling much better, and then I decided that this was the last time somebody carried my sack for me. I have decided to carry it on this route and I'd do it myself no matter what! I am gritty, and I decided to take it head on!
Thunda Bhuj camp was situated just near river Parvati on one side and mountains on all other sides. There are five mountains here and they are known as "Five Pandawas". They are quite huge and it is impossible to capture them all in a single camera frame, unless you've got a really good wide-angle lens or unless you're flying in a plane or helicopter. That night Radhika decided to help in cooking and being a good husband, Ajinkya joined her as well. It was raining that night, so we had our dinner in the mess tent that we hadn't used before. The dinner session became more interesting with an intriguing discussion about dams, their advantages, disadvantages, social implications, Narmada issue and Medha Patkar. The argument was mainly between Ajinkya and Sushrut. Since Ajikya was involved at some stage in that issue he was knowledgeable, and Sushrut was at his puerile best! ;)