Braving a hailstorm in the Himalayas

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My little kutthu

It was April 28, 2015. I rose to the sound of cuckoos cooing. Not a cuckoo clock. Real cuckoos. Slowly, my mind registered more sounds. The cric cric of mynas, the cawing of ravens, the pecking of woodpeckers, the occasional moo of a cow, the barking of mountain dogs and the rattling of bells from around mules’ necks. What a perfect morning it was!

My tent mates, Suma and Ashwini, were already up and immersed in hushed chit-chatting. Hushed because every sound in the mountains sounds ten times louder. (And the neighbouring tents can hear all your gossip.) I asked them what the time was. I had no watch and my phone had been turned off for two days. Keeping track of time on this trip was the last thing on my agenda. But we had a schedule to follow.

They said it was around 5 am.

I was up on time.

We were to go from our campsite in Rohini Bugyal to Brujgali today.

I walked out of the tent and was greeted to a fantastic view, something I could never take for granted despite seeing it everyday. From below my feet, acres and acres of bright green meadows unfolded in all directions, until they disappeared into deep, untamed forests. These forests were no ordinary forests. They were replete with rhododendron trees that were full with pink and red flowers – a rare sight that occurs during March and April in the Himalayas.

Rohini Bugyal
The toilets with the best views

Beyond the forests, rose the much-coveted ranges of the Himalayas themselves. Oh how we had waited the previous evening to see these guys! It had become a sort of ordeal to reach the campsite every evening, huddle up on a carpet and stare in the general direction of the mountains, waiting for the peaks to show themselves. They were almost always hidden by a thick layer of clouds. How many abilities we all wished for – to simply blow the clouds away with an “uff,” or wipe the screen clean of clouds or maybe suck the clouds into a vacuum cleaner. If only life was that easy! On most evenings, we went to sleep disappointed, hoping for a good view in the morning.

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Pretend meditation. (Praying for a mountain view) Picture courtesy: Deepak Suri

And that hope was never shot down. Surely enough, everyday, the mountains rose from their lazy slumber along with the sun, showing off the fresh snow atop their peaks. They gleamed in golden rays at dawn, throwing gigantic shadows over villages and forests below. This was the view I woke up to this morning too. As usual, I was dumbfounded by the view. I remember thinking, “Why do I bother writing? Or clicking pictures? Like any of that can actually portray the grandeur of these guys.” I had heard so much about how insignificant they make people feel. And that happened to me everyday.

As I grudgingly brushed my teeth in the biting cold water, I saw one of the shepherd dogs about a hundred feet away. “Doggyyyy!,”  I called to it. When it turned towards me, I noticed with a chill down my spine that it was no mountain dog. It was a sleek little fox. It stared at me for a while, until I gestured to everyone to look at the fox. It stared for a few more seconds and ran away into the forest.

Such was the start to my day. It was just the beginning of the day’s adventure.

We started our trek at 7 am through the densest forests ever. Oaks, maples, rhodos, the “tree of souls” from Avatar, they were all competing for prettiness. For me, the maple trees won it. The shapely leaves against the sunlight and their many shades as they lay drying on the floor left me in awe. I picked up a few to press in a book.

Waterfall as seen from far far away
Waterfall as seen from far far away

We rambled on through the forest till we hit a waterfall. We could hear it from far away, swiftly cascading down the hillside. The water was freezing. After I saw two trekkers dive into the water, I couldn’t resist the temptation to indulge in it myself. Unable to strip down like the men, I just went and stuck my head in the water, letting my hair down. As expected, I had a temporary brain freeze. But it was bright and sunny and the water was so refreshing! (The swollen tonsils later would pay the price.)

There was more adventure yet to be faced. The final two hours were a challenging steep ascent through lush meadows where woolly sheep grazed. But as we ambled on, a thick layer of dark grey shrouded the pretty blue sky and left us apprehensive about rain. Sure enough, it began to drizzle and then pour. Since we were all equipped with raincoats, bag covers and ponchos, we were all safe and ready to carry on.

An hour away from our destination, the camp site at Brujgali, water droplets turned into tiny marbles of ice. We were all fascinated! We collected hailstones in our hands and played with them. We stood with our mouths open to the sky and ate hailstones. We were thrilled!

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Last picture I shot before putting my camera inside to protect it from the rain

But not everything was sunshine and rainbows clouds and hailstones. Within ten minutes, the hailstones grew to the size of baby potatoes and began pelting us with enormous force. It had turned into a full blown Himalayan hailstorm. Solid stones fell in abundance from the grey nothingness above. And with great force. It was painful. I remember exclaiming “Ouuuuch!” and shouting at every stone that hit me. We ran to our campsites with the little energy we had left in us. We made it just on time, before the thundering clouds lost control and burst open in a celestial flash of light.

Hailstorm at Brujgali
Hailstorm as seen from the dining tent

Had we been outside for even ten more minutes, it would have turned into a life threatening situation. If not life threatening, a few of us might have lost a few toes and fingers to frost bites. (And I’m not exaggerating.)

But we were safe for now. Fifteen of us huddled together like cows in the dining tent, threw our bags, ponchos and shoes in a corner and rubbed our hands together for warmth. Some people sat back-to-back trying to generate some warmth. It was bitterly cold. Our teeth clattered and our knees trembled. It was past lunch time and we opened the lunch boxes we had packed in the morning. Our rotis had turned cold and hard and our sabzis had dried up. But we ate hungrily. By now, there was a foot of ice all around our tent.

Ashish, bringing us tea
Ashish, bringing us chai

Struggling to speak, breathing out frosty and misty air, we kept ourselves cheerful with gay banter. But the real cheer came when we heard Ashish’s (our local guide) voice outside, shouting out that one word we longed to hear. “Chai!” My face lit up with excitement. Hot chai in the middle of a hailstorm in the Himalayas! No matter how cliched that might sound, it is worth every bit of the hype. Nothing could make me feel warmer than chai. We were all so lazy to look for our mugs, we just took chai in our lunch boxes and drank like savages. It was wonderful.

Like chai was the answer to everything, the hail storm subsided around then and we could finally step out of the dining tents into our own 3-man tents. We ran in and settled for the evening, unpacking, repacking and setting up the place with sleeping bags and inners. I remember thinking, “Did we do something to piss the mountains off? Why did they pelt us from above and give us such bad weather?” I’m not a particularly religious person, but that evening, I prayed to Shiva and Rama (whose temples were our final destination), saying sorry and to give us good weather.

My prayers were soon answered. At around 5 pm, when I stepped out of the tent, I was greeted by the most gorgeous view I’d seen so far on the trek. The jagged incisors of the Himalayas stood tall and proud on the horizon. The white of their teeth stood out against the forget-me-not blue sky. Tiny wisps of cloud floated high over the mountains. Closer to me, trees swayed, trying to shake the ice off themselves. I could sit and watch for hours despite the cold wind.

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Our campsite at Brujgali

The scenery was worth a thousand hailstorms.

I drank soup, clicked a bunch of pictures for the little time my camera battery lasted and went to my tent. The view from my tent of the setting sun is something I’ll never forget. It’s the best view I’ve ever had from any place I’ve lived in. For a while, I wished I could live permanently in that tent at that very spot.

View from my tent
View from my tent

It’s funny how a few people say good things are short-lived and how a few others say good things last forever. This Himalayan trek was a mixture of both. It lasted only a week, but it’s effect will last on my for years to come. Well, at least until I go on another trek and refresh my memory.

I feel much more mature, calm and accommodating than ever before. Despite the exhausting trek, I feel re-energised. I feel like I can deal with any demanding situation by simply saying to myself, “Pfff I’ve braved a hailstorm in the Himalayas. This is nothing.

Most of all, I feel at peace.

Vote of thanks

Thanks to all my trek mates, especially my tent mates, who turned out to be like family members to me. I’m sure every time I think of this trek, the sound of our laughter and elation upon reaching the peak will echo in my head. Also I want to say a huge thank you to the mules for transporting our luggage to every camp site, and to all the animals (dogs, cattle and sheep) who made my day everyday! Also, to the little kids in Sari, our base camp, who were such a hearty bunch. They actually came and fell at my feet and made me stupidly say, “Chill,” every time they did that.

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Baba :)

Also, special thanks to Baba, who literally paved our way to the peak with an ice axe. He is a champ. I don’t think any of us would have gotten anywhere without him, especially not in that knee-deep snow. Also, thanks to Indiahikes, who treated us like royalty with bed tea to wake us up and a hot mug of Bournvita before sleeping and the cosiest tents and sleeping bags. I don’t think I felt deprived of anything even for a minute in the mountains. And I have to thank Sandhya and Arjun, my bosses, for encouraging me to go on this trek. I really have the best job in the world.

Thank you Mahesh and Deepak for contributing pictures to this blogpost. :)

It was just my first Himalayan adventure and it taught me a lot. And I’m already planning my next one. :)

Here’s to many more trekking adventures.

PS: Sorry to all you guys whom I left worried after the earthquake in Nepal and India. I didn’t have network and I couldn’t have possibly updated you all. Thank you for the concern.

Keep calm and carry on_
Cheers!

 

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10 thoughts on “Braving a hailstorm in the Himalayas

  1. ok first of all i am thankful to god u r safe :) i was waiting for this post ! you seem to have just an adventure like bilbo did :D i could picture it! narration helped! i’m in love with pics wish you had uploaded more in that flash player. Hope you’l have more amazing treks in future ! ^_^

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  2. Great write up Swati. I will always remember this trek as one of the most wonderful one. Excellant arrangements by Indiahikes.

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  3. Awosome picture and heavenly experience really I got excited with this exp and I want also this experience in my life. Thanks for sharing all this . Have a happy trekking all the life long for ever.

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  4. I really would like to contest your opinion about this post being just factual.. it was wonderful, and i look forward to more such adventures.. also, lovely pictures!

    Like

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