Edit: My thoughts go out for Paris and I hope the people there can keep going without fear or hate.
It’s been, whelp, almost three months since India! No wonder I am getting itchy feet again. One of the hardest, scariest and most amazing experiences I had there was hiking in the Himalayas, and as the whole ordeal from Delhi to there was worth a good story, I put together a two-post journal about the trip. I took this trip so that you don’t have to (although after seeing the views, you probably will want to go anyway).
By the way – I have really enjoyed writing this blog, it has been something to take my mind off my Bachelor’s (which is not necessarily a good thing – ahem) and I don’t plan to stop anytime soon. However, I have been thinking about the blog’s future and content, and I think some cool little changes are gonna happen after Christmas. (I know, I know, Christmas is still light years away.) Other than that, I am not sure if only travel-related content is enough to make an interesting blog. I will most likely try to incorporate a little more of my personal life here, too, and try to come through the screen a little bit more. Is there anything you guys would like to read about?
Anyway – let’s get down to business.
Day 1. Bus ride from Hell
532 m to 1875 m
None of the buses have got names of destinations on them. The station is a disarray of buses of various sizes scattered around the area. Even the corner shops are still closed as we find the right bus shouting our destination’s name. The bus is barely bigger than a regular van but it has no less seats than a normal charter bus, and I have trouble squeezing through the tiny aisle. My backpack, even being carry-on size, doesn’t fit the rack so I push it under the seat. Almost an hour behind the schedule the engine finally comes to life, and the small bus starts its determined crawl from Rishikesh to Joshimath. Oh well, at least until it stops for petrol. The bus is packed, and Ben and I are the only tourists on board.
We’ve opted for the earliest bus possible, since the drive up will take all day, and the roads are sketchy as it is – I would never want to get stuck driving up here in the dark. On the left, there’s a solid rock wall rising high – on the right, a sheer drop of hundreds of meters. The road never straightens out but reveals one curve after another, and since it is impossible to see behind them, horns are diligently announcing the oncoming traffic. The Dairy Milk bar Ben has got me during one of the breaks tastes gone off but I’m hungry so I gobble it up anyway. It’s impossible to predict when the bus is going to leave the rest stop. At times it comes alive again, drives for a hundred meters and stops for another fifteen minutes. Even though it is painful to sit still for all this time, I prefer to stay inside the bus for this reason.
As the journey started, we were driving on a paved, two-way road, but towards the end of the drive the roads have become progressively worse, until we’re riding on a narrow gravel road at a steady pace. A few times our driver carefully steers us as deep into the small ditch beside the road as he can as a truck inches past us so close that it’s a miracle the cars aren’t scraping off their paint. The edge of the road looms probably less than a meter away from our wheels. Three times we stop to let a couple of small bulldozers clear the road from landslides ahead of us.
After a bone-rattling, fear-evoking journey of twelve hours we finally arrive in Joshimath where a new problem arises: the police has put up barricades and won’t let us through, so we stay in for an additional fifteen minutes as the bus takes another route into the town. Luckily there is one guy on board that can tell us what is happening – we have already started to panic that the bus has started to head right back to Rishikesh. I have never ever felt as good about getting out of a bus. We quickly find a cheap and seedy hotel that we judge decent enough for one night’s sleep.
That night we sit out on the stairs eating Indian fudge and gazing at the mountains around the town until darkness finally covered them completely.
Day 2. Oh my God, my legs are shaking
1875 m to 3049 m
It’s only six o’clock when we make our way back to where the bus dumped us last night to find a jeep to take us to Govindh Ghat. I was terrified to get back on the narrow, unreliable roads, but I feel much safer inside a jeep and the hour-long journey goes by quickly. We’re now at the start of the 15-18 km trek to Ghangaria, which is a town completely dedicated to tourism. From May to August the hotels and restaurants in the town open to take in swarms of Sikh pilgrims – for the rest of the year, the area is covered in ice and snow, and the population of Ghangaria moves to lower villages.
We take the first break after the first little village. So far I’ve surprised myself keeping up with Ben, who, honestly, has been working out more than I have for this trek. I feel good. I feel like we can tackle the climb. Friendly pilgrims stop to chat with us every once in a while and ask for pictures. Riders on mules pass us by, some gazing at us suspiciously, some smiling and waving. There are loads of people on the trail, but we are some of the only ones trekking with our backpacks on. We are also some of the only ones wearing proper foot gear – most of the pilgrims are making their way forward in flip flops or even barefeet.
A long line of mules leads us to a rickety little bridge that crosses over a powerful stream. My inexperience in hiking has started to take its toll, but the guys at the snack stall inform us we’ve only got four more kilometers to go. That’s nothing, right, so let’s get going! Wrong. Right after the bridge the trek takes an upwards turn, and the last four km know no mercy. I’m taking breaks every five minutes. The air is getting thinner. Finally, in the distance, we spy a gate-looking snack stall and I hurry forward, thankful that we have finally made it. Wrong again! A clear sign informs us that there’s two more kilometers left.
Getting to Ghangaria make me want to sing hallelujah to the whole universe. I am never walking again! (Except in less than twelve hours.). We go around a couple of hotels and pick one that looks somewhat clean. The neighbouring room gets occupied by the Dutch couple we met on the tough hike up. In the evening we all eat at the restaurant downstairs and retire early.
Will our heroes make it to their destination? Will feet ever stop hurting? To be continued…