Nag Tibba (Part-II)
If you drink to your gills, fill up your foodpipe to its end, and then crash without remembering when you actually did… a hangover is sure to ring your doorbell the next morning. Yet, there were no signs of a heavy head, or a parched throat when I opened my eyes around 7 am at Dewalsari (probably because there was neither door nor bell in our tent). I rubbed my eyes against a bright sun. Sunil, who I gradually remembered from the previous day to be our guardian angel and the guide to Nag Tibba, was waiting for us at a wooden bench, swinging his legs relentlessly, with a bored look on his face. I slipped a 100-rupee note into Sunil’s palm for the tastiest dinner in recent memory that he served us last night. In return, Sunil blushed a feeble thank-you.
I kicked the other two bums out of bed for the final leg to Nag Tibba and also decided that a few belongings could be left at the school's custody. Sunil had warned us of a steep climb and I wanted no casualties. Only necessary gadgets (including the tent) were forced into one rucksack and the rest was left behind to be collected upon our return trip.
I strapped the sack on my sagging shoulders, while the co-trekkers colgated the rum from their breaths. I found it a bit unusual when both Gau and Suku looked too happy in starting the march (normally, the second day in a trek begins with groans). I soon realized the trigger to their joy: I was the only one carrying a rucksack (a formidable one at that) while the two ambled in muftis. However, as always, after a few initial grunts the rucksack became a part of my body. As Sunil had promised, the path got steeper with every quarter of an hour; the surroundings ever so breathtaking. It got often get a bit dark, thanks to the thick cover of hill vegetation. A roaring stream passed downward. The whole atmosphere felt so moist that I thought Gau and Sukriti had applied gel on their hair. My own thinning hair made a pathetic skin show to others.
Such Amazonian beauty came with a price though. Sukriti and I, who had chosen khaki shorts like hip trekkers, invited blood-leeches in droves. Every now and then, we would see the blood trickling down our legs in sharp lines; stop to pull out the parasite; clean the marks and; move on. Sunil, no surprises there, was the fastest of us. The only person I managed to beat, despite the load pulling back, was Gautam, the weakest link in our chain. The ascent only became worse. The worst part was lack of any plateau kind of route in sight for the break. The angle of our trek kept moving to the worrying side. The trickling dew drops, thick green forests and an almost musical flow of the stream close by… soon lost their charms and we craved for some Jhandu Chinese Balm for our aching knees.
The pain was made worse by Sunil’s constant requests to borrow my rucksack for the trip. I found it an insulting proposition. How can I, specially in front of two amateur witnesses who looked up to me as a seasoned trekker, pass on the load to a frail school boy? Unthinkable! A quick lunch midway was organized with what we had brought from Devalsari. I can safely swear in the name of God that for the three of us, it was more a time to rest our bones than fill our bellies. Sunil merely took it as an irritable delay to his return home.
Fatigue defeated my ego in the next round of uphill-walk. I gave up barely two hours after lunch. The moment Sunil renewed his request to carry the load… plop I dumped the sack before him. I hadn’t named him our "guardian angel" for nothing. Sunil’s frail frame belied my apprehensions. Even with the 20 kg sack on his shoulder, he walked just as fast as without it. More humiliation came when I realised that only half hour of swift ascent had reached us to the Nag Devta Temple. Dammmmnnnn it! If I had continued for another mile with my feeble pace, I would have got my gold medal. Could I? I asked myself doubtingly before crashing over the moist grass at the meadow near the small 4x4 feet temple where Sunil bowed down to pay obeisance.
Frankly, hill temples, including the popular chaar-dhaam ones, are never an architectural marvel. Save for the Jageshwar set of structures (near Almorha) in Uttarakhand, most others are a small ensemble of stones and mortar. It is the devilish route to reach the abode that makes them a holy pilgrim for penance and not the grandiose, as in other ancient temples or other places of worship in other parts of India.
After showing us a Gurjar dera nearby, where we could get warm food and other hospitability, Sunil turned away with his princely wages for the day. I raised the Swiss tent and after laying down sleeping mats inside with the large sack, walked about with Suks to savour the beauty. Gautam held his fort, lying spread eagle, not moving a muscle.
(The night of growls and a musical rundown comes next)