Apr 25, 2007

Fast, Not Furious

Meeting Pindari Baba & a whirlwind return (Pindari Part-III)

Cold weather, a shoddily pitched tent and insufficient dinner ensured that I woke up when it was still dark. Since there was nothing else on hand, I made use of wee hours by wrapping my sleeping bag and the tent in place, and was all buckled up to leave when the dhaba-owner advised me to wait for light. “Aage Bhotia ke kutte buka denge (Bhotia dogs ahead will tear you down),” he said and began to light his hearth for the day. I waited on my haunches, rubbing my hands for some warmth and got up as soon as the morning cracked. Soon enough I came across the small camp of Bhotias (a nomadic tribe in Uttarakhand who rear sheep and goats) being guarded by two large, ferocious-looking Tibetan mastiffs. The ferocity was doubled with loud barks and their collars made of a thorny jumble (akin to a studded restrain). The smiling Bhotia told me that such a collar saves them from a tiger attack on their neck. The dogs are unleashed in the night to keep his herd safe and the surroundings unsafe. I cringed at the thought of meeting those Bhotia canines when they were not chained.

The ascent was easy and in a few hours I reached Pindari baba. His youthful looks, black hair and athletic frame belied the title. I had conjured an imaginary portrait of a wrinkled face, knotty hair and other spiritual USPs but... Baba, in his early thirties, lived alone in a small well-built stone ashram and loved to chat about his pursuits, living and recent past. “Devi (Nanda) ma ki kripa hai,” he said with folded hands when I asked if loneliness or weather never bothered him. After listening to the Baba’s benign stories, and a plateful of dal-chawal (there was a dhaba nearby which sold the same for Rs 50/-, so I kept a similar amount before the small temple inside ashram). Time was scarce and I had to reach Dwali by evening so seeking baba's blessings (lest there were more Bhotia guards on way) I moved on to Zero Point.

Frankly, I was disappointed by the Zero Point. This was a poor culmination of a beautiful trek. Clouds made it worse as there was no view. I waited only to catch some breath then turned back. At Dwali, Gau looked vindicated when I told the duo about the Zero Point. “Let’s skip Kafni glacier and just go home," Gau said, already home-sick. I knew they had made up their mind in my absence but I had also made up to go to Kafni. “What if I give a flying visit to Kafni and return here by the time you leave. The route is a plain walk of about 3 km; there is no uphill climb and; I shall be without a sack, thus doubly faster,” I placed my argument.

Finally, it was decided that the team should begin downward at 11 am. If I could manage to return by then, fine. If not, they shall leave my sack to the caretaker and move on; I could catch them on the way. Fair enough. I got up by 6, when it was fairly bright and raced to the other fork of the confluence. It was an easy run, without the weights or waits. A scattered group of Gujarati schoolchildren had been on their way to Kafni with their trainer ahead of me. I made friends with them and marveled at their school authorities’ decision.

The route to Kafni glacier — which is not 3 km as the KMVN brouchure says, but solid 5 km run — is far more enjoyable than Pindari. Large snowy views of Nanda Ghunti and Nanda Kot look like made of frozen ice-creams at times. I wondered all along why Pindari, and not Kafni, was the more popular trek for all (for religious reasons, maybe). Too bad that I could not spend much time at Kafni. Having clicked the views in my memory for ever, I switched back, meeting the huff-puff of young guns trying to negotiate the bends and slippery land.

Gau-Rachs were surprised no end, when I reached half hour before the deadline. Both were still massaging their calves for the journey ahead. After devouring several paranthas and dahi at throwaway prices, I burped with satisfaction and padded my shoulder for the day. On your marks…

We had barely run down (the descent is largely fun, if you know how to regulate your speed) to Khati, when Rachs complained of lower backache. Now, women readers would know what a lower-back pain is often associated with!! And since I have had a few intimate female friends, I knew this could not be taken lightly. I haggled with a ponywallah and Rachna-Gau were mounted on strong mulebacks to shuttle downward (I refused the ride for either false ego, masochism or plain pigheadedness but I agreed to part with the sack). The three of us landed at Loharkhet around 4 o’clock, collected out sack and were pleased to meet a jeep-driver who agreed to take us to Bageshwar in time for the last bus to Almorah. I calculated my chances: If we could reach Almorah before 10 and board the night bus to Delhi, I would shame the Dimension Equipment (who scoffed at us for thinking that Pindari can be wound up in seven days). The price was fixed and off we began to wheel on the jeep track.

En route Bageshwar I saw large dish antennas. Since there was no power connection in the area, I wanted to know what the antennas were doing. “Jab India-Pakistan ka match hota hai, generator se TV chalta hai aur sab mil kar match dekhte hain (When there is a cricket match, we use a generator to run the TV and watch it).” I recounted Ramchandra Guha's words that India had only two religions: Bollywood and cricket. Power and political power be damned. I was woken up from my thoughts by sudden brakes. “The bus to Almorha has left, but the commander will drop you there earlier than the bus,” our driver pointed at a Mahindra Commander.

True to a pahari word, the jeep was doubly faster and as much unsafe. The daredevil driver took barely five hours to touch Almorha. All this while, I dared not look in the front, ignored the screech of tyres at sharp bends and many of the narrow escapes with traffic from the opposite side. Gau too held on to a latch, murmuring prayers while Rach was fast asleep. Everything fell in place when we caught the Almorha-Delhi bus by the whisker. For the first time in the week I looked at myself in a mirror. Burnt with snow, my nose was redder than a tomato and chips of dark skin had come off near the cheek bones and ears.

The three of us crashed over one another in a pile at our allotted seats and woke up only when the sun showed us hints of Ghaziabad-Delhi border. Around 7, looking slightly off-scene in my winter clothing, I got down at GT Road near Dilshad Garden and, telling Rachs to return the hired wares, moved towards home for a cosy bath and homely food. The nose and ears were sore but the heart pumped better and Delhi grind promised to be bearable.