May 25, 2007

Snaking Up In Garwhal Himalayas

Delhi-Mussoorie-Thatyur-Dewalsari-Nag Tibba (Part-I)

After a point of time, all travel pieces begin to sound the same. More so if you have limited your destinations to highlands only. I confess this blog has to live with this handicap. Although I like to travel far and wide, backwater and uphill… the muse sings only for the mountains. Please bear with me. Here comes another experience which could be of use for those who like short two/three-day beautiful trek.

Nag Tibba. I stumbled upon this three-day trek route in a thin booklet on excursions near Dehra-Mussoorie region. The name sounded exotic and it fitted well into a long weekend. My new job (at Encyclopaedia Britannica) allowed me only that much. To lure a few partners, I mailed an attractive-sounding itinerary to about two dozen of my friends who I thought could be interested in exercising their limbs. The confirmation was 100% (probably due to the three-day stab) which unnerved me. But, mail confirmations seldom get real. On the final count, on that late summer evening, Gautam, Sukriti and I (yes, only 1/8th of the promised lot) boarded the bus from ISBT Delhi, with light backpacks and rum-cokes. The year was 2000.

Being in close reach from Mussoorie and Dhanaulty, Nag Tibba is a famous hiking trip among school students in the Doon Valley. From Dhanaulty, the trek takes one more day but is regarded as more picturesque. We had to choose the Mussoorie-Thatyur route, given our time constraints. For Nag Tima from Delhi, one can take an overnight bus/train to Dehradun; then take a jeep or bus to Mussoorie and; then take another passenger jeep to Thatyur. The trek begins thereto. From Thatyur too, there are two ways to reach Nag Tibba. One is faster, tougher and can remind of you Amazon forests (as seen in Discovery channel) but you would probably need a guide. Another one is a “cosy” gradual ascent through a mule trek, but it takes a tad longer.

The dawn was yet to break when we landed at Dehradun. We needed to pick up a four-man tent — one must exceed the man-count by one if one wants to keep the sacks inside the tent — from Upendra Arora (of Natraj Publishers). Having divided parts of the tent in our sacks, we boarded a bus to the queen of hills Mussoorie — a one-hour journey, shorn of any great recount. Equally boring and bouncy was the two-hour jeep trip to Thatyur. A small hill town, Thatyur had all basic amenities in for a trekker (except a booze shop). A few residences cum lodges fed the stream of budget travelers during season.

A quarter of the first day was lost to getting buckled up for the foot-march ahead. For a moment, I felt that we the city-breds were weary of taking up to mountains. But then, with a loud click of heels, the three pair of legs came into motion. The well laid-out road, for the first one or two kilometer, barely looked like a trek; the bright sun being our only sweat. However, once we reached a small cast-iron bridge atop the frothy Aglar River, better views beckoned us from a height. Sukriti proved to be quite a walker, as she moved swiftly even when the path got angular. "She appears to be the only man among us," Gautam commented from behind sarcastically. He had already begun to huff. His words brought some pace to my feet but all in vain. Soon, I had to rest on a boulder in the sidewalk for exceeding my strength. Meanwhile, Sukriti kept her flight on. "Is she a girl or a boy?" Gautam spoke in broken breaths.

The first day of a trek is always the most painful. The bone-joints remind you of the rust that has gathered in your body. And your breath curses at every two hundred steps. But movement is the only medicine in such a situation. Restoring our breath, we got up to move again — even slower than the last stretch. Our halts got longer each time we stopped. And by the time it was 3 in the afternoon (about four hours after we had set about), hunger began to wring our bellies. We had been counting on the ghee-laden paranthas to keep us moving till Dewalsari, a small village on the way where we had thought to camp for the night. But each time we asked a soul coming from the opposite direction about the village, he would say, "Just ten minutes from here". Yet, one hour of the fragmented walking could not reach us to Dewalsari.

And then appeared our guardian angel — Sunil. A class 9 student who studied in Thatyur, Sunil was on his way home to Dewalsari and took away our fatigue with light banter about his village and the Nag Devta ka mandir. Seeing an opportunity, I politely enquired whether his family can arrange our food for the night at a reasonable price. "And do tell us a safe place to pitch the tent too," I smiled at him.

It worked. In less than ten minutes, village Dewalsari arrived. An empty school verandah was chosen for the campsite. Rice and daal were duly purchased from the solitary shop in the village and given to Sunil household for dinner. And Sunil (weekend helped) told us he would be showing us the shorter route to Nag Devta the day after. Hard labour pays.

As we settled our wares, I found one big irritant to our privacy was a group of young children who had hovered around our camp site and kept giggling at everything we did. Sukriti, dying for a well-earned smoke, suffered the most since she didn’t want to attract unnecessary attention. I hated to be rude to the kids but had to shout and shoo them off to be myself for a short while. As darkness descended, around 6 pm that is, we realized a mini-celebration was indeed called for. Out came the Old Monk bottle and the party continued till 9 (late by hill standards) when the dinner arrived in clean vessels. The frugal meal tasted as divine as it should to a starving stomach. Tired, drunk and fed, none of us remembers how and when we hit the sack; also who fell first. What we still remember is that after a long, long time the sleep took over us at 9 pm.

(to be continued…)