“Poems are made by fools like me,

But only God can make a tree.”


Have seen a bit of rainfall here, and the almost instant sprouting of fresh leaves, tiny shoots and fresh grass which followed is nothing short of magical. Am missing some of the trees of Bangalore, those faithful friends of mine who waved when I saw them, who guarded the roads on both sides, who celebrated each season differently, who towered mightily and yet humbly, and who literally breathed life into me..



Grüß Gott!

After the long entry on the Har Ki Dun trek (, my  thoughts were still in the mountains, and I was transported back to Berchtesgadener Land in Germany. We were lucky that we could visit the area twice and could spend some time hiking, seeing, experiencing the local culture and practices.

The first time we’d visited the area, we were on a longer trip which had a lot of places thrown in – reason being this was our first big vacation in Europe and we didn’t know if we would be there again the following year. As a result, there was lesser time per place, but nevertheless we loved the place so much that we returned six months later to South Germany and spent a full week there.

Here are some memories from both the trips:

Arriving in Munich in the morning, we had a few hours which we used to hop over to the Oktoberfest.

Happy chugging from the 1-litre Maß 🙂

Emptyish hall when we clicked this. Started filling up soon as the music, beer, conversations and laughs started flowing

Friendly lady selling Pretzels

Just before the train pulled into Freilassing, there was an announcement saying that one of the staff was celebrating 30+ years of service with Deutsche Bahn and this was going to be his last day. I think he was from this part of Germany, which is why the staff seemed to have arranged a quick celebration for him at this station. There were friends, family and well-wishers cheering on and a lot of patting on the back, hugging and clapping. Such a nice gesture!

Heading on towards Berchtesgaden Hbf now, we saw glimpses of peaks from the train itself. Being our first year at such a northerly latitude, we were extra keen in checking out if autumn had yet graced us with its colours or not.

We reached in the late afternoon / evening, and called it a day at the campsite.

The following morning had started off cloudy, but the sun was rising somewhere behind the peaks and would soon clear matters.

We rushed to the stream nearby, the Königsseer Ache, which was flowing fast and steady. Beautiful companion to have..

We wanted to see the lakes and go on a hike, so grabbing a tiny bit of breakfast we started off. The lake was reflecting a bit too much light for our liking, especially after us having seen some photographs of how incredibly beautiful it could be – we were a bit disappointed and decided to come back later when the sun had moved in the sky.

We headed off, no particular place in mind, and saw a trail board pointing and leading to “Grünstein Klettersteig” and headed off. At that point, we didn’t really know that much German, and we thought it would be an easy trail. We were right, it was easy, but only because there was a trail all the way as an option. Klettersteig basically means a ‘Via Ferrata’ (Iron road) and we had neither the experience nor the equipment in that bit. Having said that, I’m really looking forward to climbing it that way now, sometime!

The ‘non-Klettersteig’ trail was level and broad, and easy, but where it lacked in making us really work out, it awarded beautiful views – dense forests, views of the lakes, trees in different shades, views of higher peaks across the valley and so on..

This was also one of our first hikes together, as in where both of us were not only hiking together physically, but we were much closer mentally and emotionally as well.

treetops on Fire! Autumn was on its way!

Along the way, we saw several elderly people hiking and found that very impressive. It was a recurring theme, how sport and fitness was such a lifestyle there, and how even the elderly are in such good physical condition! It also led to the sightings of a white mop of hair hurrying down the trail, catching the sunlight and reflecting it, a quick smile exchanged. Loved it!

Scenes from a memory..

As we came out of the thicker woods, we saw the Watzmann massif, and it looked daunting even from far off. We didn’t have the time on this trip to try and hike there, and in our next visit to this area, we couldn’t climb it since it was ‘nicht Schneefrei’ (not snow-free). However, it still left a mark and we still think about it a lot.

Here’s a popular and lovely imagination of the Watzmann family.

“”Watz” means rough, hard, stony and “Mann” means Man. An old legend explains the unusual formation of the Watzmann massif. Long, long ago, the area was ruled over by a cruel king called Watzmann, along with his queen and their seven children. The whole family was merciless and unfair, trampling down the crops on their wild hunting trips and taxing the people to starvation. Every Sunday the inhabitants prayed that they would be rid of these tyrannical rulers. One day, their prayers were heard at last. While in the hills on a hunting expedition, the entire family perished in a great storm and was turned to stone. And there they still sit today: the main peak is the king towering over the land, his queen sits to the left and the seven royal brats huddle between them.” – from ‘Your complete guide to Berchtesgaden” by David Harper.

By this time we were really hungry, having had a tiny breakfast and a light dinner the previous night. A Bavarian Weißwurst helped push us on.

The views were pretty, the trees seemed to be framing a landscape photograph!

Soon we were at the summit.

There was a board or two which shared details of the trail.

Back home, or rather back at the camping place, we saw the sun set on the peaks, a beautiful sight.

It was getting chilly, and we zipped ourselves in the tent once dinner was done and slept off, content.

The next day was foggy again, and an early rise and visit to the lake was rewarding.

The sun soon shooed the mist away, although both got trapped in a spider’s web

We went back to the lake later on and did a short hike till the Malerwinkel Aussichtspunkt (literal translation – Painter’s corner viewpoint), which as the name suggests is a view point from where a lot of painters painted the beautiful landscape. Personal note: I’m thoroughly enjoying pronouncing all the German words right now, after a gap of a year . People say the language sounds angry / harsh / unfriendly, but I really like the sound of it.

The next time we came to Berchtesgaden was in Spring, around the middle of April, and it poured for 5 days out of the 8 days that we were there!

However ,there were some delightful scenes to be seen right outside the tent, as overnight rain had left a carpet of water on the ground. Wildflowers had just started to bloom and along with the cool water, the whole place looked so fresh green, and fertile.

It was not breakfast time for us alone.

The lake was mysterious and intriguing green – different from what we had seen a few months back. Time and the seasons had woven a completely different shade into the surroundings.

We went off towards Obersee and saw some incredible reflections and shapes

Here’s the ‘normal’ view and the rotated photograph of the same view

There was another hike of about an hour and a half, which we took basically the entire day to complete(!) since the views were just too pretty. The clouds and the light kept changing, the sun went westwards as the day progressed and somehow the lake started getting stiller and seemingly clearer, and this is what we were offered a vision of:

‘mit Spiegelung der Berge’ – with a reflection of the mountains. I always see an ink pen with a green nib and a black body when I see this photo – almost as if the Supreme artist has taken a pause while drawing this out and left his brush here. Do you see it?

Farther on, the views just got even more stunning.

After 4 days of non-stop rain, gray skies and hardly any color, these views were a reward.

At a certain point of time in life, the mind / heart wants more and more, never satisfied with what it already has.

Thy infinite gifts come to me only on these very small hands of mine.
Ages pass, and still thou pourest, and still there is room to fill.

– Rabindranath Tagore

But that day was not one such day. We didn’t want any more / less of sunlight or clouds or wind or still waters or anything else. It was the most comfortable place to be in, the most ideal condition of everything in the Universe, and those five hours flew by in a second, and yet lasted for almost at eternity.

As I sit here typing this a little more than two years later, I feel the same state of mind returning.

Reluctant to leave, and yet leaving without regret, almost as if designed to rub it in, we stumbled onto this board near one of the villages.

”Die Welt hat genug für jedermanns Bedürfnisse, aber nicht für jedermanns Gier” – Mahatma Gandhi, meaning that the World has enough for everyone’s needs, but not for everyone’s Greed.

Powerful. Appropriate. Urgent.

We again went off to Hintersee, now that it was sunny. The magic of this place and the incredible profound powerful beauty of nature just kept surprising us. If this is not wealth, what is?

Here’s something that I had felt when we were here –>

The next day started off bright, but cloudy, and we immediately headed off for another hike (easy to identify the pattern, isn’t it? 🙂 )

We decided to take some photos of the lovely flowers local to this region – we’d picked up a book which mentioned their names and we were trying to absorb the local plants as well.

Driveways were lined like this:

You go left, I’ll go right.

that's how we go underwater

That’s how we go underwater!

This is how the entire hillside looked like:

This tree in its convoluted shape and multiple shades looked like an abstract piece of art.

Little splashes of colors along the way, like tiny medals after completing a few sections of the trail.

Even though it was drizzling and was chilly, the water splashing down on us from the trees felt welcome and like a small prank played between us.

Fresh from a bath

That’s the summit, maybe there was a bit left to climb, but based on the time since the last milestone, we estimated that it wouldn’t be far from here. As such visibility was poor. That’s looking down into the valley, with the trail on the right of the photograph. We soaked in this view, and headed down.

The next day was bright and the river was pretty!!!!  Check out the shade of the water!

We’re all close knit, aren’t we?

spot the evergreens vs the new leaves? 🙂 loved the shades, with the clouds lifting up and revealing higher slopes behind

Saw a giant squirrel going about it’s business, foraging for food, making a forest in the process.

Adjust the brightness, contrast and settings in your brain, then in your camera and you can spot butterflies in the canopy overhead!

Saw more than a few couples hand in hand – a warming sight.


Home for a week! 🙂 (the black tent, I mean!)

This style of housing where a small house was built just outside the bigger one, was where the parents stayed once they grew older. We found it to be an interesting, if slightly unusual, idea.

We met a very nice person on this trip, someone with whom we spent a good amount of time, some of it drinking a lot of wine in his caravan, and then going out for a couple of drives and walks. We spoke about a lot of things, and have some very good memories of him. He had taken us to Cafe Reber – home to the delicious Mozartkugeln and several cakes.

He also took us to the Gradierhaus which “is the world´s biggest open-air AlpsBrine Inhalatoriuman, located in Bad Reichenhall´s Kurpark. About 400,000 litres of AlpenSole (AlpsBrine) trickle down the 13 meter high walls, which are covered with hawthorn and blackthorn twigs. Take a walk around the Gradierhaus and breathe in the fresh air enriched with small salt water particles. This ‘sea-breeze’ air has proven to be highly beneficial to the respiratory passages.”

Insert original and translation of what is written in the board here

Walking around these walls is considered to be healthy, and we could not help but compare it mentally with how regions near a sea shore leave you relaxed and fresh.

If you didn’t like to walk inside, you could walk around the area, which, on a sunny day, would be radiating some wonderful colors thanks to the beautiful flowers.

A closer look at the ‘grid’ – the wall holds moisture as it trickles down, and gives a cooling effect as well.

Below is a stunning, thought provoking sculpture called ‘Die Pietà’ by Anna Chromy, situated outside the Salzburg Cathedral.

The plaque had the following words:

“Und aus der atmenden Brust.. fühl’ ich die Seele entfliehen
Die leere Hülle als Symbol dessen was uns überlebt:
die Liebe, die wir gaben.
die Werke, die wir schufen.
das Leid, das wir erduldeten.”

English translation to the best of my abilities:

“And from the breathing chest I feel the soul flee,
The hollow covering as a symbol of what survives us:
the love, we gave,
the works, we created,
the pain, we endured.”

Back at the campsite by night, and off to bed, having spent a wonderful day in very good company.

The next day was a sunny day after a lot of days of rain – quick, dry everything, breakfast can wait!

This is the little order book where we could place orders for fresh bread for the following day. Loved the system, and loved the breads, too – Mehrkorn, Kornspitz, Croissants, semmelbrot – most of them were very tasty, especially when we added some dips / jams and tea / soup into the equation!

Back to the routine of wandering outside 🙂

This would however be the last hike of the trip, and we would return back to ‘civilization’ the next day, with enough memories for many years to come.

I am reminded of what I read somewhere, about how ‘He whom God loves, is dropped into the Berchtesgadener Land’, a quote by Ludwig Ganghofer.


Valley of God

We’d been on our first winter trek, in January this year, to a place called Har-Ki-Dun (Valley of God). We’d wanted to (especially) experience the snowfall and witness the draping of the ceremonial white veil over everything, all the more so after having seen three winters in Germany.

Such is the gravity of the mountains, that I am going to skip the background and other details and dive straight into the heart of the electro-chemical storm that’s still raging in the area of my head where these memories are stored.

Just like the previous trek entry (, this will be a fairly long entry, simply because nature and the mountains have so much to offer, that putting it down in few words is tough, and unjust.

We changed several modes of transport and eventually reached Sankri which is the trailhead. The layers of fatigue were washed off when we saw the sparkling green, pristine waters of the Tons river flowing alongside tall pines which in turn carpeted tall hills. In our encyclopedic ignorance, we had thought that we would not be able to see such clear, green waters in India once we had returned back from Europe. But, of course we could. This magnificent collage of colours now seems to be present and stretching from the Julian Alps all the way to the Himalayas and who knows elsewhere. In such a big world, the amount, similarity and the diversity of beauty is indeed astonishing.

Green watered cousin from Slovenia:

The trees and mountains filtered the winter sun’s inclined rays on an anyway tilted face of the earth, and added an enriching layer of long shadows, silhouettes and gentle back-lit shades. We had some chirpy company in the car –Meenal and Anil (meaning Air) with whom the conversation remained a jolly and breezy affair. Her comment (technically an excuse!) of having to sit in the front seat since not only was she alert and awake, but also because she was a good driver and would assist the driver in pressing the (imaginary) brakes at her side, was quite infectious. I see the passenger foot-well as having brakes as well now!

The locals looked different by now – their attire, their features, their language and mannerisms, the type of songs that were played in cars and restaurants . Drivers teased each other and wedding songs played out in the car, which itself was ‘decked’ out in colorful carpets, stickers and a row of glass bangles jangling between the sun visors in the front row! Due to the inclines, a few buildings had vehicle parking on the terrace (which was closer in level to the sloping roads in places) and post lunch, going to the parking lot needed a change in habit. All this ‘foreign’ stuff right within India – just shows that once you increase your sensitivity, the observations just increase many fold. (“The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes” – Marcel Proust)

Reaching the base ‘camp’, the energy of the batch which had just returned was noticeably high. Our group was starting very slowly in that regards, a formal round of introduction not doing much in terms of team building. It would take more than a day’s climbing, a bit of perspective from our trek leader and a round of informal ‘’share-your-most-memorable-moment-in-life” discussion which helped. A couple of people were more instrumental in pushing up the group’s energy and this rubbed on eventually to a point where it felt like a team by the end of the trek.

The first day was 11 km of up and down through a beautiful valley. The mountains were brown and snowless, turning into deep orange in the setting sun’s light. The trail ran alongside the Supin river (the Rupin and Supin rivers join into the Bhaghirathi), and the constant rush of water was impressive to see. Crossing old wooden bridges, and also rafts of planks acting as bridges, we occasionally climbed higher from where the river looked a completely different shade. The trail forked several times, but the trick was to follow mule excreta along the way. Mules are the lifeline here; not only assisting the villagers in their daily transportation but also assisting the trekkers in carrying loads during the trekking season.

Young kids waved wildly and continuously as they saw us walk by lower down in the valley. We waved back, and shared a moment of innocent playfulness with them as we made actions and gestures which they copied, only for us to change them, or change the pace, and wait for them to respond. Smile, rinse and repeat! As always in villages, kids seem to be so full of energy and innocence and able to take joy out of seemingly nothing. This is something we would experience again on the last day of the trek.

Patches of ice on the trail made walking tricky. Parts of the trail looked like they didn’t receive much sunlight (thanks to the mountain slopes and trees on both sides) and it seemed that these patches would melt only when the temperature rose later on in the year.

We had paused for lunch when we had reached a clearing, soaking in the sunlight and the views for a moment before moving onward.

We were a mixed group – young and old (early 20’s to mid-50’s), rookies and experienced (multiple high altitude treks and expeditions), people with different priorities (some who wanted to trek more than talk or photograph more and so on) and it was inevitable that the group split into sub groups. If anything, this led to some photographs of the trail with people on it.

Reaching Osla, an old village, considered one of the older ones in India at about 2000 years old, we took a small break and walked through the small settlement of houses. It was a rich culture locked away in the folds of the mountain, preserved by the isolation and harsh weather of the region.

We are unaware of its history, some have said it is a Shiva temple, some said it is a Duryodhan temple. Need to read more about it.

We are unaware of its history, some have said it is a Shiva temple, some said it is a Duryodhan temple. Need to read more about it.

Musical instruments stored in a house balcony. We were told that each village has a festival every month which is celebrated with music and a big feast

Musical instruments stored in a house balcony. We were told that each village has a festival every month which is celebrated with music and a big feast

Beautiful wooden houses, storage for straw / grass was very well designed

Beautiful wooden houses, storage for straw / grass was very well designed

Stone roofs

Stone roofs

Wooden frame for the roof - simple and effective

Wooden frame for the roof – simple and effective

Probably an Uttarakhandi coat being stitched.

Probably an Uttarakhandi coat being stitched.

Saw a lot of men playing cards

Saw a lot of men playing cards

We saw women washing clothes in a big wooden bowl inside which they climbed and stamped the clothes clean. At the end of the trek, we gave our medicines to Max who was collecting them for the village. We also saw toddlers learning how to walk directly on the rolling terrain, something which was quite scary!

Further on, we saw a frozen waterfall across the valley.

We reached the campsite, legs and resolve a little shaky after the first day’s climb, but the fatigue was nothing that a few moments of rest and some food wouldn’t cure. The importance of staying hydrated was reiterated and by evening all was well. Garlic soup helps in acclimatization and was a healthy welcome choice. We were told to drink atleast 4-5 liters of fluids now.

The wish to see a lot of snow and a deep dark starry night wasn’t really being fulfilled though. There was a lull in snowfall, and the skies were either cloudy at night or were polluted through smoke from the fires lit by villagers to clear land for sowing mainly grass, and by the solar lighting in the villages. However, it was much clearer than the city ‘air’ that we live in and we still saw some spectacular sunsets, moon-rises and shooting stars 🙂 Not being able to see what we’d imagined we would be able to see on cold, dark nights at high altitude was a fair disappointment, but it is easier to get rid of such disappointments in such regions. The scale of everything (the peaks, skies, clouds, forests, meadows, etc) offered much variety, and the almost knife-straight stream trimmed wayward thoughts quickly.

Leaving the Kalkatiyadhar camp the next day, we started climbing. It would be a shorter climb, however it would be the day with the first view of the peaks! Looking back, we caught a glimpse of the beautiful campsite

Greeted by stunning views. The stretch of white is known as Devasuthaj, which reflected the moonlight in a very ethereal fashion. Just loved it.

“The reason why most places of power and grace have always been on mountain tops is because by the time you reach there whatever ideas you have about yourself shall fall apart.” – Sadhguru,  from the book ‘Ultimate Outlaw’.

What Sadhguru has said above makes so much sense. Once broken, if one is conscious, you will be careful and more observant about what kind of image you are building about yourself. Effectively you are getting a chance to reform (re-form) yourself since it is only after you have dismantled certain ideas that you can realign them better. This is what the trail does to you – your notions of limits, strength, control etc. are all dissolved away and replaced with a healthy dose of humility mixed in.

Our guide and sweeper, Max and Monu, heroes who helped out everyone throughout the trek. Proper Kudos to them.

The trail was difficult for the mules as well – with steep drops on one side, and with us taking up space from their paths while we hugged the mountain and forced them to creep towards the edge negotiating us…Felt a little sorry for them..

Nearing the final campsite, the switchbacks and the views got even more stunning.

Light and shadow added even more depth and contrast to the landscape. The colours were stunning – dark canopies, bright tree barks, pale boulders with bright tufts of grass, and of course shiny patches of snow..

The trail criss-crossed paths with semi frozen streams. At a couple of places downstream, we had seen flour mills powered by these waters busily grinding the local cereal.

while the grass seemed to be on fire..

Dogs are much respected in Uttarakhand and there is also a story from Mahabharata associated with them. Next to Har Ki Dun peak stands the (huge) Swargarohini massif. It is said that Yudhishthir chose to remain true to the dog till the end; the dog had been faithful to him and eventually led him to Swarga while the others perished on the way. Hence the peak is named Swargarohini, i,e, Swarga (Heaven) + Aarohan (to ascend)  The dog is considered to have been an avatar of Indra.

Later on, while walking near the campsite, we ”spotted” a ”dog” in the stream. Are you able to as well?

Stunning campsite – flanked by mountains, ego dissolves. Hata peak and (part of) Har-Ki-Dun peak visible here

Colors erupting as the sun sank lower.

Colors erupting and saturating , some colors brighten up the day months, miles and moods away..

Sunset by the river

As the night wore itself and us out, a frozen combination of clogged nasal passages, bursting bladders and numb toes and fingers stepped out into the morning, to the cries of ”Chalo guys!! Chaaaaai!!”. Run! 🙂

Is the sun already up? Yes. But it is not visible. It has risen behind the mountain in the east, and the first sunrays are instead visible on Hata peak in the west! Every day that we saw the possibility of a sunny day, our hopes soared, and the mind got ready, checking knees, ankles, back, shoulders, etc. for suppleness.  We traced the rising sun and the sunlight, as it trickled in, slowly, gathering intensity and pouring into the valley, filling it from top to bottom. The ‘simplest’ of the natural phenomena seem to have the most magical effects. Maybe we would appreciate it a bit more in the cities too, if we were not so hot and bothered about things already. Sigh.

Sun rays on Kedarkantha

Camping here was a privilege. The views were stunning, the weather harsh. Water in our bottles froze inside the tent if you had forgotten to put it inside the woolen liner where body heat would keep it ‘warm’. We had a buffer day here, and a few hours were spent memorably peeping out of the tent, away from the wind.

We had a day off which we spent well wandering off near the campsite towards Jaundhar glacier and the V-A-S-T snowfields nearby.

Copy of pics 394

The scale of the place was spectacular. Check out the tiny specks walking in the centre of the photograph below.

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Back at our camp for the final night, we packed up knowing we would be leaving the next day. Sooner than I liked, it was time to turn back downwards. The trek was almost over. Another 2 days of walking and it would be done. Drink, drink, drink – don’t forget to drink – Again, after a rest day at the Har Ki Dun campsite (rest meant walking slower and with just a day-pack) the Partial O2 and heart rate readings had improved. It constantly amazes me how the body adapts.

In our dinner tent, there was a special moment when Max played a song on his phone which he kept inside a steel jug. Check out the Kabir song here –> Thank you Max! 🙂

The next morning, we woke up with one eye on the sky especially since there had been a few snowflakes over the past couple of days. This was the last batch before the trail closed for winter, and all the wonderful support staff would be packing up each camp along the way as we all went back. Our guides and trek leader were concerned about impending heavy snowfall – “It hasn’t snowed since many days, and if it starts now, it won’t stop for several days. We need to move.” Breakfast done, sleeping bags rolled, bodies stretched, water filled, snacks packed, backpack straps adjusted, we start off.

After crossing the village on the way down, we saw a man climbing up with a cloth sling across his chest. We had stopped for a pause and we got an inkling it was a baby, to which he confirmed, saying it was indeed a 3 day old newborn baby. I asked if his mother was ok, and his reply was ‘she is just a few minutes behind, on her way’. To imagine a mother climbing up such steep slopes within three days of delivering a child – that is strength. All our ideas of how romantic life is on the mountains were washed out. We city people seem to be patting our backs for carrying our own back packs…

The views meanwhile continued to be beautiful.

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Overall, for us, the trek was challenging, but doable. We were much more disciplined and better prepared than the last time around. Lots of fluid intake, eating proper food (daal / chawal, and not junk food), listening to the body and mind, stretching at the start and end of the day, breathing deeply, walking around the campsite once the day’s trek had ended helped us acclimatize better.

Edit: I am reminded of these psychotropic words by Albert Camus when I think about the experience now: “In the midst of winter, I found there was, within me, an invincible summer.”

What pained me a lot was seeing the rubbish litter of plastic wrappers, defacing this majestic work of creation like ugly graffiti – “Man loves plastic” or “We came, we munched, we littered”. So disrepectful and harmful. Awareness and concern / compassion towards something beyond ourselves is what will slow down and hopefully kill this plastic menace. Lessons we learn in the mountains, in nature – consume less, live sensibly, plan before you do something, show some respect, be punctual and disciplined – these need to be brought back to our cities. Life without a mobile phone is possible, an orange peel may work very well as a scrub and sunscreen, listening to your body and respecting it will take you places, how you talk to the people in the mountains maybe can be brought back ‘downstairs’. We had been given Eco-Bags by Indiahikes (, and we tried to pick up as much litter as we could. The quest and resolve to consume ‘increasingly lesser’ packaged items (food, lifestyle, etc.) got strengthened there (take just 1 biscuit packet between the two of us, instead of the one per head allocated) and the same quest continues everyday here as well. I hope I can lead a lifestyle with minimal long lasting impact, and hope that several small steps will quickly help me cover a lot of ground in that direction. What motivates me to consume lesser is the timeline showing how many years things take to decompose (bottom of the page in the link above). It is quicker, and better, to let a poor habit decompose instead 🙂

Again, this trek would have been very different and difficult without Monu and Naaru (assistant trek leaders / sweepers), Naina-the cook, Max, our trek leader and the other staff who were so capable and jovial while doubling up and performing multiple roles seemingly effortlessly. Also thanks to the guys off the slopes and in the offices who make the entire process easy and efficient. May you all be happy and trek safely!

Edit: Here’s something I would wish for you and for everyone who might want to experience this : “May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you — beyond that next turning of the canyon walls.” – Edward Abbey

Some of the trek members we had were very inspiring – elderly people in their mid-50’s, who climbed, spoke and understood things  so well that they left a good mark in the memory. I am happy that most of us are still in touch, and I would like to meet all the members of the trek again.

It is difficult to forget an immersion such as this one in nature, the simple reason being that a part of me is still there on the trail, trying to stay warm, soaking in the views, breathing in the clean air and feeling privileged in being able to be having such experiences.

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Blissful monotony

The trees were still,

like meditating Rishis,

seemingly motionless and lifeless,

but as alive as can be.

We bowed to them.

The trees, in so many shades,

raining leaves as Time expanded,

Its canopies, looking like a carpet on the mountainside,

and a decades-old stubble on the mountain top.

We were rooted in the woods.

Accompanied by a chattering stream,

Pebbles, like Jewels in the clear water,

reflecting the golden light,

the transparent paint of His palette,

a festival of colors painted out now.

We were eroded by the stream.

The clouds raced above,

like floating speech balloons,

Their shadows gave us a pleasant chill,

and ever so often, warmed our hearts.

Our feelings danced with them.

A lake came along,

its ripples communicating in binary,

something hidden but majestic.

As if listening to our queries,

its stillness revealed our thoughts.

We spoke with each other.

A few hundred footsteps on,

a roar met us,

a pretty waterfall tumbled down with force,

and sent the spray skywards.

We were drenched in joy.

Autumn wielded its brush,

the forest was a collage,

the creatures in the forest,

singing like wind chimes.

We were in a painting.

Seasons may be repetitive,

Nature’s sights may get familiar,

Life may be uniform,

the weather may be wearying,

We didn’t miss any monotony.



Daily encounters with someone ageless

One of the warmest people we know,

leaves us every evening.

Reminds us that we live in a painting,

one with colorful skies, clouds, grass, trees and reeds.

As he leaves, the shades drip out of the painting,

the tones fade, the hues ooze out.

He walks endlessly,

from horizon to horizon.

Tired, crouched, with slow footsteps,

as he walks away from us;

He brings hope and joy

to the ones who try to see him.

Somewhere, on the horizon,

he seems to gain energy;

which he again distributes to us all,

and fathers the world.

~ ~ ~ ~

He walked away, sure to come back

He walked away, sure to come back

It finally dawned on us, even though it was a sunset. The setting sun, through a canopy of trees in a wooded area near what we call home, looked like a human figure retreating away from us – walking towards a distant horizon, growing smaller, dimmer and colder as he went along.

“Our first real estate”

I remember the first time I stayed in a tent. It was on a trek and next to a waterfall, rather than on a camping site. I was quite afraid that blood sucking leeches and other ‘creepy crawlies’ would enter the tent at night, and have a gala feast on me. Thankfully, in-spite of the rain spitting down noisily on the tent, I could manage to sleep, largely due to the fatigue from walking the whole day. I woke up the next morning, realized where I was, quickly scanned self and tent, and after having breathed a sigh of relief, got out of the tent. I stepped out and immediately came face to face with the waterfall. Fantastic! How often is it that you can see a waterfall right in front of the main door?

From that day, I have been hooked on to camping. Yes, it can be incredibly hot / cold / humid / wet / hard / windy and the terrain has also been hard / inclined / cold at times, but it has been memorable almost every single time.

Before coming to Europe, the concept of a camping site was fairly new. We didn’t know how they worked, what facilities were provided, and so on. After having camped out for 40+ nights in the past year, ranging from weekend trips to a 20 day camping marathon, we now don’t deny the label of campers which is thrown at us.

The toughest bit on long camping trips is keeping the tent tidy and the smell out of it. We once bought a lot of apples as snacks and left them in the tent in the day while we were out, and after 2-3 days of doing this, the tent smelt sweetly of apples. The same thing happened with Tea. In a fit of nostalgia, I had picked up ‘Indischer Tee’ (Indian Tea) , which was exaggeratedly heavily spiced and aromatised. 3 Days and the tent smelt like a kettle of tea. The tip would be to air out the tent regularly, and lock all these strong aromatic things in a zippered rucksack or something.

Similarly, with typical european weather, the occasional rain shower can’t be ruled out, and hence care needs to be taken to keep things dry. Generally, we follow a schedule of drying / airing things out first thing in the morning while we have breakfast. Breakfast can wait for half an hour if a rainy day has been followed by a sunny day! 🙂

What we missed till pretty late in our trips was a proper pillow/cushion. Easy to amend, buy a small inflatable one, or take one from your favourite couch! 🙂 That helps an immense amount in sleeping peacefully.

A positive ‘side-effect’ of camping is the absence of plug points and reading lights, etc.. You are ‘forced’ to spend time with your thoughts, or with your friend / family. We like that aspect a lot. Plus, we also think that all the radiation from the mobile network and the wi-fi signals roaming around in the cities and cafes and offices can’t necessary be beneficial to our health – a few days of low radiation ‘earthing’ is always welcome!

We have camped mostly since we don’t like city centers too much. I think I personally spend too much time in a box (bus/office/home), surrounded by other boxes (homes, buses, cars, buildings), and a relatively small tent in the middle of a nice grassy pitch, next to a river, under the whispering trees, or close to a mountain is very refreshing for me. It also puts into perspective how little one needs to be fairly comfortable. I could not have put it much better than this –> “ I argued that physical discomfort is important only when the mood is wrong. Then you fasten on to whatever thing is uncomfortable and call that the cause. But if the mood is right, then physical discomfort doesn’t mean much“.

Apart from that, camping can be greener, significantly inexpensive, flexible (most camping sites hardly need reservations for a tent; only caravans need one) and the locations are sometimes fantastic.

Thank God they have some camping sites close to National Parks. I can not imagine rows of hotels and associated ‘services’ being built at some of these places. One more advantage of camping is the people you meet. You meet some truly fantastic people – people who have chosen to camp due to the long vacations / trips they are on. It is fascinating to sit with them, have the simplest, yet memorable breakfast of bread and jam with them, or bump into some very warm and friendly locals and join them for ‘some’ wine and food in their caravan. Some nice people and memories already! 🙂

Most of the camping places, in fact, all of them, have been safe, clean and secure. However, there was one campsite, in the middle of the peak tourist season, where we were a little skeptical about the safety of the tent and the stuff lying inside. What we did still makes us laugh! We cut a hair band and tied it through the zippers of the tent, so that they would not open! Anyone capable of opening knots,  let alone someone with a pair of scissors would have been able to get by! That however, did the job. We felt secure, and enjoyed a good day out. After all, 3 knots aren’t a joke.

We don’t have a car, we have been taking buses and trams everywhere, and it works! The public network is really well laid out, with a bus stop within walking distance from the camp site. There are generally vending machines or a petrol pump or a street-food vendor nearby for the emergency snack when all else is exhausted. There are lockers available at some sites, in other cases, a small bag can be accommodated safely in a neighbor’s caravan or at the friendly reception. There are washing machines, cooking areas, areas to clean the utensils and sometimes even restaurants on site. Germany continues to impress us as there is waste segregation at the campsites too. At other places, we just filter the waste on our own before disposing it. There are small bakeries which bring fresh, hot bread early in the morning. This can be pre-ordered the evening before. Some campsites give you daily bus passes for the city, which again means the convenient of hopping buses at will, free of charge, and free of fishing for change every-time!

We also saw some really creative and very interesting ‘live-in sculptures’ which were available for rent. Needless to say, there are several design iterations which we have started sketching in!

Pedal your way to the next camp site, collect rainwater on the way, and then cosy up at will..!

Pedal your way to the next camp site, collect rainwater on the way, and then cosy up at will..!

But, for me, a tent exists at the boundary of indoors and outdoors. It is where you can hear the raindrops, be close to the swaying branches of the trees, feel the wind batter you, and still stay dry (and generally warm).



Just what the doctor ordered.

A magical trek to Roopkund

As the weather in Germany becomes sunnier and the days longer, we are now looking forward to spending some more time in the mountains. I have been ‘pleasantly haunted’ by memories of the first Himalayan Trek we had done.

Note: This is going to be a (very) long entry! Firstly, as it was a long trek spanning 5 days and around 50 km combined, and also because I love mountains so much that it is difficult to stop talking/writing about it sometimes. 🙂

This was our first Himalayan trek – and it is imprinted in my memory. Strongly. As fractals go, a mountain is a mountain is a mountain. It is we who distinguish, categorize and label them – highest, steepest, toughest, broadest, prettiest, largest and so on. For me, each peak, each mound, each pile of rocks, each monument of stone has a beauty of its own. And much more. Right through late childhood, when my grandmother used to read about the Indian Gods who used to live and meditate in the mountains, the Himalayan mountain range in particular has held a very special place in the heart and mind. Later on, as her eyes started to fail, I would be the one reading to her from her books. The physical description and photographs of the mountains, and the associated mythology, left a strong impression.

After a couple of train rides and a long Jeep ride, we reached the starting point of the trek. We had gone through a trekking community called Indiahikes. We reached the base at a place called Lohajung where the guides laid down the rules and the schedule that we would be following in the days to come. The following day, we started with a small downhill section, crossing and refilling our water bottles at the Neel Ganga river.  This was the first time we would know if we had packed too much or not, what kind of hours we would be putting in everyday and so on. The descent was through a dense, old, forest. The floor was generally covered with a layer of leaves and thick roots. It was Day 1, and energy and enthusiasm levels were high. It was a little strange to be climbing down for a couple of hours when one mentally associates a trek as always gaining altitude, at-least initially. But we weren’t complaining – this gave us a brief opportunity to fall into a rhythm and start feeling the experience. We were accompanied by the local dog ‘Kaalu’ almost till day 4! Thanks to one of our trek-mates for this photograph.

Descent towards Neel Ganga River before continuous ascent for the next 4 days!

After a small pause at the river, the ascent started. It was a fairly steep switchback that had us exhausted soon. The destination was a grassy field near the village Didina. There was a home-stay arranged here where all the trekkers piled in (something like a trekking hut as seen in Europe). When asked about where and how much we would be trekking the following day, our always-jovial guide simply said “It’s not far..hardly anything..easily doable..” and then pointed at a tall ‘hill’ and said “It’s just behind this hill”!! In the photograph, you can see a couple of clearings at the top of the mountain (in a lighter shade of green) – those were the meadows we would be heading towards. 

Home for the night at Didina

At this trekking hut, we were welcomed by glasses of Rhododendron juice. The locals use the flower of this tree as pickle and also drink a juice made out of it, which is locally called ‘Buraansh‘. The juice, apart from being tasty, is supposed to be very good for the heart and we gladly sipped on. Later on, we bought a couple of bottles of ‘rhodo’ juice concentrate and took them home with us. Just a sip, and one is transported back! 

At Didina, we had the evening to ourselves. We headed off in the field and saw a bit of the local population – the women working in the fields, working a fire while cooking, or venturing out to collect some leaves / fodder.

The local kids were busy playing. They were looking curiously at us, almost as if we were from a different species! The kids were very innocent and cute – always smiling and running around. It was a little chilly towards the evening and they were all wearing sweaters and had runny noses. However, their smiles were so infectious, that soon we were smiling with them! Their natural state of existence seemed to be that of being happy. It seemed to us that they were the happiest kids in the world. Had we stopped smiling, they would still have been smiling. But, why would we stop smiling? 🙂

lovely, happy, beautiful local kids!

In parallel, the sun was setting and I took a moment to head to a slightly higher level to get a good and clean view of the sky. The sun was going to set behind a mountain and I was hoping I would see a nice display, especially since there was a cloud involved! As the sun sank lower towards the mountain ridge, and as the cloud blew in its path, there was a pretty scattering of light.

Rays of light

While we were clicking photographs of the sunset, one of the kids with whom we had now broken ice with, came up, and looked at us curiously and picked up a multi-purpose stone and started taking photographs of us! As I crouched down so that I was eye to eye with him, he crouched down as well! Soon, the little game escalated and his friend (or was it brother?) joined him as well..! One of the nicest memories I have of the whole trip.

Multi purpose stone as camera

The next day, we headed out early in the morning and after a healthy and filling breakfast, started the ascent through the woods. The smell of the forest, the freshness of the air in the forests in the mountains, and the soft filtered light of the morning sun made for a special setting.

Climbing up through the woods now

We were now climbing in old, ‘original’ forest, full of big oak trees among others. The destination for the day was a place called Bedini Bugyal. ‘Bugyal’ in the local language means meadow, and these meadows were strikingly beautiful. These high altitude meadows were above the tree line, and as we went higher and higher, the forest suddenly stopped and suddenly we were out in the open.

first view of the meadows

Now, it would be a fairly long walk across the meadows and upwards. After the continuous session of climbing up, the rolling terrain was much welcome. The weather was lovely too. The group took a pause here to shed their heavy bags, stretch for a while and grab a bite. Since it was just a short pause, the menu was short and quick – Boiled potatoes for the vegetarians, and boiled eggs for the non-vegetarians. 🙂 Done in 15 minutes, we started walking again.

even higher mountains at higher planes

We finally reached Bedni Bugyal – the last bit actually a descend again. It was a vast open field, with views of the mountains pretty much everywhere. We had reached in the late afternoon and it was cloudy. This is the point from where we were hoping to see the huge Mt. Trishul massif. However, we would have to wait. We could see glimpses of the Kaali Daak peak – that’s the pyramidal peak jutting out, covered in ice.

First view of Kaali Daak

The clouds did part momentarily, and we could catch a glimpse of the mighty Trishul peak behind the Kaali Daak peak. Considering we were already at 3,000+ metres above sea level, and that the mountains in the forefront were easily 6,000 metres above sea level, the size of the Trishul was just astonishing. Whatever was visible of it through the clouds seemed to make it look even bigger than it was.

First view of the mighty Trishul massif

Evening finally arrived. The light started fading, and local shepherds brought their sheep back home. There were just so many of them, and they covered entire hill-sides!

Unfortunately, I was just too tired to stay up at night and look at the night sky. I also wanted to get some rest so I could climb again the next day. Instead of calling it a regret, I am going to go there again and do that! The night sky would have been very dark, and thus, devoid of light pollution, I would have been able to see our real Home – the galaxy, the stars, space. I had hauled a tripod the whole way, but it still lay strung to my rucksack, unused. Patience, tripod, we will go there again!

Meanwhile, an early rise in the morning did not disappoint. The sky was clear, and while we were catching fleeting glimpses of the huge peaks the evening before, the sight today morning was fantastic. The entire range was visible! We just stood there, glued. Someone from our group had woken up earlier and had strolled up to a higher vantage point – the scale of that human being put things into perspective for us.

Early morning cloud-free view of Mt Trishul!

While we stared at this icredible sight, the sun rose behind a mountain on our right hand side, and started it’s own daily trek. It cast a long shadow from over the right-most peak in the photograph (compare positions in both pictures). What a view!

After our breakfast, as we climbed up and out of the bugyal, we kept getting stunning views of the landscape. It was difficult to watch and walk up on uneven surface. If we stopped for a pause, we would lose rhythm and body heat. So, generally it was: continue walking up, and pause only to take a sip of water, stretch your back, tighten shoelaces and take a look.

Climbing everyday was not that easy – especially given the weight on the back and the altitude gains. We had gained more than 2500 metres in 4 days! I had run a 10 km marathon before this trek (and part of it was run as preparation for this trek), but that had left me with good cardio strength but poor leg strength. I should have done more squats and stuff like skipping to develop more leg strength. Plus, it was later on, on day 2 that I learnt a better technique of climbing – using my calf muscles as well to give me the last push in each step. The whole process takes a lot of discipline – you have to eat and drink properly. You have to wake up and sleep on time. You have to be alert. You can’t take a break whenever you want to otherwise the body starts cooling down. You have to ration your supply of energy snacks – can’t gobble it up before a steep section and then be left with nothing at the next one. I will not try to flatter my ego by saying that this trek was simple. Although it is listed as moderately easy, I found the trek significantly tough. There was lots to learn. However, and this is probably such a cliche, every day, every session of climbing took it’s toll; but after every session, you were left with a renewed sense of wonder that you could do it. At the evening, you could discard your conception of what you thought yourself capable of just a few days back.

It was a trek of self discovery – along with the tough terrain, you tried to walk through, over and across your fears, your ideas of limits and self doubt. There was a new found appreciation of discipline.

Trail with a view!

Finally, after what seemed like a very long climb, we reached our campsite at a place called Bhagwasa (also called Bhagwabasa). This was the most barren, desolate, rocky place I had seen so far. Clouds floated in; it was windy and cold. We were exhausted and now short of breath too. This was at more than 4000 metres above sea level now. We would  be spending the night here and attempting the summit the next day, starting early morning at 4 a.m. so that we could descend before the sun rose high in the sky and melted the snow and made it difficult for us to come down.

All through the trek, the importance of acclimatization was reiterated. Drink more water, walk, don’t get into your tents, breathe deeply and so on. A lot of people had taken oral medication (Acetazolamide) to aid better acclimatization to the low oxygen in the high altitude air. A friend of mine had been practicing Yoga since a month back to help with this. Inspite of me taking some of these precautions (minus Tablets), the effects of the rare air was felt. The mouth was dry, the throat was irritated, digestion had weakened. I remember waking up in the middle of the night to force some water down, but in the sleeping bag, with head raised up, the effort of drinking water felt so much that against common sense I threw the bottle away.

Campsite at Bhagwasa

One of the things that helps acclimitisation is walking. Drop your bag and keep walking. This was fairly easy to do inspite of the fatigue because of the splendid views!! We surely need to go here again, sometime later in the year towards October to see if we can enjoy a few cloudless views!

What a view!

The next morning, at 3 a.m. in the morning, we woke up and crawled out of our tents. And were gobsmacked. With our naked eyes, we saw an arm of the Milky way galaxy. It was staggeringly beautiful. Unfortunately, we needed to stick to a timeline, and I missed a staring-at-the-night-sky opportunity, not to mention a long exposure photograph, for which I had hauled my tripod up 2ooo metres of rocky terrain. After shedding the heavy backpacks, after folding our sleeping bags and packing our luggage up, we stood in line and finished breakfast. The rules were again read out to us – basically revolving around discipline and respect. Towards each other and towards the mountain. We headed out in single file, the skilled guides and porters accompanying and helping us, cutting footholds in the hard ice where there were no alternate crossings available. As we trudged upwards, the early morning sun started to light up the sky. The sun’s rays fell first on the Chaukhamba mountain and lit it up. That was a very scenic and moving moment, when you see a mountain top being gradually lit up.

First rays of the sun on the Chaukhamba

Soon, we hit the first of the glaciers. The guides had cut out foot holds in them – these were big enough to accomodate my feet, and yet not that big that I could move my foot in the foothold and slide. That was a good thing, because on the right hand side, the hill rose up, while on the left, there was 4000 feet of nothingness fed by a long rocky slope. The surface was too loose to secure any ropes or anchors. It would have to be done alone, and with the guides standing nearby watching our every step. The first crossing was the scariest thing I had ever done. Almost as if anticipating a fall, I would lean towards the hill-side, the side which rose up. But what that did was just imbalance you even more since your legs are straight anyway. Almost counter-intuitively, one has to walk almost straight, and a little briskly to cross these patches. It soon became a little easier as we crossed a couple more of these patches.

Those tiny dots are us!

As we gained height, it was tempting to look back from where we came. Especially so, since at this point, the clouds had started floating in. It was very unique to be able to imagine walking above the clouds. Equally beautiful though.

On 9 clouds!

Almost halfway to the summit, I suffered a bad wobble while walking. That was tired legs and breathless lungs acting up. The routine of 10 steps, 5 breath pause, 10 steps again was not working. The ratio was changed. Two steps, two deep breaths and two more steps. The words ‘laborious steps’ were coming to mind. I spoke with the guide and told him I thought it was too dangerous to climb the rest 300 metres in such a bad state. Eventually we agreed it was the right thing to do and I chose to wait there while the rest of the group went on. A few of the others were waiting at Bhagwasa and had not attempted the last summit climb due to altitude sickness (diarrhea, headaches, vomiting, etc). I sat there and contemplated the meaning of stopping 300 metres below the top. Was I ‘chickening’ out? Was I not acclimatized to this altitude (4500+ metres now) properly? Was my ego hurt? Somehow, I didn’t go into a negative mood, just a little sad, but also hopeful that with some more training, some more technique, I could go higher, and in better shape.

As I sat there, I got a good chance to actually see and feel the place. I got very cold sitting there, exposed to the wind. I started pacing up and down. One more guide was bringing up the last batch of trekkers. I joined that batch for a while and continued climbing for some more time. But, after about 20 minutes, the symptoms deteriorated again. This time, I stopped for sure, not sure if I was in total control of my movements.

I sat on a rock, ate some energy bars, drank some water, walked around to stay warm and waited, enjoying the surroundings. After a while, few members from the group came down, and with them I began our climb down. It was time for one last look upwards for a while.

A final look, for the moment, while going down.

In the afternoon, we began on the way back. The trek was over. We were heading back to lower altitudes, and eventually city life. As we picked up our bags and started walking downwards, a whole new set of muscles were involved. The blister from the shoe while climbing up did not pain now since the angle of the shoe was pointing downwards. It was a relief for the legs, for the lungs. With each step, the air became thicker, and richer in oxygen. We came across a small rise in the terrain on the way down. This 100 metre height gain was dealt with effortlessly. This just showed that in 24 hours, my body had adapted to this height of about 4200 metres above sea level after spending a day at higher altitude. Along with the natural beauty on this trek, there was so much respect I earned for my body and mind. I understood a great deal about them. 

It has been almost two years since this trek and yet, I can recollect and re-experience the feelings I had then.

I often wonder – what if instead of us changing a place, we were changed by it?