Many things serve as a muse to artists. People, countries, landscape or lovers. Many things motivate poets to rhyme their thoughts. Coffee, rains, hearts or smoke! And, there are many things that can spark an idea for a story. Words, pictures, films or food. In my case here, it was a piece of music. When you are lying down, under a blanket of stars, partitioned narrowly by the thin polyester sheet roof of your camping tent, snuggled thoughtlessly in your sleeping bag, and a fleeting whiff of a Miles Davis streams in, you know you couldn’t have got it all that wrong!
When Davis and Victor Feldman composed ‘Seven Steps to Heaven‘, they wouldn’t have had Triund in mind, for sure. But personally, if there there was anything as close, or as high that I have ever reached, it was this. A nomadic, pastoral hilltop, 6 hours uphill from a village called Dharamkot, on the outskirts of the more popular McLeodganj.
The Dhauladhar range is a southern branch of the main Outer Himalayan chain of mountains. It rises from the Indian plains to the north of Kangra and Mandi.
We stayed in a cozy but relatively strict, homestay! The McLeodganj Homestay is run by a family from Delhi, housing about six rooms, slightly away from the main square on the Jogiwara Road. The brick house with a tiny gate and a verdant home garden is around a bend, and about a kilometer away from the Dharamkot. Sahil was always agreeing, and hospitable. The cook made a good north Indian meal, and the parents were concerned about our safety.
Our room had a small terrace attached, with a view, that cannot be really termed as spectacular, but more of a ‘ not that bad’ category. It was a question of a night’s stay, and hence we did not create much fuss over the nitty-gritties. We slept all afternoon, woke a little late, walked to the monastery, walked back to the St. John’s church, and ate momos for dinner. Packed savories made with yak-cheese and some fruits that could come handy for the next few days. The little town unfortunately didn’t charm me as much as it had done, the first time I had visited it in 2003.
I was saving my energy for Triund. A trek that we started the next morning.
Triund happens to you, suddenly. One moment you are puffing up a steep, rocky path with only rock-spiked walls to your left and a forested , unforgiving valley to the right . And then, with one last nimble step where the path takes a sharp turn, you are upon a green meadow at 2842.26 meters (9326 ft) above sea level, surrounded by snow capped peaks of the Dhauladhar range, all seemingly an arm’s length away.
The only way to reach Triund is to trek. And when you step into Triund, there is no option but to pause. Partly to catch your breath, and mostly to absorb what is clearly a breathtaking sight. If there is a seventh heaven, you can be sure you have left even that behind. The feeling is one of being on top of the world, surrounded by ranges even higher than where you stand.
The first innocent few steps on a trek are always difficult; and the unkindest part of any trek in the mountains, is the hard realization that there is always more peaks to scale, in front of you. Walking through the wooded trail, series of rolling hills in front of you to conquer, you lose track of how much you have walked already. The fact that these hills are not visible at one go makes you feel whether you will ever reach the summit. You reach the high ground and think you have done it, only to be deceived by another hill in front, which is the one you have to climb. The peak continuously retreats making you think whether it will arrive, at all! But it does; and when it does, you feel awesome! You peek below, and immerse yourself with the contentment of victory. A small height, but a personal triumph. Climbing up a higher height, leaving a lesser height below. If that doesn’t call for a adrenalin rush, nothing else, will! The joy of exhausting yourself physically, reaching the top of a mountain and then looking down to see where you came from is one of those most unadulterated, pure joys of life.
The last stretch takes your breath away, and so does the first view of Triund. And while each of these lasts and the firsts fight it out, your tired feet get permission to have a conversation with the late afternoon dew. Your sore back is allowed to lay itself down on the green carpet of grass and flirt with the little wild flowers. The little child in you is coaxed to roll on the grass, and glee in delight!
Once on top, the only reminder of the world left below are some branded packets of chips and munchies being sold at the shacks. These have been set up by enterprising locals. Radio Mirchi FM channel constantly hums from a radio set in the biggest of these shacks. This one is owned by Sunil Kumar. Mobiles don’t work here, but surprisingly the radio frequency does!
Our tent was pitched, and at twilight we had visitors. A nomadic shepherd taking his sheep across. To greener pastures or returning from one. Hundreds of them. Like woolly yarns! In fifty-shades-of-grey! And brown, coffee, white and beige! Sheep who bleat. Mountain goats who playfully entangle their horns and tussle! A cacophony of bleats..a symphony of sounds. The highest form of free entertainment, at that height!
And then dusk becomes the night! There is something I feel passionately about sunsets turning into nights. There is something about that limited time in the day, when the blue sky turns orange and occasional hues of purple and scarlet emerges into some cocktail of colors… that only be described as breathtaking! From Triund, the Dhauladhar mountain looks tantalizingly close; you are sometimes fooled to believe that you can touch it, with just a little extra effort! While, you are lost in this thought of the impossible, the grapefruit sun makes the mountains change color from shimmering white to golden jackfruit yellow to supernatural red, electric pink…grape violet, and then with the promise of a perfumed darkness, and the color of a musky night!
Ashish was an effervescent, energetic, sensible and an accommodating man. He was our guide. Fit, because he treks this trail at least 3 times a month. Responsible, because he voluntarily took my heavy camera and placed it in his own bag, so that I could carry minimal weight, while I struggled uphill.Well-humored, because he never said a ‘no’ to the 55+ breaks and stops we took along the trail. And, resourceful, because he cooks you a fair meal! As the night descended, the stone benches near Sunil’s tuck shop glittered and glowed. A bonfire pit had been created; and fellow-travellers were basking in the warmth. On offer, as dinner-fare, was ‘roti-subzi’ -should be badly made chapatis with a nondescript mixed and curried vegetables, we thought- but, we were wrong, and pleasantly so! A quick peek into the shop, and I saw Ashish humming a Bollywood tune, and effortlessly rolling out chapatis for us. A mass production of a spicy, warm potato ‘subzi’ was waiting in a huge steel bowl. Minutes later, we were licking our fingers, and asking for the third…and the fourth chapati! I can tell you today, that a spicy, watery, potato curry, and the fresh-off-the-gas chapatis, have never tasted better!
There is plenty to do at Triund and nothing at all, depending on your choice. You can eat, drink, read, walk, trek further, hang out with sheep, click photographs, eat, roll on the grass, meditate, attempt a ‘head-stand’, sit by the bonfire and gaze at the numerous stars, once night settles in. Or you could just borrow a blanket from the dhaba and laze around indefinitely, listening to the sounds of cricket.
I was very tempted to be cynical while writing this post. We are(at least, I am) a patron of luxury, if it comes at an attainable price! Its tempting, not to crave for one, when you take a break from your usual work-routine. But, here you are grounded. Triund is that more-than-welcome flat bit of land at 2890 metres, that sure makes you work hard to get there. Reebok shoes give way, knees turn wobbly, backs turn sore, shoulders become stiff sleeping overnight on a slope, ankles have scratches and mouths turn parchment dry. But it does have a liberating affect on you. Sometimes even psychedelic!
It’s not everyday that one gets the opportunity to be closer to the Himalayas and being from Bangalore, its probably a dream. But, I have to sheepishly admit, that even with the unwanted stretches and stresses, the trek brought in, I loved it!
Trekking back from Triund was like being in a time-warp of a Monday morning. You know exactly what you have just left behind, and you are not particularly looking forward to what you think your week ahead will look like; the tingling of a luxurious weekend to muse on,and the frenzy of a back-tearing week waiting to engulf you!
We all know what that feels like. And Triund feels just like that.