“Okay, so we have two options. Either we take the straight but highly steep path via Kaiyakata, which is also the more popular route. Or we take the slightly roundabout but easier on the legs jungle route,” said Rahul, on the morning of our trek to Kala Pokhari. We were sitting outside the Trekkers’ Hut, ready to head out and waiting for Viraaj, our porter/guide, to turn up.
“Is our Guide going to “guide” us again, through this jungle route?”I asked, extremely wary about alternative routes after the previous day.
Rahul chuckled. “No, I’ve got this one,” he said, and not for the only time that day. More on that later.
We waited for almost an hour or so for Viraaj, and Rahul’s mood was deteriorating with each passing minute. When it comes to trekking here, an early start is always recommended – because the weather here is unpredictable and you do not want to be caught in heavy rains while you’re in the middle of nowhere.
“We need to start. It’s too late already. Let’s leave the bags here for Viraaj, and he can join us later,” muttered Rahul. Aishani and I nodded and began walking towards the jungle route. And right at that moment, Viraaj appeared, looking higher than the altitude we were in. Or maybe that was just his face, I’m not sure. We watched Rahul’s nostrils flare and settle down, as he took a deep breath and simply told Viraaj to follow us with the luggage.
And off we went, into the jungle. Hiking through a forest is fun. First of all, it’s not hard on your lungs. And second, it’s extremely scenic. These forests are rich in birds, and hence you’d find birders take this route quite often. These forests are also home to the famous Red Panda – though you’d have to be pretty lucky to spot it. We weren’t.
For me, the only annoying part of walking through this area was the cow dung that was there at literally every step. I’m not kidding and I don’t care how trivial you may think this sounds. It was irritating. Instead of looking up & trying to spot the Red Pandas, I ended up spending majority of my time looking down, dodging those droppings. Otherwise, the hike was a pleasant one. We filled our bottles with cold water from a waterfall in the forest. Sat down on a tree trunk, and took pictures. Spotted birds, up close. You know, the stuff you picture yourself doing in such places.
Now, let’s come to the stuff you do NOT picture yourself doing. Once we had walked a substantial stretch of the path, Rahul uttered the now dreaded words – let’s take a shortcut. I knew when he says it’s a shortcut, it really is a shortcut. But then again, knowing him, it can consist of anything.
“Shortcut…from where?” Aishani asked, while I looked around. There was no visible path around us, or above us.
“Follow me,” instructed Rahul, and he began to climb up the steep area right beside the trail we were on – you know, those areas filled with shrubs and rocks, that you just turn your head to look at while strolling down hilly roads. He was on it.
I felt the familiar sensation of ‘this cannot be good for me’ churning in my belly.
“Um, okay,” I said. I grabbed the first shrub near my hand for support and tried to climb up. In the process, I broke most of its branches. So, I decided to crawl instead. It was quite a task, trying to balance my feet against the rocks while making sure my hands do not land on the cow dung, which was here as well! Clearly, cows are way more athletic than we give them credit for.
Rahul was effortlessly gliding up the path, leaping from point A to B. While Aishani and I were struggling on all fours.
“C’mon, give me your hand,” said Rahul. I looked up and found him standing right above us. There was nothing substantial to grab on to, on the way up there. How he got there I’d never know.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
“I’ve got this. Besides, do you have a choice?”
Fair point. I stopped thinking and stretched my hand out to him. And he, I kid you not, lifted me up to where he was standing – single handed! I landed on all fours, but that’s not the point. I could finally see the road up ahead from there, so I crawled up to it and sat down, panting.
Then it was Aishani’s turn – and things got a bit hilarious.
“Give me your hand,” said Rahul.
“Wait, let me get a better footing first,” said Aishani.
“Just give me your hand already! I can get you up here quicker!” insisted Rahul.
“Alright…just careful…whoaaaa!” I heard Aishani’s semi scream.
And then I heard Rahul’s voice.
“That’s my leg! LET GO OF MY LEG!”
What had happened was, when Rahul pulled her up, Aishani’s feet were dangling in the air. Hence, she panicked and grabbed onto the first thing she could reach – Rahul’s legs. The credit goes to Rahul for not losing his grip on the ground. Otherwise, they would have tumbled down, together.
“You almost took down the both of us,” said Rahul, breathing hard.
“I was fucking dangling in the air! So zip it, He-Man,” Aishani shot back, as she crawled up beside me.
After resting for a while, we started walking again. Rahul pointed out the point we were at, before taking the shortcut. The short cut had cut down the distance by almost 1.5 kms for us. We had basically bypassed the steep Kaiyakata stretch. The path from here on was pretty easy – rocky in certain areas – but quite comfortable to walk on. They are not steep as such, so you won’t get out of breath. But the road is a long one, so it does get tiring after a while. The route itself is extremely scenic though. We watched clouds sail past the mountains and beautiful stretches of green all around.
Oh, and our porter joined us on the last leg of this day’s trek. Yes, his role that day was as irrelevant as it sounds.
By the time we reached Kala Pokhari, it was around 3.30 pm. We had set out from Gairibas at 10 am, so we had covered the distance in under 6 hours – which according to Rahul was pretty impressive – especially for amateurs. *Fist pump*.
Kala Pokhari is a small village, in the Singalila National Park area. It is the point that precedes the final steep trekking stretch to Sandakphu. The village gets its name from a local lake, which has dark water – hence kala [dark] pokhari [lake].
It was extremely windy and chilly at Kala Pokhari. There are quite a few lodges here where you can stay the night, or grab a bite if you’re continuing your trek to Sandakphu the same day. We decided to stay the night at the Chewang Lodge. Our legs needed the rest, after the long trek AND the shortcuts. The rooms here were pretty affordable and cosy. We booked a three bedded one.
As soon as we stepped inside the room, Aishani and I both crashed into our respective beds, while Rahul massaged and stretched our feet and calves, easing them up for the next day. I hadn’t realized, but my legs were REALLY stiff. Aishani and I spent the night with hot water bags on our legs and back [you can ask for it at the lodge]. If you’re an amateur, your calves and thighs are bound to get tired and stiff by the time you cover Kala Pokhari. It’s a good idea to ease them up before the final trek to Sandakphu which, believe me, will really test your body’s endurance. You don’t want to go up there with stiff, aching legs.
We slept early, in order to get as much rest as possible before the final stretch of our trek the next day.
So what was it like, climbing up to Sandakphu? I’ll spill it all in the next post!