Trekking was in my blood being a mountain lad. Right from organizing day bunks into the pristine wilderness which surrounded the Bishop Cotton School ( Shimla) in the mid eighties and going on hikes, I have always drawn inspiration from nature and its elements. One of my first organized treks was to Chandertaal Lake in 1988 where we were led by our geography teacher to experience the sheer power of nature. It was tough for me then as I slogged the heights of Kunzum la in Spiti and was last to reach the camp. As I entered the camp all my trek mates clapped and my teacher “proudly said” Now you have become a man”. And this man never looked back. I was trekking in the dry desert of Ladakh doing valleys like Markha, Nubra and climbing peaks such as Stok Kangri. My adventures in Himachal took me to Spiti and Kinnaur where I became a hard core trekker.
As I got to spend more and more time with mother nature, I also started exploring my home valley. I came to know about a newly created National park but It was not unless April 2003 when I was invited for a trek by Mr. Sanjeeva Pandey ( Director GHNP) to explore India’s most newest national park ,”THE GREAT HIMALAYAN NATIONAL PARK”. Seeing such a pristine area right in my backyard made me such a GHNP addict that whenever I got the time, I was exploring the deep jungles of the park with my innovative mentors Payson Stevens and Sanjeeva Pandey. This park is one of the last remaining unscathed virgin areas of the western Himalayas. On my first trek to Dhela thatch, I was really mesmerized at the true wilderness which the park offered. Sparkling rivulets, crystal clear air, virgin forests with pine, oak and spruce that seems that they existed forever, this was truly like walking back at least 500 years into the time machine.
As we started from Neuli the road head in Sainj Valley we had to walk for over 22 km to reach the first camp at Shakti in the Sainj wildlife sanctuary. This distance though seems much lesser due to a very gentle slope as you go from 1500 to 2100 meters. The Shakti village in itself was great. Years of being alienated from the road with no electricity meant that they lived like this forever preserving their rich heritage and culture. The second day we started our accent towards the Dhel Thatch thus entering the Great Himalayan National park. It was awe-inspiring for me to see a pristine forest like this . Fuelled by inspirational talks about nature from Sanjeeva and Payson, I was at an all time high. As we camped near Humkhani midway between Shakti and Dhel, the magic of the forest came alive with calls of birds , animals and the wind all making the most amazing natural orchestra. The third day was one of the greatest as I was sanctified with the sighting of the Tragopan early morning along with Sanjeeva Pandey who had been the Director of the park for 5 years but had never seen it thus making us Tragopan Brothers. The western Tragopan is one of the rarest species of birds found in small pockets of Himchal Pradesh with the GHNP being one of the only national parks supporting a sizable population. The sighting of the Tragopan was one of first initiation into bird watching as I began to learn more as this trip enfolded into being one of my most out of the ordinary journeys of my life.
The Dhel Thatch was heaven. After a steep climb from Humkhani we came across this wide meadow giving us great views of Himalayan Vistas, pure fresh air and that feeling of being on the top of the world. A walk to the Jogini “Mountain Goddess “ gave us astounding views of the Sainj and Tirthan Valley. As I headed the way back towards Shakti it became quite evident for me that I have found my ultimate destination. As one of the founders of the GHNP, Tony Gaston writes “If you venture into the Himalayan wilderness, you run the risk of becoming a stranger in the common world. We who have been brushed by these places are forever changed; the goals of ambition and desire become muted when touched by the immensity and grandeur of the great mountains. To wander alone in these high places, however briefly, is to become a prey to yearnings that can never be extinguished or denied”.