Sunday, August 14, 2016
Trek with Sunshine Himalayan Adventures :
Here's what my experience of trekking at the Great Himalayan National Park was like
Go trekking at Great Himalayan National Park in Himachal Pradesh. It's challenging but replete with delightful!
It was pouring in the afternoon and the entire hillside was engulfed in mist. Around me, the forest was damp. The sound of falling rain, the thunderstruck sky and the gurgling Thirthan river formed a perfect symphony. Yet, the soft petal-like raindrops felt like ammunition ready to knock me down. My feet were numb and I couldn't move. Trembling in anxiety, I held onto a narrow ledge, and took shade under a huge rock that shaped into a prefect natural cave. Huge ferns dotted the landscape. It was me, the forest and mountains. In spite of the ardent trek ahead, a smile formed on my lips. I would soon be walking inside the majestic Great Himalayan National Park (GHNP).
Drenched to the core, I had two options: Either continue to Rolla, our destination and the entry to GHNP, or head back to the warmth and safety of the town. But two options were what I'd had when I decided to pick walking in the Himalayas over a comfortable holiday in Manali. Trekking after a gap of 10 years, I knew I had bargained for more than a bed of roses. Surrounded by the towering Himalayan mountains, GHNP hosts some of the endemic population of Himalayan wildlife species. It was accorded the status of a national park in the 1990s. Dense with pine and oak trees, it cradles the beautiful Thirthan river and enjoys great diversity in altitude, enabling hillsides and meadows to support a wide range of plants and creatures, including endangered species such as the Western Tragopan and the snow leopard. The park has many trekking points but I chose the village of Gushaini, a small hamlet surrounding the park which is an eco-hotspot.
At the Gushaini base camp, I was joined by my guide Deb and his crew of two porters, who carried the tents, food, water and oil for our one-night stay in the jungle. I shook hands with them, knowing they were the most important people in my life for now. I was a city dweller, entirely unfit for the journey I had agreed to do. I had been warned that there would be no phone connectivity and for two days, I would be completely cut off from civilisation. Blissful is what this had seemed then.
We started our walk. After the initial few steps, I started panting. Breathless, I scanned my surrounding like a shikra looking to perch. I badly wanted to crash but Raju didn't let me sit. He insisted that I must walk. "Take baby steps," is what he said, "but please don't sit." I took a deep breath and refused to give ear to my bursting lungs. We crossed the village and the view opened up in front of me - terrace gardens and an open sky for miles. I got a red carpet welcome by the strewn rhododendron flowers. Bulbuls, Mynas and an occasional raptor gave me company. Deb indicated that we would soon be reaching the first village.
We came across a small hamlet tucked cosily into a corner of the mountain. Suddenly the eerie silence gave way to giggling children, shouting and chasing each other. I spotted smoke - the comforting sign of life in a village. I gulped down some much needed tea and glanced at my surroundings. It was a small village with four houses and the ladies ran tailoring shops attending to tourists. They trekked more than 10 km to get work from the nearby town. The men in the village worked as occasional porters for trekking companies.
After a 15 minute break, we resumed our trek. Deb cautioned that from here on the route would become a little treacherous and the path mostly uphill. The wide path that we had left behind became narrower and was rocky in most places. The ground below was damp with freshly fallen autumn leaves and dry twigs. The rocks jutted out in many places and dried branches thwacked under my feet as I walked. It was difficult focusing on the surroundings while keeping my eyes firmly planted on the ground.
As we climbed further, I caught a glimpse of the majestic Himalayan Griffons circling the sky. They disappeared behind the mountains, only to appear again. The sun had come out and one had to squint to follow them. Without warning, it started pouring. But we trudged along. As we walked, I realised that the wide path we had left behind had become quite narrow and soon we had to create a path as we walked.
I was tired but the cold rain, fresh flowers and the cloud wrapped mountains became my energy drink. The view opened up and the mountains too had taken a new shape. Resplendent and glorious, they appeared standing tall. The route now became a little treacherous. We came near a ledge and Deb said we could rest for ten minutes. I met Baiju, a local villager who had stopped to rest for a few minutes. Next to him were his groceries that he had brought from the town.
The sky suddenly cleared and a glorious afternoon welcomed us. As we got closer to our destination, the forest rest house of Rolla, the jungle became more thick. I could hear giggling sounds. I rubbed my eyes, worried that I was hallucinating and hearing sounds. While I was debating whether to share this with Deb, out of nowhere, I was joined by two girls walking confidently with school bags comfortably perched on their shoulders.
Both Radha and Sushmita, I found out, trek 20 km daily (to and fro) from their village that is located deep inside GHNP to their school in Gushaina. We reached the periphery of the park by evening, through a local temple. Shrill bird sounds filled the atmosphere and I called it a day