“Although I deeply love oceans, deserts, and other wild landscapes, it is only mountains that beckon me with that sort of painful magnetic pull to walk deeper and deeper into their beauty.” – Victoria Erickson
I have always been a mountain kid. Growing up in a small town of Uttarakhand, my childhood was spent running in the hills with my friends, collecting wild berries near school during lunch break, and drinking water from the fresh stream. I was wild and free – a rather tamed version of Mowgli you can say. It was not until I moved to the city that I realized how special those memories were. Another realization hit me years later when I went for my first trek. The mountains were not just a break from the busy life. It felt like home. I carried the rucksack and walked while humming an old song. Furry mountain dogs accompanied me on the zigzag trail as the snow covered peaks beamed at a distance. Waking up to a view that looked straight out of a fairy-tale made me realize how lucky I was to be there.
It was not a surprise then that my first trip with OHOT as a trip leader was a beautiful trek to Bunbuni. Initially I was going for the famous Kheerganga trail. The itinerary was created, the batch was full, and I was super excited. But then came the order from Himachal Pradesh’s High Court to remove all the establishments from the Kheerganga top. Now if you have been to Kheerganga before May 2018, you would remember how the campsite was flooded with colourful tents. From nice comfy readymade beds to wood fired pizza, you name it and it was there. Those establishments however were illegal and hence were removed. The problem was that the order came two weeks before our trip started. Frantically I started searching for different treks in the area and found an offbeat trail to Bunbuni Thatch. And I am so happy that we did this trek, as it became my favourite short trek near Delhi. It was extremely successful too and we ended up leading many more batches to this pretty clearing on the mountain top.
I might be a little biased for Bunbuni as it was the first trek I was leading. With a lot of excitement and a little nervousness, I boarded the bus but as the mountains got closer, the nervousness flew out of the window. The mountain breeze can calm anyone’s mind, not to forget that I had an amazing group with me. I had led multiple treks since then and every time I am in the mountains, I had some really amazing experiences.
In every trek, you’ll see people who are acing the fitness game and are always in the front. Then there are people who are not used to the altitude and struggle at the back. As a trek leader, it’s your responsibility to motivate people, walk with them and lend a helping hand when required because when you reach the summit with the tired group, you will see the broadest smiles on faces who were at the back. In that moment you realize how small acts like holding someone’s hand can bring so much happiness.
Here at On His Own Trip, we believe in pushing people and not letting anyone give up. When we start a trek, we start as a group and therefore when we reach the summit, we do it together. Trippers sometimes feel tired and want to stop midway but as a trip leader, I cheer for them, ask them to take a breather and then when they feel a little better they can move according to their pace. I was co-leading a monsoon trek near Mumbai with Neeraj last year. It was the rainiest day in Maharashtra making the tiny streams into roaring waterfalls and the trail slipperier with each passing moment. There was a girl who was walking really slow with a local guide in the back. Every now and then, we stopped for them to see how far they were. We had hardly crossed the halfway mark when we saw the guide coming up alone. He told that the girl didn’t want to walk any further and has decided to wait for us to complete the trek so that she can descend with us. Umm really? This meant she would be totally alone for next 4-5 hours. This was not acceptable. So I went down and found her sitting on a rock getting pelted with rain. It took sometime but I convinced her to start moving. When we started walking she told me that her back was hurting, and she was feeling tired. But more than the pain, she stopped because she thought that with her pace it’s impossible to catch the group. It was not her body that was giving up. It was her mind that was making her feel helpless. So I didn’t ask her to speed up. Every time she felt guilty to have slowed me down, I told her that we will reach the top no matter what. We took breaks whenever she was out of breath, but as we climbed up, the frequency of the breaks reduced. I could see her a little more confident with each step. We talked about our family, shared some funny anecdotes and after a while we reached a point where the group was waiting for us. Everyone clapped and hooted for her, and as I turned towards her, I saw her smiling proudly. On our way back, she told me how amazing she felt. She decided to up her fitness and go for other treks. And when she said that, I knew my job was done.
I feel extremely lucky to have met some amazing people on these treks too. I have seen so many people helping each other. From cheering someone to even carrying their backpacks, I have witnessed some beautiful examples of kindness and humanity. Once on a trek to Dayara Bugyal, a girl was so overwhelmed, she started crying thinking she won’t be able to complete it. And while I was helping her, I saw the entire group coming together to cheer her. These people kept cracking jokes and made sure the journey was full of laughter. It was a 4-day trek and every day after reaching the campsite, we used to sit outside our tents, looking at the star lit sky and sharing our stories.
Talking about camping at nights, I have to go back to my first trek to Bunbuni. After a long day, we reached the top just in time as the drizzling was starting. And within minutes the rain started pouring heavily. Everyone ran into their tents to keep dry and rest for a bit. But how could we stop the excitement especially after reaching our destination. So four of us sat together and started playing cards. Our voices were heard by others and our tent became the magnet. After about half an hour, as the rain subsided, one of the local guides started distributing tea and was quite surprised to see most of the tents empty. As he approached our tent, his surprise turned into a shock as he saw 14 of us huddled together in that tiny tent (please note that it was a double sharing tent). We were giggling over the stupidest things and trying to make space for ourselves, but no one wanted to leave. These were the same people who had met only a day before. It’s amazing how trekking together can make you so close.
As I write this article, my mind id flooded with different memories. Once we slid down an entire mountain of snow. Another time we celebrated a tripper’s birthday with no cake but just a candle and many fun games. There are innumerable beautiful experiences I had while leading the treks. The amazing night sky which made us sit outside in the cold. The beautiful mornings and the breakfast with a view. The happiness on seeing the first snow. The waterfall on the trail that everyone jumped into. The endless chats with the helpers and local guides – about the hardships and life in mountains. Those impromptu dance numbers in the middle of nowhere and the countless group hugs. And most of all, the smiles after reaching the top and the happy tears that rolled down the cheeks.
I am leading a trek to Nag Tibba in October. Click here for details.