The following morning, we had a simple breakfast of tea, boiled eggs, bananas, bread and jam, cereal and some boiled potatoes. A portion of the same was packed for lunch. I stood outside the hut soaking in the surroundings; ponies and yaks grazing in the meadows, a comforting sound emanating from the bells tied around the yaks’ necks, enveloping the area with soothing music.
This is what I had come for and no pain could take away the sights that greeted us
We left Tsokha for Dzongri and halted after a steep five kilometre hike for lunch. At a small wooden structure in Phedang, we met other trekkers making their way down to Tsokha. Just when I thought it couldn’t get any steeper, the trekkers warned us to brace ourselves for the climb ahead. They were right; the stretch from Phedang to Deorali can take the steam out of the fittest. The view, of course, was breathtaking with some parts of the trail seeming straight out of a children’s classic.
They say that the mountains have a way of dealing with overconfidence. It sure does not take long for human pride to begin moving its lips in prayer!
From thick alpine vegetation, we found ourselves climbing up rocky terrain with small flowering shrubs, mosses and lichens in pretty hues of pink, violet and white. The air smelt different and it was evidently getting rarer. At Deorali, we rested for a couple of minutes near a stupa with prayer flags lining the clearing. I stared into the tunnel of mist that would lead to Dzongri. From here onward, the climb was a gradual three-kilometre ascent with some undulating parts.
The Dzongri base camp
Interesting graffiti on the walls created some light moments for us. The chowkidar and his family were the only human inhabitants at Dzongri. We sat around his kitchen fire chatting and eating straight out of the pans so as to say! I suddenly noticed a large trogopan perched on the top of the hill. I was able to recognise it from its distinct call. Everyone rushed out to get a glimpse of the rare, endangered Himalayan bird, which soon flew off, perhaps wary of the attention.
The next day’s trail was going to be the hardest and so we retired to bed after a piping hot meal. We had to start our ascent at 3:30 am to view the sunrise over the Himalayas. It was a 200-metre ascent, of which almost 20 percent was a steep incline. I had to take two trekking poles to tackle the gradient. As I braved it to the top, I found myself caught between the moon on one side and the rising sun on the other side. Finally, I made it to the top, privy to the splendour and majesty of the Himalayas. I had earned my way to it!
Only those who seek, shall find it
The rising sun shone upon the peaks, gifting mankind the rarest of views. The changing hues of the snow-clad peaks from an icy blue to golden and pinkish white can render the greatest bard speechless.
I stood in reverence and humility before the might of nature. It was the closest view I had of Mt Kabru, Mt Kanchenjunga, Mt Ratong, Mt Pandim, Mt Black Kabru, Mt Tensinkhang and Mt Narsing. The mind was silent, offering gratitude for our good fortune. We learnt that the peaks were hidden until a few days prior to our visit. It had rained in the days leading up to our trek but fortunately for us, the weather held up since we started our trek. Sitting at 14000 feet in the high mountains, I had come a long way for this moment.
The stupas and prayer flags lining the ridge added to the serenity of the Himalayas. For the first time, I could hear the stillness. It is so sacred that one did not wish to desecrate the purity with one’s voice.
Time to descend
The winds were getting stronger and the air was rarefied, as if signalling us to begin our descent. We came down for breakfast and shortly thereafter, began our journey back to Tsokha. We made it to Tsokha in good time and managed to get some rest before dinner. We knew the next day’s trail would be a punishing 15 kilometres of sharp descent. I had to be careful not to cause any further injury to my already inflamed knee – an unwelcome reminder of my fall on the first day. So, I had to transfer my entire body weight onto the other leg and thanks to the little training I had undergone, it bore the brunt of the descent pretty well.
We reached Sachen around 2 pm and after a quick lunch, resumed the remaining six kilometres to Yuksom, a distance that had to be covered before sunset. We managed to reach Yuksom at 4 pm and a walk of another kilometre saw us reach our hotel just in time! An hour later, the rains came down heavily – like a farewell shower!
We’d walked 42 kilometres in four 4 days! The trek had been completed despite the odds — spanning an injured knee, sleep deprivation and dehydration. Yet, victory tasted sweet. The body felt stronger than ever, probably because I had learnt to conquer pain and come back to the world, with a piece of heaven within me – my very own Shangri-La
Five years later, I made a second ascent on the Dzongri trail; this time, to initiate my 10-year-old son into high altitude trekking and I was filled with pride to see him take to the mountains like a born climber.
This article is the second part of a two-part series. The first part can be read here