Why do people hike? What’s the fun behind exerting yourself so much to be up on a mountain top?
With these questions on my mind I kept packing my bag for the trek to Shali Tibba in Shimla hills that I was supposed to be part of the next day.
It was my first proper adventure trek and going by the fact that my fitness and physical activity level was almost Nil, I was skeptical if I would be able to make it or not. I still decided to go for it because it sounded different from the normal vacations we would take to some popular place for a long weekend getaway and where mostly the whole NCR world would land up and create the same chaos as in our cities.
Next day, it was a mad rush after office hours and taking the metro was a better decision as any other mode of commuting meant getting stuck in jam for hours. The ladies compartment was jam packed and I was prepared to keep standing throughout the journey, so I went ahead and secured a place in the corner. The adventure had just begun.
|Life in a Metro|
Inside the metro, on one side there was a bunch of teenage girls all excited to go for some rafting tour…super thrilled to get permission from home for their first independent trip…on the other side was a mother with her daughter looking forward to escape from office and household chores to go spend the weekend at comfort of her maternal home… whatever be the reason for each one, it was heartening to see women of today treading on the paths they chose for themselves.
ISBT was about people and more people. Some running around trying to get last minute reservations, some tired end of the day so waiting impatiently for their buses to start so they could catch up on their sleep and some were like me, filled with the thrill of vacationing.
|ISBT Kashmere Gate – Delhi|
I was traveling by bus after years so had reduced my water intake few hours before the journey. Had kept food also light and eaten early to avoid mountain sickness. Eventually my bus from Himachal Tourism arrived and after settling my luggage I snuggled up in my comfortable seat. It was a long journey. I thought I would doze off to sleep being dead tired end of the day but the excitement inside did not let me. After an hour, the bus stopped at Karnal for refreshments. It was almost midnight still the place was largely crowded. There were different groups of people, some college friends, some family, mostly corporate people from NCR heading to the hills for the long weekend. I was the only solo woman traveler there. I knew India is not safe for a lone woman in public spaces but I still wanted to push the limits and find out from firsthand experience whether it was possible for a single woman to travel and seek adventure in India. Well while there’s no denying that men and women don’t have the same kind of access to such public places, solo travel for females is not as unsafe as we imagine. More importantly, it will continue to remain unsafe unless more and more women go out and reclaim public space.
The journey started again. Most of the people were asleep by now. Seldom sounds of someone’s snoring, honking of the bus or faint music coming out of someone’s cell phone kept giving me company. Soon I dozed away only to be awakened by the ride which by now had become quite bumpy along with frequent twist and turns. The hills had arrived to welcome us. It was 4.00 am in the morning. As I opened my eyes and saw outside the bus window, it was a sight to behold! Shimla city was shining away to its glory under the moon lit night. The city though sleeping seemed exquisite, with the glittering lights.
The bus had arrived early, so I decided to wait at ISBT Shimla till dawn breaks. It was quite cold during the early morning hours and there were not many people around but I felt safe. As the dawn broke, some local buses started to line up. The tea staller, newspaper seller, bus conductors started to pour in all set at the wee hours of the day to start their business. I got on a local bus and reached the old bus stand in the heart of Shimla city.
The North Treks representatives were present on due time. They were supposed to facilitate and assist me during the trek. We got inside the cab and headed towards Khatnol, ahead of Mashobra which is the base to start the trek. There was a short break in between where we relished the much needed hot Himachali tea and some snacks. The route along the way is an uphill as well as a downhill ride, into a valley and then out of it. It’s mostly forest, but with well-defined trails.
After an hour’s journey, we reached Khatnol. There was some load sharing done between the TNT representatives and me. We had to carry our own sleeping bags and camping tents. It’s always advisable to carry your baggage as light as you can. The sun shades and sun caps came out. With loads of sun screen and a walking stick the climb began.
|Forest Hike – Shali Tibba|
My walk uphill soon ventured me into a forest where I occasionally came across dense pine trees and thick pastures on both sides of the road. There was an ancient trail up the peak pointed to by the locals, that I decided to follow and once on it, there was no way to get lost. The sun was shining brightly now, but the cool breeze of the mountains, the chirping of the birds, the beautiful shades of the Himalayan forests, rolling alpine pastures and the breathtaking views of the valley alongside kept me charmed and refreshed.
This trek was all the more special for me because since childhood I carried this extreme fear of heights. Whenever on such trails where there is a narrow path and big mountain incline, my legs would freeze up and I would not be able to muster the courage to even put a step forward. I would revert to some sort of shuffling and despite my greatest efforts I wouldn’t be able to just let go and walk normally when the fear would take hold. It often would get stressful and sometimes I would want to cry and wish to just get airlifted off the mountain!
The North Treks team made sure that this time I would not allow this fear to overcome me and stop me from hiking. They were always available during these freezing moments of mine and would push me to keep taking steps forward. They kept encouraging me that the problem is only in my mind and I need to overpower this mental block. It really helped and I was able to calm down because I knew, the fear is within me alone and only I can control this. I would focus solely on the trail and not look at the drop off and eventually after constant encouragement and little help I was able to surpass this fear and kept moving ahead.
The trek is usually a three-hour climb at a leisurely pace with ample time to stand and stare at the surrounding magnificence and the imposing peak ahead, but it being my first time I took a few extra hours. On the way, the landscape changed dramatically and the journey became more exploring as we descended deeper into the dry vegetation. The final climb was a tough one and was a steep and steady climb. As I reached the top I found the peak commanding an unforgettable view of endless snow covered Great Himalayan ranges along with the Sutlej valley and the densely forested hills of Shimla. All the efforts I had put in were amply rewarded by the breathtaking view from the top. A sense of achievement enveloped me. Reaching the top after this day long trek made me feel alive and adventurous. Through the shades of the trees to the top of the peak a glorious and unforgettable feeling embraced me.
It was evening time now and after identifying the location for camping we began settling down. A closed area was identified to place fire at for cooking purpose. Tents were pitched at a wider patch of land. The TNT representatives made sure we become aware of all the nitty-gritty of how to make fire, how to pitch tents, how to survive the cold and prevention against animals. After the long day, anything that we could manage to eat seemed divine.
I picked up my steel mug of coffee and went to sit in a corner overlooking the valley. This was serene. Away from the maddening crowd here I was sitting in a jungle, sipping my hot mug of coffee, overlooking the magnificent view of Himalayan ranges, with the sun setting in and the fresh cool breeze of the mountain refreshing my mind, body and soul. The only sound to accompany me were of the birds retreating to their homes, the gust of winds blowing amidst the cedar and pine trees, noise of a water-fall below and the occasional ringing of the bell at the temple above. I could spend hours in this nothingness. I reflected how back in my city I would majorly spend my whole day sitting for hours in front of the laptop in office and end of the day after finishing up all the daily chores I would be left so unsatisfied, tired, lazy, grumpy, my mind always occupied with the daily issues of life.
|Sunset – Shali Tibba|
While that evening even after exerting myself on a day long trek I felt so refreshed end of the day! Such was the power of nature. I realized winning over a business deal did not give as much pleasure and satisfaction as the accomplished feeling I felt after overcoming my fear of height and making up to the top. Spending money on a lavish buffet never made me feel so much content as the coffee and Maggie did that I valued so much, having on a mountain top. It taught me the worth of all that I have. That evening I was all on my own and yet didn’t feel lonely. I had come to terms with my own soul and my own life.
It was soon dark, and our tents were lighted up with solar torches. Outside it was a full moon night making our surroundings even more beautiful. We made smoky khichdi and could easily say it was the best union of daal and rice I ever had. Someone who was always extremely choosy about eating, I was relishing everything that was coming my way, from the heart. It was getting cold and windy now. The weather can change any time on the hills so it’s best to go prepared. A bonfire was welcomed. We went around collecting dry sticks. The TNT team was well equipped for all such chores. Soon a fire was lit up and we were sitting around it, gazing at the star lit sky, something I had done only as a child, as after coming to stay in NCR, with the pollution levels there I could never see a clear sky.
Later we all retreated into our respective tents. Sleeping bags were provided to each of us and they were warm enough to help us through the night. The solar torches were extremely helpful. We made sure we did not make much noise to disturb the animals. We were lucky to not have any of them around till now. The TNT team had taken all precautions and was well equipped and prepared for any such unwanted guests.
That night I lay awake in my tent, my neck tucked under my sleeping bag. I have had many restless nights in the city but this time even in this wilderness I surprisingly felt at ease. There was no comfortable bed, no air-conditioned air and no watchman to guard my location. Still I felt I am lying down in the lap of Mother Nature and so will be taken care of. I fell asleep don’t know when. In the middle of the night I felt something lighted up my tent and was looking at me. I opened my eyes anxiously and through the small net window of the tent saw that the full moon had moved up in the sky and reached a point where it was peeping in directly through my tent window, making sure I was having safe night. I smiled and went back to sleep again.
I woke up early next morning. It was quite cozy inside my sleeping bag but did not want to miss the sunrise up at the temple so hurried up. At the top of the Shali Tibba cliff is this Hindu temple, which is dedicated to Maa Bhimakali and is also the last and the most prominent point on the cliff. There are very few people who stay near the temple but people from the surrounding areas frequently visit here to pray to the mother goddess.
The peak gives a chance to see 360 degrees view of Shimla and some parts of Narkanda. We went up to the visit the temple and to check out the sunrise. The entire view from the hilltop was so magnificent and breath taking that it seemed like some paradise on earth. We just sat there quiet, allowing the morning sun’s rays to rejuvenate us, watching the snow-covered peaks and picturesque valley.
|Sun Rise – Shali Tibba|
We came to our camps later and after some light breakfast started to pack up. Making sure there was no littering done and we left the camp side just as it was earlier. We planned to descend early before the sun would start to shine strongly on us. Getting down took us fewer hours. I felt more confident but at the same time was a little gloomy from inside as the journey was coming to an end. It was time to retreat from the hills and get own to be part of the maddening cities again. The cab was waiting for us and we headed towards Shimla. From the mall road that afternoon I could see the Shali peak. I couldn’t believe just a day before I was on top it despite my fears. And I’ll probably be back again because the beauty of nature is so much greater than the fear.
Soon I was in the bus on my way back to New Delhi. It was a new me. I realized that we don’t have to be a professional hiker to do all this. All that is needed is to just let go of your comfort zone and go for it. This trek was a physical, mental, and emotional accomplishment for me in every way. That one day of my life was spent in a way giving my life a purpose to move on and do whatever it takes to reach the destination you have committed to. It was an opportunity to build a beautiful bond with myself, with nature and with other people.
P.S. My next adventurecation will be A River Side Camping in the month of May. If anyone wants to join kindly explore-
A Dreamer (Exploring Life)