“Mind is the Master power that moulds and makes
And Man is Mind, and evermore he takes
The tool of Thoughts, and, shaping what he wills,
Brings forth a thousand joys, a thousand ills:-
He thinks in secret, and it comes to pass:
Environment is but his looking-glass.”
I saw Erin off to the airport from Delhi where she would be spending a week in Goa at Damien’s place while he and I had a boys trip in the Himalayas. We landed and knew this was exactly what we were looking for. Our first mission was to locate Ankit Sood, a local that had been in contact with us for equipment rental. Sitting in his office, he poured us some tea and said “So, what do you guys like to do?” Our goal was to go as deep and remote into the Himalayas as possible and we were leaning towards the Parvati Valley. Ankit said that he had something way better in mind for us and after asking us if $40 per day would fit into our budget, began making arrangements. We drove to a small riverside home and were invited to sit down. Sendrella, the owner of the home, lodge and restaurant, made us an amazing, organic lunch. Ankit had arranged for us to go on a 5-day trek into the Himalaya’s in an obscure valley that sees a total of 30 visitors per year. Since he runs an ecotourism outfit, his stipulation was that we use local guides and porter’s to help out the local economy while on the trek. At first we were hesitant, but fortunately we agreed, as we couldn’t have done what we did without them. We had two porter’s, Pratap and Lobu, whose duties would be to carry all cooking gear and food. Dilip was our cook and Sesram our guide. It was mandatory to have a guide for the area we were in. After dinner at Sendrella’s we hit the sack in our tent that had been set up for us. The next morning we arose to breakfast already prepared and ventured off on our first day of the trek. Damien and I each carried our own backpacks but they weighed in at a measly 15 pounds, about a third of what we normally would carry on an adventure. Three hours later we were at our destination for the night at an elevation of about 8,000 feet and Damien and I spent the afternoon reading and relaxing by the river, playing guitar, singing songs, and catching up. Soon enough, tea and snacks were brought to us and then dinner was served next to a campfire.
The next morning I awoke to “tea, sir” as would be the custom for the remainder of the trip. This was a comfort I would miss afterwards. Lying in our sleeping bags trying to stay warm and sipping tea, we would soon hear the footsteps come over to say “sir, breakfast is served.” Unimaginable feasts consisting of eggs, breads, jams, washed down with tea and sweet porridge were the norm. After breakfast we would pack up our tent and alerted the crew we’d like to carry our own sleeping bags as we felt uncomfortable being so spoiled. This hike was to be strenuous as we climbed 3300 feet in less than four miles.
The views were stunning as snow-capped mountains, higher than any peak in the continental U.S., soared upwards at the edge of the valley, guiding you closer to your destination. My health back to 100%, we finished the hike in a little over 2 hours and settled in to what would be our home for the next two days. Wildlife is abundant and we see numerous Munals, a type of pheasant, soaring through the valleys as we scare them away. Mighty Griffons, with wingspans of over six feet are soaring in the valley searching for prey. Every time we see one I think of Ted in Hoboken, another type of Griffin, but equally amazing. Deep down we all long to see the elusive Western Tragopan, a rare bird that lives in only this part of the world, but we come up short. Lunch is served, consisting of breads, curries, pickled spices, dal and we are encouraged to eat until we can’t take anymore. So we do.
It rains every afternoon so we are confined to our tent, reading, relaxing and taking naps. We wake to more tea and snacks and go on afternoon hikes to explore the area and take photos. Nights are spent around the fire, eating absurd amounts of delicious, home-cooked Indian food, playing guitar and singing songs. The next day we hike to the highest reachable peak this time of year – at least in this valley – at an elevation of over 12,000 feet. Damien and I decide to take a vow of silence this day and I retreat to a little perch to do some yoga and meditate. The view is stunning but it is very cold and I’m very hungry so we go back down to our camp. I break the vow of silence once we are back at the camp when I climb into the tent and say to Damien, “Man, I’m so hungry.” The dialogue that ensues made me vow never to take a vow of silence again. “What, you didn’t eat your lunch?” “What lunch?” “Oh, I thought that was too much food for one person,” realizing he had eaten for two. We laughed it off and fortunately he had saved some soggy roti to tide me over before our afternoon snack was delivered. I know, it’s a rough life.
The next day we descended through the valley towards our next camp, passing through tiny villages where they would offer us tea and we’d sit around staring at each other. It was an interesting experience to see how these people live the simplest life and seem to be extremely content and happy. We take pictures of them with our $350+ cameras – whose cost could feed the entire village for the year – and just like us, they are so excited to see how they look on the LCD screen, poking and jabbing at the guy who’s eyes are closed. They grow wheat, barley, and hemp on terraced fields to sustain them throughout the year. Their clothes are bright colored and hand-made. On this day, we happened upon a religious ceremony at the top of a nearby hill. Everyone was dancing and the drums echoed softly through the valley. Sesram told us this is the day that the goddess was returning home from the village. The villagers celebrate on that peak because that is where the girl cum goddess fell to her death many years before. Each village has it’s very own temple to worship and one such temple was intricately carved with cedar and adorned with silver, glass and mirrors, creating an elegance unmatched in the valley.
The next few days were spent in small towns where we received the same levels of service and we finished off the trip with a 40km mountain bike ride from Manali to Kullu where I could catch the overnight bus back to Delhi. Stopping in at Ankit’s place we killed time before the bus arrived and thanked him profusely for arranging such an amazing trip in the Himalayas. This is one place I will surely return.
Check out more pictures here: http://flickr.com/photos/damienf/sets/72157605048198066/