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ÆEverest Base Camp / Kalapathar
ÆDodital Yamunotri
ÆManirang Pass, Himachal Pradesh
ÆDharamsala

ÆRann of Kutch
ÆDesert Trek (Rajasthan)
ÆWhite Water Rafting (Rishikesh)
ÆRock Climbing (Dhauj)

 

Everest Base Camp / Kala Pathar in Nepal (September 2004)


Adventure is an aspect of human life endorsed by the basic instinct of curiosity. It is this sense that has always pushed human beings to explore both the world and themselves. Crossing various boundaries - mental and physical men have always travelled to learn more about far off places and peoples.

Trekking has been one such means of exploration. The JNU Mountaineering Club is known for different sorts of adventure activities that it carries out within and outside campus. The Mt. Everest Base Camp/Kala Pathar trek in the Nepal Himalayas was part of Autumn Trek 2004 and comprised students selected for among other criteria, their physical and mental toughness. Partially funded by JNU, the team of selected students left Delhi on 19 September 2004.

Nepal, once the forbidden land, attracts adventure lovers from all over the globe. A beautiful Himalayan country, Nepal is the home of mountain ranges comprising six thousand to eight thousand metres high peaks of which Mt. Everest at 8852 metres - the highest peak in the world - is the crown. Nepal is therefore and not surprisingly, also rich in flora and fauna, and home to some of the hardiest people and world famous mountaineers and trekkers. The Mt. Everest region known as Sagarmatha in Nepal is the most sought and famous dream destination for trekkers the world over. From Delhi to Kathmandu, through Gorakhpur and Sanouli/Bhairawa is itself a wonderful journey and from Jiri - the last roadhead village before Everest Base Camp - begins a route that was followed also by Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary when they summitted Everest in May 1953.

Twelve days of trekking through wide, picturesque valleys, lush green surroundings, mighty rivers and streams enclosed by numerous, endless and snow-covered peaks resulted in spectacular views of Mount Everest - a great relief for the team excited, anxious and tired due to the strenuous and long days of trekking. A number of passes, inclines, slopes and treacherous routes - passing also several beautiful hamlets and fields - were negotiated to reach this point.

Almost 8,852m, - equal to the height of Mt. Everest - were ascended owing to the fact that the route is full of ascents and descents before the team finally summtited Kala Pathar (5545m). The group proudly hoisted the JNU and JNUMC flags, and clicked pictures. With everlasting memories and following the same route the team returned to Lukla from where the team flew back to Kathmandu in a Russian-made MI-17 helicopter operated by a private airlines. Flying in that part of the world, over the thick blanket of clouds at an altitude of 5000 metres gave the team a different and unique opportunity to see the numerous snow-covered peaks. One could peep through moving clouds into the deep valleys but the Himalayas - the highest and the biggest training ground for the trekkers and mountaineers appeared to be concealing more than it revealed. Two days of sightseeing in Kathmandu followed before the team returned finally to the campus on 13 October.

Whatever has been explored is but the tip of the iceberg. More frontiers remain to be conquered and the JNUMC remains up to the challenge. (Contributor: Rajesh Kapoor)

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Dodi Tal-Yamunotri (22nd to 29th May 2004)
 

A team from the JNU Mountaineering Club went on the annual Summer Trek to the Dodi Tal-Yamunotri in the Garwahl Himalayas in May. The team set out on the 22nd from the campus and reached Uttarkashi on the following afternoon, then moved on to Sangamchatti, the road head, and then onwards to Agoda, on foot, making first camp. This route is a very popular one with easily negotiable ascents. Guides and porters as well as mules, can be had for hire either from Uttarkashi or Sangamchatti. Agoda is a village 4kms from Sangamchatti on the way to Dodi-Tal, where guest houses, chai shops and other items of daily use are available.

On the morning of the 24th the group woke to little signs of any exertion in spite of long tiring bus journey and short trek, the previous day. The team was in good spirits as it headed for Dodi-Tal. A well-marked route much frequented by the locals and commercial camp organizers from plains especially from Delhi. Walking through a jungle of mainly oak, with pine and rhododendron adding to the variety gives the city-dweller immense pleasure. Along the way we saw some more tea shops and summer dwellings of the villagers who had constructed these temporary houses to cultivate their lands and for the fodder for their cattle during the summer. In winter, the whole area remains inaccessible because of snow. The group reached Dodi Tal around 3 in the afternoon. There were some more camps nearby, mainly of school kids with their instructors.

Dodi Tal as the name suggests is a lake and a beautiful one at that set in the midst of deodar, and cheer (pine) forests. The lake is circumscribed by a 4-5 feet wide path (parikrama marg). There is a temple of Lord Ganesha here and a few huts including one in which a sage lives. There are good camping grounds, and cozy rooms in the rest house owned by Forest Department are also available. There is a charge for camping near the lake. It started raining in the afternoon despite which the group went for an acclimatization walk.

Waking up to a clear sky, on the 25th, the group took on the Dharwa Top. The route from Dodi Tal to the pass is well marked with a few steep ascents. We crossed along the way some streams with not much water. As soon as the final steep ascent ends there are three trails leading to three different directions. Our guide told us to follow the one on the left leading to Kansar, a picturesque meadow, far above tree line. The greenery was supplemented by flowers of different hues. On the left hand is the Top and on the right hand is a colossal snow-covered peak, Bandarpoonch adjacent to which is the Bain Kulu peak. We came across some patches of snow. We took the left trail from meadow passing through small shrubs of juniper. On a narrow trail, of 30degree steep slopes with the added weight of the rucksack, one feels a real spirit of adventure and the adrenaline flowing.

The pass is attractive enough for no one to want to leave immediately. All the pain and exertion are rewarded by the glorious sights. The trail on the right leads to Gujjar huts and for mules is a comparatively easier route. As soon as the team started descending, the weather began to pack up but did not go beyond a few flakes of snow and a little hail on the way down to Sima, the campsite. The winds blew away the clouds, though it was snowing on the opposite peaks.

The first sight of snow for many of the trekkers drove everybody berserk. On the way down from the pass, the group found a gully full of snow deposited by an avalanche during the winter. The group had great fun sliding over the slope in every possible way. From the pass to Sima is a gradual descent except at one or two places. Sima is more beautiful than Dodi Tal, situated at a place where the tree line starts. Water is available and a dismantled shed can be used as a kitchen. Wood can be collected for bonfire. The group was able to enjoy more here since it was the only group in the whole area. Everyone had dinner and a round of hot chocolate after a tiring days trek.

With its lush green and vast pastures, Sima looks an ideal site for a golf course. The whole place is surrounded by rhododendron and deodar tress. The group was looking more energetic and happy after the previous night’s rest. Exertion brings with it sound sleep, no doubt. On the 26th, the group trekked from Sima to Hanumanchatti which is a three to four hour descent and mainly through the jungle and a hamlet called Nichinia. The route is like the average hilly village track.

In Hanumanchatti, the trekkers stayed in a Dharamshala – Baba Kamri Wala – because of the non-availability of camping sites near the right bank of the Hanuman Ganga, a tributary of the river Yamuna. Construction work of a hydro-power project and peak summer season had made the place more populous. In the flow of traffic due to pilgrims visiting Yamunotri (one of char dhams), the team were forced to hire taxis from Hanumanchatti to Janakichatti. The next morning we trekked the remaining six kms to Yamunotri. The entire route was crowded and on top of it all, it was raining, while the mules and palanquin-wallahs added insult to injury. We could not go above the Yamunotri temples because of the rain. It was also quite cold at the temple site, the only relief being the vapours coming out of hot water springs where some devotees were taking dip. After coming back to Hanumanchatti we stayed at the same Dharmashala where we had booked three rooms. After sleeping out in tents even small unfurnished Dharmashala rooms appeared luxurious. After hours of laughter, sharing jokes, antakshri, singing and dancing, one develops an affinity with such places where in normal time it is impossible to think of staying.

People had fun during the trek, made new friends, strengthened already existing bonds and felt and realized the need for interdependence. The trekkers also learned about themselves and life itself the hard way – testing their patience, capabilities, adaptability and team spirit. The success of a trek lies not merely in the completion of the conceived plan but in realizing the power of nature, knowing one’s own weaknesses and strengths, in learning about the environment, and to appreciate and understand human frailties.

From Hanumanchatti to Barkot, buses are available, but traffic jam are frequent due to the narrow road and movement of heavy vehicles. Barkot to Mussorrie took four hours owing to the rush of peak season. After some sightseeing in Mussorrie the group took a night bus to Delhi at 8 on 28th May and reached Delhi at 5, the following morning. (Contributed by: Rajesh Kapoor)

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Manirang Pass, Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh

 One

Two

Go!

(What? No Three!?)

Yes, September 2nd 2005. The JNU Mountaineering Club was on its way to Himachal Pradesh, the eternal land of snow capped peaks. Representing the club, five members in all were waved off by loyal members of club. Their hearts wanted them to go with us but had other deadlines to meet.

 Starting from New Delhi ISBT (Inter State Bus Terminus), the team reached Reckong Peo, the District Head Quarters of Kinnaur next day. Although Kinnaur is notably famous for the sacred Kinner kailash massif and the Baspa valley. We were heading towards Upper Kinnaur, the remote region east of Reckong Peo. Unfrequented Mountain trails criss cross kinnaur, offering challenging climbs over high altitude passes. Straddling the mighty river Sutlej, which rises on the southern slopes of Mount Kailash, Kinnaur has for centuries been a major Trans-Himalayan corridor. We followed the epic, old Hindustan Tibet road through the remote hamlets of Upper Kinnaur past Shi Asu to the Ropa Valley.

 The trek began from the village of Ropa. A day before, the team stopped over for the local Phukachi festival which takes place during the harvest season. The trail then took us to Rangbar, passing through breathtaking scenery. This challenging route across the great Himalayan range from Ropa valley via Manirang Pass is a dramatic approach to the Spiti Valley.

 We left civilization behind in the last village of our trail, Ropa. We were lucky to see two Shepards in Rangbar and Pamchung. We then followed our way a trail that took us through narrow deep gorges and beautiful virgin valleys. After an arduous day of ascending and descending, we reached and set up camp close to a grazing ground Sumdo.

 To reach the Base camp of the Pass, Rankali we started off from Pamchung early. The trail was hard to follow in places, and nonexistent in some. Nevertheless, the trail offened breathtaking views of a crevassed glacier. Reaching Rankali and as we proceeded a little ahead, glaciers loomed on all sides.

 On 5th day of our trek, 10th September, we started off in the wee hours of the morning prepared for the day long trek to the Manirang Pass (5600m). We reached the pass after eight hours of climbing two icefalls roped up in a cordee.The moment we started to descend,we entered Spiti . The Spiti valley was absolutely breathtaking and has massive, enormous mountains when compared to the Ropa valley. We were the only civilian team to have climbed the pass from the Ropa valley into the Spiti valley in this year. Definitely, the highest vintage point, the Club has made in the last couple of years.

 The other side of the pass is down a glacier and the boulder-clay required some scrambling on 11th September, we started on a trail that climbs down to a side valley only to follow a lateral moraine up to a gad near Sapona after which we cross through Spiti valley filled with blue grey mountain peaks. The final patch is a steep descent to reach the village Mane. After this, a Jeepable track runs southeast to Kaza.

 We then were off to Kaza in a Jeep.on the way, we stopped at Dhankar (3890m) monastery overlooking the convergence of Pin and Spiti Rivers. Built nearly 1000 years ago, it was once the capital of Spiti.

 From Kaza, we reached Tabo Monastery which houses multi hued murals and stucco sculptures. It’s one of worlds richest Buddhist Art Treasures, also where the current Dalai Lama plans to retire. We stopped at Kibber, the highest village in the world with motorable road and electricity, way back, we visited the Kye Monastery ,the oldest and largest in Spiti.

 Finally we reached Manali passing through the beautiful Kunzum La (4551m) and Rohthang Pass (3900m). Before we packed our bags to delhi, visited the Hadimba Temple, Manali standing at the head of Beas valley. (Contributed By: Sukanya Natrajan)

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Dhauladhar Ranges - Dharamsala


Our first sight of the Dhauladhar ranges had many of us cringing our faces in disappointment. The ranges did not "look good" in the conventional sense. We had seen more stunning peaks. Had we but known that some of the most beautiful photographs on any trek were going to be taken during this one! And so it was throughout this winter trek - a trek that exceeded all expectations. It turned out into a full-blown snow trek despite apprehensions about late snowfall in the region and we also managed to achieve targets that were only tentatively chalked into our schedule.

Landing in Dharamsala, a sleepy little Himachali town, despite its claim to world fame, we had no problems with hiring guides - the Dhauladhars have several well-known trekking routes. But the difference was (as always with the JNUMC) that we chose to trek in the most unusual or off-season periods. And that makes even a regular trekking route a whole different ball game. In the event, we were making a snow trek out of what was usually a summer trek. Our route started from Dharamkot, on the outskirts of Mcleodganj, itself an extension of Dharamsala, and onwards to the Triund Got, and Illaqa Got.

Mcleodganj. Now that is an interesting place, with its narrow streets crowded by migrant hawkers and shops run by refugee Tibetans, and young women and Buddhist monks queuing up for water. But there was not enough time to reflect on life's bittersweet ironies just then, as we made our way with our two guides, to our campsite at Dharamkot. Zahoor and Ashraf, brothers and hardly older than many in the group, were Kashmiris who spent six months away from their home to work as guides and porters in the tourist season at Dharamsala. As we got to know the brothers better, and we heard them describe their home in Gurez, we were struck despite the inadequacy of words, by their love for home and the beauty of it, that events had conspired to lock away in a cocoon, from the rest of the world. A tragedy as great as that of the Tibetan exiles. And the experienced ones among us - we who had come from the nation's capital where the big decisions affecting these lives are made - were once again aware of what a trek actually entailed and taught above and beyond physical endurance and witnessing natural beauty.

Dharamkot, is situated about 3kms up a steep climb from Mcleodganj and was an ideal place to start our trek. The only problem we had was water and this was something that would dog us throughout the entire trek. The got is a grassy plateau and Triund and Illaqa were two such plateaus that would be the campsites for each of the first two days of our trek. Starting from Dharamkot on the morning of the 20th we started our steep ascent to Triund Got. On the map it says about 14kms, but distances are beside the point in the hills. 5kms in the hills is an entirely different proposition from the same distance in the plains. Call it beginner's luck, but despite there being as many freshers as there being experienced trekkers, the team was able to stick to schedule and route without major problems.

The route up to Triund was instructional in several ways. For one, there was an idea of the track that was important if we were to see snow either further ahead or on the return. And it does not take long for even light snow to cover entirely pits and those unpleasant surprises that loose rocks provide. Secondly, we also saw some of the peculiarities of a terrain that receives snow. It had snowed just a few days ago and there was this very slippery phenomenon, neither ice nor glass, but seemingly a cross between the two, known as berglass, that can make a trekker think twice about putting the next step forward. And of course, we saw the rhododendrons and deodars that the Dhauladhars are famous for.

The view from Triund of the mountains that had so far been shielded from our view by the steep rock faces was sensational. And if that were not enough we were also able to see below us Mcleodganj and Dharamsla laid out like a ragged and lumpy old carpet of green, brown and gray. Once we had taken in the sights that old problem of water hit us. Th rains had been late and there was no water anywhere in the vicinity. So we laid down our rucksacks and took out the kitchen utensils and made our way to what one of the guides thought was a likely source of water. The weather now started to change as we made our way down the other side of the plateau, such that soon we could hardly see ten feet in front of us. We were heading towards a white-out. Unable to find any water, we returned, picking up instead firewood for what would undoubtedly be a cold night And this was at around noon, mind you.

Back at Triund, we had to avail of the only other option - melting snow for cooking - and so off some of us went, hunting for snow somewhere on the lower reaches of Triund, on another side. Meanwhile, we had to unpitch the tents and rush to the wooden outhouse of a the government tourist bungalow a short distance away to avoid being blown off the top of the got in case the weather got any worse. Next to some lonely gaddi huts that are only occupied during the summers, we finally found snow, dirty though it was. But by the time we made our way back it was snowing in right earnest. After setting the snow on the boil, the entire group was soon out with cameras and rainsheets improvised as sledges, to have a gala time in the snow!

A few hours later, the snowfall had ceased and almost immediately the peaks the trees and the town down below reappeared, but in entirely different hues. The trees in the area where it had snowed were now bedecked in an ash grey for quite a while before the sun melted the snow off their branches. The peaks too now reflected sunlight differently. Reinvigorated we made our way up about 200metres or so to a shrine of sorts to acclimatize ourselves. Again, full marks for the views from the top.

The track to Illaqa Got was covered in snow in many places, it having snowed again in the night. Nevertheless, we made quick time. Illaqa, at approximately 3,600metres, is where the snowline begins and we were not disappointed as now we had snow all around us. We had to of course use snow instead of water and now we even pitched our tents in the snow. We soon found ourselves in knee-deep snow, as we proceeded to the popular Lahesh Caves a little further, which were now actually surrounded by gaddi huts. Back at the campsite, rainsheets were out once again as we skied and sledded to our heart's content, this time in much better weather.

We had now completed the first stage of the trek as planned. We now decided that attempting the Indrahar Pass, further ahead was feasible despite the snow. But our guides did not know the way further ahead and this is where the JNUMC's knowledge of the maps and terrain of the area, came in. We were sure of the rough direction in which the Pass lay, and the guides were convinced enough to accompany us. But this was for tomorrow. Today was still young and the team went off on the familiar acclimatization trip. We must have gained about 400metres, and reaching an altitude of 4000metres plus is no mean achievement in the snows of Himachal. This would provide us the impetus for the long day tomorrow, for it was decided that the group would attempt Indrahar and get back to Dharamkot in one day.

The next morning, Indrahar Pass was reached successfully but the view of the valley down below in the distance was visible only possible from further up the side of a mountain. Again the group did about 4000metres plus up the side of a mountain to treat themselves to a visual feast! Back in Illaqa Got, it was now possible to unpitch our tents without tearing out the bottoms, for the ice below had melted. From now on, it was one long descent back the way we came, a distance - if the maps were to be believed - of around 30kms. The group was in high spirits but the descent would tell on our calf muscles at the end of the day and for a few days later, as much as thirst would dodge us during the trek downwards.

At Dharamkot, the next morning we had a special celebratory breakfast before we descended to the Mcleodganj for the real touristy part of the trek. The famed Bhagsu Nag temple, the Namgyal Monastery - residence of the Dalai Lama - and the Tibetan Museum were the places to see here. The Dal lake, the church of St. John in the Wilderness and the Kangra Museum in Dharamsala were the other highlights. The festival of Losar was about to begin the next day and as a result, most offices and shops were closed leading to a spirit of festivity.

That night on a bus back to Delhi - possibly the slowest one out of Mcleodganj - an exhausted group of JNUites basked in the glory of having successfully completed a trek and in the pleasure of "snowy" memories that would last a lifetime. (Contributed By: JT Jacob)

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Rann of Kutch - Gujarat


"Trek-king?" Such was the puzzled question we repeatedly encountered during our foray into the beautiful wastes of the Rann of Kachch. Part of the puzzlement had to do with the fact that the very concept of people going for a 'walk' across the rann carrying their own equipment and rations for several days, when buses or at least bullock carts were available, was simply laughable. We could almost read their thoughts, as they looked agape at us, "These people are crazy!"

And what of the composition of our group? Guys in their late twenties and early thirties to people barely out of their teens, men and women, people from all parts of the country, seventeen of us and the only Gujarati, we spoke between us was, Khemche, (we picked up pretty fast though, adding a 'che' to every other word we spoke in Hindi!).

The trek to the Rann of Kachch was a first for the JNUMC, made all the more eventful by the biggest earthquake to hit the nation in a hundred years. But first things first. Our departure for Ahmedabad, was pretty uneventful, except for a flat tyre on the bus we caught. However after reaching Ahmedabad the following day, things went like clockwork and we reached Rapar, our starting point, by nightfall. After renting a big dormitory for the night, we faced our biggest challenge until then - getting a guide. After much persuasion, a young chap named Naveen agreed. He had spent a few years in Pune and fancied himself more as a man of the world than his fellows. And the thought of breaking out of the confines of the small town in which he lived, if only for a few days must have swung the decision in our favour.

Trekking is not only about carrying a heavy rucksack across the miles. It is also about knowing yourself and the limits to which you can push yourself. It is also about getting to know other people, your fellow-trekkers, as well as those whom you meet along the way and about seeing and experiencing their lives, emotions and thinking. You would have to be pretty numb-skulled to come away from a trek without learning to think about a wider universe than your own private world.

The trek started from Rapar on the 24th of January at first light. Since we could find no porters, we carried our tents and the duffel bag of utensils ourselves. The village of Geddi, nearly 18kms away was the first destination of the trek. As our feet crunched across previously un-trekked terrain, we drew stares from all and sundry, who passed us. As the day progressed, and we travelled across a mixture of sand, mud and rock, with more greenery, than we expected, a cool breeze caressed our faces, despite the sun.

Midway, at a village we were able to arrange a bullock cart for our equipment though I dare say, the trekkers would have preferred a camel cart instead. We also managed to draw a horde of children around us who willingly accepted the sweets we offered them, but scurried for cover, as soon as we took out our cameras. Also, at this village, we had another addition to our trekking team. An old baba much enthused by the sight of us strangers, and by the prospect of trying out something new, joined us and kept up a stream of mutually unintelligible conversation with us - the khemche-only party.

And so we made our way to Geddi, spotting some avian life, but little else that was mobile. There was enough, however, in those austere surroundings, of peace, of wind and sun, of that indefinable far-from-the-madding-crowds element, that make you come back for more. Trekkers are a tribe apart. We walk miles with blisters on our feet, sore backs, shoulders rubbed raw by rucksack straps, grimy faces and caps caked with the salt of our sweat, and yet, as soon as one trek is over, we want to go for the next. Our parents have given up trying to understand us. And I am not sure whether we understand much ourselves, except, - and I will risk using a cliché, here - that the dil maange more.

At Geddi, the now familiar scene of children gathering around us, was reenacted as we hunted for a campsite. This time though, we had something else to show them besides distributing sweets. As the villagers gathered around us, we set about pitching our tents. And over the shouting of instructions, was the excited chatter of the villagers and cries of a wonderment, recognizable in any language, as four colorful pyramids rose before eyes that had seen many a sunrise. But my hope was for the younger pairs of eyes that were watching, hope that they would now realise that there was indeed a world beyond the horizon, that no matter what, they would dare to dream big.

The sun rises pretty late in these parts for obvious reasons, and so we had a late start the following morning. Our baba had now taken on the role of porter and Naveen managed to arrange for another from the village, the bullock-cartwallah having left us the previous day. Jatawada, 14 kms was our destination for the day. A couple of hours into the trek, we made a detour to a cave which according to local legend, was once occupied by Bhima, one of the five Pandavas. Well if it was, it was pretty small, for one of Bhima's size. Even for us ordinary mortals, there was only just about enough space to turn around.

We were soon on our way across parched earth, a little later, and witnessed some pretty high-resolution mirages. We were also experienced a far more common phenomenon on treks - that of seeing your destination far in the distance but of never seeming to get there. On we trekked with the whitewashed houses of Jatawada in our sights until we finally got so close, that the vegetation and ridges began to block our view. As we neared, the group ran out of water and who should we seeing lying flat on the ground under the shade of a tree but our baba. The water we offered him was so hot that he refused it, and preferred to wait for the cooler stuff from Jatawada, now only two kilometers away.

In a move, we would later reflect on, we decided to sleep in a large room belonging to the local dispensary. Information, which we received, on the way back, told us that the building had been damaged in the quake. We could count ourselves pretty lucky. That night, the villagers rustled up a bonfire at the mere drop of a hint, and the trekkers were soon gathered around it displaying their histrionic wares.

On the first Republic Day of the new millennium, we followed MC tradition as we sang the National Anthem before setting off. This day, we would have to take the road to our final destination the village of Lodhrani as there was no track through the desert. Things were further complicated as the baba decided that he had enough adventure for the time being, and bid us farewell. So now we were short of a porter. As soon as we reached the road, some time later, we decided to entrust Naveen with the equipment and send him off on whatever vehicle, to the next point. The man from Geddi would now be our guide.

When the quake struck, we were on the road and in the open with not even a vehicle in sight or going off the road, to suggest to us the extent of destruction that we would witness over the next few days. All we had for company were a few camels and goats as we were thrown to the ground as the intensity increased. But most of us were soon on our feet before the tremors had quite died down, writing poems and clicking photos. And we continued on our way despite being rocked for more than a minute observing cracks on the road and wonder of wonders - water coming out of cracks in the earth.

Balasar - the name shall forever be etched in our minds, despite not being on any map we had studied before the trek - was the first village we came across after the quake and from far we could see the destruction that had been wrought. The scenes and the stories were to become to all too familiar as we wound our way back to Ahmedabad. The JNU trekking team did what little we could for a people in shock. But the trek had to continue. And we were soon without either Naveen or the porter from Geddi, both of whom were touchingly remorseful about leaving the team stranded, as it were, in the middle of nowhere. But we were on the road and there was no question of us getting lost and so we carried on.

We completed the trek successfully, several hours later, but Lodharani was destroyed. We had trouble find transport, but eventually we hopped onto a truck to Dholavira and we saw for the first time the stunningly beautiful salty rann as we entered the island of Khadir. The caretakers at the Harappan site told us that the citadel had developed cracks but that was as nothing compared to the fact that the entire village of Dholavira was a rubble heap. That night, trekkers and villagers formed a rare communion as we gathered round the radio, and realised the magnitude of the event that we had been witnesses to.

Having said that, let me put things in perspective. The human being is a puny thing against the forces of nature but not the human will, nor human goodness. The villagers of Dholavira had somehow managed to inform the authorities that there was no need for any immediate assistance in their village and that help could be sent to wherever else it was more urgently required. Naveen's family was safe, and in Rapar on our return they insisted that we eat the lunch that they had prepared despite literally living in the bus-stand. And the lady of the house believed it firmly when she said that they had survived because they had fed us dinner our first night in Rapar. These are our stories, the newspapers have told you many more.

But this is an account of a trek. The JNUMC experiences tough times and more stories of courage and kindness in every trek that never make it to the pages of any newspaper. As with the survivors of the quake, for the JNUMC, life goes on. Something less dramatic, but far worse in consequence, can and do happen on treks. And it is not always physical. But for the reporter or anybody else who asks, whether the experience of an earthquake makes you think twice about going on a trek again, all I can ask in return is, "Are you kidding?" (Contributed by : J T Jacob)

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                                                                            Desert Trek (Rajasthan) 2004

A team of ten exuberant trekkers after undergoing a week-long and rigorous physical training undertook the challenge of trekking in the Great Thar Desert of Rajasthan. After completing all the necessary preparations the team set out on the night of 23 January 2004 from the JNU campus. Sanjeev and Avinash, old Club loyalists assisted the group in boarding the Mandore Express to Jodhpur from Old Delhi Railway Station and saw the group off. From Jodhpur to Jaiselmer, is a bus journey of about six hours passing through various landscapes, amidst the Aravali mountain range - one of the oldest mountain ranges in the world and comprising spectacular views of near-flat rocky hills that resemble more or less the colossal forts of Rajasthan. When the plains stretch across endlessly remaining visible till the horizon, vegetation becomes scanty on both sides of the road and increasingly fewer human settlements greet you, your arrival into the desert is confirmed. Pokhran - famous for India's nuclear tests - is the major halt for motorists plying this route to have ‘chai’ and ‘mirchi pokoras’.

Jaisalmer, could not detain us for long as we had to reach the starting point of the trek - the forlorn village of Hasua. Reaching by jeep and arranging for a guide and camels in the dark of the desert night we spent the night in an abandoned part of the village school building. The villagers, especially the children, were kind enough to provide us water. Three foreign students in the group - Robert, Joel and Anna - were cause for attracting major attention toward the group while Raju the youngest in the team soon endeared himself to the kids. With cries of "Raju gahne khayo kaju" (Raju you’d enough of cashew nuts), raised by the children, the group set off the next morning for the sand dunes of Bhutwa tibba.

Narayanji, thin but with a big moustache and in his late forties, was our guide with young Mathar Khan of the innocent smile, assisting him. Trekking in desert on sandy soil and sand dunes is a different affair altogether compared to the trekking in the hills. While walking in ankle deep snow or on sand dunes may have some similarities, there are also differences between the two. For one, there is the sand in the shoes and for another; blisters are also perhaps a lot more common. And while the panoramic view soothes all your pain and trekking in the desert in winter is certainly more pleasurable, it is also the mating season for camels and they can turn dangerous, especially the younger ones. Involving up to six hours of trekking a day, water was also a constant problem.

At Bhutwa tibba, the group saw the first sand dunes and the first of the spectacular sunsets that Rajasthan boasts of. Spread over one and half square kilometres, these sand dunes are less frequented by tourists though we had some companions that day that came for camel safari and camped nearby. With the day still young we had plenty of time to spend and there was plenty of jumping and rolling down over the sand. Abhay and Robert-wa, the Austrian, are two guys who probably will never grow up. The child within them compelled them to do all the gymnastics and aerobics their skills and physical capacity allowed. We had campfire and long rounds of singing with Anna and Joel’s Swedish songs and Pushkar and Pusp Ranjan's Hindi and Bihari songs, as well as songs those by Robert in German and Jacob in Latin. A deep blue sky, turning fiery red and pink and thence on to beautiful night with bright twinkling stars, and not a trace of clouds, was like an out-of-the-world experience. What else can one wish for? Two of us decided to sleep outside under the starry sky, while the rest of the group slept inside the tent. Narayanji and Mathar Khan too slept under the open sky enjoying the warmth of their comfortable Jaipuri quilts and mattresses, which they carried on the saddles mounted on the camels - not being used to or requiring tents. It rarely rains here that wass why we were quite comfortable outside.

Sunrise and sunset in the desert pulls people from all over the world - may be due to the crystal clear sky or different hues reflecting different moods of the sun playing with the earth before it finally vanishes leaving behind bright colours arranged in different layers. Not exactly the same as a rainbow but in no sense less than it.

It is s always advisable to start early in the morning, whether in the desert or the mountains. On the second day, we reached Khuri, the targeted destination much earlier than expected and so decided to move on to another place called Barana. Its always better to stay away from habitations so that the villagers are not disturbed. We once again camped near sand dunes, roamed around the place and saw the sun setting over the horizon, took photographs, and collected wood for camp fire. Luckily, one local chap brought some local performers who sang for us several famous numbers from Hindi movies as well as local songs. Water was not a problem like the previous day when we had to ration it and was available only at a distance of half a kilometer. We did not pitch tent that night and slept in the open. Our sleeping bags were cozy enough to keep us warm, during that cold night.

Unlike the last two days the third day’s trek was mainly on the tarred road or not very far from it. The previous days we had trekked on sandy trails with some rocks on the side of it - small shrubs, dried grass, very few trees, and animals like sheep, camels and chinkara are the things one can see while trekking in such a region. Vegetation in the desert is thinly scattered, only a limited range of very slow-growing thorny tress and shrubs and grasses that have adapted to the hostile conditions grow there. Khejri (prosopis cineraria) and various strains of acacia can be found everywhere in the desert. Ak (calotropis procera) is a shrub that prospers in sandy soil and can be seen on the sand dunes.

After reaching Sudasiri, famous for its Desert National Park established in 1980 and spread over 3162 sq.kms. We had trouble in convincing the authorities that foreigners within the group were bonafide students of our university. Somehow, we managed to convince the officials there and camped away from the main road and their office. They were kind enough to allow us to take the "sweet water" from their wells - "sweet" since water at most of places is brackish. The park is home for black bucks, chinkaras, nilgais, wolves, desert foxes, desert cats and crested porcupines.

We were told that the Pakistan border was not far away and one can also see and hear fighters flying over the area. We pitched tent and cooked lunch for the first time during these days - usually, in order to save time, we carry a packed lunch. Dinner as usual was delicious, and again, a lot of talking, sharing our day’s experiences. Apart from Joel's upset stomach on the first day and Pushkar's blistered feet, nobody had any problems so far. Meanwhile, Intekhab, the oldest member of the group (the Brahmaputra influence, probably) was beginning to get increasingly younger!

As soon as the briefing got over next morning all the trekkers seemed to be in good shape and spirit to take on the final day of trekking. We started off with the energy check with leader asking, “group how do you feel?” and the group in return rotating their hips first clockwise and then anti-clockwise replying back, “We feel good, we feel so good, yeah…” Most of that day's trek was on the road before we reached a village passing through which we were finally able to reach the final destination, the dunes of Sam, a very popular tourist destination. On the way to Sam and on the previous days also everybody enjoyed camel safari in turns. Anna being the only girl in the whole group was privileged to enjoy camel safari more than the others. It was a most tiring final day. People were exhausted and though it was a prominent tourist spot, we could not find suitable drinking water. We finally had to get it from the village of Sam, situated further away by camel cart. The whole place meanwhile was full of camels and tourists from all over the world come to see the sunset and enjoy local folk music and dance. Some tourists huts owned by private entrepreneurs provided a package of dinner and dance at exorbitant rates (for us students!) ranging from Rs.500/- to Rs. 5000/-.

Arranging water, cooking and having food consumed all our time for the day. Once again we did not pitch tents and had our feedback session around campfire with Jacob winding it up.

The next morning was time to part with our friends, Narayanji and Mathar Khan, we saw them off with their rewards. As soon as the team finished with breakfast, and cleaned up the campsite, we discussed our plans for sightseeing in Jaiselmer and Jodhpur. Finally shifting from our feet to wheels, we traveled from Sam to Jaiselmer on the top of a local bus - a great experience with the desert wind whipping our faces and a first for many in the group.

Jaiselmer, the Golden City, finally demanded its due from us and we did not disappoint. After leaving our luggage at the railway station locker, we hired two autorickshaws - another unique mode of sightseeing! - and travelled to every major spot of interest in and around Jaisalmer till darkness fell. Jaisalmer fort oozed history even as its outer walls crumbled and rampant tourist money-spinning wore off some of its sheen. We also visited some beautiful and quiet temples on the outskirts of the desert citabdel.

Catching the night train to Jodhpur, we arrived to a welcome hosted by an old JNUMC member and Summer Trek 2002 member, Om Prakash who took us around the sights of the famous desert city that day. From the posh splendour of Umaid Bhavan to the Mandore Gardens colonised by an army of monkeys, we saw everything the Blue City had to offer, including its splendid fort.


Time passed quickly and soon we were back on the Mandore Express, this time headed back to Delhi and JNU with memories in gold, red and blue. (Contributed By: Rajesh Kapoor, Leader)

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White Water Rafting - Rishikesh (2004)

This year the JNU Mountaineering Club (JNUMC) organized a three-day White Water River Rafting expedition. On the evening of 27th February 2004, a motley group of forty students gathered at Ganga bus stop with backpacks of different colours and shapes. They boarded the 615 bus, with the enthusiasm which shouts aloud, “Hurrah!! We are off. Out to have a ‘Good Time’!!”

In good time we reach the ISBT, from here we are to board a bus to Rishikesh. The girls queue outside the “sulabh sauchalya.” This provides them with an opportunity to exchange names and smiles. The fact that the attendant is charging two rupees for using dirty toilets raises their ire. They refuse to buy the attendant’s arguments that the frequency of users prevents maintenance of cleanliness. Thus, compelled he cleans the toilets. Anna from Sweden is impressed with the display of women power. She wants “toilet paper.” We laugh at her and rub our hands on our jeans. She follows suit.

Once inside the bus the party begins. It is Pallavi and Sameer’s birthday. The club members have thoughtfully arranged for pastries and everyone is only too ready to sing “Happy Birthday to you” in chorus. The group does not lack lead singers like Sanjeev and Fakir. Sanjeev succeeds in rabble rousing and Fakir gets them into a mellow mood. Anousha, Paushmi and Namrata have an unending repertoire of songs to keep the antakshari in full swing.

We reach Rishikesh at four in the morning. The shops are brightly lit with sweets of every imaginable colour. After almost a decade, I glance through a Hindi newspaper, locally available, as we wait for daybreak. Our base camp is at Shivpuri, half an hour’s drive from Rishikesh. The new day is picturesque with forest covered mountains, the deep blue sky only hinting at the freezing temperature of the river water. The river Ganga is calm and welcoming green.

A group of five to share a tent in the Snow Leopard Adventure camp-site. Any number can join the game of frisbee, volleyball or basketball. There will be a long queue in the coming days for the single hammock. Ranaji - the head instructor - and his camp associates provide a hot and filling breakfast. But the demand for life saving jackets reaches a pitch as everyone wants to jump into the river. Shock awaits us all. The water is freezing and we are to stay near the river-bed, as the current mid-stream is strong. We can hear ‘the rapids.’

We listen to instructions on how to use a paddle, how to hold a lifeline and the design of the raft. We are to follow them as we take our seats inside the cheerful red rafts. Time and again our ability to follow the instructions, to establish a rhythm as a team is tested by Veeru our raft supervisor. In the calm waters, we sing, “Hum honge kamyaab.” In the rapids, it is just Veeru belting out instructions as the rest of us paddle for our lives. The huge waves embrace us, engulf us, and leave us speechless; thrilled beyond words…five rapids are not enough.

We were encouraged to indulge in body surfing and those who can swim are already in the river. Noor and Swami soak in the sun, float and turn a deaf ear to our shouts to come aboard. We promise them more next day with the added bonus of cliff jumping. Everyone wants to jump off the cliff. Some flap their hands like ducks and hit the water making a big splash. Rajesh cuts a clean slice through the water. For most of us, once is enough.

We are happy to hear the village children shout “hello” and “bye” as we trek through the neighbouring villages and dried river beds. The elders are reserved but acknowledge our quiet “namastey.” The pea fields are lush green, wild flowers bloom. A local MLA has inaugurated a school playground: it is covered with rough stone and there is enough empty space waiting for swings and slides. Will only an ‘activist’ bring in the children to play?

Questions arise and are stilled into silence. The morning sun trudges up one mountain, its golden rays target the other mountain. Its forehead pushes against the sleepy blue sky and the child emerges independent and happy. The evenings are spent around the campfire playing dumbcharades, strumming the guitar and requesting Fakir for ‘one more ghazal.’ The sky is littered with stars. Impossible to close one’s eyes.

Dillip as our team leader insists on camp discipline. We have to sleep at 10. No smoking, no alcohol, no litter on the river bed. To express our gratitude for these sensible rules, we kick him and set out for Rishikesh; a city of temples, offering yoga classes and continental food. In thirteen rupees we are transported from Rishikesh to Haridwar. Some choose to stay and watch the evening ‘aarti’ on the banks of the Ganges. Some take the cable car to the Mansa Devi temple, bathed in a green light and serene in its abode on the mountain peak.

We are content to have played, rested, acquired river rafting skills and made friends. We have their pictures and our memories. With these we meet each other on the campus. Each meeting is greeted with laughter and the question, “when is the next trek?” We know we have imbibed the spirit of the JNUMC, “Team Work with Team Spirit.”  (Contributed by: Ritu Mathur)

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