Dodi Tal-Yamunotri (22nd to 29th May
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
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
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
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)
Manirang Pass, Kinnaur, Himachal Pradesh
(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
Dhauladhar Ranges -
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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)
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
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
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
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)
White Water Rafting - Rishikesh
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
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
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
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)