There is no amount of preparedness that can withstand the vagaries of nature. No matter what she throws at you, it only helps you become more resolute. This was the lesson I went back with after my maiden trek to Nag Tibba in Uttarakhand. Along with that, I learnt how to find my ‘zen’ in the mountains, despite any adversity.
Nag Tibba or the Serpent Peak derives it's name from a famous legend of the Serpent God, as described by the people of Himalayan villages tucked away in these valleys. Rain accompanied us right from the beginning of the trip – through villages, terrace farms, abandoned mud-huts and rhododendron thickets.It was a collective sigh of relief to hear the guide tell us that were now only 500 meters away from Kathiyan, which was the basecamp for the trek to Nag Tibba.
no mercy! Even my supposedly waterproof shoes were at the brink of giving up. Spotting what looked like a temporary mud hut, we decided to ask the occupants for shelter from rain, which had rapidly turned to hailstorm. There was no way that we could have made it to the camp with the thick white pellets beating on us. Lesson 1 - weather in the mountains is unpredictable.
The sight of tea brewing on a makeshift stove was comforting.The kind occupant of the hut offered us unlimited cups. Tired and dripping, we all happily agreed. To add to his kindness, he also threw in a tale about Nag Tibba. Immersed in his story, we listened with attentiveness, clutching onto the tea cup with both hands. The thumping sound of the hail became a distant backdrop as his voice rose above it.
It’s ironic that the legend of Nag Tibba is about a severe drought that hit the area, lasting for many years. The scene outside did not complement the story at all. Through the 6km long trail that we had walked, there was not a single dry patch. That drought took many lives, claiming men and animals alike. One night, a villager dreamt that Serpent God could help them by bringing rain to the region, but only if he built a temple on the top of the then un-named Himalayan peak. A temple was built and milk offered to the God. It is said that the milk converted into water and since then, the area always experiences abundant rainfall. As the story ended, so did the rain. As if the clouds and the old man has conspired for us to stop for this prelude to Nag Tibba.
While our tea pitstop lasted around half-an hour, stories continued as we inched towards Kathiyan. Our guide, Durga from GIO, seemed to be a master of many skills and storytelling is sure one of them. A few tales of the mountains later, we were in for a surprise when he asked if we could identify a familiar fragrance. We were in a lush green meadow, home to a variety of wildflowers and mint shrubs. All the exhaustion evaporated immediately as we breathed the fresh minty mountain air. The soft folds of the hill were lush green as far as the eyes could see. Durga prompted us to move forward towards yet another meadow in distance. GIO tents were already being set up and we looked forward to hot bowls of Maggi. Another round of tea was always welcome.
Our tents were set up in no time and the staff advised us to layer up and rest for a while. The next day was an all-uphill climb to the peak. Out of the wet shoes, my feet were finally happy. Dried up and full stomached, I finally plonked onto the mattress of my solo tent (I was the only woman), and drifted into sleep.
An hour long power nap later, I realised someone calling out my name from outside. It was one of my trek-mates, asking if I would like to join a bonfire the guys had set up with a lot of effort. Wet wood doesn't make for a perfect fuel, but somehow they could get a small fire up, lighting up the twigs and leaves that lay around. This was sheer bliss!
Wrapped in layers, I walked out to realise that the bonfire was being used to dry up shoes. I brought mine along, and they were bone dry in no time for the next day.Melodious strains filled the air as our chef sang his favourite village songs. Savouringa Himalayan dinner to our heart's content, fire crackling by our side and a never ending supply of stories and songs - who would have imagined that the day would end like this. The thundering rain and hail were a distant memory.
Being a regular with GIO, I was aware of the leave no-trace policy they follow. As the night wrapped up, we helped in ensuring that organic and plastic waste from the kitchen, clearly marked and segregated, was being piled up in special bags. Following a no-trace policy is no easy feat when one is carrying supplies for a long period of time. One has to really love the mountains to ensure that you cause least exertion to it.
The clouds were back next morning. A fulfilling breakfast later, the sun decided to offer relief for a while. All set to scale the Nag Tibba, we marched with dry shoes and enthusiasm. We must have walked for just a kilometre when I felt something soft fall on my arm. Looking up from the trail, I saw white flakes drizzle from the sky. It was snowing. And this for no ordinary snowfall. Soon, the entire hillside turned white. For a first gaze at snow in my adult life, I was left speechless. We reached the summit while it was still snowing. A sheet of white rolled down from where we stood. Looking at the inimitable beauty around, I felt a deep respect for nature. Depsite the cold squishy feet, white knuckles and a drippy nose, this was truly my zen place.