So here’s a secret that I have long kept under the wraps. I’ve travelled actively for more than 15 years, exploring bustling cities, atmospheric villages and new countries. While I love fresh experiences, meeting people and trying out unfamiliar cuisines or jumping into histories of ancient relics, I absolutely hate walking. So when people wax eloquent about the absorbing destinations at a slow pace, on foot, my forehead involuntarily scrunches up in a frown. It’s not that I’m inactive or lazy, I just don’t like the speed of walking. I wish one could glide instead.
In fact, so prominent is my dislike for legging it, that I often cite a long walk in Jaipur when I was young, as a classic infliction of cruelty by my parents. Jokes apart, till date, I am the first to jump into a cab, hail a rickshaw and employ any other means to avoid walking.
It was a trip to Uttarakhand, off Kund, where this abhorrence for walking slowly melted away. I have Great Indian Outdoors (GIO) to thank for this. I was to visit villages off Rudraprayag for work and used the Himalayan Eco Lodge, Kund as the base. The lodge is one of several accommodations in Uttarakhand, offered by the parent company GIO. I had a couple of days free and the manager of the lodge suggested that I see the region with an eye for outdoors and relaxation and not work. The week had taken me to far-flung villages for meeting self-help groups in the villages and it involved a fair bit of walking. When he suggested a short hike to Deoriatal, I politely declined. Then to resurrect my unadventurous behaviour, I asked him more questions about it.
“How long is the hike?”
“Are my shoes okay for it?”
“Will it be too cold?”
“Is this jacket enough?”
“Will you send someone with me?”
And a barrage of other impertinent queries to ward off the chances of actually having to go.
Reading through my apprehension, he smiled, and told me more firmly than before, “ Ma’am, you should NOT miss it. You’ve come all the way!”
Next morning, I reluctantly woke up and joined my guide for breakfast. I had told him that we’d leave at a convenient time, instead of the wee hours of the morning. We were off at about 9am and drove to Sari village, which lies less than 17km from the lodge. In half an hour, we were at the base of the trek.
Sari village is familiar with visitors as many adventure enthusiasts look at Deoriatal as a popular summer trek. Since it is only 2km from the base, it is ideal for first-timers or even children. The shops at Sari have aligned to the needs of the hikers – tea, snacks, tents, trekking shoes and even camera repair shops have come up. Sari had already shaken up from its sleep long back. In the villages, people start as early as 5am. By their standards, I had arrived fashionably late for a trek at about 10am. A quick teacup later, my guide and I were on the trail, an easy stepped path to begin with.
The trail to Deoriatal passes through village homes at first and then meets a sparse forested route, where one meets ladies picking dry wood for fire, children herd the cattle and keep themselves busy with ingenious games. Soon, Sari was far behind and so were the women going about their daily chores of forest rummaging.
I walked slowly and steadily – negotiating each steep rocky step with a consistent pace. Occasionally we stopped to look at the terraced fields below. Around mid-hike a small shaded pavilion offered a bench to rest the feet and look down at the rolling hills, carpeted in green. Since it was late April, there was no trace of snow in the lower regions.
An hour into the hike and I had not felt my familiar hatred for walking. The views, the little chat with some local shepherds and the concentration on the hike had kept any walking dissonance at bay. I was actually enjoying the sweet pain on the thighs and sweat trickling down my back felt good. A soft cool breeze refreshed the senses.
The long uphill slog suddenly plateaued after some time, where a few shops at brightly to offer cold drinks and chips. Without making another stop we continued on the trail that was now flanked by a mixed forest. Suddenly, through the trees I saw a wall of mountains in the distance. In its foreground lay a reflective pool of water, the Deoriatal Lake. What a stunning sight it was – the snowy Chaukhamba peaks in the distance casting a perfect reflection in the water. It was odd to see a lake propped at 2438 meters above the sea level. It was circled by a lush green meadow that merged with a thicker forest line ahead.
I plonked down on the grassy carpet and lay on my back. The sky was a cheerful blue and the air crispy cool. We had done the 2km hike in less than 2 hours and it was not half as bad as I had expected. Turning on my side, I lay with the view of the peaks in the distance - it was like watching a painting. Most hikers plan to camp here at night. I could only imagine how fabulous it would be to lie under the stars and enjoy a bonfire at night. But we hadn’t planned for that so I reserved it for the next time.
The guide and I awarded ourselves with a long restful hour, chatting away, with no hurry to get back. He mentioned that up ahead were the meadows of Rohini Bugyal that descend to Chopta, the base camp to the Tungnath and Chandrashila hike. He teased me about my hatred to walk and mockingly asked if I wanted to do that hike as well. Had I converted yet?
Much to his amusement and shock, I replied in the affirmative. Ofcourse, I had many questions about that trail. The hows, whos, whys, ifs and buts came pouring. Eventually, he had to put his foot down and reply, “ Ma’am, you should NOT miss it. You’ve come all the way!”