Mr. Ramaswamy is a retired banking profession who now enjoys his time travelling around the world and analyzing the Economics & Climate change and the nuances of interrelation between these. He retired as DGM, Indian Bank. He was on Har ki Doon trek, March 2016 with WildBoots.
Sacred Geography has always been seen in the journey passages mentioned in antiquity, the prevalence of ‘energy lines’ wherein body and soul transcend the heights of personal fulfilment and achievement. Nestled in the higher reaches of the mountains from where Yamuna sees its water flow is the valley of Har-ki-dun. The name Har-ki-Dun incidentally translates as the celestial musical choir which is also interpreted as rhyming sweet love, as whispers in your own ear, bringing forth long forgotten memories of the ballads of the beloved. Good times pass quickly while sorrows haunt for long, bringing back those pleasant memories of the loving companionship of the past. Your invisible associate in this walkthrough revitalizes your mind and body with nourishment as it faces the tumult of daily existentiality.
In the conclusive phase of the Mahabharata, Pandavas or specifically Yudhistra embarked on a heavenly voyage for a tete-a-tete with the cosmic identity to the Swargarohini mountain peak. The folklore suggests of his passing through ancient villages of Mori and Naitwar which fall on the way, along the banks of the Supin River.
As one drives with ‘WildBoots’ through the distance from Dehradun to Sankri, one passes the Yamuna and Tons valleys and enters the domain of the Supin River. At Naitwar the Supin joins the Rupin River coming from the Rupin Pass to be thereafter called as Tons and passing through Mori downstream. The journey from Sankri to Taluka is a one way dirt road in which small vehicles ply with the blooming Rhododendrons of late March in many a hue making the route colourful as one splashed with the swathe of an artist.
WildBoots had put us up in comfortable rooms in Sankri, the last village having medical facilities and other basic conveniences. Like Taluka, Sankri too rests on gradually terraced fields having amongst others apple orchards producing possibly the best and most priced apple varieties, like the ‘Red Royal’ variety grown in the neighbouring Kinnaur valley of Himachal Pradesh. Sankri has few shops and shanties to cater to emergent requirements and ala carte food menu with local produce of many seasonal vegetables like cauliflower and cabbage. Local produce being limited after August, it means conveying most edibles from good distances at other times. When you eat at a California joint which prides on serving local produce to reduce the burden of transportation you realise how vulnerable these communities are in obtaining most of their requirements outside their area, merely to cater to your palate. I was reminded of the harshness of the times when a distinguished person with five Olympic medals served me drinks in Siberia and some of the dish servers at Sankri also spoke well accented English reminding me of how luck can make your existence from nether-land to higher platforms.
The pathways consist of walking on small and big boulders, tree trunks, cobbled stones laid out for you, stone cut terraces as you follow the river upstream. The noise is deafening at times and at others the wind preening an enveloping embrace around you and caressing your thoughts in the process. Though you are generally ascending many a time you descend to climb further and look forward to footwork to support your step and the trekking pole comes in handy. The journey follows the lanes virtually carved out from times immemorial by the multitude of sheep which appear to move in summer to the grasslands and in winter to the fields near Mussourie and provides vocation and occupation to the villagers. Passing through the village of Ganghad set out on a rock face after a 9 km walk, you cross the Supin River a further 5 km walk ahead after crossing a wooden bridge close to the village of Osla. Osla is also on a solid rocky background, to possibly avoid avalanches and landslide-landslip erosion.
Porters carrying 50 Kgs of iron material to build houses at Ganghad breathe heavily and they lighten the burden of the trekker with some humming tunes which makes you to realise that the burdens of life can be more bearable if we were to buzz the chant of a human heart wherein lost love comes back to keep company in these surroundings. WildBoots uses mules to ferry the rations, cooking material, tents and on this day the burdened animal let go the stove and WildBoots still improvised to provide food cooked on wood with some quick thinking. Manish the team leader checked the pulse rate and oxygen after some rest on reaching Osla at the back of the school, where tents were put up and found everyone was doing well. The group consisted of students from IIT, working professionals from Mumbai, Chandigarh, Delhi amongst others and personal experiences. Many a loving and moving anecdotes were exchanged over gulps of tea as the chilly wind was virtually uprooting the tents. The mountain peaks beyond the valley were glistening with a snow storm visible at the height coming from the intensity of the wind. But nearer, the bonfire was making the cold tolerable for us. The food prepared and served was wholesome with ‘chapathi’ and rice with lentils and vegetables brought for the journey. In the full moon lit night it appeared as though it was the long awaited picnic we were partying in. Shooting stars move across the sky in flourish and the trekker could perhaps hoist his wishes for heavens to smile; at least for the satisfaction of the mind. Manish like a true captain saw everybody in their tents, bed rolls, sleeping bags, with torches and water near them for the company of the night. During the journey we came across a herdsman complaining of a leopard attack on his sheep and in the silence of the night one could hear the hooting of wolves, hyenas and wild cats as they feasted; perhaps not far from the village. Such attacks suggest human – wild animal interaction/conflict with the thinning of the forests, even though the website speaks of pristine untouched forests all around.
The villagers in addition to shepherding spend a month collecting fuel, a month or two collecting grass for their livestock and another month or two in arranging for rations from the surrounding areas moving about in flocks. The livestock’s are boarded on the ground floor and they stay on the first floor of the mostly wooden house which may cost round five lakh rupees to build. Those who can afford send their children to Purola for studies and those without means eke out humble existence, with little of the crime that the plains witness. The biggest problem is the absence of doctors or even elementary medicines and a host of complaining villagers request for medicines to lighten their sufferings, which brings immense joy both to the giver and to the receiver. Perhaps we can take a larger pouch of medicines, to mitigate the suffering from problems of stomach, knees, back, head, chest etc.
Next morning the stove is ready even before daybreak and even before streaks of light appear on the horizon, the warming cup of cheerful tea is doing its rounds. The warmth of the sleeping bags keep many inbound but the air outside is freshening the spirits and the trekker claps his hands in joy with many a participant including the team leader breaking out with lines from golden melodies of the past. The breakfast is done and the caravan dusts its tents and begins the move to Har-ki-dun on an ambling path and reaches the destination after several hours, standing on snow-fields as far as one can see. As one goes up by the riverside gorge, the mountain narrows and the majesty of the Swargarohini group of mountains stands out as a sentinel of our illustrious past. Fresh snow makes the passageways as somewhat strident and one could look for footmarks to get good landing.
The excursion in the lap of nature brings one to enjoy the breezy solitude with the company of fellow trekkers and makes us readily forget our daily turmoil back home. The entire journey can also be encapsulated with the lens of an avid photographer looking at mountain and snow, flora and fauna, valley and water gorge, to recall the sight and might of the nature’s sights.
However greater purpose awaits us when we discuss the environment with the common folk. This year in the then grip of an El-Niño has seen less than 50% of the snow and 30% reduced water flow discharge indicating in advance water stress to follow for the riparian states using the water? Glacial snows which falls on the snow of the previous season and also at heights is less in comparison which could mean reduced flows in the months ahead. The dry winter with few winter showers could also intensify forest fires in the hot summer with small fires visible. This has already turned out to nastily snuff out huge forest tracts in the neighbouring districts. Thus a trekking journey can provide to the environmentalist and planner resources for predicting the near future and can become a class room study subject in the times to come.
The participants walked back to Ganghad and camped by the flowing stream coming from the high hills. After dinner the folks retired to their tents put up by WildBoots. The team leader constantly asked everybody not to drop even a small sachet and lived up by his example. He took care of everybody’s comfort providing medicines, balms and sprays. He went about photographing the birds and capturing their wild colours and shared it with the companions.
The trek back gave opportunity to the group to ponder on how to bond with nature enjoy the energy lines, and everybody appreciated the arrangements made along with the care shown by Manish, the team leader. It was truly a unique experience blending nature with the call of the wild and allowing us to live and treasure the most heart-warming moments in the ever energetic mountains.
Click here for Har ki Doon trek details.