It was 20th May 2017, and as per schedule 10 of us were to start for the Lamkhaga pass trek from Chitkul in the morning after our breakfast. Even before the beginning of the Lamkhaga pass trek, I had got an adventurous start for the trek in Chitkul.
Back in our room early morning that day, Gautam ji and Aashish had motivated me not to quit the trek in haste and that they would try to support me and keep me moving throughout the trek. Thanks to the encouragement provided by all my 9 fellow trekkers and some timely medical help from Kohinoor Indrani (the engineer turned pharmacist in our group), I was finally able to make up my mind and go ahead with the trek with a crepe bandage & painkillers.
Though I was trying to appear normal, I could hardly take a few steps. A nervous Sonu Negi ji, who had discussed about the condition of my leg multiple times with Gautham ji, was hoping that all goes well throughout the trek. After briefing by Sonu Negi ji following our breakfast, we started hiking up and within few minutes Chitkul was out of sight.
We followed the frisky Baspa river in our gradual ascent beyond Chitkul along a fairly flat walk in the jeep trail to ITBP checkpost.
With the exception of the few army vehicles and cowherds passing by, there were hardly any tourists in the trail beyond Chitkul. 4 km from Chitkul, we were greeted by a well-built army personnel from Himachal with a huge moustache. We had reached the Nagasthi checkpost and halted there for few minutes to show our permits to move further.
The Himachali general who had served 15+ years was astonished to notice a woman trekker in the group of 22. He happily shared his views on how many women have started scaling the challenging peaks like Everest and are becoming on par with men in most of the fields. He shook hands with all of us to meet again in Dumti the next day. Sometimes the mere company of our jawans and a few pats from them are enough to recharge us to continue further.
The so-called Indo-Tibet border starts from Nagasthi and extends for 100+ kms along the Yamrang ranges. Civilians are not allowed beyond this point. Due to security reasons, photography is not allowed nearby ITBP checkposts or in the army camp zone.
Kohinoor, who carried the heaviest bag amongst all of us with a lot of medicines & homemade food for the entire group, gave some generous amount of the tasty homemade rotis to our group and the army personnel there. The homemade food would have been a great change for the ITBP jawans, who survive on the packed food most of the times. After a short rest in Nagasthi, we moved towards Ranikanda.
A couple of hours beyond Nagasthi, we were greeted by our porters who passed on some snacks and an energy drink. And after an hour’s walk, we were finally in Ranikanda, welcomed with some hot lunch to feast into.
After a short rest in our tents, few of them suggested an acclimatization hike, and so 9 of us started ascending up a nearby hill. It was a steep ascent of 100 metres and it took close to 45 minutes to reach the top. After Aashish, who had diverted to the other side of the stream finally reached the top, it was time for the group pics.
There is no more rewarding feeling than being among the first few to reach and explore a destination that others haven’t yet had the pleasure of witnessing. After enjoying the virgin beauty of the valley from the top and some chit-chats for an hour, it was time to descend down.
We descended amidst some really heavy winds. Atleast, I was not the last one to get down this time. Niren who had ascended so quickly was telling me that descents were his weakness. The hot soup waiting for us in our dining tent was our motivation to rush back to the campsite.
With some more time left for the dinner, Kohinoor got his pulse oximeter and we were having some fun time testing it out and measuring the oxygen levels of all of us. It showed my reading as 87, so Kohinoor suggested to take a deep breath and take the reading once again. This time it reduced further. Since everything was appearing normal, we didn’t bother much about it. After this incident, the oximeter was packed up and never taken out for the rest of the trek.
After some hot paranthas with govardhan ghee for dinner, it was time to settle down in our own tents. Aditya, who was particularly looking for a tent with people who don’t snore, slept with Gautham & Aashish. Aditya had to quit his Lamkhaga pass trek in Dumti (in 2015) due to altitude sickness, however he finished off the 2017 Lamkhaga pass without any issues. His brisk walk on all the seven days is probably attributed to his sound sleep and his tent partners. Now, we know that the choice of tent partners also impacts the completion of an expedition. Jokes apart, the rock solid determination of each of the ten trekkers in the team and favourable weather conditions played a major role in the successful completion of this trek.
After a good breakfast in the morning, we started our trek around 8 am. After the oximeter readings, Vivek had suggested me to have 4 to 5 litres of water for a proper acclimatization and the aftereffects of drinking loads of water were showing up while walking along the trails. We could see the ITBP jawans, the communication engineers and the mule herders making their way to Dumti to set up their checkposts
The walk with ITBP jawans made me realize how thankful we Indians are, to have a defence force, who give up their families and a comfortable life to guard our borders, while we sleep peacefully. Though the Tibet border beyond Chitkul is considered a friendly border without interruptions, the high altitude and the unpredictable weather conditions don’t add up to an easy daily routine.
The ITBP jawans walking with 40kg backpacks and heavy rifles, heard out from us on why a frustrating city job requires a long break in mountains, and we got to hear from them on how badly they miss their families, the tasty home food and the luxuries of a city life. They thanked us for the tasty homemade food provided by our team (obviously the credit goes to Kohinoor) and invited some of us for having Chole bature for dinner in Dumti campsite. We realized that walking the entire stretch of 14kms with ITBP is a tough row to hoe. With some handshakes to meet soon in Dumti, the forces moved ahead at a fast pace.
At regular intervals, Happy Negi ji kept reminding us to slow down as he felt all of us were going at a rapid pace. After some sauntering and enjoying our walk along the meandering paths, we stopped for our lunch few minutes before the Dumti campsite.
Since the porters were behind, we had to wait for them to get past us with the tents. After reaching Dumti, we were told that the tea would be served only after offering prayers to the Karu Devta temple, about 2.5 ahead of the Dumti campsite. As the ritual goes, cooking in Dumti campsite starts only after offering the cooked prasad to the Karu Devta, and for years together, ITBP has been following the tradition introduced by the locals. Happy Negi ji, Baliga and few others went to the Karu Devta temple for the prayers as we settled down in the campsite.
Mild snow showers started as we were sipping the hot tea in our dining tent and we rushed back to our tents to give space for the porters and support staff in the dining tent. The snow continued for about an hour. When I came out of my single person tent at 7pm in the evening, a thin blanket of snow had covered the campsite and the views were amazing.
The conversations of the Pune group were the only sounds that could be heard in the silent and the peaceful Dumti campsite. With a long time left for the dinner, I joined them for some intense card games. Abhinav, the master strategist was winning most of the games and he gave us little chance for us do work out our tricks. Finally, with Happy Negi ji calling us for us dinner, it was time to wrap up our game.
After a tasty dinner, Sonu Negi updated us that after two days of easy walk, we might be greeted with a rocky terrain and some challenging river crossing the next day. It was evident from his briefing that some adventures were waiting for us on day 3.
Blog by Sandhya Sourirajan