We were trekking to Triund today. We left most of our gear with the boy and told him we'd be back in three or four days. I had the small daypack with the food, water, the shawls and a sleeping bag. I tend to get grouchy if I have to carry too much weight. we had thought Wishbone might decide to join us, especially since we'd let him spend the night, but he ditched us at the Trek and Dine, hopeful for some suckers with ready handouts
We had breakfast at the Rest a While and met a Finnish woman who was staying at Sagar Cottages just up the hill. She said a Finnish group had just passed and she'd been able to speak Finnish for the first time in months. we had passed a large group at the school. That must have been them. They were travelling very light and must have taken the shorter, steeper, path., because they beat us. The Finnish woman told us that the group was just doing a day hike. Lunch was being prepared for them at the top. No wonder they weren't carrying anything.
The climb was a lot tougher after we left the chai stall. We walked steadily for an hour when we came to not one but two chai stalls side-by-side. We stopped at the first one, the Magic View Cafe, because we were impressed with the "WE RECYCLE" sign out front. We drank Cokes and talked for a while with Juginda, the owner. He has been up there for 18 years and didn't mind being alone. Six months ago, a man had set up a new chai stall next to his. Pretty ruthless if you ask me. But Juginda said proudly that he stayed open all year while the other guy would be closing soon. (We were trekking right at the cusp of the snow season.) We said how glad we were that someone was taking an interest in the environment, but Juginda told us mournfully that he was going to have to quit soon, because it cost him 12,000 rs. a year to have the bottles and bottlecaps, plastic, etc. carried down the mountain by donkey. People threw away their trash with him and didn't even buy drinks. The only reason he'd been able to continue this year was because a German "friend of his" had paid for the whole year (about $300). With that, Juginda pulled out his collection of friend's business cards to show us.
Juginda saw our walking sticks, which Paul had cut for us on the trail, and tried to talk us into a couple of his bamboo canes. Yours are too heavy, he said, and he was right, but that wasn't the point. I had big plans for mine, and envisioned hours of meditative silence while I whittled it to perfection.
Juginda was funny -- he was like Eyeore in a way. He didn't seem to be pulling on me the way some people do when they want something. He just laid it all out and waited to see if we would do something. We paid 50 rs. for our two 10 rs. Cokes and let that be enough. He didn't seem too optimistic when we suggested that he speak to Brian and Karen about arranging volunteers to come over from the States, but I think it would be a great idea. Not just for recycling but for trash pickup. Indians (and probably a lot of Westerners) are shameless about littering on the trail. I resolved that, on the way down, I'd do some cleanup myself. (Of course, garbage is a tricky thing in India. When the boy cleaned out Jen, Gareth and Harmony's room, we watched him chuck their neatly-collected trash over the balcony. Not wanting ours to encounter the same fate, we bundled it and asked the boy where to deposit it. He pointed to a fire pit near the stairs. Later, we walked our trash down to the designated bin, but when we walked by it the next day, the whole thing was closed up and had been set on fire. You can't win.)
We walked some more and then took a chocolate break. We lay on the rocks of the road right on the cliff. We passed another chai shop. Now I was starting to get suspicious. We were carrying all this food because there supposedly wasn't any in Triund, but the trail was downright crowded with chai stalls. By the time we'd passed the third chai stall, I was getting winded and had to rest about every 25 steps. It was grueling. I lay flat out on some rocks and prayed to be "beamed" to Triund. No such luck -- we had to do it the hard way. The last half hour was the most brutal part, all steep steps and demoralizing switchbacks. But it was worth every step. Triund (2975 M) is a magical place. The views are astonishing, we could even see the Blue Heaven in the distance. There was supposed to be just one Forestry Dept. hut there, where you could sleep on the floor but under cover for 250 rs. a night. Or you could camp like we were. There was also a chai stall (I thought so!) offering breakfast, lunch and dinner, so we could have skipped bringing the food and I could have tripped up the hill as lightly as a goat (not). But otherwise, the place was pretty deserted, just a bare hilltop with a lot of ravens flying around in the updrafts.
It seemed quite cool after we quit climbing and we had to get out the sweaters and fleece again. I was amazed the whole time in Triund how one second you could be sweating and then a little cloud would pass between us and the sun and I'd have to put on the fleece and gloves. Rarified air, I guess. It just can't hold the heat.
A woman came up to us as we were putting on more clothes, her name was Beth, a British woman now living in Australia. She seemed glad to see people, she'd been virtually alone for the last two days. She told us that along the ridge there were caves and shepherd's huts (used only during the summer grazing) that we could stay in. We had brought the tent and wanted to use it but wanted to explore the shepherd's huts. We told Beth we'd come by and visit later, after we'd eaten lunch.
We took the peanut butter, jelly and Tibetan bread out of the pack and sat down on a rock by the chai stall. We ordered chai and Cokes and like all food eaten outdoors after some good exercise, the sandwiches were the best I'd ever had, or could ever conceive of eating in the future.
The guy at the chai stall came over to us holding a macho masala soup wrapper and only one of the three soups that had been inside. "Birds got it," he said. The ravens are huge here and quite bold. They are also consummate scavengers. We'd left the pack open and they'd made their move. As it turned out, the masala was a little too macho for me anyway, so better that the birds took that than something else in the pack.
After lunch, we went in search of the perfect campsite. We passed Beth's shepherd's hut on the way, which was pretty snug, and built into the huge boulders around it. She walked with us down the ridge to the cairn at the "end of the world". This was an especially apt description when the clouds came up in the afternoon. The ridge came to a point and you could believe you were the only person left on Earth.
We had found the perfect spot for the tent on the way out to the cairn, just past a small, white trident-laden shiva temple, down a hill and just beyond two shepherd's huts. There was a nice, flat clear space with a fire ring already made and some wood piled nearby. We went back for our packs (we were about a km from the chai stall), set up the tent, and went looking for more wood. This was quite an ordeal, because all the trees were down the hill, straight down. Triund itself is above the tree line. Gathering dead wood involved scrabbling back up the slope while carrying big, unwieldy logs, not fun, not for for me anyway. Paul probably loved it. By the time we'd carried all the wood back on a makeshift platform tied with straps from the packs, the sun was setting and it was too late to go get water. According to Beth, the nearest water source was one km past the chai stall. Fortunately, Beth had picked up 6 liters that day and she lent us three. We told her we'd get all her water the next day in trade.
The sunset was beautiful, all orange surrounded by pink. Paul made a small fire and we cooked the one package of macho masala soup, which would have warmed us up cold. We also had PBJ sandwiches, and later, some tea. The moon rose at about 8:30 and we went to bed soon after, exhausted.
I woke up before the sun rose and Paul was already up making a fire for tea. I watched the sun come up over the ridge from the warmth of the tent and then emerged dressed in fleece and gloves. The fire was too little to do more than heat the water, we needed to get more wood. We drank tea and ate the Marie Gold biscuits, then gathered laundry and water bottles to go find the water source. It was easy to get to the waterfall, the path plunged straight down. Paul set about filtering drinking water and I looked for a place to wash clothes in the billy can. It was impossible though, there was too much moss and green slime and I just made things worse. I gave up to help Paul filter. The water wasn't quite cold enough to numb our hands, it was quite content merely to deliver a deep bone-chilling ache.
We stripped down to t-shirts for the walk back up. It was a tough, steep climb. we dropped off Beth's water to her then had our first lunch of the day. It was only 10:30. We made a second run for water, scouting for wood on the way. There was very little to be gathered though. This time we just filled up the bottles without filtering. It took a lot less time and was much easier on the hands. We figured that anything we boiled didn't need filtering anyway.
We had thought we'd break the walk back in half and have our second lunch at the chai stall, but we'd forgotten to bring money. All of a sudden, the km between us and the chai stall seemed impossibly long. I trudged back to the tent, we got the money and I trudged back, not having fun at all. It's amazing what a little food will do for my disposition though. We ate scrambled eggs and plain toast and that did wonders. There is no electricity so the eggs just stay out. Maybe they freeze every night, I don't know. And if the pan has ever been washed in its extremely long existence, I would be very surprised. We sat on the edge of the hill in the sun, drinking Cokes and watching the raven play in the afternoon updraft. They don't have it so bad, these birds. A British couple and a French guy with an enormous amount of camera equipment had recently arrived, and Beth showed up as well. Beth and Paul were really helpful and proceeded to show the French guy where all the best caves and huts were. I thought the guy was really standoffish, but maybe his English wasn't great. I think Beth was a little disappointed though. I thought she might have liked some male companionship (from someone unattached.)
The sunset was even more beautiful than the evening before. The Eastern side of the sky was all backlit in shades of violet and pink. After dark, Paul built a huge fire (he'd done some more wood gathering) and Beth came down for dinner. The first course was our mushroom soup. Beth was really cooking on this trip and had brought rice, curry powder, ginger and garlic, which we made into a nice second course. We had chocolate for dessert. It was very windy and colder than the previous night had been. The fire was really smoky and seemed to be following me around, probably trying to purify me, but I couldn't handle it. Beth left with her little flashlight before the moon rose and we went to bed soon after.
We had weather all night, a spectacular mixture of rain, thunder, lightning, snow and hail. We thought for a while when we woke up that we'd have to stay in the tent all day and were kicking ourselves for not having brought books. We figured we'd have to dash to the chai stall for breakfast because the kindling would be too wet to build a fire. But the skies did finally clear and Paul somehow managed to make a fire with very wet wood. There was snow on the mountains of the Galu Devi range all around us, although it hadn't stuck where we were. Pretty soon we were too warm and could do without the gloves and Gore-Tex jackets. Beth came for tea and at about 11:30 she and Paul left to hike up to Laka Got (3350 M) and see if they could reach the snow line. Our original plan had been to try to climb as far as Indrahar Pass (4350 M), a two-day trek from Triund, but with all the snow at the higher altitudes it didn't seem like a good idea. Apparently there tend to be a lot of hidden boulders under the snow. So the snow line was plan B. I opted for plan C, which was to stay put. After Paul and Beth had left, I very happily puttered around, burning trash, playing the recorder, and working on my walking stick.
The clouds came in and it began to rain and hail again. I was forced to retreat inside the tent. Okay, that was a little boring. Just as I had begun to sing every song I could think of, I heard Paul singing as he came down the path. He was tired from the climb and took a nap. I watched him for a while and when the rain stopped, I went out and finished my stick. Another hail storm drove me back in. This was getting ridiculous. To feel so trapped in such an open space. The hail looked like it was springing up out of the ground, not falling from the sky. It was starting to drift against the boulders. (It was still there the next day so it must have gotten quite cold.) Paul was awake now and we were really starting to get bored.
Finally at 5:30, we knew we had to go out in the storm, either to have the guy at the chai stall make us food, or to buy some from him that we could make, assuming we could get a fire going in all this wet. The chai stall was very smoky and close, so we just bought some macho masala soup (the only kind the guy had), chocolate and Marie Gold biscuits, and made our way back in the dark. The path was slick with hail and wet goat dung, not very pleasant to think about. I was getting colder and wetter and more miserable by the moment, and it wasn't helping that the hail hurt when it hit my head. Paul valiantly tried to get a fire going but they kept dying out. We finally decided to make one in the shepherd's hut. These huts provide shelter, but they're not exactly spacious. The door was very low, I had to squat to get in. Also, there are no chimneys in any of the huts, I don't know why not. They're all made of stone with slate roofs. It seems like an easy addition to the design. There were dry leaves and things in the hut and Paul got a fire going. We added wet wood and the little hut filled up with smoke. I couldn't take it and had to leave.
I came outside to a beautiful sight. The skies had cleared and below me were the blue and yellow lights of Dharamsala, and above, the light of the stars. I knew then that the shepherd who lived here sat out at night and considered himself the luckiest man in the world.
It didn't seem to matter anymore that we'd been wet and cold. I made some PBJ sandwiches and got set up for dinner in the tent. When the water was ready, Paul came down with the pot and we made soup. That was enough. We didn't even need the sandwiches or tea. We put on our silk thermals, and ate the chocolate in bed. The clear skies were short-lived and it rained and hailed all night.
There was a gorgeous sunrise at 7:00 or so to make up for the night. Paul got up to make tea in the shepherd's hut (where he'd left wood to dry) and I packed up our gear. It was time to go back to the Blue Heaven. After last night, I'd had enough and was ready to go back. A bucket shower sounded the height of luxury. (We'd had one sponge bath the morning after we'd arrived, but Beth had interrupted us in the middle, so it hadn't been as thorough as I would have liked.) Beth was also leaving, she told us when she came down. She didn't seem exactly to want to walk with us. We laid the tent out on the rocks to dry and watched the British couple, one at a time, come down the hill to inspect the cairn at the end of the world. They met, she coming back, and he just heading down, near the tent, and spoke briefly and stiffly. I think they'd been fighting. We had extra water and decided to leave it in the hut for the next trekkers to use. While we were inside, the ever-watchful crows found our PBJ sandwiches and stole them. (One night, we watched the crows play a rather malicious version of tag: the object seemed to be to target another bird and try to steal one of its tail feathers. One crow dropped his prize, Paul picked it up and held it high for the raven to take back, but he was too chicken. It did come back and retrieve it after Paul put it down however.)
We took some photos with Beth, said goodbye and started down. I reluctantly remembered my vow to collect trash. Everything was wet but I made good on my promise. We intended to stop at the Magic View Cafe and hang out with Juginda but his place was closed and padlocked. We had to make do with his 6-month-old rival at the Hill View Cafe. we had Cokes and sat with the view. The owner wasn't much of a talker. A group of Indian boys went by, one of them carrying the small portable radio that Indian hikers can't seem to do without. Maybe it's just too quiet for them.
As we were leaving, Beth arrived. We stopped to wait with her while she rested. We wanted to give the Indian boys some time to get well ahead of us anyway.
We went our separate ways when we got to the Rest a While. We had some water and chocolate and then Beth went to see if she could stay with a friend in her rented cottage, owned by a Buddhist nun. We took the steep road down the hill. I wasn't prepared for how depressed I'd feel about being back in "civilization." Compared to Delhi, Dharamsala had felt so calm, quiet and tranquil. Now I couldn't stand all the noise from all the roosters, dogs, people and cows. And surprisingly, a lot had changed while we were gone. The road crews were doing repairs near the Trek and Dine. We encountered donkeys carrying gravel up as we came down the stairs. We couldn't have Jen, Gareth and Harmony's room as we had planned because it was reserved. (We had wanted it because it had a shower.) Our new room had a bathroom door that didn't close, a toilet that wouldn't flush, although buckets of water worked, and there was no light in the bathroom, and none expected although we had reported it. In the end we swapped out the hall light bulb. Worst of all, we couldn't take showers because the geyser hadn't been turned on. When we picked up our gear from the boy, one of the locks had been knocked around and we had to break it to get the pack open. I just hadn't realized while we were up on the mountain how great it was to be dependent on no one.
There was a bright spot, and it helped to make up for just about everything else. In front of the guest house, in a little basket, was a little white puppy, barely old enough to be away from its mother. I don't know why he was there, I was under the general impression that there were only a few "kept" dogs in Dharamsala and that they all had Tibetan persons. Palu, the puppy, had fallen off the roof of the guest house and broken his leg, which was why he was in the basket. (I was immediately and fiercely angry with the boy for not keeping an eye on Palu when I heard this. I have no idea if my anger was rightly placed or not, I just couldn't help it. He's so lax about everything. But he's also very fond of Palu.)
We went to the Trek and Dine for lunch and had chow mein and apple honey pancakes. Back in the room, I had a long shower, my first hot one in India. It ended very coldly because I didn't realize the gauge on the geyser was behind the real temperature of the water.
At 5:00 we walked into McLeod Ganj. Beth had told us that there were a couple of places that showed movies for 10 rs. and we wanted to see if Kundun was playing (or something else good.) I couldn't imagine where these places were, I was picturing a large place. They were in reality just little shack-like spaces across from the temple. the wall outside was painted black and the films and showtimes were painted on it with whitewash every day. Inside, there were a few wooden benches and a TV. What did you expect for 10 rs.? There was nothing good playing, but we did see popcorn for sale. We got some and a little chocolate and walked back up the hill. I had intended to hem Paul's new pants but I was too tired. I started reading The Source instead, by James Michener, about Israel. Paul had read it in Israel, I was a little behind.