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Thursday, March 20, 2014

Uttarkashi Diaries: Part 3

“It’s impossible for you guys to be able to reach Dayara”, smirked the middle-aged man managing the roadside eatery at Bhatwari, a village on the way to arguably one of the most beautiful destinations in the district of Uttarkashi- Dayara Bugyal.

In local language, Dayara means ‘high altitude’ and ‘bugyal’ is a meadow. Whatever that is supposed to mean, we had to kill time through our extended weekend (remember, it was the ‘Holi’ weekend and we had to come up with unholy plans for the day before). Believe me, breathtaking views on mountainous terrains are not worth it unless you’re out of breath. That calls for long, difficult treks. The length of the trek has been debated over the last week and no one has so far been able to guesstimate with confidence. (To give the readers some idea, a few websites claim that it is 8 km long.)

“Huh! We’ll definitely complete it” - reacted each of us in our own way, yet in unison, and marked by a confused blend of emotions which was dominated by disagreement, disappointment and disapproval. As Gi prepared to pay for the breakfast, the man remarked again, “You neither have the right shoes, nor the right clothes for the trek. There would be 5 feet thick snow. You guys won’t make it! What food are you carrying?” We replied, “Chips, biscuits, chocolates” to which he smirked even more derisively. Enough! We had gotten ready by 6 on a Sunday morning for this trek; there was no way he could demotivate us.

As the engine of the car forced itself to pull us through the hostile roads, we were overwhelmed by the first sight of the army of snow-capped peaks lined up before our eyes. As the wheels came to a halt, we realized we had reached the village of Barsu from where we were to start the trek.

We started off at quarter past 9, asking solitary villagers about Dayara and the path that led to it, and we were terribly disappointed by their vague responses. The beginning of the trek was made of steep, stony steps. “Is the trail entirely like this?!” Some villagers nodded; others- we felt- weren’t sure what we were asking. “Is there snow at Dayara?” One woman responded negatively. Confused, we started moving. By the time we had covered a kilometer, Pa had revolted against having to continue any further. Sa had managed to keep her part of our herd by employing some old trick. Others, who were tired themselves, chipped in to keep her (and in turn the group’s) morale high. We made sure we took frequent breaks in order not to wear ourselves out early in the trek. We rested whenever the view was good, and whenever it wasn’t. Having walked what then appeared to us a 20 km already, we had our lunch (a meager and unhealthy composition of chips, biscuits, chocolates and a few sips of water). Meanwhile, we were happy to see the first strip of snow, which then onwards appeared in more abundance than we would have possibly liked.

The crooked twigs we had collected on our way supported us through the slippery white floor. We kept moving past one patch after another carefully. By then, we had managed to keep the thought of exhaustion off our mind by focusing on short-term objectives of conquering small strips of snow, one at a time. There was no signboard anywhere and we had no clue how far we were from our destination. That didn’t keep us from moving, though. Often, whenever one of us thought we had walked enough and the scenery around was really admirable, we paused to decide whether we should stop going any further. We’d brought that old saying which had something to do about ‘the journey and the destination’ (and by the end of the journey had progressed to ‘the means and the end’) - up so many times that we feared being beaten up by the rest of the group for serving monotony on top of fatigue.

We were not even sure if we were moving in the right direction; the only footsteps to follow in the snow was the occasional trail left by some animal. When we had almost decided we had had enough after walking on snow completely, and not just on patches, something triggered us to look beyond the horizon of white which was visible to us then- something I still don’t know if we should be regretting or not, for after ascending the part that covered our sight, we could see right atop the mound of snow, a small tin shade (looked small from that distance). We instantly knew it was Dayara! Now that we could see it, there was no looking back. The next part happened to be the toughest. It was an exceptionally sharp ascent for the ones without any trekking equipment. Our shoes dug into snow badly at every step and we could hardly move. Still, we made short strides, digging a “knee-full” of snow every time, lifting the legs and heading upwards. What appeared to be the last leg of the trek wouldn’t get over; our energy had gotten drained completely. As each of us made our way to the tin-roof shade after a thrilling five hour long journey, we experienced elation and relief. We were surrounded by white; we had conquered the white!

We took “time-outs” in our own way. Gi chose to take a dip in the ‘lake’ there. I bet the water was damn cold. After having spent about quarter of an hour clicking pictures, eating, chatting, relaxing and drying our clothes, we decided to leave. We had to get down before dusk, to avoid the slippery surface of the snow in the dark. The trek downhill was almost a cakewalk, compared to the ascent, except that we had run out of water and had to fill our bottles with snow and wait for them to melt to be able to quench our thirst.

Not sure if we ran, were scared of the dark, followed shortcuts or were just plain fast, our sprint led us to Barsu where our car waited, faster than we thought: in almost two hours. We proudly shared with Sachin-ji, the driver, our success story! On our way back, overjoyed at having accomplished the difficult trek, we wanted to give a few words of advice to that “rude” man from the roadside eatery who had predicted that we wouldn’t make it to Dayara. Sachin-ji persuaded us not to get involved in an argument with an ignorant someone. In India, no one challenges a Sachin. Too tired, we let go.

About a half an hour drive later, Sachin-ji mustered some courage. “You guys didn’t go to Dayara. It was a different place. Dayara must have had more snow and you couldn’t have had made it without proper shoes and equipment.” Our jaws fell. It was like shattering a child’s dreams. It was like waking up someone from a beautiful dream, with the news of a death. Later, we confirmed with others that we had really not gone to Dayara.

That we couldn’t have gone due to heavy snow is another story but the way the castle of dreams, pride and achievement was first carefully erected and then brought down was painfully heart-breaking at that instant. After enough contemplation, I realize that I have no regret for not having made it to Dayara. After all, we did not know if it was Dayara, or not. We did our best, pushed ourselves to a point we can talk about in the future. If not Dayara, someplace else; but we created our own path in snow, out of nowhere. If that is not commendable, what is?

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