A sudden bump on the road woke me up as I saw sun streaming in through the window of the bus. With me was a group of 10 travelers, whom I was going to spend my next 3 days with and knew little about, all in for a trek to Lamadug. Outside I could see the gushing Beas River as we continued on our way to Manali.
Loads of conversations, plans, anecdotes and a long journey later we finally reached the Manali bus stand. Stepping out of the Volvo bus, I could feel the cool mountain air, which was soon replaced by the dust from the incoming buses.
Wasting no more time, we hired a taxi, loaded up our luggage and headed out to our Hotel Yak n Yeti to freshen up. As we drove through the narrow streets of Manali, I could see countless shops selling handicrafts and souvenirs. Since childhood, I had held a fancy for them and wanted to stop and look at the items for sale but being on a tight schedule I had to forgo them for now.
The cab dropped us at the Old Manali bridge and we carried on foot from here. I could see the usual hustle bustle of tourists that one usually finds at the hill stations, enjoying themselves and clicking pictures.
As we approached our hotel, it seemed like a relaxed place with a cozy looking restaurant at the entrance. I could feel a certain Himalayan charm in the décor, maybe because of the name Yak n Yeti and also the way interiors were done. We took our room keys from the reception and set out to our rooms to freshen up.
A hot bath later I felt all lively and excited with the tiredness of the bus journey washed away. Down in the restaurant people had already started ordering the food, as the rest of them joined in. The rest of the group who had reached Manali earlier also joined in, making the group size to 21 people.
After a hearty breakfast consisting of sandwiches, omelets and fried rice, we had our luggage put in the sacks which were to be carried up on mules, leaving only a day pack with us. I met our local team who had arranged for everything, from tents to food, required on the trek. Also, present were Surinder, our guy in charge of the team, and Chotu bhaiya, our guide for treks starting from Manali.
We were given our lunch packs having sandwiches, fruits, a couple of chocolate bars and water. With everything stocked and ready, off we started to Lamadug.
Making our way up through tourist filled streets, we took a flight of stairs up to a path with beautiful cottages and guesthouses on both sides. The path eventually went up a hillside through a forest of pine trees. We took photos and admired the views as Surinder with his daughter and her dog, Bruno, and Chotu bhaiya joined us.
With this we began the trek, everyone enthusiastic and in high spirits, chit-chatting as we slowly ascended the dirt track up the mountain. The beauty of the trees and the charm of walking through them were soon getting to me as I continued clicking pictures of the landscape. The photography enthusiasts in the group, Akansha, Nandita, Kapil and Saurabh, were out with their DSLRs trying to capture as much as they could. And they could not have asked for better subjects than Romila, Mahima and Abhishek who were more than happy to be clicked.
The adventurous spirit had its first share of thrill as we came across our first obstacle in a form of a small gully, which we had to jump over. Surinder was there giving a hand to everyone, making sure all crossed safely. After walking a bit more, we reached a clearing where everyone rested for a while and had their fruits and juices.
Being this deep in the forest and away from the city I could smell the fresh and cooler mountain air with the scent of fresh pine as we continued climbing. The only sound breaking the silence was of chirping crickets and that of our own footsteps.
Soon we reached our first meadow, where everyone took a break and had lunch. There was a lady camping in these meadows, who greeted us and wished us luck for our onward trek. With the sun beginning to descend we started off again and quickened our pace, not wanting to trek after sunset.
As the terrain got steeper and tougher, the group split up into two. I was in the group pushing ahead with Nandita, her kids, Additi, Gaurav and Abhishek with Chotu bhaiya leading us. The rest of the group was being led by Surinder and Saurabh.
Climbing up a much steeper gradient, we had a few breaks which involved getting our photographs clicked by Nandita. Also, I had some dry fruits including never-tried-before and very tasty dried strawberries which Gaurav had brought.
Trekking for more than 2 hours now, the impending question of how much more to go was raised by Gaurav, to which Chotu bhaiya said just beyond that tree. Little did we know that this particular tree will be nowhere to be found for the next two hours! Eventually, after being promised that tree again and again we reached a meadow with no more trees in sight and a much confused and harrowed Guarav in the tow, who I guess will be wary of trees, or actually people pointing out trees for rest of his life!
As we crossed the meadow, the sun was almost down and we had our flashlights and phones out to see the way ahead. As we neared the actual campsite, there was a path over loose rocks which had to be covered in total darkness except our flashlights. Going slowly and carefully ahead, showing light to everyone, we crossed the rocky path and approached the campsite.
I could see our horses and we took a small halt to let them pass ahead. Been trekking for past 4 hours, at this point, all of us wanted to reach the campsite and rest our tired feet. Once the horses had gone ahead, we started again, and I could see the campsite ahead in the meadows below us. We also saw a couple of other trekkers in theirs tents and continued towards our own.
Finally on reaching the campsite, we took off our shoes and sat in the dining tent, letting the feeling of an accomplishment wash over. We chatted and had chocolates and chips as we waited for others to arrive.
Meanwhile, the demand for soup was raised as everyone started feeling the chill in the air. Checking with the cooks at the campsite, I assured the group that the soup will be ready in a while.
Waiting for the soup we talked about the trek, discussing the climb up, about the feeling of content all of us had and about the infamous tree which was pointed out to all of us but never made an appearance!
After a few demands of soup by Additi, Gaurav and Abhishek and assuring them it is being prepared, the soup finally arrived. Soon after the rest of the group also reached and made themselves cozy in the tent.
The silent mountain was now filled with friendly and excited banter coming from the tent filled with people high on having trekked and achieved the goal for the day, discussing the day’s events, recollecting them, having a laugh about them.
Stories and anecdotes were shared as the dinner was served – dal, rice and paneer. Even though being simple, I couldn’t remember the last time I had a meal so delicious, even more so after a day of trekking.
Soon we were listening to ghost stories and incidents over a few drinks brought along by the people. I was surprised to see a bunch of strangers just a day before, been brought closer and bonding over a common accomplishment of completing the day’s trek.
The night ended with people retiring to their respective tents and for there was an even greater trek in store for the next day. For me, it was a peaceful and well-deserved sleep that night.
Read our guest blogger, Bidisha’s travelogue to Darjeeling,
Also, we have a list of winter treks you can take this season,