The Pangarchulla Mountain Dairies

by Ranjini Sachin (India)

The last thing I expected India


Mountains are spectacular and unpredictable! 4 of us, set out on a 6 day trek to conquer the Pangarchulla peak at 14,700ft! These mountains lie in the Indo-Tibetan border, in the Uttrakhand region of India. We started from Rishikesh, the yoga capital of the world, drove for 10 hours to a quaint village called Joshimatt, from here we started climbing on foot. Our entourage included 4 mules, 2 cooks, 2 guides and 2 mule boys, who kept us well fed, constantly hydrated and carried our tents & luggage. Adherence to the schedule, driven by a tough guide ensured we stuck to the plan; a very critical ask in the harsh mountain environment! Most mornings the bells on the mules woke me up. I would unzip the tent to find the endless silhouette of the sturdy, still mountains staring back; the sun would start shining on the tallest snow peaks and gradually the blanket of rays would cover every single mountain! This breathtaking taking view with a hot cup of tea was followed by a visit to the Red toilet tent; a hole and a tissue roll! Knack, technique and good positioning was important to target the hole; aching and shaking legs, bitter cold, wind and sudden startling animal noises, added to the complexities of pooping! We would then wash, dress, pack up and begin walking across a terrain that varied every single day: pebbles, mud, dense green jungle with tall trees, muddy puddles with melting snow, soggy grassy lands and eventually large rocky boulders in the last 2000ft. The precarious narrow paths were shared with the locals and mules (with bells around their necks). Being attentive to bell sounds and knowing which toxic bush, to avoid plunging into (unless you want to get knocked down by a mule travelling downhill hastily) is a must! Sturdy old women, carrying huge bundles of grass on their back with Steel Grey eyes, fine lines, gentle smiles and little kids with pink cheeks and dried lips, herding baby lambs crossed our paths often. Banter, mostly encouraging us, ensued at every break! Extreme temperature variations, very little sleep, unpredictable terrain coupled with depleting oxygen levels and 16 hours of non-stop walking with an infected wound on my inner right thigh, made the second last day, one the most strenuous in my life! I remember tearing up from extreme exhaustion! I dare say, my body had given up but my heart was not willing to! The things the mountains let me discover about myself were unexpected and priceless...I look forward to my next adventure!