Addicted to the Himalayas

It was early September, 2019. It had been more than ten weeks since our last vacation, and I was testing Mamatha’s patience. She gets emotionally drained and exhausted after eight weeks of bearing the brunt of feeding me. Her life becomes a self-imposed marital incarceration and her tolerance level takes a nosedive.

My neglected tasks, like forgetting to fetch Mamatha a pair of socks along with mine or failing to pick up my tennis shorts from the laundry basket, or merely asking,  “What’s for supper?” will attract her wrath (about which the less said the better). If I don’t arrange some sort of break for us both, my life becomes a constant pussyfooting over the precipice of a very narrow matrimonial ledge, the bottom of which I never want to see.

Women are more sensible, for they guide us husbands to recognise and acknowledge that we both need the one most important thing for a marriage to work: fun.

I had to organize a vacation at once to prevent myself from becoming a victim of her ire.

There were two places that Mamatha had wanted to visit: Rishikesh and Badrinath. There were three things that I wanted to accomplish from my bucket list: trekking through the Valley of Flowers, visiting the spot where Jim Corbett killed the man-eating leopard of Rudraprayag, and tasting the world-famous Himalayan Golden Mahseer fish. Luckily, both our wishes for this trip were located in the state of Uttarakhand.

My friend and tour guide, Anil, who accompanies us on our treks and organizes our time in the Himalayas, lives in Uttarakhand. I immediately made arrangements through him for a week-long trip.

Anil came with the taxi owner-driver of a brand-new Toyota Cresta, Sohan, to receive us at Dehradun airport. Sohan was a good-looking, cleanshaven man wearing faded blue jeans and a full sleeved shirt. His trousers dropped so much below his crotch that I was afraid I would face the torture of witnessing that spectacle any time.

Mamatha and I were sitting at the backside of the Toyota Cresta with Sonu and Anil in the front.

“So, what is the program Anil?” I asked, dumping my backpack next to me and settling down. 

“We will stay today at Rishikesh, where Madam will do her Darshan at Trayambekaswar temple. Tomorrow we will spend the day in Rudraprayag. From there, we will go to the Valley of flowers directly. That will be a three-day trip. While coming back, visit Badrinath Temple, Jim Corbett memorial and proceed to Dehradun. There will be two-night halts on our way back from Badrinath,”

“Sounds good!” 

The lodge at Rishikesh was right in the heart of Rishikesh township and appeared relatively new. Our room was on the first floor, clean but very basic. The Ganges was flowing right across from our hotel. On the other side of the riverbank lay the Triyambekeswar temple.

Pilgrims were carrying out rituals. A few locals were ponding their wet clothes on boulders. A loud devotional song was being hollered from the township across the river. The mundanity of it all made it difficult for me to get into a mood of piety and spirituality. I went back inside, deciding to worship the bed instead.

I accompanied Mamatha for her temple visit and, as usual, got grilled by her for my indifference and impiety. Finally, we returned to the lodge, Mamatha having calmed down after her tryst with the Almighty. Anil, Mamatha, and I visited the temple with Sonu opting out. Mamatha’s wish got fulfilled, but mine hadn’t. I had not yet tasted Himalayan Golden Mahseer.  It was around noon when we left Badrinath. The evening before, Anil had promised to take me to a restaurant on the way to Mussoorie, located right next to the running Alaknanda River. The hotel staff caught Himalayan Mahseer right before our eyes from the river and served the dish fresh.

Anil, Mamatha and Me at Badrinath temple

We left for Rudraprayag the following day. 

“What is the program now?” Mamatha asked as soon as the engine started.

 “To the resort in Gherwal first, Madam. It will take about five hours. We will have to stay there for the night and proceed for our Valley of Flowers trek,” he said 

“When will we get to go to the place where Jim Corbett killed the man-eater? I am itching to see the site of the 110-year-old incident.” 

“We will visit Corbet memorial while going to Badrinath after our Valley of Flowers trek. That will be after three days,” Anil said.

At around 1:00 in the afternoon, Anil pointed to a dusty old painting and said, “We have arrived at the resort.” 

‘Shivastal’ was the resort’s name. The approach to the resort demanded a mini trek of sorts, climbing down a trail of about 400 feet that was so steep that Mamatha tripped twice. I had to be extra careful not to fall into the ravine and get holy but unwanted immersion in the river Ganges below.

Once we reached the resort, I felt a sudden rush of adrenaline. The resort was like a secret hideout amid a thick forest with the river Alaknanda flowing majestically just a few meters away. It was a spectacular setting.

“Welcome to Shivastal,” said Charan, the owner. He was tall and lean with long parted hair, a fair complexion, and a voice that gave away his years of smoking. Charan looked like a rehabilitated junkie who had converted his dwelling place after worldly renunciation into a resort.

The two-story cottage looked solid, and the interiors pretty clean. There was a staircase leading to the cottage above. The bathroom was just basic enough to get the job done. 

“There is no room service,” said the staff member who took us to our cottage and he added, while opening the cottage door, “and there is no room lock.” 

“Oh, I see,” I said.  The setting was surreal, with the river running majestically right alongside the resort.

“I am dying to see the Valley of Flowers. I have heard so much about it,” said Mamatha as she settled in the back seat of the Cresta the following morning. I was deep in my thoughts, wondering if I could get to taste the world-famous Himalayan Mahseer fish on our way to the Valley of Flowers.

“Yes. Me too,” I said, thinking of the fish.

 At an altitude of 13,000 feet, Ghangaria, where the Valley of Flowers trek commences, is situated at the confluence of the rivers Bhyundar Ganga and Pushpawati.

This place is usually used by trekkers as a base camp to visit Hemkund and the Valley of Glowers. However, it is only open from May till September. The rest of the year, the Valley is covered under snow. 

No sooner had I got into the tarpaulin tent than I opened my mini-Chivas.

“Mohan, Mohan, come here quickly,” Mamtha shouted from outside. I ran out and joined her, watching a Himalayan bear climbing a meadow on the mountain right across from our camp. The black Himalayan bear appeared like a bug climbing the peak covered with fields across from our tent. It was an incredible sight.

Our trek started at 7:00 in the morning. Anil brought along a local, Gautam, an expert on flowers who claimed to know more than a hundred different flower species from the Valley. 

Gautam stopped and showed us a rare orchid that had heard about but not seen before, a bear’s dugout in the trunk of a large tree, many wonderfully smelling flowers including Geranium, Syringa, Rose.  

“Blue Poppy,” he said when I asked him about the bushes with blue flowers. The trek itself was easy, with a few patches of rugged terrain that limits your speed if you are not fit. 

The Valley is a must-see for every nature lover and heaven for every flower, tree, and fragrance-loving individual. Perched at an altitude of 14,500 feet, the Valley is home to several endangered animals, including Asiatic black bear and snow leopard.

Both Mamatha and I loved the six-mile hike. We were totally delighted by the variety of trees, the incredible fairy tale streams, and the fragrance in the air. We returned to our camp by 4:00 in the evening.

I was now more eager than ever to return to Rudraprayag and visit the land of the man-eater of Rudraprayag.

This notorious leopard with 125 recorded kills is described by Corbett in his book “as a brilliant and tough sport.”

I got goosebumps as I went to the spot where, from the top of a nearby tree, Jim Corbett had killed the beast. I spent half an hour roaming around the location and left the place. The picture shown above is not for the faint-hearted! We reached Mussoorie in the evening. Mamatha shopped for an hour and finally decided not to buy anything except some popcorn. We returned to our hotel to leave for Dehradun to catch our morning flight the next day.

Mamatha’s two holy wishes and my three worldly desires were totally fulfilled.

Since December 2016, when Mamatha and I went to Mount Kailash, we had already visited the Himalayas five times. Yet, it still feels like this entire lifetime isn’t enough to see every place that the Himalayas have to offer…. 

“There is something about the Himalayas not possessed by the Alps, something unseen and unknown, a charm that pervades every hour spent among them, a mystery intriguing and disturbing. Confronted by them, a man loses his grasp of ordinary things, perceiving himself as immortal, an entity capable of outdistancing all changes, all decay, all life, all death.” ~ Frank Smythe

I am now addicted to the Himalayas. 

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