While on the trail to morayare mane, the neolithic site, my daughter Pramiti remarked that although I had done a fair number treks, and so had she, this was the first time we were trekking together. Her remark transported me half a century in the past, to my first trek. The summer of 1963.
In the summer of 1963 I was recuperating from a bout of a rather tough examination of the law course I was pursuing in D.A.V. College, Dehra Dun. Being all alone and nothing much to do, I had a lot of idle time and did not know what to do with it. Every evening I and some of my friends would get together and gossip. I do not recall how it transpired but suddenly all five of us were enthused with the idea of going on a trekking trip. After a lot of discussion it was decided that we would trek from Mussoorie to Chakrata, a small colonial cantonment town.
We often walked from Dehra Dun (Rajpur) to Mussoorie and back the same day, a distance of about 14 km either way and we considered ourselves veterans. This being our first long trek where we would be away for several days, we indulged in some serious planning and prepared for all eventualities. We carried a dozen loaves of bread, four dozen boiled eggs, cans of sausages and baked beans, a can of cooking oil, a sauce pan, a frying pan, salt and pepper, and of course blankets and bed sheets. The way we prepared, one would think we were embarking upon an expedition to Mount Everest.
On the appointed morning, all five of us gathered at the city bus stand and took a bus to Rajpur, a decaying hamlet 15 km out of Dehra Dun. We started our ‘great trek’, all of 100 km long, from Rajpur.It took us through Barlowganj and Jharipani where the well known Oak Grove School is situated, Mussoorie, past Kamptee Fall and, shortly after we found our progress blocked by a huge landslide. The mountain had simply sunk vertically to a depth of about two hundred feet. We, the veterans of Dehra Dun-Mussoorie trek, were stumped. We sat down and debated – to proceed or to return. While thus debating, we observed a middle aged local Garhwali wearing chappals walking down the landslide. Five minutes later, he emerged on the other end. This settled it. If he could do it so could we, the five young men in the prime of our youth. Imitating the Garhwali we started climbing down cautiously and, four hours later, emerged – like our role model, the Garhwali – at the other end, having lost half of our stock of boild eggs and loaves of bread, to say nothing of a powerful torch we had purchased especially for this expedition and not used even once.
Well, we kept descending and, just before sunset, crossed the Yamuna at its lowest point in Garhwal, well short of Nagthat, a small hamlet where we had planned to stay the night. No human was in sight although a small little structure could be seen not far from the bridge we had just crossed. On closer scrutiny, this turned out to be an inspection house. Joyfully, we went to it and found it locked. The caretaker, if there was one, was missing. We had no choice but to spend the night in its verandah open from three sides but, at least, we had a roof over our heads. We gathered some dry twigs and made fire to heat beans and sausages as best as we could, somehow managing to satiate our hunger.
While preparing for this expedition, we had not accounted for the wildlife we might encounter. Now, with having to spend the night out in the open, safety was a concern. To supplement the penknife and a bread-knife, the only weapons we had, we borrowed a couple of stout branches from the trees nearby, drew lots to determine the guard shifts. I drew the first shift of three hours and the rest went to sleep. The first ray of the sun found all five of us fast asleep. Fortunately the only wildlife to visit us at night were the insects and mosquitoes.
Our trail led us to Lakhwar through Nagthat , the hamlet where we could have spent a less unpleasant night had we reached the previous day. Lakhwar was a shade bigger than Nagthat. An immensely clean village, it could easily win the Swatch Bharat contest any day. Imagine our surprise when we were welcomed by a well kempt gentleman sporting a night suit. A lecturer in a Dehra Dun school, he was home during summer vacation. The village boasted of a double storey community center, entirely made of wood. We were asked to freshen up there. In the evening we were treated to a sumptuous feast. In addition to the omnipresent mosquitoes we were overrun by millions of bedbugs infesting the community center where we were destined to spend a second night too.
It was raining heavily the next morning and venturing out was not possible. We stayed put and left it to the locals to take care of our culinary needs, which they did exceedingly well. We were entertained with local tales, myths and beliefs. One of them being that they are the descendants of the pandavas, the five brothers who defeated their cousins the kauravs in war to win back the kingdom that rightfully belonged to them. The five pandavas had a common wife Draupadi. Therefore, in Lakhwar and other villages in Jaunsar valley, all the brothers in a family shared a wife. The real reason could be to save their pitifully small land holdings from being partitioned. Women work the fields and toil at home as well, while men laze around doing nothing but drinking.
We gifted to the villagers our cooking oil, and other items we could not use, thanked them for their hospitality and took their leave. Another day’s uneventful trek brought us to a place called Churani. Here also the only structure to be seen was a little inspection house manned by an old attended who was kind enough to take us in, provided us with cots and even cooked for us, finding fresh vegetables somewhere.
We reached Chakrata the next evening and found that the entire town was swamped by the army. There was nowhere we could stay the night. The only movie hall in town was shut down. Luckily for us, a transporter allowed us to sleep in his premises. We managed to quell our hunger with the beans, sausages and boiled eggs we were carrying.
In the morning, we walked to Deoban, about 5 km away and were surprised to meet a friend of mine from Udaipur who was camping there with a batch of other Forest Ranger trainees. We were introduced to the trainer in charge who would not let us return to Chakrata without spending a night in the camp. We climbed the nearby Vyas Shikhar (elevation 10000 feet above msl) and were thrilled with the panoramic view of several Himalayan peaks. In the evening, after a tiring game or two of badminton with the Rangers in their camp and sharing a sumptuous meal we retired to bed.
On our return to Chakrata the next morning, we found a sardarji selling fried fish out of a small shack. It started raining while we were eating and there was no shelter. We were sure to get drenched. That is when we saw a miracle unfolding in front of us. Not a drop was falling in a circular area of about 10 feet diameter. We ran to it and continued eating. After a while, the rain stopped and we survived unscathed.
We returned home by bus the same day.