Saturday, May 10, 2014

Himalayan Highs - Part 2

Ayaan and I joined a group of like-minded kids and parents on a 7-day trek and adventure in the Himalayas. This is my attempt to preserve the memories. For readability purposes, I plan to write it in three parts. This is Part 2. (You can read Part 1 here)

Day Three: Gaunap - Dhaulchina

After two nights at Gaunap, it was time to hit the trekking trail again. After an early breakfast, we got started on our trek down to Dhaulchina.

I think this was the hardest trek of our trip - it was about 7 kilometres long, had a few steep climbs and the trail was precariously narrow in parts. We also had to gingerly walk across the site of an old landslide! Some of the kids (and adults, present company included) struggled a bit on this hike but everyone eventually completed it without incident. Ayaan led the trek from the front as usual, while I huffed and puffed in an effort to keep him in my line of sight. Even when we all sat down (or rather collapsed) to take a break, he was bouncing around and exploring. He got some of the other kids involved in a barter game where they had to find things (flowers, pieces of bark, etc.) and then exchange them with each other. He also went around offering to sell his various finds for the unbeatable price of “Buy zero, get one free”. Madcap!

At Dhaulchina, we had lunch at a place called Hill View restaurant. Lunch turned into another birdwatching opportunity since there was a bird’s nest in the restaurant. (We found this quite a common feature in the region with many establishments allowing birds to peacefully co-exist on their premises). The mother bird kept flying in and out with food for her babies, giving us ample opportunity to observe her various colours and characteristics. With the aid of the bird book and some helpful hints from Sundar, we finally identified her as a barn swallow.

After lunch, we headed over to the Maa Anandmayee Guest House. We were utterly delighted to find that the place lived up to its promise of rooms with a view and modern amenities - Electricity! Running water! GEYSERS! Here's a picture clicked from just outside our room.

A full scrubbing was the order of the day and everyone emerged from their rooms, refreshed and sparkling, minus the layers of accumulated dust and grime. The kids spent the rest of the day entertaining themselves - first, they were a family of leopards, then they put up and judged dance shows, and in the middle of all this, they found the time to update their scrapbooks, play Uno and sneak away my camera to take a bunch of photos with funny faces. We were all pretty impressed by how low maintenance they were, with almost no whining or squabbling! The decibel levels were high nonetheless and we totally ruined the peace of the place (its regular clientele are mostly visitors to a nearby ashram).

We ended the day in the usual fashion, with a bonfire. Since this was a proper guest house, Ayaan was quite disappointed that there were no wood collection opportunities, but he did bring out his trusty roasting tin and smoke up the fire by smothering it with dead leaves.

Day Four: Dhaulchina - Shaukiyatal 

The day did not start well. Ayaan woke up and announced that he was feeling grumpy. I thought that he was just being moody and offered to cuddle him out of it. We stayed in bed for a while looking at funny dog pictures and videos on my phone till he perked up. 

But when we started walking, he started feeling physically unwell. He threw up a little and felt very weak after that. He kept complaining that he was tired and that his legs felt wobbly. He felt cold and clammy to the touch as well. We did the entire 7.5 km trek in blocks of 5-10 minutes, stopping to rest and sip Electral. It was a completely different experience to see Ayaan lagging behind at the back instead of hopping along at the front; from being asked to slow down to being exhorted to keep up. And I have to say that I did not enjoy it at all. Twisted ankle and all, I prefer the situations with him running up ahead, with me struggling to keep up! 

Anyway, we somehow made it to Shaukiyatal, our next abode. By this time, Ayaan was running a temperature so I gave him a light lunch, spooned in a dose of paracetamol and bundled him into bed with a book. I was terrified that he was coming down with some awful bug - it would have been such bad timing! But thankfully, that did not come to pass.

In the afternoon, there were a plan for the adults to trek down to Jageshwar. Since I had to stay and tend to Ayaan anyway and none of the kids wanted to go, I offered to watch all of them. In all, I was in charge of 10 kids, ranging from 3.5 to 14 years. This sounds like a bigger deal than it really was - the kids were happy to do their own thing and got along with each other, so I did not have much to do other than take the occasional head count to ensure that nobody had disappeared on my watch. At some point, we had a couple walk off the road to come and check out the property. They took one look at the kids running around under my loose supervision and curiously asked me whether I was running a summer camp! I was most amused.

After some downtime (not to mention the Crocin kicking in), Ayaan’s energy levels rebounded and he was back to regular programming. He, along with the other boys, went down to explore the hill near the homestay. They proceeded to develop an empire-building game, where the entire area was divided into two kingdoms. Ayaan’s kingdom was called Pineholm (like Stockholm, where his favourite aunt lives) and the other boys called their territory Autobot (because they believe in autonomy and democracy, it seems!). The game went on for almost an hour and got increasingly elaborate with wars, treaties, trade, and agreements over water and oil supplies all being part of the game. The Autobot territory even fashioned a flag out of a rag and a stick. It was very fascinating and I could barely focus on my book because it was so much fun watching them! Pictured below is Ayaan, master of all he surveys in Pineholm: 

Since Ayaan had had a fever earlier in the day, I chose to sleep indoors with him instead of the tent. There were a couple of bedrooms but most of us slept dormitory-style in the main hall of the homestay - twelve of us sleeping in a row on mattresses. Experiences like this make you realise that when you are tired enough, comfort and privacy are less important than a place to rest your head and fall almost immediately into dreamland!

Day Five: Shaukiyatal - Chandidhar - Jageshwar

The next day, Ayaan’s mystery bug was a thing of the past and even though most of the other kids had pretty much had their fill of trekking, he was raring to go on the two optional walks planned for the day. The first trek was a short, steep walk up to a viewing point called Chandidhar, where we got another brilliant view of the snow-capped peaks of the Nanda Devi mountain range.  I just loved the views we got of these majestic mountains. In fact, many of the hotels and restaurants had a poster featuring the entire range with the peaks marked out and I really wanted to get one for Ayaan's room but we could not find it for sale anywhere.

Ayaan and one of the girls who had come along had a fun time playing around there. They attempted to start a fire with two stones and plucked the thyme and oregano leaves, which grow wild like weeds in this region. Ayaan also found a huge tree branch that kept him amused for a while. I love this picture of him with it because you have to look really hard to even find him in it. For me, it typifies his deep connect with nature!

Back at the homestay, breakfast was a delightful surprise for the kids since Harish (who had come down from Gaunap to take care of our dietary needs) whipped up some pasta and sheera. After breakfast, there was a 3-km walk planned to the Jageshwar temple. None of the other kids were coming and I tried to talk Ayaan out of it, hoping that he would stay back and recuperate. But he was having none of it. He had clearly recovered his lost trekking mojo and was back to his preferred position at the front of the group through the one and a half hour trek.

The Jageshwar temple complex was quite interesting. It is actually contains 125 Shiva temples, large and small, built between the 7th and 18th centuries. Once we had done the rounds, we headed across to a grocery shop to stock up on some snacks for the kids and hired a cab to drive us back to Shaukiyatal.

After lunch, I managed to catch a small nap while Ayaan lay next to me and read a book. The others got together for a round of Uno and Housie. In the evening, we made our way to a nearby clearing and had a blast playing long-forgotten (for the adults) games like Dog and the Bone, Kho-Kho and Chain Tag. Ayaan preferred to continue his more important business of exploration while we played.

After all our exertions, we came back to a soup and Maggi dinner. It was our last night with the option of sleeping in a tent so Ayaan and I commandeered the 2-people tent and spent a snuggly night within.

Recently, Itchy posted a list of the ways in which her boys made her feel proud on a recent holiday. She called for other mums to do the same. I'd like to tag my trek posts on to the same 'Proudathon' theme. When I think of Ayaan during the trek, I would not be exaggerating to say my heart feels like it could burst from the love and pride. He exceeded my expectations in every way possible.

Firstly, the boy has bottomless reserves of energy. If the Energiser fellows are looking for a new mascot, they need look no further. Other than the one trek when he was under the weather, he hardly ever stopped to catch a breath and would have done the treks without any breaks had it not been for the rest of us, who did need to stop occasionally to gather our resources. Even when he was done with the trek, there was no drop in his levels of activity and he promptly found something else to entertain him, like fetching wood. He never said no to any of the treks, even the optional ones and even accompanied one of the adults to the Dhaulchina bazaar one evening.

I have to be honest and admit that his boundless energy is not always a source of pride back at sea level. It often gets him (and me, by association) into trouble and oftentimes, I don't have the patience to keep up. But up in the mountains, I had a sort of an epiphany. His energy is not something to rue, but rather something to be proud of. And when he has ways to expend it that appeal to him (nature walks - yes; organised sports - no), his energy levels and general enthusiasm are huge assets and something to be super proud of. (Hopefully, I will remember to hold on to this thought on a day when he is bouncing off the walls at home). As always, Calvin says it best:

Secondly, there is his connect with nature. I think he probably gets it from his Grandma, because he certainly does not get it from me. Left to my own devices, I'd like to holiday in a bug-free, luxury beach resort but then our kids raison d'ĂȘtre is to push us out of our comfort zones, so I find myself in eco-resorts and on Himalayan treks instead. His bird and snake reference guides are not mere ornaments but well-thumbed copies and he is fascinated by the various species featured in his book. At Shaukiyatal, a moth came and sat right next to us while we were playing cards. Before I could descend into panic-mode, Ayaan calmly scooped it up in his palm and walked over to the door and set it free! Like I said, he certainly does not get it from me!

Thirdly, and this applies for all our holidays, there is a special joy in travelling with a child who reads. It makes the inevitable slow patches and waiting times a breeze. Ayaan did not once whine about boredom, only asking for one or the other of his books to be fished out from the main backpack. (Needless to say, the books accounted for a significant portion of the bulk and weight of our backpacks).

Last but not least, he normally does not deal well with sleep deprivation. But even with a rapidly increasing sleep deficit, he continued to be cheerful and energetic on this trip. By the last day, he did start to get slightly crabby, but there were no full-on meltdowns or temper tantrums.

This trek lifted the veil of the everyday hustle-bustle to get the kids fed, dressed and out of the door and showed me a clear view of the wonderful and unique boy that I am lucky to call my son. And now, before I ruin my unsentimental image with more maudlin stuff, I shall conclude this second instalment of my trek memoirs. Stay tuned for the next (and last) post on the same. 


  1. Swathi Kantamani10:58 am

    Spectacular writing, Rohini! Such a beautiful read.

  2. Talk about adventures! I got nervous when you mentioned him lagging behind. Super proud of him, Ro, as always.

    1. I know! It was so uncharacteristic of him.

  3. Yay, the second installment is finally here.
    So glad that the bug turned out be nothing major and didn't ruin the trip for Ayaan. You have such a wonderful kid there and have every reason to be proud of him. Loved the part about the Pineholm and Autobot kingdoms :)

    Fascinating account of an unusual adventure trip , can't wait for the next part.

    1. Been terribly lazy about writing the third part. Starting on it now!

  4. Loved reading this :)

  5. He sounds a joy! I quite like this sentimental version of you!

    1. Sentimental version of who? Clearly, you have the wrong blog. :-p

  6. Absolutely loved the post! Very proud of Ayaan! Can't wait for the third installment.

  7. Loved loved loved reading about your trip...Ayaan is a trooper no? and you managed 10 kids by!

    1. Just for a few hours and like I said, they were very low maintenance. The ten of them were less trouble than just my two can be back home.

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