Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Himalayan Highs - Part 3

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 have written it in three parts. This is Part 3. (Click to read Part 1 and Part 2)

Day Six: Shaukiyatal - Jageshwar - Dandeshwar - Naukuchiyatal 
The plan was to drive down to our next pit stop at Naukuchiyatal, stopping at Jageshwar so that those who had not had a chance to visit the temple yet could do so. A couple of us decided that it would be much more fun to repeat the trek down the hill. Of course, it should go without saying that Ayaan wanted to join so we set off early and rewarded ourselves with super-yummy aloo paranthas at the KVMN at Jageshwar. The car-bound gang was running late so we decided to walk the 1-odd kilometre to visit the Dandeshwar temple as well.

At the Dandeshwar temple, Ayaan was delighted to discover a little stream flowing out at the back. Unlike the trash-littered one at Jageshwar, this one was clean enough for me to allow him to frolic in. He was happily splashing about when a mossy rock proved to be his undoing and he took a bad spill, landing on his cheek, with his teeth managing to make a couple of deep gashes in his lip. When he first came howling to me with blood streaming out of his mouth, I was pretty sure he had broken a tooth but thankfully, it was just the lip wound. He was super upset and screamed with pain: “I wish I had never come on this stupid trek! I hate it!

I cleaned him up and calmed him down and then five minutes later, fall, pain and anger forgotten, he was back in the stream and protested mightily when it was time to leave. About half an hour later, he gave me a sheepish grin and said: “I regret saying that the trek is stupid. It is not. I had a lot of fun.”

Soon, the rest of the gang arrived with the cars. We piled in and after a quick stop at Jageshwar (where Ayaan found another stream to explore), we headed towards Naukuchiyatal. After five days of being out and about, it was quite a trial to be cooped up in a cramped vehicle. We all agreed that we found the 4-hour drive more exhausting than any of the treks! It didn’t help that it was hot and it had been three days since our last bath. Finding this sign painted on roadside was truly a case of adding insult to injury: (It reads 'Roz Snan Karein', which translates into an exhortation to bathe daily!)

We were in a for a rude shock when we arrived at Naukuchiyatal. All through the trip, we had been looking forward to our stay at Camp Lagoon as our return to civilisation and relative luxury. This place had a 4.5 TripAdvisor rating and promised, amongst other things, ‘luxury chalets’ with ‘attached western toilets with running water and basic comforts’ and a ‘swimming pool with heart shape’. Hah! They clearly need to look up the meaning of luxury in a dictionary. Only two of the so-called ‘chalets’ had attached loos, and these barely had enough space to stand. Hot water was available, but by the kettle. The bathrooms also had a major design flaw - they were elevated above the level of the room hence one had to bathe s-lo-w-l-y to ensure that the water did not flow out into the rooms. The heart-shaped pool was very much in evidence but I have seen cleaner puddles so swimming in them was clearly out! And there’s more. One of the huts did not have a latch on the door while another hut’s door and doorway were misaligned so it did not even shut all the way!And do not even get me started on the linen - there weren’t enough pillows and the quilts had clearly not seen water or sunlight for quite a while.

Anyhow, once we had moved past disappointment to acceptance and towards hysterical laughter, we got along just fine. I gave Ayaan his shortest bath ever with just 4 mugs of water and used just half a bucket for myself. Dinner was another mad affair as the staff (read two boys) seemed to have a ‘from the scratch’ approach to cooking. Once they discussed the menu with us on our arrival, they then disappeared to the market to source the necessary ingredients! Needless to say, dinner was very late (and under-cooked) and we had to deal with a bunch of tired and cranky kids while they got their act together. Thankfully, there was a bonfire and a fun Antakshari session to keep the hunger pangs at bay. 

While we were waiting for dinner, there was a little awards ceremony where each of the kids got a certificate of completion. It was extra special because they said something apt and encouraging about each of the kids and their maiden trekking experience. For Ayaan, they said: "The explorer was in his element. For him, it was definitely the first of many, many treks to come." Bingo!

Day Seven: Naukuchiyatal - Kathgodam 
Our last morning on the trip! Whatever the faults of Camp Lagoon, it cannot be faulted on its location. Located amongst dense foliage, it is a great for a spot of early morning bird-watching. The high point was a sighting of some Asian Paradise Flycatchers - strange and beautiful at once, these were probably the most exotic birds we saw on our trip. We also saw an Ashy Drongo and a bunch of crows, doves and swallows.

Not wanting to get delayed by the slow service, some of us took to the kitchen to prepare poha. The hotel staff cut some fruits and made what they called ‘pahadi toast’ (bread toasted on a tawa). The manager of the property finally deigned to pick up the phone, but refused to make himself physically available for either feedback or to improve the level of service. Giving it up for a lost cause, we decided to spend as much of the day away from the depressing property and headed out to do some paragliding. Ayaan said he didn’t want to do it because he thought it was ‘unnecessary’. Er… right. Because roasting nuts in a sweets tin is a totally essential activity. Anyway, I decided not to push him and went up with those of the gang who were planning to make the leap. He was quite happy to potter around, especially when he discovered a mulberry bush to gorge on.

Thrill-seeking is not really my scene so I was in two minds about taking the plunge. But it was a tandem flight with a pilot in control and since the 3.5-year old in our group did it safely and fearlessly, I decided to go for it. It was simultaneously scary and exhilarating. Overall, I enjoyed it but you won’t catch me signing up for more adventurous activities like bungee-jumping or sky diving. I am rather fond of having my feet planted on solid ground, thankyouverymuch. 

Once everyone was done, we headed over to the local KMVN for lunch, followed by a touristy ride on the lake in a shikara. Then we headed back to Camp Lagoon to pack up. The drive down to Kathgodam was quick and uneventful and after a quick dinner at the IRCTC restaurant close to the station, we boarded the Ranikhet Express back to Delhi. Ayaan and I had a First AC coupe to ourselves so we finally got a taste of the luxury that had eluded us in Camp Lagoon. Ayaan was out for the count within five minutes of the train leaving the station!

We arrived at Old Delhi Railway Station at the obscenely early hour of 4 a.m. One of the moms on the trek had booked a couple of rooms in a guest house and I took up her offer to join her there to freshen up before heading for the airport. The ultra-modern Delhi airport felt strange after all the days spent in the wilderness. I whipped out my credit card for the first time in more than a week and had to push my grey cells to remember the PIN!

We flew to Jaipur and were picked up my my mother. It was good to be home! By lunch time, we had washed the trek dust off ourselves but the memories we made will stay for a lifetime.

In the last post, I talked about how amazing Ayaan was on the trek. Given our previous outdoors experiences, albeit less intense, this was stating the obvious. I always knew he was going to revel in it. Myself, not so much. I like my creature comforts and if anybody had to accompany Ayaan on a journey like this, I always assumed that Jai would do it. However, he could not take time off at the time, so I girded up my loins and put myself up for the job. To be completely honest, I saw myself somewhat in the light of a sacrificial lamb and the upcoming trek as a definite contender for my growing list of items that I am storing for the inventible 'After All I Have Done For You' conversation. 

But I quickly lost this attitude once we were there and had proceeded to have a fantastic time! The things that I thought would bother me - dirty and rudimentary toilets, infrequent baths, uncomfortable sleeping quarters, creepy-crawlies and so on - were barely a blip on my radar. I throughly enjoyed being in the outdoors, up in the clean mountain air. I would do it again in a heartbeat and I am hoping Shyam plans something next year, because I am definitely going and Jai will have to fight me for the privilege of being Ayaan's trekking partner.

In fact, on the last weekend, I was in Hyderabad without the kids and even though there was no Ayaan factor to motivate me, I got up early on a Sunday morning and went for a Save The Rocks Society walk. I am also thinking about taking up amateur bird-watching, along with Ayaan. 

The trek was a great way to cement my bond with Ayaan. Daily life with kids can get pretty transactional and mundane and it was a refreshing break from all of that. During the entire week, I did not yell at Ayaan even once, which has got to be some kind of new record for me. To be honest, I can't take any credit for this because he didn't give me an ounce of trouble. He was easy to wake even at the crack of dawn, ate everything without complaint and got along well with the other kids. I think it was also good for us to get some solo mother-son time, away from all the sibling quarrels and jealousies. I feel so much closer to him and I can sense that it goes both ways. For the first time ever, he actually cried when I left him in Jaipur to head back to Hyderabad. He has never done that!

Watching Ayaan frolic about in the mountainside was also a validation for my approach of letting my kids navigate the world without coddling them over-much. I have written about this before as well, and I honestly believe in letting them experience and attempt to stretch their physical limitations, rather than deciding their boundaries for them. Even on this trek, Ayaan was the cause of many a gasp from the other adults but I was mostly unflappable and was able to continue to trust in his instincts. 

Other than the fall in the stream, he never really put himself in serious harm's way. I would like to say that this was benign neglect but really it is not. Like most parents, I live in dread of my kids hurting themselves. But over time, I have learnt to internalise it rather than letting it get in the way of the kids figuring out things on their own. I watch them like a hawk but unless I see a truly dangerous situation developing, I try to keep my lips zipped. I say this trip was a validation on this front because I saw how comfortable and confident Ayaan was on the trek. I don't regret his fall in the stream either. There is no way I could have predicted that or prevented it, short of banning him from playing there (and that I would rather not do) and I think he learnt a valuable lesson about the dangers of mossy rocks that no amount of lecturing could have driven home. Overall, I think both of us a lot more fun on the trip because I was relaxed (or at least tried to be) and let him just be.

And that brings me to the end of my trek chronicles. Thanks for reading.


  1. Anonymous11:21 pm

    Wow, Wow and Wow , what a fabulouse trip!!! Loved the detailed narration. What a great way to bond with the kid and overcome your fears and concerns too. Hope you could do more of this..



    1. Thanks Bhavani. I am hoping to make this an annual thing, at least till he thinks his mom is not cool enough to be his trekking partner.

  2. I want to give you big hug for being you and A a big kiss for being himself.

  3. Anonymous3:07 am

    LOVED the whole account, and am fiercely wishing such activities had been available when I lived in India! (with or without kids!) - also loved your insights about yourself - I am an urban person myself but mountains change me and it's good to see that happen to others too! It's amazing that A did so well on the trip (And a 3.5yr old!) - he's growing into an amazing young man, what with his cooking, selling and trekking!
    - Maith

    1. Apparently they were. One of the parents on the trek was telling us about an Annapurna Base Camp trek for kids he did at 14 years of age.

      I doubt my parents would have sent me or even wanted to accompany me though.

  4. Wow..sounds amazing. I'd love to do a trek with chubb oks at some point, it was an inspiring read

    1. Thanks :-) Hope you get to do a trek with the kid/s too, it is an amazing experience.

  5. What a lovely lovely lovely read....loved your adventure and Ayaan is a super cool guy :)

  6. Anonymous12:45 pm

    Ro, I have yet to catch up on your last part and this one but have to stop and comment on that last photo of Ayan's. May I say he looks so rugged, intrepid and handsome on that rock! I love those pants with the knee patches he has on.


    1. He is a walking ad for Decathlon (the sports store) in that picture - the pants jacket, shoes, bag - all from there!

  7. Well written Rohini. I am sure "After all I have done for you" got Jai's attention :)

  8. Ro, it has been a long time, somewhere when you took that long break from writing, I floated away. I suddenly realized that I missed your blogs, and I came back and found you. Nice to see you are at it again. Both the kids have grown so much, nice to see them! Wonder why the email subscribe option didn't work on your blog. Will subscribe again.

  9. lovely article and pictures

  10. Awesome post. Very nicely written. The snaps are perfect seems u area perfect mom. Congrats dear....Keep posting with lots more.