Shivram Warrior, 50, a seafood industry consultant, went on a nature holiday in April with wife Sabrina, 52, daughter Alena, 10, and 33 others—all friends and their children, ranging in age from 10 to 54. Warrior says it was a life-changing experience
Thirty-six of you on a trek. Wow!
Yes, we’re all friends and have often travelled together, though never in such a large group. It was summer holidays for our kids, and instead of the usual beach holidays and city sojourns, we decided to take them on a nature trek. Besides, we all wanted to try our hand at river rafting, and see the tigers at Corbett. So, we blocked 10 days in April and went off first to Corbett and then to Rishikesh, before hitting the Chopta-Tungnath trekking trail. I understand we were the single largest group to come to the Chopta area.
Why go all the way to the Himalayas? I mean, there are hills closer to Bangalore, where all of you are based!
Spectacular view: Setting up camp at Chopta.
You’re right, we do have hills close by. But we wanted to see the mountains, and that meant heading north. For, what’s better than the Himalayas?
I believe Aquaterra took care of the logistics and the trek.
That’s right. Though some of us had trekked earlier and others had gone river rafting, many members of the group were first-timers. Plus, we had 14 kids below the age of 16 with us. So, while Aquaterra took care of the nitty-gritty, we did our bit of prep by gymming and walking. Since we had consciously opted for an ‘easy’ trek, we didn’t feel the need for anything more rigorous.
Tell me about Corbett. Did you spot a tiger?
We spent two days there and the night at the Dikhala forest rest house, which has stunning views. For the forest sojourns, we broke up into groups, of course, and two Gypsy-loads were lucky enough to spot a tiger. The rest of us had to be happy with elephants, deer and other wildlife.
And Rishikesh? What was that like?
I had rafted down that stretch of the Ganga earlier, and I have to say that the volume of water was considerably less this time, apparently because there had been a landslide higher up in the mountains. The water was cold, but not as cold as we’d expected it to be, and it made for an enjoyable 3-hour experience on the river, tackling 8-10 different levels of rapids. The entire group tried its hand at rafting, though the kids had to take a break on a particularly difficult stretch in the middle. But they were back on the boats for the last 4km.
And then the walk itself. You drove up from Rishikesh to Devariyatal?
That’s right. We had been told it would be quite warm, though some of us had read that there had been unseasonal snowfall a week before our trek. On the way up it started raining, and the temperature began to drop. When we got to the base of the hills, it was still raining and it was cold, so much so that we needed to take warm clothes out for the kids. Avilash, our Aquaterra guide, also organized umbrellas for those of us who did not have raincoats. Once the mules were loaded, we began to climb up the endless flights of stone steps. One member of the group was asthmatic and several others were not quite fit, so we did find it strenuous. Though it continued to rain, the climb was beautiful, with red rhododendrons in bloom and some mist. The glimpses of the Himalayas from the top—around 2,440m—were beautiful, as was Devariyatal, though we had expected the lake to be bigger. The tented camp set up for us was nice, though the constant rain was a real dampener.
That short trek must have eased you into the rigours of trekking. What was the Devariyatal-Chopta trek like the next day?
We did not trek to Chopta from Devariyatal—we drove up, as it continued to rain. In fact, around 5am, we woke up to a huge thunderstorm with hail and gale-force winds. Since the camp was large, we were scattered over a generous area, and the two 10-year-olds sleeping a short distance away were quite scared. The kitchen tent got blown away and we all hunkered down under the rolling thunder and vivid splashes of jagged lightning! While our tents were cosy and waterproof, when the rain lessened we realized that conditions were not conducive for the trek. So we decided to walk down to the road and motor to Chopta instead. We were in Chopta by noon—the trek would have taken 6-7 hours.
Sabrina, Alena and Shivram at Corbett. ( Photograph by Shivram Warrior)
Did you make it to Tungnath after all that?
Till late in the evening, we had no idea if we would be able to make it to Tungnath the next day. The camp at Chopta (3,000m) was beautiful and picturesque, with a most magnificent view of the mountain range. But the rain showed no signs of letting up even at dinner time. Then suddenly, around 8pm, it cleared up miraculously and Avilash announced we would be leaving the camp at 4.30am. There was much merriment around the campfire as people tried to make up their minds about joining the trek, as it was going to be much tougher than the climb to Devariyatal.
About 18 of us assembled at four the next morning, and set off in the darkness with flashlights. It was cold; we were excited and a bit apprehensive about whether we had it in us to go up to Tungnath (3,680m), let alone Chandrashila, 450m further up. The climb started slowly and got tougher as we went up, but the mountains and the rhododendrons were the most beautiful sight. A couple dropped out halfway as they felt unwell, and about 16 of us continued the trek. It took us two-and-a-half hours to reach Tungnath, and we stopped just before the temple to let the snow melt, so that conditions would be better for an assault on Chandrashila. The last stage was slippery, with the fresh snowfall and ice on the stones. The temple was closed but we felt a sense of achievement and bliss when we got there.
Avi recce’d the path up to Chandrashila, coming back to announce that the first part was slippery but manageable. I had set myself the goal of Tungnath. Plus, my tennis shoes did not provide the best grip. So I decided to go no further, as did a few others. Around 10 of the group wanted to go on, so we lent them our gloves, dark glasses, et al, and they set off, while we watched. The first part of the ascent was very slippery and several of them fell, skidding on the ground, with a drop of several hundred feet not very far away. Two of them gave up and came back to join us while the rest proceeded to conquer the peak an hour-and-a-half later. The youngest to do this was 10 years old and the oldest was 54!
The children pose at the riverside camp. (Photograph by Shivram Warrior)
How was the return journey?
The return down to Chopta was relatively easy, and it was great to exchange our experiences with those who had stayed at the camp and with those who had climbed on to Chandrashila. We laughed so much about one of the trekkers, who was being given a leg-up a slippery slope by one of the guides on the way to the Chandrashila top, when the guide’s mobile phone rang—it was the only part of the mountain within cellphone range, because it’s so high up—and he got busy answering his phone, with the trekker hanging on for dear life!
Though the experience had its ups and downs, I think we all learnt to respect the elements. We learnt to value simple pleasures like electricity, water and other comforts. And most of all, we learnt how to have fun, laugh and enjoy ourselves in an environment we were not really used to.
The Mussoorie Express leaves Delhi at 9.05pm and reaches Haridwar early in the morning. One-way tickets in AC tier II cost Rs596. From Haridwar, take a car to Devariyatal
As told to Sumana Mukherjee. Share your last holiday with us at email@example.com