Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Youth hostel association of India organized Saur Kundi Pass trek 2012

Some history :
About 2 years back I had seen the pictures of the YHAI organized Saar pass trek on a colleague's facebook account and I was envious. So, when the bookings opened for the Saur Kundi pass trek in 2012 Pras and I got to it and booked for the trek with proper date calculations (if you are of the female sex you know what I mean ) for April 29th, 2012. We obviously had to get our YHAI membership prior to that. Enthusiastically we have taken life membership from YHAI. 
We started our preparations about 2 months prior to the said date by reading blog posts on various YHAI organized treks and making note of the learnings and things to carry. We also visited the decathlon store one weekend to check out the prices of the stuff compared to that quoted on e-comm sites. We found that the Quechua shoes for trekking for cheaper online than at the store. We ordered the shoes online. We made one more trip to decathlon once we were sure that my dates won't cause a problem and bought a microlight bag from Quechua, dynamo torch, rain cheater for moi, tracks, etcetera.

Things to carry :
1. Proper trekking shoes - ensure that you do wear them at least 2 months prior to the trek to ensure that they don't cause bites
2. Good rain wear - pants and cheater
3. 5 pairs of socks - ensure that they are not ankle length
4. Water sipper - ordinary bottles make it difficult to pull out at each stop
5. 1 extra pair of tracks/pants
6. torch
7. candle - useful for waxing your shoes in case of bad weather to prevent water from getting in
8. matchsticks
9. Water proof gloves
10. Cold cream/vaseline
11. Sunscreen
12. Body lotion
13. Sunglasses
14. Thermal wear - 2 to 3 for the top and 2 for the bottom
15. Slippers or sandals with good grip - the visit to the loo will be a short trek in itself and you definitely want to  air those feet out at every occasion
16. Wet wipes
17. A small towel
18. A flat lunch box with at least one partition
19. Spoon/Fork - we got an all in one (spoon, fork, knife) at a local store for 20 bucks ;)
20. A monkey cap
21. A muffler to protect your neck
22. A few large handkerchiefs to put over your mouth while climbing in snow or you get a cold like I did
23. A warm jacket with a hood
24. Medicines that you use at home - I carried IBrufen, Crocin, MultiVitamin, Avomin(vomit), Lomofen(upset stomach), Digene except a cold and cough which, unfortunately, I did get infected with
25. Pain balm
26. Vicks
27. Band aid
28. Toilet paper
29. A steel mug/tumbler
30. Hat
31. Tee shirts with long sleeves preferrably - one to wear and one extra
32. inners - about 3 pairs should do as you wont be changing that often. Females could consider carrying panty liners. Also try carrying sports bras.
33. deo spray
34. Swiss Army Military knife
35. Tooth paste
36. Tooth brush
37. Comb

The following can be left back at the base camp
1. Scrap book to get addresses of all your new friends - optional in these days of social networking
2. A pen
3. Additional clothes
4. Face wash
5. Body wash

What not to carry :
1. No shorts or 3/4ths. You wont be allowed to wear them.
2. Too many change of clothes
3. Body wash - you wont have the provision for taking a bath as you climb
4. Big/turkey towel
5. Rucksack - YHAI provides rucksacks which are quite good with many pockets.

Where to buy what :
1. Shoes - were cheaper by 200 rupees online. We had to buy two pairs and so bought it online
2. Goodbye to batteries Torch - we bought dynamo torches at Decathlon Store, Sarjapur Road, Bangalore. You do need a membership card to be able to buy. Don't fret yet!! You could borrow from a friend and pay by cash as for credit card payments they require the card holder name to match that on the membership card.
3. Rain cheater - Decathlon. You could get cheap trekking gear at Manali/Kullu - in Manali do go into the smaller shops inside the by lanes to get the cheapest stuff.
4. Gloves - small by lanes of Manali market on Mall Road
5. Monkey caps - shops/factory outlets near the base camp or Manali/Kullu

Re-iterating, don't fret if you don't get everything before landing in Kullu/Manali. Enterprising locals have shops with trekking gear for quite cheap where you can get everything.

Our itinerary:
We started on April 27th from Bangalore. Took a flight to Delhi.
We were in Delhi by 11am and our bus to Manali was at 6pm. Delhi's 1c terminal where we were let off is pathetic with no place to sit around. We decided to take a taxi and do some sight seeing. We paid 1800 rupees for a taxi from cars on rent for 8 hours 80 kilometers. The young hot blooded taxi guy took us to Akshardham temple and then asked us to get off the taxi at 3pm at Majnu Ka Tila cause our 80 kilometers was done. It totally spoiled the very purpose of getting a taxi. We smartly took him to a shopping area nearby and spent some time in Coffee Day. In Delhi, the distance from the drop off point to the starting point is also included in the 80 kilometers - key point to note when hiring a taxi. We finally got back to Majnu Ka Tila by 5pm. We had a harrowing experience of being shifted onto another private bus to Manali. We reached Manali at around 8:30am and took an auto to the hotel Century Gangri where we had booked. There they informed us that the hotel was under renovation and moved us to "Hotel Mohan Mahal" which was pathetic. We found a room at last at Lord's Regency. We spent the day in Manali buying gloves and rain gear for Pras.
The next day we checked out of our hotel and headed for lunch at ChopSticks. Post lunch we caught a bus to Babeli Base Camp.
Post the trek, we went back to Manali, spent a day there and then left for Delhi. This time we had a room booked in Delhi at the Ginger Rail Yatri Nivas, a no frills hotel. We visited Karol Bagh and Connaught Place.We used the metro to get around and also used the Reliance Airport Express to get to the Delhi Aerocity to get to the airport. The Reliance Airport Express is world class.

The actual trek :
Day 1 : Report at Babeli Base Camp. What they wont tell you is that you can't report beyond 7pm.  The main gate to the camp is closed at 7pm. We reported by 4pm. Tea was served at the time. Dinner was served at 7pm. We took a short stroll around the place prior to that. We were handed our blankets and rucksacks. I was put in a tent where there were 4 other girls from the Laxmibai college. They were to leave the next day on their uphill climb. They were a bunch of fiesty girls who made me feel so comfortable nonetheless.
Day 2 : 5am bed tea. 6am exercise. We had one girl faint during the warm up exercise. Jogging for some distance and then basic warm up and stretches.
Acclimatization walk in the morning. We had to carry our sleeping bag and blanket in the provided rucksack. This had to be carried up 2000 feet. We then got introduced to each other and had to select our group leader, co-leader and an environment leader who would ensure that no one would litter. Rakesh, an army person was selected the group leader, Hemanth from Bangalore as co-leader and Neha from Mumbai as environment leader. We got to know Hari and Nirmala Ramanath while we went back to the camp. Hari is a teacher in Thrissur and Nirmala is a Managing Director of MonkeyMinds in Hyderabad. She was a very interesting meet with lots to say and I had a lot to learn from her.Post lunch we had an orientation session wherein we got to know about all the various activities conducted by YHAI across India. Of particular interest are the sailing in Goa and the sand dunes in Jaisalmer. As usual tea at 4pm and dinner at 7pm.
Day 3 : 5 am bed tea. 6am exercise. We had rappelling in the morning and rock climbing in the afternoon. I did not try rock climbing for fear of scraping my knee. Both these exercises are optional. Rappelling was fun but it was a very small rock face. By the time you get a hang of it, you are down. At 5pm we had to pack our extra luggage and deposit it at the base camp. Post dinner there was a get together of all groups with song singing and mimicry. I was very anxious as a soreness had begun in my throat. I was borrowing some confidence from Mythreya
Day 4 : 6am bed tea. The day we actually start trekking. A lot of anxiety cause of the growing soreness in the throat. 8am post breakfast we boarded the bus which would take us to the spot where we would start trekking. Our guide was an enterprising chap who sold us rhodendron juice, which is supposed to increase the oxygen carrying capacity of the blood cells and sticks to start the upward climb. His family had also set up a tent to sell us maggi, tea and omelette at our lunch spot. The climb was not steep and in the words of the director, a highway, meaning a broad pathway. We walked till about 11am and then took a 1.5 hour break for lunch. Post lunch, the climb got a bit more steep and we reached Segli by around 3:30pm. At Segli we got hot tea at 4pm and then soup at 5pm and dinner by 7pm. I being a tea addict did not miss tea at all as we were served copious amounts of tea throughout and at each camp. The soup served also will be watery. This is done intentionally to keep the water levels normal. Since it is cold, we don't usually drink water while at the camp. While climbing we are to drink only as much as 300ml per hour and not more. Also do not drink water while panting as it could cause a heart attack. The room allocated to us women was insufficient and so some of us were allowed to stay in the house of a local. The room was warm and luxury in comparison to the cold tents at the base camp encountered so far. I spent most of the evening chatting with Anagh and Nutty. Anagh is a freelance journalist for Outlook Money and Nutty has just completed his MBA and came on this trek before joining work.
Day 5 : 6 am bed tea. Trek to loo. The ladies toilets were very bad at this camp and so we were allowed to use the Staff toilet. 7:30am breakfast of poori and aloo. Packed lunch of Paratha and Aloo. Another uphill climb but through beautfiul woods and many tiny streams. Lunch break was for 1.5 hours today too. We were headed for Hora thatch. We reached Hora thatch by 4:30pm and had tea and soup in quick succession. Dinner was at 6:30pm before it got dark. Before dinner we had a get together with Anagh singing "But I'm sad to say, I'm on my way.... " and cracking PJs. Some ladies were accomodated in the camp leader's tent. Toilets were stuffed with sanitary napkins and we had to make do with open air. This camp site was quite close to a village and we were asked to not go towards the village. The villagers hold a grouse as they need to use the same route to get places.
Day 6 : 6 am bed tea. Trek to loo in open air. 8am breakfast. Today we were off to Maylee Thatch. This was even more beautiful that the previous day with better view of the snow capped mountains. I had applied vicks on a large handkerchief and put it around my nose and mouth to allow me to breath cause I had caught a cold and cough by then. It helped breathing into my warm woollen monkey cap when I was going out of breath. Polo was another faithful companion. I had my first fall today but luckily escaped without a scratch. Our evening get together went by with my giving everyone a detailed insight into how Pras and I had met and eventually gotten married. We also passed some snow patches. Hot maggi at lunch time near a snow patch was divine.  Maylee thatch is very scenic and one of the most beautiful sites. We got to see the rain falling onto the villages below, sparing us :) As usual some ladies were accomodated in the camp leader's tent.
Day 7:  7am bed tea.  8am breakfast. Today we were to climb to Doura Thatch. Today we hit a few snow patches. We also got to try a short snow slide to get a feel of it.
Day 8: 7 am bed tea. 8:30 am breakfast. We started around 10am for Longa Thatch. This is the day we had to climb up to the highest point and then down to Longa Thatch. The descent was fun filled with loads of slides. At each slide, in spite of rain gear, you wet your back side and it goes numb. Due to our large group, we usually would be dry before we hit the next slide. Always ensure that your pants are at your ankles while going down the entire slide or else you could get an ice burn. As we climbed and had snow all around I was hoping to see some sunny sandy beaches. It does get cold and dreary. However, it did get scary when Vaishali got hyperthermia. Always remember to stay calm and not panic. Every husband, friend must not dismiss any claim by a fellow member when they say that they are feeling sick or out of breath or very cold. Thanks to the swift action she was okay. She took another day to get back to her normal chirpy self. Longa is not a very nice camp site but YHAI couldn't do much due to the heavy snowfall a few days prior to our trek. The camp site had to be shifted further down.
Day 9 :  We had to climb down to Lekhni today. We passed more scenic spots. Our lunch site was exactly like out of a Yash Chopra romantic song with horses running in green pastures. We hit a lot of pine forests like the pine forest tourist spot in Ooty. Evening was spent listening to Mythreya followed by 2 rounds of Mafia with the dudes. I appreciate that the game requires some level of mental application but quite did not take to it.
Day 10:  Our last day. During breakfast we got to see the pup and the dog at the camp playing with each other. It was a rare treat. We started by 10am. It was mostly downhill with loads of steps at the end. A short climb down from Lekhni is the Aloo ground where the bus picks us up to reach Babeli Base Camp. Enterprising local ladies sell chach for 5 rupees a glass and are willing to show you the way in case you do miss the person in front of you. Post lunch, we got our extra luggage, freshened up, got our certificates and left for Manali

The takeaways :
1. Beautiful untouched nature
2. Improved self confidence and belief in me
3. Friends
4. Cracked lips
5. A visit back in time
6. Proof that I can live a simple life - yes, I did complain but mostly about the accomodation not being adequate for 17 ladies.

Grouses :
1. The size of the group should be less than 30 which would make it a more enjoyable and personal experience
2. Better screening of the fitness of participants by YHAI. The irony of the entire trek was that we had to wait for this one lady everyday and she was the one who was congratulated most for completing the trek. I have nothing against her but the trek would have been a more fulfilling experience if we did not have to walk for 10 minutes and then wait for >10 minutes for the last person of the group before proceeding.
3. Toilets for the ladies - at most camp sites the toilets were clogged with sanitary pads and toilet paper. At the others the camp leaders did very clearly mention how and where they were to be disposed and the toilets were better.
4. Visiting the loo is a trek in itself.
5. Water for the toilet usually needs to be fetched by taking another trek.
6. Private bus operators from Delhi to Manali and in the other direction can take you for a ride - Swagatam is a good option. Please avoid Heera Himachal Volvo at any cost.

Appreciation :
1. YHAI ensures that single women can travel safely with them to any corner. The camp leaders are very decent and well trained.
2. Wholesome food - dal rice and roti sabji with the additional sweet once in a while for just 3250 rupees is a good bargain
3. The pace of the trek is well planned with knowledgeable guides.