Day 4, Tue Aug 26. After a wonderful, pleasureful and captivating trek in Valley of Flowers, time was now to take on the challenging ascent of Hemkund. The trek goes from an altitude of 3048 m to 4320 m over a distance of 6 km. This trek is dubbed as challenging by even most avid trekkers. I think it's more the lack of oxygen and other high altitude conditions that make this trek challenging.
We got up at about 6 am again. Lit up a candle for bathroom as it was little dark (no electricity, remember?), dealt with a centipede in our basin, freshened up, ordered for hot water bucket, had bath and were ready to rock by 7:30 or so. I don't remember what we had for breakfast that day - must be aloo paratha considering the limited options :) Weather wasn't looking very good. The day was overcast. There was mist everywhere and soon it started drizzling too, which was not a good thing as we were not carrying any rain gear with us. Pankaj's jacket was water resistant (not waterproof) so he was a bit covered. We rented a rain jacket for myself and a head cover for Pankaj for 60 rupees and moved on. We were still little concerned though - "what if it will start pouring, will the trek be doable then; we'll definitely get wet, we are not really well covered; etc". Anyway, we carried on in a true backpackers' spirit :)
Actually this weather proved to be good. The fact that sun wasn't there made the trek more enjoyable. We were moving in rhythmic small steps without stopping much. When we reached higher, after climbing for 3 km or so, mist defined our experience. That pleasureful coolness in the air, freshness and cleanness of everyhing in sight, and feeling of having clouds by your side in your path, it was some experience. On top of that, there were flowers all around like previous day trek, but this time mist made them look even more beautiful.
Shortly we met a glacier on the trek. I put my gear down and took some photographs here (My camera was stowed in my backpack for most of the time to save it from rain and also to make the climb easy). On taking my rain jacket off, I realized that my t-shirt was completely wet - not with water, but with sweat. Though it was cold outside, I was still sweating, mainly because of climbing, my non-breathing rain jacket which we had rented, and my backpack. Later in the trek, when we were about 2 kms from Hemkund, we saw Brahma Kamals. Brahma Kamal is a rare flowering plant. It's found only on high altitude and as conditions are not usually vegetation friendly as such altitudes, it's not easily found even on high altitudes. We found Brahma Kamal flowers in plenty in Hemkund.
We were not really finding this trek too hard actually; in fact we were enjoying it a lot. I think there were 3 reasons for that - one, we were already acclimatized; two, we had learned the trick to walk on mountains - small steps, no hurry; three, we rock :) We reached the summit at 11:45 am. And you know when we started? 8:15 am. YES, we did the whole trek in 3.5 hours. Most avid trekker do it in 4 hours, while other not so used to folks do it in 5 hours. We did it in 3.5 hours and on top of that we didn't find it too difficult, in fact we enjoyed this trek the most. Here we got a sense of achievement, just exactly what we had done this trek for :) Moreover, it was just lovely out there. There was a beautiful, serene glacial lake with a gurudwara, a temple (laxman temple) and green hills all around it.
We had maggie (noodles) in a stall there. Here I changed my t-shirt also as it was completely wet with sweat. After spending about an hour at Hemkund, we started back. While returning we took the stairs. Now, these stairs are definitely a short-cut, but I think we did the right thing by not taking them for coming up. Your legs, knees and lungs don't like it when you take high steps. These stairs brought us at about 4 km mark (from Ghangharia) in less than 30 min.
Rest of our descent was a roller-coaster ride, all thanks to Pankaj. He was almost running and I was trying to catch up. When you are coming down on something this steep, either of the two things happen - if you come too fast, your head starts paining because of the shake and if you control your speed your knees start hurting. Anyway, by the time we came down, both, head and knees, were paining. Head was fine in some time, but knees were not looking too good. That was worrisome considering that we had to go down to Govindghat next day. Rest of the day was usual - lunch, afternoon-nap, snacks, dinner and sleep.
Link to photographs: http://picasaweb.google.com/manugarg/VoFTripHemkundSahib#
Still to come: Badrinath and Mana village.
Manu Garg/www.manugarg.com/Journey is the destination of life.