Sorry for the late reply. Yeah.. it's back to the routine now.
The trip was one Biiiiiiiig story. So stop and take a break now if you want :)
Someone first told me about such a trek when I was still in Cisco. First thing I did after joining EMC was to look it up and enrol into YHAI. Then I convinced Sh and she readily accepted. We set out on 27th Dec and returned on 7th Jan (early morn).
Nothing was ready until 26th night and we had a huge list of things that we had to buy. Thankfully S aunty lent me all her gear - thermals, gloves, hunter shoes etc. So I just came home and dumped everything into a backpack and a large bag. Next morn I realized the backpack didn't have any straps and went to get that fixed early in the morn, coz flight was at noon. But meanwhile SpiceJet called and said the flight's PREPONED (ever heard of that??) by 1.5 hrs. Damn! We somehow still reached in time - only to find that we had to wait 2.5 hrs before we left. Then too we almost missed boarding the flight 'coz I was too engrossed in solving that day's Sudoku :)
Uneventful flight. Reached Delhi. Auto / Taxi guys quoted exorbitant rates. Took a cab to some place and got off so we could take the Metro. Loved that ride - but it was over in just 2 mins and we had reached our destination (Old Delhi station). Thanks to SpiceJet we were starving. So we ate at some local hotel and food tasted like heaven.
We were almost 2 hours early and waiting for our train at the platform. Then on a hunch we called Bangalore and had our friend check the train timings and station. He called back in 15 min and said we were supposed to be at New Delhi station. We barely had enough time. But thanks to Metro we got to the station just in time. Train took off on time and we slept peacefully through the night. But Delhi's suffering from smog due to cold weather. So our train reached Pathankot 5 hrs late and it was noon.
There we took a taxi to Dalhousie. Ak, An, Nil & Nit, who had traveled with us in the train, carpooled with us. We had a 4 hr journey and reached Youth Hostel base camp. But these guys were to start their trek a day before us. So we got our batch changed and preponed everything by a day.
Next day (day 3) they took us for an acclimatization walk and made us carry dummy load in our backpacks. This gave us time to get to know our group. They have a packed scheduled and are very particular about maintaining it. They feed you decent food (not good) and liquids from time to time.
Day 4 we set out on the actual trek. We were given a ceremonial sendoff by the next group. This is also part of the schedule and every group gives the sendoff to the previous team (each day about 50 ppl leave from base camp).
We covered 8 kms and ascended 4000 ft and reached the highest point called Kalatop (10000 ft). The movie 1942 A Love Story is said to have been shot here. On the way I saw snow for the first time. This was the only place where there was snow. Although we reached before 5, the sun had begun to set. It was great to see the snow changing colours in the mountains in the distance. It was close to freezing. Nobody knew the exact temp but the localites said it reached 2 degree Centigrade. That's the coldest weather that I've ever been in. It was great there! I was enjoying it. But Sh was freezing and struggled through the night. Everyone was forced to sleep by 8pm that day. Though hyper, I somehow managed to sleep that early.
Next morn (day 5), we set out to this plain called Khajjiar (12 kms). First we descend through the forested mountains and then reach a stream. There the localites would have reached before you and have steaming tea and Maggi noodles ready for your lunch. From then on you climb quite a bit. It's almost a 60 degree slope most of the time.
This was the toughest part of the trek, although the whole trek is actually quite an easy one. And then you reach this plain (Khajjiar). We went horse riding around that plain. It's about 1.5 kms and I loved that part. We got photographed with Kashmiri dress. I wanted to send those pics too - coz we looked so funny - but I'm yet to get them. It was 31st and we persuaded our camp leader to organize something and let us stay up for New Year. He was a damn nice chap and borrowed a music system from the neighbouring hotel for Rs. 300. we were 38 in our group (including 11 females) and each contributed 10 bucks for New Year celeb :) Someone figured out how to connect an i-pod to those speakers and then there was music and dancing till midnight. It was fun - seemed like we were on cloud # 9 literally, coz there was fog as well.
Night-out or not, schedule is schedule. So we're off next morning (day 6), according to schedule. It was just a downward slope throughout. But the track here is not so firm, but full of loose stones. I had taken my regular shoes and struggled at these spots (75% of the way) 'coz I kept slipping. However the forest and the scenery was breathtaking.
For lunch we reached the base of the mountain range, next to another stream.Then it was a 4km walk along winding mountain roads. Thoroughly enjoyed that as well, since it was easy and you could just keep looking around. Was amazed that on those remote mountains the quality of the roads is far better than most in Bangalore. Finally we reached the camp at Chamba.
Chamba is a major district in Himachal. Basically it's a set of closely located villages, which seem quite far if you use the roads only, but there are innumerable shortcuts and connecting steps along the mountain. Apparently Chamba is famous for its leather footwear. But the market has very few leather shoes shops.
The market was 4 kms away, but using the shortcut it was supposed to be 2 kms. So we went and kept asking for the shortcut and following the directions. Finally after 4 kms we reached the market place, and it was already dark and much colder than we had expected. We had hot jilebis in some arbit shop - by this time we had lost all care for cleanliness. It was good so we ordered more to carry back to camp, but finished it on the way only. Came back to camp half an hour after the time limit the camp leader had set, expecting some scene. Nothing! Dinner and the usual routine. Everyone was preparing to go to bed at 10. Then this Chennai group of 4 guys came after feasting on chicken (YHAI gives only veg) in some local restaurant. The camp leader (also the co-director of the trek) created a racket. All the guys were ready to pack up and leave with those 4, if he threw them out. Disappointment again! :(
Next morning (day 7), a bus came to the camp and we boarded it and left for Dalhousie. The trekking was over and only after boarding the bus did I realize it. It stops mid-way at a very scenic spot where everybody got off and took pics. One man whom the entire group had mockingly nicknamed "Sweety uncle" (the only other person from Blore), climbed up a hill to take pics and many of us climbed onto the bus's roof (he considered himself to be an ace photographer, whereas I had taught him how to use a digicam at base camp in Dalhousie). He took a few snaps of us as well. Then the bus left and I got in, expecting the others to follow 'coz the group leader was throwing his weight around. They didn't turn up and I couldn't bear the fact that I wasn't on top. Then I realized that Sweety uncle wasn't around and told some ppl. Everyone too happy to do anything about it :) The next time the bus halted for a few seconds, I was back on top. Then I realized he wasn't there either and we had a good laugh. We sat up there singing songs and I stood on top of a moving bus, with a deep valley on one side. It was an exhilarating experience, but the others worried too much and forced me to sit down. 10 min later the bus stopped and we started stopping every bus and asking if they had picked him up. This was the best part of the trip! Everyone was laughing so hard. Finally after 15 min, Sweety uncle caught up with us and went in. At the next halt, he climbed up and joined us :( The guys relentlessly mocked him and sang songs with words replaced with "Sweety". Poor fellow - he still didn't get it :D
Finally we reached base camp. The field director was waiting for us and welcomed us back. We immediately picked up our luggage, returned the borrowed stuff. There was a small ceremony in which everyone was awarded a certificate. Then we had a massive photo session and dispersed.
Meanwhile Nil and Nit (2 of the 4 who were with us from the train) had halted a bus going to Dharamshala. The bus waited for us for 15 min totally :) Another 60-yr-old man from Chennai, R uncle, the oldest member in our trek was also with us. So the 5 of us went to Dharamshala. the journey was 5 hrs and we reached at sunset. So we just checked into a hotel and went and had good food for the first time after reaching Dalhousie.
Next day (day 8) we went site-seeing together in a Qualis. Dharamshala is where the Dalai Lama lives. So there is a big temple and his residence, which is the main attraction.
There are a couple of view points, a fort, an army memorial and a Jwalamukhi temple (about 20 kms away) and the Dalai Lama's summer palace. Jwalamukhi temple is so called because it is said to have this fire which was burning naturally for years together but is now sustained by the priests. I had expected something big, but this was disappointment. There is a small flame which you can hardly see, but many other flames which appear blue - I'm sure they're all gas flames. We couldn't see the summer palace coz it was too late and it had closed.
Next morn(day 8), Nil and Nit left for home. Sh, myself & R uncle took a bus by noon to Pathankot. We reached in the evening and killed time till our train arrived. Then the 2 of us got in and I fell asleep immediately. Uncle stayed on in Pathankot for the night and had plans to visit many more places, and would return to Chennai on Jan 31 (he's still not come back).
We reached Delhi in the morning (day 9) and immediately went to the Delhi YHAI. We reached at 9 and the guy there said a bus that would take us on a Delhi tour arrives at 9.30. We completed all the formalities, checked in with all our luggage, freshened up, had breakfast and were ready to leave. I can't believe we managed all that in 30 min :) I guess that's the fastest we've ever been. The bus picked us up from the gate. We visited Qutub Minar, some permanent Rajasthan fair, Lotus Temple, Akshardham, Raj Ghat, India Gate, had lunch in AP Bhavan, then Indira Gandhi memorial and lastly Nehru memorial. We reached YHAI at 7 and checked out asap. We went to Nizamuddin after asking around a million times and ensuring it was the right station :) Rajdhani was delayed by 45 min. But we got on and again I slept peacefully thru the night.
Next day (day 10) I realized how boring a train journey can be. I had picked up a terrible cough which wouldn't let me sleep for long and when I finally managed to sleep the kids in my bay would start screaming. I could have banged their heads with something real hard - it was so irritating. Plus Sh was completely out with initial jaundice symptoms (we got to know after returning) and I had absolutely nothing to do. Rajdhani gives you a lot of food and I ate both mine and Sh's share, 'coz she couldn't have anything anyway and I had nothing else to do.
Next morn (day 11), I woke quite early and was so thrilled as we neared Bangalore. I wasn't homesick or anything but I was so happy that now I dont have to call every Tom, Dick & Harry as "bhaiyya" :) Took an auto, dropped Sh and came home at 9.
And that's the jist of it! :)
Admire your patience if you've read all the way through till here. He he... anyways... was fun writing it.