We left from Leh at 1 PM.
The road from Leh to Chilling was a path of tar, covered with snow and intersperced with military camps. We also found a lot of mountains where fellow people had assembled small rocks to write several slogans like ‘Dare to Win’ and ‘Fly High Through the Sky’.
The Indus gave us company through most part of the ride, until the Zanskar took over at Nimu. It was already dusk, so we decided to ride further ahead from Chilling and reached a place about 20 minutes away from Tilat.
Here, we left the road behind and hit the Chadar. It was windy and the winds hit us full in the face the moment we got down the bus. Following a brief downhill trek from the road to the river, we started walking on the Chadar.
We were walking slowly and carefully, and frankly, it wasn’t so difficult, except for the part that we all were a bit breathless. Vishnu led the pack (as directed by a porter) and we all followed his footsteps, literally. He even slipped on an icy patch and became the first one from our team to grace the Chadar with a human bum. (He said it was painless.)
After 15 minutes of walking, we reached our first camp site – Tilat Sumdo. The porters had already started erecting the tents and the cooks had begun their preparations in their tent. Shortly, we were served steaming hot tea and soupy Maggi noodles. As we held the hot bowls in our hands and started stuffing the food down our throats, we could feel the relief spreading through our frozen fingers and hungry stomachs, both at the same time.
Four of us girls – Ruchi, Gayatri, Sarita and I occupied the biggest tent. Rest of the people occupied the smaller tents as group of three. It wasn’t any warmer inside the tent though – they were summer tents, and for the climates we were up against, they were no match.
As it got colder outside, I realized that my feet had become so cold that they were painful. A lot of other people were really cold, but as it was already dark when we had arrived, our helpers hadn’t had any time to gather wood for a fire. So instead, we all stepped out and walked a little way to the fire the porters had made. It was smoky, but we gathered around it nevertheless. By the time my toes had been unfrozen, it was time for dinner.
Somehow, they had made a small fire while we were away, so the dinner (rice, dal and a cauliflower gravy) was a merry event. But our spirits sagged the moment we entered the tents. The mattresses were so cold we thought they were wet, and the bundles of sleeping bags strewn on them were colder. By the time we opened the bags and arranged them for the four of us, my hands and feet had become painfully cold again (we had removed the shoes for hygiene sakes and the gloves for better maneuvering.) Sure that I won’t be able to sleep so early, I decided to visit one of the guys’ tent.
There were just Kartik and Dileep in the tent when I entered. As we lay down, Prarabdh and Anuj joined us, followed by Jay, and then Utkarsh. With seven people lying in a tent for two, the entire place became really warm. With 14 legs and feet overlapped over one another, I could soon feel my toes sweating. We sang songs for a long time – all the numbers of Hum Aapke Hai Kaun and Dilwaale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge. As Prarabdh, Anuj and I sang, Dileep dozed off, Kartik sang and hummed along in the background, and our hoarse and happy voices reached every other tent, ensuring that as we remained awake, nobody else slept either. Well, nobody with the exception of Gayatri, but we will come back to that later.
So what did the rest of the lads and ladies do? Bhavdeep tried to sleep, but couldn’t. So he also joined our throng. Jay was summoned by Sarita, so he left our presence. Ramesh, packed and asleep in his sleeping bag, was woken up by a paranoid Vishnu, who wasn’t able to breathe. Mustering all of his courage, a freaked-out Ramesh wrenched himself out of the sleeping bag and carried the message to Ruchi. The message also reached Utkarsh, and he left the tent to tend to the matters.
Later, Vishnu became so panicky that Ruchi ordered him to stay in her tent for a while till he got better. Sarita became miserable with the increasing cold, and commanded Jay not to leave the tent till she fell asleep. In another tent, the already delicate health of Mansi and Manisha worsened, and Bisu, God bless him, became the servant on call. As the clock struck 12, I decided to go back to my tent. (On my way back, I stepped over something, Anuj howled, swallowed all the expletives that must have come to his mind, and in a pitiful voice, just said – Rads, aapne to dukhti hui rag pe paav rakh diya!)
Back in my tent, Vishnu was better and Jay was about to leave. He gave me 2 spoonfuls of Brandy, and left. With the warmth of the Brandy trickling down my throat, I tried to get into my sleeping bag quickly. But the tent was cold, the sleeping bags were colder still, and within 15 minutes, I was cold all over again. Covering my nose with a scarf and taking long deep breaths, I tried to rest with my eyes closed. I could hear voices all around me – the mountains had a strange acoustic system.
In one tent, as Ramesh tried to get into his sleeping bag again, Vishnu asked him, “Ramesh, do you hear this? There’s someone walking beside our tent every 2 minutes. See… Listen… You see? That’s the one!” Freaked out again, Ramesh convinched him, and himself, that it was just the wind and nothing else. In another tent, 3 tents away, though it sounded as if it was right beside me, I heard Kartik’s voice. ”I am coming guys.” And then Anuj shouted, ”nahi, nahi, no, no, dheere, dheere, dheere, slow, please, no, no!” An entire tentful of people started laughing. Suppressing my laughter so as not to wake the girls up, I started trying to sleep again. Outside, the wind blew, bringing the temperatures lower. Anuj howled, calling upon the wild of the mountains. I shivered, kept on shivering in the double layer sleeping bag. And beside me, under the magic of 3 spoonfuls of Brandy, Gayatri snored on.
*The journey continues at The Chadar Trek Journal – Day 2 – Tilat to Lower Shingra
*The previous part of this journal can be found at The Chadar Trek Journal – Julley!