Trekking Junkie

Left: Mountains near Mana Village, the last Indian village before the Chinese border. Below: Our camp at Chandra Tal.

Left: My trekking partners to Hem Kund Sahib, a Sikh pilgrimage trek. Below: Mountain Views from the Kuari Pass trek.

I've fallen in love with trekking in India. More specifically, I've renewed my love for mountains and greenness and fresh air and solitude. Living in Jordan and surrounding myself with brown deserts for 2 years made me forget how beautiful green trees are, how refreshing mountain air is, how amazing it is to wear short sleeves, and how breathtaking high-altitude peaks are.
I'm simply posting this for future India travelers who plan to do some trekking. Keep in mind, my trekking experience is limited but that doesn't mean I've had any less of a great experience than those who have scaled Kilimanjaro or trekked to Gokyo Re.
1. Batal to Baralacha La: Started in Manali and did a 5-day trek to the midway point between Manali and Leh. I hit beautiful scenery, although none of it was green. This was the raw Himalayas, with snow-capped mountains, bare ranges, and kilometre-long stretches of scree. I had the wonderful opportunity to meet Gaddi shepherds herding sheep to warmer grounds and camped at Chandra Tal, an isolated and undisturbed lake in the middle of the mountain ranges. I was greeted at my destination, Baralacha, by Tibetans who were rearranging prayer flags that stretched down into the valley.
2. Dah-Hanu Valley: Started in Leh, and took an 8-hour bus ride to Dah Valley. This area is known for the locals who have white skin and blue eyes, believed to be direct descendants of Alexander the Great. Their headdresses are unbelievably colorful and their attitudes delightful. The scenery here is gorgeous, and the bridges over the fast-flowing river are simple but sturdy. The rocks lining the banks of the river have been smoothed by the waters and carved into larger-than-life grey gemstones. It was kinda cool knowing I was within 20 km of the Pakistani border - my trekking partner and I were stopped by military officials who demanded we show our permit - and after we did, they sternly told us not to proceed any further because "you are getting too close to the Pakistani side." These villages take quite a while to get to, but you'll most likely be rewarded by being the only foreigner there.
3. Hem Kund Sahib and Badrinath Temple: This was, by far, the best experience I have had in India yet. Hem Kund is a Sikh pilgrimage trek, while Badrinath is one of the four temples that Hindus make a pilgrimage to at least once during their lives. The Hem Kund trek didn't cost a cent: I stayed in gurdwaras all 3 nights, ate all my meals at the gurdwara, and had no need for a porter. Along the way, there were hundreds of Sikh pilgrims doing the same trek, some barefoot, others continuously chanting "Wahe Guru, Wahe Guru." I am probably one of the least spiritual people that I know, but Hem Kund was truly an inspiring experience. A posse of five Sikh pilgrims adopted me, and I was able to trek with them for the entire 38-km roundtrip trek. The lake at Hem Kund is undefinable in terms of beauty, and the water is so shockingly cold that my feet were blue after just a quick dip. For Sikhs, the lake's waters are holy, and it's compulsory for all Sikh pilgrims to take a bath in the icy cold waters.
Badrinath temple is a short 90-minute bus ride from the base of the Hem Kund trek, and is cluttered with Hindus making the pilgrimage to this holy temple, beggars lining the walkways, and locals selling offerings to the gods. The best part about Badrinath is that it is a short 3 km trek from Mana village, the last village in India before the Chinese border. From Badrinath to Mana, I continued to trek to Vasudhara Falls, a powerful waterfall that thunders into the Ganges River. I was lucky enough to have clear views of gorgeous snow-covered peaks from Vasudhara Falls.
4. Tungnath and Chandrashila: From Chopta village near Gupta Kashi, I trekked up a very steep path to Tungnath. There's a holy temple here, but to be honest, it's nothing much. I spent about 5 minutes there, and then proceeded another km onto Chandrashila, a peak that affords a 270* panorama of beautiful mountain ranges for miles and miles. Unfortunately, since I reached Chandrashila by noon, the clouds had moved in and I was only surrounded by mist. Go on a clear day and I'm sure the views are worth the trek.
5. Kuari Pass: I cut this trek short, and only went from Auli to Tapovan. This was the type of trek that I had envisioned when I thought of The Ideal Trek, with green rolling meadows the first part and unparalleled views of rows of mountain ranges on the second half. We slept in a small forest the first night, stumbled upon temples in the middle of mountain passes, and were honored with views of rice fields and local villages on the bases of the neighboring mountains. If I could do this again, I would, but I would extend it to a 12-day trek from Auli to Rup Kund, a crystal-clear lake that has mysterious skeletons and skulls lying at the bottom.
6. Kedarnath Temple: The second of the four temples that Hindus make pilgrimage treks to. This temple is beautiful because it's so isolated and because the temple is framed by beautiful snow-capped peaks. Also, the night I arrived, the first snowfall came and in the morning, the blisteringly cold weather afforded gorgeous, unclouded skies and views of the mountains behind the temple.
My addiction to greenness and altitude can't be cured, and next month I'm setting off to Nepal to conquer the Annapurna Base Camp and Sanctuary Trek. It should take a total of 26 days, and will surely be a test for my lungs! Wish me luck and oxygen...

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