Day 6: Dhel Thatch to Lapa (1,800 m) – altitude to be lost 1,700 m
The day dawns when we start our return journey four days earlier than predicted. Today, we descend to Lapa and the only thing that makes us look forward to it is the opportunity to have a bath. There is a forest guest house in Lapa with electricity!
We start early, in order to spend some time at Jogni. No wildlife sightings even today. Charan catches up and we start descending. Within five minutes, I start wishing that I had parasailed down instead. The trail is treacherous. It is steep, slippery due to the frost, and shit scary. We are descending a very steep wall of a mountain, the incline at times as much as 65 to 70 degrees. I stuff my camera into my bag to have my hands free and grab a long stave for support. We see a dazzling Golden Bush Robin (Tarsiger chrysaeus) flitting around the rhododendrons — our last spotting atop Jogni.
A kilometer into the trail, there are stone-cut steps between two rocks so close that it makes you feel claustrophobic. Someone has pinched a stay-wire from an electric post and has tied it taut along the steps as a consolatory handrail. With no room for bravado, we all shimmy down holding the wire so tight that our knuckles turn white. And soon we find another such tricky spot. And another.
Charan tells us, “Lean your weight against the mountain wall side and walk, so that if you slip and fall you fall onto the mountain than off it.”
Arun is pulling himself up, clutching onto some grass roots. A couple of porters run to him and tell him not to – that the grass roots could come off under his weight and send him rolling off. Beyond a turn, Beej who was leading the way looks back at me and implores, “Someone please tell me this is not the way.” I peer in and see a dizzying gorge to our right, sloping away at about 60 degrees with pool after pool of snow dotting it. Charan emerges like an angel and points “This way” in the opposite direction.
A little ahead we find some scat, with remains of berry seeds and fur, as big as a pile of cow dung. There are only two omnivorous animals in these parts that leave poop of this size — the Himalayan brown bear and the black bear — and meeting either wouldn’t exactly be pleasant under the circumstances. A little ahead we find a fallen tree trunk torn open and dug into. Splinters lay scattered around as if it was ruthlessly attacked by a shredder machine gone berserk. Again, signs of bears – they look for termites inside fallen logs.
We enter a pine forest. The ground is littered with cones and leaves, and the trail is full of loose earth. Every other step sends us slipping. I lean my weight on the stick. Sahastra has also picked one up. Knees are aching and the undersides of the toes are burning from too much braking. If you dislodge a stone, it goes bouncing down the hill, and could hit someone below, so we are extra careful about loose stones. Now and then there are huge fallen trees which we have to shimmy up and climb down. I slip atop one such tree and bang my palm against the stump of a broken branch, drawing blood. Sahastra is falling back and I stay back to give him company. Sahastra mutters, “If I find someone I hate, I would advise him to trek uphill this way.”
We meet Charan on the way, and I ask him, “Does anybody climb up this way?”
“Villagers may do it,”he replies. “Not trekkers. Too steep and too long with no camping spots in between. Mountaineers can probably climb up this way from below, but not tourists.”
We take off our shoes and socks to cool our feet. I look at the underside of my feet – each of my large toes has a bubble-sized blister on the underside already.
Finally, well past noon, we reach a small stream and we find Beej and Arun putting on a mermaid act in the water. Andy is reclining on the floor, looking deflated. We break for half an hour and walk towards Lapa. We are now walking along agricultural lands, devoid of the cover of vegetation, and the sun is beating down on us mercilessly. An hour of moderate climbing later, we reach the Lapa village guest house. The gatekeeper is absconding, and as we wait on the veranda, the porters make us noodles from the last of our packets. We gorge and lie down on the bare floor, our knees turned to jelly. High above, we can see the flags atop Jogni and it looks a long way off, as if it was placed on top of a steep wall.
The gatekeeper’s wife arrives with the keys and we get into a modest little room that feels like heaven after all these days of wild-camping. I look at my face in the mirror and marvel at a disaster. The skin on my lips and nose is all chapped up and peeling away, my face is soot-black from sunburn and the poor sleep has given me dark circles under the eyes. Beej and Sahastra have exhausted the hot water. And so, after seven days, I take my first bath in ice-cold water and, boy oh boy, it was liberating to say the least!
We all crash after a short meeting with Charan to settle accounts. Tomorrow, we release the porters.
Last: Day 7-9 – Lapa-Neuli-Kullu and civilization
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