An adventurous holiday is something all youngsters look forward to. One day, quite impulsively, my children started to plan a trek that would take them through the mountains and forests of Triund, Dharamshala in North India. Turns out, it was a fantastic trip and they swear, “An experience of a life time”.
All bookings were done over the Internet without the help of a travel agent and the entire holiday (3 nights and 4 days) cost them just Rs 12,000 (approx USD 190) per person!
My daughter’s narration of this unforgettable trek:
We had been talking about a trek for some time now and had researched the Net for a fairly ‘sensible’ one as I was still recovering from knee surgery. Triund it was and there couldn’t have been a better choice. The best time to visit is between the months of March and May.
Boarding the train from New Delhi to Pathankot
Dharamshala is well known as the home to the Tibetan monk and spiritual leader, Dalai Lama. It is also a very popular tourist destination, especially in summer, because it’s a hill station.
We boarded the night train from New Delhi to Pathankot, a journey of about 8 hours. We had booked into YHAI – the Youth Hostel Association of India. The tariff was just Rs 1500 for a double room – that’s just about US$23 per night!
The crisp Pathankot mountain air welcomed us as we got off the train in the morning. The next step was to reach Dharamshala. One has the choice of taking a train, bus or taxi to reach Dharamshala, which is about 85 kms away. We chose to take a taxi. The driver asked for Rs. 2,200 which worked well for us as it was going to be split among three people.
Dharamshala, the beautiful mountain city
The two-hour trip spilled over to three as we wanted to stop enroute for refreshments. The driver was a pleasant man and had no problems with unscheduled stoppages — the ‘mountain’ people in India are known to be very friendly and accommodating. The winding, well maintained road leading up to the mountain was narrow at places and only one row of vehicles could pass at one time. We were so excited that we got the driver to stop at places to take pictures of the panoramic view of the mountains on one side and the barren plains of Pathankot below. The windows were firmly rolled down all through the drive, to enjoy the cool mountain breeze on our faces.
We reached the YHAI and were happy to see a big, spacious room waiting for us. The clean, tiled bathroom boasted of 24 hours hot running water. The staff was helpful and the service, including food, was available all 24 hours.
Our room had a wonderful view and we enjoyed watching a lot of paragliding in action.
Waste the day unpacking? No way! We called for a cab and went around Dharamshala. We were able to visit the famed tea gardens (you are not allowed to walk into bushes as you could well be bitten by snakes, so watch out if you plan to visit). Next we set our eyes on the HPCA Stadium – a very unique place because it’s probably the world’s most picturesque cricket stadium perched at 1,457 meters above sea level!
Reaching McLeod Ganj
We were to reach McLeod Ganj (a suburb of Dharamshala), the next morning, before 11 AM. Although McLeod Ganj is only about 5 kms away, it took us about half an hour to get there in a taxi. The drive cost us Rs. 1500.
We had pre-booked the trek with TripHippie Support and we were to report at Shiv Shakti Retreat, a hotel in McLeod Ganj. The cost was Rs. 2,500 per person and we were provided with all the equipment needed for the camp at Triund. The equipment included a tent, sleeping bag, dinner on arrival and the morning tea & breakfast before departure from McLeod Ganj. The equipment is carried up by donkeys or horses. We just needed to carry our overnight clothes. (We had retained the room at YHAI and the rest of our stuff was there.) We also carried a small batch of snacks and a bottle of water. They also provided us with walking sticks and a folding umbrella (tt can rain any time) for the trek.
Do remember to wear comfortable clothes and walking shoes that have a firm grip on rocky terrain. Keep your knapsack load to the minimum because no one is going to help you carry it. And remember that Triund is cold and windy. So, a very warm jacket for the night would come real handy there.
We were part of a ‘15 trekkers group’ with one guide. The trek from McLeod Ganj is almost 9 kms and Triund is situated almost 2,800 meters above sea level. We set off with great enthusiasm. “How difficult could it be”, we thought.
The Triund trek starts
The first two kilometers of the trek was on in fact on a motorable road. You can opt to reach this point in a vehicle if you wish to. But we were an enterprising bunch, young and raring to walk to the edge of the earth! We trekked on — even as we scoffed at the passing vehicles loaded with trekkers — admiring the beautiful forests of oak, deodar and rhododendron on the mountain sides.
The motorable road ends at Dharamkot. The names of all trekkers are noted in an office here. Every trekker has to sign-in and reaffirm likewise on the way back.
There was a string of small shops here. A washroom was also available. We were told to freshen up, replenish our drinking water and refreshments.
Our ‘young’ and ‘full of energy’ legs had already started protesting a little and a tiny voice somewhere at the back of the head said, “Maybe taking a vehicle up to here wouldn’t have been such a bad idea.’
We started walking along the well defined forest trail which soon turned into a totally rocky path. On one side was the mountain and on the other, the valley. Only two people could walk side-by-side on the path. We had to be very careful that our sticks didn’t hit a stone, which could cause us to slip, possibly resulting in a very nasty fall. There were steps in a few places and also railings that could be used as support while walking. At times we came across large boulders. This meant going down on all fours to cross to the other side.
Breathtaking views of Kangra Valley and Dhauladhar mountains kept our spirits high.
We crossed small stalls at intervals which provided water and basic eatables such as the ubiquitous Maggi noodles, wafers and biscuits. It was such a blessing to sight these little sit-outs – it meant we could briefly rest our now aching legs.
As if to keep us on high alert, we would suddenly be faced with a bunch of goats, mules or horses on their way down. There is certain etiquette to be followed on a trek and the basic one is that those going up should give way to those coming down. So, off and on we stopped to give way to the animals. And if you don’t, they will simply brush you aside and ‘clippety-clop’ on.
The last one km is also called ’22 Curves’ — as one has to trek through 22 steep curves to reach the camp. By now my legs had stopped protesting as I could feel them no more. But when we crossed the last bend and Triund lay before us, all our tiredness gave way to awe. A breathtaking view lay before us. We were on top of the grassy and stony mountain surrounded by other tree-topped mountains and in the distance — snow-capped ones. Cold winds lashed at us, threatening to blow us off. Scattered groups of bright blue trekker tents dotted the landscape.
The trek that started at 11 in the morning culminated at almost 5 in the evening. We couldn’t believe we had made it!! Life was suddenly beautiful.
At the Triund camp site
The guide helped us pitch our tent on a bit of flat surface. A make-shift toilet was also provided. This is simply a small tent with a zipped up ‘door’, that covers a hole dug in the ground. We were warned to never go down to the loo alone!
The sun was setting quickly and since there is no provision for electricity in Triund, we had to settle down quickly for the night. (Do remember to charge your cell phone fully before leaving McLeod Ganj and carry a power bank if possible.)
Bonfires were lit and we warmed ourselves as we digged into dinner, which was rice and red beans gravy. As we looked up, there was nothing but bright, twinkling stars in a pitch black sky. It felt as though we could very nearly reach up and pluck out the stars. We were in heaven. The trek was worth every single tired cell in our bodies.
We were asked to get into our sleeping bags before the bonfire died out completely because soon after that you would not even be able to see your hand due to the pitch darkness. Lying contentedly, zipped up in our warm sleeping bags in the tent, we listened to the cold winds howling outside, flapping our tents loudly and telling us to be back again soon.
And then, it was morning!
It’s difficult to say if the spectacle of the twinkling stars in the night was more beautiful or the sunrise the next morning. The crisp mountain air had a supremely rejuvenating feeling. The hot tea was just the right accompaniment. We were served hot aloo paranthas (flat wheat bread with potato stuffings) and we ate like we hadn’t seen food in days. I now understood how Heidi got her health back in the mountains.
Grudgingly we started our trek back after breakfast. Going down the mountain is always faster, but trickier as you can slip easily on the small rocks.
Opting to take a cab back to McLeod Ganj was a no-brainer this time. But oh, what a wonderful experience we had had!