Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Nainital: The Arduous Trek to China Peak

This travelogue got featured in Outlook Traveller, India's leading travel magazine.

“If you come back by 6, which I really doubt, although it is not impossible for you young boys and girls, I will make hot tea for you,” promised the lone tea-stall owner at the base of China Peak as I got two bottles of water from him.

It is one thing to have high spirits about doing something, and another to actually understand the reality and do it.

I started the uphill climb and had taken less than 100 steps when thoughts of ‘being realistic’ crossed my mind. ‘Rather than getting ill by trying to act brave, it’s better to stay here and wait for everyone to go up and come back’, I thought. But then, I couldn’t accept that thought. How could I, of all people, give up so easily? How could I not go to the top? How could I miss on the adventure?

View of the hills surrounding Naini Lake, Nainital. The highest point on the top-right is China Peak/Naina Shikhar.
Photo courtesy: Shivangi Sharma, November 2014

We had started our climb quite late in the day. It was 3 PM. This being the end of November, just a couple of hours remained until the sun went down. Our taxi driver advised us against the plan. He said the uphill trek alone would take us a lot of time since we are not used to treks like these and it would be completely dark even before we start our return journey. Also, half of us had to catch our bus back to Delhi in the evening and had to pack before that. We decided to take the risk.

I didn’t say anything to anybody and continued the climb. It was a 3 kilometre trek from the base, Tanke Band, where the taxi dropped us off after the 7 km drive from Mallital, the Northern end of Nainital. It was a 600 metre altitude climb from here to the top of Naina Shikhar or China Peak. If I did my trigonometry correctly assuming it to be a uniform elevation, that’s an approximately 12 degree elevation. A small angle, it was. It shouldn’t have been a difficult climb, right? Sadly, the elevation changed from as much as 45 degrees to minus 45 degrees in the uphill climb and thus was a lot steeper than expected.

It was late afternoon in the last week of November and the entire trek was on the side of the mountain facing away from the setting sun. We indeed were going to be in darkness way sooner than the actual sun set time. Not to forget, it was a forest we were walking in, a forest known to have the wildest animals in habitat. The path was created owing to a lot of people using the same route again and again. Stones and rocks and dried branches from nearby trees were all we had to walk on, making the trek more difficult. No doubt, the place is not a spot frequented by tourists.

On the way, I spotted stones with some kind of numbering on them. I first thought that it might be counting the distance. But then I realised it was actually showing the altitude.

My friend’s iPhone’s tracking application told us mid-way that well, we had covered half the distance. And it had not been easy. Just thinking that another half the distance was still left, was a thought best avoided. I just looked down on the path, gulped a few sips of water while giving no heed to the sounds of the woodpecker busy at work and kept walking.

The 3 km forest path leading up to China Peak, Nainital, November 2014

It was seven of us on the trek together, all in the age bracket of 20 to 25. Right now, the seven were divided into individual entities over at least a 500 metre stretch. The one in the lead, the eldest among us, somehow seemed the most energetic. The two at the tail, were beyond the visibility of my sight. I was somewhere in the middle. We all had the same objective- The mission had to be accomplished no matter how long it took or how much energy it left us with.

We had a few fleeting glimpses of the distant Himalayas from the midst of the growth of the forests. It was simply the thought of the view that would greet us once we reached the top that kept us going.

A surprising thing was as we kept climbing altitude, the layers of clothing we were wearing kept going down. The temperature was dropping with the evening approaching, but our legs’ hard work and uphill trek had us sweating.

One of my companions told me about the one time, a few years ago, when our host (in Nainital) had got stuck at China Peak for more than a few hours due to sudden rains and had made a “If you find this camera, please deliver it to my family” video. I was amused at the true story and actually thought that this trek was a huge risky adventure. And so, all the more reasons for us to do it!

Something really great about pursuing ‘adventure’ for a writer is that the most amazing literary lines frame in their mind out of nowhere.

I didn’t have energy to take my phone out and write my thoughts down at that moment (and also because my fingers were too numb due to the cold) and so, I switched on my camera and told a friend what was on my mind, “There are some things in life which we know we want to do, the ones on our bucket list, and there are some which we discover on the way. Reaching the summit of China Peak, would be one of the second types.”

The leader of our pack, who was now out of sight, shouted in a few minutes, “I have reached the top”. There was no slowing down now and we rushed; now almost running.

A board with a lot of handwritten scribbles greeted us close to a small cottage surrounded by some solar cells and a wired fence around the perimeter. I didn’t look at anything and sat down on the stairs of the cottage for a couple of minutes to catch my breath and wait for everyone else to reach. I looked at the time- it was just a couple of minutes past four.

I felt a sudden chill in the air. There was a cold breeze. I put on my jacket and looked up to see what was around, to check the surroundings. But my gaze seemed to be fixed at the one thing that dominated the view- The mighty Himalayan peaks right across the landscape.

The Himalayan View from top of China Peak. On the left is the Trishul Peak. On the right is Nanda Devi Peak.
Nainital, November 2014

The loss of strength was forgotten. The cottage was a Forest Rest House and the inn-keeper was happy to prepare hot cups of tea and vegetable maggi for us.

The inn-keeper helped us in identifying the various mountain peaks. He said what we could see was an approximately 300 kilometre range from ‘Badrinath in the West to a couple of peaks in Nepal on the East’ and that the Nanda Devi and Trishul mountain peaks which we could see straight in front was 145 kilometres away and at more than double the altitude we were at right now.

It was difficult to believe that the beauty we were seeing right in front of our eyes was so far away! (A Google search later, proved him correct. Altitudes: China Peak- 2,615 m/8,579 ft, Nanda Devi Peak-7,816 m/25,642 ft)

As we clicked pictures and looked at the beauty of the Himalayan peaks, while having maggi, we didn’t realise how time flew. I have never been a tea person but I don’t remember drinking tea faster than I did that day atop China Peak. It acted as a natural soothe for the nerves from the cold.

After a full hour spent in the lap of absolute natural beauty, we decided to start our trek downhill. The sun was already setting but there was pride in our now awakened spirits. We had, after all, done something that less than one percent of the tourists visiting Nainital do.

With the inn-keeper at the Forest Rest House, China Peak, who was happy to serve us tea and maggi. November 2014

“You should go and see the sunset. Just 5 minutes trek it is from here. And you can also see a full view of Nainital from there,” the keeper told us as we paid him and prepared to leave. The offer was tempting and had he told us a few minutes earlier, we would have taken it. Right now, with the time factor in mind, we judged it was best to head downhill immediately.

The downhill trek was a lot easier, for the very same and obvious reason the uphill one was difficult. Running was the natural instinct, but the creeping darkness and the winding forest paths with the deep trench on one side, made sure we were careful. The 3 kilometres took us a surprising 45 minutes. At 6 PM, we were back at Tanke Band; the trek stood accomplished.

We had beforehand called up our taxi driver to be back at the base to pick us up. A few minutes after he had reached Tanke Band, he gave us a call and asked, “The chai-wala is asking if he should wait for you.” We asked him to tell him to go. I smiled. The tea stall owner had kept his promise.

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18 comments :

  1. What a trek it was sir. Your blog is like 'seedha prasaran' of that journey. It feels like i have completed china peak trek twice, one with you and second with your blog. Great post sir. Keep travelling. Keep writing. :)

    ReplyDelete
  2. Firstly thank you very much for reviving that journey for us n secondly u make me feel that we have done some extra ordinary thing which i will cherish in my whole life.. Great job (y)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We did do something not-very-normal, didn't we Shweta? :D
      Thanks for the comment! :)

      Delete
  3. Thanks for writing such an informative post. It reminds travelers like us that how less we have explored :-)

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  4. Well, as far as I remember the most memorable thing was we all came down excited as we had completed our trek well in time with no "injuries" and just then Rohit gets to know that his cap was lost on the way back!
    There, it just went to a next level there. ;P
    Good revival of the memories though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hahaha...of course! :D
      And thanks for coming to the blog after so long :P

      Delete
  5. Replies
    1. Weren't you planning a Nainital trip for the summer Stuti?

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  6. Amazing write up Antarik....it kept me glued till the end and has awoken the adventure freak inside me!

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  7. Hello Antarik,
    Can you please tell me if i go there in august is it right time to go or not??

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    Replies
    1. Hi Jesh
      Nainital is a great place to visit round the year. August would be great too.

      Delete
  8. Hi ...is there any risk of wild animals during the trek ?...

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    Replies
    1. Not really Vishal. Although it won't be recommended to trek in the dark.

      Delete

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