During the first half of 2014, I decided to pack my bags, say goodbye to what I knew as ‘life’ and spend 3 months traveling around Northern India. These blog posts are to share my journey with you.
As I took the final few steps and reached the peak of the hill, the Himalayas came into full view for the first time, and left me speechless.
But let’s begin the story several hours earlier.
I had been staying in Dharamkot, in the foothills of the Himalayas, for an incredibly relaxing 2 weeks. My days had been spent walking through beautiful forests, reading in a hammock and eating delicious organic food.
But before leaving Dharamkot, there was one thing left that I had to do; spend a night on Triund Hill (don’t let the name ‘Hill’ fool you, as for me it seemed more like a small mountain, casting a shadow on the village of Dharamkot and standing at 2,875m high).
On the morning of the trek I left my guesthouse and began the ascent up the hill. The beginning of my trip did not go smoothly. There are 3 things in life which I suck at: singing, playing football and following directions. Somehow, I managed to get exceptionally lost – before I had even found the path which takes you up the hill. The problem began when I came to an intersection along the track which I was following. I glanced in both directions as I tried to remember the directions that the lady at my guesthouse had given me, and then took the path leading to the right. I passed through the garden of a house, and asked a young girl if I was walking in the right direction. She said that I was, and gestured to me to continue walking up the side of the hill (which was essentially a pathless mountain covered in thick, and at times impenetrable vegetation). My instincts told me that this couldn’t be the right way, and I debated turning back and starting again, but as I had already been walking uphill for most of an hour I chose to continue up the side of the mountain.
The bush became thicker and thicker and started cutting at my legs, but stubbornly, I refused to turn back. After a long struggle, I eventually crossed a foot-wide, crumbling flint ridge, which then opened into an area of flat ground which I thought offered some hope in leading me to the top of Triund. I carefully paced back and forth through the labyrinth of plains, but I kept facing dead ends; thick wild bushes that required a machete to pass through. After about 20 minutes of trying to find a walkable route, I decided that this had been one big bad idea, and turned around, attempting to retrace the steps that had led me to this next level of lostness. I walked along the ground on which I thought I had trodden, but to my frustration, I was hit by another dead end. I walked back and tried again and faced another dead end. I began to panic as I remembered those basic tips you hear when doing things like walking up a mountain. Things like “tell someone where you’re going”, “make sure you have a phone” or “make sure you are wearing appropriate clothing”. I hadn’t told anyone where I was going (other than the lady at my guesthouse), I didn’t have a phone and was wearing a pair of old beat up Nikes with barely any tread left.
It was one of the first times when I’ve felt truly scared and alone in the wilderness. I thought about how this is how people probably end up dying on mountains, and became annoyed at myself for getting into this situation. I was frustrated, scared and felt defeated. I decided that as soon as I found my way out, I would check into another guesthouse (as I was too embarrassed to return to the guesthouse where I had been staying – as it was supposed to be an easy trek), spend the night in a bed, and then leave Dharamkot the next day without reaching the top of Triund Hill.
I knew that I had to remain calm, and took a few moments to recompose myself and look over the way which I thought I had walked. I tried to logically plan a route back to my starting point and to my relief, I eventually came across the narrow flint path which had led me into the labyrinth. From this point, it was easy to return down the side of the mountain and past the house with the garden.
I finally relaxed and felt an extreme sense of relief. My negativity began to lift as I walked towards familiar territory and came across a path which actually looked walkable. I came to the crossing that had been the origin of my nightmare, and after a few meters saw a spray painted sign reading ‘Triund’, with an arrow next to it. After my brief ordeal of getting lost, I finally felt safe again, and made the decision that I would not return to Dharamkot today, but would trek to the top of Triund Hill.
I soon crossed paths with two American girls who were also walking to the top, and shared the journey with them. The trek to the top was a breeze in comparison to my first attempt. The walk took about 3 hours and took us though some incredible scenery. Hand built wooden Tea shacks were dotted along the route where trekkers could rest and stock up on supplies. Occasionally we would have to squeeze to the side of the path as a drove of donkeys passed, hauling supplies to the top of the mountain.
After a few sweaty but exciting hours, I approached and took the final few steps over the peak of the hill, and as I did, the Himalayas came into full view for the first time, and left me speechless.
I was extremely satisfied with reaching the top, and after walking along the ridge of the hill taking in the beautiful views, I needed to organise my night’s accommodation as well as get something to eat. I entered one of the few huts at the top that supply tents and food to tired and hungry trekkers. As I rested and ate a snack there was a middle aged man sitting opposite me. He was smoking a cigarette and had an incredibly interesting face. His looked different to most of the Indians I had seen until then, with light eyes and thick skin. My X100s was in my hand and after a few minutes, I began taking photos, firstly of the hut and the area, to allow him to get used to the camera. After a few frames, I gestured to him to ask if I could photograph him. He agreed and continued doing what he was doing, and looked lost in his thoughts. I shared my food with him and then left, as I didn’t want to be intrusive.
I hired a tent, found a clear spot on the ridge and set it up. My view overlooked a part of the Himalayan mountain range. I was blown away by the beauty.
The mist that was present as I approached the peak subsided and the golden light of the setting sun began to illuminate the mountain. I became excited as I was basically in landscape heaven and everything I saw looked astonishingly beautiful.
I decided to take advantage of the golden light and explore the length of the ridge. As I passed the other campers and approached the elevated side of the hill, I could hear the bleating of mountain goats in the distance.
I continued walking up the hill and came across the goats. There were lots of them, grazing and playing on the rocks. I enjoyed quite some time taking pics of them. They were very fun and cute to watch and I found their noises very entertaining. You can view a video of here.
After a few minutes I saw the man from the hut. I now realised that he was tending to the goats, and had taken them to the other side of the ridge to graze. He had made a fire and was drinking chai tea. He had seen me taking photos of the animals and after a while I approached him with a smile. He invited me to sit down and poured me a cup of tea. With few words being spoken we shared each other’s company, and again, he allowed me to take some photos of him. He seemed extremely peaceful.
The sun was going down behind the mountain and I was excited to carry on shooting. I shortly came across another animal herder, this time a man who was shearing some of the goats.
After maybe an hour with the goat herders, I walked back down the hill as dusk approached.
On the horizon the reddest moon that I have ever seen began to rise. I watched in astonishment as it peaked over the mountains and into the sky. I chatted to fellow trekkers about the colour of the moon.
As night fell, small bonfires lit up the hill to keep the trekkers warm. I joined a group of Indian guys around the fire for food and tea, but decided to get an early night as I knew I wanted to be up before sunrise to take photos.
After a pretty bad night of rest (due to a lack of warm clothing) I crawled out of my sleeping bag, unzipped my tent and walked into the fresh mountain air. It was still quite dark as the sun had not yet began to reach over the mountain top. I decided to walk to the far end of the ridge that I hadn’t ventured to the day before. I had my mini tripod with me and began taking photos. In a distant tree I saw a huge eagle, which was another first for me. After about 40 minutes, I heard the familiar bleating sound that I had heard the day before coming from behind me. As I turned around, I saw lots of goats (perhaps more than 100) running and jumping towards me. This instantly made me smile and as they ran past me, I climbed onto a rock so they could pass without knocking me down. The goats raced past playfully.
It was around this time when the sun began to appear over the mountain, bathing Triund Hill with glorious golden light, which also brought a warmth to the brisk mountain air.
I followed the herd of goats and whenever possible, climbed upon a rock to get a better view of the scene. There were different goat herders from the previous day, and I followed them along the length of the ridge, snapping away. As the other trekkers were sleeping, I was grateful to be witnessing this unique moment and felt invigorated to be there.
The walk along the length of the ridge took about 30 minutes, and on my part, it was a process of running ahead, stopping, shooting, and then running ahead again. These leap-frog manoeuvres lasted until we reached the elevated end of the ridge.
I gestured to one of the herders with my camera, and he stopped for a moment to allow me to take his photo.
After reaching the high end of the hill, the herders stopped and allowed their animals to feed. I thanked the herders and returned to the camp feeling extremely grateful and happy with the events that I had just seen.
After some breakfast, I began my descent back down Triund Hill, with extremely high spirits (and an increasingly swollen ankle – which later turned into an infection). My experience on top of the hill was fantastic, and reminded me how nice it is to be surrounded by nature and simplicity. I’m so glad that I didn’t give up on the trek after my bad experience at the start, as Triund Hill proved to be one of the most memorable events of my trip.