I’ve been home for a week now from Triund and my legs still hurt. What’s worse is that my heart aches to go back. I think I may have left a part of me behind in those Himalayan Mountains. Triund does that to a person. It’s an experience you will never forget, and here’s why.
I’ve said it before, but it’s worth repeating. The most beautiful places in India are the hardest to get to. Triund is a perfect example. Triund is basically a small camp area, about 10,000 feet up in the Himalayan Mountains. To get there, you have to first reach the town of Mcleodganj, India, then you must hike 9 kilometers straight up a mountain, which is why my legs still hurt.
Mcleodganj is a fascinating little village in the suburbs of Dharamshala. It is situated in the Dhauladhar Range of the southern Himalayan Mountains. McLeodganj has a population of about 10,000 people comprised of many Nepalese, local Indians, Tibetan refugees and foreign expats (like me). It is probably best known for being the place of residency for ‘His Holiness the Dalai Lama’, who fled to India with thousands of his followers in 1959. He originally found sanctuary in Mussorie, but on April 30th 1960 he permanently shifted to McLeodganj where he established the Central Tibetan Administration. Since then McLeodganj has become a famous international destination, and now I know why.
I was not impressed with the shopping aspect of the town. Tibetan goods that I had seen in other places were horribly overpriced! But it was an incredibly fun town for people watching. Monks, both male and female were everywhere. I had never realized before that there were female monks too. They shave their heads and wear the same red and gold garments as their male counterparts. It was very cool to see them all walking around peacefully amidst other people. Another thing interesting about the place is that public smoking is not allowed anywhere within the town, yet cigarette vendors are plentiful.
We spent the night at a hotel called The Jungle Hut, situated on the side of a steep hill. Our room was 2,000 rupees (about $30 USD). They had good service and we really enjoyed our private terrace. We watched the Diwali fireworks at night and in the morning we were blessed with a colorful sunrise over the valley below. We left for our 9 kilometers trek up to Triund later than we had originally planned, arriving at the trailhead right around noon. We signed the register, buckled up our backpacks and headed up the trail, expecting about a four hour climb to the top.
I hate to admit it but the climb was much harder than I expected. Much like our Malana trek, it was straight up and consisted mostly of stone stairs with a few teasers that leveled out here and there. We took our time through just enjoying the great outdoors. Along the way I met a fascinating woman named Deb who was hiking with her two dogs. One of them only had three legs and he was still much faster than us. Deb was from Colorado, came to India for IT work and 8 years later left her corporate job and started an NGO that rescues dogs. I’m going to do a blog about her and her organization soon.
Dhabas (cafes) were spread out about every two kilometers along the trail. They offered basic soft drinks and juice for sale, along with chips, cookies and Maggie (hot noodle dish similar to Top Raman). Supplies are brought up and down the mountain by mules. I learned quickly that when you meet them on the trail you get out of their way! They had steel brackets on their backs where the goods were tied down. When they are empty, the brackets hang open and stick way out. I got a nasty bruise from one that slammed into my shoulder while the mule hurried down the mountain.
The view kept getting better throughout the day and we stopped to take it all in many times. All too quickly, the sun was setting again and we didn’t have a flashlight. The temperature was dropping too. We knew we had to step it up and get to the top before darkness settled in. That last kilometer was brutal but we finally crested with just minutes of daylight left. We dropped our packs and laid exhausted on the grass for a few minutes before trying to figure out what to do next. We had made it!
We bought a torch (flashlight) from one of the dhabas up top. It was sort of like a little make-shift convenience store in the middle of nowhere. After that we rented a tent for the night. It cost us 700 rupees but was TINY! Poor Kirti had to sleep in a fetal position to fit his 6’4” frame inside. The zipper was broken so we struggled with zipping it closed. It kept opening every time we needed to close it. Our sleeping bags weren’t any better. My zipper was broken too. I slept in all my clothes including my coat, and I was still cold! On top of that, it was Diwali, and rowdy Indians in the mood to party were blaring loud dance music and letting off fireworks right next to our tent and in the middle of the Himalaya Mountains! At one point in the middle of the night I must admit that I lost my temper and yelled a few profanities. After that it quieted down and we managed to get a few hours of very miserable sleep.
I awoke at dawn with my head pounding and my back hurting. But as I climbed slowly from our tent I was met with the most spectacular view! I forgot all my troubles instantly. The sun was slowly peaking over the tip of a mountain in the distance. The sky was bright blue and a gentle breeze was blowing. I heard goats and sheep bleating nearby and birds were singing their morning melody. It was heavenly! I slowly stretched and took in the amazing view around me. It took my breath away, or maybe it was the altitude. In any case, I was happy to be alive!
About a half hour later we took off exploring. We found a black stray dog (or maybe it found us) and we were entertained by watching a shepherd work his flock. His sheep were scattered everywhere but he easily hiked up the steep terrain and would cluck commands that sent them running quickly down the slope to join the rest of the flock. Over one of the hills we were surprised to find a beautiful guest house and a group of foreigners outside doing yoga in the early morning sunshine. As we watched, we ate some hot porridge and an omelette that we bought from the proprietor. It was astonishingly peaceful and quiet out. It really was a perfect morning and I wished it would never end.
On our little hike back to camp we came upon another goat herder that was watching something intently in the shade. Turns out it was one of his sheep giving birth! We watched the baby stand for the first time and suckle from its momma. Kirti chatted with the shepherd who told us that another new born had disappeared the day before. He hoped that one would do better. He also told us that a few weeks earlier a film crew had been there and he had played a small part in a movie! We shared our trail mix with him and he let us pet one of the other baby sheep. He was a fascinating man. No wonder he was soon to be famous!
Unfortunately it was already time for us to head back down the mountain. We headed out around 11:00 and got to the bottom around 3:00. My knees were killing me so I was never happier to be done with a hike. We spent the night again in the same hotel and headed home for Delhi early in the morning. We wished we could stay much longer, but we couldn’t. Reality called.
About an hour from Delhi, Kirti woke me up to see if I was hungry. It was almost midnight and I had been sleeping for hours. We stopped at a HUGE restaurant called Amrik Sukhdev that caters to weary travelers and truck drivers. It was jam packed with hungry people, even at midnight! The food was worth the chaos though. We had a milk shake, jalebis and some kebabs before getting back on the road. As we pulled into my apartment complex a while later, I found myself feeling sad that our trip to Triund was over. I thought about Deb and her 3 legged dog, Jack. I thought about the goat herder and wondered if the new baby sheep had survived. Mostly, I longed for the fresh air and star filled nights. I hope someday I can return to the majesty of those mountains and feel the peace that it brought to my heart, if only for a moment.