The chilly morning of 26th February came with apprehensive thoughts creeping up some of our backs. The towering hills and distant snow-capped peaks were in rhythm with the wooden walls of the trekkers’ cottage at Tshoka. We gathered in a group near horses grazing on green, wet land and perking up their ears. Runny noses twitched and hands dug deeper into pockets as we discussed the challenges of that day’s trek. Floating memories of the last day’s trek tightened chins and wiped off smiles.
Yet in our eyes had awakened an alertness. It was on fire, ready to blaze anything that hindered our survival.
Our furry companions, a pack of 3-4 shepherd dogs, eyed us as we finished up breakfast. Freshly brewed coffee was poured into mugs and boiled eggs stripped of their shells. Leftover curry and rice from last night also found place on plates. Our canine cronies gobbled up leftover eggs. Thus well nourished, we cleared out our waste from the trekkers’ hut. Mattresses were stuffed into rucksacks and sack straps buckled firmly. We were ready to hit the trail from Tshoka to Dzongri (12 kilometres).
Small sweat patches glistened around arm pits as we pushed up against gravity. As usual, the steep ascent cut the conversation threads we had weaved. The hush of the woods seemed to engulf the sound of our footfall. It took just 2-3 kilometres for the gradient to tone down. Then we spotted something that shook us up in enthusiasm.
Snow. Lumps of fresh, soft snow appeared at the foot of gnarled tree roots. Soon, we came upon wedges of ice and snow lodged between the wooden logs of the trail. Icicles crunched under our shoe soles which tended to skid off in the absence of friction. The hilly land, wrapped in a blanket of snow, exuded a mystical aura. The blanket tended to get thicker with our progress, as our shoes sank deeper into the white, powdery snow.
Compared to the previous day’s venture, our pace was stable. We reached Phedang by around 1 PM where we took shelter from a cold drizzle in a hut. We huddled together for a quick snack of molasses and nuts. A fire was lit, and gloves peeled off of shivering hands for the warmth. This recharge geared up our fatigued bodies for the remaining 3 kilometres.
We soon resumed our journey. A pall of mist descended, and a kingdom of snow unravelled before us. Snowballs were hurled at each other. A few fell sick, and gave up their sacks to the stronger guys. They bore with the extra burden and also the searing pain in their knees. Yet our bodily pain was dulled by the sprawling white land before us.
Trampling our way through wet grass, mossy rocks and slippery ice and snow, we finally reached Dzongri.
Nestled at the foot of a hill by a frozen spring, Dzongri base (4020 metres) was sprinkled with a few huts, patches of frozen snow, and herds of wild yaks. We followed our guides into the warmth of a hut, with wagging tails and furry ears also leading the way. Some dived straight into their sleeping bags and others warmed up by an earthen stove. Steaming maggi and eggs satisfied our gastric needs, as we massaged each other’s aching shoulders.
The kitchen hut was filled with smoke as we cooked dinner with snorts of laughter and burning eyes. By 7 in the evening, curry, rice, and pickle were devoured under blinking flashlights. Glowing eyes of yaks followed as we washed our plates in a glacier spring. Freezing hands hurriedly put on gloves as sleeping bags were spread out and card games begun. Some grooved to Nepali music with our guide brothers until dozing off to sleep.
We woke up at 5 in the morning of 27th February to venture out to Dzongri top (4171 metres), around 45 minutes higher from the base. The fresh morning air filled our lungs and left us panting, as the continuous steep climb tested our legs. A shivering cold of -4 or -5 degrees Celsius sent chills up our spines.
The surrounding scenery cannot be put into words. Ranges of snow-capped mountains unfolded before us, towering high above the petty squabbles of our daily lives.
The sun peeped for a while and some snowy peaks were awash in its golden glow. Then storm clouds invaded the atmosphere, locking away distant ranges from our visual access. Thorny shrubs had layers of icicles sticking to their red flowers, and our shoes tended to lose grip on the icy, wet rocks.
It felt beautiful. The chilly cold wind froze our face muscles. But our broad smiles could not be wiped off easily. Cameras were flipped out and hordes of snaps were taken. We stood by the colourful Buddhist flags and breathed peacefully, with a sense of elated joy.
Our hearts beat with the mountains.
Stay tuned for the finale of our adventure.