By the time I had captured the image I wanted, my hands were freezing and I couldn’t even feel the control dials on top of my camera. I jumped inside my tent and went straight to my sleeping bag. I put my hands against my warm skin to get some motor controls back, I knew that the trip was worth it when I had this shot. The storm picked up soon, and the wind had already managed to pluck off the half the pegs from one side of the tent. I had to shift to that side keep the tent on the ground. If you’ve not read the previous parts of this story, I request you do so before reading this: Into the Dayara: Prologue
I must have dozed off, and was woken up by a loudmouth mountain deer right outside my tent. I grabbed my torch in a hurry and jumped out to find the deer darting away. The storm had passed to reveal the most beautiful cloudless star-studded night I had ever seen. It was all very surreal! There was no moon, I could see more stars than I thought existed, and the milky way galaxy could be seen from end to end.
I knew my ancient Nikon D100 would find it a bit difficult to capture the stars, but I had to try to capture the moments nonetheless. I’ve had numerous sightings of the milky way since then, but that one would always be special
Regardless, it was getting pretty cold out there and I headed back to the warm embrace of my sleeping bag till dawn. This time however, I had everything mapped out and my gears on standby to capture the perfect sunrise. But it was not to be! The clouds had returned from their brief siesta, and the sunrise was a very different one that what I had in mind. Nevertheless, the clouds made the sunrise unexpectedly interesting.
After last nights storm, I decided it would be unwise to spend another night here. But I had one more destination in mind before I bid adieu to Dayara, another two hours trek to the highest peak at that place, the Bakaria-Top. I left early in the morning leaving all my baggage behind, determined to be back before noon. Bakaria-top wasn’t anything spectacular in itself, but standing at about 12500 feet, gave a clear view of all the famous Himalayan valleys.
The Gujjars, contrary to how “Gujjar” sounds, are almost always extremely polite and well behaved. They are the natives of the mountains, and live a nomadic lifestyle, moving from one place to another depending on the snowfall.
They are also the ones responsible for making new routes when it snows too much, there physical strength and hardiness is well known. I had witnessed one of the men carrying his mother on his back, down the steep mountains to visit a doctor in the village. This was no easy feat by any standards!
I returned sooner than I expected and found a bunch of kids playing cricket using some wooden branches as the cricket bat and a senior Gujjar relaxing with a heap of leaves on his side. The kids greeted me cheerfully, and I offered them some soup which they were ecstatic about.
I spoke with the senior person for a while, and took a quick portrait trying not to make it very awkward for him.He was curious about me and asked various questions in a thick accented Hindi. I had a few questions of mine.
He left shortly afterwards, carrying heaps of leaves on his back and wishing me luck on his way back. He must have trekked back at least five miles to reach his hut, not bad for a person his age. It is impossible to comprehend the contrast between their lifestyle with ours. It felt like I traveled to a different country altogether.
The Gujjar kids, inviting me for a Cricket match.
And then there is this 10 year old kid Ashraf (image below), who even volunteered to carry all of my items on his horse in return for a cup of tea and two eclairs toffee (worth Re 1 each). I carried only my empty rucksack and it took me 1 hours and 40 minutes downhill without taking any breaks in between; remember – it took me 9 hours uphill. If you think that’s an achievement, hold on!
Ashraf led the way and reached well before I did, leading his horse all alone (not riding), with all the other equipment. We had a heavy breakfast in Barsu and a photosession afterwards for the memories. He refused to take any of my money, instead asked me to buy him some food. As if this wasn’t enough display of what a contrasting life we lead, I was told that he was to go back the nine hour journey uphill leading his horse, the same day, on his own; amazing how hardy these kids are!
All good things must come to an end, and so did my journey with this epic photograph, all I could leave behind was my cap (and my heart) as a memento.
And so I started my long journey back to my hometown. The trip was memorable, but it was about to get even more so, just not in a good way.
I realized again, that not having a return ticket was not a very good idea. I tried to procure one in Uttarkashi in vain, and decided to bribe the TTE as is the norm in these cases. As my luck would have it, I found who must be the only honest TTE in India and he refused to find me a seat in the train. I had to travel in the general compartment. This image should be enough for everyone to understand the plight of the passengers, to spend 30 hours standing on one leg was not a pleasant journey to say the least.
As eager as I am to hop on to the next adventure, I think I’ll skip this last bit of the journey the next time I feel like taking a walk around the Himalayas, and remember to buy a return ticket well in advance!