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Excuse me while I kiss the sky

Forget the tour operators. If you want to experience the real thing try a do-it-yourself hike in the Himalayas, says Bijoy Venugopal.

Day 1

Sniffling away through the lint in the linen closet of the Ranikhet Express, I wondered if the rough and tumble of my Himalayan hike had already begun. Boarding the train at Delhi, we discovered that a goblin in the Internet reservation works had allotted one berth to the six of us. Chivalry, and perhaps idiocy, got the better of us as we lion-heartedly offered it to our two senior companions. The ladies protested weakly with no intention of refusing.

Our fortunes brightened after we melted the coach attendant's Mephistophelian heart with some smooth talk. Gratefully, I retired like a jet-lagged vampire into the coffin-like comfort of the linen closet, with the air-conditioning set to morgue mode. I felt a tug of pity for my three male companions who were supine somewhere on the floor of the coach, catching their short-changed 40 winks among luggage and fragrant footwear.

Over the next eight days, our journey on foot would take us partially along the Raj Jat Yatra, the ancient pilgrim route to the shrine of Nanda Devi, goddess of the mountains. Part of this stretch also intersects the Curzon Trail, named after the British viceroy. This, I reminded myself coldly, was also the very course on which King Jasdhawal of Kanauj and his ill-fated retinue perished in a vicious ninth century hailstorm. At Roopkund, well above 15,000 feet, snowmelt welcomes trekkers to their perforated skulls and bones preserved by the icy, rarefied air. But our route would stop at Bedni Bugyal, about 3,000 feet short of this macabre tableau.

The trail being sufficiently tough, tour operators spoil you with toilet tents, kitchen hands to whisk up four steaming meals, and porters to bear everything but your loaded wallet. We chose the rougher, cheaper alternative -- the do-it-yourself itinerary.

Photographs: Bijoy Venugopal

Also see: Ready to drop? Skydive from Mt Everest!
First published in India Abroad
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