An ambitious start to the day, with its target being a trek to Khalia Top, a full day trek which was reputedly strongly uphill. My weak knees are already quivering with trepidation. Our guide for the day arrives. Z- a rather young, bearded guy with the look of a serious mountaineer. Can I be more apprehensive? I immediately proclaim – I am not too fit, so please feel free to let me trail behind on the trek. But my fears were unfounded. When we reach the foothills of Khalia Top, Z recommends changing our plan to a trek to Thamari Kund. An uphill walk, no doubt, but more gently undulating than Khalia’s vertical slopes. I readily agree. And what a great stroke of luck this was!
The start of the trail is marked by a small Hanuman Mandir. The trek to the Kund (a small lake) is only about 3 Kms each way. An easy 2 hour trek each way. But strangely our trek to Thamari Kund takes almost the entire day. The trek seems less an “ode to the fitness of your body” and more a “celebration of nature”. We are merely 3 individuals lost in our own thoughts amidst the sights and sounds of the mountains. Ably guided by Z, my eyes and ears are super-alert. I feel like a kid on a safari. Looking in all directions for a sighting. Not of a photo-worthy predator. But of the simple wonders of nature.
We pick stones, looking at the various stages of their lifecycle – from rock-hard granite type rocks to crumbling soapstone and semi-formed shale.
We follow the blue trail of the fly-catcher through its flight.
We walk. We stop and stare at the mountains. We breathe in the mountains.
We stand death-still to catch a glimpse of a flock of Monal birds (the national bird of Uttarakhand) – while the other 2 saw the glorious male (its colours outshine a peacock’s), all I saw was a feather of the male and some drab brown females!!!
We count trees struck by lighting and climb into the burnt, hollow core of a 100 year old tree to look at the sky through its open trunk.
We get a 5 minute lesson on escaping from lighting strikes.
We gape at bizarre wild mushrooms that act like scavengers of dead trees.
We look at lowly lichens and marvel at their diversity.
We examine the twin sepals of the Maple tree and see the cancer-fighting, taxol-producing Yew Tree.
We rest on the grass and pick tiny lady-bugs off our pants.
We keep our eyes open for a thousand rhododendron trees we were told we can see in Munsiyari. We find a few red and pink ones and chew their petals to test their sweetness.
We skip over young strawberry leaves on the stone trail and fantasise over coming back in summer to pick fruit off these wild patches.
We reach the green waters of Thamari Kund and see the scanty stems of the Tham Bamboo that gave the lake its name.
We sit by the waters and stare into its shallow depths to trail its tiny inhabitants.
We roast in the sun as we speak of random things – adventure tourism, sustainable tourism for Munsiyari, city life vs rural life, van panchayats, kumaoni food, the benefits of hemp cloth, protecting fields from wild boars.
We listen to the tinkling bells of horses grazing by the lake.
We lunch on the ridge, with the snowy peaks of the Panchachuli range ahead of us and deep pine forest valleys behind us.
We speculate on what constituted the “Last Supper” for the Pandavas as they ascended to heaven over the Panchachuli.
We fill our bags with keepsakes from the mountains. A pine-cone here, a dry lichen there. A piece of silvery shale here, an unknown red rock there. A bunch of wild oregano, a few maple leaves. And of course, the purple feather of the male Monal bird.
We slowly walk down, willing time to stretch itself.
We dream of building a home in the mountains.