Journeys are made by the people we meet and the landscapes we see. People share the stories of the land as they have seen or heard about it and that makes the place more special to me.
In my recent trek to the Valley of Flowers and Hemkund, I got the chance to meet some people from the Garhwal division of Uttarakhand. Apart from their very strenuous jobs, I was amazed to see how these mountain people are immensely resilient and friendly.
Nicknamed ’S’ by his team, Yashpal is the manager of Himalayan Eco Lodges and Camps, Ghangaria. As a decade old member of the GIO team, his experience and stories are unmatched for. He was leading my group as the guide while patiently answering all my questions during and after each day’s hike. He has travelled the country extensively and has worked with corporate groups on their off-sites and related programs. During the 2013 flash floods, Yashpal was stranded in the Ghangaria campsite with a large group of clients. ‘I bought all the vegetables from the market no sooner the calamity hit us,’ he recalls. He tried to minimise panic and inconvenience of every guest travelling by stocking raw materials and food, and supplying everything that they might have needed for their extended, unforeseen stay at Ghangaria.
The campsite was built by him and he is responsible for most operational and administrative work here, including appointing and training of the staff. Even today, when the water connection breaks loose, he climbs a kilometre to fix it himself. I loved staying in the clean tents that came with the very warm blankets and the attached loos. For all those who regularly trek, we know these things are a luxury!
Yashpal is from Tehri district and has trekked extensively with GIO—from Pin Parvati to Chopta Tungnath. He wants to travel with his wife more but owing to her motion sickness, it limits their travel time together. In my conversations with him, I realised how polite and wise his words are—it is the kind of softness that comes from having experienced much in life.
Govind was my co-ordinator for the trek and one of the first people I interacted with, from GIO’s team. When I first saw him, I was instantly impressed by his wrist bands, his cool demeanour and his red t-shirt. He was introduced to GIO by his brother and has been a part of the team for about six years now. In his hometown, Har Ki Doon, he would see people raft across the neighbouring river. This fuelled his curiosity for the sport and he wanted to engage with it. After his Advanced Mountaineering course in 2009 from NIM, he joined GIO in 2010. He rafts more than half of the year and you will find him at GIO’s Jawalgarh campsite from September to June. For the remaining two months when rafting is closed, he climbs mountains. His favourite trek is the Pin-Parvati. And his eyes light up as he tells me why it is his favourite terrain to climb. ‘It is a combination of blouders, rappelling, snow and everything challenging,’ he tells me in his soft, mellow voice.
As our conversation proceeds, I am convinced that he loves rafting and trekking equally, though I sense an upcoming restlessness. ‘Skiing’, he admits with a wide smile. This 24-year old already has a basic certification in skiing but wants the advanced accreditation to enjoy the fresh powdered slopes of Auli. As he gestures his hand illustrating the ski slopes, I cannot help but draw a metaphor with a bird in flight.
Dashing past with music playing aloud on his phone, Suresh shyly smiles at me while I’m panting with my rucksack on an incline. After a few moments, he offers to help me with it, to which I politely decline. Even though he speaks very few words, the latest Bollywood music from the phone continues to play.
The next day, I understand he is a 20-year old introvert; also Govind’s brother. And that this trip to the Valley of Flowers is his first. So young in his life, he has already completed the Pin-Parvati trek and confesses that he can go there repeatedly. Though the Kuari Pass trek is not a favourite at all. Why doesn’t he like it? He shudders my question away.
Visibly victimised by his boyish charm, my conversations with him elaborate on his family and his love for the mountains. He is definitely more driven than any of the other 20-year old boys I have met, though he is just as nonchalant, carefree yet self-aware. This is one of the many things I have learnt from mountain people—living in the present, with a smile on my face.
My first impressions of Gopal was ‘this man knows his game.’ And in the following days, he only concreted this belief.
Gopal is from Haldwani, the Kumaon side of Uttarakhand and he was the man driving the minibus we were travelling in—from Haridwar to Auli to Govind Ghat to Badrinath and back to Haridwar. As we all know that drivers can make or break in any journey and this man certainly did make mine. Apart from sporting a very jovial temperament, Gopal is reliable and punctual and is experienced in this route. Steering through sharp turns or the fragile landslide-scooped roads of Badrinath, he really did keep calm and navigate us beautifully. And all this he did with a smile on his face. While his choice in music is quite diverse, I was particularly impressed by his style. The sunglasses, the Punjabi kada and his hoodie were complementing his personality. I guess when we love what we do, it shows.
Where are your favourite people from?