“Chai! Chai!” came the call from Surender, one of the five guides (“bhaiya”) accompanying the Braadsaar expedition. The eleven residents slowly roused to the call for 6:30am tea. I sat up in my sleeping bag, slowly gathering up the courage to brave the frigid morning air. So began Day One of the Baradsaar expedition-a grueling week-long trek of 70 kilometres, a journey only eight of the twenty-two students originally selected actually went through.
In fact, given it was my third choice, I wasn’t entirely happy with my selection either. This feeling was only intensified after the first night, I was feeling very pessimistic about the trip, annoyed by the early morning wake-up and the mule bells which woke me up several times during the night.
However, three hours in, I staggered up to the top of the first rise and gaped; the vision before me of the azure river trailing through the middle of the shining valley, mountainsides rising up to either side, suddenly made the previous few hours seem worth it. It was only then that I thought to myself, this is going to be epic. I couldn’t wait to see what was in store.
We stopped through several villages on the trip. The local children were very curious gathering around us, eyes wide as they took in our unorthodox appearances. At first, they maintained a distance, but gradually, they got up the courage to come closer and were soon enthusiastically encouraging us to take their pictures. The villagers too were kids and were readily willing to talk to us about their temples and let us take pictures of their houses. The engravings on the sides of their houses were beautifully detailed, mainly depicting scenes with animals like elephants.
At our second campsite too we were visited by children from the local village, whose numbers kept on increasing as they ran through and around our campsite, laughing and singing. Annoying at first, the children soon grew on us, and as we took pictures, they came in the shot, trying to be included. Finally, we focused our attention on taking photos of them that they were posing for, to their elation.
However, it was only after going above the treeline that we gleaned the true prizes of our journey. Walking along the ridge, mountains rising on either side, clouds floating below, as gusts of wind blew around culminated in the almost holy experience of being truly beyond human civilization, and deep in the realm of nature. Despite my weariness and the heaviness of my pack, I couldn’t help but have a feeling of euphoria in that environment, keeping me going while hiking up steep inclines and down slippery rubble strewn paths.
We also had to learn how to ration supplies, like water, for example which was brought up by mules every day to each campsite from freshwater streams well below. The mules, sturdy pack beasts, also brought up our tents, pots and pans, shovels, and various other necessities. We depended on them for a lot.
On October 12, 2017, five of the eight students (including me) and all three teachers made it through the most grueling trek of the trip, and summitted at Baraadsaar, 4400 meters above sea level. We prayed next to the lake and of our teachers (Dr.Pinzon) became the first person in over a hundred years to dive into Baraadsaar, which had a temperature of minus five degrees celsius!
On the way back we camped near villages. Some of our group members endeared themselves to the locals, helping to dig up potatoes at a farm nearby. Children came from all around to watch our campsite and play around us. Their cheer reminded us how happy we could be despite being so far away from the comforts we were used to. The next morning, at 6am and warm from our chai, we left camp for the last time-this time by jeep, without mules in tow. As we watched our campsite vanish behind us, we knew we would never forget our experience, which enabled us to test out limits and prove to ;ourselves that we could overcome the ultimate obstacle; We conquered a mountain.
Photos by Rohan Menezes