Friday, 16 October 2009

To the mountains! (part 2)

The next morning, after our breakfast of dhal and roti we head to the valley of flowers. I'm feeling a bit 'bowelarily tumultuous' as I put it, so the walk is punctuated by...stops... but it's a much easier walk than the day before and the views are stunning.

I head back a bit early as I'm not feeling great, realising as I get back that Tyler has the only key to our room, and have a nap in an open spare room. When I wake it's dark and I find no sign of Tyler or Gribb. Downstairs no one has seen them either, and a czech couple said they saw them a few hours before and that they were trying to find a lake, deep into the valley. They also said it's a crazy idea and hoped they'd changed their minds. The woman speaks some hindi and talks to the locals, who are starting to worry, and she tells me there is a real danger of bears, who come out at night to eat.

I have a fairly hyperactive imagination and had idly thought about one or more of us being eaten by bears many hours earlier but I do it just to pass the time, without any expectation or worry. As the locals start amassing a search party to go into the hills I begin to wonder if one of my crazy daydreams might actually be coming true. When I get up to go with them they tell me they know the area and will be quicker without me which, having seen some locals on the paths, I don't doubt. I also had fallen in the river on the way back earlier and my spare clothes are locked away in my room, so realise it's probably sensible to stay behind. A hypothermic cheesies wont help the search. The minutes tick by...

After an hour or so, we hear shouting, see lights and our hotel owner carrying a huge flaming torch with a triumphant grin on his face. Tyler and Gribb follow closely behind.
"Where have you been you crazy bastards!" I yell in mock outrage.
"You were worried, huh? Yeah, I would've been too." Smiles all round.
Turns out they simply misjudged the time - though Gribb had started a 1hr+ steep unpathed hill-climb as it was getting dark, and he was not to be persuaded otherwise. Tyler turned back, and after a little while, in a rare moment of rationalisation (or self-preservation?), Gribb changed his mind and turned back too.

After our dhal and roti, Tyler gets us invited to a 'party'. I wish I'd got a video - it was just a bunch of old, very drunk Indians singing and staggering around a campfire. The entire village is there (perhaps a dozen people) and they are delighted to see us; shaking our hands non-stop, standing us up, sitting us down, trying to teach us a local dance (uncoordinated drunken stagger is more accurate!) We leave pretty quickly.

The day after we head to Hemkund - a temple 4.5km above sea level in the mountains. Gribb made himself throw up the contents of his stomach the night before because of indigestion from the roti ("roti is very strong food - make fire in belly") and diarrhea took care of the other end, so when he says he plans to not eat anything all day, we're surprised to say the least.
"You ever hiked for 8 hours without food before?" Tyler asks.
"I fine, I just have water, and sun energy." And he faces the sun, palms up, eyes closed. While he has his breakfast, we have ours: guess what?

It's not an easy walk; only 6km each way but it's a 1.5km climb so it's fairly steep. Gribb is, not surprisingly, struggling and turns back halfway. We're very glad we carried on.

The night is so cold I can't sleep. I'm wearing 4 long-sleeved tops and a hoodie, and hiding under the duvet but still am shivering uncontrollably. I feel worse and worse throughout the night, and by the morning I've got the works - aching joints and muscles (or 'moooskles' as Gribb calls), slight fever, headache, cough, cold and the runs. It's going to be a fun 14km hike back, I think grimly.

Turns out to be ok, weather is good, and I feel a bit better once I get moving. More naked swimming/being frozen from Gribb, more flirting with beautiful women from Tyler. We meet Shankie, an friendly Indian (are there any other kind?) who we passed on the way back from Hemkund, turns out he is doing the entire Govindghat - Hemkund trek in 48 hours, camping out at Hemkund. I can only imagine how cold that must have been. We walk together for the rest of it, and he is heading Rishikesh-wards too, and gets us sorted with a bus back, leaving 4.30am the next morning. Tyler is heading to Nepal though and gets a different bus, so we say our goodbyes ("lets hug it out, bitch!"). We end up sitting out on the street all night - possibly not the best idea considering my state but oh well - and finally get our bus. Not the funnest 12-hr bus ride I've ever had, but we make it back finally and I trudge to find a guesthouse in a daze. I have my first hot shower since arriving in India, and I can't quite put into words how good it is.

So that's that! Back in Rishikesh now, heading off tomorrow on the enfield. Wish me luck! I'm gunna need it...

Thursday, 15 October 2009

To the mountains! (Part 1)

Tyler, a friendly American I've been spending a fair amount of time with over the last few weeks, is planning a trip to the mountains; the valley of flowers and Hemkund, and says I should come along. On the surface we're fairly contrasting characters, (him a loud, open American, me a quiet, reserved Brit) but we have many deeper similarities and get on well. Plus he plays loads of poker - what's not to like? He also invites a Russian named Gribb... I guess I should explain about him now.

Gribb Gribb Gribb. Where to begin. I suppose a good place to start might be the fact that he named himself Gribb (Russian for mushroom I think) after a mushroom shaman, and when we asked his real name he wouldn't tell us, saying (please imagine the accent) "that is not me. I am not my name. I am not my biografia". He later won't allow us to take pictures of him because it would 'steal his energy', and tells us he's burnt all the photos of him that he can get his hands on ("I am not me. I am not human. I am nothing. How can you save nothing?"). This is a particular shame because he has a floppy Mohawk with shaved head either side, a penchant for bright or neon clothes ("is very acid!") and several funky ear-bar things. It's quite nice not being the crazy foreigner and center of attention for a while! Every local we pass either laughs, shouts something like "Good hairstyle my friend!" or just stares open mouthed for minutes on end.

His beliefs... I got most of it in one huge dollop the first night I met him. I wish I'd had a tape recorder or something, I've forgotten most of it, but suffice to say my jaw was on the ground the entire evening - some of the stuff he was coming out with was just... WOW.

He believed the world as we know it will end in 2012 because of the Mayan calendar (given to us by aliens thousands of years ago, along with the pyramids and various other things), he believed there are aliens on the moon, on mars, on earth, he believed you could survive on nothing but 'universal energy' and claimed to have gone 4 and a half days without food or water. He believed technologies in films like The Matrix and Total Recall exist and are kept secret by governments across the world. I think my favourite was his belief that when the poles melt after the apocalypse in 2012, the lost city of Atlantis will be free from its icy prison under the North pole and float to the surface, replete with 5-metre tall gods with strange skulls (pictures of which he assured us he'd seen) possessing special powers such as teleportation and telekinesis. I kid you not. It was incredible! And I honestly believe that he honestly believed it. I got to utter the words 'sorry, why are there demons in babies' minds?' which brought me great joy.

I asked him, somewhere towards the end of the evening, where he got all this information. Can you guess what he said? 'The internet'. I'd tried to keep a straight face, but couldn't help laughing (or should that be loling?). As one of the others said afterwards, 'some people shouldn't be allowed on the internet'.

So that's a not-so-brief intro to Gribb - the kind of person who comes out with sentences like "I fly.... outside of matrix!" with seemingly no context, that send me and Tyler into giggles. In short, he's bat-shit crazy, but enormously good fun. As Tyler points out, he adds a bit of life and energy into our group.

Ok... So the whole trip starts out pretty weirdly. We book a jeep for 6am, I turn up at 5:40, stick around for an hour and find no trace of Tyler, Gribb or jeep. I find Gribb and Tyler the next day, it seems they overslept, but I have no idea where the jeep was. We book it again, found my team this time, waited for an hour (which included over-friendly cows and a very spaced out lady who sat with us for ages howling at the moon) and then got told the jeep wasn't leaving because it wasn't full. Third time's the charm, and we finally take the 8hr bump-fest to Joshimath. From there we get a ride to get a ride to Govindghat, the starting point for the hike to Ghangaria.

Govindghat is eerily empty, not quite a ghost town, but certainly dying (or hibernating - the season is all but over). We are the only tourists, and the few locals we meet all seems to be emptying they're possessions into trucks (in a disconcertingly hasty, almost panicky manner) or huddled around fires of burning rubbish. We manage to get a room at the only open guesthouse, get told by several people that the valley of flowers is closed and there are no places to stay, but Gribb is insistent everyone is lying, and that we should go. "You think of problem, make problem! There is no problem" We try to explain dying of exposure or starvation would be problems whether we think about them or not, but he doesn't quite get it. We find one person who says there are things still open, and of course he's not lying - everyone else had 'bad energy'. We decide this craziness is why we brought Gribb along, and set out the next morning anyway. The walk up to Ghangaria begins wonderfully, a winding path following a tributary of the Ganga with the Himalayas in the background. I gaze hungrily at the view wishing I had photographic memory and mourn the fact the photos won't do it justice (not bad though):

Along the way we stop beside the river for Gribb to have a swim. It's glacial water, and putting my foot in for more than 5 seconds causes pain. I turn and see Gribb, absolutely butt-naked (as Tyler would say) dunking himself into the river over and over with a huge grin on his face. He emits a high-pitched roll of the lips, sounding like a Pokemon - 'brrrrrrrrrrrrrrreeeeeee!' Then his signature choking noise, that I imagine to be similar to that of a strangled duck, and then a spit. KKKKARH-spit.

The end of the 14km walk gets tougher and we're pretty tired by the time we get to Ghangaria. It's even quieter than Govindghat , we see maybe 3 or 4 people. We find there is an open guest house though, and they serve food. It's starting to get dark and frighteningly cold; Tyler is shivering like crazy - I suspect he has a touch of hypothermia but he feels better after some dhal and roti (our diet for the next 4 days). Our room has no electricity, the toilet doesn't work, and the gaps in the doors and windows mean it's the same temperature inside as it is outside. It's certainly below zero at night as the edges of the river freeze over, and we spend the nights fully dressed and shivering.