Remembering my journey to the base camp at Kasol

I reached the Bangalore International airport exactly 45 mins before my flight take-off time. Predictably, the flight attendants played strict and did not allow me to board.

Those days, I diligently saved up money for the two weeks trip that I would go on every 6 months. So I had not budgeted 11,000 INR spare which was the price of the new ticket to Delhi. Did the trip come to an end even before it began? This was my first big trek, a trek in the Himalayas! So, I called up my friend in Bangalore, requested him to book me a ticket and decided to pay him later when I got back.

My reporting date at Kasol base camp in Himachal Pradesh was the next day, 31 May. My plan was go from Bangalore to Delhi by flight, Delhi to Bhuntar by bus overnight, Bhuntar to Kasol by another bus. If I had not missed the flight to Delhi, I would have reached Kasol base camp by 09:00 am the next day. By missing the flight, I also missed the connecting bus (from Delhi to Bhuntar) that I had pre-booked.

Sitting in front of the check-in counters I began to list all the knots that had to be straightened.

  • First of all, I need a flight ticket to Delhi
  • Which bus to take from Delhi to Bhuntar and from where? (FYI, there was no private transport bus to Kullu (via Bhuntar) after 5 pm, since all of them aim at reaching Kullu the next day early morning)
  • Is it safe to shuttle between places post 10 pm in Delhi?
  • What if I don’t get an overnight bus to Bhuntar? (Reaching Chandigarh and changing buses (not knowing where/what) in the middle of the night was not an option)
  • What if I don’t make it to the camp on 31st?

I was exhausted just thinking about the uncertainties. I started by calling up the transport agency where I had booked my bus ticket. Predictably, he said ticket money cannot be refunded. There went another 1.5k.

Meanwhile, I received a message with a PNR number. I felt a leash of excitement. ‘At least step one cleared for now. This trip is going to happen after all’. I Landed in Delhi at 8:45 pm, figured out from the help desk at airport that I could take an ordinary bus to Bhuntar if I wished, from xx (don’t remember the place). Without any second thoughts, I did just like they said.

At Delhi bus station:

At 10:30 pm, I was at the bus station. One word…Chaos! It was an overcrowded bus station with poor lighting, booths all over and no proper signage. Not having mastered Hindi, it took a while to find the right booth where tickets to Bhuntar were issued.

At booth 15, just to make sure, I inquired with one of the many men swarming the booth “Excuse me, tickets to Bhuntar issued here?”

“X@@$Y&JYBJ HR$^B&N!!”

“Ok, Thanks. “

His answer perfectly made no sense. Obviously, he was speaking in Hindi with an accent. Convincing myself that it was the right booth, I craned my neck to see what was happening. There was one person inside, writing on some paper, oblivious of the men and noise that surrounded him. He was not issuing tickets. I waited with my eyes fixed on the booth expecting some change in scene.

Suddenly, a hoarse voice from behind asked me, “Where?”

“Ahh, to Bhuntar”

“How many”

“One”

“I will get the ticket for you. Sit inside that bus there”

What non-sense!! Who the hell? Why should he buy ticket for me? What was he trying? I gave him a cold stare, a stare that must have clearly conveyed ‘Mind your own freaking business!’ So he walked away. Minutes later, another person entered the booth with tickets in hand and all men went berserk. With all my might I pushed along with them to get to the ticket window. I need to get to Bhuntar!

A hand rudely patted my shoulder. On looking up, I saw a boy signaling me to come out. Wondering, I stepped aside from the mad fight. He handed a ticket in my hand and said “To Bhuntar.”

Who gave it?” I asked.

He pointed to the man who earlier offered to buy me the ticket. Though my mind whirled with unsettling thoughts, I was glad that I got the ticket. I paid him the money and walked towards the bus.

A beautiful surprise awaited me!

The bus was genuinely ordinary and FULL to the brim. With one dim light inside the bus, I had to strain my eyes to see where my foot was going. The path was filled with big sacks of vessels and vegetables. My huge backpack didn’t help either. After stamping and getting stamped liberally, found a window seat and squeezed myself into it-In case you are wondering how I managed a window seat in a crowded bus, well, the seats are built so close to each other; only strong hearts can survive the feeling of claustrophobia! I could smell oil from the hair of the man sitting in the front seat 😦

Minutes later my legs cramped. I knew then, it was going to be a very long night and prayed that I don’t end up with displaced limbs.

And thus, in the dim light, I encountered another surprise :-/

The stranger who bought me the ticket, stepped inside the bus, came right to the seat where I was, saluted me in front of all passengers, casually sat on the driver’s seat and started the bus.

I was STUMPED! HE…was the bus driver!

The journey:

After two hours of leaving the bus station severe cramps reminded me that I had skipped an important meal of the day. Frequent hunger pangs did not let me sleep either. Only after gulping down 2 packets of chips later in the night, I managed to doze off a bit. But the driver having switched off even the dim light, I grew wary and for the rest of the night, I remained wide awake.

I watched the night turn into day. At somewhere around 7 am the bus stopped in front of a shady hotel. It was supposedly the breakfast place. I was served a plate of Maida paratha. The food was not hygienic nor the place. Skipped this meal too and survived another three hours on biscuits and water.

By this time, drained of all energy, I was exhausted.  It was past 10:00 am. The bus ride though was never ending. It went on and on…another two hours passed. Feeling tired, dizzy, dirty, I couldn’t sit without resting my head somewhere. Thoroughly impatient, I reached Bhuntar at 2:00 pm. How I wished that was the final destination.

Feeling weak, I managed to wait for 45 mins at Bhuntar bus stand before boarding the next bus to Manikaran. Another hour went by. Hazily I remember the conductor yelling ‘Kasol

Moment of Pride:

Got down from the bus, walked back 10 mins and halted in front of a sign that read ‘YHAI trekking base camp’ with an arrow pointing down. On taking a U turn to the right, below was a huge clearing with big size tents pitched on all three sides beside a glacial river. With lot many fellow trekkers, the place was buzzing.

This was it… A moment that I had imagined a hundred times over in the last 4 months, my first trek in the Himalayas. The strained 29 hours which felt like a lifetime was all to be part of a greater adventure.

It was to me, a moment of Pride.

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