It certainly had been a while since I had slept in a tent (that too of this size) & on the ground without adequate cushioning! After tossing & turning for most of the night, giving rest to one side of the pelvic girdle to the other in sequence, I finally dragged myself out at 5.15 am. It was twilight & a little nippy. The Kannans, I had realised, were early risers. Being a slave to the habit of morning tea, woke up the staff to do the needful which ultimately made an appearance after 45 mins & one more prompting.
The toilet tent was a nightmare presenting a clear & present danger of collapsing on oneself during the act & I dreaded at the thought of having to use it for the next one week! The alternative of ‘going out’ in the open didn’t seem very bright either & barely having managed to complete the ritual I decided to take this up with the staff later during the day.
So with the morning having been taken care of & a breakfast of paranthas (on insistence) & omellette (apologies to Hanuman ji for violating the Tuesday ‘no non-veg day’), we set off on the first leg of our trek at 7.45 am. There really was no hurry but we wanted to be early & beat the rush of some 200-300 trekkers of different groups who were estimated to be on the same section of the route that day.
The weather was absolutely beautiful & the greens of the hills & blues of the skies all blended together perfectly to present a mesmerising picture.
Sonamarg was visible in the distance as some goats took time off from their more important task of grazing to give us a half curious look, probably accustomed to the hordes of tourists in the area in this season, their concern seemingly being not of physical harm but whether we intended to steal their grass!
Today’s destination was Nichnai at an altitude of about 11300 feet. So, starting from about 8300 feet at Shitakadi we were supposed to gain an altitude of 3000 feet over a distance of about 11 kms which we were estimated to cover in 7-8 hrs.
Having offloaded my bigger rucksack to the more sturdier shoulders & back of the accompanying pony, I was attired comfortably with just the daypack on my own more fragile ones.
The breathtaking surroundings forced me to stop every now & then.
Around 10.30 am we reached the much awaited ‘dhaba’ (an adhoc streetside restaurant) where even though not really needing it I treated myself to an apple & Maggi just for the sake of an experience.
The mountain huts that the locals build in Kashmir are called ‘Dhoks’. There was one such just behind the dhaba & the group smilingly agreed to pose for a pic with the man even giving an extra puff for effect 🙂
We started off again after a well deserved break of 45 mins. The track continued to wind up steadily & it was difficult to decide whether the shade of cypress & birch trees was more welcome or the sun. The choice was soon made in favour of the latter as the forest cover gave way to a barren rocky valley. Actually anything was fine just as long as it didn’t rain!
The next hour or so of the trek would be walking upwards along the river, practically on the stony riverbed under the midday sun!
We joined the Nichnai river flowing down at great speed, evidence of the steep climb that lay ahead. The water was absolutely clear & milky white & I couldn’t resist myself having a sip or two though my water intake otherwise was with the use of sterilisation tablets, just to be sure.
We had been instructed by our guide to stop by the river for an ‘on-the-go’ lunch without specifying any particular location. I became a Tom Hanks from Forrest Gump that day & continued walking in search of the elusive luncheon point only to reach Nichnai by 1.30 pm, starving & much ahead of everyone else!! Thankfully the cereal bar & protein chocolate which I was carrying in my daypack saved the day. In that state of famish even the basic rice & sabzi (vegetable) prepared hurriedly by the staff tasted heavenly.
Nichnai is an enroute location before one starts hitting the lakes from the 3rd day onwards, just there to break the journey. It was just a vast expanse of the river valley with no hutments or villages or locals, the only visible souls being those of trekkers & associated staff.
A spell of rain in the evening made the atmosphere a little chilly. Dinner was announced at 7.30 pm & we packed off for the night by 8.30.