Taluka to Osla
By the time we reached Taluka, we were feeling totally spent, even though we hadn’t trekked even a mile. Traveling in the hills can be quite tiring. To top that, I couldn’t stop to shoot a lot of the breathtaking scenes we saw. But such is the outcome of traveling in the Himalayas. I was prepared for it, and had tucked away my camera in my bag. Those who have travel sickness are at their worst. Luckily the weather was good all through, and that was a saving grace. If it were raining, we would have been in deep trouble!
These travel experiences actually help the travails of mountain life sink into city slickers like us. It reminds us to leave behind our notions of comfort, punctuality and cleanliness. Landslides, bad weather and narrow roads can cause unexpected delays. Your best options for food are dusty, fly infested dhabas by the roadside. They generally serve gas-inducing cuisine. You cannot put your head out and enjoy the mountain air while traveling because you don’t know when someone in front of you would puke their guts out. But miraculously, most trekkers survive all this. So did we.
At Taluka, lunch was in the only dhaba in town. The swarm of flies at the dhaba were phenomenally large in number. I was surprised when we didn’t find one in our food. But the food was tasty 🙂 The GMVN guesthouse was under much needed renovation, and the forest guesthouse wasn’t open to public yet. So out of the available options, we chose Manish Lodge at Taluka.
After lunch, I felt a little adventurous and took a cold water bath. The temperature was about 13 degrees centigrade, so it wasn’t that bad. I even washed some of my clothes! They did manage to dry by the next day. My wife and I went to the riverside to explore the outskirts of Taluka. The entire village had about 30 houses. We passed by a couple of traditional wooden houses, one of which also served as a cowshed. The cows dwelled downstairs, while humans were put up in the first floor. There were a lot of mules hanging around near the lake as well. They are used to transport supplies to settlements beyond Taluka, where there is no motorable road. The mules are colorfully decorated, but timid like their donkey ancestors, while the mule owners are young men who personify the free spirit of horses.
Overcast skies and light showers chased us back to our lodge where we spent the rest of the evening until sunset. After the rains stopped, we stepped out again for a stroll, but were soon indoors, as it got really cold. Taluka has no electricity, and mostly runs on solar powered backup. Bahadur and his men were busy cooking dinner for us. This morsel marked the beginning of Bahadur’s hospitality for the trek. We enjoyed a delicious meal made from fresh veggies. The thing about the mountains is that however tired you are, you can quickly regain your strength after a good meal. And a good appetite is a sign of a healthy body, ready for the mountain trails.
The next morning, we left Taluka by 7 am after a breakfast of omelet and bread. Our spirits were high and we met a few local women carrying baskets on their backs. My wife and I were both in a good mood
and we enjoyed being amidst the locals, but reality soon hit us. We couldn’t keep pace with them! After a brief hike downhill, it was time to ascend. Soon, the porters who left Taluka also over took us. And after an hour and half of hiking, we had covered only one-fourth the total distance!
The route until now was mostly beside the river. It was nice to have gurgling water for company as we walked on the green path. After a while, we left the river behind and started slowly and steadily climbing. We were in the middle of thick Himalayan forest. The trail was well defined for most part, but very rocky. We had to take calculated steps to avoid tripping. The hiking poles that we were using were immensely helpful. We ensured that we drank water, and refueled with dry fruits at regular intervals.
Taluka to Osla is a total of 13 km. Because the route is through thick jungle, you don’t know what lies ahead. It is also difficult to gauge the distance covered. Only when you meet a local, or when we’d catch up with Bahadur, we get to ask. But they always answer in riddles, like, “another few hours.” When we saw the village of Gangar at 12 pm, we mistook it Osla. We felt so relieved! Bahadur and his men were waiting for us at the river ahead, and when we caught up with them, we heard the bad news that Osla was another 4 km or so ahead. In spite of our slow pace, we were exhausted. And Gangar to Osla was a steep ascent. After a brief halt and refreshment, we continued.
A little ahead, we met an American couple that were carrying their own backpacks and traveling by themselves. They seemed very much at ease even though they did not know the language, and were far away from any sort of connectivity to the rest of the world. After exchanging a few words with them we bid good-bye. This meeting pepped me up a little because here I was, with 3 porters and yet unable to keep a good pace. But this resolve of mine did not last 20 steps. I think we completed the last stretch from Gangar to Osla with the maximum number of breaks.
We finally made it to Osla by about 3.30 – 4.00 pm. Bahadur reached first, while two young porters reached after us, as they were as exhausted as we were. Of course, they were carrying 3 times what we were. It turned out that the village of Osla was actually further ahead, and we were at Seema. This is where the GMVN guesthouse is. Seema has only a few other abandoned buildings. After entering the GMVN guesthouse, I was in for a rude shock. The place was in shambles! We chose the so-called ‘deluxe’ room, which was cold, damp and had no running water. They were quite huge and spacious, and the quilts and mattress were actually a luxury considering how far away we were from the closest motorable road. The other option was a dorm-type room. The rest of the rooms were locked, and I guess unused.
After ‘checking-in’, we quickly gulped down some hot Maggie that Bahadur had ready. He and his men occupied the kitchen in the ground floor, and one peek inside and I knew we were better off in our room. At least it had heavy quilts to keep us warm. A bath was out of question, so I just tucked into the mattress and tried to take rest.
After a brief drizzle, the sun was out again. Sunset is usually only after 6 pm. I was outdoors again, after an unsuccessful attempt at taking a nap. We were now wearing all the warm clothes that we had carried, but the cold was still biting us. Because our legs hurt, we did not want to go far and explore Osla. I didn’t do any photography as well. We were the only trekkers at Osla on this day. After sunset, all I remember us doing was trying to keep warm. Nothing seemed to work, and our brains slowly started freezing as well. The exhaustion was taking its toll. Fresh and hot dinner was luckily served early, after which things got better. We began to feel warm inside the bedding.
A very heartbreaking incident involved a particular dog that had accompanied us all the way from Taluka. The mutt had kept us company for the entire 13 km! It probably sensed that we were the only group in all of Taluka that had the most food. At Osla, the mutt slept patiently outside our room door as we were trying our best to keep warm inside. As the temperature went down, it started softly calling out to us. Poor thing was probably exhausted and cold as well. All our supplies were with Bahadur. I fed it a few biscuits that I had, and my wife placed a towel to keep it warm. At dinnertime, we asked Bahadur to feed it rotis as I was sure it needed the energy to keep warm. Just as we were speaking of the dog, it came down to the kitchen and obediently waited outside. Bahadur didn’t seem too happy about feeding the dog, although he said he would. That was the last we saw of it. Next morning, it was nowhere to be seen. I am sure the porters drove it away. I hope it survived the weather and found company to go back to Taluka. But we had to go on, to Har-Ki-Dun!