So, we woke up early on the final day of trekking, a bit sore in the feet after all the walking and climbing hills over the past two days. After having breakfast, we set out on what was being touted as the toughest climb of the trek so far. Today, unlike the other two days, we were also carrying gumboots with us, considering that along the way, we would encounter snow all the way up, which in places could be as deep as two to three feet.
The initial climb was easy. But when we left the little hamlets and villages behind, the going seemed to get tough. The slopes got steeper and coupled with the already thinning air, we were beginning to feel what climbing really is. Uptil now, after having read a couple of mountain climbing novels (No Way Down and Into Thin Air) which detailed the disaster on K2 and Everest expeditions respectively, I would not give much thought to the fact the authors pointed out when they said that climbing in thin air was like climbing a mountain with a cloth tied around your face. Every breath seemed to come in gasps rather than gulps. This was the moment I first seemed to realise that climbing is not a joke and that you need to be really fit to even attempt one.
So, as we went along the way, with some rest periods in between (thankful for that!), we hit the snow line. Immediately our trekking shoes were replaced with gumboots and the cameras came out of the pockets. There was no regard to the cold temperature outside as the gloves were taken off to take some well deserved selfies. Being a researcher, I could only marvel how a camera could keep off the cold better than woollen jackets.
The customary pictures done, we proceeded along the way. A few rests and a few hours of hard climb later, we reach the Snow Point. This place not being a commercial one, was completely devoid of tourists (who prefer the Solang Valley) and blissfully quiet. Also, there had been a lot of snowfall in the area over the last few days, and so we were greeted with loads of fresh, white snow. Our guide also had a surprise for us. Over plates of steaming hot maggi and cups of locally brewed wine, we would have the chance to ski in the area for a very nominal fee.
Having never skiied before, I was anxious to try it. I put on the skiing boots (with some help from friends) and started going down the slope before you could say ‘ski’. Since I had no idea how to stop myself, I tried putting the ski sticks on the ground but to no avail. Also, the golden rule of skiing is that your feet should be close together when you do it. In my fear for falling, as I was gaining speed, i tried to stop myself by placing my feet apart, but in this case, it only lead to me landing painfully on my ass (apart from stopping myself). This painful episode done, I took a few tips from the instructor and from that point on, it was better sailing (if not entirely smooth). We all skiied for over an hour or so, and also climbed a nearby hillock.
After spending close to four hours on that point, it was time to head down to the hostel before night fell. The downward journey was fast compared to the climb, but tougher on the legs because of the steep slope. We reached the hostel around dusk and watched the sun set over the hills of Manali for the last time in that trip.
That night, numbers and emails were exchanged. Promises made to keep in touch and plan further such trekking expeditions. Over a last drink, everyone said their goodbyes and returned to their 9 to 5 lives in the concrete jungles we live in.