Thankfully, our decision to spend the night at the mouth of the glacier didn’t backfire, the next morning the snow had hardened up enough for the car to pass through .
We drove on for a couple of miles, before hitting Bhatal, a tiny settlement comprising a grand total of two dhabas and five permanent residents. This junction hamlet is the only rest-stop enroute Kaza and Chandratal.
We stepped in to one of the dhabas, stretched our legs, shared our story, ingested some much needed and completely cooked food.
This is where the real story starts. We had mentioned that we were passing through and were headed to Kaza, to the gentleman who runs the dhaba, but he had recommended that way stay the night, get some rest, check out Chandratal and then head to Kaza. As soon as he said Chandratal and talked about its beauty, something happened and the wheels in all our heads started churning. For some strange reason, we decided we’d head to Chandratal right away, he told us the road was tough, it was a long walk etc. A bunch of healthy and physically superior looking foreigners who had done the trek, the previous day also shared their experience, they said we had to walk for roughly 5 hrs one way.
All this however didn’t seem to matter to us, we were setting a trap for ourselves through our sheer stupidity. I guess in my head I was thinking, if they walked for so long, we could drive there in much lesser time(despite being told that the road was closed). Anyway the long and short of it is, we took off.
We barely went 3kms up the road from Bhatal, when we hit an ice-wall and that was it, we had to go on foot from there on. That should have shocked us out of trance but it didn’t. We were in awe of the surroundings, it was looking wonderful and we had dreams of a wonderful afternoon. Slowly as started walking further down the road, we quiet naturally started feeling hungry, it was only then that we realised, that being the fools that we were we didn’t get anything packed and all we had were two packs of glucose biscuits. Nevertheless, we kept walking, thinking there’d be a tea stall or something at the lake and we’d get by.
As we kept going higher, the air was getting thinner, the climb tougher, we slowed down, Soumik was almost dying, his back was acting up. We walked on, and the hills and streams kept teasing us, before every turn it seemed like this was it, every few meters a stream flowed, suggesting that the lake would be behind this hill, but no, there were series of such turns for us to negotiate.
Our spirits finally did break, we had been walking for close to 5 hrs now and the lake was nowhere to be seen. It was around 3 in the afternoon and we had to make a choice, do we walk on until we find the lake or do we turned around and reach the car before its dark. We did neither, we took a power nap.
When we woke up a few minutes later, it was warm and sunny, but we decided that it was best we turn around, we were anyway going to come back a few weeks later, we’d be better prepared then and hopefully the road would be cleared by then.
A few minutes into our return, the weather took a turn for the worse, first it was the howling mountain wind, it ways making it difficult to breathe and the strong head wind wasn’t making walking easier either. Then came the clouds, bringing the temperature down and finally rain and snow.
We had to make a run for it, else we could’ve been stranded. We were even looking for shelter, a cave, an over hanging, something that would protect us in the worst case scenario, but nothing, zilch, we were out there battling the forces of nature, equipped only with our woolens and some biscuit crumbs.
All of us set our own pace, and kept walking, we didn’t talk to each other much, we’d on occasion look up or look behind to see that the rest of us were still alive. Kashan, was in the front and he seemed to keep increasing the lead on Soumik and I, every time I looked up.
I was in the middle, I didn’t sit down to take a rest on the way back, for I knew that if I sat down, I would probably give up. If I had to rest, I did it standing up or leaning against a rock.
Soumik was bringing up the rear and was zombie like, a couple of times it looked like, his legs would buckle under him any minute. Thankfully he kept walking, I could see he was struggling, I stopped and handed him an extra pair of woolens and gloves, he gleefully accepted them and seemed to be doing better. I decided to walk with him, even if it meant slowing down, because I was afraid he’d collapse.
It wasn’t so much that I was concerned about him, it was more to avoid the double effort of walking back if he actually did.
I was reminded of a quote/motto of an army battalion back home (the bisons they were called) in Hyderabad “Bash on regardless” . Guess that was kept me going.
We eventually made it back to the car safely, we were very lucky though, had the weather been worse, who knows what could’ve happened.
While its true that “Darr ke agey jeet hai”, it is no excuse for faux bravery and pure stupidity. Overcoming your fears is good but disregarding common sense and sound advice is not. Always plan well.