On why I trek – The walk outwards and in, at Pin-Bhabha

People have often asked me why I choose to trek. Why would anyone voluntarily walk uphill for hours on narrow trails barely carved into steep mountain faces – with lungs exploding, skin turning into rough sandpaper, and muscles reducing to mush? “How is this fun for you?”, they ask. It’s a valid point. A painful reminder especially during struggles on near-vertical, rocky patches, heading towards a pass I’m convinced just doesn’t exist.

My last trek was the breathtaking Pin-Bhabha Pass the previous year. Perhaps it was the sheer magnitude of the trek – its unbelievable beauty and the limits to which it challenges you physically and mentally – that got me musing on why I keep going back. The mountains, of course, are beautiful – but I truly feel each of us returns for our own reasons; a deeper, more personal connect that only reveals itself with every visit. As I pen this pictorial ode to Pin-Bhabha, it’s also shaping up to become an attempt at understanding my own relationship with the mountains.

Kafnu (2)
Waking up to a beautiful start on the trek day, nervous and excited. There was also some light ribbing by the locals – a few who were not completely convinced we’d make it all the way to Spiti Valley.| Location : Kafnu, Kinnaur
Friendship
I find it so much easier to strike up conversations with people, even complete strangers, while trekking. She never told me her name but spoke of how it’s kismat that her lamb was born with a deformed foot. They both have nobody else to call family and have looked after each other for years. | Location: The road from Kafnu to Mulling, Kinnaur
Kafnu to Mulling
Walks through forests, almost enchanted. The act of walking is incredibly poetic and metaphorical, speaking directly to the Literature geek in me. |Location: The road from Kafnu to Mulling, Kinnaur
Kafnu to Mulling (3)
As we stepped out of an expansive, coniferous forest cover, the Bhabha river welcomed us with a roar. | Location: The road from Kafnu to Mulling, Kinnaur
Kafnu to Mulling (4)
The skies poured down generously for an hour or two as we made our way to Mulling. Instagram-worthy water puddles soon turned into kilometres of deep slush and sludge. Walking through this natural adhesive was an art for a short person like me.
Mulling (3)
Treks allow me the perfect balance – where I’m both by myself and also surrounded by other people. The trail was straightforward for the most part, with moments when I couldn’t spot anyone else. It was just me walking into a picture. “Keep following the trail. You’ll know you’re at Mulling when you spot a small house with a tin roof”. | Location: Mulling, Kinnaur
Mulling (6)
Beautiful rain-washed Mulling and our campsite for the night . When nightfall descended, we spotted someone’s flashlight going on and off across the river. Thinking it may be a distress call, we immediately informed our guides. They took out their own flashlights, only to begin a game of flickering lights back and forth. The light across the river belonged to a shepherd who’d taken shelter for the night along with his flock. He just wanted to say hello!
Mulling (9)
Early morning in Mulling. The Bhabha Valley is known for its legendary grazing grounds. Shepherds and their herds stay up in these grounds throughout the summer months. We met hundreds of goats throughout the course of the trek!
Mulling (11)
I was most excited to spot these stately vultures, perched like so – but not for very long since carrion awaited!
Mulling (10)
This was us leaving Mulling behind for Karah. We couldn’t help stopping every now and then to take one last look.
Mulling to Kara (3)
It was a steep walk uphill for sometime before we approached the entrance to what looked like a meadow…
Kara (3)
…Only to be stopped dead in our tracks, not quite certain if this was real! Chakras, stardust, universes – everything seemed to align. Why do I trek, you ask? | Location: Karah meadows, Kinnaur
Kara
Karah ❤
Phustirang
As much as it pained me to leave Karah behind, we had to eventually make our way to Phustirang, our base before the pass crossing. | Location: Phustirang
collage
Pass crossing: Wind, rain, and snow accompanied us all day! Three hours of continuous steep walking, where we sometimes had to make way for incoming goat traffic on an exposed and rocky trail. It was quite possibly one of the most intense things I’ve ever done in my life. We made it, though! The only three pictures we have at this glorious altitude of 16,501 feet capture the mood perfectly.
Pin Valley (5)
One of the many water crossings during the course of the trek. This one was our first in the striking Pin Valley. Nothing but deep gratitude and respect for the incredible guides, who put their safety at risk for us every single day.
Realisation
I hope you never lose your sense of wonder’, went a famous ballad. | Location: Pin Valley
Pin Valley (3)
“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown. For going out, I found, was really going in”. Beautiful words by John Muir that rang true as we walked through miles upon stunning miles in Pin Valley. I experienced moments of intense flashbacks to when I was a child, riddled with severe asthma and bronchitis. The 11-year-old me would’ve been wrapped in a blanket and reading about places like this. It was almost as if I had walked back full circle, just to surprise her.
Pin Valley (2)
Our four-legged trekking mate walked with us all the way from Kafnu in Kinnaur to Mudh in Spiti!
Mudh
Mudh village, the end point of our trek. I’ve learnt the hard way to never ask “how far away are we?” in the mountains. Places are always much farther away than they seem.
Mudh (7)
I was deliriously happy to spot the suspension bridge that would take us to Mudh. It took a while for my weary brain to realise there would be one final walk up to the village. An easy walk, really, but I could’ve sworn I heard a divine chuckle ripple through the valley – a tad amused and well, just plain evil..
Mudh (3)
To be welcomed by a sight like this one. Nothing but unadulterated triumph, joy, and relief. | Location: Mudh, Spiti

Mudh (5)

Mudh (6)
Smiling faces and invitations to chai greeted us at Mudh. We probably looked like complete wrecks since I could sense panic and urgency in the emotion behind their calls for chai..

Mudh (1)

As I scrolled through the pictures on my phone, sipping some much-needed coffee in the lovely Tara Guest House at Mudh, the phone’s cover suddenly caught my eye. It contains a picture of an awkward ogre dressed in a skirt, poised to pirouette like a ballerina. I remember laughing when I’d first spotted it and then buying it immediately, because it so accurately depicted my perennial state of being – always a little out of it, never quite fitting in perfectly anywhere, but still attempting to dance along.

I could’ve never imagined finding my own rhythm, but I did when I discovered trekking. I am a more trusting, empathetic, and open person when I trek; naturally inclined to conversation, completely hopeful of deeper, human connections. In this caffeinated world of my own making, I usually swing between looking for too much meaning or finding none. The mountains help shed some of this self-inflicted ennui, allowing me the indescribable freedom of not taking everything so seriously. At the same time, I tend to discover meaning and perspective without even looking for them. It’s also rare to feel like you can achieve anything, but a trek makes me feel that way every single time! What remains constant through each one is a fascination for the world, the larger picture, and my place in all of it.

After all is said and done, the question, therefore, isn’t why I trek but why in the world I don’t do it everyday!

So, why is it that you trek?

Images captured by me, as well as Bharat Malhotra and Bhaskar Bharti – my wonderful trekking buddies. We travelled to Pin Bhabha with Spiti Holiday Adventures in August 2016

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12 thoughts on “On why I trek – The walk outwards and in, at Pin-Bhabha

  1. Hey! Amazing photos. Planning to go there this September. Which month did you go? Wanted to be sure about the monsoons before booking for my trek.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Mohit! We went in August. It rained 80 per cent of the time. But there was just a different beauty to it. The Bhabha Valley was gorgeous and lush! The river crossings (as well as one across a small waterfall) were quite thrilling. It was difficult on the pass day with the incessant rain but other than that, we had a blast!

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  2. Beautifully written, Jan. So proud of you. 😘😘Pictures are eye catching. Did you take them with your phone or a digicam?
    I see a very remote chance of Jerry doing such steep hike with you.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you ❤ I took all pictures with my phone. Carrying a camera around on the trek was a little difficult. I need to buy a compact one for all my treks I think. I completely agree with the Jerry bit. I only ever ask him for courtesy's sake 😛

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  3. Brilliantly written Jan! Let me know when you guys plan your next trek. I was planning a bike trip to Spiti, but after reading this I feel I should trek it to the valley.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Sajju! 🙂 I think you can do a combination of both. Biking will help you cover more ground throughout Spiti Valley, but walking will take you places otherwise inaccessible by road that will blow your mind!

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