Thursday, May 7, 2009
Pilgrimage to Hemkund, elev. FIFTEEN THOUSAND FEET
View GNFC to hemkund in a larger map
My first trip was in 1985 when I was 11. The trip from Mussoorie consisted of two full days on a bus, mostly along a mountain precipice that may or may not have had several land-slides blocking the way, followed by two full days of steep uphill hiking, the second day passing the timberline to a mountain lake with a tin-roofed gurdwara at the top. Sikh Pilgrims are supposed to bathe in the lake, but the window of opportunity is tiny, as mountain fog rolls in by about 1:00 or 2:00 in the afternoon. Also up there is the famous Valley of the Flowers, which is a shorter hike from Gobind Dham.
The altitude really had me on that first '85 trip. The leader of the trip, Nanak Dev Singh seemed like he was specifically there just to "regulate our lazy-asses", and I remember I had made it almost to the top when, at every switchback, I absolutely had to rest - but there he was behind me - with a stick. I was so fatiqued that his harangues didn't even seem to bother me - I seem to remember being poked by his walking stick and it not mattering at all. I remember the bus ride being pretty scary, but exciting and fun too. I had a new silver paint-pen that I used to tag the seats "I wuz here". Nanak Dev caught me and didn't let me leave the bus for lunch (which was Maggie Noodles) until I cleaned it off. I used the chinese white from my watercolor set and took care of it and he bought it. I was surprised that I got one over on him!
The next few pilgrimages were a heck of a lot more fun, but never spiritual - as are most of my memories. The food at Gobind Ghat and Gobind Dham was crap, but tasted so good, and my stamina was far better the older I got. One summer though, was really popular for sikh tourists, and unfortunately that meant the facilities (meaning the bushes lining the trails) were fucking disgusting. This was not American hiking - In an Indian pilgrimage, everyone goes, regardless of age, ability, or fitness level. There are orderlies and porters, donkeys and mules for any and every kind of transportation, for ones own belongings, supplies going back and forth between villages, and even people. The very small fit into a snug little basket that a man carries on his back, and the very large usually sit on a platform that is carried by four men - like a palanquin or something.