Strong chill wind in the night, shivering feet inside the tent after midnight and pleasant sunshine in the morning..it became a regular affair everyday in the Hemis National Park. After all, it was the peak winter of January. The fourth day was also not an exception. When we stepped out of the tent, it was bright sunshine outside. The guard at campsite informed that the temperature was dropped to -20 degree Celsius in the night. We observed the frozen snow on the outer as well as the inner layers of our tent. But, surprisingly, we did not feel any cold in the night. On previous nights we did feel the freezing temperature in the night. I guess, after 3 nights in the park, we were getting acclimated to the surroundings slowly.
Anyway, the bright sunshine vanished all the roughness of super chill January. In the absence of a valid permit, it wasn’t possible to move ahead towards Markha valley as per our trekking plan. As suggested by the guard, without any choice, we were returning back to spend one more night in the park at Rumchung village. Rumchung Village was approx 3.5 kms away from that point, so we had a whole day to reach there.
We moved back towards Zingchen village. BBC Crew was also moving with all high-tech gears. On that day, they wanted to search the Snow Leopard in the vicinity of Zingchen village. A big group of Bharal (mountain goat) was jumping up and down on the slope of a hill across the river. I had seen many groups of Bharal in the mountains, but that type of jumping was the first one. Their balance on the edge was really amazing.
We reached to the riverbed of the river stream. The Rumbak stream was completely frozen in a widespread area near Zingchen village. The frozen sheet of ice was very hard. The ice sheet of Rumbak stream was calling us repeatedly to walk on that hard chadar (frozen ice).
In the immediate vicinity, BBC team was busy in the search of Snow Leopard with all high-end binoculars and cameras. Finally, we couldn’t resisted us to walk on the frozen stream. We dropped our backpack and jumped on the river bed. The cancelled Chadar trek was still in the mind, but a small fraction of that experience was available on the Rumbak Stream.
After a long photoshoot on frozen stream, we said Good Bye to the BBC crew and moved forward. We passed through the Zingchen village and after 700-800 meters of more walk, we reached to the turn where Rumchung village is situated on the other side of the hill. A road is branching out from the main road to the village, that is about 2 kms away from that intersection. A small stream is coming from the Rumchung side to merge with Rumbak stream.
There was a water source in the frozen stream. We decided to prepare the noodles and tea. But, when we searched our backpacks, none of us was having a single packet of noodle or anything else to cook. We already consumed all of the foods. As per our calculation, 2-3 packets of noodles should have been there, but the truth was, except one packet of banana chips and two packets of biscuit, no food item was available in our backpack. However, we still had stuff to prepare the tea. It was a huge setback. We were thinking to stay at least 24 more hours in the park, but we had nothing to eat.
The situation was bad, but, there was no reason to worry at all. We were still on the main road going towards Leh, so we could have been easily returned from there. It was not like that we got trapped somewhere in a remote wilderness of the Himalayas. In fact, we were only 7 kms from the city of Leh and Zingchen village was just few hundred meters away. But, since we were in no mood to return back, we did not return. We moved forward towards Rumchung without eating something.
After walking for less than 2 kms, we reached in a new heaven, Rumchung. There were only three houses in the village. In front of one house, we saw a board of the homestay. That board was a big relief with respect to the food.
The homestay was slightly away from the road, on the other side of the river. We left our backpack on the road and went to check that. All three houses including homestay belong to a single family, where a young lady lives with her two kids and in-laws. Her husband works for Indian Army and lives in Leh City, not far from there. One of the house is turned into a homestay. There are two other houses in the village, slightly away from that cluster.
We spoke to the lady regarding a night stay and dinner arrangement at her homestay. She asked for our entry permit to the park, but that was not available with us. She denied us to offer a room without a valid permit. She also hesitated to offer us some food. She told if her husband were there, she could have hosted us for free, but since he was not, she couldn’t offer us meal at the home.
Few minutes later, after discussing with her in-laws, she agreed to prepare a meal for us. She asked us to bring our own utensils as she could not allow us to eat at her home. We had to carry away the cooked meal to our tent. It was not a major issue. We were not worried about the night stay, because we had our tents. The real problem was the food, and she was ready to offer that. Our problem was solved.
We thanked her for the kind help and returned back on the road to get the required pot from the backpack. When we reached on the road, we were stunned by the view of the Himalayas peaks in front of us. A wide, snow-covered mountain was peeping out behind the nearest hill. The sun was setting down and the rays were unfolding the magical charm of the nature on snow-covered peaks. The white peaks were slowly turning into the golden colour. We forgot about the food, tiredness and everything else. That moment was very special and we clicked a lot of pictures of that mesmerizing sunset.
After one hour, we returned back to the homestay with some pots to get the food. The young lady and her family really have a golden heart. She not only prepared the dinner, but also offered us the evening tea with some cookies. Although she was hesitating initially, but later, she took us to her kitchen and offered a bowl of Thukpa. It was so yummy.
I offered her some money for the meal, but she refused. I insisted a lot, then she kept some money finally. It was getting dark. We were supposed to erect the tent before it gets completely dark. We returned back to find a suitable place for camping. Unfortunately, it took a lot of time to locate a proper camping site and it became completely dark. But wait, it wasn’t completely dark, there was the moonlight. In fact, it was a right place to experience the beauty of the moonlight. Anyhow, we managed to erect our tent finally.
After placing the tent properly, we thought about the water. The river-stream was completely frozen and it became a difficult task to find a water source in the night. We searched a lot, but couldn’t find any water source. Finally, we decided to break the frozen snow, so that we could melt some ice to get the water. I tried to break the frozen ice with my hammer, but it was so hard that I couldn’t break it after many repeated attempts. Luckily, some big stones was lying around. We broke the ice with a large stone and fetched some ice to melt.
At last, after a long day, we had something to eat and drink. It was a big relief. We enjoyed our meal and slipped inside the sleeping bags. It was our last night in the Hemis National Park.
The next morning, we started our journey back towards Leh. There was no intention to walk on the same road again. After 2 kms of walking, we came across a truck. It was carrying some sign-boards. One of the officer of the wildlife department asked us about the entry permit. After our denial, he asked us to return back immediately from the park. We moved further. The local labourers were putting the sign-boards along the main road to Zingchen. We looked at the board, which was indicating that, in Hemis National Park, entry is prohibited without a valid permit. We laughed that what would have been the status of our trek, if that board was there 3 days ago. But, now there was no meaning of all those feelings. The same truck was returning back to Leh after mounting those boards. We got the lift and returned back to Leh by the afternoon.
It was true that we were not allowed to proceed further into the park, but there was no regret, not at all. In the last four days, we really had some exciting moments and a lot of learning experiences. It’s a common saying that the Himalayas test your skills and spirit to teach you some lifelong lessons. Our journey was not a difficult one, but the winter of January turned it an exciting affair. We were neither the mountaineers nor the high altitude trekkers, so that simple journey also taught us a lot of lessons. The love for the Himalayas is only growing with the year.