Western Himalayan Trail (WHT): India’s Own Long Trail
While our country was rejoicing at celebratory, patriotic speeches, smiling gleefully and exchanging flags on this 15th August, Independence Day meant something completely different for Pranav Rawat, Bharat Bhushan and Shekhar Singh. They were about to set off on foot for the self-sufficient 950 km long ‘Western Himalayan Traverse’. Now that’s what you would call celebrating freedom.
The Western Himalayan Traverse is a one of its kind 47 day journey undertaken by the trio which began from Chilling in Ladakh, crossed the less explored and tortuously difficult Parangla Pass, Lamkhaga Pass and Kalindi Khal, besides 24 others, before exiting at Dharchula in Nepal. Done in the extremely challenging alpine style and with a total elevation gain of 1,23,43 feet, the traverse was one of the toughest trans Himalayan odysseys attempted in India.
A little sneak peek into their humble yet inspiring backgrounds first. Pranav Rawat is an acclaimed alpinist and mountaineer in India. He scales high mountains for kicks and grows apples to run the kitchen and is perhaps one of the most respected climbers in the Indian community with ascends like Bhushan Peak (6,132 m), Chandrabhaga (6,280 m), Mt. Satopanth (7,075 m) and Saser Kangri (7,672 m) to name a few.
Bharat Bhushan too hails from a modest background. His journey as a mountaineer began with a Basic Mountaineering Course after which he never looked back. Training at Nehru Institute of Mountaineering and at NOLS, polished his skills not just as an instructor but also a trained mountaineer, scaling Nanda Khat (6,611 m), Changuch (6,322 m), Khangsering Peak (6,250 m), Stok Kangri (6,153 m) amongst several others.
Shekhar wasn’t really a mountaineer like the others. Primarily an actor and model, Shekhar was also a guide with a famous trekking company in India and had some experience of ice climbing and trekking. This was going to be his first serious attempt in the Himalayas, albeit a dangerous one.
The trio had set their eyes on this unique, treacherous journey since a long time. Their desire to pull off something like this without any external support including porters, guides or mules surely made their journey arduous but it also made them self-sufficient in a way only mountain adversity can teach.
After failing to secure sponsorship from big brands, they pooled the sum required for such a massive adventure through friends and family.
The Western Himalayan Traverse was not about doing it for first time but doing it in a self-sufficient manner. The initiative was to open a long trail in India and attaching it with the GHT (Great Himalayan Trail) in Nepal.
It was the quest to renounce the saheb style of trekking, the expedition style, established by British in India during their rule. Attempting it in the alternative, more difficult, alpine style meant avoiding all possible support from ponies, mules, porters, cooks and support staff. It was the an ultra-lightweight backpacking Western Himalayan Traverse in India.
Fundamentally, the trio frowned up on large, aided group treks for several reasons. Firstly, it generates more garbage than should be necessary through the employment of so many unnecessary resources. Next the lure of money has forced many mountain villagers to shun farming and other traditional occupations and take up guiding opportunities. Uncertified and untrained, these guides become mere pawns at the hands of profiteering trekking agencies with no regard for environmental impact or dissemination of good mountain practices.
This endeavor by the three to traverse our beautiful mountains in an eco-friendly way was aimed at reducing impact on the ecology through a lean, garbage free and self-sustained way of trekking.
One of the hallmarks of their trip was the manner in which they tackled adversity. Nature often jeopardizes your plans and puts you in a dangerous spot. And this is exactly what happened with the trio during the last quest at Kalindi Khal.
During an attempt to cross a pass from the Kalindi base where they had camped in the moraine for the night, one of the three suffered from mild hypothermia because of the deathly cold they endured owing to the snow. This forced them to camp again that night. The next 48 hours the trio drank water by licking water off the tent walls and soaking a cloth in the snow falling in their tent. Food too was running out and the three combined ate 200 gm of rice and 100 gm of lentils per day to sustain themselves. With several feet of snow around their tent, blocked routes and poor reserves of ration, each one of them were terrified but never spoke a word about their fears, lest it demotivates the others.
They kept each other motivated by singing songs and after 96 hours of continuous snowing they could finally come out of their tents and move onward towards the destination. After around 60 grueling hours of breaking a trail of 2-4 feet deep snow they finally reached Ghastoli thanking their stars for being alive.
The Western Himalayan Traverse would be one of India’s longest trails which offers plenty of challenges including technical terrain to be crossed, besides the weather and lack of support. However, it left the three richer in more ways than one can imagine.
From the exploration of various cultures and religions, geographies and people of the great Himalayas and traversing through 13 passes above 5,000 m of elevation, lakes, glaciers, crevasses and rivers, the journey left them satiated through their incredible experiences, becoming heroes in the Indian alpine mountaineering community.
A commendable effort in spirit as well as substance!
The great outdoors is always full of surprises! With its fair share of challenges, risks, and rewards. You never know what may come around the bend.
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