The blue sky, the white mountains, the moss-green forests, the yellow of the mustard fields, the gray-silver, jagged rocks. These were the colors that greeted me when I reached Lohajung, our base camp for the Brahmatal Trek.
The Brahma Valley Trek is a trek to a lake dedicated to Lord Brahma. This lake is located between the rhododendron and brown oak forests in the Chamoli district of Garhwal at an altitude of about 12,000 feet. The way from Lohajung to Brahmatal leads through bubbling streams, quiet forests of Brown Oaks (Kharsu in local dialect) and rhododendrons, slips through the burnished webs of sunrises and sunsets, then gazes at the majestic beauty of Trishul and Nanda Ghungti.
Trishul is tall, tall and brave and looks out over the emerald valley. Perfect in every way. A pointed peak, silver-gray slopes that define its chiseled face, and snow the color of salt. Dense and thick.
You can’t not look at it. It catapults you into being. Beautiful is not the word that describes it. The Trishul has an effect of terror, asymmetry. It will leave you weak in the knees. The Trishul is exalted.
My trip to Brahmatal began with a solemn introduction Nanda Ghungti and Trishul from a fellow trekker. Like me, he was an outsider of mountain folklore and culture and told the story of Nanda with great animation. Nanda is another name for Goddess Parvati and Trishul for Lord Shiva. The story goes that Nanda and Trishul face each other like happy lovers, and Nanda, shy of her devoted Lord Shiva, adorns the ghunghat (veil) as they are embraced by Heaven. Hence the name Nanda Ghungti.
This story jumped to my heart and I fell into the real possession of Nanda Ghungti. She became my friend, my guide, my mother, my father, my teacher and my child.
Nanda was to accompany me on my entire journey to Brahma Valley. She took care of me and still does when I sit in my city bedroom and write about her. She never leaves me It can be called mountain madness or just belief. These two feelings overlap and cannot be distinguished, not with me and Nanda. Our hiking guides Kundan Chacha, Nari Bhai and Areeb soaked their minds and never left our side. In tiredness they drove us on and in laughter we all sang and danced together.
The beauty of the mountains increased many times over as we climbed higher and higher towards the Brahmatal summit. When Nanda took over my senses completely, so did the company of those around me. Somehow it wasn’t difficult to trust someone. Somehow judgment and arrogance weren’t required for a conversation, and somehow smiles and laughter from all of this were somehow everywhere. (which is a rarity for me!)
Whenever I felt cold, damp, and depressed and felt that there was nothing inside me, Nanda held me and said, “Wait a moment” and I held on.
the journey to Brahmatal was an adventureto fall in love, to trust people, camaraderie and peace in wild things. It was a poem, carefully worded with the rhododendrons and oaks, with the chatter of the birds and the babbling of the brooks, with the hum of the bees and the smell of the leaves.
Bekaltal, our first night of camp was held near a stream. At night the sky changed color from blue to black with a carpet of stars that shimmered brightly. The stars were blinded by the moonlight that covered the entire forest in a silver blanket. It was a diamond forest. And I would like to believe that it was another planet.
What did we do there? In the diamond forest?
Well, we danced like silver statues come to life and lay down on the cold, wet grass. Diamonds on the cold wet grass.
The next day after breakfast we started our ascent, first to Bekaltal and then to Tilandi. The trees changed shape, became sharper, their leaves smoother and their trunks thinner. At such high altitudes with snow and wind, as I suspected, the trees adapt by hardening their leaves and making them smooth and pointed so that the snow falls off easily. The stems become thinner to use nutrients efficiently. The roots are more closely connected to each other to stay strong and survive the cold. People and trees have a lot in common, apart from just breathing oxygen and CO2 or vice versa!
The colors of the flowers on the same trees change with increasing height. The rhododendron, Kundan Chacha told us, changes from scarlet to white.
Colors, I asked myself, were they just an interplay of light and dark? Even the darkness had its own colors, and so did the light? Or is color also about perception?
I was thinking of the colors when I started my trip from Delhi. The color of my city is gray. But as the landscape changed, so did its colors. Blue skies, red flowers, silver rivers, green and yellow mustard fields. The sun rose in Delhi too, the sky was bluish and there were flowers, but what kept me from seeing it all and noticing only the gray?
I did not find this answer, but the colors of the mountains, the colors of the sunsets and moonrises, the evening golden sunlight that kisses my skin … All these colors filled me in Tilandi, where the colors painted their best canvas.
The sun’s rays are going down Tilandi dispersed in shades of red, orange, yellow and blue. For the first time I saw darkness as a mixture of colors. With every movement of the sun, the Trishul series, including Nanda Ghungti, Mrigthoni, changed the mood. They looked like mountains made of honey and jam.
My mood changed with the colors and it fired my soul. I dyed the color of honey.
The color of my life is honey I think.
If Bekaltal made me feel like I was on another planet, Tilandi was in another galaxy! There are some moments in life that get stuck in the balance, like listening to a nice piece of music in a beautiful setting or a kiss or the taste of my mother’s food. There is no time or space for such things. It’s just like that. The night in Tilandi is like that for me.
Tilandi is a meadow at about 11,000 feet. One has to be in Tilandi to experience the extraordinary attraction of the mountains. I couldn’t sleep. I just wanted to stand and not take my eyes off the majestic Trishul. And when the winds wreaked havoc that night and the stars shone brightest and the moon rolled in between the galaxies. I watched as I was thrown from one place to another. I tried to hold my own and sat down, but the wind was harder and I was weak. I clutched the grass and looked at the universe that unfolded before me. I was in the middle of a vortex and what a night it was!
I thought of Max Ehrmann’s words… “You If you are a child of the universe, no less than the trees or the stars, you have the right to be here. “
The next day we were supposed to reach Brahmatal after climbing 12,000 feet to the summit. It was mostly a ridge path and a few smaller climbs until we reached the summit. On top of the Brahmatal SummitNanda and Trishul stood majestically before us. It was like we’d gone to see their wedding. The wedding fire rose as clouds of white smoke between them Devtholi Sharpen. We all sat spellbound, some torn at the sight of these great peaks, some wanted to share it with their lover, others held it in their lenses.
Each of us made this moment our own in our own way. We have instilled this moment in our minds like a totem that could be useful when reality is dispersed and loneliness envelops itself. This peak could give us hope when we were down and wet. We let this moment rise above us like a lighthouse that would light up our dark paths in the days, years or months to come.
And in that very moment of hope we were free and forever.
Encounter with wild things on Brahmatal Trek
At the base campsite in Brahmatal you can watch groups of Alpine Swifts dancing in sync on the snow. You make a high note Who who who WHO Twitter and the oak trees are filled with these tiny dancers.
White-cheeked Himalayan onions are everywhere as soon as you travel from Almora to Lohajung. They accompany you to Bekal Taal and are then rare when you gain altitude.
Ravens, navy blue and dark will accompany you all the way. They are shy, but once they know you mean no harm, and even more so when you have something to eat, they will chat to you. One of our comrades, who had brought Thepla to Brahmatal Top, started talking to a raven.
Crow – Cawww caaaww caaaaw!
Pulls: Kaawww Kaaaaaw!
Crow (enthusiastic): Coooawwwwwwwww Cooaawwwwwww!
And he was rewarded with a piece of Gujrati Thepla. !!
Himalayan Griffon – I happened upon this magnificent bird on top of Tilandi. It sat on one of the protruding rocks and faced the sun. It reminded me of Jatayu for some reason. It was a youth as most of the feathers were black and not yet the creamy gray they usually are. I was also lucky enough to spot the same bird on the way back to Kausani. I had sat down for a tea break and there she was sitting on a bare branch of a burned tree, cleaning or perhaps hunting a wild animal. Who knows?
Civets – I saw two Himalayan civets scurrying across the jungle floor in Bekal Taal. I could only glimpse its tail and tan body and was confused as to whether it was a fox or a civet. But as I read it, I realized that foxes have bushier tails.
Owls – I saw many of these short ears on my trip from Almora and on our first day I hiked through the forest path through the village of Lohajung. They were all teenagers and sat in silence on branches of brown oaks and pines.
Along with these, I saw a multitude of bugs, insects and butterflies at the Brahmatal campsite as I descended towards the lake.
The music that accompanied me
A trekking colleague introduced me to some adorable songs that have stayed with me. He had chosen a song for every peak, sunrise and sunset!
The two songs that stayed with me
Dauoalogn by Signor Ross
Elysium by Lisa Gerard.