This post is a continuation of a series documenting our recent travels to the North Indian mountain state of Himachal Pradesh. We had started our trip with our first ever camping trek inside the Great Himalayan National Park. We had started in Gushaini and spent our first night inside the park at the camping site of Rolla. (Trekking the Great Himalayan National Park, Part 1 – The long walk to Rolla)
The weather had gone from sunny in the morning when we started to cloudy when we reached & it had started raining just as we had retired to our tent for the night. Being our first night of camping I was very apprehensive about how the tent would behave in the rains. Also the sleeping bags and liners were a new experience for us and I had wondered if I would be sleeping at all during the trek.
To my great relief the tents provided by Himalayan Ecotourism and set up by our team were totally weatherproof. It rained almost incessantly throughout the night and not a drop of water came through the tent to our sleeping area. The Deuter bag that I bought just before this trip and my old trusty Lowepro camera bag both had rain covers that kept all our gear dry. But still as a double safety measure I had kept the camera bag inside our sleeping compartment, just so that I sleep soundly without worrying about my gear.
Even the sleeping bags were so cozy that we removed our jackets and slept in relative comfort. It was as good as it could get in a tent in the himalayas in the pouring rain!
The next day dawned and the pitter patter of the rain continued to fall on the roof of our tent. Keshav had told us the night before that rain in the valley meant snow at higher altitudes and if this continued then it would be near impossible for us to follow our scheduled route as the camping site at Nada would have knee deep snow making camping impossible.
We were amateurs at this and didn’t want to risk climbing mud paths in the rain. So we decided to stay put in Rolla for the day. It meant a day of relaxation in a silent valley sitting by the fire and being fed every few hours by the excellent team. I had thought we would lose weight by the end of the trek but now I was fairly certain that wouldn’t be the case.
When the rain stopped for some time or petered out to a slow drizzle we went down to the river and sat some time by the river and watched the river gurgle past. It was the exact opposite of our usually frantic paced vacation day but enjoyable in its own way.Weather is not something that you can do anything about. So you just enjoy whatever you get that day to the fullest.
The fog kept rolling in and out of the Valley. The hillside just beyond the valley on the clear day that we arrived kept disappearing and reappearing from beyond a wall of mist and clouds and kept us entertained.
The sun only briefly made an appearance in the late afternoon and a cold Ghoral or Mountain goat came very close to the campsite to enjoy the precious sunshine. It was also the only time the Camera gear came out for the day and I managed to get a few photos of the sunbathing Ghoral before both the goat and the sun disappeared for the day.
The rain stopped late evening and we kept all fingers and toes crossed that it won’t make a further appearance. As we had lost a full day of trekking we decided to change routes and do the shorter trek to the Shilt hut. But everything depended on the infernal rain staying away.
As we finished a very tasty dinner and retired to our tent for the night, I waited for the dreaded pitter patter to start again. It never did! We woke up to a relatively clear day and immediately decided to start off early after breakfast and start our hike up to the Shilt hut.
As Keshav described it the day earlier the hike up to the hut was a relatively short but a steep one. We started our ascent gingerly up the recently cleared and freshly wet mud and rock path. I didn’t have the guts to take my camera out on the hike up as I didn’t want to slip and fall trying to save the gear!
The path up the hill to Shilt is a relatively narrow one with some steep segments and some less steep ones. There was hardly any let up with no flat sections to speak of. While it wasn’t a big problem for us on the way up, I was already dreading the hike down these steep segments with my dodgy knee!
We stopped just twice on the way up. Once to rest our legs and once when we heard a Monal shout out from the hillside. We saw the birds just for a split second before the group of 4 beautiful Monals flew right overhead and down to the valley below. Even if I had the gear our there was no chance that I would have gotten a decent shot off. So a good photo of this beautiful bird would have to wait for a later trip!
After 3 hours of climbing up the hill the top was visible and it renewed our energy and we started our last climb up to the top with renewed vigour.
It had started to get cloudy again and we wanted to reach up to the hut before it started raining. We stopped at a clearing to photograph the snow clad mountains in sight. We stopped here for just a few minutes and watched the fog roll in and cover the peaks in no time.
The finally few slopes up the hill had snow on either side of the path. That may seem exciting to someone who hasn’t tried climbing up a hill on a snow clad path, it isn’t ! It only gives you one more reason to slip and fall down.
We reached the Shilt hut without any bodily damage and heaved a sigh of relief. The site itself was beautiful, a hut on the top of a hill with a place to pitch tents behind and a view of the mountains interrupted by just a tree or two. It also had a superbly placed sheltered campfire location at the edge of the mountain where we would be spending a lot of time.
We had reached just in time for lunch and we had our packed lunch at the campfire site as the team went about the job of finding wood for the fire and setting up our tent for the night.
With our tummies satiated I started looking around for my favourite subjects – Birds! It had become cloudy and the light wasn’t ideal. But then we only had a limited time up here so I had to do the best with what light I had.
There were warblers and other small birds flitting around the trees with small berries on them. So I tried my best and got some half decent photos of these very fidgety birds.
Fortunately there were a few brave flycatchers that were willing to sit still for enough time to allow me to take a few photos. I gladly obliged. I don’t realise the time when I am looking for birds and I must have easily spent 2-3 hours walking around the path around the hut and enjoyed every minute of it.
All good things come to an end and as the light got worse I said goodbye to the birds & turned my attention to what most people would be giving their full attention to – The beautiful show clad mountain range visible from Shilt. The snowfall the previous day had made them almost completely white and even the lower ones with conifers on the slopes had fields of snow where meadows must have been just a few days ago.
Keshavji named the peaks visible from there & I promptly forgot them as I am more likely to remember the names of the small birds than the towering peaks on display. The weather got progressively worse as the sun went behind the hill we were on and grey clouds rolled in. The whole view became a sea of clouds in minutes.
First it became ominously grey, then it started raining and as the temperature dropped it started snowing! We had seen all types of weather on the mountain top in a day. We wore all the jackets we had carried just to be comfortable as the wind picked up and it got really cold.
Fortunately the winds also meant that the snow and rain didn’t last long and we heaved a sigh of relief. The team had collected a fair amount wood for the fireplace to last the long and cold night ahead and we sat and listened to the team tell stories of ghosts in the peaks beyond!
We ate dinner near the cozy fireplace which was delicious and piping hot. A perfect end to an eventful day on the top of the hill at Shilt. We hoped that it would be sunny in the morning so that we could enjoy the view without our teeth clattering in the cold.
Even in the subzero temperature of the night at Shilt, the tent and sleeping bag were comfortable enough to allow us a good nights sleep without freezing to death. Even though it had started clearing up as the night fell I still expected it to rain and snow in the night with the luck that we had!
I fell asleep without trouble hoping that the next day would give us blue skies and a good view of the peaks (and some more birds!) before we started our dreaded descent. But that is a story for another post, some other time, some other day.