Friday, June 9, 2017


लफ़्ज़ कभी अपने आप फिसलते है
कभी बेख़ौफ़ उबलते हैं 
नहीं करते ग़ुलामी मेरी ख़ुदगर्ज़ 
कहाँ मेरे कहे किसी लकीर पे चलते हैं ?

कभी शर्माते हैं
नाराज़ ना हो तुम 
इस बात से घबराते है
निकलते तो है तेरी तारीफ़ की डगर में
मगर शर्माके घर लौट आते हैं ।

कुछ अधूरे लफ़्ज़ 
कुछ गिर के टूटे लफ़्ज़ 
कुछ क़लम की महीन नोक में अटके
तेरे दिल को खटखटाते बेबस लफ़्ज़ 

काश ये जाएँ तेरे पीछे
और बाँध लाएँ तुझे अपनी गिरफ़्त में
या खींचे तुम्हें दूर से ही 
चिल्लाएँ या गिड़गिड़ाएँ 
बहलाएँ या फुसलाएँ
बस मेरे आँगन ले आएँ ।

जुबान पे गुमसुम बैठे
ये कुछ ख़ामोश लफ़्ज़ ।

- संजय धवन

Saturday, December 24, 2016

She wrote, He wrote . . .

She wrote . . .

जीवन के कई रंग
कभी मन खुला, कभी दिल तंग!
देखूँ किसे, किस से मैं बोलूँ

राज़ मन के गहरे 
किस पे मैं अब खोलूँ

वे भी थे दिन - कहते थे वे अपने दिल की
दिल में लालच ढ़ाई अखर सुनने का हर दम

आज तो दिन बीतता रात गुज़र जाती
आइने में भी न आते नज़र तुम न दिखाई देते हम

जा तोसे अब न बोलूँ 
दिल की आस न अब खोलूँ

रूठना अब भी है मुझे- मना ले मन मोहना
सुनना अब भी है- कह तो सही

मनना मनाना अब भी है, रूठ लो मन मोहना
कहना अब भी है, सुन तो सही!!!

He wrote . . .

शब्दों की बैसाखी पे दिल को टिकाए बैठी हो।
प्यार को क्यूँ अक्षरों का मोहताज बनाए बैठी हो।
बीते कल के कोहरे को चिराग़ों से रौशन कर के।

आज की महफ़िल में अंधकार बिछाए बैठी हो।।

By Nidhi Dhawan & Sanjay Dhawan

Friday, February 5, 2016

Mother Nature

Sky had a sanguine brilliance
Sun slowly hid behind bare trees
Fields with waving greens 
Wind gently ruffled my hair 
As though she kissed my forehead and 
said adieu in unspoken words ...

She won't be home when I get back
And there will be no morning that her voice would wake 
There will be no lap to run to 
when I fall or if my heart were to break ...

She's an invisible silence now.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Bali Pass & Ruinsara Taal Trek 2015

Bali Pass 4953 m

"Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go." 
- T S Eliot

Life, in a way, is all about facing challenges head-on & over-coming them. From the moment we are born we encounter problems & learn to solve them. And everytime we find a solution to a problem, everytime we find victory over a challenge, we find happiness. This experiential happiness far exceeds & outlasts the happiness that we find in any material possessions. Our minds get so conditioned to accept & welcome challenges that the times when we don't face any, we get bored & depressed, we act restless & reckless, eager to create problems or we go out seeking challenges. Probably this is the psyche that drives people into adventure sports, trekking & mountaineering.

My last endorphin-laden shot of adventure was in 2011 when I climbed Stok Kangri. I was long overdue for a booster dose.

Maninder Kohli's announcement of Bali Pass trek came as a vaccine-reminder for the child ailing inside me.

Bali Pass & Ruinsara Taal
Bali Pass is a high altitude pass at 4953 m that connects the Har ki dun & Ruinsara valleys with the Yumnotri valley in the Uttarakhand region of Indian Himalayas. Rauinsara taal is a natural fresh water lake near the base of Ruinsara peak. The region is picturesque & lush green after the monsoon rains in June-August. So September-October is a good weather window to trek in this region. Other attractions of the region are the pristine Swargarohini peak (6252m), Bandar Poonch & Kala Nag mountains. And for the pious souls, there is the Yumnotri temple (one of the four important Hindu places of pilgrimage) & the river. For the atheists like me, who are in love with the beauty of the mountains, God is everywhere except the temples.

The roadhead to access this region is at Sankri village & the nearest railways & airport is about 200 km away at Dehradun.

The trail begins at Taluka village & concludes across the Bali pass at Jaanki Chatti village below the Yumnotri temple. The linear distance of the trek is about 65 km - a measure that is meaningless on the mountains. What matters on the mountain is the work you do against or along gravity i.e., the altitude gained or lost & the time spent. The trail starts at about 2000m, climbs up to about 5000m & then descends to about 2000m. This vertical traverse of 6000m over 6 days defines the difficulty level of this trek.

Swargarohini Peak 6252 m


25 Sept 15
New Delhi

26 Sept 15
31.04.41N      78.11.03E
1929 m
27 Sept 15
2460 m
28 Sept
Dev Thach
2998 m
29 Sept 15
Dev Tach
Ruinsara Taal
3584 m
30 Sept 15
Ruinsara Taal
Ruinsara Taal

1 Oct 15
Ruinsara Taal
4102 m
2 Oct 15
Upper Damini
4496 m
3 Oct 15
Upper Damini
Jaanki Chatti
2654 m
4 Oct 15
Jannki Chatti
New Delhi

Bali Pass: 31.01.5 N; 78.26.24 E; 4931 m 
All coordinates & altitude recorded using Motion-X GPS on iPhone 6. Please refer to official maps for exact locations

Image Courtesy:

Day 0 - 25 Sept 2015 Friday - 11:50 pm - Delhi to Dehradun
I reached the New Delhi Railway Station to catch the train to Dehradun - Nanda Devi Express - the name of the train was motivational enough for our days to come.
A3 seat 18 upper berth - I could hardly sleep in the train although the train was reasonably comfortable & on time.

Our group of 18 ardent lovers of mountains !

Day 1 - 26 Sept 2015 Saturday - Dehradun to Sankri
Dehradun 5:40 am - train reached at the designated time.
3 Innova cars drove us up the green hills to Mussourie where 4 members had already checked into a friend's beautiful house the previous night. We stopped for a refreshing breakfast & moved on towards our destination. It was a large group of 18 members (almost equal men & women) from various walks of life. The excitement on the faces & in the voices of all the members was eloquent.

We halted at Purola village for a sumptuous lunch at Classic Hotel.

Due to poor sleep the previous night, a late breakfast & somewhat wobbly car ride I developed full blown Migraine which settled only after throwing up a few times, consuming my staple Voveran-D & sleeping for 2 hours at Sankri - our stop for the night.
We checked into Swargarohini hotel at Sankhri for dinner & night stay (1900m) - a very basic accomodation.
Varun was my partner in the room but more importantly, our next door neighbor was Adrian with his (in)famous snoring. He would snore with a crescendo & a dog on the street would respond to each snore by barking raucously as though completing a piece of his musical overtures. The fatigue of the day was strong enough to drown this musical duet & I woke up the next morning to the sound of hot "Chai" !

Many of us had started our dose of Diamox twice a day (Iopar-SR for me) as a precaution against AMS.


Day 2 - 27 Sept 2015 Sunday - Sankri to Sima - Camp 1
After the musical night we had a quiet breakfast & started out at  7:00 am
in a Jeep to Taluka. Most of us were hurdled together as cattle on the open pickup deck of the jeep & some had to be perched at the top which imparted us a panoramic view & an amazing ride. 20 people compressed into one single jeep was an appropriate beginning of our adventure. We reached Taluka, the trail-head at 1900 m, & after the ceremonial group photo we started out at 9:30 am.

The trail progressed embracing the Tons river all along & slipping past beautiful fields of red amaranth flowers. The gradient was gentle & the path was well demarcated. Without much difficulty we reached Gangaar, a small village & paused at a small "dhaba" for maggie, lunch & tea at 1:30 pm 2280m. The sky was overcast & there were light showers.
We trudged on along the beautiful river trail to reach our campsite - Camp 1 next to the gushing waters of Tons river at Sima (2385 m). The rocks by the banks offered a great locale for photography.
The dinner time is always packed with gossip & stories. Today's "bakra (i)" was Monali - she played the age-guessing game in which she went wrong 100 % of the times. Yet it was fun, especially when she labelled Arti as 46. Even the rain that ensued could not wash away Monali's sins. She should have known that a wise (wo)man is (s)he who always remembers (or guesses) women's birthdays but never their age !


Day 3 - 28 Sept 2015 Monday - Sima to Dev Thach - Camp 2
Left camp at 8:30 am
It was supposed to be a short day, so taking advantage of that, we planned a detour to beautiful Osla village (2600 m) - a steep hike along Tons river, reaching there at 10:15 am. Specially carved, beautiful wooden houses are the attraction of this village. A temple in the village & kids playing all around were mesmerising. I was somewhat saddened to see a lot of patients in this village with various eye & other ailments. I dispensed whatever medicines that Smita and I were carrying. It's so strange that we have a multitude of free charitable & goverment medical facilities in Delhi (where people can very well afford medical care) but just a few hundred kilometers away from Delhi (& towns like Dehradun) there's not a single doctor or health care facility for miles (where people can neither afford healthcare nor travel). Another shocking spectacle was kids making "charas". Yes that's India shining.

We resumed at 10:45 am for a steep hike to camp 2 (2890m). Beautiful views during the hike along the tons river and a final stretch of a very steep climb landed us at a beautiful meadow camp - Dev Thach. We all collapsed on the grass to get some sap of life !

After a hot lunch we walked around the camp. Dark clouds hovered over & a hesitant drizzle brought with it rainbow vibgyor. The landscape was rejuvenating.

Dev Thach

Day 4 - 29 Sept 2015 Tuesday - Dev Thach to Ruinsara Taal - Camp 3
We left the camp at 8:30 am
First there was a steep descent of about 100 m to the tons river & then a steady ascent along beautiful trail that was broken due to landslides at various places - where later during the day the ponies had a lot of difficulty.
Came to an idyllic spot for a nice halt for lunch under trees & over huge boulders. Every long break is bound to have a photo session !
Reached Ruinsara Taal by 3:30 pm 3425m, a good 30 min before that we had to wait for the ponies to arrive. 
A beautiful view of snow capped peaks unfolded across the valley & river. 
The evening temp was 8 & at night dipped to -5. We would be parked here for 2 days.

Tons River

Day 5 - 30 Sept 2015 Wednesday - Ruinsara Taal - Camp 3 - Rest / Acclimatisation Day
Started for an acclamatisation hike at about 10:00 am
A team of three - Varun, Pooja & Arundathi ventured out at 8:00 to attempt Ruinsara peak along with 2 guides. 
Varun could do one of the sister peaks & the girls did a smaller peak. 
Our walk was steady uphill along a beautiful valley. Plenty of photographing today - nature & portraiture including Amina's Yoga. 
Amina gave a short yoga lesson. 
A lot of off-loading done as preparation for next two days as now-on there would be no ponies but only porters. 
Day ended with usual fun chat session over dinner.

Ruinsara Taal

Day 6 - 1 Oct 2015 Thursday - Ruinsara Taal to Odari - Camp 4
Started at 9:00 am 
Initial descent of about 50 m thereafter ascent up steady slope to Camp 4 Odari 3815m by 12:00 noon. 
Later we went for an acclimatisation walk up hill. There was a wonderful fashion photo shoot assisted by designer Namrata Joshipura.  Then back for lunch. 
There was a change of plan. Rather than having another camp before the pass it was decided to attempt the pass next day & camp at Upper Damini. So early dinner & bedtime was planned. 
This camp was very cold - my thermals & down jacket were put into service. 
Dinner at 6:00 pm & we slept at 7:00 pm after preparing gear for the next day

Swargarohini Mountain 6252 m

Day 7 - 2 Oct 2015 Friday - Odari to Bali Pass to Upper Damini - Camp 5 (The Big Day)
It was anticipated to be a long day of about 9-10 hours with an ascent of almost 900 m & about 500 m descent. The entire vertical traverse of 1400 m was expected to be difficult with some extremely difficult sections. It proved to be all that & more. 

We woke up at 4:00 am to hot tea. Did morning rituals & got ready - dressed to the occasion to deal with biting sub-zero mercury, snow, the heat of climbing & sun & for the unforeseen rain - yet we had to be light. Gearing for trekking or climbing is a marriage of paradoxes.

Had porridge as breakfast & started out at 5:30 am

It started with a steep climb which continued till the pass. There were rock sections & rock with snow. We had to alter our route a little to avoid a steep & slippery section of a ridge so we had to traverse around its exposed slope. Only the col section was somewhat level & from here we could see the intimidating steep snow covered climb up to the pass. And behind us was the dominating view of Swararohini peak beckoning us from its 6252 m summit as though saying, "Where are you going? Come to me, I haven't had a visitor in a long long time."

The altitude was overpowering everyone - some were breathless, others threw up, some had headache & some backache. Above 4500 m every step you take reminds you not to take nature for granted. Every inch against the gravity requires effort & one only feels like an apple on the ground.

At the final steep snow climb the porters came to help most of us. They had already sprinted up to leave their loads at the top & came down to help the lesser mortals who were alien to the mountains. These young & lean boys in their 20s weigh about 45-50 kg but carry 30 kg load on their back. They wear ordinary canvas shoes & routine winter clothes that hill folks wear but have the amazing capability to shine in any extreme weather conditions, to help the frail town dweller Humpty-Dumpty from having a fall.

Climbing a steep gradient on snow required some getting used to. My porter & saviour taught me the kicks (yes, not tricks) of the trade & offered to carry my backpack which weighed about 8 kg but felt like 80 - at higher altitudes although the oxygen ditches you but the gravity clings to you with loyalty as though she was married to you. With reluctance & guilt I parted with my load and stopped for a moment to enjoy a sense of sinful relief.

Step by step & breath by breath I continued to climb. There were far more breath s counted than steps taken as though you were climbing with your lungs. Finally I could get above the 60-65 gradient ascent secton to reach the shoulder. I paused, breathed & then looked around. The 360 degree view was far more rewarding than what I seemed to have paid for in terms of the effort I had put in to reach this point. I had incurred a debt, a debt that I would have to repay while descending down the other side. After absorbing a few moments of ecstasy here, I gradually trudged above the narrow ridge to the highest point of the  pass (4931 m as per my GPS recordings). Some of members of the group were already waiting there & a few more were still fighting the gravity on the slopes below. I rested a little. Hogged on the beauty all around me like a hungry vulture & to satiate my unquenchable hunger, I took out my camera & crazily clicked the scene that surrounded me. Recorded my GPS coordinates (31.01.5N; 78.26.24E; 4931 m) & prepared to leave for descent. I felt like a child who wants to eat more but is pulled away from the table.
I took back my load of backpack now.
I also made a silent prayer.

Snow slopes to Bali Pass 4953 m

After Bali Pass

Bali Pass 4953 m

Descending on the other side of the pass proved to be an even bigger ordeal than climbing up the snow. About 80-90 m pitch immediately after the pass was so treacherous that each of us had to be taken down, hand-held by a porter. Suddenly the word "porter" assumed a great deal of respect & reverence - we were virtually portered down by them. However, I was expecting it to be so because our local guide had blurted a few days earlier, "pass ke baad to danger slope hai" (it's dangerous descent after the pass). And if the local guide says that then you have to take it seriously. For a moment an irrational fear crossed my mind, "What if I were to fall & die here? That'd be fine - dying on the mountains is better than dying in Delhi madness."

After this "dangerous" section there was a long moderate gradient descent down the snow. My porter taught me how to dig my heel into the snow while descending on snow. I immediately picked this drill of marching ahead with heel first - the school march-past surfaced from hidden memories.

The end of snow section was marked by a beautiful small lake with smooth but steep walls. From far I could see some of the porters running up & down those walls - somewhere I would not dare to put my feet.

Some of us rested & recovered our breath before we could carry on further descent. Further down on the dried bed of a seasonal lake was set our lunch for the day. Peas pulao being served by our youngest porter Rahul who was seen running around on the slopes in flip-flops with such carefree abandon as though he was the spoilt youngest child of the mountains. I exchanged a few cheerful words with him in my half-baked Nepali language that I picked up in Nepal.

We continued to descend to reach the camp. A much needed & well earned culmination of a hard day. At the camp I just laid on the ground for half an hour before I could awaken to life again. There was tea, there was soup and there was amazing view all around. The setting sun cast a brilliant golden hue on the snow covered peaks. Deeper into the evening, the sky turned from red to violet to deep blue of the night. The twinkling of a multitude of stars was a reminder to me to crawl into sleeping bag for that well-earned sleep. So I did slip into my bed which for tonight was concave in the middle & sloping to the right !

Kalanag Mountain

Kalanag Mountain

Day 8 - 3 Oct 2015 Saturday - Upper Damini to Yumnotri to Jaanki Chatti (The Long Day)
Started at 9:15 am

Upper Damini

The excitement of the previous day hadn't worn off, neither had the fatigue. Reluctantly we all arose & got dressed for further descent leaving the Bali Pass behind & in the past. Ony the memories of the wonderful day would be our friends forever. A gradual walk down the mountains brought us to a wonderful locale for a group photograph & everyone posed with all the enthusiasm & noise. But soon excitement would give way to scare. We were at the verge of a very steep descent - almost 80-85 % gradient. Once again the porters were ready to porter us down. Each porter held one porterage by the hand & securely guided their steps down with some additonal reinforcements at critical points. This was a pitch of about 70-80 m that seemed to have no bottom & no end. Once we reached the bottom of the ordeal we felt happy to be alive & our porters relieved to have the load off their heads.

Steep descent continued but nothing as bad as the ones that we experienced yesterday & today. But what it lacked in its lethality it more than made up in its gruesome length. The rocks gave way to the shades of the forest but the downhill descent did not give any sign of mercy. We paused for lunch break - shifting a small load of paranthas from our back pack to our tummies, & we continued our downward course. Suddenly the trail took a sharp turn to left, changed into hard concrete surface & the gradient became positive again. Yes, once again we were climbing. This climb was to take us to the Yumnotri Temple - & it seemed that the emphasis was on "Yum" with the "notri" being almost silent. Gods were mocking us & had to prove it to us that its not easy to reach them. Close to & at the temple I met my usual frustration by the way religion has degenerated into business - sell God to the ingorant & make some money in the bargain. I could hear the temple's PA system (well God's are hearing impaired) play - 

"maili chaadar od ke kaise dwaar tumhare aaoon
man maila aur tan ko dhoye, phool ko chaahe kaante boe"

In Hindu tradition we have a bath & adorn clean clothes before we pray. Our body is what God gave us & the clothes are symbolic of our acts (of commission & omission) in this life. So the above prayer says that how could I present myself to God in dirty robe; in other words, covered with all the ill deeds I have done in life. It also says how can one expect to reap flowers when one has sowed the thorns.

Yumnotri Temple

With these thoughts in my mind & with a conviction that God is omnipresent, I refrained from entering the premises of the temple. All others went in & made their offerings to the deities & came out with a red dot (teeka) stamped on their forehead that marked their attendance in the temple. I prayed in silence outside, prayed for my family & friends, alive & dead.

There was yet another 5 km long & 500 m downhill walk from the temple to the Jaanki Chatti village where we stayed for a night in a GMVN guest house.

After resting a little & the first warm water bath in a week, we assembled in the dining room for dinner & drinks. No sooner than the dinner & drinks went down our belly, our spirits started to rise. There was laughter, there was cheer, there was a sense of achievement & there was music. We began to dance - in rhythm, out of rhythm, in sync, out of sync, music changed randomly & so did the dance. Our feet had become really adept at all the twists & turns & our minds so adept to high altitude that we found hard staying on lower ground. We climbed  the chairs, we climbed the tables, we made the dining room rock. This thunderous seismic activity went on deep into the night - we gave "Freedom of the Hills" an all new meaning !

Lower Damini

Day 9 - 4 October 2015 Sunday - Jaanki Chatti to Dehradun to New Delhi (Return to Uncivilisation)

A reluctant return to New Delhi - by road to Dehradun & then by Jet Airways flight to New Delhi.

Physically you may drag me down to the Delhi dust but my mind & spirit still soars high on the mountains . . . where the oxygen is less but life is more!

"Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." 
- R W Emerson

Ruinsara Taal

Key Points about this trek:
- Level: Difficult (so first timers should avoid)
- Proper conditioning & training of body required
- Need proper gear & clothing for sub-zero temperatures
- Shoes are the single most important equipment
- High Altitude requires proper acclimatisation
- Post monsoon or pre-monsoon is the best time. During rains the region is prone to landslides
- Phones don't work
- Beautiful landscape so carry good photo gear (I couldn't carry my best equipment)
- Travel light (my backpack was heavy at about 10 kg)
- Keep an extra day in your itinerary for crossing the pass to account for bad weather

Dr. Sanjay Dhawan climbing up to Bali Pass

Dr. Sanjay Dhawan
New Delhi 
October 2015

Sunday, March 1, 2015


शाम का सन्नाटा 
और चले बादल घर की ओर 
हमने फिर आसमान से बाँटा है 
मन का गहरा रहस्य घनघोर 
(मनु आर्या)

तारों की टिमटिमाहट फिर गूंजेगी 
चाँद की मुस्कुराहट फिर गूंजेगी 
घड़ी की ताल से दिल बहलाले चंद घंटे 
सूरज के क़दमों की आहट फिर गूंजेगी ।।
(संजय धवन)

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

पेशावर 16/12/2014

कल उड़ गये कुछ पंछी जिनके पंख ही नहीं ,
गरम हवाओं को चीरते ,ऐसे आसमान में ,जिसकी छत ही नहीं ,
ममता का दाना माँ के मुँह में ही रह गया,
निर्मम शिकारी का हर तीर छल गया।

किस बहरे भगवान से फ़रियाद करे माँ ,
किस अंधे अल्लाह को दिखाए दामन वीरान,
जब बन्दे के दिल से ख़ुद ,खुदा मर गया ,
इन्सानियत का जनाज़ा फिर एक बार निकल गया ।

Sunday, March 16, 2014

She ...

My heart so still
Not a wind to move the leaves
Not a wave to sail on sea
Parched earth & withered flowers
Even the thoughts failed to be
The clock would not tick
Through a long endless night
So absolute was my death ...
Till she came and inspired a whiff of life. 

The end ...

My heart so still
Not a wind to move the leaves
Not a wave to sail on sea
Parched earth & withered flowers
Even the thoughts failed to be
The clock would not tick
Through a long endless night
So absolute was my death ...
She left, and so did life.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A Flower

A Flower

In your happiness
In your pain
In your loss
And in your gain
On your coat
On your bed
On your birth
Or on your death
As a symbol of
Love & devotion
I'm your friend
in every emotion.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

कल आज और कल

A collaborative poem by Dr. Meenakshi Ahuja & Dr. Sanjay Dhawan:

वो भी क्या दिन थे:
मम्मी की गोद और पापा के कंधे
ना पैसे की सोच ना लाइफ के फंडे
ना कल की चिंता ना फ्यूचर के सपने
और अब
कल की है फ़िक्र और अधूरे हैं सपने
मुड़  कर देखा तो दूर हैं अपने
मंजिलों को ढूँढ़ते हम कहाँ खो गए 
ना जाने क्यूँ हम इतने बड़े हो गए ।

कुछ ग़म नहीं
आज भी दिन हैं मस्त और रातें हैं अपनी
नटखट बच्चे, दबंग दोस्त और सेक्सी पत्नी
कुछ पूरे हुए सपने और कुछ की उम्मीद कल पर
कभी उप्पर कभी नीचे दौड़ रही है ज़िंदगी इस पथ पर
बूड़े हुए मात पिता और ढ़लता अपना योवन है
क्षण भर हंसी दो बूँद आंसू यही तो जीवन है ।


Friday, October 7, 2011

Stok Kangri (6153 m), Ladakh: my coitus interruptus climb

Ladakh: a photographer's pilgrimage or orgasm
Ladakh is the ultimate photographic orgasm or pilgrimage - depending on whether you love photography or worship it. I have aways found the beauty of Ladakh breath-taking - figuratively & literally. And my expedition to Stok Kangri proved this statement even more true to it's meaning.

Stok Kangri (6153 m)
South of Leh in Ladakh, India, the peak dominates the skyline with it's snow covered summit touching 6153 m. One of the few 6000+ m peaks that can be reached by trekking & does not require any serious technical mountaineering training or equipment - this is the greatest lure of this mountain & the biggest trap. I succumbed to it.
“Kang” in Ladakhi means ice & “ri” means mountain and “Stok” is the name of the village that ushers the way to this peak. The approach location is Leh at an altitude of 3500 m - which itself requires serious acclimatization. There are two trailheads leading to the peak - first & shorter starts at Stok Village & second at Spituk. For want of time Stok Village was obvious choice - yes I was looking at short cut to success. It was going to be my first attempt at a serious 6000+ mountain & my first solo trek.

The itinerary was decided in consultation with my guide - Tashi Norbu Jayo (+91-9596929195

26 Sept 11
Leh / Stok
Rest & acclimatization
3600 m
27 Sept 11
Village walk & meet people
3600 m
28 Sept 11
Trek & camp
4500 m
29 Sept 11
Trek & camp
4900 m
30 Sept 11
Peak & back
Summit Push
6153 m
1 Oct 11
Stok Village
3600 m
2 Oct 11
Stok / Leh
Return Flight
235 m
In addition to the guide there would be a cook (Mr. Chamba) & a pony man (Mr. Tsering Angchok) & of course four little ponies (the work horses).
Day 1 (26 September 2011, Monday)
I booked the morning Kingfisher flight from Delhi to Leh at a leisurely time of 8:45 am. Carefully I chose left window seat 04A - that’s the side to get you the best aerial views & photo opportunity (to the right on return). So from 235 m above sea level (Delhi) I reached Leh (3500 m) in just 1 hour 20 minutes - well that’s a perfect recipe for high altitude mountain sickness. However, to mitigate that I had started Diamox (actually Iopar-SR 250 mg twice a day - a slow release preparation) from the previous day, and I intended to take complete rest for 2 days before embarking on my strenuous journey up the mountains. The parasthesias (needles & pins tingling sensations) in my extremities were reassuring as they told me that Diamox was working - also a constant nagging reminder to breath deeply, consciously.
With my past experience of two visits to Ladakh (& especially the 5 day stay at Tangtse last year when the eventful cloud burst played havoc on Leh & Choglamsar), I expected to fare reasonably well at high altitude. Moreover, with a dedicated support team & option of  rapid descent, it was a safe proposition (for anything else I had the travel insurance).

Stok is a small quaint village southeast of Leh across the Indus river. Farming is the main occupation of people here & the population is sparse. Far from the maddening crowd it offers peace & serenity to it’s visitors, and some places for meditation. I chose homestay in this village with my guide’s sister’s (Tseang Yangzes) family. My room was a traditional one on the first floor with beautiful vistas visible from the windows & floor sitting arrangement. I crashed into the bed on arrival & took the rest of day easy.

Day 2 (27 September 2011, Tuesday)
The day began lazily with Ladakhi bread (Khambir) served in the breakfast - I don’t know why I felt a kind of a bond with the bread. The day was dedicated to walking around in the village and meeting local people - talking to them & imbibing their lives & culture. I had tea & biscuit at some place & fresh from the trees apples & apricots at others - they filled my spirit with palpable energy.

Having had a traditional lunch from my host's kitchen, I wandered into the fields & glades in the neighborhood. Gazing at the blue skies while ponies were grazing made me feel like I had blended into the field I lay in - the wind cutting through the leaves filled the air around me with soulful flute.
. . . I felt completely attached to the mother nature.

Back to homestay, the owner’s teenage daughter (Nurzinangmo) showed me their 200 years old heritage home - a gem hidden in the backyard of their modern home. I was transported to a different century. I had never thought time travel could be as simple or as profound as this.
Retired after packing my bags for tomorrow’s climb.
Day 3 (28 September 2011, Wednesday)
Hit the trailhead at 9:30 am (3600 m)  & started out after obtaining the climbing permit. Reached Changma (4000 m) at 12:30 pm - the half way mark, and reached Mankarmo (4500 m) at 3:30 pm.
The trail was well defined & clean. Mostly a gentle slope with a gradient of about 20-35 degrees (maximum 45 degrees in short stretches). But even a 30 degree felt like 60 degree in terms of breathlessness it caused. There were also long stretches of rock fields in valley through which streams were flowing.

Took a half hour break for lunch at Changma - only an established busy trail could have a chai-dhabba. And previous to that was a short poo break - thanks to mild diarrhea which certified my traveller status.

My journey was rewarded by encounter with Bharal or Himalayan Blue Sheep. These graceful small animals dot the slopes of Himalayas & form a pleasant sight. Wild horses, cows & Ladakhi crows are the other life from seen on this trail. The mountains & views were beautiful all around. Every step was a step into heaven & at every turn a new vista unfolded.

I was doing very well on the musculo-skeletal front but the cardio-respiratory department was overworked - I was deliberately breathing hard & deep. Deep breaths supplied more oxygen to the brain - as a result any sensation of an impending headache simply vanished. I was glad.
The camp at Mankarmo was a nice flat next to a water stream & gazing directly at Stok Kangri & Golep Kangri (flat topped but technically more difficult peak). An out house toilet enclosure was a luxury that is hard to find on such altitudes - but thanks to Indian Mountaineering Foundation- it was an attempt to maintain the ecology of the place.

Alone in a two men tent I enjoyed my space which would have been cramped for two. It was quite cold with evening temperature inside the tent dipping to 5 degrees - that heralded a freezing outdoors at night. As a result I was hesitant to go out to the kitchen tent for the dinner. However, the venture was rewarded by hot soup in a cosy tent warmed by kerosene stove. Dinner was a satisfying experience.
My fears of cold were unfounded. No sooner than I zipped up my tent & my -5 degree Quechua sleeping bag, I became warm enough to sweat. I had to shed my Sherpa fleece layer & felt comfortable in base-layer. However, what knocked constantly at the door at night was a pounding headache which initially I resisted with breathing hard & deep but in the morning I had to resort to consuming Voveran-D (chewable Diclofenanc my favorite for headaches & pains). Another hour of sleep & the headache was gone & with it were gone my fear of having to abandon further journey. I shared my fears with my guide after getting up for a late morning breakfast but assured him that I was ready to roll (however, cautioned the support team to start an hour later than us).
Day 4 (29 September 2011, Thursday)
Late start from Mankarmo (4500 m) at 10:45 am due to headache & slowly moved on to reach Basecamp at 1:30 pm (4900 m). Support team was instructed to start an hour later & they crossed us at about half-way through. The trail was a gentle uphill gradient of about 25-35 degrees throughout & mixed with rock-fields along river streams.

It was tough for me - I was extremely breathless. I needed to stop every 10 steps or so to recover my oxygen debt. My mind was wandering all this time about how would it be at the basecamp & during the summit-push (if there was going to be one). I thought that this would be my last endurance trek, I was happy with the enjoyable family holidays. I was tired & out of oxygen. But then I thought that I must do it for my family & my friends who wished me success at my attempt. So I went on.
Reaching basecamp I just sat on my camp chair for half an hour & had tea & biscuits. Felt energized again.

My tent was placed on a smooth level ground - first time I wouldn’t have to struggle in my sleeping bag. A rare luxury in a camp.
A poo trip took me out in the open with cold wind blowing all around me.
Lunch was hot & sumptuous with vegetable / potato pulao followed by refreshing water-melon. It gave me enough fuel to walk around in the camp & do some photography.

Early dinner at 7:00 pm & retirement at 8:00 pm in order to plan & prepare for the summit push the next morning. We would be starting out at 4:00 am before the day break - a big day ahead.

Day 5 (30 September 2011, Friday) - Summit Push
I woke up at 3:30 am, got ready & we set out at 4:40 am from the Basecamp (4900 m). Touched the 6000 m mark at 3:00 pm & managed to get back by 8:00 pm to the Basecamp. What was meant to be a strenuous trek for 10 hours got stretched to grueling 15 hours on feet (& on lungs).

The day actually began the previous night with preparation about what to wear & what to pack. The aim was to dress enough for the below -15 degree C anticipated and carry the things to be used & for emergency. But at the same time the objective was to travel the lightest possible.
I needed to rest  & sleep the previous night but simply could not. But I didn’t mind staying awake because of fear of aggravating AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) during sleep. During sleep the respiratory drive is decreased leading to an increased severity of symptoms of AMS - as happened to me during the night at previous camp (Mankarmo). I was finally out of bed at 3:30 am getting ready for the day. Well, the only “nature’s call” to be heard today was the “call of the summit”. Had tea & biscuits for breakfast & started off.
As I moved there were apprehensions about AMS on my mind but I was confident about everything else - that was the weather, my physical ability to climb & my desire to do so.
I moved slowly and steadily to climb up to the high mountain pass after the basecamp. It was a steep slope with a an inclination of about 50-60 degrees & made of all smooth soil without much hold. It wasn’t too difficult to climb up it - I was more scared at the thought of having to descend it later that day (which later turned out to be even more scary). After the pass it was long gradual uphill walk on a narrow trail to the advanced basecamp. Somewhere here we were greeted my morning snow.
My lips & tip of nose began to get tingling & pin-prick sensations & very soon I could not feel them. I lifted the tube of my hydration bladder to sip on water, I heard a crackling sound & when I bit on its mouth piece I felt a crunch but no water came through - it had all frozen inside the tube. I reached for my bandana to put it back across my face as protection from cold wind, all I could feel of the bandana was a shapeless paper-mache art. Welcome to the world far below 0 degree.

Advanced basecamp gave the first glimpse of the beautiful glacier. This camp has been abandoned to preserve the ecology of the place. Next was one long stretch of of rock & moraine field which somehow I had no difficulty in traversing.
First steps on the glacier were exhilarating & the further I walked the more I was in awe of its beauty. May be it was my first experience of any place like this but I found the place genuinely spectacular & rewarding in itself. Midst of the glacier you are faced with 180 degrees of snow covered wall of mountains which gently feed this smooth river if ice. Here you just need to avoid slipping or falling into a crevasse (there are not supposed to be too many). I did manage to slip & fall but without any hurt - fortunately didn’t fall into a crevasse as we didn’t have any gear or preparation for crevasses rescue (or may be there aren’t any real deep crevasses).

On the far bank of the glacier was another short spread of moraine field that was crossed with any problem.
Until this point my breathing was comfortable except  for a normal awareness of being at high altitude. But here on as the gradient of the trail turned up so did the severity of the graph of my AMS. Now was the climb to the shoulder which the guide had earlier hinted as being “steep”. To my eyes it was an inclination of about 65-75 degrees. The slope was a mix of smooth soil, scree & rocky patches but never was there a hint of comfort in the ingredients.
As I climbed my AMS worsened from one breathing cycle for two steps to one complete cycle for every single step forward. Every 10 steps or so I paused to recover my breath. I kept breathing hard to keep my brain lucid & to keep my body working. Somewhere close to the shoulder I was stopping after every 2-3 steps to lean forward & rest my head on my hiking pole to take recovery breaths which increased from a few to as many as 50 to give my mind some clarity. I was beginning to lose my balance & my vision beginning to become unclear as though I was watching a dream. I avoided taking any long sitting breaks because that would cool the body down & then re-starting was an ordeal. I also noticed that this part of the journey was not very easy for my guide too even though he had shed part of his load at the bottom of the slope - the shed load included our precious torches & headlights.
I was beginning to feel drowsy& felt that I could fall asleep while resting my head on hiking pole. A fall - asleep or otherwise was something I could not afford at this stage of the climb. I struggled my way up to the shoulder (5800 m) - a narrow bend of rocks. From here the gradient eased to about 20-30 degrees of gentle traverse. The trail, however, still not an easy cakewalk - it wasn’t too difficult but still required strenuous effort. And to over-worked limbs, hard pounding heart & a choked out brain every little effort counted.
The views were amazing. Panorama of himalayas on either side of the ridge spanning almost 360 degrees. I tried hard to spot K2 - I saw a couple of high standing peaks to north-west but there was no way of knowing if I saw K2. As the spectacle more breath-taking, the more breath was I losing. I could have easily slept off at the shoulder & my guide almost did. After this first long rest since we started in the morning I decided to get up & move on - after all life is all about getting up & moving on. Slowly we started negotiating up the narrow ridge. Yes, it wasn’t difficult but did require some effort & concentration. I still needed to pause every few steps to recover my breath - if at all that could be called a poor attempt at recovery.

We trudged on breathing, pausing, recovering & enjoying wonderful views on both sides of the ridge. The glacier with its surrounding bowl of appeared even more magnificent with distant himalayan peaks forming a frill on its top. Towards north were endless views of peaks p some of which standing really very high. Each time I looked north my drowsy mind filled with thoughts of K2 - there was no way to know & my mind was too groggy to ask.
I now saw another row of prayer flags - at least they reminded us to pray, whether our prayers written on them were taken to the heavens by the cold wind - only heaven knows. Winds were very strong & cold but that did not pose any difficulty rather it infused in me a feeling of a high. I paused, rested, breathed & breathed (without counting). My head was dizzy, my vision was misty & dreamy & my feet unsteady - if someone were to test me for balance by making me walk on straight line, I would fail miserably. It is so foolish that all throughout my climb the entire respiratory physiology & AMS ran through my mind  like a documentary - as if I was revising it all before my professional medical exams. Is my heart pounding at its maximal rate? Am I breathing too hard - hard enough to grab all the oxygen molecules in the air or am I washing out too much CO2 ? Am I hypocapnoeic? Am I in respiratory acidosis? Are the paresthesias in extremities due to Diamox or cold? That my cardio-respiratory system working at its best could only meet the demand of either the musculo-skeletal system or my brain - it could not satisfy both. Is my foggy vision a sign of papilloedema? Do I have early snow blindness or the irritation in eyes due to dry air? Being a doctor can be both a boon & a bane - a medical mind is always obsessed with physiology or pathology of one’s own body. Doctors tend to think of the worst possible complications & medical catastrophes especially when it comes to themselves or their kin. Doctors can’t be patient.
Suddenly a thought struck me & I looked at the watch - it was 3:00 pm. I asked the guide, “What is the cut-off time for the summit”? He returned a blank look - either he found my question stupid or he did not understand it. I repeated my question & he repeated his look - I got my answer & also the reason why it’s called a non-technical peak. I realized that his is to guide & mine is to lead. I put my limping brain back on some quick action & did some cold calculations. I had touched 6000 m mark but some 150 odd meters were yet to go & with my crawling pace & oxygen breaks every 4-5 steps, it would take me another 1-2 hours to reach the top. That would mean about 4 pm leaving just 2 hours of daylight. And in 2 hours it seemed impossible that I could descend to the bottom of the slope where our stashed bag & headlights were lying - I did not even consider estimating if we would be able to cross the glacier & the moraine in daylight.

I decided. I turned to my guide & said, “Let us go down”. He said, “Doctor the summit is very close by & we can reach it in 1 hour”. I just said, “We are going down”.
Climbing down was easier & I needed less frequent oxygen breaks. But I was still as slow & my mind still as much in haze. At sunset we reached the spot where are goodies were lying safe in a bag. And by the time we reached the it was dark. Half way down the ice river we has to switch the headlights on. Then came the long rock & moraine field which was little more difficult to negotiate than earlier. The headlight made this rock strewn surface look weirdly two dimensional - so it was difficult to judge if you were stepping on the rocks or between them.
In the far distance I noticed shimmering lights of the city of Leh but nowhere could I see the end of rock field or a glimpse of advanced basecamp. We kept moving on hopping rock after rock & then checking to see any trace of the abandoned advanced basecamp. Suddenly I could see two pairs of eye red glows - I could identify one pair - a pony & I could correctly guess the second - the pony-man who had come there on a rescue mission because we did not return to the base camp by 5:00 pm. It was 7:00 pm now & it was reassuring to see help at hand. But how? They insisted that I got on to the pony for the rest of the journey back to the basecamp - which meant traversing down the narrow trail to the mountain pass & then down the dreaded steep descent to the basecamp. I didn’t have much time to decide or a position to negotiate. I surrendered - I knew that these animals are extremely able & reliable on the mountains. On the other hand was the animal I could not trust - my AMS. Hesitatingly I climbed on to his back - and my hesitation had nothing to do with my ego - I was simply afraid. The animal lived up to his reputation & my expectations. Safely did he bring me down to the basecamp. I was still scared throughout the ride - which strangely I found bumpy yet thrilling. Funnily I thought to myself that this is exactly what was required to make the picture of my adventure complete.
8:00 pm I was comfortably lodged in my tent at the basecamp. I wasn’t breathless any more - rapid descent it the treatment of choice for AMS. I was extended the privilege of being served hot soup & maggie noodles right inside the comfort of my tent.
There was ample time but no energy or state of mind to write my journal and the end of that eventful day - I completed that chore later. But the mind could not help but reflect on the happenings of the day. In the hind-sight it was very logical decision to get back without obsessively clutching to the lust of the summit. It was also justified to to push myself to the 6000 m mark - “Take it to the limit” - yes, I did see some birds soaring high up there over the mountains but my vision was too hazy make out if they were eagles or Ladakhi crows. We do get the choice to test out limits, we also have the choice to improve our limits by training & perseverance but what is our limit is not of our choosing. I’m glad I tested mine.
Day 6 (1 October 2011, Saturday)
Lazy morning - the morning after. I got up at 8:00 am & did not feel any rush to pack my bags & get ready for the return trip. After a lethargic breakfast I started down at 10:15 am - this time I walked all alone. Before starting, a short uphill walk to the toilet point was a quick reminder of yesterday’s AMS.

Walk down the trail was comfortable & enjoyable. I decided to indulge the day in my passion of photography - so there were no more oxygen breaks but shutter-release breaks. Therefore, today I only carried my camera bag. And it turned out to be the most “enjoyable” day to the trek - no pressure of reaching the summit, no chasing after the oxygen molecules. Reached Stok village at an unhurried 5:00 pm. Ended the day with an extended long bath, phoned back home to tell my wife that I was still alive, had dinner, packed for the next day’s journey & diary time. I could have written endlessly were it not interrupted by my involuntarily falling off to sleep - a fall that I could now not only afford but also desired.

Day 7 (2 October 2011, Sunday)
Time to go back home. Early morning & I stole a walk to the village to capture a few last parting shots. It was also the time for photographing my host’s family.
As I waited to board the air-plane the words kept flowing down my pen. And then it was time to position in my chosen right window seat 03A ready with the camera settings to shoot through the sky. I’m glad that I could capture some aerial shots of Stok Kangri. Looking at her my eyes were wet - may be I was just missing the drying effect of cold summit wind . . .