Lady Leopard of the Himalayas: Stok Kangri
Expedition: Stok Kangri Location: Kashmir, India Height: 6153m/20,080ft.
Trekkers: 15 People Team: Trek The Himalayas Duration: 2+6 days
Rotating the prayer wheels spreads happiness in the lives around and that being true, I would always rotate the prayer wheels for health and happiness of the Lady Leopard of the Himalayas we met during Stok Kangriexpedition.
In the darkness of the night at 1:30 a.m. struggling to stand on the 8-inch man-made steep path on 18000ft (approximately) at an acute angle shivering in the cold July winds, the band of 15 listened to Joselin Sir carefully, “Agar aapkosaanslene me dikkat ho rahihaiyathakgayehoyaneend aa rahihai, abhibatadijiye, ye glacier point hai, iskeaageapneaapko push karnaaapkeliyekhatra ho saktahaiauryehaan rescue kasochiyebhi mat, jaanhai to aglibaarphirsummit karsaktehain (If you are unwell, breathing hard or tired, please let us know now, because once you step ahead from glacier point you are risking yourself and impossible for the rescue team, so if you are alive and fit, you can summit next time)” for which Suresh responded “I am finding it difficult to breathe, I think I should go back to the base camp”, and upon Jose’s persistence, Manjot said “I am fit and fine I will summit” while he couldn’t stand straight on his shaky legs. After the longest 45 minutes of arguing, Manjot came back with Jose, the main trek lead of the three trek leaders. Pankaj ji, youngest trek lead, along with Kavita Mam, in-command trek lead, along with other trek guides, took the band of 7 trekkers towards the Stok Kangri summit. When Sushant felt his migraine pain hitting him hard, he aptly quit and returned with Pankaj ji.
A few hours later…
“6 at 6:45 led by Kavita and Kazi”, “6 at 6:45 led by Kavita and Kazi”, “6 at 6:45 led by Kavita and Kazi”, the word spread through all the tents on the 16000ft high base camp of Stok Kangri, I ran in happiness around announcing the achievement of our very own trek mates – “6 trekkers from Trek The Himalayas SUMMITED STOK KANGRI at 6:45a.m. led by Kavita and Kazi”, bountiful emotions running in us, Jose Sir and Iwaited for the next 6 hours 45 minutes to see the glorious face of our trek mates.
I waited at the foot of the first mountain towards the summit, to capture the first look of our achievers after trekking for 16 excruciating hours and came Anchit like nothing ever happened, Dhrumil sleep-walking, Vinay &Jaidev all smiles; aware of living their dream, Nazrul – the marmot appearing from nowhere looking for a ground to sleep and Nileshji with his gamcha(towel) and peace and pride together, Kaziji all smiles of bringing back 6 lives full of life and finally descended the “Lady Leopard of the Himalays”; Kavita Mam, annoyed at seeing me with my phone ready to plunge my questions and joy!
A quick walk down the memory lane of our beautiful trek until this moment…
Stok Kangri, the mighty preparation ground for Mt. Everest dreamers, standing at 6153m/20,080ft. is a dream for trekkers like me who aim magnificent summits as the ultimate goal. Being July, Leh is very hot during the day and nights are colder but the weather-Gods were merciful on us as everyday just before we trek, the Sun would hide behind until the clouds rumble showers in a peaceful pace like the smile on the face of a baby in its sleep.
The journey starts with arrival at Leh, two days of acclimatisation to the thin air at 11,000ft and an introduction session: Joselin Sir (Jose) presents himself as an erect-spine person, Kavita Mam is observant and Pankaj ji is stern. Mesmerizing journey from Leh to Stok village is of about 30 minutes. Final set of instructions with packs of biscuits, fruits and chocolates, we are all set to walk up to Chang Ma.
Chang Ma – 3950m/12,950ft – 5.5km
Beautiful Sarson flowers scent the path in the beginning, later Stok River crosses our paths. We have to cross the streams climbing up and down on abed of stones for 4 hours with long breaks and chitchats. The cruelty of our trek leaders showed up when they enforced “no sleeping until dinner” policy. The trek leaders help us all in setting up our tents, for us to rest but the never-tired lady puts up her tent and walks to the kitchen tent to help the cook.
The heat in the tents at 1:00p.m. seemed to steam us, only if we were rice, we would have been over-cooked. A little above the vast campsite at Chang Ma, is a small pahadi chai-maggikijhopdi (mountain hut serving tea and noodles), we all indulged in. To our amazement, the lunch served at Chang Ma campsite was the best of all lunches I’ve had in my treks. This trek with TTH is a feast for my taste buds, I exclaimed!
After the 4:00p.m.chai, is the scientific concept of “climb high, sleep low”, to acclimatize our bodies and get a good sleep for the night. Mountains like the web of a spider, so well connected to one-another forming slices of green pastries placed on one another like the cassata (rainbow) ice-cream.
The view down is beautiful and daunting. We all immersed in the colourful spread of nature, Pankaj bhai rock-climbs the humongous mountain, with no gears and Kavita Mam leaves no wind to aghast us standing right above the piece of mountain we are struggling to sit on. Delicious food, tempting dessert, tired legs and excitement of being there, just being there in the mountains, surrounded by mountains, looked upon by the stars lead us to a goodnight sleep in our cosy tents.
Mankorma – 4350m/14,300ft – 3km
First glimpse of green meadows hiding behind the “Namaste” mountains on the right side, after a treacherous 3 hours down and straight path through the stones bathing in the streams with jaw-dropping views decorated with thin showers of rain from the thick clouds, “I belong to this divinity” my inner-voice muttered. Each of us walked soaked deep in the beauty of these rocks that seem to have been cut by volcanic lava millions of years ago. We all seated in our own fashion like we belong to the nature and nobody else, when Kavita Mam said, “we are lucky to have this beautiful weather otherwise you would sulk to walk in the heat”, “Mam, the mountains, the sun, the moon, the wind, the sky, the stars, the clouds, the rivers and every particle in the universe is breathing, once they all decide to accept you; they make your journey beautiful beyond imagination! The nature selflessly toils to give you that’s crafted just for you, even if it has to self-destruct for your good! And all it seeks in return, is due respect of its existence. Because I prayed to the mountains on the day I wished to see them, I can see the weather altering itself for us to pleasure this part of our lives, the mountains seem to fold hands in Namaste, welcoming us with all joy. My Namaste Mountains!” I blushed.
At 4:00 p.m., we set for the acclimatisation walk towards the easy looking mountain until I placed the first step and felt like stepping on the mixture of dung and molasses, so loose that the soil erupts every time I place a foot. Soon I said I am giving up, to which the SpiderWoman – Tanu, slapped my determination with her climbing spirit with all her limbs engraving in the steep throwing mountain. I knew I will never come back down from this daunting piece of practise land, yet when I cried out that I shall not come down by myself, Kavita Mam let out her hand and held me all the way down until we reached the soup point just 45 minutes after the slowest person got off the mountain. This walk has got this mountain its name – “Mam Mam Hill”, with my voice echoing “Mam, Maaam, Maaaam, Mam, Maaam..”at every step when Kavita Mam left my hand and taught me to place my feet sideways to avoid slipping and I would cry out her name until she held my hand again, returning hope for life.At 1:00 a.m., we saw the Milkyway galaxy, of which we are the tiniest particle.
Base-Camp- 4900m/16,000ft – 4km
Yellow beak sitting rightly on the black body of the crow-like bird, chirped all through the hot day right in front of our tent. Yes! We’ve done it, we deserve all the rest we thought but the only living organisms that never rested were our trek leaders, guides and helpers. They would dramatically wash utensils, cook scrumptious food and wash our utensils, all deeds in a rhythm like the music flowing notes one after the other. The cute marmots added amazement to our trek until here. The last 1km of steep climb to the base camp is a good end to the day until the ‘climb high, sleep low’ trek on the black soil over the white mountain, head held high, steep enough to roll you down if you placed your foot loose on the free flowing sand.
Next morning, we are fresh and excited to be trained with crampons, ropes and ice-axe. We are on an expedition, a mission to come back alive. Excitement, fear, determination, all in unequal measures stirred our minds for the lifetime glory of stepping towards Stok Kangri. At 9:00p.m. Gowtham’s oxygen levels are low, SpiderWoman decides to stay back with her husband, Pawan’s nostrils blocked in the evening, so they stay back in their tents while we brave our steps one by one over the acclimatization hill leading to the ultimate summit, and after 45 minutes of contemplation in my mind, I quit, informing only Jose Sir, I walk back. Siddarth comes back after another 45 minutes.
The whole night passes at snail’s pace praying for the well-being of the whole team and guilt drowning me for not having informed my friends of the reason for giving-up. At 5:00a.m. I see Suresh sleeping in his tent, at 6:00a.m. I walk to the kitchen tent to look for our Master-Chef Rahul bhaiand awe-strikingly our trek lead unveils his presence and narrates the stories of the night.
“6 trekkers summited Stok Kangriat 6:45am.led by Kavita and Kazi”, the glorious news sinks in us.
At 1:30pm., 16 hours after the first-step to create history:
Kavita – The Lady Leopard of Himalayas, dug trail with the help of ice-axe at 6153m/20,080ft for the 6 achievers to trek back, holding them with ropes tied to her waist, with not a sip of water to wet her throat in the scorching heat, scolding them to walk right, not blinking her eyes despite the sleep pushing her human limits, with just one thought in her soul “getting the trekkers safe back to Leh, to the plains where they belong, in the mercy of these blessed mountains for having allowed them to live what one can die for”
Hailing from Haridwar, Kavita Mam, the “female trek lead”, is full of positivity, fulfilling her passion of living in the mountains! She lives alone in her tent in the dark nights, away from electronic world, she cooks and washes utensils as a service to humankind, the only woman among 15 men yet in peace and radiance. Away from her familywith no guarantee of return, making new friends every day, she dwells in the mountains like her soul is one in them.
Unfortunately, we are not trained to accept an order or guidance from a woman, especially in the battle of strength, as men are always taught to be stronger than any woman, this lady, this fit girl took 6 men with her to the height of 6153m/20,080ft under all odds, came back full of life, creating history forever, proving her powers to the world in her own subtle silent way.
As we marched back in joy, Suresh said, “bas snow leopard nahidekha (could not see a snow leopard in this trek), “The Lady Leopard” smiled, when I looked at her.