Above Little Things - In the Shadow of Her Veil

An enthralling narrative of Hassan Kumar Gundu's solo trip to the town of Lohajung

The Context

In my Post Graduate program of M. Des at IDC School of Design, IIT Bombay I went onto creating a set of videos which demonstrate how to tie a few of the important knots in mountaineering. Now for testing out these videos, I decided to head to Lohajung in Uttarakhand where I had made a friend -Suraj, whom I had met during my Basic Mountaineering Course at NIMAS earlier that year.

Lohajung is a small village which is on top of a hill and is the major base camp for treks such as Roopkund and Alia Bedni Bugyal meadows.

What does "In the Shadow of her Veil mean"?

The people of Garhwal share a deep spiritual connection to their mountains, especially the Nanda Devi. So much so that they address the mountain as "Maa Nanda Devi" who is often termed as the "Goddess of Garhwal". Here, in this journey of mine for the first time in my life I came across Nanda Ghunti (6,309 m) which lies in the outer line of the Nanda Devi Sanctuary. Here, Nanda Ghunti means "Veil of Goddess Nanda Devi". She can always be seen standing tall and towering over the surrounding mountains, constantly watching over the entire village of Lohajung. Hence, the title.

Day1: Train, it had to be!

7:55 AM

Because of my infinite love for long-distance train travel, I boarded one bound to the holy city of Haridwar. Being nearly empty for most of its run it started from Lokamanya Tilak Terminus in Mumbai and took a total of 30 hours to complete its journey.

Day 2: The final leg at a Snails Pace

The next morning once the train crossed the Hazrat Nizamuddin (New Delhi) station at 6 AM, it got ridiculously slow as it inched towards Haridwar with the only upside being the unlimited supply of "fresh unpolluted air" of the countryside far away from the city's buzz

1:00 PM

Once, I reached Hardiwar I took a bus right outside the railway station which was going all the way to Rishikesh where later I hoped onto an Auto to head towards Tapovan to find a place to crash in for the day.

With a good amount of time in hand, I ventured on to explore the quiet city of Rishikesh.

The Iconic Ram Jhula

The Ram Jhula, one of the two iconic bridges at Rishikesh connecting the two sides of the bank and the other one being Laxman jhula (jhula means bridge). It came as a surprise to me the fact that entire Rishikesh as I had always known was extremely deserted this time.

Day 3: The Lore of Lohajung

4:30 PM

After traveling close to about 11 hours with 9 others in a shared cab, all cramped up we finally reached the town of Deval in the Chamoli district. Here I had to change my vehicle to further go up the mountain to arrive at a place called "Lohajung"

Rooted deep in mythology, the locals believe that the goddess, Parvati, fought with the demon, Lohasur, and defeated him at the spot where the village was built. Hence, it came to be called Lohajung, named after the battle or Jung with the Lohasur. Some locals, however, believe that the name arose due to the intense rains observed in the village that causes all metallic objects, or Loha, to rust (jung in hindi).

The Ali and Bedni Bugyal (Meadows) in the far covered under a blanket of fresh snow as seen from Lohajung

A few minutes later I was greeted by my friend Suraj, and his uncle Hari bhai who is a social worker in the area and then took me around their tiny little home.

As it was getting cold towards the night we decided to treat ourselves to home-cooked Chicken and a bottle of Rum. Once that was done, we crashed into our bed early as I had to wake up the next morning and go on a recce of this place.

Day 4: The Testing Day

7:00 AM

Being a bit hungover, I slid all over the snowy roads in the village and inched my way slowly and steadily to the edge of Lohanjung to witness a stream of Clouds over the Village of Deval which was at the bottom.

8:00 AM

All the trek groups in the area began to leave for the next campsite which is Bekaltal. However, the word of mouth was that it had snowed so heavily at that place that many couldn't go ahead of Bekaltal and had to return and abort their trek.

Soon, I was quick on my feet and started following the trekkers on their path with my camera. The best part of it was the fact that for the first time I was not carrying a heavy backpack with me which would generally pull me down but the sad part was that I was already running on a low battery.

The village of Lohajung as seen on the way to Bekaltal

And Before I knew it, the weather turned bad and my camera died on me as I reached Bekaltal. Then, I decided to head back without continuing further on the trail that being said I wanted to continue going ahead though! On the other side, there was this constant thought nagging in my mind which reminded me of "why I was here for!"

After 2-3 hours, I met Suraj, and together we had lunch. Soon after that, he bought in six people from the village who were into the field of trekking as guides, porters, and cooks.

Moving to the task at hand, to put it simply, I had to observe that whether people were able to understand the instructional videos that I had made and later perform the tasks which I would ask them to once they were done watching those videos.

Moments late, it was finally underway....So to avoid too many people in the room, I decided to split them into two separate groups, show them the videos and note down my observations in a notebook as I watched them. Once that was done, I would ask them to perform the knots shown in the video and observe whether they were able to tie the knots or try to figure out the parts where they were stuck or didn't understand, etc.

Then, I handed them over equipment such as ropes and carabiners and started to play the video on my MacBook. During this, as they were watching the videos different things started to pop inside my head because for the first time I had realized that I could have done a lot of things differently. Also, at times I would close my eyes because of embarrassment and I thought the people would be thinking that who is this stranger and why is he wasting our time.

A few moments later, once the first video was over which was about the Figure of 8, I went ahead and asked the people to try tying the knot, I again closed my eyes as I was tensed now. This was the moment of truth and revelation.....Will all my sleepless nights go to waste?, How can I show my face to my professor if my product fails? All these questions stuck me at one instance. But to my surprise it turned out exactly in the opposite way....Both of them were successful in tying the knots, Yesssss!...but too early to celebrate. let's get on with the next video then...

Time for clove hitch using two hands, after watching the video once again a Yesssss! they were successful again!

Rahul and Chandan Bhai holding their clove hitches towards the camera

And finally, I saw a bit of a smirk on the face of Rahul Bhai (left) who was very nervous at the beginning of the video as he had no experience of any kind about ropework. But by now he got a very good hang of it especially because of mnemonics used and he started to have fun with the task. I could sense a feeling of accomplishment in him already. And by now I knew that my product does work, but in some way at least! Finally, like icing over the cake, they were also successful in putting up the clove hitch again with one hand as well!

A few hours later, the same thing was carried with another group of people inside the room I was staying in. This group was somewhat special because three of them had already done their Basic Mountaineering Course earlier so for them it was like a refresher and the moment they saw the equipment they started to experiment with it.

Now with the confidence that I derived from the first group, I was pretty much sure that this group will also be able to perform the tasks even better than the former one, and boy! they did well. Very well indeed!

With that, the day was now over. It was -5 C outside.

Day 5:

The joy of waking up empty-minded

It was quite a relieving feeling as I woke up that morning because the major objective of me coming to this place was now finally over and I had all the time in the world to do whatever I wanted to in this place and also for the fact that this was my last day here.

So, once again to start the day I quickly grabbed a cup of chai and wandered to the edge of Lohajung to witness this beautiful gift of a sunrise that was presented to me.

On the other side of the village, I could see the sun shining from beyond the Ali and Bedni Bugyal in the far. Towards the right, I was able to see a building in yellow, which stood out from the rest. It peaked my curiosity. Later on, in an inquiry with Suraj, I got to know that it was the UGVS Public School of Lohajung. Ever since, as a kid, I always wondered how the schools are for these kids in the mountains. Well, it was about time that I had found out...

The goddess was waking up... Nanda Ghunti, the 6,309 m peak which overlooks the village of Lohajung
So were the birds...

Soon, I reached the school, where the children slowly started to gather around me as they knew that I was an outsider and were keen to get their hands on the camera. So, I went ahead and told them how to take pictures with it.

Beyond the school in a large field of melting snow, all the children came together, stood in proper lines, and offered their prayers. Soon, the air was resonating with their chants and the entire place developed an Aura of its own.

Children of Snow

They were her children, as I would call it they were "Children of Snow". Later, the prayer was followed by the national pledge which reminded me of my school days.

Luckily, the air was so clear that day, that I was able to see each feature of Nanda Ghunti in the distance

Later, I just kept loitering around the entire slope. I again wanted to go to Bekaltal but then I dropped the idea. Because earlier that day at the school I met the principal who told me that the kids were planning to go to Eigen Top the highest point of Lohajung with their teachers provided the weather was good. This sounded interesting to me and decided to join these kids instead.

However, since it was sunny, I decided to go a bit further up the slope once again. Even though it was sunny, soon it kind of got difficult to walk that day on the trail as the bright sun would melt the snow underneath your boots making you skid all over the place.

2:00 PM

The weather in these areas is unpredictable. Even before we knew it, it started to go bad as the clouds began to loom over Lohajung. After going to the school I was made aware that the principal decided to call off their trip to Eigen top because of bad weather. However, Suraj gave me an Idea to take off to Eigen top by myself which was around an hour's trek from the village and the highest point as well in the surrounding.

There was loads of snow on the trail as I headed further... It started to get a bit difficult as it got harder to spot the ground. However, there were footprints and a trail to follow all along the way.

Meanwhile, as I approached the top, the weather got even worse

Finally, 50 mins into the trail I could see a trail ending at a temple of Lord Shiva on the summit of Eigen top
Moments had passed and it already started to get clear... at least a bit

30 mins after, the weather had cleared so I started making my way back to the village. And was just in time to catch a glimpse of Nanda Ghunti at sunset. That is when it struck me that my time was now beginning to get over at this place.

Day 6 :

I got up early at 6 AM, packed all my stuff and went for a small stroll as I waited for the other co-passengers with whom I would be traveling back.

The memorable snow plume over Nanda Ghunti at Sunrise

People used to say that she shines like gold first thing in the morning and yes! they were true about it.

A last glimpse at the sunrise

The time had finally come, I hopped onto the back of a Sumo and started on the return journey to the plains. As I crossed the village of Deval I could see Trishul finally from the back of the car's window, which I couldn't for the past 5 days.

That day, my idea was to reach Haridwar by 4 PM to be able to attend the aarathi at the hari ki paudi but that didn't happen because we stopped again and again...and again... The co-passengers had booked the entire cab for themselves. The journey had now turned into a snooze fest, both, the driver of the car and I were vexed with these guys where they had demanded for a 15 min big break every 1 hour of travel!

The last and the final glimpse of the mighty trishul from Rudraprayag

As we rode into the sunset, I remembered seeing this road almost a year ago in my trek to Kuari Pass. Since then it had nearly doubled its width mainly because of the Char Dhaam project. Now, only time will tell as to how it would impact the area's ecology.

Now, because of the tantrums of the co-passengers, we managed to finally reach Haridwar by 9 PM which was originally supposed to be by 4 PM. However, by the time my dinner was over it was around 10 PM. The entire city was almost asleep by now. So at around 12 AM in the night with so much nostalgia in my mind, I boarded the Nanda Devi Express back to Delhi and closed my eyes.

And before I knew it, I woke up back in my studio alone as usual, with an image of snow-capped mountains at sunrise projected onto the wall. And at that moment, all of this just felt like a dream.


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