“If you come back by 6, which I really doubt, although it is not impossible for you young boys and girls, I will make hot tea for you,” promised the lone tea-stall owner at the base of China Peak as I got two bottles of water from him.
It is one thing to have high spirits about doing something, and another to actually understand the reality and do it.
We started our climb quite late in the day, at 3pm. Our taxi driver advised us against the plan. He said the uphill trek alone would take us a lot of time and it would be completely dark even before we start our return journey. Also, half of us had to catch our bus back to Delhi in the evening and had to pack before that. We decided to take the risk.
It was a 3km trek from the base, Tanke Band, where the taxi dropped us off after the 7km drive from Mallital, the northern end of Nainital. It was a 600m climb from there to the top of Naina Shikhar or China Peak. The uphill climb was steeper than expected.
It was late afternoon in the last week of November and the entire trek was on the side of the mountain facing away from the setting sun. We indeed were going to be in darkness way sooner than the actual sun set time. Stones and rocks and dried branches from nearby trees were all we had to walk on, making the trek more difficult. No doubt, the place is not a spot frequented by tourists.
On the way, I spotted stones with some kind of numbering on them. I first thought that it might be counting the distance. But then I realised it was actually showing the altitude.
We had a fleeting glimpse of the distant Himalayas from the midst of the growth of the forests. The thought of the view that would greet us once we reached the top, kept us going.
A surprising thing was as we kept climbing altitude, the layers of clothing we were wearing kept going down. The temperature was dropping with the evening approaching, but our legs’ hard work and uphill trek had us sweating.
A board with a lot of handwritten scribbles greeted us close to a small cottage surrounded by some solar cells and a wired fence around the perimeter. I didn’t look at anything and sat down on the stairs of the cottage for a couple of minutes to catch my breath and wait for everyone else to reach. I looked at the time- it was just a couple of minutes past four.
I felt a sudden chill in the air. There was a cold breeze. I put on my jacket and looked up to see what was around, to check the surroundings. But my gaze seemed to be fixed at the one thing that dominated the view- The mighty Himalayan peaks right across the landscape.
The loss of strength was forgotten. The cottage was a forest rest house and the inn-keeper was happy to prepare hot cups of tea and vegetable maggi for us.
The inn-keeper helped us in identifying the various mountain peaks.
After a full hour spent in the lap of absolute natural beauty, we decided to start our trek downhill. The sun was already setting but there was pride in our now awakened spirits. We had, after all, done something that less than one percent of the tourists visiting Nainital do.
The downhill trek was a lot easier, for the very same and obvious reason the uphill one was difficult. Running was the natural instinct, but the creeping darkness and the winding forest paths with the deep trench on one side, made sure we were careful. The 3km took us a surprising 45 minutes. At 6pm, we were back at Tanke Band; the trek stood accomplished.