A Triund Triumph – Hiking the Himalayas

‘Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.’ – Jack Kerouac

Though I have had many memorable days at a desk, we sure did climb that Triund mountain, thanks Jackster (hopefully he’d be ok with me calling him that).

More than a trio for Triund, we were a quintet, five of us from five nations, not one bit prepped for hiking. Our prep extended to a mutual agreement that we’d move beyond the prayer flag-lined walls of Mcleod Ganj – a small town in the Kangra District of Himachal Pradesh – Northern India, for an ascent high towards the clouds, in search of the Himalayas. Our special equipment – non-existent – no gear, no training and nothing but motivation to mosey us on up high, towards the sky, in search of the mountains dreams are made of.

We asked fellow climbers for advice, ‘can we climb it in a day?’

‘Possible’ they replied.

‘Can we stay overnight?’

‘Also possible,’ the corresponding head waggle that so joyfully accompanies conversation in the rest of India seemed to have faded into the high altitude, he was dead straight.

So as we prepared by not really preparing at all, knowing a vague direction in which we were going, packing for a chilly sleep and wearing the clothes on our unfit backs, we made for the Himachal hills.

Along the walk from the village of Mcleod Ganj, otherwise known as ‘Little Lhasa’ for its Tibetan residents, to the less busy village of Bhagsu, we remained loyal to our legs and ignored the touting tuk tuk drivers.

Tibetan prayer flags swayed as we strode higher, painting the countryside as though sprouted from the trees, not a whimsically coloured manmade extension. They’re intended to calm the environment, and that could be true if you were to compare the high hills with the lowlands of much of the rest of India. Whether it was the mountain air or the healing powers of these Buddhist material colours, we felt calm and collected.

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The nature of this Tibetan filled area of India is generally one of calm and peace. ‘Namaste’ is replaced with ‘tashi delek’, plastic bowls filled with momos (Tibetan dumplings) replace metal Thali trays and burnt orange, robe-clad monks replace swirling sari wearers. Hinduism is less popular up in Dharamshala, where the Delai Lama’s exiled influence has spurred buddhist practice since the 60s.

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Metre marker, Dharamshala, India

This metre marker confirmed the altitude high, many, many metres above sea level, we were far from grounded. And so we continued…

We passed a few monks as we walked, yet mostly our route headed away, not towards, the crowd of sunshine-robes. People evolved into rhesus macaque monkeys, as we ascended, clambering through the trees, protecting their young, peering into their feasty finds. My fear of them dissipating as their scramble for bananas kept them occupied, their thoughts far from wrapped in passersby, or unprepared mountain walkers.

Rhesus Macaque Monkeys
Rhesus Macaque Monkeys

The first chai stop of the trip, we waited, and waited, and waited. The shop’s atmosphere championing the country’s way of life, ‘shanti shanti’ (slowly, slowly). A way of life we weren’t so keen on for that 25 minute wait, until our wait was interrupted by a curious dog perched beside us. Clad in a mustard yellow collar he didn’t seem so lost and he keenly joined us, temporarily our quintet became six. Unsure of his motives, we offered him chai – it seemed scrounging wasn’t on his agenda…

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As we chai-ed up, caffeine-fueled, sugary sweet, we set off. Still a quintet, the hound wasn’t so much hounding us, but excitably joining our journey, wagging his tongue as we walked. Patiently waiting as we posed, composed for the walk…

Triund hike

There were some fellow walkers, a group of Tibetan men repeating ‘tashi delek’ accommodating us in the knowledge we’d be none the wiser to anything more than hello in their mother tongue. Then we continued, the mustard-collared dog in our pack.

As we turned a corner, a second chai shop surprised us. Of course, 30 minutes in, we weren’t thirsty at all, but chai was brewing – when in India…

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Chai, chai, masala chai

Perhaps our hound found a new crowd, or his weary legs were too tired of wandering, either way our numbers returned back to 5, the quintet continued, as did the chai…

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Chai with a ‘magic view,’ when there’s wizardry about, and the ‘oldest chai shop since 1984.’ The oldest ever, or of that year? Who’s to quibble with such a strong sign-statement? Obviously everyone as they debate the honesty behind the sign, whilst supping on spicy tea…

Continuing the climb

As Stu and Misha clambered ahead, whilst Steve and I held back and discussed his King Suro egg-incubator business plans (yes there is a market for that) we found a secret note nestled in the ground. Was this angels? A kindness fairy? Someone with holes in their pockets? Whoever was bestowing some motivation upon our walk, thank you dearly.

Hiking Triund, Dharamshala, India, inspirational note

Then we encountered words of higher wisdom, as though they sensed Steve’s need for a business plan confidence boost…

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Followed by a final, potentially uninspiring joke – luckily for our legs, 3 and a half hours since our first chai, it were true…

Hiking Triund, Dharamshala, India, inspirational note

Had the note-writer been inspired by the random acts of kindness from Project Light to Life?

Our hearts were full and mouths spread wider than the Cheshire cat, the notes pushed us up and over, not preparing us one bit for the view of the dizzying mountain top! High up, in view of the Himalayas, ‘Is this real life?’

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The mountain top contained a small community, two shops stocked up on Mama noodles and homemade dream catchers – courtesy of the resident crafty Israeli lady. Tents for hire, a cabin for sleeping in and a goatherd, casually watching over his scrambling goats, trotting along the mountainside as though there’s no sheer drop if they step a hoof wrong.

Goat's on a Triund pilgrimage
High on Triund hill with many goats…

And from my days working in the office, unlike Jack’s sentiment for them, I remember many fondly. Yet I couldn’t be happier for me or my unprepared hiking friends that we climbed that goddamn mountain.

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Do you have any fond memories of mountain climbing, lone dogs joining you on a day out or notes of kindness? Perhaps you too have a friend who’s interested in the egg incubator business? Please share your stories below…

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