I had a great trip. Judy organised everything to perfection, the hotel was wonderful with beautiful... read more
I had a great trip. Judy organised everything to perfection, the hotel was wonderful with beautiful... read more
I can’t recommend MHE and Judt in particular highly enough. She’s was responsive, expert in her... read more
It was with a lot of apprehension that I booked for the trek...kuari pass from chefna was a moderately challenging climb,and I was getting my kids for this kind of activity for the first time.Me and my wife are ardent trekkers ,but I was not sure of the kids reaction.
And so on day 1 ,the cribbing started...and never came back.For the next 7 days,I didn't hear a peep from the boys ,as they were pampered and entertained by Mahendra [our leader]and company.All of them including Dharam,Bhiru ,Kamal and even the khaccharwalas were outstanding humans first and great professionals later.Eating Chinese and burgers at 4000metres certainly helped the cause!
I felt well taken care of and the safety standards were excellent. I believe that you get what you pay for ...and this trip was"paisa vasool" in every way!
Thank you for a wonderful experience and hope to join you guys again on another adventure.
We live in the heart of the city. For us, trekking would translate to a brisk half run around the perimeter of Jahapannah forest. Climbing would consist of a daily run, up and down the long slope of the R block park. I will say this, it primed me to the sounds and smells of nature and for what it is worth, it helped prepare me for the physical nature of this holiday. Yes, we do like unusual holidays and they are usually of higher physical involvement. Other than that, I was totally unprepared and completely blown out of my mind by the beauty and the experience of this five day trekking trip we took with the MHE adventure tours. Our destination was the frozen lake above Khilanmarg on the Affarwat Mountain of the Pir Panjal range in Gulmarg, Kashmir.
It was a last minute decision. We were to go for a Spa Holiday to the South and friends turned their noses up at our stupidity. The rain and the heat were going to be unbearable in the middle of June. So, we asked MHE directors, Dilshad and Akshay for alternatives. Within three days the trip was planned and we were on our way. Showing amazing organizational skills and readiness, the ticketing, the mails, the advice regarding clothes and equipment were sent and received. We did nothing more than come back from dinner the day before we were flying out and pack as per specifications.
KFC at the airport and a coffee later we were on the two-hour flight to Srinagar. With clockwork efficiency, the Driver and car picked us up form the airport and brought us to Tanmarg, where food was waiting. Wali, our Guide, welcomed us at the entrance to the restaurant.” Your food is waiting”, he informed us blandly, gauging our response. We had been mailed an itinerary, which we had not had the time to read, working till the evening before we left. We followed him blankly, not knowing what to expect. What we got was a sumptuous Wazwan meal after which we were to start on the first leg of our trek to the first campsite. It was an unexpected treat. We were on a ‘trek’ so gourmet meals were not part of our expectations. As we were finishing our meal, we questioned Wali about our next agenda. He pointed to the hills, which had since darkened with clouds and we could see the unmistakable haze of incoming rain. It’s going to rain, he said, in response to our surprised and disappointed looks. “How long before we can start off,” we asked. He raised his eyebrows and pulled down the corner of his lips dramatically,” The lord knows,” he said, “ Mumbai fashion, Kashmir weather and a beautiful lady’s mind are all unpredictable!!” That was our first exposure to the wry Kashmiri wit. Before the laughter died down, the rain had lessened to a drizzle and he beckoned us with a flick of his chin. “Shall we start?” he said, gesturing towards the door. We took out our rainproof coats, duly packed as per the verbal instructions that we had received (considering we had not read the mail) and well prepared, we took off for our first pit stop across little villages and along the riverside. Children were heading back home from school and we chatted with them as we walked through the village with its ‘jugaru’ streetlights that fascinated our son immensely. We stopped to walk down to the riverbed. It was littered with huge boulders planted into beds of the yellowest wild daisies I had ever laid eyes on. Them seemed to be set as centerpieces against the backdrop of the magnificent snow capped mountains towering behind. We would have been happy to sit there till the sun went down but Wali nudged us back on track. The trail changed, the river became bigger and all of a sudden we came round the bend onto a hydroelectric plant. We crossed where the river was shallow and on the other side after a short walk was our campsite. The sound of the river was deafening, a terminology which till then was, to me only a saying without meaning. We could hear the water roaring before we turned the corner and through the night, any thoughts that we had carried with us from the city were driven out of our minds. It was all encompassing. The tents were pitched at the edge of the cliff and for a minute, I was tempted to ask them to move them back. Fortunately, we left them there. It was just a thrilling experience to be able to sit inside the tent and look out on to the rapids as they sped over the rocks and created an eddy around them.
Before we could reach the camp, a tall boisterous figure approached us booming a loud welcome. This was the second time we were meeting Yaseen, the king of Kashmir Swag. We had taken short treks we him on earlier trips, his stories and his manner were most entertaining and he had kept us thoroughly entertained the whole time. Legend has it (with his own admission) that female tourists from all over the globe had offered to take him home with them! At sixty plus, he was still a very impressive figure, so we could well believe it. The team was ready with tea and a fresh loaf of teacake after which we took off exploring the area. Then down came the rains again, just in time for us to escape into the tents for a snooze.
The tents were comfortable and the thin mats reminded you that this is an adventure trip. We had decided to rough it, though I believe that one could also opt for the fixed tents with beds and the works. A toilet tent was also up and on the second leg we even has a bathing tent. It is awesome the kind of preparation that goes into ensuring that these holidays are as easy as they can be without taking the feeling of doing something different away. You choose how much pampering you want but the basic amenities, mostly food and living quarters, follow you around. When you leave one camp the whole team packs up and is ready to receive you at your next stop. This trek had road links but others have mules that travel with the team. The team consists of locals who are trained, experienced, polite, generous and generally comforting. There wasn’t a moment that we felt unsafe. The food! We couldn’t have eaten anymore than we did and from the first night on, the menu was innovative and varied. Our cook, Yusuf, conjured up personalized omelets and authentic Kashmiri gravies and one evening after dinner, we were treated to the most amazing caramel pudding ever! Unbelievable: for a moving, outdoor, kitchen.
On the morning of the second day, we were up early and took off towards the higher reaches at 8.30 a.m. The walk was easy. Reminding ourselves that it was about the journey and not the destination, we took it slowly, stopping for photographs and soaking in the surroundings. Wali did not push us and let us walk per our capacity, stopping whenever we stopped and soaking in the sun himself. He seemed to be enjoying it as much as us. The sounds of the birds chirping and calling to each other; the rushing waters in the distance, punctuated with the mooing of grazing cows put you into a meditative state. I was drawn into a yogic position and before I knew it I was in a trance. It was supremely relaxing; an ayurvedic massage could have done no better. We stopped by the gurgling brook running through the middle of the valley and ate our lunch. When heavy rain caught up with us, we took shelter under the ample branches of the pine trees. The moors stretched out before us and smoke billowed out of the chimneys of the gypsy settlement on one side. If the rain had continued longer, Wali would have rustled up a fire to keep us warm. We had nothing to worry about. All we had to do was enjoy the beauty around us and exult. What an awesome way to live!
We got wet in the rain, so Wali took pity on us and brought us back to our second camp through a short cut across the Banjara camps below the Gondola line. The camp was in the middle of the meadow, sheltered by the snowy mountain ranges above. It was like having the Himalayas in your living room. Our dining tent was set up so we could eat our meals with a view of the snow peaks. It seemed amazing to me that this was even possible. To have dinner and go to bed and get up to breakfast and have the mountains there: looking down at you the entire time. So simple and yet, so amazing. To sit down, endlessly, with a tin mug and one tea bag and keep filling it with hot water, glancing up intermittently to find the mountains still there, gazing back at you! Not to have to drive to the mountains or drive home away from them: sublime!
The second night was tougher than the first because it had rained. The ground was wet and it had become chilly. The tents, though, were warm and the sleeping bags were snug. We slept in a little (something that could not be done if the group was larger and everyone was working on a strict schedule), and were late setting out. This put our trek off schedule. Wali was getting restless and a tad irritable though he did not admonish us in any way.
With a lot of nudging we finally set off. Our destination was the top of the Afarwat pass, between Pir Panjal and the Himalayas. What tourists normally do is take the Gondola to the second level and then walk to the frozen lake which was another 2.5 kms walk beyond it. The trek, though this now sounding clichéd, was beautiful. As we climbed higher and higher, the rivers became clearer and the trees began to disappear. We stopped to put our hands in the streams and admired the views of the Gulmarg bowl behind us. It is nestled like a little baby curled up in its mother’s arms, amongst the hills that bordered it .We stopped at the base of the closest glacier, the ‘Chota Nalli’ with its cackle of tourists, sledges and mules, for our first break. We would have walked past, across the glacier right away but the smoke billowing out of the first tea hut tempted us to have a hot drink. The gracious, enthusiastic gentleman running the stall gave us our choices, tea, coffee or kahwa. After some discussion, we decided that we should not dehydrate ourselves further with tea or coffee and we settled for kahwa. It was too sweet and had a faint aroma of kerosene but it was hot and the sugar gave us a much-needed kick. Till now the climb had been fairly easy. We were at 9000 feet and though it was difficult to walk uphill very fast, it was not too strenuous. Wali suggested that we move on if we wanted to make it to the frozen lake. We took off with a little hesitation. We were not sure if we should attempt the lake but decided that we would walk till lunch and then decide. The climb became steeper but we trudged on, keeping up with Wali. Slowly the distance between us became greater. He seemed to do it with such ease. Our fitness levels did not match up. AT 11,000 feet, we came upon the most amazing purple flowers in a shrub on the mountainside. Apparently rare, it only grew at this height. People came from all over to the various sites where it flowered, in Gulmarg, Himachal and Sikkim. It was amazing to see this sudden riot of color in the middle of the arid vegetation. There were about 8-10 shrubs all around at the same spot and then, no more. Wali gave us permission to stop and eat on one of the flat rocks nested next to the bushes. We were exhausted, and dropped down in relief. We had to decide whether to go further or to turn back. It was still about 2 hours to the peak and not to forget the 2.5 kms on flat ground on the top, before we could get to the lake. Every hour we went forward meant another half an hour on the return. We took out our lunch and decided to postpone the decision till afterwards. As we were eating, we saw three climbers approach us. Wali said that in this season, it was the first time that he had met anyone on the mountain! Wow, we thought, it must be something! The couple was a cardiologist and his wife, about 10-12 years younger than us. They seemed to be walking up quite merrily. Okay, we thought if they’re doing it doing it so happily, then we should be able to. They were grateful for the company and encouraged us to try. So they moved ahead and we finished our lunch, taking off up the trail after. As we left a herd of mountain goats rushed past us to clamber around the salt that had fallen out of its container when we were eating our boiled potatoes. We were almost stampeded out. It was hilarious and we spent a couple of minutes enjoying the sight. Wali was not impressed. This was not entertainment worthy for him and every minute we spent loitering meant that much more time lost. At this rate, we would have to trek back in the dark. Oxygen was getting rare and we were huffing and panting. It was not easy. At the back of our minds was also the thought that the further we went, the longer we would take to get back. We could see the peak but somehow it seemed to get way form us. Finally we reached the glaciers. There was no way around it. It seemed like we had been climbing forever and it didn’t look like we wanted to go further. We all let out a sigh of relief, rejoicing at the thought that we had reached our destination. Wali turned around in disdain. Another 45 minutes to the top, he said, and then walk till the lake. We had caught up with the other group. They told us that they were taking the easier route and would walk till the level two Gondola station, then take the ropeway down. It was then 3.30 p.m. already and Wali said that it would not be possible, because we still would have to climb down to the station and it would be closed by the time we got there. There was no other way but to cross the glacier if we wanted to get tot the top. Once we got the hang of it, we made it across quite easily. Dig your heels in, was Wali’s advice to us. We did and in the glacier, it was a good way to prevent ourselves from crashing into the wet, cold, ice. We made it across and started climbing up again but as we went up, we realized that it was getting more and more difficult to breathe easily. The exertion was not helping and our heads began to ache. We sat down and discussed it. All things considered, it seemed impossible for us to make it back before dark. We decided that we did not want to risk it. We were at the peak, or less than 25 minutes short, but 25 minutes there also meant the same time back. The further out we went the longer we would take to get back. We decided to let logic reign over our passionate desire to complete the designated distance and we turned back. The other group wanted to brave it out, even though they looked pretty beat too. The climb back is not easy on the knees but it was a breeze compared to the exertion of the climb up. Mid way down the mountain, after we had crossed the glacier again, we heard some screeching and turned round to see the cardiologist, his wife and their body sliding down the glacier. Short cut! Wali snorted in disgust at the unnecessary risk that they were taking. It could result in serious injuries and as an old hand it was something he would never permit. We took the trail and were relieved that we had turned back.
Just as the setting sun bathed the mountains behind us in orange light, we emerged from the trees into our campsite. Our beautiful home with a carpet made of flowers and the sky as our ceiling, the moon our source of light and the gentle sound of the stream music to our ears. We were exhausted to the power of hundred. There wasn’t a muscle in our anatomy that wasn’t hurting but it was the kind of tired ache that made you feel good about being alive. It was almost beyond our capacity: we had stretched ourselves but we were so glad that we had done it.
We spent the next day resting in our meadow, with our bovine and equine roommates, lazing in the sun and washing our clothes in the stream that ran through it. We wanted to be ready to face the onslaught of the city before we returned.
The next morning I was woken by the sound of the horses crunching at the grass around our tent. I jumped out of my bag to take in gulps of the pristine forest air; sorry that it was our last morning in the wild. The team was preparing to close down the camp. A twinge of regret tugged at my heart. Why do holidays have to end?
It had been beautiful and fulfilling. We learnt a couple of lessons about nature and ourselves; something you can do if you put yourself out there, away from the luxury hotels and the noise of artificial surroundings.
Few take home lessons come to my mind straight away: Must have a pair of sturdy, lightweight waterproof shoes; Definitely take a lightweight waterproof jacket along; Listen to your body and climb only as far as you feel comfortable; Travel light; Keep Hydrating yourself.
We couldn’t have done it without the support of our group. So, thank you Yaseen, Wali, Yusuf, Raja, Farukh and most of all thank you MHE adventures for making it all happen. We are quietly preparing for our next trek with you very soon.
Lets get it straight. Mountains and bad weather go hand in hand. So be prepared for a shower, storm, snow or even hail. But the silver lining above the clouds makes it worth a shot. This has been our net take from this rafting/trekking trip last week.
It was a relatively luxurious trek for the three of us (me, my wife and 10 year old son) with 4 member trek team (trek leader, local guide, cook & service) with extremely high standards of saftey & service, so we didnt have to learn it the hard way.
It is probably the best trek to get initiated with. The hike is beautiful and comfortable, and though it gets a little challenging beyond osla, steady pace and adequate rest will see you through easily.
The river run at Tons is very exciting (our second time). Shorter one compared to Rishikesh but has continuous rapids that are not very big. There is always a gear raft if you just want to chill in the chilly waters.
MHE is highly recommended. We have been camping, running rivers and now trekking with them for a few years now. Our son has grown from sand play at the shivpuri beach camp to hiking 16 km a day on a proper trek.
An excellent organisation who really looked after us at every stage, from the initial planning to the trip its self. Thank you.
Five of us were en route to Sikkim and stopped in Delhi for an overnight side trip to Agra and the Taj Mahal. Judy Smith at Mercury handled all our logistics: airport pickup, airport hotel, driver to and from Agra, Agra hotel, local English-speaking guide, airport hotel back to Delhi and airport drop-off with check-in help. Every detail was perfect. No hassles at all. The hotels were clean, quiet and convenient -- just what we wanted. The price was extremely reasonable, about $250 a person. Judy seems to be on email at all hours of the day and responded amazingly quickly to all my enquiries. I highly recommend Judy and Mercury, and will definitely hire them the next time I'm in India.