always ensuring we reached our camps on time. The trek taught us about conserving energy. Dinners were early every day because the more we stayed up, the more energy we burned and wood was scarce. After the end of the day’s trek, when we sat down around the campfire, our guide told us stories — about the difficult journeys they undertook, talismans they always carried, like a leaf of the Vidya, a coniferous tree that spreads out like a peacock, believed to bring good luck.
But the best part of the trek were the breathtaking sights that greeted us at each turn. I remember being spellbound at the sight of a 70-feet-high waterfall, frozen into immobility. It was as if God had said “freeze”, pulling the brake on tumultuous life. Below us, layers of frozen ice shimmered in the morning sunlight — shades of green and blue peeped out from amongst the white as we soldiered on. The sunlight only stayed between 11 am and 3 pm, pale, watery, but comforting nonetheless. The days the sun was bright and strong, we would hear a deafening sound that shattered the quiet. It was the sound of the river melting and breaking, huge chunks of snow floating away, acquiring a life of its own. We had to alter our route accordingly, scrambling over rocks and walking in a single file along narrow ledges. At certain places, where the river narrowed to 15 feet, you could hear your own voice echo. At other points, you had to shout out to a person 50 feet away to make yourself heard. Throughout the trek, I saw only one bird and a juniper plant with just one flower.
We camped at Shingra the next night. On the third day of the trek, we took refuge in a cave, which felt much warmer than the tent. By this time, the going had become quite difficult, with the ice melting in several places and making the trek dangerous. Next morning, we decided to return; we had covered about 35 km from Chilling towards Padum, halfway through the trek. We got