11th May was the day when our long awaited trek would start. The day started at 4.30 AM with hectic schedule that would be our routine for the next 8 days – tea, breakfast, return of sleeping bags and blankets, tents cleaning and lunch packs etc. but what was most difficult and not part of routine at higher camps was an half an hour session of simple exercise – again amount of enjoyment here is a direct indication of your physical fitness.
We set out southwards trek at about 8:00 AM. Since there was no group on the next day of our reporting, the customary see-off accompanied by YHAI clapping did not have the pomp that we saw the previous day when we bid farewell to our previous group (KK-7). This was supposedly the easiest part of the whole trek, but 4 km ascending trek which would take you to 8000ft from a level of 6000ft was anything but easy. The steep ascent was immensely enjoyable in lush green forests – Salwood, Deodhar and Silver Oak dominate the vegetation. As soon as the trek starts you get the feeling – “Himalay ki god mein” – In the lap of Himalayas.
Lunch point was a lush green meadow with a stream of water lining a side of it. This was first of the many meadows that we would see in the days to come. We had a nice time relaxing there and having tea (tea point midway on the trek route is generally set up by support staff / kitchen staff / guides etc.) for about an hour, before starting for the Juda Talao camp at 8000ft. One memorable spectacle on the way, was a shepherd running after his bull to take control of it which as per guide was terrified by the presence of vultures in the vicinity. On one hand 22 “trekkers” (hobbyists-equipped with suitable shoes) struggling to climb the slopes and there was a middle aged shepherd running and jumping on the rocks and slopes after the bull.
We reached the Juda Talao camp at 2.30PM and soon after it was raining hails there – a phenomenon which would repeat every day during the trek at all higher camps (8000ft and above). The camp leader from Maharashtra was friendly and engaged us till evening in some activity or other. I slept off at 7.00PM after dinner only to wake up at 9.30PM to discover a clear star filled sky the kind of which I had never seen before. At 3.30AM the following morning I found a bright and big star in the southern sky, which I would observe from other higher camps as well, and which is the only star visible in the sky at dawn. Later, after returning to Visakhapatnam I came to know from internet browsing that these days Jupiter is visible in the southern sky after mid night till the day break.
12th May, the day of first and fortunately, the last casualty for KK-8 group, when a youngster from Gujarat, who was very athletic and especially so while carrying out rappling exercise a couple of days ago dropped out due to breathing problem – a common occurrence at high altitudes.