Written by Sheila Chaioka Ostroff
January 10, 2011
As the week came to an end, I still was trying to recruit a traveling companion who wanted to journey north. So I updated my status on Facebook in hopes the thought of a spontaneous trek in the magnificent Himalayan Mountains would intrigue another adventurous spirit or few. I knew that between the other 299 actions partners I meet earlier in the week (at the conference) and my past traveling companions, my chances where likely to be a success in finding some company for the journey.
As the days continued to pass, I experienced a minor dilemma: no response. I knew traveling alone in India could be a grueling task from first hand experience, and I vividly remember wanting to avoid it, but I couldn’t shake the urge that was calling me towards those mountains.
Last minute, I was introduced to two Australians, Kelly and Cameron, by a good friend Marisa who I had guided with at a company called China Climb in 2007. Both worked for Oxfam and had lots of experiencing trekking and travelling, perfect companions for an adventure in the Himalayas.
Part of the thrill of traveling is being totally engulfed by the unknown and allowing your intuition to guide you. All of the sudden your senses are on over-drive, and you start to notice the variety of aromas, vibrant colors, and distinct taste of India. Honking traffic interweaving chaotically between cows, motorbikes, and stray dogs become a familiar sight as you travel from place to place. Trying to adjust to the extreme nature of India is challenging. Although poverty is prevalent, the sights are magnificent, and people are full of charisma and joy. Riding the train through the countryside, I was finally able to process, digest, and reflect the information acquired from the week before at Kaleidoscope.
As we arrived in Rishakesh (the yoga capital of the world), we went straight to work trying to find a guide and perhaps a cook for our trek. After eight hours of searching, we try one last place out of desperation and this time, we know exactly what to ask for. We end up booking a six-day trip that will leave the following morning at seven. The trip includes a driver, two cooks (food), our guide, 4 donkeys, and gear for about $50 a day.
The drive there was much like a high speed racing game, with one-lane dirt roads that hugged the side of a mountain thousands of feet in the air. Obstacles like dodging boulders, monkeys, and on coming traffic, kept me at the edge of the seat with anticipation. Soon the previous days of travel started to catch up with me and the weight of my eyelids became to heavy to fight; sleepiness overcame me.
We started our trek of the northern Kuari Pass early the next morning. Straight up the mountain we headed, our day bags full with our packed lunch, water, camera, and other gear. We passed a military training camp, a rickety cable car, and an abandoned ski resort with no snow, before it was just the four of us among the vast landscapes. As we gain elevations, the tree line thinned out and we emerged finding a meadow where suddenly we were surrounded by a crystal clear panoramic view of the Himalayan Mountain range. Our guide Kundan pointed to the highest peak and tells us the name of the mountain, Nanda Devi the highest peak in India, towering over us at 25,643 feet. As we continue with caution on the narrow trail snaking along the steep jagged walls of the mountain, we see a hawk soaring the wind currents above. The sun starts to descend behind by the massive peaks surrounding us; we started collecting wood for the fire. As we approached camp, we see the other part of our team had started to set up camp and the donkeys brought our gear. We sipped on chai tea as we eagerly awaited our first Indian meal cooked in the Himalayas. Enjoying the warmth of the fire, we ate a delicious Indian meal and spent some time marveling at the night sky.
Night seemed to escape me and even though my physical body was sore and tired, my mind seemed to be stimulated by my surroundings. My brain seemed to be on over drive as I contemplated the innovative thoughts passing through my head with rapid speed. Dawn arrived with the sun that brought light to a view that made my soul quiver. We packed up camp, said bye to the donkeys that where being loaded with the rest of the gear (which still seemed to be a very odd concept for Cameron and me to get over), and we headed off on our second day.
Walking on the ridgeline overlooking the marvelous terrain that varied from rocky snow covered peaks to the distant valleys bellow was breathtaking. With every step taken, a deep breath followed that stung the lungs slightly. The air was thin, the mountain face sheer, but with a steady pace we approached the summit.
The sun produced warm rays heating the boulders at the top. We recuperated from the strenuous climb by eating our lunch and lounging on what felt like the top of the world for about an hour before we headed back to camp. Arriving just before the sunset, a fire, chai tea, soup and popcorn never felt more luxurious. After another spectacular meal by our cook Sunny, most of the group retired early to the tents. I layered up, got situated, and close my eyes hoping that sleep would come soon. It was another night where my mind was restless but my body exhausted.
Opening my eyes, the thought of the warm fire and food was the only thing that willed me from the tent on the third day. After preparing for the day, we set out once again to explore this new territory. We climbed the spine of the ridge, shielding our face from the wind. As we gazed across the ridge, we noticed a snow fox frolicking about in search for food. As we continue climbing through the snow, we start to approach a boulder field. Scurrying through rugged landscape brings diversity to the trek. We spend the day jumping, scaling, and wedging ourselves through the scenic terrain.
The fourth day (last day hiking) was different for two reasons. One of which was because it was Kelly’s birthday, and the other was that we where going to start the steep descending trail down. Our excitement escalated as the thoughts of a shower and a proper bed filled our heads. Our journey through the mountains had been everything I could have ever imagined. As we lowered in elevation, we passed through a few small villages with rice fields, water-powered mills, and hand-built houses. Walking through the village, daily life seemed to thrive, children jumped from rooftop, to rooftop trying to catch a glimpse of us. Slowly the sights of power lines start to appear in the distance, following close behind are roads. I knew that our adventure is slowly coming to an end. At that moment, I was completely satisfied with the trip and knew that I achieved everything that I was meant to from that opportunity. I was able to cross another “life goal” off the list.
I challenged myself in more ways than one by overcoming the obstacles on the road that has brought me to where I am today. Having the opportunity to not only travel to India as a representative of the United States at Kaleidoscope, but also to be able to reflect on the experience with a life changing trek through the Himalayas has reaffirmed that I am going the right direction. Through this experience I have found what I am capable of achieving with the tools and guidance I have received through out my life.
Thank you to all who made attending Kaleidoscope possible!
Plans for the future…
Currently I am attending my last semester at Caldwell Community College. Upon completion, I will be transferring to Appalachian State University where I will be double majoring in Sustainable Development and Appropriate Technology with a minor in Entrepreneurship.
As my side project I am developing Sustain-A-Scholar, a hybrid Social Enterprise that works for the community (NGO) but acts like a business in the sense that it will be able to sustain itself with out the dependence of grants.
The Sustain-A-Scholar Program has 3 basic Steps:
1. Teach the students about their sources of food, water and energy.
2. Promote the involvement of the youth through hands on work exchange (mentoring) programs, which enable them to contribute on a local level.
3. Provide our youth the tools, resources and support needed for community presentation.
If you are interested in contributing or finding out more please go to