Takeaway

Lost in the mountains? Here’s how to find your way back

Partha Pratim Sharma | Updated on May 08, 2020 Published on May 08, 2020

Grim realisation: “I rode back from the valley towards the national highway. But soon it struck me that this was not the route I had taken”   -  PARTHA PRATIM SHARMA

In the mountains, losing yourself and losing your way are two different things. A seasoned biker and explorer tells you how to find your way

Every now and then, on some social media post, you see a woman all alone by the mountains. Lost in nature, says the post. How romantic, most would sigh on seeing such an image. Let me tell you, there is nothing dream-like about being lost in the hills — or anywhere else, for that matter. Not being able to tell the direction from which you’ve come, worrying about the setting sun, of the hunger that gnaws at you, can all be terrifying.

Three years ago, at the end of autumn, I went on a solo ride on my Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle to Gaumukh, the source of the Bhagirathi River, and the primary headstream of the Ganga. This is at a height of 13,200ft in Uttarakhand, some 500km from Delhi.

The journey: Three years ago, at the end of autumn, I went on a solo ride on my Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycle to Gaumukh   -  PARTHA PRATIM SHARMA

 

I had planned to start at 4am. But I overslept, and was two hours behind schedule. I was to halt at Uttarkashi, about 400km from Delhi, on the first night. It should have taken me some 10 hours, but heavy traffic delayed me, and I reached four hours late. Tired after the long journey, I overslept again — waking up only at 9 the next morning.

A bread-and-omelette breakfast later, I started out for Gangotri at 11am. I had to cover only 100km, and thought I would do that in four hours or so, enjoying the beauty of the hillside and indulging in some photography and eco-therapy on the way.

Thirsting for some hot tea, I stopped at a small bus stop where two small kachha roads were going their separate ways to Gangotri. I had a cup of steaming tea at a stall there, and was informed by the aged shopkeeper that the path on the left would connect me to the Gangotri highway after 20 km of village roads.

I tried to check this out on Google maps, but there was no connectivity. Looking forward to a picturesque landscape, I took the left turn. I zigzagged up and down the road, happily enveloped by nature, when I suddenly realised that it was already 3pm, and Gangotri was still 60km ahead.

Hurriedly, I rode back from the valley towards the national highway. But soon it struck me that this was not the route I had taken. There was no one I could ask for directions. The sun was against the mountain, so the daylight was dim, and fading fast. I reached a dead end twice, and went back to where I had turned back from. This time I followed the setting sun. And luckily I met two people returning from the same bus stop. Instead of 5pm, I reached Gangotri at 8 in the evening.

What went wrong, I asked myself later. I had not followed what experts call the STOP method — a tip that I had read about. S stands for staying calm (do not panic); T is for thinking (try and remember familiar spots); O for observation (look out for landmarks); P is for planning (is it getting dark? Should you proceed further, or are you safe where you are?).

If you are lost, look out for signs of habitation. Do you see pits with ash? Or perhaps plastic or other litter somewhere? These are signs that indicate there are people not far away. Look out for open fields, for that would also mean habitation somewhere in the vicinity. If you are up in the hills, go down the hill. Look out for a water body, for that is where people set up villages. And always carry essentials with you — water, some energy bars, a compass, a torch, a first-aid kit and a light blanket.

I was lucky, for I had not strayed too far from a village, and found my way to my destination before it was too late. Hill people sleep early, and I just managed to reach Gangotri before the town was enveloped in darkness.

It was cold — about 2°C outside — when I reached my lodge. The attendant was waiting for me. Dinner was ready, he said, and served it to me in the kitchen, for the place was warm. It was a simple meal of pahari kali dal and chapati — and I savoured every morsel of it.

At night, before I fell asleep, I recalled my adventure — or misadventure, as you might call it. I reminded myself that one should stick to a timetable, and avoid unknown mountain roads at night, if possible. And, two, you must stay calm. I didn’t pause to think which way I had come, or which road would take me to the highway. But I had learnt a lesson. And gathered a story that I could narrate back home.

Partha Pratim Sharma

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Published on May 08, 2020
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