Travellers' Tales

My Himalayan Adventure by Surrinder Sandham-Bains

In November 2015 I returned from an eleven-day trip in India, which incorporated five days trekking for up to eight hours a day in the Himalayas. My journey had started in April 2015 when I saw a poster looking for people to trek in India whilst raising funds for charity.

I was born in India and came to live in the UK as a small child. My father had lived and worked in the Himalayan area in the 1960s, and I vividly recall him telling me how we could see the Himalayas from our remote, rural village in Northern India. This was something that had stayed with me and was part of my motivation to explore this area as well as have an amazing adventure: I had already visited India twice, but this was an opportunity to connect with a part of my heritage and explore a rural area that I had lived in as a child. 

I decided I would find out a few more details about the trek. There were so many challenges ranging from the fundraising, to training for the trek, as well as travelling alone without my family. However, this was something that I had always wanted to do and so I overcame all the nagging thoughts and signed up for the trek. I did not know anyone else who was going, but there were a few meetings where we all exchanged details and we did some training walks together. 

We landed in Delhi after a nine-hour flight and were taken to a hotel where we spent a few hours before heading to the railway station. The traffic in Delhi is very chaotic and we only just caught our train. The overnight sleeper train took us to Pathankot in northern India, were we then we had another five-hour journey to Dharamshala, the spiritual home of the Dalai Lama. Travelling through the countryside, I found myself wondering what my life may have been like if my parents had not moved to the UK.

Our trek began in the heart of the Himalayas. We faced tough terrain with snow, thunder, and lightning storms, and spent two nights in temperatures of -5°c at an altitude of 3,500 metres. We crossed rivers, bridges and landslides which were at times very scary. The scenery and views were breathtaking, and a stark contrast with the hustle and bustle of Delhi. At the end of the day I wanted to climb into a nice hot bath to soak my aching limbs, but instead we had to manage with a hole in the ground for a toilet and only dream of showers.

Punjabi is my first language which helped with communication with the local people and our porters. Travelling through rural India I saw how hard life could be for people in such isolated communities. We came across a dispensary where our guide told us local people will walk for days to get medicine, and even then, there was no doctor available.

The porters, guides and cooks who accompanied us on our trek were also away from their families. Whilst we trekkers all had state-of-art gear, I observed some of them wearing flip-flops and trainers. One morning when temperatures were freezing, I asked one of them if his feet were cold. He replied that he didn’t have time to feel the cold. The narrow roads leading up to the Himalayas were a harrowing experience, with no obvious highway code for road users.

A lot of the work in rural communities is done by hand as it is difficult to get machinery to such mountainous areas. It was a common sight to see the land being farmed by hand or with animals. Travelling through rural villages, we walked past houses and communities where children were walking miles each way to attend the nearest school. It was common place for older siblings to be in charge of younger children. This helped me to appreciate what life may have been like for my parents when they lived in India and how this may have informed their way of parenting and their expectations of children.

There were times when I wondered if I was going to manage it but I gained a lot of support from the group. We all had our own personal reasons for taking part in the 67 km trek, but the fact we were all fundraising did help us to bond with each other. We visited the stunning Taj Mahal at the end of our trip.

This was an amazing experience that I would recommend to everyone.

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