Our team of 15 fundraisers including Cath Harding from Alder Hey Children's Charity have returned home after an epic trek across the foothills of the Himalayas in India.
As well as having the experience of a lifetime, this remarkable team have raised over £45,000 to make the new Alder Hey in the Park a truly child-friendly hospital.
Here are Cath's tales from the trek...
Day 1 - On our way
20 hours in transit (24 for Lee and Bern who arrived at the airport before everyone else had got out of bed!), and one incredulously long wait to get through visa/passport control we arrived (all bags intact) in New Delhi to grab a couple of hours early morning kip before heading into the city to embrace its glorious chaos.
Allegedly 20,000 of the 9.8million Delhi residents lose their lives every year on the city streets through some form of vehicular incident.
Judging by the extraordinary scenes on the metro (including some highly inappropriate buttock squeezing) we were joined by half of this vast population during our first venture on Delhi public transport; but seriously; what more do you want for 10p?
If the 10p spent on the metro was fabulously cheap - the £1 per head we splashed out on a one hour rickshaw adventure around the city was the best quid spent...ever!! Real life Mario Kart in rush hour...just brilliant!
As I write, we've just eaten dinner (curry in case you were wondering) and are just chilling over a Kingfisher beer before heading to the station to catch our overnight sleeper train to Pathankot and onwards to the Himalayas.
In the words of the trekker crew, it's been nuts, enlightening, mad, awesome, moist, has given perspective and has been an experience of the greatest fun...and we've not even started yet.
Days 2 and 3 - The Sleeper Train and other adventures
I could try to describe the scenes en route to and at New Delhi railway station but it would be fruitless to say anything more than magnificent carnage. It really does put some things into perspective when you see men pulling carts with their entire world seemingly on the back and experience young children clinging to your legs in the hope of a few rupees.
The 11 hours spent on the sleeper train from Delhi to Pathankot was surprisingly stress free and provided sporadic yet mainly plentiful sleep for most - except for Ray who slept like a baby for the entire journey. It was indicative of the concerns over the state of the on board toilet facilities that over half of the crew waited until breakfast - a full 14 hours after setting out, to pay a visit!
A delicious omelette and pancake breakfast in the garden of a local cafe later we set out in three 4x4 vehicles to Dharamsala.
The round of applause given to the driver at the end of our two hour transfer to the 'holy refuge' probably tells you all you need to know about the amazing, if crazy, journey into the foothills of the Himalayas where a traditional Tibetan meal then set us up nicely for a wander into the village of McLoed Ganj and to the home of the Dalai Lama. Our request for an audience with him later in the week will be made by Subesh, our guide, tomorrow!
Day 4 – Dharamsala to Kareri
By the end of the journey on day 3, every one of the trekker crew was experiencing varying degrees of ‘sea legs’. Whether this was due to the altitude or the driving we’ll never know, but by the morning of day four all legs were back to normal and we were good to set out on the first day of our trek.
After a short transfer through Dharamsala we met up with our ground crew and mules, stocked up on water and introduced ourselves to our mobile toilet seat!
Through farmsteads and ravines, woodlands and streams we covered the 14km as one, helping Louise conquer her phobia of bridges and Lou her panic attack at great heights.
With no washing facilities for the next five days a handful of us took the opportunity to take a dip in an ice cold waterhole – much to the amusement of the ground crew.
The scenery was phenomenal throughout and after over 6 hours of trekking our joy at arriving at the first camp next to the Laund River was only topped by our obvious amazement of the sheer panoramic beauty of the setting.
With an impromptu yoga warm down and obligatory visits to our new ‘hole in the ground’ facilities we settled down to a team game of cards, dinner in the mess tent and marshmallows on the campfire to welcome the darkness.
Day 5 – Kareri to Bal Village (15km)
There can be few better ways to wake up in the morning than to have a cup of sweet, steaming hot chai delivered to your tent door at 6.30am accompanied by the sound of a gurgling river and jaw dropping Himalayan view. Just magical.
Today’s trek provided more fabulous scenery, an adopted dog called Brian and some heart-warming hospitality from a local family who provided the entire trekking crew with cups of chai and a courtyard to rest our weary legs. The excitement generated by the gift of a balloon each to the local children was both thought provoking and wildly entertaining.
After a small detour around a landslide and a pit stop for lunch we were forced to say an emotional goodbye to Brian, our adopted four legged friend, when a suspended river crossing proved a bridge too far. Despite the best efforts of the team, unlike Louise, we couldn’t get him to face his fear and coax him over.
Having coped with alternative river crossings, a liaison with an oversized arachnid and an Indian goat herd, we were lured into campsite two by traditional Indian music being played through an impressive sound system!
Another dip in the river, Hey Jude around the campfire and a disco dance off with our new Indian friends brought the day to a close in fine style.
Day 6 – Bal Village to Triund (14km)
With aching legs and fuzzy heads, a breakfast of porridge, omelettes and pancakes was gratefully received before we headed out of Bal towards Triund through the Dhauladhar Mountains at 2100 metres.
Today will be remembered by all for a number of reasons; the three hour storm, the soaking wet kit, and the stunning view at the summit that made it all worthwhile.
We were fortunate that when the storm hit we were approaching the ‘Magic View’ Chai Shop. It proved to be a lifesaver with the hugely hospitable owner allowing the whole crew to camp down in his front room (complete with spiders the size of small children!) and shelter from the storm.
When the inclement weather eventually passed we finally understood why the chai shop was called ‘Magic View’!
The storm had held up for three hours but in doing so had dumped snow on the mountains and cleared the air. The result at the top as we climbed over the final ledge was simply breath-taking.
The day had been the toughest yet, but the challenge was not yet over. As we arrived at our tents to decamp we discovered that the storm had taken its toll on our kit bags and, for many, everything inside was soaked.
With clothes and sleeping bags draped over rocks and around the campfire in an effort to dry out, we dressed ourselves in all available dry clothes and warmed ourselves with Martin’s campfire tales under a sky full of stars.
Day 7 – Laka Got
A very chilly night under canvas produced our first casualty to sickness of the trek. Huge respect to ‘baby’ Bern, the youngest member of the party, for soldiering on through day 6 despite his delicate green pallor.
With the sun out and warming our faces, clothes were re strewn over rocks in the hope that they would be dried out when we returned for our second night in our Triund camp – and last on the mountain.
We ate breakfast circled by Indian eagles and vultures, peacefully soaring overhead, and set off for our penultimate day of trekking up to Laka Got.
Following our magnificent feathered friends up the mountain we received a welcome blessing as we passed a Shiva temple and enjoyed a short explanation of the Hindu god and his meaning from our local guides Subash and Ramu.
The blessing obviously did the trick as, on return to camp, we found dry clothes folded in our tents by our amazing ground crew, cake and biscuits in the mess tent, and steaming hot chai a plenty…it doesn’t get better than that!
Another fabulous meal on the mountain and it was time to say an emotional thank you and goodbye to our chefs, campsite assistants, pony handlers and doctor – a joyous band of people and mules who simply, and brilliantly, made the mountains possible for the Alder Hey trekking crew.
Day 8 – Triund to Bhagsu Nag & Dharamsala
A no less nippy final night on the mountain passed, fortunately, without any further illness.
As the sun came up, a band of happy campers stretched, groaned and smiled – spurred by the knowledge that a warm shower and comfy bed awaited them at the bottom of the final descent!
After our final campsite breakfast we set off back to Bhagsu Nag with a spring in our step (and a twinge or two in our knees!)
Five hours later… a cold Kingfisher beer greeted us at the hotel as we finally arrived back down off the mountain, in one piece…as one team.
Refreshed by beer and finally cleansed by a hot shower we headed to our celebration meal at the McLlo Restaurant in Mcleod Ganj; the male contingent looking resplendent in their newly acquired Indian threads.
An evening of reflection and belly laughs rounded off our 5 day trek perfectly and as we headed to those comfortable beds our thoughts turned to the final leg of our adventure – the return sleeper train and a trip to Agra and a visit to the Taj Mahal.
Day 9 & 10 – More sleeper train adventures and suspension free transfers!
With a few hours to relax before heading to the station, the crew took the opportunity to visit local temples, pick up gifts for home and enjoy the chaos caused by the Dharamsala party bus as it journeyed through town!
The trip back to Pathenkot was largely uneventful; though the sleeper train was to strike down our second trekker with the dreaded sickness bug! A twelve hour overnight train journey is no place to be poorly, but at least Lou had a collection of paper bags to lose her lunch into and a (grim) on board toilet facility to visit at regular intervals!!
The next leg of the journey can hardly have helped Lou’s predicament, a four and a half hour transfer to Agra…on a bus…with no suspension. Fair play…that woman is made from stern stuff (you can take the girl out of Warrington… :0)).
The discovery of the wifi password within our Agra hotel caused a ripple of excitement as it killed off all conversation for half an hour whilst contact was re-established with the outside world.
With everyone’s social media cravings sated we rediscovered the art of conversation and headed into Agra to visit the Red Fort, and to enjoy our last meal together; excited at the prospect of a 5am start to catch sunrise at the Taj Mahal.
Day 11 – A last hurrah!
Voted one of the new Seven Wonders of the World, the Taj Mahal - built by the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan in memory of his wife as a symbol of undying love – is a sight to behold.
The visit was a fitting, and for some emotional, way to end our challenge. Semi-precious stone encrusted walls and perfect symmetry blended seamlessly with hordes of sightseers and copulating monkeys, highlighting the fabulous beauty and contrast that is India.
After taking the obligatory Lady Diana pictures on ‘that’ bench, we left Agra for Delhi, the airport and home, armed with tales and stories from a journey that will be remembered, with a smile on our faces, for a lifetime.
“Because in the end, you won’t remember the time you spent working in the office or mowing your lawn. Climb that goddamn mountain.”By Jack Kerouac
Cath is looking for her next crew of trekkers to visit the Grand Canyon in 2016 and enjoy the stunning sights only experienced by 3% of visitors.
Fancy being part of another remarkable crew for the experience of a lifetime? Take a look at the Grand Canyon Trek 2016.