Here we bring you an interview with Pankaj Lagwal, Senior Mountain Guide and Outdoor Instructor at Ascent Descent Adventures, an indian based adventure company dedicated to mountaineering and trekking in the Himalayas. Pankaj talks about his love for the Mountains, what his company offers and his most exciting stories from trekking in the Himalayas.
You work for Ascent Descent Adventures. What is your role in the company?
I am Senior Mountain Guide and Outdoor Instructor, planning the season and training guides and staff as well as opening new trails and routes for trekking/climbing enthusiasts. Other than the outdoor I also manage the business development part in Ascent Descent Adventures.
Can you tell us a bit about Ascent Descent Adventures. Which services do you offer?
Ascent Descent Adventures (ADA) is an outdoor adventure company based in India and we do our best to make the trips safe, simple and comfortable for our clients. Safety is our priority so we don’t compromise with safety to make our trip easy / short and comfortable.
ADA operation area is Himachal Pradesh Ladakh and Uttarakhand in Indian Himalayas.
ADA offers a wide range of trips from leisurely trekking and serious climbing. Jeep safari, rock climbing, climbing expeditions, camping and rafting, custom made trips and mountaineering courses.
For trekking usually our costing says:
Cost includes: all travel from Delhi and back to Delhi by road/ rail / air as applicable (by non ac car / 2 or 3 tier ac coach), all arrangements for staying and camping while on the trip, accommodation on twin share basis in tents / rest houses / hotels, all meals, professional guide fee, peak fee, sanctuary fee / royalty / permits where applicable, all trekking arrangements with India’s most experienced guiding team, camp staff, cook etc.
Cost excludes: Railway station / airport transfers in Delhi, any stay and meals in Delhi, sleeping bag, items of personal clothing, expenses of personal nature like laundry, phone calls, alcohol, cigarettes, insurance, camera fee and any costs arising out of unforeseen circumstances such as bad weather, landslides, road conditions and any other circumstances beyond our control.
April 2003, early spring in Indian Himalayas. My every season starts with a recci (reconnaissance ) trip in Himalayas. I was all geared up for the new trail – which I always enjoy. This time to the Dodital trek in Uttarakhand (30.33°N 78.06°E) which is a state in the northern part of India.
Dodital (30°53′53″N 78°31′29″E) the sacred lake situated at a height of 3,024 metres (9,921 ft). The lake is famous for its Himalayan trout. The trail starts from Bhagirathi valley and you enter into Yamuna valley while crossing Darwa pass above Dotial Lake. The perfect vista of the Bandarpunch and Swargarohini range of peaks from Darwa Pass ( 4160 m.13640 ft). There is a traditional route for Dodital trek i.e. 4 days, but recci was to find a new route through the thick Devdar & Rhododendron forest with another trekking guide (Shashi) from Delhi. After reaching the base i.e. Uttarkashi we hired a local guide (Vasudev) to lead the unexplored and virgin route through the thick forest famous for the Indian Black Bear.
Everything was going great initially towards the majestic and mythological lake. After 2 days of trek our local guide lost his way when we were at 14000 ft in snow and white out on Darwa top. We tried really hard to get back on the trail but at that time the weather was getting worse minute by minute, making it difficult to find the trail. So finally we decided to camp there on Darwa top. As it was late, we all were tired and we decided to pitch our 2 man tent. We melted the snow, cooked some maggi and settled inside the tent. We had only one personal tent and it was cold so all of us squeezed into that one tent. Now inside the tent we were planning for the next day and how to get out from there. Plan one was to descend back to the lake and start the climb again but then the days would be less to finish the recci and we had to find out the way to reach the next camp site. So I decided, instead of going back, we will spend a day more to find the way ahead. I always carry my complete emergency kit and required equipment to deal with any situation. I decided to use the compass and map (as GPS was not common in India in those days). Third day we started early, navigated the route and did make a lot of markings to not loose our path again. Next day we didn’t find the camping site as we were not on the original trail though we managed to land in the village below the camping site. So the reconnaissance was not over yet and we had only a day in our hand to finish the trip. Then I started the recci again to figure out the original trail from the other end of the trail. Went up to Drawa pass and descended to the village the same day.
This is the most memorable trekking story to me because in this hard time we (me and Shashi, my fellow guide) developed an attraction towards each other and got married 3 years after. Indeed a trek to remember and cherish!
What does your customers usually expect from your company and what feedback do they give you?
Clients expect fun, memorable adventure and safe trips on the Himalayas. Their feedback is mostly positive and we usually become friends on the trip. They recommend us and plan their next trips with us.
Please tell us about the different treks you offer. Which sights can you see? How do they differ? What can the customers expect?
We are operating in three different regions on Indian Himalayas.
Himachal Pradesh Treks – A. Triund B. Hamta Pass C. Beas Kund D. Shiti Dhar Peak Ascent
Uttara Khand Treks – A. Dodital B. Chopta TungNath C. Kuari Pass D. Kalindi Khal Ascent
Ladakh Treks – A. Stokla B. Ripture Valley C. Stok kangri Peak Ascent.
As these three regions are on different part of the Himalayas, so terrain, trails, culture, flora and fauna makes them different and ADA offers treks from easy, moderate and demanding treks almost in all these 3 regions.
Himachal Pradesh is much greener in comparison of the other two regions and is also well connected by rail, air and road to trek destinations. As it is in western Himalayas you get a view of Pirpanjal and Dhuladhar ranges of Himalayas. Hanuman tibba, Friendship, Shiti dhar, Ladakhi are some of the massive peaks and all are about 17000 plus feet. The Dalai Lama settled here after his flight across the Himalaya following the Chinese invasion of Tibet in October 1959. There is a monastery at McLeod Ganj, Dharamsala Himachal Pradesh a short distance along from the Dalai Lama’s residence and a library.
Utarakhand comes in Central Himalayas/Gharwal Himalayas and it is a very new state earlier it was the part of Uttar Pradesh. Here you can get a view of Black, Bandar punch, Chukhamba, Nandadevi, Dunagiri, Neelkanth etc. Mother Ganges in Rishikesh is the hub for rafting in India. Haridwar is regarded as one of the seven holiest places to Hindus. Also all four pilgrims (Char Dham) for Hindus lies in this state.
Ladakh is completely different from above two regions as the monsoon has no effect there because of the Great Himalayas. Ladakh is a cold desert and only opens for majority of tourist in monsoon time. It only has a four month season for trekking and climbing. Leh is the main town here for tourists situated at the altitude of 11000 feet. Above this town there is Kardungla pass with the highest motorable road. Since the 8th century people belonging to different religions, particularly Buddhism and Islam, have been living in harmony in Leh Ladakh. These offers views of Stok, Zanskar, Karakoram ranges in this region.
When did you first get into adventure trekking and mountaineering? and why?
I am a mountain boy and brought up in Shimla the summer capital for the British.
My school was more than an hour away from my house and I used to walk to school every day up and down the mountain which I liked. Slowly I developed an interest in rock climbing and to fulfill that urge I joined the mountaineering institute in 1995 to learn the skills of mountaineering and I finished all the mountaineering course including Method Of Instruction in 1998. Before going to the institute it was my hobby and I used to do trekking with friends in college. I started doing freelancing when I was in University to make some pocket money. My hobby turned to my profession as I developed new tastes of learning like rafting and skiing. Somewhere deep inside I had a courage to choose this profession as it is not very well paid compared to the toughness and risk involved. But I find myself very lucky that I am doing good in the hobby that turned my profession.
What is it about trekking and mountaineering that appeals to you?
Mountains themselves appeal to me (their hugeness, their tallness, their beauty). Trekking and mountaineering is not a deal of 9 – 5 and that’s the one big reason that I can’t sit in the office, I would rather prefer to go out in mountains for a trek or a climb. I personally feel good when I am close to nature away from cell phones, TV and the stress of city life.
What is your favorite place in Indian and in the Himalayas and why?
Shimla because it is my beautiful home town and it is also in the middle Himalayas.
“Lahul and Spiti”, another of my favorite places, in Himachal Pradesh because it is one of the regions which needs to be explored more, as it is the region which is less travelled by people.
How do you see the future for Ascent Descent Adventures?
I see it is very bright as we concentrate on quality of travelling not the quantity and we never compromise with the quality and safety of our product.