Planning an expedition of this scale is exciting, terrifying and yet also has its frustrations. I left my job just before Christmas with the ambition of spending two months planning the expedition – the route, sourcing a guide, buying the kit that I’d need, as well as learning more about the history and gaining Independence. I would set off on my journey in the middle of February, giving me just enough time to walk the length of the country, reaching the southern most tip in time to celebrate Indian Independence Day on 15th August. It seemed a fitting way to finish the expedition. But ideas don’t always go to plan…
To start with, trying to begin intense expedition planning just before Christmas was unrealistic. I was sending emails out to various trekking companies in India and getting no response. I reached out to a few potential sponsors and again, got nothing back. Christmas celebrations got in the way and I quickly became distracted by what my family was up to. I also think that despite only working four days a week for the past six months, I actually needed some time off to decompress, something I’d not done since August.
Come the start of January I had a new lease of energy. I was going to make this happen. My focus at this stage was the Himalayas, what seemed to me the more complex part of my route. But nature wanted nothing of me starting in February. The weather conditions in the Himalayas mean that the roads are closed until May and the cross-country trails are hidden. Many of the locals in that region move to the foothills or further south into the cities to avoid the harsh winter conditions. Yet I was convinced there would be a way through. I looked into the possibility of using snowshoes, or cross-country skiing along vast stretches but could find no evidence of people undertaking similar journeys.
I was fortunate when the brother of a friend of mine passed me some Kashmir-based contacts. These would prove to be invaluable as I was soon to find out. I fired off an email to each of them explaining my ambition and both quickly responded, searching for answers to the questions I had. After a phone call with each and their continued investigations, they both came back to me saying it was impossible. The risk of avalanches in February is extremely high, in fact inevitable, and they were not prepared to undertake the trek at that time of year…I was stumped. Their recommendations were two fold; 1) delay the expedition by 6 weeks, meaning my dream of completing the expedition on Indian Independence Day was shattered, or 2) walk via Srinagar, the Kashmir Valley and Jammu, a causal 500km detour through an active war zone. Although the latter one sounded feasible (and after a bit of research potentially not quite as dangerous as it sounds), it would add at least 20 days onto the trip. Neither seemed viable options in my mind.
After much deliberation and delay, I was forced to change my plans. I took the advice of the guides and delayed the expedition by 6 weeks, but wanting to stick to my original route as far as possible. This would see me leaving in Mid-April, giving me more time to look into alternative trails through the hills and the equipment that I would need. It also gave me time to really try and get my head around the history of India.
Since making that decision I have had some small wins. I see these as small at the moment, but I am sure over time, these will be some of the biggest wins of the entire expedition. I'm 90% of the way with a guide for the Himalayas and I've had the chance to speak to more people who have experience in expeditions in India. I've been able to secure some kit sponsorship (more on that later), undertake a few longish training walks, and dive deep into the history. I have also been able to make contacts on the ground at various museums and universities to help with my understanding and knowledge of the history. Doors continue to open up on a daily basis giving me more advice and opportunities.
As I wait in anticipation for my expedition to begin, I feel more and more confident that the journey is going to be a huge success. Watch this space!