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We didn’t arrive in Manali until dark after the three-hour train ride out of Delhi and a 10-hour cab ride from hell to Manali. Margaret and Alison, who have never been here before (Kasha and I previously made the trek), would have to wait until morning to catch their first glimpse of the impressive sights around us — the Indian Himalaya.
Our first day in town is sunny and beautiful. We learn from the local heli-ski company that sun has been the trend this winter, making for an unusually low and unstable snow pack: perfect avalanche conditions. After coming so far, however, there is no way we’re going to call off our quest to conquer Hanuman Tiba. That means that after only one day of rest after arriving in India, we need to start acclimatizing. It’s time to get some altitude.
The following morning we get up at the crack of dawn for a day of heli-touring. We snag a quick lift up in the morning before the regular clients, tour all day, and then take another ride down in the evening — a pretty efficient way to get fit for our upcoming tour.
After three more days of the same routine, we realize that we’re running ourselves into the ground when we had intended to be acclimatizing and preparing our gear. As a result, we decide to push back our departure date one day to give us more time to rest, shop, and pack — all of which are crucial when you’re planning to be in the mountains for 11 days. We also feel that it would be a good omen to head out on Holy, the biggest holiday of the year in India. Holy is the day when people forgive each other for past transgressions. Little did we know that part of the customary forgiving process includes randomly throwing colored paint on everyone around you.
The morning of our departure we pack up all our stuff, including the “painful bag,” which holds 11 days worth of food and takes all four of us to carry. We know we have a beautiful day ahead of us as we head out of town for our rendezvous with the helicopter. Due to the lack of snow this winter, we’re forced to take a short helicopter ride up the Malasu Valley to our base camp at a little over 12,000 feet: snow line.
We soon find ourselves — four women surrounded by curious Indians — waiting for a helicopter in a dry cow pasture in the middle of nowhere, holding skis and huge packs, covered in paint of every color in the rainbow. Things happen in India that just don’t happen anywhere else.
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