I’ve always been fascinated by the mountains-especially the magnificence of the Himalayas. Who isn’t? I’ve often wondered about its mysterious seductive lure–a bait for spiritual transcendence that has drawn so many great minds and seekers to it. J Krishnamurti, Timothy Leary, Shankaracharya, Rishi Vashishta…wow! Just the idea of making the trip and I felt in exalted company already- part of the world’s intellectual A list! Ha ha-
Couldn’t wait to put my trekking boots on -in spite of the fact that Kaveri would burst into tears every time I mentioned my Himalayan Trek, clutch my hand and whimper “Mamma what if you die on the mountain”!!! Now where on earth did she get that thought from? Many hugs and kisses and reassurances later she’s convinced her mamma is going to come back alive and well in time to drop her to the bus stop the day school reopens. So I get the nod to go.
Phew! Thank you little girl- but I was going anyway –because I’m done with domination I tell ya- first my parents -then my husband and now my child. Why is it that people who love you never allow you to do the things you love to do? Why are they so afraid to let you enjoy yourself-take a chance on life that doesn’t include them? Why is everything they want to do somehow more important than what you want to do? Maybe I’ll crack this karma drama while meditating in the snow –like all the saints did- maybe I’ll come back rechristened Maabodhini Suchitra – or I’ll find that the Yeti or the mountain gorilla is my true soulmate and I’ll be the next goddess or mother of God because of this mountain miracle immaculately conceptualized …. If I sound like I have mountain sickness even before I left town it’s only because I’m excited, make that exhilarated or enchanted or because
Lets face it- climbing up just any mountain like the western ghat or even a supposedly higher peak doesn’t seem anywhere as glamorous or challenging as going on a Himalayan trek. It’s such a global adventure phenomenon –this Himalaya’s climbing thingee- that apparently even Hollywood has jumped on to the bandwagon. For a sum as ridiculously high or low (airfares from origin destination excluded- depending on where your coming from and how desperately you want that photo op ) as ten to fifteen thousand dollars there are adventure companies that guarantee to plonk you on the summit of Everest –give you a certificate and many photos that you can frame an put on your mantelpiece. There is absolutely no evidence or reason to ever mention to your admiring audience the helicopters, the khachars ( mules or gadhalog as Kaveri affectionately calls them) that made this all possible. Sometimes I’ve heard there are even palanquin’s (this I have no proof of but apparently with a choice of headgear ala Cleopatra or Queen Victoria et all…one can even chose the colour of the palanquin bearers depending on if your fantasy includes black or white slaves!)
Uff-why am I digressing into all this… the company I signed up with was not one of these dubious listed at the back pages of Penthouse(for old debauched rich men) or Missbehave (for young restless cocky women) magazine-This company that I signed up with Aquaterra- was a company listed as one of the best adventure travel companies in the world by National Geographic, New York Times etc. The first thing they told me when I spoke to them on the phone was “once you sign up and start trekking, there is no chance to stop or turn back. You have to keep going till you complete the trek-its at least 8 hours if not more of walking every day-sometimes all uphill”
“but don’t you provide mules and palanquins for those who can’t? I mean what if I faint?
“If you faint we’ll sprinkle water on your face, give you some juice and Gatorade and get you on your feet again
“no mules? What about the gadhalog? Your website even shows their pictures?”
“The mules transport your luggage. If you want to trek on a mule you need to find another company_maybe one of those Hollywood ones who airlift you onto the summit for a photo-op we don’t do that kind of thing”
Click-the line goes dead. A love a man who talks tough and says it as it is -I sign up immediately and a few days later am en route to Delhi Haridwar and Auli from where the trek commences.
We walk through forests of oak and rhododendron to reach the meadows of Gorson-the views are absolutely stunning. I forget that my heart is beating so loudly with the sharp incline that I feel its plonked itself outside my body somewhere between my chin and shoulders. Everytime I try to grab it it slips below the sweater again. We camp overnight
This year it snowed earlier than usual in the Himalayas – and sleeping in tents that get covered in ice is not exactly easy for the spoilt city bred –used to sleeping on feather beds but I grin and bear it. It dosent matter that me and everybody else is up the whole night, teeth chattering and brain freezing and toes cramping with the minus 5 to 7 temperatures. The next morning we are up at and ready to trek again discussing the discomfort of the previous night with great aplomb-trying to outdo each other in our stories of suffering.
We trek and walk and climb and trek some more. The views are simply breathtaking. Facing north the vision sweeps across the gorges of Trishul in the east to the peaks of Kedarnath, Chaukhamba, Nilkantha, Gauri Parbat , Hathi Parbat, Nandadevi etc ( all 6000m to 7000 m high) lined one after the other in a magnificent arc.
At one point on one of the days the trail narrows considerably-we are now on a trail about a foot (in some places a foot and a half) wide-to the right is rock and forestation-to the left a footfall away is a sheer 10,000/- to 12,500/ feet drop. I panic start to sweat, palpitate (I have severe vertigo) and sit down in terror refusing to budge, holding my head in my palms refusing to open my eyes. The guide has to coax and cajole me. He takes me by the hand and walks me through the trail (like I told you once you’re on the trail there is no way of turning back) step by step, watching the tears flow down my eyes and hear me chant prayers non stop treating me like a child. I wonder how the rest of the group is so non chalant –they have traipsed through the narrow trail like a piece of cake.
My legs continued to tremble for hours after I finished that walk …
Other than this narrow trail the rest of the trek was not risky at all-I enjoyed every moment of pushing my mind body and spirit to the extreme to the extent that it almost became a religious experience.
I didn’t find my yeti or my gorilla soulmate- but I found a part of me that made me believe in myself again, in the magic of the snow, the stars and the sunlight. That made it possible to transcend the physical body and live in the realm of spirit if only for those few brief moments.
Many people have asked me since my return-My god -why would you want to climb a mountain? And my answer is- Its because the mountain is there…
So early next year I am off to Kilimanjaro in Africa and then Everest base camp in September…(not with a Hollywood company that will airlift me to the summit but with the same people I did this trek with)
OMG …I’m going higher and higher….what a trip