Sunday, 6 June 2021

A Mountain's Call


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On a freezing night, 6000 ft above the sea, our flashlights moved haphazardly from the tent. My numb fingers fumbled for the sleeping bag, craving its promised warmth. My tent-mate’s uneven breathing alternated with my own. For a moment her headlamp flashed on my face. I winced.

“Why are we doing this again?” she asks.

I laugh, thinking of the answer that mankind has been giving for ages. Because we can. We were scaling up a 12000 ft peak for the hell of it. But of course, there was more to it than that. Or so I hoped as I tried to stop my teeth from chattering.

It was day two of our first Himalayan trek. We anticipated rain in the coming days. That meant an additional concern of tripping over my overly large raincoat. Also, the slippery trail. Not to mention the possibly reduced visibility from the fog. Yet we hoped for rain. Because you see, rain meant possible snow, and snow was all the motivation we needed to overcome all else.

So we were off, dressed in ponchos and holding our trek poles, looking like a bunch of cloaked wizards. With our poles digging into wet mud, we marched ahead in the rain the next day. We were deep in the woods when something sharp landed on my hand. A stone, perhaps. But then came another. And another. Pretty soon there were hard stones falling all over us. A hailstorm.

I could hear our trek leader shouting from a distance. The cloaked wizards picked up his holler and chorused along – ‘Heads down!’. And there we were in a long line in the middle of the forest, heads resting on our poles while the hailstorm attacked us from behind. In my mind at the moment, there was nothing but plain excitement. The adrenaline. That’s when I knew; this was what we'd signed up for.

In the next two days my feet faltered, weighing in the unaccustomed long walks. But in these days I’d breathed in the view of a lake trapped in a meadow under a dusky sky, I’d drank water from a cold and crystalline stream head-first, and I’d sat on the edge of a cliff arm in arm with the sky. On the last day as I caught the first glimpses of snow, it was all my body needed to revitalize. I was up on my feet, ready for more.

The fatigue forgotten, I wanted to hop and prance. I often found myself tossing small balls of snow into the air. The higher we climbed, the softer the snow became. And the more the snow around us, the happier I was.

While we inched towards the summit, a snowstorm was brewing. Light snow had begun to fall. Everything from the sky to the trees to our very own feet was covered in white. Entirely white and incredibly beautiful.

When finally up on the summit, I wanted to scream out loud like I’d always imagined in my head. But my throat didn't agree so I gave up. And as if to make up for it, we had our trek leader screaming on top of his voice. Only that it was to urge us to descend immediately. The snowstorm had arrived.

Thus began the last and the best part of the trek. The descent. In a hurry to beat the storm, we ran and tumbled down the slope. Legs and poles sunk into the snow to form trenches. Winds slapped snow onto our faces. The strands of hair escaping our hoods got frozen. So did our eyelashes. Even the furry black-turned-snow-white dogs who’d been with us shared our panic as they ran along.

It felt like we were running for our lives. And I was absolutely loving it! As crazy as it sounds I was laughing as we made our way to an even ground. On finally reaching a shelter we huddled up. We were grinning and heaving, our collective thrill floating in the circle. This was when our leader stepped aside and asked us a question, his face flushed with passion,

“Do you feel alive?!”

His energy was infectious. Yes. That was exactly how we felt. Alive. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt this way. I felt like I had rewarded myself, like I’d given my body what it was missing for long. I felt like I wanted more of this. I felt incredibly happy.

And with such an overwhelming feeling, it came to a close. The feeling now lingers at the back of my head, slowly slipping into dormancy. It waits to be rekindled some day when the now-dominant virus is put to sleep instead. 

But until then, we reminisce and hold on. 



P.S - The trek referred to is the Deoriatal - Chandrashila trek in Uttarakhand. Here's a shoutout to Indiahikes Trekking Organization for giving us such an amazing experience.

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