“Beginnings have an innocence experience can’t buy”
It was just like loosing my virginity when I first laid eyes on the snow capped white Himalayan peak- The Nanda Devi, for until then I had been living in the plains of North India, and was subjected to incessant piles of concrete structures and commercial establishments. Laden with people, congestion, noise, dust, and artifice, the city seemed nothing short of a synthetic maze of obscurity, claustrophobia, and oblivion. I had taken trips to the go to hill stations of- Nainital, Shimla, and Manali in my teens, but it was far from exciting or relaxing as one imagines, or as shown in TV. These 3 places were always on the radar of the city dwellers, and every summer- throngs of common folks from the planes would descend over them to get away from the blistering heat of June and July; like rats clamoring to raid a big wedding banquet.
Mussoorie- for example felt nothing like the beautiful hill town drenched in mist and mystery, with long stretches of green deodars, pine and oaks, one reads about in Ruskin bond’s books, for there were more hotels, people, noise, and restaurants, than trees, silence and grand mountain vistas.
“And then there is the most dangerous risk of all — the risk of spending your life not doing what you want on the bet you can buy yourself the freedom to do it later.”
What games destiny plays with our judgement and beliefs, for the day before I was suppose to leave for Auli, the mind had started playing the tricks of logic and gain.”Was it really worth going so far for the trip?It would be tough, and uncomfortable to spend 5 days scrunched up in a tent in -11 degree weather without any heat and warmth.The food would be horrible and there would be no one to accompany and talk except a strange guide.”I had started to second guess myself and the idea seemed good only on paper.
And it all turned out true for the most part except the fact that- all the pleasures and comforts of the city seemed artificial, vain and unappetizing after the first glance of the might peaks.I had never known that sunrise could have such magnificence and allure when rising up from the lap of the Mountain goddess- The Nanda Devi.
When I first sat foot on snow and hunched up straight to take a good look at the uninterrupted panorama of the white and majestic Himalayas from Auli, I was flabbergasted to say the least. A delightful revelation.It was as if someone had punched me in the guts, knocking out every trace of ordinary and bland from the heart and soul, creating a dent in my subconscious. The mountains were so wild, stark and mammoth that I wanted to cry. I breathed in another wonderful moment to keep safe in my heart.I was feeling guilty for unknowingly devoiding myself from their astounding presence and beauty.
It was almost dark when I reached Auli.The air was shrill, the silence- haunting, and cold- bitter and unforgiving.It had just snowed in the upper reaches of the Himalayas- my guide told me.After having a warm supper I plunged inside the bed and went to sleep early.
I started the trek around 7 a.m in the morning. The sun was still behind the mountains and it was freezing outside. It was still dark when I started the ascent with my guide Rakesh leading the way.The first few kilometers were hard to climb due to steep incline and inexperience.But after 2 hours of panting and excuses to catch the breath the climb was over and now the path was straight with slight descent for the next few KM.I was walking on green meadows with a majestic views of the Hathi Ghora, Kamet, Nanda Devi, Mrigthuni, and Dronagiri peaks.
The muscles had opened up and the trek in the company of warm sunlight and white snow capped peaks turned from adventure to a blessing . It was a delightful walk over the large open meadows of Khullara. The breeze carried the scent of pine and rhododendrons – which were in full bloom during the season. Rakesh had decided to pitch the tent at Khullara-which was 7 KM away from our original campsite after seeing my enthusiasm. “We will make it Sir, I am with you, No worries, “Jai Nanda Devi” he would say everytime I said it was getting darker.
It was completely dark when we reached Khullara.I was exhausted, cold and hungry. Rakesh wasted no time in making maggie and tea and I satiated my hunger by licking everything from the insides of the bowl, for it was the most delicious maggie I had ever eaten. He had pitched the tent by then and we had started the preparation for dinner.It was extremely cold and I had to take out my Rum early. I gave a glass to Rakesh and he gulped it in one go as if it was water.”I will mix some water the next time , else you will finish it even before the vegetables are cooked.”- I said with a grin.
The stars were shining brilliantly bright and there was not a soul in the vicinity. It felt hush and stimulating. The silence was made eerie by a surprising howl from a Jackal, which died down after few minutes.And then all was silent again.The breeze was low and cold, the leaves rustled quietly as if whispering the secrets of the wild night. I had never experienced such serenity and solitude.In the city- you know so many people, and so many people know you, and yet you feel lonely, here-in this stark wilderness- I didn’t know Rakesh, and Rakesh didn’t know me, but not for a second did I feel lonely. Rakesh had prepared an excellent dal and Potato curry which was devoured in minutes.
We drank in the open- near the bonfire, till the cold was bearable, and we did last longer than expected, for I was high and happy. It was my first encounter with serendipity after my father’s demise, and I will never forget that night, for it was extraordinary, adventurous and filled with good food, Rum, feelings and friend.
We got up a bit late the next day, but Rakesh wasted no time in preparing the breakfast. Everything was packed within minutes and we started for Kuari pass at around 8 a.m.The meadows opened far and wide and there was still few meteres reaching Kuari pass- also know as Curzon’s trail. There was still some climb left and Rakesh told me- It is the best view from anywhere in Garhwal. I pushed myself all the way over the ridge. My head was down and I was still panting, when all of a sudden something caught my eye- It was the Dunagiri Mountain. It seemed so close and white.I looked around and the entire vistas of the Garhwal Himalayas was apparent to the naked eye. It was a 360 degree bird view of all the major Himalyan peaks.
After taking some photos and finishing our lunch we returned back to our camp, and the next day I left for Delhi. As I was about to take my seat in the taxi, Rakesh came running holding a packet of freshly cooked meal from his home-“It’s for the journey. Take care Sir. Come back again soon.”
“I will never forget this experience and the time spent in your company. You are an ideal guide Rakesh, and an extremely generous friend. Thank you for the hospitality, Goodbye.”
“Don’t say goodbye Sir. I know you will come again.You have fallen in love with the Mountains. Once you have lived amongst them,you belong to them, there is no escape. We meet to depart, and we depart to meet.”
And with these words I bade goodbye to Rakesh and to the Mountains, but only for a while, for the love affair with the Himalayas had been initiated and there was no doubt that it was going to last a lifetime.
“I do not know how far my experience is common. At times I suffer from the strangest sense of detachment from myself and the world about me; I seem to watch it all from the outside, from somewhere inconceivably remote, out of time, out of space, out of the stress and tragedy of it all. This feeling was very strong upon me after finishing this trip. Here was another side to my dream. Men go to far greater lengths to avoid what they fear than to obtain what they desire. I had been metamorphosed towards the latter. ”
“There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth… not going all the way, and not starting.” –Buddha
And What about you? Have you felt like this when coming across a Mountain the very first time? Comment below and share the experience of your first trek.