As I continued my trek, stopping in between, taking a breather and getting breathless seeing the scenery unfold I saw an older large lady in a pink Salwar Kameez sitting on one of the benches.
I was walking continuously for a kilometer and seeing that bench was tempting so I placed my now heavy day pack and took a breather.
She smiled at me and asked in Hindi, Where are the others? I said Who? She repeated again asking where is your family? I smiled and said I am alone. She was stunned for a moment, like just stunned. The next question was Why??
What could you answer to that? I really didn’t know what to say. She was a simple North Indian woman, a housewife maybe ‘cos that’s what I observed.
What I said would maybe never be understood by her. So I simply said ‘Mannat’ (A Vow) and in a way when I look at it, it was just that.
That brief moment at Tunganth in the snow, the thought of Kedarnath happened and maybe I told what was deep inside me.
Right then her husband, an older bald man and her 12 year old son came running back, the husband telling her to get up and start moving and not to be so slow.
The moment he saw me, he smiled and told her accha baatein kar rahi ti is ladke se saath ( So you were chatting with this girl)
And it just happened and I mean like that. He said Chale? (let’s go?) to his wife and to me too.
And like that I found company during this trek. I became a part of their pilgrimage and them a part of mine too. I let it flow.
I didn’t think even for one moment that NO I will only walk alone, I will not talk to anyone. This is MY Journey, nothing. No thoughts. When he said Chale I nodded and walked with them.
Now we were almost reaching 6 kms and the lady was slowing down even more and at certain points I walked ahead of them, sometimes way ahead and I would naturally wait for them.
The kid joined in with me. We would walk together in silence and wait until his parents joined us. He was a quiet polite kid, maybe very shy but quite caring.
Did I think that I would have made up to Kedarnath faster if I was not with that family?
Maybe I would have saved an hour or more but nothing can take away the enriching experience I had being with them all. NOTHING. It was worth it.
We stopped at a Chai point and that was the point where even the Ponies were taking a break. Naturally the family went ahead and paid for my Chai. At every point they did that. And no, they didn’t make me pay for them at all throughout. They would have none of it.
I accepted it graciously and as humbly as I possibly could. To give is way easier, to receive is tougher.
We met a couple of other families sitting on the opposite side who were taking the ponies and started talking to them.
I realized being on the ponies was no easy task either. It was the balance and yup one had to be fit even for that, at least a little bit.
They were strong animals but if you were heavy structured it was really tough and more so because most of them had no experience sitting on them, the danger of the person tipping over was more. And I saw one unfortunate incident on my way down.
Their backs were already aching badly. Imagine you had to be on that pony for at least 4-5 hours!
The scene was even more breathtaking now, the ascent became steep and steeper, we could even see the roundabout trekking path at one point. I mean what can you say about this view?
Ridges, rocky slippery paths, you cross waterfalls, then you see rich green mountains, so green you could go color blind because of it’s brightness, clouds so close you feel you are passing right through them. It was breathtaking.
It was almost 9 am and I was walking since 5.30 am. The sun was slowly showing itself. It would get more difficult to ascend once the Sun starts hitting you. We did see a breakfast stop finally.
At that point, I honestly wanted to keep walking up, at least till I reach Lincholi – the 10 kms midway point but I remembered Vishu’s words, eat breakfast a good one otherwise you will collapse in exhaustion. After that energy bar, I was only sipping on water with some Electrolytes in it.
I went in with the family and had some Aloo Paratha and Adrak Chai, in fact force fed myself. I didn’t feel one bit hungry, there was a mix of emotions.
You are tired, exhausted but invigorated with the energy, it’s surroundings, you feel full and fatigued, yet one had to practically fuel up.
The small makeshift breakfast place was placed precariously on the edge and right in front was this breathtaking view of the Himalayas.
I could see cows nicely placing themselves on the edge and eating grass. I saw old Pahadi men from down below making their way up to the breakfast place. It was all so surreal.
I couldn’t believe I am here, like right at this moment, walking up, being with these people. Those 4 guys nodded, waved back at me, they were eating too. It was such a nice acknowledgement of each other.
As we looked up we saw the ascent was only getting higher and steeper and the lady was groaning already saying I don’t know if I am going to make it walking.
She laughed and said when she asked someone who was on their way down how many hours more, the guy said ‘Auntyji jis tara se aap chal rahe ho, aap to shaam hi pahunchoge’ 🙂 (The way you are walking up, it will be evening by the time you reach there)
The kid and myself with new found energy went faster up at one point. We felt fresh, felt good, felt energized and it gave us the strength to go further.
I saw all of them had bamboo walking sticks almost like a trekking pole for the journey. I cursed myself for not getting one at Gaurikund. It really helps during ascents while navigating slippery rocks, paths and old snow filled tracks.
Just at that moment a man who was on his way down from Kedarnath looked at me and gave his bamboo walking stick to me, like that.
It seems so simple but so miraculous to me. He smiled and said Jai Bole Nath! If this is not godliness and divinity in humans, what is?
We were way ahead and the kid’s parents were slowing down, not the man but he had to accompany his wife and I could see him losing his temper.
I was almost ready to go ahead without them, say Thank you and move on. Just then the lady came up beaming and happy on a pony.
They could actually find an extra pony with one group and he paid for his wife and she went ahead. Now it was 3 of us.
It got amazing after that. We started ascending up and up and suddenly I heard a shout from those guys whom I became familiar with. I call them the ‘Kanpur boys’.
They came running and said hey there is a short cut! I was like What? Yes, Yes they nodded there was a short cut than this long winding roundabout path.
And where exactly? Right next to the ridge there was a kind of rock path that one had to semi climb but would cut a kilometre short. This was news!
And it was true, lots of locals and even some walkers were using that. But man it was steep! As I said semi climb, one slip and you would tumble all the way down. On top of it, there were people descending too, coming back from Kedarnath.
I know this for a fact that if I was alone, I would have never done this. But for the older man, his son and the other guys I went ahead. We became this solid group.
The guys, the man kept me going. We started ascending, climbing with our bags behind us. This was total team work as we started motivating each other.
If one took a breath, we all did, waited at our spots, then we started trekking up the short cut. This was more strenuous than the main walking path.
I thanked God for my trekking shoes because I saw almost everyone wore sandals or those simple ‘canvas’ shoes and one guy wore Bata’s Hawaii Chappals. Such bravado man.
It hurt their feet like crazy I could see that, but no one complained, they would heave sigh, go breathless and smile at each other.
We completely relied on each other and I mean completely. One of the guys making jokes, another encouraging, holding hands out to pull the other one up. And guess what I saw some women in Sarees climbing up with their spouses, the younger lot. It was amazing.
Finally we reached a point where we cut almost 1 kilometre of the usual path. Imagine how I felt. I was exhilarated totally. That feeling of as if we reached the top. Of having done something I would have never imagined I would do.
I recall all of us sitting next to each other and smiling and laughing and sharing water and snacks.
None of that corporate team workshops and all that fancy lingo will work as efficiently as this one!
I would say people, get everyone, anyone to start doing this. You will see teamwork from the most unlikely people. Strangers at first and a strong camaraderie later.
We looked up and saw another shorter trek route. No talking at all, we looked at each other and went right in to that short cut route!
Lincholi was half a kilometre away now.
Halfway point at 10 kms..