Getting into a flight after a year is a feeling that is indescribable, you know everything has changed. The masks, face shields were more than obvious but a sense of trepidation and fear is what I felt in people. But I didn’t care once the flight took off, pretty soon I would be in Rishikesh, in the hills and away from people and in the lap of Himalayas.
I had reached earlier in Rishikesh and booked an accommodation in a quaint uphill stay and the first thing I did was sit in the balcony and get my first glimpse of the Himalayas. Everything pales in comparison. Here there was no fear, no panic, no news, no for and against, nothing, just her surrounding us all. Bhim landed a little later, we jumped and hugged seeing each other and smiled and his eyes spoke the same. Finally!! WE ARE HERE! Wonder how the rest of the trekkers would be?
I was not on whatsapp and didn’t want to be in a group because I remember cancelling a number of times just before a trek started just by seeing the messages! Yup that’s true and I am like that. So this time I avoided that so I would have no choice but to go along with what comes when I meet them. Bhim was on whatsapp and updated me on and off, he did mention that quite a few of them were first time trekkers to Himalayas.
That night we walked out a bit and all we could see was the effect of the pandemic, sullen faces sitting in empty restaurants and cafes waiting for customers to walk in. In the end we had our dinner at the in-house cafe of our stay and were set for the next day.
It amuses me when I think of it now, but every single time, every trek I did, the first day is the same. Each Trekker eyeing the other, there is a curiosity, shyness, sizing each other up subtly. Gosh we are all gonna be together for almost a week!
We walked our way to the pickup point where a tempo was waiting to take us to the Sari base camp. I remember as we were walking, I got a call from a Indiahikes coordinator enquiring my whereabouts, I brusquely mentioned I will be there soon while Bhim got a call from Navadeep, a Trekker who said we are waiting for you. Once we reached we only saw two guys talking to an older gentleman and no one else. It piqued us, why did we get calls when most of them haven’t turned up yet?
Instead of introducing ourselves, we gave a stiff smile and sat aside in a corner and waited. There was a Bengali guy, Showmik who said, there was no water in the hostel so it was getting late for the others, a guy Navadeep whose name sounded so North Indian but he was from Hyderabad!
My only thought was man, if we knew this, we could have lazed a little bit more in the cosy courtyard of the hotel sipping Chai! I was petting a friendly street dog when a petite gal with her backpack walked towards the tempo talking to the others asking if this was for Deorital trek. I instantly liked her. Why?
She was alone, she seemed independent and confident. She was Riddhi. Believe me, as a woman and as a rebel I always look for kindred spirits because now more than ever women need to assert themselves at any age, and there is nothing more heartening than seeing another woman making her way into the world.
Then slowly came the others, there was a whole group trudging their way to the tempo. We took our respective places. Bhim and I already had our single seats near the window and Riddhi was right behind me. There was also a much older gentleman in a white shirt. Let me tell you that white shirt haunted me, but more on that later!
We continued our journey towards the base camp and as we crossed Scenic points it was so déjà vu. We did this route going to Deorital 4 years ago, this was also the route towards Sankri when I did Har Ki Dun trek 3 years ago. Just the trekkers changed.. everything else remained the same.
We stopped for breakfast and people were taking smoke breaks. Bhim and I sat at a table and Riddhi joined us. She shared her story. For a month this gal was in Himachal with her cousin taking up a project to paint a Yoga studio as a volunteer and she backpacked and trekked around. Having done her masters in Boston, and working she was making a career change now and it was a bold step, she took time off to backpack, volunteer, paint and trek. And a truly talented artist as she showed the artwork they did in the studio. She carried a little notebook, with drawings, memories, when she went to Kareri lake, Bir. It was fascinating.
A Gujarati Jain gal who chose not to get married in her 20s, who is going to be 30 this year, who chose to explore the world, amidst peer and family pressure. Why am I saying this? I have live examples in my city regardless of any community, be that Reddy, Kamma, Rajus( Telugu communities guys) the thread is the same.
Finish engineering, go abroad to study( mostly diplomas) come back, matchmaking, marry by ‘25’ if the parents are ready to wait that long! Or before 24 and in a few years parenthood etc etc etc., And this from educated privileged people who have to make sure their daughters and sons adhere to it strictly. You get my gist?
Outside the restaurant on its wall was the map of Uttarakhand with all the villages and routes marked and Bhim and I were nostalgic about it. We saw Roopkund, the route towards Badrinath, the entire Garhwal region was clear. Right then came in Showmik with printouts of the entire schedule of the trek from start to end! This man was one interesting character! Bhim and I looked at each other and smiled 😊
We bumped into a curly haired guy with a big smile. He resembled one of our friends, Nag and we even told him that. He sweetly offered us ‘ Khakra Dosa’, yup that’s right, paper thin khakras that resembled Dosas with some cheese on it ! He was from Nagpur and got along his friend Anuj also from the same city, his cousin was also with him but I didn’t know his name that time- it was ‘Dharmik’. We told him that anytime a Gujju joins the trek we are happy because you guys carry food and you share instantly, we South Indians pack really light!
The driver told us all, ‘Agar cigarette phukna hai to yaha kar lo aur dabba de do, Sari base camp mein allowed nahin hai’( If you want to smoke, finish it now and give me the cigarettes, it’s strictly not allowed in the base camp) We all laughed but let me tell you no one gave him the cigarette pack😊
With the driver’s Jai Shri Ram chant every fifteen minutes, we were finally reaching a higher altitude, up and up. We were away from the pollution, the noise, the fear, the crowd, even from our families. It was just us, the mountains and a crisp air. I remember in the middle of our journey we removed our face masks. Now it was just a matter of time before our actual masks would be pulled down by the Himalayas.
Until Tomorrow 😊