I had so many memorable experiences with the team that sometimes I shake my head wondering if it was real, if it happened. Unlike all my previous trek blogs where I went chronological, this time I wish to write more on the moments than on which day what happened. Because one ought to remember those than mechanically remembering the dates. So here goes..
Akshay smartly would group us together without us feeling forced or being made to play anything and thank god there were no ice breaker games or mafia nothing. Now I feel it’s also because we didn’t need one to begin with. From day one, there was interaction, from day one we knew each other’s names. Was it just because there were only 13? Logically it seems like it but it was more than that. We fit like a jigsaw puzzle, that’s it.
One of the games he played was group us into two and made Prerana and me the leaders. The idea was to guide one of our team member blindfolded to the bottle hidden somewhere and all we had to do was use gestures and signs and the one in the front could shout out the instructions. Needless to say my team and I lost countless times while Prerana’s team won every time. I remember Radhey who was from the other team coming into our group and yelling, ‘Yaaaaay!!!!’ The provoker as always! 😂 I also remember Mayur, Ravi and I discussing for a really long time and details which I will not share and we decided to let go. One had to look at the bigger picture, it was too trivial to make anything out of it. We even spoke to Ronak who was in our team and we decided to let go. Let’s move on shall we? 😊
Akshay pointed out rightly what went wrong with our team and what went right with their team and when he asked Prerana and me about it. I only said, ‘Inshallah our boys did well’. To be honest I am not one bit competitive, am a lazy arse when it comes to pitting teams against each other! I find the whole thing tiring, so I was glad that my end of the team was as chilled out as I was. As Mayur puts it best, it’s nicer to be nice than trying to be right. ♥️
One of the other activities we did in one of the campsites, maybe it was Phutsirang was to try some rock climbing. Akshay earmarked a rock and made Shantanu demonstrate. Now I didn’t know until then he was a mountaineer too, but he just glided on top and others followed suit with instructions. I just sat back and saw the fun. I was like, no way am I gonna injure myself trying to climb it. I am a totally injury prone person and I didn’t want to get a cut or a sprain, not now!
Prerana went up and slipped and kept trying and finally reached the top, but once she came down there was blood on her face and hand! Immediately Akshay rushed her to the site for first aid. Turns out it was a couple of cuts on her fingers, from that day onwards everyone made fun of it! Oh man look at the major injury you had! The other joke was when at the first campsite of Mulling when it was pouring, Santoshbhai said in the villages they would make a young girl bring out some rice, especially a girl who was about to get married, only she could stop the rains. So every single time the team would rib her, so shall we get you married to a local??? a tree?? 😂 This time with her ‘injury’ everyone said she finally made an offering to the mountains with her blood!
And the whole group also played frisbee whenever they could. And let me be frank, all of them sucked at the game 😂 Hey it’s my blog and I can be honest right? I was amused at seeing how each one encouraged and the others throwing skills even though it was bad, then I thought everyone is so bad, so naturally a little better than worse looks good! 😂 The only person who had decent frisbee throwing skills was Rajiv senior.
I remember one of the most memorable moments after that rock climbing thing. Akshay told us to take a space, a corner and recollect the happiest moments, it could be anything. Just recollect it and later we will share. My first reaction was, Oh man, thinking and thinking dude, I came here to EXPERIENCE not think! But as I sat down it started happening, so many moments, so many happy moments. It’s ironic that most of us don’t reminisce those happy moments and we have plenty of them and instead focus on what we lost, what we didn’t get..
Akshay told us that later we could share what we felt with the group and here again I am not going chronologically but with lots of moments.. As we sat together in the dining tent one day, Akshay softly said, this is a safe space, be free, there are no judgements, say what you feel, express yourself, anything and it is ok, you are in a place filled with people who only want to be there for you. And by saying that, I felt a whole other energy lifting up, elevating us. Taking away whatever little reservations we had..
I recall so many people’s experiences. Rajiv Senior’s fond memories of the birth of his kids, Siddhant with his one simple statement, be humble.. When Akshay prodded him about his happy memory, he smiled that smile, not much he said, that was Sid for you, keeping what was most private to himself. There were many such memories shared by our team but for me which tugged my heart strings was Prerana’s.. Raised by a strong single mom, she went through immense struggles, her silver medal at the national level as a hurdler. When she broke down talking about calling her mom after she won, that all the years of bringing her up singlehandedly, of making her mother proud, of entering the race when no one cared for her as all the focus was on other athletes, they didn’t think she stood a chance, energy drinks, juices, the coaches were not handed to her, nothing, she took it all in silently and won it, and that call to her mother was the happiest moment got me crying. This gal I tell you ♥️ I liked her the instant we met, within days my love for her grew and now so much respect. So many stories kept pouring out from the team.. Nothing was handed to anyone, nothing, one had to take what came and make the most of life. It is an incredible memory I hold close to my heart.
Akshay after listening to everyone said, “From what I hear, all your memories are the simplest most moments and pleasures, simple things like calling your mother, sitting with your loved one over breakfast and laughing, the birth of your kids, your children wanting to become independent, just that joyous feeling of being in the mountains.. Now remember this, always, when you go back to your life, to the cities hold onto these simple pleasures, these moments, go back to them whenever you feel bogged down or stressed out, nothing is as bad as you feel, it is this that matters. Wow…. Akshay…
We also had many lessons that day at Phutsirang, personally for me I had my own stress going on inside out, only Prerana could sense it and kept telling me not to think too much. My headaches were on and off, but nothing else was happening. I was drinking 7-8 litres of water which is a must in high altitude and yet my oxygen levels were dropping! Was my finger too cold, was the oxymeter not working? I feel perfectly alright but what the hell is happening? I wanted to summit so bad! But that was another big lesson for me as I kept thinking, so what if I am sent back, I had an incredible 4 days with the most fantastic group, I don’t need more than this and honestly I was prepared for it too, I told myself, it’s ok this too shall pass.
Prerana the dear she is kept assuring me and Akshay told me to take a full dose of diamox now and I did and in a few hours the oxygen readings were much better. This was such a big lesson to my ego. I had a pride in me all these years, why diamox? I did Rupin, Roopkund which is tougher I trekked in Ladakh and I handled it, no way will I take this pill! I sat with Akshay and thanked him, not just for the pill but to show me how I had to lower myself down, to blow my ego away to understand this pill doesn’t diminish my fitness, health or trekking skills. It’s the ego that needed to be smattered, this could happen to anyone.
One more lesson we had was when Akshay and the technical team took us towards a steep slope just before summit day to teach us basic mountaineering, from rappelling to how to ascend and descend with our micro spikes and gators. FYI, micro spikes are metal chains that you place under your shoes, this helps your grip while trekking in snow, not fresh snow but old ice and gators that runs from below the knees till the ankles like a wrap. They made us do it on our own several times with helmets on. And I wondered helmets?? Why?!
Then we came to know that tomorrow on summit day we would be facing the toughest ascent of all days. It was a highly dangerous rock fall filled steep slope going all the way up and Santoshbhai specifically said it is going to be rough and we are preparing you for it. At one point I kept commenting to Deepanshu, Arre are they gonna make us climb tomorrow? This was like a 101 class in a Basic Mountaineering Course, Deepanshu kept laughing and assuring me, na they were teaching us, in a way telling us all, if you want to move ahead from trekking, want to try mountaineering, this is it.
We had enthusiastic mountaineers in our group, Aritra and Shantanu who demonstrated some skills with Santoshbhai gruffing and correcting them 😁 Santoshbhai I must tell you is an amazing person. A strong mountaineer, an Uttarakhandi and a no nonsense guy. He was blunt, straight forward and corrected people sternly, you couldn’t get away with anything! And now when I look back I am so glad we had that long lesson. Because that truly helped us climbing summit day, that extra hard long steep slopes of rock and snow for hours with our footing right in every single step. We were well prepared thanks to them.
The most significant moments for the entire team at Phutsirang was lunch. And I mean it in so many different ways. Rajeevji, Deepanshu, Bhuvan and I entered into the tent and made rice, Rajma curry and salad. The four of us together laughing, talking and Deepanshu with his beautiful voice singing songs of which he completely hid it from others. The kitchen team truly left us alone, went for a walk while the four of us cooked. Rajeevji gently guided us towards the perfect Rajma or I would have made a South Indian version of Rajma 😂😂 The team kept asking us if we needed anything, Sid kept coming in to check if any vessels had to be washed. I still remember Deepanshu going out to wash the rice in freezing water. It taught him and us a lot. How these guys do it for us every day, 3 meals! On and on!
Then we decided that the kitchen staff has to eat first. Yes! The team unanimously decided that they would eat first and we would serve them. Ronak, Aritra, Sid, Mayur, everyone pitched in to serve them. Initially the kitchen team protested but we said No, today is your day. So as the kitchen team of us 4, kept ladling food into the serving bowls, the rest kept serving them, Ronak got iced tea sachets, kept serving them, Aritra ran and to and fro to fill up the bowls with food, Mayur gave Chutney, it was amazing. We all kept on checking if they were eating well. I saw so much happiness. Even Akshay was overwhelmed by it. He said this was a first ever in the history of Indiahikes.. He usually tells every team to cook once but this was the first team that insisted on the kitchen team and the technical team to eat first and serving them. It got us very emotional.
And you know what? The staff got so overwhelmed that they wrote a note to us which Akshay read out. Kadakbhai said, I have been working for almost 6 years and today what I experienced was for the first time, a team making us eat first. We will cherish it for the rest of our lives. It was a special moment, nay once in a lifetime again.. It changed all of us. We realised how much they cooked with the little resources and utensils they had, washing vessels in cold freezing water, they waited every day till we ate and then they ate. Day after day.. Akshay told us in the evening that the staff was still talking about what we did, they were filled with happiness. And I thought, just for one lunch? Imagine how much they do every day? Gratitude, so much gratitude they had! Why do we complain about trivial things in our daily lives, we have so much to be thankful for 🙏🏽🙏🏽
I will also tell you what our Benarasi babu did, he dug the toilets at the campsite. Yup he did, so now you know when I keep repeating that this a once a lifetime group and it will never ever repeat again, ever.
As we went through the technical know how and terrain before summit day, Akshay gave us something special, a note individually and told us to read before we slept tonight. The excitement and nervousness was palpable. We were on our toes. This is it. The prep for the last 4 days comes to only this, this was THE DAY, D DAY.
Akshay said, ‘ Tomorrow, after a certain point, your body will stop working that’s when the mind sits up, it will be only mentally from then on, and you have no choice but to keep pushing your limits beyond whatever you have ever experienced before. There is no going back, this is it. There would be 3+ hours of steep ascent in a dangerous rockfall slope. 3 passes we would be crossing and finally Pin Bhabha pass followed by an excruciating 10+ km trek to the next campsite, approximately 12 hours. A 3 am wake up call and 3.45 we would get moving.
That night in the tent, as I read my note I became very emotional, it was a personal message written by Akshay observing all these days about me and encouraging me to do what I came for. As Prerana and I exchanged each other’s notes, I was overwhelmed by how keenly he observed each of us, it was not just mentally, it was emotional, heartfelt, astute. It got us goosebumps..
I end this blog post with Akshay’s words, remember George Mallory’s line, ‘ Because it’s there’. That became our motto. In every possible way.
To be continued.. 🏔 ♥️
Pics credits – Ravi Patel, Deepanshu Jain and Rajeevji