We started our way ahead going to what seemed like another world all over again. Atulbhai and Pradeepbhai at one point were nowhere to be seen, they were scouting around looking at a top for us to climb. Tiredness was slowly and just about setting in, and we could see the air was getting thinner, it was.. and we were heaving a bit making slow steps in the wide bugyal.
Gayatri and I were by now shaking our heads, what was the point of a summit in a bugyal?? What was there to prove to anyone? We were right in the midst of this vast expanse, couldn’t we explore this in our own way?
But I guess Indiahikes had a protocol and to give that experience to its trekkers, to that highest point where one could feel a sense of achievement and even though at that time I was not agreeing to it, In hindsight that was the highlight for me and I thank Khush and the guides for relentlessly searching for a tough climb atop a mountain. Because if that didn’t happen, I wouldn’t have confronted nor experienced what I did at that time..
But at that time, all the stuff inside, the stuff we repress and keep inside like a locked box was coming out. Why? Why were we searching for a goddamn summit? Why were we going on and on? It’s a bugyal for heavens sake! We are in it!!!Why the need for a summit??
I was battling, wrestling, fighting every emotion that was pulling me down, I was trekking with Ram and he was going through a similar struggle, he was asking Atulbhai, Arre bhai aur kitna chalenge?? Yeh kaafi nahin hai?? ( How much should we walk? Isn’t this enough?) Our patience was wearing thin.
We had reached to a point where Khush with all happiness said this was where the bugyal ended as in there was a point where there was a huge crevasse surrounded by the massive Himalayas. You would think Bugyals kept on going but to that end, to the side did seem like we were at the end of the world. It was a strange feeling being on the edge and watching the entire mountain range. Sarvotam badly wanted to see the Bandarpoonch mastiff, and he kept asking the guides about it but unfortunately the clouds were playing their own games and it was just not possible to see it.
After some time, moving on, Ram and me were ahead with Atulbhai having left behind everyone, and we spoke whenever we could get a breathing space. Ram was a marine engineer and working on ships in seas stowed in different parts of the world. Last time he was in Panama and he absolutely loved the place and people. He had another 15 days to go before he would get back to work, where exactly he didn’t know, but his ship was right now in China and he might have to go there. He was from Uttarakhand, a pleasant soft spoken guy. The moment I saw him I could sense a wonderful energy about him, a calming energy. And we really didn’t talk much until that time we walked together. Some connections don’t require days or long talks, it just happens doesn’t it?
From there it was only one way, with Atulbhai looking around to see which path or trail to take and these guides were commendable, without them I don’t know how anyone of us could have managed. At one point, we moved ahead from the rest of the group and we were faced with a steep ascent, and the air was so thin I tell you.. I vividly remember Ram and me walking up slowly step by step pausing and looking at each other in shock, we were breathing very heavily, every breath seemed like a task. One could realise the oxygen levels had gone down, it was cold and the air was so thin, we could feel it strongly, a helplessness was seeping inside us.
Atulbhai nodded looking at us saying ‘ saans phoot rahi hai na?’(Out of breath right?) He was breathing heavily too. He said if we could do this, we were ready to do Gaumukh Tapovan now, because the oxygen levels there were worse than this. We were shaking our heads, our system was in sudden shock, how could just a few minutes away be so different to now?? How?? And I tell you this is where my best moment happened. Every step was difficult, chest was heavy, the lungs were feeling the immense pressure, the mind was playing games, I could see Ram too gasping, could we do this? Looking back I could see our group slowly coming towards this side.. Can we all do this?
And what happened next was marvellous. As I struggled hard, something switched on inside like a light, something very real and raw. I WAS ALIVE! Like I never felt alive before, never! I could feel every breath, my pulse, my body, my mind, every little bit being ALIVE. That actual experience of existing, ALIVENESS is what I felt for the first time in my life.
It was so momentous and it hit me like a bolt of lightening. It’s a state where there is no more duality . No sadness or happiness, nothing emotional nothing at all, it was in pure suspension. To be in that realm where I am ALIVE. I can never ever forget it, words fail me now, but I know what I experienced was once in a lifetime moment. Even now when I think of it or close my eyes, I can feel myself pulsating, capturing the essence of what I hold onto for dear life.
Once we crossed the steep ascent and took a mini break, Pradeepbhai took over and kept moving on. Man, this was painful, blissful all rolled into one twisted sadomasochistic way. The ridge, the bugyal was extending far and beyond the horizon, it seemed like it though.. And we were trudging along, not thinking of what would be ahead, we were so present and so in it. And then came something ahead that tested our fears.
There was a narrow rugged trail and on the valley side was a sheer drop and I mean sheer drop. Even towards the mountain side there was nothing much to hold onto for support. The trail itself was not straight and one could only move keeping one foot forward and then the other. Very tricky to walk and navigate, slippery rocks and the grass was hard terrain, pricking you.
Pradeepbhai was surging ahead, and Ram suddenly slipped, got his balance back and then the fear got to him. He was completely leaning onto the mountain side with his hands and walking. I was behind him, telling and shouting at him, ‘ Ram, walk straight! Use your pole! Don’t bend down, don’t lean!! Walk straight! Your pole is your strength!! ‘ It was of no avail as Ram in fear kept taking hard support leaning, bending down and moving. I was feeling helpless, how could I help him? The only way we would have balance is by walking upright, I was doing it, Pradeepbhai was doing it, he could do it too. But once fear takes over, everything becomes a blur.
But it was a treacherous rocky jagged narrow trail where one foot on the wrong side meant a fall, that’s it. But what it did to me was, whatever little fear I felt was gone, focusing more on making sure Ram was doing ok, my concentration was on him hoping he didn’t lose his balance in fear and panic. Until we crossed that trail and when I looked back I realised how bloody dangerous it was. I could see my trekmates struggling, holding onto the mountain side like Ram and moving. Gosh! It was a sheer drop! How did we all manage to cross it? I could see Atulbhai, Khush and Pradeepbhai going back and helping the ones behind us. Did we freaking do that??!
Later I heard my mates experiences, facing their fears. Devraj said he was shaking with fear having tears in his eyes thinking if I die here, what will happen to my mother? Gayatri said she sat down, paused and slowly made her way with some support, it was scary. It was a test of all tests, making us confront our biggest fear- ‘Death’.
After that nerve wracking trail we stopped right after it and there it was.. We looked up.. The last ascent to the highest point of the summit. This top is what Atulbhai and Pradeepbhai chose for us. We had to make that one last push, the body gave up long ago, it was purely 100% mind now.
Ram was like let’s not stop, let’s keep moving and move we did, we all did.. one by one. Ram moved like a force, while I followed closely behind with Abhishek being his happy self. That last push is what I equate with marathons and Ironman triathlons.. The last mile is the toughest, it tests you to the maximum, and it was all nerve, grit and determination. I paced myself step by step, inch by inch, not looking back, not looking forward but at my footsteps, each one leading closer to the top and then slowly I reached. Heaving a sigh I looked back and I saw my mates slowly ascending inch by inch.
One never knows how the energy goes on a high again and Ram, myself, and a few who were the first to reach kept cheering till the last mate made it to the top. Nothing else matters other than the fact we made it together.
We were at the top, finally..
To be continued ♥️