Priyanka and I woke up by 9.30 pm and got out of the tent. We could hear voices of the kitchen team. They wouldn’t get a wink of sleep. We hurried up, packed up, looked at the sky that seemed to be clear. I remember waking up and feeling numb. It’s as if a heavy boulder was on my head. Where was I, who was I, this feeling of being there yet not being there, it was a weird throbbing feeling inside.
Once we got out of the tent, we did things mechanically, took out our backpacks, checked our trekking poles, wore our gators in the dining tent and waited for everyone to turn up.
Hot breakfast was brought in and we stuffed ourselves to the throat, no more excuses of ‘I can’t eat so much, I am not hungry’, nothing. Filling up with dry channa in our pockets we assembled outside. Almost everyone was ready on time. What was going through us at that time? It was focus, only focus.
For me I didn’t even think about the summit, nothing, it was the next step, get walking and keep walking. Just maintain a single file and keep pace. No thinking and this is where the meditation kicks in.
Nothing and no one exists, it doesn’t matter anymore, it’s you on your own, there is a collective energy, but it’s truly you with yourself from this point.
We did the circle of gratitude along with Chandra, she woke up to wish us. The entire team holding hands, we closed our eyes, thinking about Pangarchulla, the Himalayas, her blessings, her grace will get us through the night and day.
We started walking, in absolute silence and darkness and the sky, oh the sky was so clear, pitch dark with not a spot and leading us as we made one step at a time first towards Jhandi top.
The most beautiful thing about darkness is you don’t know where your next step is. You take one step, look at the light that your head lamp shows you which is another step and you move forward. So far so good it was not that cold, we were ok, pacing our way through in silence to sometimes some hushed conversations to Nishant, Surajbhai or Uttamji egging us on as and when it seemed the right time.
Priyanka told me I am going slow today, not in the front, I simply told her I am with you, behind you always so let’s go. It was a beautiful unsaid communication between us, there could have been more words but I knew we would do this together till the end. And of course dear Paul who was with us, he was the guy who would give way to us throughout the trek and be behind us most of the times, chatting, laughing, we spoke about so many things these past few days but this time as we started, Priyanka and I said No, you be in front of us. Quietly he became our strength. He was our strength. Every single time he went ahead and looked out for us even in the darkness.
I remember at times when he felt he went way ahead, he would softly shout out Priyanka? And we would answer and then he made his move. These things are so subtle, so minute that one misses it completely, I was glad he was there. And of course our Baba and Vijay cheering us at the back. Nishant told him Baba to be at the back. He would push us, with his words Great going guys! Chalte Bano! Every single time. A true trooper who would never leave anyone behind, he egged on everyone.
Priyanka and I were silent and the moment we heard Baba’s voice and his energy it pushed us. And Uttamji oh Uttamji,silently yet firmly updating us about our pace, goading us as we did one step after the other. The route to Jhandi top was no less and in the darkness it becomes double the effort and it’s a two edged sword truly. The good thing is none of us could see further, we didn’t know what was next so we could keep moving mechanically. But the other thing was everything else, rocky ascents, no visibility and the cold hitting us. Even a 1 minute water break would freeze us instantly.
I saw Mahesh ahead of us for sometime and then he was out of sight. He had been coughing on and off from the past couple of days, but nothing serious. At high altitude it happens, his coughing was persistent. I brushed it off thinking this is normal because during Roopkund trek on summit day I had such a bad cough that the trek leader gave me a strong dose of tablets midway and we went on. But and a big but, it’s all circumstantial you know?
As we took a break, I heard on the Walkie -Talkie Nishant had, Mahesh is descending down! WHAT THE EFFFF??! you have no idea what it does to the morale of the team when one is sent down. I was shocked and so were others. But he was fine! All these days he was good and trekking well what the hell!
You see now? Himalayas and it’s lessons, we were 14, Abhinav got bumped off even before we started, 13 of us and Chandra couldn’t do the summit and now Mahesh?? It hit me hard, real hard.
Listen, trekking Himalayas and reaching the summit is never about personal glory or egos. A bunch of crazy people pay money to go through this pounding, which means there is that commonality among us, that streak that ‘normal people’ will never get it. Never. There are no answers to this. And when we came together, a bunch of strangers, we become a family, a tight high strung family, no masks, we are bare and raw, showing most of our flaws to each other and if one gets hit, we all get hit too.
So you can imagine what it did to us to hear our Trekmate, descending back and we didn’t even reach Jhandi top yet. I remember that moment trudging along with a sigh, with the darkness in front of us and after quite sometime there it was ‘ Chandra’ the moon in all her brilliance, and one of our team members said, ‘ here is Chandra, she is with us! ❤️ I felt good seeing the moon and missing my friend back at the campsite, I said to myself, ‘this trek today, it is for you.’
It was time to keep moving along.. To be continued 💕
A SPECIAL MENTION AND THANK YOU TO PRITISH BHANUSHALI FOR THE PICS IN THE BLOG. He sent me pics of that night as we made our most difficult journey. So whatever few pics you see here is his brilliance shining through.