Climb. Breathe. Pause. Repeat.
“Perhaps it was the clarity of mountain air I breathed that now exposed an overwhelming truth to me. What I had been told I wanted, I did not want. What I wanted in its place, I did not know.”—Limitless Sky, David Charles Manners.
Mumbai is like that malfunctioning treadmill whose emergency stop button does not work and that only runs at one speed—the maximum. If you get on it, you have two choices—either you run like your life depended on it or jump off and risk some other form of injury. Our escape route from the mindless madness of Mumbai? Well, we as a family, love the outdoors. So, when we started thinking about introducing trekking to our six-year-old son, Dayara Bugyal fit the bill perfectly. After innumerable discussions with the organizers at Trek The Himalayas, who patiently answered all our queries; they assured us that it was a trek that our highly active six-year-old would be able to complete. Although we were quite confident that he would fare well in the mountains, there was a tiny part of us which was apprehensive of the unknown. As it turned out, all our worries about him not being able to adjust to trekking and camping in the outdoors were unfounded. And more so because our TTH team took utmost care of all of us, and especially the younger trekkers in the group, making Dayara Bugyal a seamless trekking experience.
From the moment I took my first step uphill from the guesthouse in Natin (about 70 km from Uttarkashi) towards our first camp site in Ghui on Day 1; I sensed that a major part of my identity was gradually peeling off me. My energetic and curious six-year-old who needed me constantly for every little thing back in Mumbai, was running on ahead of me. He seemed to have come to his own in the mountains. Unfettered, he ran on ahead. It was sheer joy to see him so thoroughly happy and excited. He skipped and hopped the first day of the trek and then slowed down over the next three days as his body became tired. But never, ever, did he give up, and never ever, did he complain or whine. Trudging along and catching up with the team, I would sometimes find him resting on a rock or a fallen tree. “I was waiting for you, Mamma”, he would say. My heart would swell up with pride for my gallant knight.
Alpine meadows. Two words that got me hooked to the trek to Dayara Bugyal. Since I had first come across those words in my Geography book in school, I have dreamed of walking in alpine meadows. You will find that most of our Bollywood stars and starlets have romanced (in chiffon sarees, no less) in the Swiss version of these high altitude grasslands. But I have been enthralled with our home-grown variety. My fascination goes back 20 years. While on a college excursion to the Kumaon Himalaya, we had briefly encountered these beautiful verdant slopes on our way. Since that day, I have had recurring dreams of rolling meadows. Needless to say, when on the day of summiting Dayara Bugyal, I plodded uphill and suddenly the horizon opened up to these spectacular grasslands; I choked up. The tears just fell uncontrollably, the emotion rising from a place deep inside me. The profundity of this vision that lay before me trumped everything else I have ever experienced in my life. I was transfixed because despite my emotional state, it was hard to ignore that I was in august company—the lofty snow-capped Garhwal Himalaya was watching me against a backdrop of cornflower blue sky with wisps of cirrus clouds. The green meadows with patches of yellow, signalling the approach of winter, rolled away for as far as the eye could see. Although my heart wanted to pause for a few minutes more to capture the beauty in my mind’s eye, I climbed down from the rock on which I had perched. I had to soldier on. There was a summit waiting for me to climb.
I began to truly understand the meaning of the word ‘mindfulness’—being present in the moment; while walking through the forests of Himalayan Maple, Silver Oak, Rhododendrons, Pine, and Deodar. I felt this intense calmness engulf me. Without realizing it, I was completely immersed in mindful meditation. I was acutely aware of everything around me and yet my mind was focused on putting one foot before the other. The mountain air was crisp and fragrant with a heady mix of scents — damp soil, ferns, lichens, moss, and resin from tree barks. The sounds of rustling leaves, snapping twigs, of feet crunching on pine needles, deodar cones, and loose rocks; mingled with each other to create a gentle background score. Sometimes we would make way for passing mules. The clip-clop of their hooves and jingle of their bells would add to the symphony. Distant sounds of voices of fellow trekkers who had walked on ahead were welcome strains in the music, like backing vocalists. But every single moment, looking much closer inwards, I was aware of the sound of my own breath and the pounding of my heart. And yet, amidst all this, there was profound silence. If this isn’t mindful meditation, then what is?
Although I had been struggling to catch my breath all the way uphill; which was approximately five hours the first day, two hours the second day, and four hours the third day; the view once we reached the summit was well worth all the effort. Up there at an altitude of 12,100 feet, the breathlessness was of a different kind. The snow-capped Bandarpoonch and Black Peak of the Garhwal Himalaya looming in the distance quite literally took my breath away by its pristine beauty. It felt like we had come closer and closer to them from our start of the journey in Natin. They now felt like they were close enough for us to touch them and yet so far. I sat down on the summit; which is quite a small space and can barely accommodate a handful of people at a time; and looked and looked and looked and could not get enough of looking at the beauty around me. I felt alive. With the sun warming my back, the cold mountain wind on my face, and the ground steeply sloping away on both sides below my feet, it occurred to me that what held true meaning in life was to find my inner self and to nourish it. For those few minutes, it was as if the fog had lifted and I had found myself. I had shed all layers of my identity. All existential questions ceased to matter because I realised (not for the first time in the trek) that I am lesser than a speck in this vast expanse of Creation. I felt humbled and deeply honoured to have been allowed to witness its magnificence. In my heart, I bowed to its munificence.
The one word that most appropriately describes the Himalaya is ‘indescribable’. These mighty mountains leave an indelible imprint on the soul of every traveller. Each traveller takes away something that I believe, has something to do with their soul. I, for one, am a complete orophile – a lover of mountains but more specifically, I am a lover of the Himalaya. I am thoroughly and completely besotted with them. I love everything about them. Much like love, I cannot begin to describe my experience in the Himalaya. I can only urge you to feel it. And while you are doing that, do not forget to pause and breathe.
Subhadra Roy Patil