Roopkund: Stairway to heaven
Having always wanted to do a Himalayan trek but never quite gathering the resolve, this time I was determined to end the jinx. If I can cycle for 120 odd kilometres in Ladakh, any normal trek should be easily doable, right? Well, after coming back I must say Roopkund was as tough as Ladakh, and I myself wasn’t, which made it that much harder. Mid to late twenties are supposed to be a person’s physical peak, but I guess I have been too lazy in the past couple of years to properly take care of my fitness. Nevertheless, being able to complete the trek was in itself a big relief (a big shout out to my body for having managed with all the toil for the entire week!). In the end, as human inevitably do, I kept asking myself the question: was it worth it? The myriad emotions swirling inside me right now make me realize that it definitely was.
Many people wondered why I (or for that matter any sane person) want to give myself so much pain and trouble and put myself at the mercy of mother nature. Before going it was indeed a difficult question, with me giving vague answers like I want to test myself, explore nature, see the beautiful Himalayas and so on. But truthfully, the main reason I was going was to fulfil a longing, to get away from it all and see what it is from afar. Get a perspective. Bob Dylan puts it so eloquently in Mr Tambourine Man,
Take me on a trip upon your magic swirling ship
My senses have been stripped
My hands can’t feel to grip
My toes too numb to step
Wait only for my boot heels to be wandering
I’m ready to go anywhere, I’m ready for to fade
Into my own parade
Cast your dancing spell my way, I promise to go under it
Today’s age has made life so immersive, that we don’t even have a moment to pause and take a breath. Our lives are full of stuff to do, and a breakneck pace to do it. We acquire too many things on the go, and have to suffer the consequences of keeping up with the expanded inventory and giving a f*** about too many things. I am currently living in a scorching hot city like Kota, but thanks to modern lifestyle and air conditioning, I don’t have to sweat at all throughout the day. Safely cocooned in our houses, cars and malls, we are completely disconnected from nature. It takes its toll, but we don’t even realize it. Many a times people feel the pointlessness of modern existence, but we are too weak and too comfortable to do anything about it. That’s where a place like Roopkund comes into picture. No mobile signal, no modern amenities, just basic living. No plethora of stuff clogging up your day to maintain and use them; just a simple rucksack of 12 kilos. It’s when the dust and mud gathers upon your body that you are able to actually peel away the layers and see the hidden reality. Getting rich, having friends, having a good time: great things all, but are they the only things that matter? Prufrock got it right,
“That is not it at all,
That is not what I meant, at all.”
There is so much more to life than living a normal life. There is so much beauty in the nature to explore, so much humility to be learned. You are just a speck, and can be thrown away at any point. But humans can do so much more. We can explore new territories, chart new paths, and through team work do things that an individual can only dream off.
Real journeys are tough. Shorn of any comforts, they take their toll on us. At times there is no motivation to go ahead, just a yearning to turn back and let it all end. But then you buckle yourself and with some encouragement from your fellow journeymen, do make it to the end of the day. What awaits you there makes up for all the pain and suffering and some more. The sights are heavenly; the food is hot. You see the way you have come, and realize how high you are. Day by day, the problems you have left behind seem tiny, and the mountains you are still left to climb seem even larger. There is no hailstorm of thoughts in your brain, just a single minded focus to reach today’s destination. As Pink Floyd says, I have become comfortably numb.
Finally, the summit day approaches. The path is the most treacherous today, full of melting snow and narrow ways. But you can see the final destination. You know its not too far away and you will get there. But its not for everyone. People start feeling nauseous. The air is too thin here, its difficult to breath. From a company of 19, we are just 9 left now. But it doesn’t matter, we push on. The path twists and turns, sudden climbs and steep slopes. But then, the end, so sudden it’s a surprise. We are at the top, near Mt. Trishul. Finally, it hits you, this is it, this is where you were reaching for so long, back when these mountains were just tiny specks, barely visible. You feel a sudden elation, followed by a hollowed exhaustion. No further to go, no more climbs to undertake. No more catching your breadth and leaning on your stick like you are a 70-year-old. You are here, at the top of the path, and finally it sinks in.
The things that are often unsaid about a trek are equally important. You get less and less sleep as you reach the summit. The climb down is even harder than the climb up. The silence that you get used to in the mountains actually makes you into a great listener. No more any need to fill the void with meaningless words. In the mountains, you can just gawk around and take in the view. Time slows down, your thought pattern slows down, things become much simpler. Words like stress, depression, existential crisis lose their relevance. Mountaineering gives you the release from the bottled up emotional creatures we all become in city life. At the same time, leaving the mountains is a relief in itself. Nature holds too much power over us there. Here, back in the plains, we are the gods of our destiny, humbled and changed for the better, after our odyssey.