India is a chaotic, beautiful place. It’s a study in opposites that leaves me spellbound in more ways than one whenever I travel. From the busy bustling traffic and lush green landscapes in and around Bangalore, to the barren, rocky, almost post-apocalyptic landscape of Spiti, it’s a visual treat to say the least.
I’m writing this just after my trek to Hampta Pass and an onward trip to Kaza, the sub-divisional headquarters of Spiti valley in the Lahaul-Spiti district. But this one is not about me, it’s about the mountains, the people we meet, and the things that make us fall in love with all the intangible aspects of it, the night sky, the shapes we see in the mountains due to an interplay of moonlight and shadows, the beauty of a sunrise, the despondency of incessant rain and the magic that finds us only once we step into the unknown.
If you look up the definition of a trek in a dictionary, it’ll tell you that it’s just a walk, albeit one where you gain or lose some altitude. But it’s so much more. It’s a case study on how we behave under physical stress and uncomfortable situations. It’s about being calm in the face of uncertain odds, about making new friends and having some memorable conversations that we might never have had, had we met the same people in the cities. Learning new things about ourselves is a part of it. As a self professed introvert, I managed to make great bonds with people I just met, while having so much more fun than any other social event I’ve ever attended. At a trekking campsite, you’ll find true brotherhood without barriers. The free flowing conversations (and tea) go on just as a mountain river flows and finds its own path, nevermind the apparent differences in backgrounds the people come from.
It’s not a bed of roses that’s for sure. The road from Rohtang Pass to Kaza is so bad that the entire busload of people seem to be headbanging to its rhythm for the entire duration of the journey. But they say shared suffering leads to much better bonds, and I saw it in action this time. And the suffering, real or imagined, was just one part of it. To find people with whom you can just stand and talk their under the stars when the cold winds of Spiti are doing there best to drive you inside your tents, was something else.
In the span of 6 days, I met an almost 10-year old kid whose confidence surpasses mine even though I’m 26. There’s a person who cares so deeply about the mountains and it’s people that he has done multiple volunteering stints from Ladakh to Delhi, and above all, wants to make life better for the people living in these extreme geographical fringes, in whatever big or small way he can. And he does this with real passion, whereas most of us engage in some sort of volunteering activity just to add “Social Work Creds” to our resumes. There was our trek leader, who is the calmest person when things to wrong, but belts out mind-numbing puns otherwise. And then there were out local guides, who can run up and down huge mountains in a matter of minutes, while we can only imagine doing such things in a video game. As for new friends, I made a great many of them, the list is too long to describe here. From laughing together at how stupid the mules looked and discussing the banality of our mundane work lives, to an infinite chai partner who’s always ready for a cup of tea, to one who can correlate any real-life situation with one of the numerous video games he has played.
Then there was Mr. Rinchen Tshering (the spelling might be wrong) in the world’s highest post office at Hikkim, who was extremely helpful. Although he was out of stamps at the post office and we couldn’t send any letters right then, he suggested alternate ways so that we could send some memorable letters with the postal mark of Hikkim on them. His kindness and helpful spirit in one of the remotest corners of India was heart-warming.
As a friend reminded me in one of the campsites, how can we be so nostalgic about a place we have never visited before? While this line is from The Motorcycle Diaries, I think it captures the spirit of travelling as a whole. When I see something, natural or man-made, that gives me goosebumps, that’s when all the long bus rides on bumpy roads make perfect sense to experience something that magnificent. This is the magic of the mountains, and indeed, raw nature in all its glory.
P.S.: The title is copied from an essay Haruki Murakami wrote about running. He had been running for more than 25 years when he wrote it. I’m nowhere close to that level of travelling yet. But consider his an homage to a great writer who might have shaped my worldview in a significant manner.