She turned seventeen last year, a figure of prime importance to my younger sister as this meant she was just a year away from her much-awaited adulthood.
I knew I had to make it extra special for her, so I decided to take a three-week backpacking trip to the Himalayas, a trip which would graduate both of us to travelers. We both had nurtured the dream of backpacking in the Himalayas since long and Spiti had to be our first destination due to its arid and mountainous relief features.
Although the initial leg of our journey was quite smooth, the real test of mettle began once we were exposed to the revolting Spitian conditions. Here, we were vulnerable to the might, the grandeur and the beauty of the vista. The humongous scale of the mountains made us feel as small as ants and gave us a thorough reality-check by teaching us the insignificance of our chase of hedonistic pleasures in our lives as we were engrossed in a greater reality then-our survival in the inhospitable, harsh conditions of Spiti.
As none of us are proficient earners, we traveled in an extremely skimpy budget. We would walk and trek for hours, skip meals and survive on a packet of Snickers - which we had packed before setting on our journey- and would change our itineraries everyday as our wallets lacked lustre.
The Spitian mountains took us to the primeval way of life as we struggled to find food, water, civilization and shelter in a scantily-populated region. Undoubtedly, this trip pushed us to the very limits of our abilities.
The trip to Spiti was one of introspection and reincarnation. The destinations were glorified by the impulsive changes in plans and the impromptu turn-of-events in our journeys at the very last minute.
Being novice travelers, we did have our fair share of immature decisions taken at the heat and the passion of the moment only to realize the scale of our fault later, including a 26 km-long walk from Komic to Kaza. The walk had almost drained the life out of us due to thirst, hunger and a possible vulture and eagle attack. But what we achieved was a deeper insight into Nature as we walked in the midst of the haven of the fauna of Spiti - spotting Himalayan Blue Sheep, Himalayan Sheep Bharal and Mountain Goats dotting the landscapes - and learnt to follow the course of the trails left by the local shepherds.
Our journey did not end at Kaza that day, as we took the evening bus to reach Kibber, our next destination.
Spiti is a treasure-trove for travelers and to explore it with the closest person in your life can be ethereal.
Now when I look back at my trip, I often relate to the memory of a face that had the same expression of joy, of awe and of exhilaration as I had throughout my travel. The extraordinary nights spent stargazing, the sublimity of the pristine Chandra Tal, the awe-inspiring grandeur of the mountains, the surrealism of the psychedelic vista, the beating sun, the bone-chilling cold, the mechanical toil of the climbs and the bruises suffered, the king-like feast after a two-day long hunger would not have been as enriching if I did not have someone to share these with.
As I lived the Utopian dream of living the life of a mountain-inhabitant for three-long weeks, I was swept over by a seventeen-year old braving the untamed mountains and venturing into the remotest of places of the country, only to emerge out stronger with every challenge.
One such evening in Komic while watching the changing hues of the setting sun paint the mountains, I was teary-eyed for I had perceived a divine bond with the Absolute. The person sitting next to me had her eyes fixed somewhere in the horizon, staring deep into the void, sobbing softly. We didn't look at each other, neither did we say anything but I could hear the most beautiful words resounding in my sister's silence.