You think you know how to walk uphill in life and in the mountains but then you realize that may be there's little things more you need to learn.
This extract from "Seven years in Tibet" by Heinrich Harrer comes to mind.
"Dalai Lama: Tell me a story, Heinrich. Tell me a story about climbing mountains.
Heinrich Harrer: That's one way to fall asleep. Those stories bore even me.
Dalai Lama: Then tell me what you love about it.
Heinrich Harrer: The absolute simplicity. That's what I love. When you're climbing your mind is clear and free from all confusions. You have focus. And suddenly the light becomes sharper, the sounds are richer and you're filled with the deep, powerful presence of life. I've only felt that one other time.
Heinrich Harrer: In your presence, Kundun."
One October morning not very long ago,the sun was yet to warm the cold Kangra valley in Himachal as I perched on the cold steps outside the lodging.
From the upper hamlet of Dharamkot you could see both Dharamsala and McLeodganj clinging on to the easy slopes of the valley.The bird songs from the dense deodars were abruptly hampered then by grey noises from grey clouds hanging over the upper ridge.The barren rock face of lower Dhauladhars peeped from the opposite site of the lodge.
I was never in the mood for a hike that day...tired body,shoulders and a heavy heart sunk me into the steps further.I tried lifting my backpack twice and sunk again...not in the mood at all and for no reason,as it happens sometimes.Dharamkot is rapidly being built up as a tranquil abode for peace - seekers and likewise but the place is getting hammered down by mushrooming infrastructure day per day and you see the irony of the whole thing.
In the plains below,it's Dusehra and up here on holiday ,quite a crowd including us are prepping for the day's hike upto the neighboring Triund ridge - foothills of the mighty Dhauladhar mountains in Himachal.Bags checked,shoelaces tied,stick in hand...I waited for the mountain air to clear my mind.As it is in hiking,so it is with life - difficult to walk when you are carrying heavy burdens most of which is unnecessary.Your bag contains things that you 'll never need on the way but you tend to carry them out of impulse.You have to learn to let go of things that are weighing you down,learn to travel light...as swift as the wind through the mountain passes.
Through the backyards of Dharamkot,a steep trail cuts through the plantations and takes you up to Galu Devi temple,the convenient starting point for the short trek to Triund ridge.The trek upto the temple is a short but quite an exhausting one.It's around 8 AM and hikers are registering themselves at the tent,when I dropped my bag and sunk again on the stone steps near the café.
I had to do it then...shed weight off the back - water bottles,snacks...too many ,they had to go.Never needed them anyway,much better now.
A single unambiguous path lay ahead.Little rocky steps full of fallen leaves and the foliage overhead giving you shade along the trail.The trek to the top ridge would take around 6 kms from the Galu Devi temple.After a short stint on the trail,I looked back on the sun washed Kangra valley .The slanting rays were hurting the eye but soon an avalanche of fog would engulf the trail a little ahead.I take a breather on the boulder - down below,tiny little homes,peaceful and content in the morning mist , hanging on to green slopes.Kangra is mild on the soul.
Men and ponies carry supplies with stoic strength up to tiny cafes and eateries all along the way where hikers crowd around for take stock of legs and lung. White swirls of cloud spread tentacles around the trail rapidly and the sunshine gives way to a chill around the hot ears. Easy stone steps have given way to uneven rocks on the path and the vegetation was growing happily wild.
Amid the growing enchantments of the hike,a heavy heart suddenly gripped me...
"Magic View Café" - oldest Chai shop since 1984.There I dropped my bag and sat for quite a while with a sullen face.Normally what would have been an easy trek was seemingly difficult today and my legs were showing symptoms of muscle cramp.Whatever was holding me down had to go...extra pair of shoes,clothes,a jacket...all that had to go.Thankfully the owner at the café obliged to keep them till I returned the way back.The bag was lighter and the legs seemed to breath easy.
I guess learning to let go off stuff in life and not missing them,makes the path more easy and the mind ever so light.Now the burden of the backpack on my shoulder was becoming a kind of metaphor for the unnecessary burdens we carry in life in the walk uphill...steady,upward and forever ahead.The cafes were full of people taking snaps and deciding on the strength left in them for the path ahead.There were those trying to go too fast and those going too slow...both unhappy with themselves.I guess we all have to walk at our own pace,don't try to catch up or fall behind ,if possible give way to the anxious and restless crowd. Whistle your way up as you please,enjoying the cloud,thin mountain air ,bird songs and the blooming flowers in the bushes along.
Leaving behind a slew of resting places and eateries at nearly 2500 meters altitude,the path wound ahead steeply now.Now comes the test of true endurance in body and mind.A lonely goat looked on as tired men and women heaved their bodies on the trail ,exhaustion written across their faces.The upper ridge was now hidden in thick clouds.
With almost two and half hours of toiling done on the trail,we could see the upper flat ridge of Triund campsite.Anyway as we found out,it is the last leg of the trek that is the most demanding on you.
The last dash of around 1 km to the top goes grindingly through a maze of huge boulders - zigzagging around 22 times up steep path.You are in the realms of dense mist now and the cold has got you by the throat,but beads of sweat sparkle on your forehead as you grunt through this last mile of the trek.
And finally the green pastures of Triund. The ridge is covered with colorful campsites from end to end choc a bloc with tired but gleeful faces.The mist persists still in bringing chill in early noon and also conceals the view of adjacent mountainside.Slowly as the mist dissipates ,the bare rock face of Dhauladhars now straight ahead ,changes it's colors in dancing sunlight and clouds casting shadows on it.
Most hikers stop to camp here on the ridge,while there are adventurers who would go on further - towards Indrahar pass in the Dhauladhars and the lesser known Kareri lake where one can find rock cut cave formations on the trail.
But today we stop and let the tranquility of Triund take us to mystique dimensions.
Triund hangs like a bridge between two extremes - one side is the Kangra valley ,Dharamsala plains beyond and the other side is the brutal rock face of mighty Dhauladhars. Lump of clouds play lyrically with the landscape,making the mountain face look like a canvas of shifting colors and shade.The heavy mist settles down in the cusps of green hills a little lower,looking like liquid vapor.Near at hand are orange flowers blooming bravely in rock crevices.Orange just like the evening light cast on the horizon by the setting sun.
One could spend an entire afternoon looking at this theatre of nature's abundance.
Tired hikers stick around the campsite , taking pictures,laying back ,collecting firewood for evening campfires in evening.Busy but peaceful.
With the sun being gobbled up by the horizon,a chill captures the height at 9278 feet .Once again a mist appears out of no where ,as if the last messenger of far off lands - finally giving way to darkness of evening and inviting an array of starlight ready to be sprinkled over your head.The winter line is visible far away in the western horizon with an orange and purple tint.Below,Dharamsala and McLeodGanj burst forth in evening lights.
As I mingle around the motley group of hikers at night,I look at my bag - and realize how little I actually need in order to keep pace with the upward climb.How much is of value and how much of it is meaningless.
I sleep with a tired body and a lighter soul.I went out to look at the starlight spread across the sky,not once but twice in the night....they almost seemed unreal.
From Triund Trek,9 th October 2016
Soumya D Jena