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Healing and conquering myself, one tiny step at a time

"It is not the mountains we conquer but ourselves."
-Edmund Hillary

Two years back, when I had set out on my first trek in the Himalayas, I did not know what I was getting into. It began as a quest, a search for the place that I was dreaming about for the last few years. Valley of Flowers in Uttarakhand did turn out to be straight out of my dream and I still cannot believe it. I remember sitting on that large asymmetrical rock for more than an hour, looking at the snow-clad mountains and scribbling in my diary as the cool wind blew in my face and the sun tried its best to warm my fingers. 

Less than a year later, I went back to the mountains and it was then that I realized that I was meant to go back, not once or twice or thrice, I just have to be there every once in a while. May be that recurring dream had a bigger purpose than calling me to the Valley of Flowers. May be someone up there knew that it was just a beginning. And now that it has started, it shall go on till my health permits and my perseverance stays strong. I shall keep on climbing one mountain after another and having those rarest of the rare conversations with myself that do not happen elsewhere.
  

I have come to believe that climbing a mountain is very similar to meditating, when you are only partially aware of your surroundings and the one thing that you concentrate on is your breath and the very next step. Every time I have felt my mind wandering to other territories, I stumbled, slipped, and fell. But falling is also important, otherwise how else do you expect to learn lessons.

So far, it has been the Valley of Flowers and Hemkund Sahab in August, 2015; Beas Kund in April, 2016; Roopkund in October, 2016; and Deoriatal-Chandrashila in April, 2017. Each one of these journeys have been different experiences and have given me different perspectives on life, people, and myself. Valley of flowers was like living my dream. Beas Kund was an easy one, but so far the only trek where I have climbed in ankle-deep (and sometimes knee-deep) snow with light snowfall in parallel. Roopkund was memorable because it has been the most challenging one so far. What's most special about Chandrashila trek is the people I met on this journey.

Like for the Valley of Flowers trek, the assembling point for Deoriatal-Chandrashila trek was Haridwar station. Once again I took Mussoorie Express from Delhi and reached Haridwar at 6:30 am. Most of the group members had already arrived. We then drove to Sari, a village that is the starting point of this trek. Thankfully, we reached Sari before sunset and some of us went for a short walk in the village, which was majorly marked by wheat fields surrounded by mountain ranges on all its sides.

Sari, the starting point of Deoriatal-Chandrashila trek at 6601 ft

After sun down, we had a quick round of introduction and got to interact with people we were going to spend the next few days with. It was a diverse group with people coming from Bangalore, Delhi, and Mumbai. What surprised me the most was that the group had 4 kids in the age range of 8 and 15. I was impressed with the parents who had their own reasons for bringing their kids along. I wish I had started that early. But I guess, it's never too late.

It was the first night of the trek and we were all beginning to share our stories and bond. After finishing our dinner (the highlight of which were jalebis), 6 of us got together in one of the rooms and played the most popular board-game from our childhood, Snakes and Ladders and Ludo. A good 2-3 hours went by and we were still laughing crazily while the entire village and rest of the group slept peacefully.

The first day of the trek was an easy one, with just a gradual 3 km climb to Deoriatal. We reached there much before lunch time and had sufficient time to sit by the lake and climb the hillocks to get the first proper glimpse of the major mountain ranges, among which Chaukhamba stood out as the most magnificent one.

 Camp site at Deoriatal at 7841 ft

The second day of the trek was the toughest since we had to cover 14 km in 7 hours. We all stuffed ourselves with a heavy breakfast early in the morning and started the climb at around 8:30 am. We were given a brief about the route that we would be following that day, which included a steep ascent for a couple of hours followed by a series of ascents and descents till we reach Chopta placed at an altitude of 8790 ft. Around 3 hours after we started to climb, I started feeling breathless and tired. Like it has happened before on my way to Roopkund, the thought that why am I putting myself into this difficult, physically taxing situation was about to creep in my mind. This time I was successful in blocking it and replacing it with other encouraging thoughts like I should be proud of myself for keeping on challenging myself going along these unknown terrains with people I don't know. I told myself that the situation was similar to the choices that I have made in life. Life, where I may or may not be surrounded by my loved ones, where instead I have to learn to love those who are around me, sharing some part of my life with them though I may remain all by myself most of the time. There might be difficulties and challenges, mental and physical, but the only way out is to go past them, keep walking and believing that if I had the courage to start it I definitely have the strength to reach the next point of rest. In different words, I kept on telling myself the same thing and in no time we all had reached​ Chopta, the prettiest camp site of this trek.

Campsite at Chopta (8790 ft)

Arriving at Chopta was like half the war was won. We had one full day to rest before climbing to Chandrashila summit. What do you do if you do not have a hectic day ahead? You stay up till late and party hard. The 6 of us who had by now bonded quite well, did have a party of sorts in one of the tents. This party was different since it did not have food, music, or dance. But it had ghost stories of all sorts coming from different parts of the country and having formless, scary, and some friendly ghosts. I remember most of them but wouldn't want to write about any of those in the hope that I forget about them with time. That doesn't mean it wasn't fun while it lasted. Most fun was going to pee in the wilderness and then finding our tents once the story session ended.

On day 3 we went for a short tour around Chopta that lasted for 3-4 hours and we were back at the camp site by lunch time. Feeling a bit relaxed, I spent half the day in finding my spot in the valley and sitting there with my coloring book and scribbling a bit in my diary, watching the day go by as the shepherds returned home with their herd and the sun prepared to go down before the stars crawled in.

Three of us who were feeling a little too energetic decided to go for a walk on the other side of the camp site. We are glad that we did. It was a small clearing in the forest, a sort of a meadow with a secluded spot. There was no one apart from us, just a spectacular view of the mountains and the sun playing hide and seek behind the clouds. We sat there for some time, trying to absorb the scene in entirety before returning to the camp site.


The scene leading to sunset at Chopta

The next day was the day we all had been waiting for, when we had to climb to Chandrashila summit. It started to rain in the night and got us worried how the weather would be early in the morning when we were supposed to start climbing. We were briefed by our trek leader that we all had to be up by 2:30 am and ready for breakfast at 3:30 am so that we could start climbing at 4 am. 

As instructed, we all were up and ready to leave by 4 am. I had hardly slept so felt a bit groggy but had no other option other than to get hold of my trekking pole, fix my head lamp, and start walking. It was supposed to be a steep ascent till Tungnath temple (the highest Shiva temple in the world) after which we were told that the incline was slightly gradual. In a way it was good that I was sleepy because I did not realize how I walked the first 2 kilometers. We couldn't see the sun rise but could feel the color of the sky lightening and the first rays of the sun falling on the peaks, making them glow in never before seen shades of orange-pink-yellow. We stopped in between to click pictures and to catch our breath.

 On our way up to Chandrashila summit

As we were approaching Tungnath, we were told by our trek leader that since it had snowed last night we will have to carefully walk the last 1-1.5 km because the snow had begin to melt leaving the path a little slippery. We were all excited as well as nervous once we heard about the snow. We followed the instructions and one step at a time, reached the summit at around 7:30 am. The view that Chandrashila summit greeted us with cannot be compared to anything that I have seen before in my life. Imagine a vantage point with a 360 degree view of Himalayan ranges and summits that include Chaukhamba, Kedarnath, Gangotri ranges, Nanda Devi, and Trishul. And these are just to name a few. What we saw that day could not be completely captured in pictures nor will we be able to put that feeling in words. It was just to be seen with the eyes and felt with all the senses.

Chandrashila smmit (12083 ft)

The India Hikes group: 23-28 April 2017

We stayed on the top for almost an hour and then reluctantly started climbing down. How else would you feel once the highest point of the journey was over? I stayed at the tail end of the group this time, with 5-6 other group members who also did not seem to be in a hurry to go back to Chopta. We stopped for a cup of chai at a dhaba and later for a glass of rhododendron juice. Anything was acceptable to lengthen the journey as much as possible. Leisurely we walked down the path, talking and laughing at self-made jokes.

The next day we started our journey back to Haridwar and on the way back we planned what all we could do in the last couple of hours before departing to our respective cities. I had decided to stay at Haridwar for a night just to keep some buffer between arriving at​ Haridwar and catching the train to Delhi. After I inquired about hotels in Haridwar, one of the families in our group recommended a hotel that was super close to the station and would serve my purpose well. Some of the group members had decided to stay in Rishikesh for a couple of days so we had to bid them farewell on our way to Haridwar. The remaining 5 of us came to Haridwar, dumped our luggage and freshened up in the hotel room, and decided to go to Har ki Pauri.

The trip was almost over and like two years back I was in Haridwar for one last evening, all set to go for Ganga aarti at Har ki Pauri. It was like a revisit to the past and with it came the memory of an unpleasant experience I had the last time I was in this city. The thought of going to that same place was nagging me, so I happened to share it with one of the trek-mates and by then a friend who I could comfortably talk to. I told myself that this time I was not going to be alone and that it will be all right. And it went well, we went to the ghaat, sat there on the steps for some time, while some of us went to take a dip in the river Ganga.

Then, all of us being foodies, walked through the congested streets close to Har ki Pauri to have some street food and sweets. 'Mission local delicacies' was successfully completed and we had to then rush to the railway station for those who had to catch the train. All of us completely content after having the poori sabzi, aaloo tikki chaat, paapdi chaat, and chandrakala were running helter skelter to find a rickshaw. In all that tension and hurry I started walking a little too fast and drifted away from the group. The rest of the group was behind and I was happily walking ahead when I happened to get stuck, surrounded by crowd, rickshaw pullers, and two-wheelers. I did not panic but instead tried to find the way ahead. Just then I felt that someone caught hold of my backpack and pulled me aside, away from the crowd. It was the same friend I had shared my fears with a couple of hours back, who I did not realize was walking just a couple of steps behind me. That one gesture somehow made me overcome that feeling of nervousness of being lost in an unknown city. I walked ahead, trying to stay away from the crowd, being aware that I was not walking alone. All negativeness that I had been carrying with me suddenly disappeared and I felt lightheaded, happy, and relieved...as if it was the first time I was in this city and that there were no unpleasant memories associated with it.

Soon we managed to get a rickshaw. As I got on the rickshaw, I smiled and started rethinking of all the memories from the trip that I would want to keep reminding myself of and all the new friends that I had made in that one week. It would be a huge task to record all of it and I promised myself that I would do it at the earliest, before those memories, faces, and smiles begin to fade away.

Comments

Jeemol said…
Terrific post on experiences on the mountains! Your resolve to keep going back to the mountains to heal yourself is an amazing thought! Keep at it Shazia, both trekking and blogging!
HTC said…
Reading the post brought such a smile to my face. Honestly there are so many beautiful memories that we carry from this trek... Highlight was the people we shared the time with. You write so well! Keep it up and stay in touch!
Shivani Nath said…
The way you put feelings into words touched my heart. Yes, at many points in the trek, I too questioned my decision of taxing myself physically like that, and it is great how you overcame those doubts yourself. Reading this post has left me calm, and I feel great that I got to meet you, and got to read this post! Keep writing!
Love,
Shivani
Anshuman Pandey said…
Very well presented experience. Your write-up literally took me to the Himalayas. Please continue exploring and sharing. Take Care

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