Walking in the Mountains

I enjoy walking. I can’t claim to have done a lot of walking in exciting landscapes or even in my city, but when there is a chance to walk a long distance, or without purpose, I like to take it.

As I type, my legs are still aching from the trek up to Tiger’s Nest, a Buddhist temple perched most precariously (a very commonly used word for this particular temple — but nothing can be more apt) on the rocky side of a mountain. I am not a fit person: going uphill, even in Thimphu, leaves me breathless sometimes. On the hike to Tiger’s Nest, I could almost hear my heart whenever I paused for breath. I kept my eyes glued to the ground in front of me so that I wouldn’t have to see the next steep curve, or the incredible height one single turn could accomplish.

One of our party makes her way up to Tiger’s Nest

Despite the pain and the panting, mountain (and hill) roads have provided me with the best walking experiences so far. On a vacation in Kodaikanal, G. and I walked about 12 km without planning to: this was an enormous accomplishment for us, coming from coastal plains and barely challenged by gradients. We walked into walls of mist, stI have enjoyed rambles through the gentle South Downs of Sussex, in the hills of Goa, and in the Himalayas of Himachal Pradesh. I remember all these walks with great fondness. And who can explain this sentiment better than Ruskin Bond?

“Of course the best walks are to be enjoyed in the hills, preferably in the company of a quiet friend. Sometimes I would escape from Delhi and trek to the Pindari Glacier in Kumaon, or the hills beyond Lansdowne, or Deoban above Chakrata. I wasn’t interested in climbing m0untains — I preferred going around them: you saw more that way. At every bend of the road in the mountains there is a fresh vista, a different landscape, interesting people, new birds, trees, flowers.”

Mountains add character to a walking path. Wandering through Thimphu, I am constantly surprised by the splendour of the mountains, the changing cloud shapes creating a new picture every time. I can’t tell if the giant Buddha statue looking over the valley will be shrouded in mist or gleaming as it catches an odd ray of sunlight. I don’t know if the slopes will be green or blue. I can’t even tell when the clouds will gather overhead and burst open.

As I walk away from the relatively crowded parts of the city, I look forward to the point where the pavement rises above the road. In the brief moments when there are no cars whizzing by, I hear silence — and then the chirping of birds. I feel awake and renewed, for where in the city can I hear a silence so clear and powerful?

Walking down my path, I can see the golden-topped High Court and the beautiful traditional building that houses the Royal Monetary Authority. Adjacent to it lies an empty field that serves as a parking lot. Taking a detour through this field, I pause right at the top to look at the mountains. They spread out and around me, festooned with prayer flags coloured and bleached, guardians of the valley, both physical and spiritual.

I wander back. A monk is walking towards me, when a car passing by honks to attract his attention: fellow monks wanting to give him a lift. Further ahead, a couple of monks stand on the edge of the road, asking for rides. The thick, furry, moulting dogs that inhabit about every street I’ve been in are fast asleep; some bear splatters of the juice of the doma that several Bhutanese enjoy chewing endlessly, a lot of which ends up on roads and pavements.

All walks in Thimphu end at my window-seat in the hotel room. Not having had enough of the mountains, I sit there, watching cloud shadows float over their slopes. I watch people scurrying to and from school and work. Then night falls, the lights come on, and the mountain walls blend in with the darkness. I am at home, physically and in my head.

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