The first climb — My Himalayan trek tale

The journey is the reward. It has always been. It will always be.

Firstly, I realized almost everyone documents their first trekking experience. Most of the first time trekkers describe their trek as “strenuous yet beautiful”. I believe I fall right into that category and I have no qualms about being in that group. Trust me, it is not a bad place to be.

Walk over Phulara ridge

I trekked to Phulara, a high altitude multi-day Himalayan trek. I will spare you the statistical details of the altitude, normal oxygen levels and required fitness levels which I believe are not hard to find on the internet. (Go on, do a little research, That’s the best part of planning a trek/trip).

Every trip, every vacation, every getaway is nothing without its pre- and post- drama phase. Mine was nothing short of any of that. Phulara was never my first intended Himalayan trek. A month ahead of my trek, the High court of Uttarakhand decided to ban camping on the meadows of few mountain ranges. What a move! But the intention of the ban was genuine and there was nothing that could be done about it. The trekking community I had signed up with suggested Phulara ridge trek as an alternative. It was most certainly a perfect replacement trek for a first time trekker like myself.

If I must use just one word to describe my journey over the Himalayan range in Uttarakhand, “Unprepared” is what it would be. I was unprepared for the physical effort that had to be put in. I was unprepared for the emotional journey I never intended to go on. I was unprepared for the mental strength it gave me. I was unprepared for the beauty of the mountains and the joy it could give me.

Of course, there was a fitness regime that had to be followed while I geared up for the trek, but I fell short of those standards. Just one hour into the trek, I was panting worse than a dog. The fact was, I had 5 more days to go on this journey I voluntarily put myself in. Guess what the icing on this cake was, I went alone for the trek. Well, not alone, I was in safe hands of a trekking community, with an amazing trek leader, but I was with a bunch of strangers. Strangers who walked through different facets of life, strangers who I never thought would become friends and family for those 5 days.

I got to see foxes and flying squirrels in the middle of the night, stood right below bearded-vultures (Yeah, they exist!) and eagles, saw them soar above lush meadows. I had to give way for mules and sheep to walk ahead of me, filled my water bottle right off a stream and I slept like a baby at 12000 ft under a blanket of stars and a full moon. One thing that surprised me amidst all these new experiences was that, there were 2 locals, Guddu and Prahalad, who trekked with us.They went up and down the mountains like they knew every curve of it. They had trekked across these mountains a million times, but I couldn’t help but wonder what everyday life would be for these guys. Would our normalcy inspire them with awe like how theirs do to most of us ? I highly doubt if Guddu would be inspired by traffic and air pollution, but would he want to experience it as a way of life? Would he be amazed that it is a lifestyle so many of us have chosen to spend the rest of our lives in?

Prahalad, one of the locals and an employee of India hikes, accompanied us on our trek.

I managed to strike a conversation with Prahalad and it turned out that he had been to most of the states of India. He said he was a rock climbing and adventure sport instructor in cities like Chennai, Mumbai and Bangalore. I asked him why he chose to come back to the Himalayas despite knowing that an alternate way of life exists and that he has a chance to live it. What he answered probably would be the solution to most of the problems in most of our lives. He said that his heart was at the mountains. He said he was satisfied in the cities but was happier in the mountains. I do not know how true his answer was, but at that moment, it made complete sense.

Over the 6 days of the trek, I walked across the mountains, over the meadows and right in the middle of the forest. For hours, I heard nothing but the sound of my own breathing and the sound of dried leaves crunching beneath my feet. I was not thinking. I was not having a conversation with myself or with the person walking next to me. We were all in our own zone, probably pushing ourselves to reach the finish line with absolutely no rush or competition as to who would reach first. I guess all of us were just trying to find peace within ourselves. Comfortable silences among strangers is a precious thing to discover.

The trek ended, but the need to push beyond what the mind thinks it can, hasn’t. The want to do more of such treks has increased and I guess that is how the magic of the mountains work. But until next time, the scattered sunlight in the forest, the walk over the ridge with snow capped peaks all around and the sound of a stream gushing at a distance shall be etched in the memory.

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