I looked back at the mile I had travelled, panting. I asked myself, “Is this even worth it?”
“Yes stupid, every step of it! Now, get moving,” replied the inner me. I looked around and saw foliage as far as my eyes could reach. Those pastures blanketed my vision, and I got lost in the tranquillity of the wilderness until my friend shook me, and reminded me of others waiting behind us as we hiked up the valley.
We were a group of young teens, trekking the Himalayan Mountains over the course of 7 days. We had a base camp at Salli, first camp at Handi and the second one at Chogratu. The hike from one camp to the other would take about a day. Usually, at the camp site, delicious warm food would greet us. We could feel every joule of energy being derived. Food had never tasted as good as it would at the end of each day’s trek.
After reaching the camp, we would straighten our backs for a few minutes until we were called back out again. The evenings were full of games and fun. The night sky was right out of the Google image search for “galaxy”. In every sense of the word, it was pure. Slithering and snuggling into the sleeping bags were rituals performed every night. No, the day did not end there. Using the toilet in the middle of the night was an intrepid feat. Tales of being at a sniffing distance from a wild animal and supernatural beings would float around during breakfast the next morning. Mornings too, were no less exciting. From brushing teeth with bone-chilling water to queueing for the loo, morning experiences were eclectic too.
There, I turned into an early bird (damn those queues) and a night owl. I shuddered at the thought of missing out on something of this magical place when I would go to sleep. Getting up early and strolling during breezy mornings amidst the mountains had become a daily tradition. I would sleep just enough that would keep me going during the day. While trekking, we saw things like animal skulls to hurtles of bleating sheep and solitary huts. We had our share of peculiar incidents. I remember a particular night when the wind blew as if it had been forced into a hole since eternity and had finally been released. My tent flailed as my hair blew violently over my face. The wind echoed in my ears for minutes after it had died down.
Boarding the bus bound for home was the toughest. I couldn’t gather enough strength to lift my foot to reach the step. It seemed like the beautiful memories from the past few days had weighed down each foot. But, when you have a group of crazy friends swearing at you from behind, you climb! So I did. It was supposed to be a ten-hour journey or so we were told. To me, it seemed like just an hour. The bus ride also gave me time to introspect. I recollected and relived every moment from the past six days. I realised the importance of being independent and saw value in solitude. Nobody accompanied me for those early morning walks, neither did I feel the need. It had never been like that before. Even being an introvert never compensated the need for a companion. The experience is quite different, one that everybody should once have in their lifetimes.
This short trip also taught me to appreciate nature — or whatever is left of it. I have always lived in big cities, surrounded by concrete jungles. This sudden brisk exposure to nature made me realise its ephemerality. My instructor was partly responsible for this. He told us that he had witnessed the detrimental effects of commercialisation on the forests. Earlier, they were lush green with an un-trek-able terrain, but were now, quite the opposite. For the first time in six days, I was appalled. Nature conservation made it to the top of my concerns, and it became something that I would like to contribute to in the long term. The rest of the journey was spent thinking on ways I could get involved in such efforts.
I believe that everyone should travel. Taking short trips, especially with people we do not know, exposes one to new perspectives. I would never have understood the gravity of the impact that phenomena like climate change and rapid deforestation have had on the environment, had my instructor not told us stories or shown memorabilia from his past experiences. Travel also exposes your mind to ideas unexplored by you, and can create a profound impact in people, usually for the better.
When we reached Delhi, saying goodbye to everybody was painful. “Couldn’t it have been a day longer?” I cried as I settled down in the car with my mother and hugged her tight.