Apr 24, 2014

A Walk in the Mountains - Part III

Day 3 began with clear skies, when I woke up to the view of the mountains on one side and flower laden trees on the other. In spite of waking up at 5.15, I had missed the sun rise since it was already spreading its golden rays on the snow-capped mountains. Of all the 4 days, this was my absolute favourite campsite.

We were apparently a very, very lucky group since we got such good views on all days of our trek, but I still attribute that to the mysterious mantra chant of my friend.

The tour leader had taught me how to pack my sleeping bag (basically, use all your might to stuff it in to the bag), and I spent a good fifteen minutes attempting it, and although it was obvious from the end result that it had been the work of an amateur, the thing was done. Phew. If anybody is looking for a good and different work-out and is bored of the gym, may I recommend packing 3-4 sleeping bags in a low oxygen atmosphere.

The views were simply too good, and since we had time to kill before the breakfast, I just took the sleeping mat out, spread it out on the grass, and settled down with my kindle.
Pic Credit: Mansi (again!). The 'self-packed' sleeping bag acts as the pillow.

Day 3 was a much easier trek, but since we were descending, it was a bit harder on my knees. But two days of walking had gotten the legs a bit used to this new routine, and without much ado, we were at the camp-site.

The tour leader had mentioned that the Day 3 campsite would be next to a stream. Now, I am an absolute sucker for mountain streams, since the combination of ice cold water and the gurgling sound of the water gushing down rocks makes me insanely happy for reasons I haven't bothered exploring why.

Well, the 'stream' turned out to be yet another hyperbole conjured up by the tour leader, since it was just a very, very thin line of nearly stagnant water where with one step, I could cross from one bank to another. And while the camp-site was in a glorious valley, with hills on either side and a view of the Kanchenjunga in the distance, the massive build-up of expectations around a stream left me, at least initially, a bit underwhelmed. Never set up an appointment with that thing called 'expectations', and you'll not be dis'appointed'. There is a life lesson in there somewhere, but then, long walks in nature tend to make people a bit philosophical.

The younger lot among the porters were playing cricket, with a log as a bat and I joined in for some fun, only to realize my bowling sucks even more than when I was a kid getting plastered all over the place. Soon, sanity prevailed and I let the kids continue with their game, and came back to an excellent lunch.

We got to pitch our own tents, albeit with a lot of instructions given by the tour leader and the sherpa guide.
Pitching our tent
 Once the tents were done, I took off to the 'stream', had a good wash and came back to my favourite position... on the sleeping mat, outside the tent, packed sleeping bag as pillow and kindle in hand. The rest of the gang caught a nice siesta, while I caught up on some Carl Sagan (on that note, I wish I had the ability to convey the sense of awe at the sight of nature the way Sagan does with space and stars in Cosmos...).

I guess I had praised the weather too soon, and Nature decided to teach me a lesson. The bright afternoon sky soon turned into an overcast one, and the rains made me flee into the safety of the common tent. We could hear the wind howling, and the raindrops were also making quite a dent on the tent. We later learnt it was not just rain, but hail.

We had not packed any 'entertainment' options (of course, I had my kindle, but this was an older version and can't be used to read in the dark), and hence we borrowed a pack of cards from the sherpas and played in the lantern light. Well, whatever luck I had seemed to have evaporated along with the morning mist, and I lost all the games. But playing cards are an excellent way to pass time, and even the normally taciturn guide was soon making laconic remarks on the game.

I woke up early on Day 4 as well, determined to catch the sunrise at least once during the trip. Missed it again, but was rewarded with this.
I have no words!

The grandeur of the mountains explains why local communities usually worship them as deities, and usually such a sight moves people to praise the 'Creator'. Realizing that this is the product of 40-70 million years of continental drift, and not the overnight handiwork of a conveniently invoked super-being, should, if anything, add to the sense of wonder about these mountains. Sadly, most people don't agree.

But standing before the mountains in their full glory is a humbling experience, irrespective of your faith (or lack of it). Realizing that these mountains were here for thousands of years before you, and would continue to exist and enthrall people a million years after you are gone, does give one a sense of perspective. The pressures of every day life, the humdrum worries about mortgage and pay rise and hairline receding begin to melt away in the presence of such magnificence.

Meditating on the magnificence of mountains and the allure of alliteration

Day 4 was the toughest day, since it involved a 2 hour climb, a 2 hour traverse and then a 1.5 hour descent. The climb was tough, but the traverse was more painful because the trail was full of uneven rocks and there was this constant fear of twisting my ankle. We took a lot of breaks, and for once, I concentrated on the walk itself, without my usual monkeying around.

Unlike the previous days when I had attempted to pay homage to the ancestors...
Conclusive proof for Evolution!
The traverse ended at a military border outpost, where we had lunch and then began the most painful part of the journey. The descent was over steep stone steps cut into the mountain, and they were steep enough to send a jolt through my knees at every step. Seeing the sherpas bounding down those same steps at great speed, with a song on their lips, only made it worse.

After exactly 1 hour and 18 minutes, (I know, because we timed it), we reached the camp-site, thankful for the opportunity to take off the shoes and put up our feet and rest.

Evening of Day 4 involved more card games, more general chit chat and a general sense of achievement, since we were nearing the end of our trek. All that remained for the next day was a short descent, but what a fun descent that turned out to be...
PS: Combined Day 3 and Day 4. After all, there are only so many lines one can write about "we woke up, we walked, we ate awesome food, we talked, we slept" :)

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