It’s a long, lonely afternoon. The sun beats down with all its might and the people wither and wilt. I manage to fold my legs in the swiveling office chair and stare at the heads bent over their laptops.
This is not where I belong.
I begin at the no. It’s a nice, round ‘o’ sound that carries into the silence. I begin here, not at nothing, but at something less than nothing.
Each no I utter shoves me deeper into a stone cold pit. It’s not bad, I quite like it down here. But then those voices begin shouting my name. Then come the search parties, stumbling with flashlights through the dark undergrowth. Worried, concerned voices, searching for me in the wrong places. I remain silent. I let them yell and they get louder each night. The voices, they comfort me. I want to be sought, yet I want to remain lost to the world.
I am lost, even now, to the world that represses, the world that sits in judgment and the world that drowns out perfect harmonies.
And so I run. Wind-whipped hair and a gasp of air, hear the beat, feel the heat, run fast, lose the past, hit the wall, break the fall, take a plunge, fill your lungs, forget what you know and just let go.
Here’s the funny thing about rants. No one wants to hear them, much less read them on blogs. Rants rarely make sense. They exist purely for our own satisfaction. We rant because we would much rather direct our wrath and scorn at some poor unsuspecting bloke than the ones who caused it. The good thing is, the title of this post makes it clear that this is a rant, so feel free to ignore it. I won’t be mad, I promise.
I have a dash in my bank balance, followed by a three-digit number. That dash represents negative balance. I’ll do the drum roll myself, thanks. The last three months of unemployment have thickened my skin, shriveled my balls (figuratively speaking) and sharpened my pride. But I’m not running for the hills, not yet.
I wrote a short fiction piece and sent it to a few magazines for publication. I am looking forward to being rejected, not because I am a pessimist, but because I know it is not great writing, and I know I can do better.
There are days when self-doubt creeps in and I forget what I am doing this for, I wonder if there is even a purpose. I am tempted to succumb and take up a measly job doing something I hate just so I can enjoy a fat pay check that allows me to eat fancy food, drink alcohol every weekend and travel as an excuse to find myself. However, on most days, this experience exhilarates me because every moment has only made me stronger. I thought I had wasted the whole year sinking into some private hellhole of depression, but I have learnt to love fierce and dream bigger.
The point of this particular rant, ladies and gentleman, is this – I don’t think I’ve hit rock bottom yet. I am not done sinking, but I think I’ll survive. And here’s a comforting thought to leave you with – after rock bottom, the only way out is up.
I overheard a couple at a café the other day. The girl wanted to travel the world and take pictures everywhere. So the man painted her a beautiful picture of all the trips they would take together. In the end, he promised, “Baby, I will make you the queen of Instagram if that’s what you want.” Now, isn’t that just lovely?
Instagram is now the countryside home with a white picket fence, the Everest for the aesthetics and an unsolicited portfolio of kids and booty.
I get it, people. You want to strut your stuff and share tidbits of your fascinating lives with the world. Just… don’t share every minute of it. Save some of the most important moments for you and you alone.
I was moved to tears today, listening to Maxim Vengerov performing Sibelius. I was lost in the music and I shut the world out. Such moments come rarely to me and they mean a lot, because they remind me that I can feel. This is the link if anyone wants to check it out.
In a daze I stumbled back to my dorm, stoned on some of the best hash the country had to offer. I crept inside my blanket and began tripping to the breathing of seven men into the silence of the wind. I had surrendered to the daydream delusions and fantasies of my drug-addled brain, when I heard a sob from the bunk above mine. One, then another, until great heaving wails rocked the entire bed, yet the others continued breathing and snoring, as if I was the only one alive or sane enough to hear the sound of grief. Listening to the drunk little boy shaking with tears, I froze within my stupor, unwilling and unable to reach out. I pretended to be asleep, and he continued sobbing into muffled pillows. These are tears of self pity, I thought with disdain. These are not tears where you feel sorry for a three-legged dog or a poor beggar kid; these aren’t tears of losing someone dear or missing someone who is far, far away. These tears were because he felt sorry for himself, sorry for the way he is, sorry for those that were no more in his life, and because he never knew the love of a mother. I knew, and I understood, but I was hardened and he was weak; I despised his tears, I hated a man who could cry unabashed for the man he could not become.
It was the fall of 2016. While the temperatures in the Valley were moderate, after sundown, the wind picked up and howled through the trees, making them shiver and shed their autumn foliage. We were bundled up in our winter jackets and scarves, and in search of whiskey to burn our throats and warm our innards. Up in the Himalayan mountains, it is a question of survival; it doesn’t really matter whether you ordinarily drink or not.
It had been a rough hike; with the sun beating down on our backs and sweat soaking through the layers, it was hot enough to experience a stroke. We occasionally sat and cooled off, but this part of the Valley had scant greenery, and sometimes there was not a single tree for miles. We were walking through a landscape of endless mountain ranges of brown and grey, a deserted trail beside a frothing white river and a clear, blue sky; despite the hard terrain, it was achingly, breathtakingly beautiful.
The population of the entire Valley was in four digit numbers, and the locals played host to weary travelers with undisguised delight. Food, water and shelter – your basic needs got taken care of with hardly a dent in your pocket, and beyond that, there was not much you needed, for travelers in the Valley never care for luxuries, rather, they are on the run from it.
After the day’s hike, we had chosen a small hostel on the outskirts of the village; it was cheap, promised decent food and had 5 rooms for rent. We were a strange group – me and my boyfriend, a girl with glasses who wrote poems and skipped stones, two musician guys from Mumbai who had been roaming these parts of the mountain for more than a month now, an American super-athlete couple and a young German girl and her Indian boyfriend who had been volunteering for the past year at a blind kids’ school in rural India. Incidentally, it so happened that that night would be the last time all of us met together in the same place, for the next day, we would all be going different ways.
Our search for a warm beverage proved more than fruitful, for the two Mumbaites not only had a bottle of scotch saved for some such occasion, but also produced some good quality hash, a souvenir of their travels. And so that night, a group of strangers gathered in one of the rooms, lit some candles, poured themselves some scotch, lit a joint, and sat in a circle to swap stories.
Just begin soon. Get the damn celebrations and the enthusiastic welcomes over with already.
This time of year is trying enough for a voluntarily yet somehow unwillingly single girl, without having her birthday squashed right between Christmas and New Years Eve. I wish I could sleep through it all, and wake up in the New Year. A fresh start, so to say, as I know perfectly well it’s just a state of mind. I also know that change comes at its own sweet time.
Sometimes I just wish I wasn’t complicated. I wish I never knew the convenience of a drink. I wish I’d never known how layers of complexity dissolve and wash away in the sparkling liquids. I wish I didn’t meet people who are just plain simple. Cause complicated is just foolish when you throw away every perfectly good chance at happiness, for no explainable reason. I wish I didn’t have that raging need to think and over think so goddamn much.
I wish I wasn’t lost, but if I wasn’t lost, I wouldn’t know that I needed to be lost to know that I need to seek something vague that may or may not give me happiness, and that all I know is what I don’t want which may or may not have given me happiness had I stuck on to it a little longer. I wish I didn’t have the ability to generate thoughts such as above.
I am a million, tiny little pieces and every place I go, I’ve left behind traces. Travels become what you are; the mind is always someplace far. My soul can never be whole unless I can be every place I’ve ever been. And yet I’ll never go back, to pick up all the pieces I lost. It’s another part of me, cold, silent and broken.
I turn my face away, away from the stench and the suffocating heat, the hawkers and the little beggar child performing to the drum’s beat. I drown out the low complaining voices and block out the train compartment to my senses. I glue my head to the window to watch the shadows in the water below that keep changing as the sun dips low. I watch the corn and rice fields whistling merrily in the wind, and the stretches of land left bare by summers that forced the rivers to rescind. At each bend I watch the train till it is replaced once more with plain terrain. We jump up with unabashed delight as we see on the rail tracks a peacock taking flight.
The growing dark stares back as the wheels run steady on these age-old tracks. The train whisks us through villages and across states but it’s a two day journey even at this rate. I feel the miles grow longer and I know the nights will get much colder. I count the passing days as time takes me further and farther away.
Journey to base camp (8,250 ft)
Even two days of second class non-AC travel eventually takes it’s toll. The sweltering Delhi heat had us sweating to glory as we dragged the heavy rucksacks and luggage from one station to another, and running wistfully past McDonald’s, only to reach Kathgodam, to find that all the non-vegetarian restaurants had closed their kitchen for those of us dying for some chicken. And then we persuaded a kindred chef to open his kitchen just for us 10 hungry friends, and within 20 minutes he had prepared chicken curry, Rotis, Rice and, believe it or not, 3 plates of steaming hot, delicious Chicken Momos, served with a smile. I can’t remember food ever having satisfied me more.
Next day took us to base camp at Lohajung after we had braved 240 kilometres of continuous, winding road up into the mountains, where, by some miracle I didn’t throw up.
As the three days of non-luxurious travel neared an end we called up home as our phones weren’t expected to get network for the next 6 days. We were walking, not exactly ‘into the wild’, but certainly away from civilization.
Day 1: We had 8 kilometres of moderately steep climb to reach Didina. Not a very difficult climb but tough, being the first day of the hike.
Day 2 was a steep 12 kilometres climb to Bedni Bugyal (11,500 ft). Bugyal means meadow and here we came upon beautiful pastures of lush, never ending green. This day was my solitary walk and one of the most memorable days of the hike.
Keep on climbing and never look back down or the mountain will seem to have grown. Ignore your aching shoulders and the blistering feet and follow the steady rhythm of your heart beat. I had found my own pace, this was no race but there was resolution etched on my face.
I was one with nature, my feet seemed to step of their own accord; one range to the other, nothing but a walk with my camera.
After the pleasant walk through Ali Bugyal, the climb to Bedni Bugyal starts.
Finally, relief as the campsite comes into view.
It was a lovely campsite, one that will make me nostalgic for years to come.When the fog slowly lifted the campsite provided us our first glimpse at the snow-covered peaks of the Trishul mountain ranges. It was another unforgettable moment as we all waited for the clouds to disperse and the snow ranges to show us their spectacular beauty.
The next two nights we spent at Pathar Nachauni. The climb for Day 3 was moderate, around 3 hours climb each day. The campsite itself was at 13,000 ft and was freezing cold, with fierce winds that changed direction at will. Our first tent at the campsite had a broken chain, and it flapped about in the wind like a raft tossed around in the storm at sea. And then luck came to the rescue with a red and blue tent for us three girlfriends. We set it up right next to the guys’ tents, and every movement or sound made in the night could be heard in the next tent, which had us rocking with gales of laughter at random hours in the night.
There was a Maggi stall at the camp, and with our increasing loss of appetite for the potato meals provided at camp, it was a lifesaver. That camp had special moments: the difficulties of open air toilets (which means no constructed toilets) and the hilarious tales it provided, the winds dragging the cold up and down our spines, those hours spent on the far out rocks listening to music, watching the snow eagles and the clouds that seemed to pass right through us, and dinners made all the more special with one person feeding 10 others so that not everyone’s hands would freeze.
Day 4 we went to Baghubasa (14,000 ft) which has a shrine (temple) of Kalu Vinayak. After snow slides in a small patch of rough snow, we headed down and encountered hail and a soft snow fall. We literally ran down the 8 kilometres back to Pathar Nachauni in the rain, to avoid getting our gloves and thermals wet. No use. I eventually ended up stuffing wet gloves and scarves in my bag because they simply wouldn’t dry out there.
Day 5 we climbed back down to Bedni. A bunch of us had contributed to get lamb for dinner. What we hadn’t expected was that the poor thing would be kept tied right in front of us, bleating its way into our hearts till some of us quite lost the appetite to eat it. I didn’t, though I was adamant not to watch it get butchered. However, when dinner was served we forgot about the incident and ate heartily, for it was tender and really well-cooked.
It was then that we realized just how accustomed we’d grown to Pahadi (mountain) life and immune to the trifles of city life. A couple of huge dragon-flies whose species had exasperated us right since base camp, landed into our plate of lamb and we almost didn’t see them in the dim torch light. But what experience might have sent us screaming had it been in the comfort of home, here my friend simply picked it up from the plate, threw it away and resumed eating.
Sleeping bags were a different issue altogether. Sharing a tent with someone with different sleeping habits is difficult enough, but it gets worse in such cold conditions where sleep hovers around and near you for a long while but never quite settles on you till it’s almost daylight. And then it’s a scramble for getting ready on time, brushing your teeth in the ice-cold water, forcing down that breakfast and tea and hoping you don’t get potty problems during your hike. Up in the mountains, we had a daily ritual where everyone could, and would, unabashedly discuss their shitty-doings of the day. Did they poop, was a dog staring while they did it, did they run out of toilet paper? It was as casual a chat as talking about breakfast.
Day 6 was the climb down to base camp, through a village called Wan. It was a scenic descent through forests of tall trees. We had made friends with a local guide, who invited us into his home for a cup of special garhwal tea. We were so humbled by their hospitality and simple ways of life.
From Wan we traveled 12 kilometres back to Lohajung by Jeep. I found myself squished in the back of a jeep between two guys from my hike and 7-8 other locals, who strongly smelled of booze and maybe weed and something else that smelled bad. The driver was rash and I thanked my stars when that half hour journey ended, and I once again knew what fresh air felt like.
Back to base camp, and then to Kathgodam, meant back to the wordly pleasures of sleeping in a bed, eating cooked food other than potatoes, and above all, having a bath after a whole week. Oh, and pooping on a real toilet. It all really makes you think about the things important to you. We had a day free in Nainital, which was a day spent sightseeing, hogging and shopping.
We also had some free time in Delhi, so we wisely spent it roaming the capital. We tasted some amazingly yummy parathas in Paratha-galli, and then me and my friend dispersed from the group in search of the famous Sunday book market. It was time very well spent, as we picked up some rare second-hand books at Rs. 30 per book. Better than a bargain!
All in all, it was a wonderful hike, and we got to explore two cities as well! I’m already missing the nomadic spirit of the month…