The last post describes my experiences with the people of Devabhoomi (God’s land) Himachal Pradesh. I’d never planned this post, but then Turbo asked me to write a post describing the trek itself, complete with photographs.
I do not own a camera, and whatever pics I have of the trip are courtesy a few good people I made friends with on the trek. Anyways, pics and cameras have their own limitations. Cameras can catch the snow covered mountains, but cannot describe the reverence I feel when I look at them. They can see the look of the rag-tag pahadi people, but do not have it in them to see the goodness they hold in their hearts. The blast of the mountain wind, the drowsiness of the early morning mist, the strength of the pahadi bidis and even the beauty of the Pahadi women are beyond cameras’ reach.
Here are some things that cameras could never have captured.
We were on a 6km road hike from Kasol to Manikaran Sahib, when it started raining heavily. We had no raincoats and the rain lashed against our unprotected skins. The rain was so heavy that it was difficult to see even ten feet beyond on the road. The soft ground under our feet threatened to give away every now and then, and we shivered in the below 10 temperature as chilly wind blasted against us, threatening to fling lightweights like myself lock stock and barrel into the gushing Parvati river. The hills to our right, and the stalwart Deodar trees covering them all stood surrendered against this fury of nature.
It is under such difficulties that one gets to see a hitherto prohibited side of mother nature. A stark, real picture, different from the benign, modified one one has been made accustomed to. For city dwellers like us, the sheer nakedness of contact, the brutally honest directness of the surroundings might be more difficult to handle than the actual physical sensations. With me, the connection was instant. I was in that all powerful grip of nature, in some different world all by myself; drunk on the surroundings and thrilled beyond words.
We trudged on, and came across a narrow ‘bridge’ that had been drawn across the Parvati river at the side of the road. The river was narrow at this juncture, and as a result its fury seemed to be greater than ever. The old, narrow, weather beaten bridge was charming in a very rustic way, and I simply had to explore it in spite of everything. It was swaying left and right in the storm when we stepped on its wooden boards. Tightly gripping the ropes holding it in place, we tottered, shivering and almost tumbling from excitement, to the center of the bridge. We were directly above the middle of the river now. Clenching the rope tighter in both my fists, I peered down to the river.
And then I lost control.
The excitement, the nervousness, the overpowering feeling to break free and the immense reverence that had been building up inside me for so long, suddenly could not be contained any longer. I gripped the ropes, and looking down the length of the roaring river, facing the lashing rain square on the face, I screamed and continued to scream, for some reason I cannot explain, ‘JAAAAAI BHAAARAAAT MAATAAAA’, ‘JAAAAAI BHAAARAAAT MAATAAAA’, ‘JAAAAAI BHAAARAAAT MAATAAAA’ …
And in that one moment, with the rain slapping my face left and right with all its fury, the wind threatening to take me away with itself, the bridge swaying and the floorboards creaking, and the mighty river flowing white with a deafening roar some fifty feet below me, I pictured in my mind’s eye the passage of the river waters right from the mountains of Himachal, through the plains of Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Bengal right till the Bay of Bengal and I imagined that the river waters were carrying my voice along with them. And in that one moment, I felt the whole country reverberating with the sounds of my Jai Bharat Mata…
This incidence took place at Tilalottni, our highest camp. It was at a height of 13,000 feet, where dusk sets in at 6:00 in the evening. It was drizzling but I didn’t want to waste a single moment of the mountain view sitting inside the tent.
Vinay and I sat on a rock some distance from the camp, to avoid the artificial camp lights. At 15,000 feet, this hill was the highest among all the nearby peaks. We were sitting at 13,000 feet and there was nothing except snow above us. Below us rolled soggy, green pastures till the the edge of the hill. The thick green forests and small villages dotting the countryside were in the valley below, out of our sight. From what we could see, there was just the two of us, equally high mountains in front and snow above and grass below us under the boundless sky.
Dragging on the head spinning pahadi bidis to keep ourselves warm, we talked while we looked at the view before us. In the dark background of the formidable, forbidding mountains, white, frisky clouds hovered in front of us, forming and unforming into different shapes. We were deep in conversation, when I noticed small white flakes streaming soundlessly down from behind us. Both of us looked behind, up the hill, and realized that clouds were forming around us. We shut our mouths and looked in awe as the world quickly started getting misty.
Vinay resumed the conversation, but this time I shushed him. I had noticed something else.
I strained my ears to listen. To something. To anything. Anything at all. I whispered to Vinay to listen. Both of us strained our ears as the calm wind wordlessly carried on with its task of creating clouds around us in that virgin territory.
We could not hear a single sound.
The Cloud started to envelope us. Dusk had fallen and the visibility was negligible. I closed my eyes and strained and strained, but except for Vinay’s heavy breathing, I could not hear anything. No sight, no sound. Just the profoundness of silence overflowing everywhere.
I never felt more distant from the world. And I never felt freer.