Thursday, June 17, 2004

The Himalayas

I am back in the civilized world and the only way I can look in retrospect at the events of the past month is fond remembrance. After saying my final goodbyes to IIT Madras and leaving her serene campus I felt the veil of motherly affection that IIT had put on me for the last four years lifting up. Two contradicting emotions, one of happiness and the other of extreme sadness and pain, engulfed my heart. Happiness on finally graduating and starting out afresh in the world and sadness on breaking all ties which had become more important than even blood relations. There is always email, my friends told me, and a phone is never far away. But deep down in my heart I knew that I had lost what had become the most significant, the most vibrant thing in my otherwise colourless existence.

So when a few of us decided to undertake a trekking expedition to the Himalayas my heart jumped at the opportunity. The trek involved going to Yamunotri, Gangotri and Gaumukh (the place from where the Ganges originates), three rather important pilgrimage centers for the Hindus, all situated in the Garhwal region of Uttaranchal. The best part of May went into organizing the trek and on 5th June 2004 five warriors from the Indian Institute of Technology met in Delhi to undertake this arduous and life threatening journey (or so I would like to believe).

From 6th to 11th we braved through harsh weather, difficult (at some places excessively steep and slippery because of horse shit and mud) terrain and back breaking walking paths to cover almost 50 kilometers and visit the three places. A day of walking was followed by an even tougher bus ride in the mountain roads. But it all had its payoff and the memories from this journey will remain with us for the rest of our lives. The view of snow capped mountains and beautiful shimmering water (the Ganges however is very muddy even at its origin because of grey sand which is also a part of the ice crystals in the glacier) filled our hearts with joy.

The journey had its rewards but not without a good dose of danger. Once we were caught in a land slide in a particularly dry mountainous region caused because of some rather stupid mountain antelopes. It felt like being a part of a video game where the villain is throwing small projectiles at you and you are running and jumping as fast as possible to avoid getting hit. The adrenaline rush I felt while crossing this part will be a constant source of inspiration (and maybe perspiration) in the future. The same patch on our return trip was rather calm.

The second bout of danger was self invited, though I will remain eternally thankful to the universe for instilling the spirit of adventure (which I found to be bordering on sheer stupidity at certain occasions) deep in my heart. We were around two hundred meters from the mouth of the cave carved into the giant glacier from which the Ganges originates. Around us were snow covered mountain peaks and the giant glacier right in front of us. We could see huge blocks of ice floating away in the shallow but strong current of the river coming out from the mouth of the cave. However there was no clear path to go towards the mouth of the cave and this troubled me a lot. The message “So close and yet so far” kept echoing in my brain when suddenly I decided to find my own way through the rather rough looking rocks which could slip at any moment and fall into the river. More importantly these rocks were part of the ever changing and melting glacier but my mind was fixed on reaching the cave and I kept on moving forward. Looking back I think I was rather foolish. I had my doubts in the middle but the moment I saw my friends following my footsteps I surged ahead. And finally we had done it. We had come as close to the cave as was humanly possible (without drowning oneself in the river of course).

A sudden calmness took over me once I was there. I realized that I was having one of those rare spiritual moments. I let my mind get completely soaked with this feeling for I knew that it was ephemeral. The beauty of that moment will live with me for ever.

Others joined me shortly on the same spot and all spiritual ecstasy vanished. We saw a huge chunk of ice fall into the river with a loud splash which gave us a scare but we let it pass. It was now time to make our way back. This was when nature decided to tell us that we had been playing with its might like little idiots and we were at its complete mercy. The whole glacier gave way and rocks came tumbling down from all sides and we were dead even before we hit the water. Well not really. What actually happened was that a rock the size of a football (enough to kill a man) decided to land right between two of us. The whole thing happened so suddenly and without a warning that we were shocked. We stood fixed to the spot and stared at each other. Nothing else happened. We reached our base camp safely. Thinking back I feel that the rock was nature’s way of saying goodbye and asking me for something.

I swear to return to the same spot some day when I have accomplished the task set by nature.