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Chinthana Gopinath

THE MANANG TRAIL

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I’ve always been involved in some kind of physical activity or the other. But the main motivation has always been to keep my weight in check, to not be fat, to have the clothes fit. Everything changed when I decided around my 30th birthday that I wanted to go on a trek to Nepal. I don’t know what motivated me to take that decision, I thought I’d know by the time I finished my trek but I still don’t. About six months before I actually set out is when I started exercising to prepare my body for the trek. I would jog & walk on certain days and do yoga on the rest. I was working out for at least 5 days a week. It was extremely liberating to not worry about the kilos, inches and the calories. It was purely about stamina, strength and endurance. I already felt like I was reaping the benefit of the trek!

Before I left, there were various reactions from various people. Some people thought that I was a tomboy; some said that I had balls to be doing this alone. I don’t think that a woman needs to have masculine traits to embark on an adventure. I was setting out as a woman, a reservoir of Shakthi. Not fearless, but someone who was confident of facing her fears and getting past them as they came along. I also had faith in the Universe, faith that I would be taken care of. Some asked me if I was very very very sure about this, whether they thought I was ready to be doing this. Was I physically ready? I was as ready as I possibly could be. I knew that there would be hardships, there would be days when my body would protest, there would be days when my muscles would know pain like they’ve never known before. But I knew that no matter what, I would push through. I had faith in my spirit, I had faith in my faith that I would continue to put one foot in front of the other in spite of the odds. So, the most important question was, “Did I doubt…?” The answer was a definite “No.”, which meant that I was ready.

There were of course those that believed in me totally and it was this belief that I held close to my heart like a talisman. It was this belief that actually gave me the strength to go on during the toughest days. And it is for these very people that I am putting down my experience on paper, so that they can somewhat understand the journey that they were a part of.

October 5, 2010

I had arrived in Kathmandu the previous day. Kathmandu felt like any North Indian city albeit a lot poorer. There were signboards in the Devangiri script, beat up little cars were breaking every possible rule on the roads, dusty, hot. But what I found enchanting was that, if you scratched its dusty surface, peered carefully between two buildings or walked a little away from the busy squares, you would almost always find the mighty Himalayas staring at you serenely, as if beckoning you to leave the madness of the city behind and allow yourself to be enveloped in its serenity. I had gotten a very restful sleep the previous night.

We got ready in the morning to leave for Thamel, the tourist area of Kathmandu with plenty of bars, restaurants, hotels and shops. I was to meet Tripple Gurung, a friend of Salima’s for breakfast. He was from Manang & he had played the very important role of getting me a guide that was trustworthy. Tripple was every bit what I had expected him to be. Dynamic, enthusiastic. After all, he had started a hydro electric plant to light up his hometown. Very socially aware. During breakfast, Tripple gave me an overview of the trek and also gave me a very important piece of information, “In the mountains, you will climb very steep slopes only to descend a little while later. Don’t get disheartened.” I was glad that I was expecting this when the very next day I found what he said to be true!

After breakfast, we went to the Nepal Tourism Board to get my trek permit. It costs Rs. 200 for SAARC nation citizens and Rs. 2000 for the rest of the world. Permit in hand; we left for Besisahar (820 m) where my guide was waiting for me. The drive which should have taken 5-6 hours took 8 because of the traffic jams on the way. It took us a long time to get across a weak bridge that could hold the weight of only one vehicle on it at any given point in time. We stopped for lunch at a Thakkali (one of the many tribes of Nepal) kitchen. I had my first rendezvous with the Nepali staple dal-bhaath, which would soon become my soul food in the mountains - rice, dal, potato, papad, cucumber pickle, tomato chutney, greens and chicken. The greens, chicken & chutney disappeared first as I started the trek. The cucumber pickle gave way for carrot and raddish pickle, which also disappeared from the meal by the third day. Then it was the turn of the papad to beat a hasty retreat on the fourth day. The drive gave me good time to catch up with Salima after so many years.

We arrived in Besisahar by around 07:00 p.m. It took a while to locate our Hotel Yeti as there was a power cut in the town. When we did find it, there was a scrawny man in shorts, vest & a cap standing outside, peering into our car as we slowed down. Introducing – Korto, my man in the mountains for the following days. We left our bags in the room and came down to talk to Korto about my trek route. He spoke only to Salima and claimed that he would talk to me in English when the need arose in the mountains. We wrote down my night stops on a piece of paper & looked them up on the map that the Nepal Tourism Board had provided.

October 7, 2010

Got up early, fully wired!! Today was going to be the start of my trek. After breakfast, we had to walk down to the bus-stand to take a jeep/bus to Syange from where my trek was to begin.

This is the jeep that takes me on a 3-hour drive from Besisahar (820 m), to the start point of my trek. We have Nepali & Bollywood music for entertainment interspersed with the cries of chicks in shoe boxes that the villagers carry.

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I was to walk to Chamche (1385 m) to halt for the night. There were no timings for the vehicles, they would arrive when they did and leave when they were full. We bought my ticket for Rs. 450 and sat down to wait for the vehicle to arrive. I had to bid adieu to Salima as it was pointless for her to sit and wait with me. It turned out to be a 3 hour long wait for my bus to arrive. It was my first application of the Nepali philosophy of ke garne (What can one do? Life’s like that). The mini bus rapidly filled up with people on the seats & the roof, bags of rice on the floor, a couple of goats on the roof and chicks in shoe boxes carefully placed on the laps of the villagers. Korto made people get up and sit elsewhere so that I could get a seat next to the window in the second row. Surprisingly everyone was happy to oblige!! Nepali and Bollywood music blaring from the speakers, we were ready to embark on our 3 hour long drive.

I looked outside at the beauty surrounding me, I was dying to get on my feet and walk. It was an otherwise uneventful, bumpy, noisy ride, made longer when a branch smashed into the windshield of the vehicle. Finally at around 2:00 p.m. we reached Syange. The goats got offloaded first from the roof, followed by my bag. Korto was tsk-tsking that we had got late. He swung my bag on his back and just like that, it was the start of my trek.

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We crossed the narrow street of the village of Syange. All too soon I encountered my first steep incline, a slope that I had read about in several other blogs. I had to use the support of my hands to get up, the slope was that steep. All the excitement of starting my trek was soon being washed away as my sweat glands swung into overdrive. Already wondering what I had voluntarily signed up for, I pushed through. Finally I got to the top of that incline. Dramatically, the dustiness of the newly cut mountain surface vanished. The trail was fairly wide. There was thick green growth everywhere I saw. The mountain on the other side was covered with trees, broken in places by rice fields and eroded rock surfaces. The sound of the mighty Marshyangadi flowing in the valley was the only sound in my ears as also the sudden bursts of waterfalls that dotted the mountains.

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I felt a huge wave of joy gushing out of me. I was smiling. I had worked hard to be here. I had got up early in the morning for months to get ready to do this. Was it really true that I was here? I didn’t have to pinch myself to find out if I was dreaming because I twisted my foot. The first lesson I learnt on the very first day was this – I had to be fully aware of the moment I was in. I could not afford to think of where I was going or where I was coming from. I had to focus my attention totally on the moment. If I let my attention waver, it would surely result in a twisted ankle or a fall. The trek, for this reason, turned out to be meditation in motion for me. It started drizzling and it started getting dark as I reached Chymche around 5:00 p.m. It was my first day and I had happily walked for 3 hours without feeling the passage of time. I checked into my lodge. My room was big enough to hold two single beds with a small passage between the beds. I went to the bathroom on my floor and to my luck I got hot water for a shower.

The lock to my door was not working. I stuffed my pockets with my wallet, phone, camera and my torch as I wanted to head down to the dining room for my meal. As I got out of the room, it felt like too much weight to carry. Here I was, putting my faith in the Universe to take care of me on this trek that I had undertaken alone while at the same time I was burdening myself with my possessions for fear of them getting stolen? I put everything back except my torch, which was a necessity, closed the door and went down. Interestingly, the locks to my room didn’t work for the first three nights in a row. I went down and ordered a dal-bhaath which was to be my lunch cum dinner for the day. After my meal, I went into the dining room to sit as it was getting cold outside.

I met a much in love German couple that night, Christine & Frank and their guide of Indian origin, Manoj. We spoke about our own food & culture and what we knew of the others’ food & culture. Manoj told me that I was very beautiful and he thought that I should be in the movies. He asked me how old I was and he was genuinely surprised when I told him that I was 30. He had pegged me to be 24-25. Turned out later that all the guides on the trail had pegged me at the same age. Flattering!! We discussed our trek routes. I was told a few days later that I inspired them to include Lake Tilicho in their plans.

By 8:00 p.m., I was ready to sleep.

October 8, 2010

I got up at 5:30 a.m. after another night of fitful sleep. The plan for the day was to walk to Tal (1700 m), stop for breakfast and then continue to Dharapani (1900 m), where I was to stay the night. I munched on a few dates for a burst of energy. I shared some with a few locals who were making the journey to Manang. Then at 6:00 a.m., I set off.

It was a very cozy trail right outside Chamche, fully enclosed with boulders, green shrubs and tall trees. Within half an hour of walking I encountered the first suspension bridge that I had to cross. The sight of the rusty nuts & bolts holding the bridge together set a knot of fear in my heart. Very gingerly, I set foot on the bridge. Was I to look straight ahead till the end of the bridge? That only made it feel like I was in those strange 3-D movies that I watched as a child at the fairs that came to town. Was I to look down and watch my step? The roaring, gushing, powerful Marshyangandi was not exactly a reassuring sight. Was I to look to my left and right? This only made me realize that the bridge was swaying quite strongly with every step that I was taking. By the time I processed all this in my mind, I reached the other end. I had to cross at least a dozen such bridges by the end of my trek, every one of them higher than the previous one. Much later I figured out the strategy to cross these bridges. I would focus an unwavering gaze on the floor a few feet ahead of me. I would then focus all my attention on my breath. Inhale. Exhale. When I reached the point that I had set my gaze on, I would set another goal a few feet away.

The trail after the bridge continued to be cozy but a steep climb upward. The floor was moist as the sun didn’t get a chance to get to it. I heard the tinkling of bells and when I turned that corner, I found a caravan of mules making their way down the trail. They definitely have the right of way in these parts. Brown, black and white, with a brightly coloured Tibetan mat on their backs and a small decorative woolen maang-tika¬ on their foreheads, these beasts carry rice, potatoes, mattresses, LPG cylinders and all other essentials for the villagers. After awhile, we came upon a small tea shop on the mountainside with a stellar view of the valley below. We sat down to rest and had a cup of black tea with butter crackers. We were still an hour away from breakfast and I needed some energy to continue up the steep slope. Everything was perfect in my world at the moment. I was where I was meant to be.

We continued up till we reached the top of the mountain and obviously enough, I had to descend to get to Tal, a small village by the riverside. Korto always took me to the last restaurant in the village to eat because everybody else would settle into the first few ones and crowd the place. I ordered Tibetan bread, a cheese omlette, fried potatoes and hot chocolate (which on hindsight was too much for one person). When I started eating my breakfast, I felt like I deserved every morsel of food that I was eating. I had the river flowing in front of me, the mountains looming large all around me and the sun warming my skin. Was it possible for someone to feel so at peace? Was it possible for someone to feel so in harmony with her surroundings?

When we left the restaurant, we had to get across a small hill. A pretty little mountain girl, about 5 years old, came skipping along with us. Silken straight hair tied in a braid, creamy white skin, a gold ring pierced in her nose and wearing a bright pink salwar kameez, she had me smiling all the while that she was my companion. She stopped at the edge of the hill trail to pick a bright yellow wildflower which made my heart stop beating for a moment. When we got across the hill, we reached a clearing by the river where some villagers had gathered to graze their sheep. That was the destination of my travel companion and we had to continue on without her.

The trail was flat and steep in parts. There were many waterfalls to break the monotony of the green foliage. I even had to walk under one that was falling directly on to the trail. After a while my brain was lulled by the same scenery that I had been witnessing for the last hour and a half. Then I climbed up a slope and gasped in astonishment. The small valley below was covered with bright orange buckwheat fields by the riverside. Villagers were wearing Chinese style straw hats and working in their fields. An hour and a half of climbing up the next mountain and I was in Dharapani.

As I walked in, I bumped into Frank, Christine and Manoj. They were proceeding onwards to halt at Timang for the night. When I mentioned that I would be staying at Dharapani, Frank said, “Oh, you’re not strong enough to go on is it?” I laughed it off in front of them but that statement rankled. By nature, I’m competitive. I like to be the best at everything that I attempt. I felt like I was not the best here. It was just 2:00 in the afternoon, so I asked Korto if we could walk further to Timang. He said, “No, very steep, tomorrow.” The whole day loomed large in front of me now because of my crabbiness. The room was almost exactly like the previous one. But while the previous one looked cute and cozy to me, this one looked shabby and small. I had to get out of this mood. I decided to focus all my attention only on the next activity on hand. Lie down on the bed to rest. Eat. Shower. Dry out the clothes that I had worn that day. Set out the clothes that I’d need for the next day. The dark shadow lifted.

The dining room was filled in the evening with a group of noisy French. I sat down to talk to two local boys, the only other people in the lodge. We spoke no common language till I asked them, “Hindi film dekhte ho?” That got them talking although the only words I understood were Salman Khan, Katrina Kaif, Akshay Kumar and Dabanng. Had a dinner of rice and vegetable curry. I sat with a cup of lemon tea outside, staring at the shadowy silhouette of the mountains in the cold, misty moonlight. The cook, a young boy, gave me company for a while. He spoke excellent Hindi which he had picked up from watching movies. I was off to bed at 7:30 p.m.

October 9, 2010

Had a breakfast of Tibetan bread and hot chocolate and left Dharpani at 7:30 a.m. Plan for the day was to walk to Timang (2350 m) for lunch and then to Chame (2670) to halt for the night. The sun wasn’t out that day and we set out in the misty morning. I realized that Korto’s plan was to tackle the steepest slopes in the morning when my muscles were rested. The walk to Timang was extremely steep; it had me questioning my fitness level several times. But the view! Every thing was picture perfect. Heart breakingly beautiful. Tall trees with mossy branches, ferns, pines, moist grass & shrubs on both sides of the trail, the ever present sound of the flowing river. I was glad to be walking the trail early in the morning when the world was cloaked in a smoky, magical mist. I had a lot of villagers for company and inspiration on the trail. They were carrying huge loads on their heads, which was making them bend over double. They would stop to rest and then pick up their load again and carry on. A very hard life indeed.

Stopped at Timang for some soul food. It had started getting cold. I needed to layer up the moment I stopped walking. I no longer had sweat pouring out of every pore when I was walking. The trail after lunch was reasonably flat. I had to climb one very steep slope which I thought would definitely tear my calf muscles. I reached Chame around 2:30 to find out that the entire town had been in darkness for 3 weeks already as the motor of their hydro electric power plant had broken down. It started drizzling as well.

There was no hot water in the shower, so I cleaned up with the wet wipes that I had thankfully remembered to carry. Rain coat on, I walked around the town after that. Found a store that was selling chocolates and decided to treat myself to a whole bar of Twix. I went into the dining room to sit at a candle lit table. My brain was lulled into quite a thoughtless state because I was tired. Had a quick dinner of rice and vegetable curry. The cook, again a young man, threw in a free papad and pickle because I was Indian and I had spoken to him in Hindi. I went outside to sit for a while before I hit the sack. The cook came out for a smoke and we chatted amicably about our respective cultures.

October 10, 2010

I left Chame at 6:30 in the morning after my staple breakfast to walk to Lower Pisang (3250 m). The trail was wide, with tall trees on one side and the valley with the omnipresent Marshyangadi on the other. The sun was out all day. The walk felt very easy compared to the previous day. There were several other trekkers on the trail that day. Some so old that I had to admire their spirit. I sat at several places to soak in the moment. At one such moment, I was hit so hard by a lesson that it had me smiling. I was stronger than most people on the trail, weaker than most. I was faster than some, slower than most. But we were all headed to the same destination. I could stop at places to rest when I was weary. That was not a sign of weakness. At my moments of rest, there were sights to enjoy and lessons to be learnt that were meant only for me. I had to set my own pace, my own rhythm and that was the only way for me to be happy. How true this is for my life as well! I’ve had eye-surgery at the time when my contemporaries were racing ahead to fulfill their life goals. But the lessons I learnt at that time of rest have only made me a stronger, better person today. Just like that, in a flash, on a remote mountain in Nepal, that annoying competitive streak that I’ve been trying to get over for a while, had been quelled.

We stopped for lunch at Bhratang (2850 m). The restaurant had beautiful flower beds. Empty beer bottle were stuck into the earth upside down to act as fences for the flowers. I ordered a mushroom and egg fried rice, apple pie and Manang coffee, which I assumed to be locally grown coffee. The lady of the lodge came up to me to explain that Manang coffee was an “evening drink that men had”, so I had to change my order to ginger lemon tea. I expected button mushroom in my rice but got wild mushroom instead, which was quite delicious with its woody, slightly bitter taste. The apple pie was shredded apples with sugar and cinnamon filled into corn-bread (which was round like a pizza base) and deep fried. Rather nice but extremely big for one person to finish. There were children playing outside, the sun was shining and I was extremely happy with the world at large.

I reached Lower Pisang and with my now buoyant mood, found the room to be extremely adorable. The shower wasn’t working but there was some lukewarm water trickling down from the tap which I used to have a nice bath. The sun was still out, so I washed some clothes and hung them out to dry.

There was a gompa at Upper Pisang (3310 m) which I wanted to see. So we walked up a few 100 stairs to get there and climbed narrow paths hugged by stone houses on both sides. The gompa had a beautiful golden Buddha statue and an air of calm about it. Unfortunately it was cloudy; else that point supposedly has a spectacular view of the whole Annapurna Range.

When I went back down to the lodge, I was feeling woozy from the steep climb up. I had to lie down to rest. After all I was at 3250 m above sea level and the dreaded AMS (Acute Mountain Sickness) could be lurking around the next slope! Feeling a lot better, I went into the dining room, the hub of my social life in the mountains. There was an inviting heating stove, surrounded by the porters and guides. I happily sat amongst them for a couple of hours toasting my toes and sipping on a delicious cup of masala tea. One of the guides, who was from India and spoke excellent English, started up a conversation with me. He was taken aback that I was an Indian woman, doing this trek by myself. He thought then that maybe I was from Indian origin but living in Europe. I was very pleased with myself to be creating quite a stir on the Manang Trail.

Dal-bhaath for dinner, which I finished off with a cup of warm mint tea. The muscles in my legs had started to feel tight, given that I had just completed four days on the trail, with several hours of walking and also having attacked several steep climbs already. I slept reasonably well that night except for the fact that there was a Snorey-Joe in the room next to mine and with the walls made of wooden planks, it felt like he was sharing my bed!

October 11, 2010

I got up and my leg muscles were feeling sorer than they did the previous night. Stretched them as best as I could and had breakfast. We left around 7:00 a.m., destination Manang (3540 m). Most people stay in Manang for two nights to rest and acclimatize. They do small treks to nearby areas on the second day.

There are two routes to get to Manang from Pisang. One is the upper route, which starts from Upper Pisang and goes through Gyaru (3730m) and Ngawal (3680 m). This route has some very steep climbs and is claimed to be more scenic and rewarding. Several people take this route as it helps them acclimatize for the Thorong La Pass.

The second route is from Lower Pisang, through pine forests and flat terrain. This was the route that I was going to take. I had three reasons to make that choice. One, I was not going to stay in Manang for two nights as I had to take a deviation from the regular trail and do two additional days of trekking to get to Lake Tilicho. Two, the trek to the lake would help me acclimatize. Three, this route was at least two hours shorter which meant that I would get a little extra time to rest my muscles in preparation for the trek to the lake.

The board at Lower Pisang had said “dense pine forests” which was an overstatement. The dense forest lasted only for about an hour. Then slowly there were fewer trees and more shrubs. These were visually dominated by magnificent rocky mountains with beautiful wind eroded surfaces and just behind them, the snow clad mountains. Thankfully, the board was right about the terrain being flat; there were very few slopes that were not even very steep. The trail was wide, wide enough for cars to drive through. Soon I saw a girl going in the opposite direction on a horse, the first victim of AMS that I encountered. She was obviously very sick if she couldn’t walk down on her own. Her head was bowed with an intense headache. I made a note to myself to increase my fluid intake by at least a liter per day.

At around 10:00 a.m., we walked into Humde (3330 m). This town has an airport that I was originally supposed to fly into to start my trek. The plan needed to be changed as the runway was being renovated. On hindsight, it was a good thing that things panned out like they did because I was able to acclimatize better with walking up. We stopped at a lodge to relax for a while. My right eye started to water and felt sore. I immediately took off my lenses and put in a few steroid drops. It continued to feel bad enough for me to decide that I was not going to wear the lens for the rest of the day.

We started walking again, joined by a young boy who kept singing Hindi songs most of the way. Korto had a lot to chat about with this boy, given that he could hardly speak with me. It turned out that the boy was Korto’s nephew who spoke very good English. It was the easiest walk thus far. There started to appear yak herds grazing by the river side. We walked into Bhraga (3450 m) at around 12:30 p.m. where we stopped for lunch. Manang was only about half an hour away but I was hungry. The menu that I was offered had so many different things from the regular noodles, fried rice, dal-bhaath and pasta that I had quite a hard time choosing what to eat. I finally settled for a grilled sandwich with seasonal vegetables, mayonnaise, yak cheese and egg served with French fries. I also decided to finish off with a chocolate pudding for dessert. The sandwich was spectacular, and not just by the trail standards. The chocolate pudding was drinking chocolate mixed into custard, served warm and gooey.

The walk to Manang took half an hour. All the rooms in the bigger hotels were full by the time we had arrived. Korto took it as a personal offence that he couldn’t find me a nice room in his hometown. So he made me sit on a bench with some local people and set off. After a few minutes, he came running back to tell me that he managed to find one last available room which was given to me only because I was going to be staying for a single night. The room was luxurious – it had concrete walls and a small mirror! I looked at my face in the mirror for the first time in five days. It felt strange. For an activity that I indulge in several times a day at home, it felt really strange. My skin was reddish from the cold and sun exposure and there was a look of such delirious joy in my eyes that it made me smile. The shower didn’t have very hot water and I was wondering about a shower because it had gotten cold by now. But I decided to go for it anyway because the next day I was walking to Tilicho Base Camp where there were no showers.

I went down to the dining room to have a cup of masala chai. I gave my phone and camera battery for charge. I borrowed Korto’s phone to call home. I had been missing amma and pappa a lot since the previous night. It was such a pleasure to be talking to them. My body was sore and tired; the next two days were going to be very strenuous. I needed a dose of confidence, so I called to listen to Namrata say to me in her throaty voice, “You can easily do it Chinths, its going to be no problem for you at all. You were fit and ready before you left. I know that you can easily push through anything that comes your way now.”

We then went to walk around Manang. I was finally here. Months of planning, preparing, imagining and I was finally there. The gompa in the town was closed. Korto showed me the Gangapurna glacial lake from a height. I was very happy taking a picture from where I was. I was too tired to climb down to the lake and come back up on a steep slope. I was anyway going to my lake in the next two days. Korto then left to go home and spend time with his family. We decided to leave at 5:30 a.m. the next morning.

Manang, being the district headquarters was better off than all the other towns that I had been through so far. Tripple had been instrumental in setting up a hydro electric power plant here. There were several bakeries displaying pastries, croissants and cookies. There were little shops on the street side selling beaded jewellery. I had to strongly resist the temptation to buy a few baubles because I had carried just enough money for my food, stay and Korto’s fee. I walked into one café with warm wooden interiors and ordered a coffee. The baked goodies would have been served cold, so I had no interest in them. As usual, the staff took a very keen interest in me due to my Indian origin. One of them even pulled out his mobile phone and said that he’d play me some sentimental songs to go with the mood of the evening. It was delightful to listen to “Yaara sili sili…” from Lekin with a cup of coffee warming my hands. It was soon getting dark outside and I decided to get into the safety of the dining room of my lodge.

I ordered a pot of tea and decided to try Thanthuk for dinner. Thanthuk is flat home made noodle cooked in broth with vegetables and egg. I sat sipping my tea, too tired to think anything, hoping that I’d get some great sleep at night so that I could tackle the trek to the lake well-rested. A group of four was seated at a table behind me, one lady and three gentlemen; I would guess that they were in their late 50’s. One of the men asked me to join their table for dinner. They were all from Israel. The lady had traveled extensively in India and also practiced hatha-yoga. It was pleasant dinner conversation. Then they asked me what my plan for the next day was. I told them that I was going to the Tilicho Base Camp. That created quite a buzz around the table. They started asking me if I was sure and if I knew just how dangerous that trail was. They said that they had wanted to go initially but had changed their minds when they got to know how treacherous the route was. I told them that I was taking my friends’ word on it; they thought that it was safe for me to go, and that was good enough for me. They called a guide to talk me out of it. The guide told me that if I was really going, then I should write an email home saying my final goodbye to my parents. He said that the path was so dangerous, that he would never ever set foot there. Just to get them off my back, I told them that I would go but return if it looked dangerous. I ate my dinner as quickly as I could and went upstairs to my room.

I didn’t sleep well at all that night. After all, I hadn’t researched the path to the lake very extensively. I knew that I wanted to go there, that was all. Salima hadn’t been there. Tripple was a local guy and he would obviously be a pro at the mountain terrain. Should I go? Should I cancel? I decided to go. If I was destined to die on this trek, then I would die whether I went to Lake Tilicho or not. I decided to trust friends rather than the word of some strangers.

October 12, 2010

I got out of bed at 4:30 a.m. and got set to leave. It was cold but fortunately the sun was out, and that brightened up my mood considerably. We had to walk to Khangsar for breakfast and then onward to the Tilicho Base Camp to stay the night (I don’t have the altitudes to these places as I’m now going “off the beaten path”. My guess is that the Base Camp is at least 4300 m above sea level).

My legs were hurting like I had done a thousand squats; my eyes were feeling very dry and heavy partly from the dry air and partly from the lack of sleep the previous night. The only thought that kept me going was that every weary step I took was taking me closer to the lake, the reason that I had chosen the Manang trail. There were lot of shrubs which were withering away; the snow on the slopes next to the trail looked within reach. It was cold in the shade even though I was walking.

After about two and a half hours, we walked into Khangsar. Ate eggs, toast and hot chocolate. There are two routes to get to Tilicho Base Camp. The upper route, which takes six-seven hours, goes through some intense slopes but is safer. The lower route, which takes four-five hours, goes though narrow, tricky trails and a landslide area. Which route was I to take? I was too tired to take the longer route but the lower route sounded quite scary, especially after the warnings that I had received the previous night. Korto plainly pointed to the lower route on the map on the board. I tried to ask him if it was dangerous, if the landslides were seasonal. But we spoke no common language. Too tired to think or to try to communicate with him, we set off on the lower route.

The first two and a half hours took me through narrow, winding paths with orange, yellow and brown shrubs on either side. The sky was an intense blue. Snow clad mountains were a part of the scenery now. The path was very steeply inclined in most parts. After a particular descend, I had to cross a gushing stream over precariously placed logs. There was a rowdy yak herd around the stream. Korto got the yak herder to move the animals to a side before I went ahead. It was taking an immense effort to keep going.

And then abruptly the shrubs disappeared to give way to a mountain surface, fully covered with small stones. There was a board saying “Landslide Area”. It didn’t look so bad. There was a path albeit very narrow and covered with loose stones, and there arose from them spectacular rock structures that were carved with the wind. I had to walk with utmost concentration. At the end of that stretch came a path that went down so steeply that it looked almost perpendicular to the ground. On one side was a monstrous rock wall, the other side was a sheer drop. It was extremely slippery. I even slipped and landed on my backside once. What the hell had I signed up for? Why was I voluntarily putting myself through this? Sensing my fear, Korto held my hand in a firm grip and led me down.

My relief at getting through this, turned into fear that had my jaw drop, when I saw what I had to get through next. There was another mountain surface covered with stones but only, this time there was no clear path on it. I was supposed to dig my heel into the rubble to lodge it as firmly as I could into the mountain surface and walk. Korto demonstrated the technique because of the language barrier and he made it look easy. I looked at Korto. In my state of panic, I forgot that he had a standard response to any question that he didn’t understand.

Me- “How dangerous is this really? Will I die? That guide last night said that I will die” Korto- “Ya!”

My heart was racing. Maybe I was destined to die here! Never have I wanted to live as badly as I wanted to live at that moment. Taking a deep breath, thinking of Cookie, I put one step in front of another. I had to focus on my breath and my feet very intently to keep the fear away. I didn’t want to plummet into the Marshyangadi and die. I thought of my parents. Every time I lifted a foot off the ground, the stones would noisily slide down to take its place. After 45 of the longest minutes of my life, I got through the Landslide Area.

There was even a board at the end of that stretch that said “Thanks” which made me shake my head and laugh.

The trail continued to be narrow and tricky, but nothing compared to what I had been through. I pushed the thought aside that I had to return the same way the next day and continued walking. I was exhausted. I was hungry. My eyes were hurting. The only thing that kept me going was the thought that I would flop down on the bed at the Base Camp for a couple of hours and get some rest.

Finally at 2:30 p.m., after walking for almost 9 hours, I reached the Base Camp. There were quite a few trekkers sitting on the benches outside soaking in the sun. As soon as I reached, I sat down on a stone bench. Too tired to feel relief, too tired to be happy that I made it. Korto went inside to ask for a bed for me to sleep on. All too soon, he came out shaking his head saying “Full!” Too tired to react, too tired to feel anything. I spoke to some other guides who knew Hindi, they said that I could sleep in the dining room in my sleeping bag. As long as I didn’t have to walk back, I was alright with any sleeping arrangements that they had to offer.

I went inside the dining room and ordered dal-bhaat. It was the most basic one of its kind that I had ever had. The rice was cold. The potatoes hardly had any spices in it. But the dal was piping hot and delicious. There were no embellishments of papad or pickle. It was too cold to continue to sit in the dining room, so I went outside to sit in the sun. I went in again to ask for the toilet only to be told that the whole world outside the lodge was my toilet. Excellent! Now I had to go looking for a place to pee, where nobody else could see me. I had to walk for about 5 minutes away from the lodge where there was a stack of stones which provided some sort of privacy. The lack of a pot was made up with the best view that I’ve ever had while peeing.

By 5 p.m. we were all told to sit inside the dining room as the cold evening wind would give us a terrible headache. There were 3 big tables in the dining room with benches around them. I went to the one in the center and sat down. There was a big group of French at the table; they were playing cards and generally having a good time. There were two Czech girls on the table, one was chirpy and chatty. She gave me much needed company on that long evening in the cold dining room. The other looked sullen and sulky; I thought that she was upset about the lack of a room until I found out that she was suffering from altitude sickness. She had an intense headache and she was throwing up ever since she got there. I ordered tea and water and sipped on it continuously. I couldn’t afford to fall sick. I had to go out in the freezing cold to pee several times. All of us ate our dinner by 7 p.m. because we were all exhausted and wanted to sleep. I had no appetite after my massive lunch. So it was garlic soup and black tea for the night. There was a group of people who obviously had beds for the night that took their own sweet time to have their dinner. They were playing cards, going out for a smoke and finally finished dinner at 8:30 p.m., very oblivious to the fact that there were 15 exhausted people waiting to sleep. As soon as they finished, the porters and guides swung into action pushing and pulling tables and benches and lining them with blankets. I was to sleep on a dining table which I had to share with three other people. The fact that a man was going to sleep next to me caused much concern among the guides, who assured me that I would be safe as they were all sleeping in the same room.

It was an interrupted sleep as the tables were rickety. Any movement from any of the other three would wake me up. I had to be very careful not to be too noisy if I wanted to move. It was extremely cold. I decided that the next day I wouldn’t stay at the Base Camp as was the original plan. I would walk back to the next available hotel, which was about 4 hours away.

October 13, 2010

I was up at 4:30 a.m., body stiff from sleeping on a hard wooden surface in the cold. My right shoulder was the worst hit as I think that I might have slept on my right side for the most part of the night. My eyes felt sore when I wore my lenses. We set off at 5:30 a.m. We had to walk up to Lake Tilicho (4919 m), come back to the Base Camp, collect my rucksack and walk back to Shree Kharka. I don’t know why they bothered naming that place anything, given that there was just one hotel, Hotel Tilicho Peak and nothing else.

The walk was difficult from the word go. Very steep inclines with cold, harsh winds blowing in from the huge valley. The sun was bright but its warmth was weak. My body was battered from exhaustion. After climbing for a couple of hours, I felt like I just couldn’t go any further. I sat down by the side of the narrow trail on a small rock. I ate some biscuits and dates. I knew it was a very bad idea to have left without breakfast. My eyes had started watering and hurting very badly, maybe from the winds, the dryness in the air or from the rapidly decreasing air pressure. I had to take off my lenses and wear my glasses. Thankfully the sun was behind me, so I could attempt to walk further without my sunglasses.

Every step I took was leaden. I was the closest to giving up that day. I knew I wouldn’t be judged if I did. But would I ever be able to face myself for the rest of my life if I gave up on something that I had badly wanted? I thought of the friends and family who were rooting for me from back home, who were sending me thoughts of love and courage. There was no way that I could let them down. If I powered through, it would be hard for another couple of hours but if I went back down, the shame would stay with me for the rest of my life. Focusing on my breath, which had helped me so far, was of no use now because I was acutely aware that the breath was not reaching my lungs. I decided to focus on counting the number of steps I took before I paused for a few seconds to breathe as deeply as I could. First 100 steps, then 125 steps, then 150 steps. Everyone else had gone ahead of me. I lost track of time as I just put one foot in front of another.

The incline ended and gave way to a narrow flat trail, lined with snow. I knew I was getting closer. I continued to count my steps and walk. Then suddenly, I saw a patch of blue amidst the white snow. I gasped at the sheer magnificent, pristine beauty of it and my eyes filled with tears. There it finally was – Lake Tilicho. I couldn’t take a step further for a few moments, not because of the exhaustion anymore but because I couldn’t believe that I was finally there. I had been through many many images of the lake in the months before the trek, nothing compared to the beauty of the real thing. I had walked for four hours to get there.

I walked closer to realize that it was a massive lake. The water was a sheet of blue, with not a single ripple disturbing the surface. On one side rose the snow covered Tilicho Peak while on the other side were big, brown mountains. There was a wooden bench, which I sat on. My body was shaking with emotion and I couldn’t stop the tears from flowing. I was grateful for finding the strength and power to endure the physical difficulties and get there. I had to take off my glasses and wear my sunglasses as the white of the snow and the blue of the lake and sky was so intense. There was s small teashop from where I ordered a hot chocolate and a cheese fried noodles. I ate my breakfast with the best possible view in the whole wide world. People had already started heading back down to the Base Camp. One of the guides enlightened me on the fact that even though the lake was at 4919 m, we were at 5200 m. By the time that I finished eating, everyone had left. Korto was inside the teashop chatting with its owner. The Universe had planned for me to have the lake all to myself for a few minutes. I walked on the snow, never taking my eyes off the lake, the happiest person in the world. This lake which had been a part of my imagination and fantasy for so long was now finally a part of my memory and my reality. I felt very powerful to have achieved that.

Just as we started heading down, a big group of Nepalis were making their way up to the lake. I was so grateful for having had the lake all to myself for as long as I did. The way down took me only an hour. I realized I’m brilliant at declines. I rested at the Base Camp for about half an hour and then set off towards Shree Kharka. I had to retrace my steps on my beloved landslide area. This time it wasn’t as scary as the previous day; either because I knew what to expect or because the elation of having made it to the lake worked as an antidote. That elation slowly started getting overpowered by exhaustion and hunger. I started getting irritable as I hadn’t had a good night’s sleep for three nights in a row. The only person that I could vent my irritation on was our dear Korto who had no idea what I was mumbling to him about!! So caught up I was in the prison of my anger that I forgot the lesson I had learnt on the first day. I lost focus of the moment and tripped. I fell and landed on my knees, with my left knee bearing the full weight of my fall. This was going to hurt on my descend after crossing the Pass. But I couldn’t afford to worry about that.

Finally at 3:30 p.m. I walked into Shree Kharka, as in I walked into Hotel Tilicho Peak. I got the last available room. It had two beds and I was told that if someone came in, then I’d have to share the room. Fortunately for me, nobody turned up. I was so hungry that I ordered a garlic-onion soup, potato spring roll and a rice pudding. It was a dismal meal. To spruce up my mood, I bought a big bar of Cadbury Dairy Milk and polished off half the bar. I cleaned myself with my reliable wet wipes and dragged myself back into the dining room to kill a few hours before allowing myself the luxury of sleep. I sat by the fire stove, sipping on cup after cup of lemon tea and finally went to sleep at 7:30 p.m.

October 14, 2010

The decadent sleep that had enveloped me in its languid richness for the first three days of the trek had completely disappeared and I tried hard not to mourn its loss. I desperately wanted to sleep through the night but no matter how tired I was, sleep was patchy. Maybe this was one of the effects of the high altitudes that I was on.I got up and stumbled into the dining room for breakfast by 7:00 a.m. I ordered apple muesli with milk, which killed the tiny appetite that I had had that morning. I was to walk to Yak Kharka (4050 m) that day, which would take about four hours. The walk was extremely easy. Flat to downward sloping terrain with just a couple of inclines, dry shrubby vegetation. My mood was not very upbeat only on account of not having slept properly and not having had a fulfilling meal for the last couple of days.

I reached Yak Kharka by 11:45 a.m. I was extremely lucky to get one of the last few rooms available; else I would have had to walk further to the next village for which I had no inclination that day. I left my bag in the room and came down to sit at a table right in the middle of the warm sun. I knew what I needed to pump some much needed energy into my body – dal-bhaath!! I was right about my decision. I even got a nice crisp papad to go with my meal. I ate two indecently large portions of rice and fresh hot dal and with the sun warming my skin; everything was alright with my world again.

I went to the innkeeper to ask if there was hot water available to have a bath. I hadn’t bathed in the last few days and I knew that I wouldn’t be able to once I got to the Thorong La High Camp the next day. He told me that he’d give me a bucket of hot water for Rs. 100, “I’ll keep the water ready while you go get your stuff.” I happily went to the room and put together my shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and a set of fresh clothes. By now, ‘fresh clothes’ meant the ones that smelt the least. I went into the bathroom and burst into hysterical laughter. The bucket was just a small kettle of hot water. There was no way that would suffice for my surface area. So I just bent over and gave my hair a nice wash. I even managed conditioner with that limited water.

I had the rest of the day to rest and rest I did. I set two chairs in the sun, sat on one and put my feet up on another. I lay there for at least 3 hours letting the warm sun melt away the aches and pains in my muscles. I had a wide smile plastered on my face and I sighed blissfully several times. Images of Lake Tilicho ran through my mind. It was only now that the full elation of my accomplishment started to set in. I felt incredibly proud of myself. I knew that no matter what challenges I’d have to face in my life, the thought of this accomplishment would remind me of the strength that I’m capable of.

After the sun set, the chill set in. I went into the dining room and ordered a big pot of lemon tea. My diary entry that evening was this:

Completed eight days on the trail. How do I feel? Legs are stiff. Left knee is creaking. Right shoulder hurts. Eyes are burning & heavy. But I feel peace like I’ve not known in a long time. I can sit for hours without talking, with minimal thought bombarding my mind, without feeling bored, without worrying about tomorrow. I feel powerful for having come so far, for having endured so much. I feel humble to be in the presence of such magnificence. I feel a part of the Universe, in harmony, my beat & the beat of the Universe is in rhythm.

My companions for the evening were a Dutch couple, a Polish girl, a pair of German girlfriends. We chatted the evening away pleasantly. Again, everyone was surprised to find an Indian woman doing a trek of this nature alone. For dinner I ordered a momo with aloo pata, steamed momos with potato curry. The curry was rather delicious but the momos were just plain steamed dough. I went up to my room at 7:30 p.m. and got another night of poor sleep.

October 15, 2010

Left Yak Kharka at 6:45 a.m. after forcing two toasts and a cup of tea down my throat. Despite the lack of appetite, I knew I needed to eat. I was to walk to Thorong Phedi (4450 m) rest for a bit and continue up to the High Camp (4850 m). Most trekkers stay at Thorong Phedi because the 400 m climb up to the High Camp is a steep climb that can cause altitude sickness. Since I had already acclimatized myself with the Lake Tilicho trek, I would be alright to go up to the High Camp.

At the start of the day, the oxygen refused to go down to my lungs no matter how deeply I breathed. The trail was flat for the first couple of hours, with a small descend and then a climb up to Thorong Phedi. I saw many people returning on the trail, being afflicted with altitude sickness. I guzzled water as if I was in the desert. Even though Thorong La Pass wasn’t part of my initial trek route, I was determined to cross it now that I had come so far. Having got a good rest day and knowing that I had only one more day to complete the trek put me in such high sprits that nothing bothered me; neither the cold nor the difficulty breathing. I took several small breaks to gaze at the bluest of blue skies and the rocky mountains. The vegetation had all but disappeared.

I walked into Thorong Phedi almost four hours later at 10:30 a.m. bursting with pure unbridled glee. I also had a bursting bladder to take care of! The only café here was warm and cozy, with wooden interiors, bright orange lamps and daylight streaming in through the asbestos ceiling. Reggae music blared from the speakers, warm croissants sat at the counter. The owner with dreadlocks and a pierced nose completed the picture. I went to the counter and ordered myself a hot lemon tea (what else) and a macaroni & cheese. The server came out with the tea cup and started shouting “Indian sister! Indian sister!” which had the entire café turn to look at me bemused. The macaroni & cheese was delicious, with a tangy tomato & oregano sauce.

After about half an hour in the café, I set off to climb up the sheer mountain surface that would take me to the High Camp. Korto had gone ahead of me so that he could book a bed for me to sleep in. The climb was very steep, an incline of 400 m that takes about 45 minutes to climb. I paced myself well, drank lot of water and made it up in an hour. I had been told by almost all the guides that this would be the tougher climb than the climb up to the Pass. Obviously, I was very excited at having completed the tougher part. As we lesser mortals combated lack of oxygen and aching muscles to climb up, one fat German lady rode past on a horse that had all our sympathies. With her arched eyebrows, tiny eyes and thin lips curled upwards in a contemptuous smile, she had all our disgust.

The High Camp was one big quadrangle, surrounded by a big dining room, two toilets and several sleeping rooms. Korto got me a bed in a triple bedroom which I shared with Frank & Christine, the German couple I had met on the first day. It was freezing cold even in the afternoon. I sat in the dining room which was filled with excited chatters, the aroma of food being cooked and there was some semblance of warmth because it was filled with about 30 people. I ordered a pot of the ubiquitous lemon tea and was joined by the two Czech girls at the table. I also munched on garlic toast, anything to keep away the dreaded altitude sickness.

The fluids that I was consuming were making its way to my bladder rather quickly in the cold. I very reluctantly got up to step out into the cold to make my way to the toilet. When I got out the door, I had to look down as the cold wind was slapping my face. I noticed small white flecks on my fleece sweater. Snow! Tiny, perfect flecks of snow, which looked just the way they are drawn. The snow wasn’t heavy enough to worry anybody.

The evening passed by quickly as the conversation was interesting and fun. The two Czech girls, Petra & Elena and I had a lot in common. At 30, we faced the same issues with career, family, men, love and life in general even though we belong to different cultures. Sitting in that warm room, high up in the mountains and talking to them felt a lot like talking to my girls at a bar in Bangalore.

I had a cheesy pizza for dinner at 7:00 p.m. and went to the room to sleep. I planned to leave by 5:30 a.m. the next morning. After 10:00 a.m., very strong winds build up on the Pass. It’s best to cross over before that. The ground outside was already covered with a thin layer of crunchy white snow. Frank told me that in case I got up in the night, I should definitely drink water before going back to sleep. It was going to be a long night!I hardly slept that night. I kept getting up. My head hurt and felt heavy. I was extremely thirsty despite the cold. It was hard not to think of the dreaded sickness. I sipped on water through the night. Finally at 3:00 a.m. I succumbed to the pressure of my bladder and stepped out of the warmth of my sleeping bag. I had to gasp at the sight outside. Illuminated by the moon, the world shone in silvery, pristine, snowy beauty.

October 16, 2010

I had crawled back to sleep for about an hour, after which I was woken up by the movements of my roommates. They were getting ready to start their day. As I made my way to the dining room, I saw that several people had already started the climb up to the Pass using their torch lights to see in the dark. The dining room that day felt like a monastery. The innkeeper had lit incense and was playing some Tibetan Buddhist chants on his system. The meditative atmosphere calmed me down tremendously. I had come so far, without medicine, only with a lot of faith that I would make it. I happily chewed on my toast & jam and sipped on my black tea.

I started walking at 5:30 a.m. It wasn’t as dark as it looked from the dining room. Early trekkers had made a path in the snow. The snow glowed on either side of this path, making it easy to see where I set foot. The trail was mostly inclined. I walked ever so slowly, stopping to catch my breath, stopping to stare at the magnificent beauty around me. Several people who couldn’t carry their own weights up the mountain had thrust themselves on horses, who were gasping loudly for breath as they trudged up in the thin mountain air. The sun started to rise behind me. I looked back every 15 minutes to find that the view had changed. The elements were the same – sun, clouds, mountains, sky and snow, but it was a different picture each time I looked back. How could one stand here and not believe? How could one stand here and not be humbled? How could one stand here and not be grateful? I had to push myself to continue climbing, not because I was tired but because I just wanted to sit and stare at the beauty around me.

After almost three hours, I caught sight of brightly coloured Tibetan prayer flags fluttering amidst all the silvery white. There was a big black stone slab and on it is inscribed: Thank you for visiting Manang. Thorong-La Pass. 5416 Mtr. Congratulations for the success!!! Hope you enjoyed the trek in Manang. See you again!!!

Tears sprung up again in my eyes. I had done it. I stood there watching all the trekkers hugging their friends, their guides and their porters. The Pass itself was nothing special aesthetically, so I didn’t stay longer than ten minutes before starting to climb down towards Muktinath (3800 m).

The descend of 1616 m takes about 4 hours, which supposedly signifies a very steep slope. During the trek I heard lot of people discussing inclines, declines, metres, hours and several other numbers in great detail. Fortunately, I only heard them but didn’t really grasp what they meant. This worked in my favour as I didn’t understand enough to get scared.

I was so elated at having completed the trek that I practically ran down the slope. My knee didn’t hurt as badly as I had anticipated as I had been giving Reiki to the knee every night since I’d fallen. There was a stark beauty to the landscape. We stopped at Charabu for lunch. It was warm. I had to go into one of the rooms of the lodge to get rid of the thermals that I’d worn that morning. My lungs felt fully alive with the way the oxygen was rushing into them. Then I saw a board announcing that Charabu was at an altitude of 4230 m, which amused me. I was still at a very high altitude but it felt like sea level.

I walked into Muktinath, paid my respects to Lord Vishnu at his temple and checked into Hotel Bob Marley, which was the most luxurious hotel that I’d stayed in since my arrival in Nepal. I slept for twelve hours straight that night.

Afterword

The next morning, I took a jeep from Muktinath (special mention has to be made for my “Rasta Rock” set breakfast of fried eggs, potatoes, toast and coffee) to Jomsom (2720 m) and stayed there that night. The following morning I took a flight from Jomsom to Pokhara (820 m) and took a mini bus from Pokhara to Kathmandu. Several people continue walking from Muktinath to end their trek at Pokhara, which takes an additional week. But the way is hot and dusty with several jeeps passing by. I didn’t want to end my trek on an ugly note. Many people talk of conquering the mountains when they complete a trek. I would never be able to say that. I was fortunate enough to be a part of eternity for a few days, the memory of which will warm my heart for the rest of my life and leave me with a permanent yearning to be wrapped up in the peace of the mountains yet again.

Place Cost (in Nepalese Rs.)

Kathmandu 200 – Trek permit

Besisahar Salima’s generosity took care of the drive here, stay & food

Jeep to Syange 450

Chyamche 870 – Food, stay, phone call

Tal Phedi 100 – Tea, butter crackers

Tal 650 – Greedy ambitious breakfast order

Dharapani 1590 – Food, stay, phone call

Timang 355 – Lunch

Chame 810 – Food, stay

Lower Pisang 780 – Food, stay

Bhraga 580 – Lunch

Manang 910 – Food, stay, battery charge

Khangsar 530 – Breakfast

Tilicho Base Camp 1620 – Food, water, free stay on the dining table

Lake Tilicho 670 – Breakfast

Shree Kharka 1795 – Food, stay

Yak Kharka 1820 – Food, stay, ‘bucket' of hot water to bathe

Thorong Phedi 520 – Brunch

High Camp 1410 – Food, stay

Muktinath 1320 – Food, stay

Jeep to Jomsom 600

Jomsom 900 – Food, stay, smoky apple brandy

Flight to Pokhara 3850

Micro bus to Kathmandu 350

Korto’s fee 10000 plus 1000 tip

Miscellaneous 500

TOTAL NR 34,180 = INR 21,362

January 2, 2011

There exists a Universe, vaster & more beautiful than the small worlds that we create with the pettiness of our minds. We find true bliss & true happiness only if we find a way to be a part of that Universe, breaking the confines of our thoughts. Stillness of our minds can be very easily achieved when we are with nature. By nature I do not mean that we need to go away into the forests, mountains or oceans all the time. We can be with nature when we spend time simply looking at a plant or a tree. At first, there are thoughts as we observe the shapes of the leaves, colours of the flowers, the movement of the branches with the breeze… slowly we find the thoughts start reducing in frequency, the mind starts to get empty. It is in this space, when the mind is still, that we are in meditation.

The more time that I spend alone, the less lonely I feel.

January 3, 2011

Every morning, as I spend a few minutes truly observing my plants, I am filled with hope & joy. There is a leaf that has joyfully soaked up its time in the sun & has started to turn yellow while there is another new one that is unfurling; there is a little bud that is bursting with life, waiting to unfold its beautiful petals.

January 17, 2011

Did the trek change my life? Yes. But not in a dramatic, take my breath away kind of way. It has been more sublime, subtle, almost as if falling in love in a slow, gentle way.

I’m passionate about food, so let me try to explain the change thus. When preparing a dish, there are various elements that are readied simultaneously. The meat is marinating in several spices. Vegetables are being chopped. Various other spices are roasted and ground. At this stage, everything appears separate from the other, every process disconnected from the other. Then we put these several elements together on the fire. It is only then that they all start coming together; flavours start blending into each other and then the final dish is ready. Happiness and calm is my state of being today.

Edited by zaika
editing to add photos still under process
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