Beyond the mist

An unforgettable experience of the first the Himalayan expedition

Beyond the mist
This story was originally published on Medium where I am no longer active. You can read the original article here.

I remember the first time I saw the Himalayas; it was in 2009 when I was in college. We visited Manali for an Industrial visit, and the early morning I saw the Himalayas (Shivalik Range) from our hotel window. I was not impressed by it. Because I grew up watching the Swiss Alps in Shahrukh Khan movies. I dismissed the Himalayas as just another mountain range with snow on top.

In 2011, I started trekking in the Sahyadri Range. By 2012, I had climbed Mt. Kalsubai is the highest peak in Maharashtra. That was the period when my romance with the Himalayas started. The experience with Kalsubai was so scintillating that I started dreaming of the Himalayas, and this summer, I finally shared some intimate moments with it.

During the beginning of this summer, I visited Darjeeling with my family, where I again got a chance to witness the Himalayas (Kanchenjunga Range) from my hotel window. Still, this time I felt like I was watching a wild animal trapped inside a zoo. It was beautiful, but it was not wild. If you want to see the ‘real wild animal,’ then you have to step ‘into the wild.’ And that is how I came across the ‘Sar Pass — Himalayan Expedition’ program from the ‘Youth Hostel Association of India’ (YHAI). YHAI’s programs usually go full within a few weeks of their release. From what I know, Sar Pass’s 90% seats were all booked by January ‘14, but I am lucky to be able to get a place during April first week. I was the last participant to join the program.

In those 11 days, nature showed me everything from beauty, death, happiness to the chaos within me. The funny thing is, none of these things can be bought by money. It made me realize how stupid I was in college when I dismissed the Himalayas because of Bollywood Movies. Those 11 days were a once in a lifetime experience because, after 11 days, I got a new life.

Steps of death

Reaching the Top. Photo Courtesy — Kshitij Hedamba
Reaching the Top. Photo Courtesy — Kshitij Hedamba

Climbing a mountain full of snow is very tough, and for the first-timers, it is scary. Because you are trying to understand the technique of climbing and the penalty for one misstep, the beautiful valley will gulp you without any mercy. If you are lucky, you will get away with the trauma of death to brag about (like what I am doing). I can not thank the guides and sherpas who created a pathway for us to walk on. But even during that ‘Red Carpet’ treatment, I came very close to death.

The first couple of days of the higher camps were more like acclimatization. There was not much snow; it was climbing the mountains through dense forest. After the 4th day, we witnessed snowfall while climbing up. First, it was easy, but as we reached the top, clouds of fear gathered above. During climbs, we realized that it is better to look at one’s steps than to look down. Either the mesmerizing valley or the fear of the altitude will make you go off balance, which will result in a slip. What will happen next is quite apparent.

I remember one such steep climb. I was climbing up, looking at my own feet, feeling the cold chill of snow through the sole of my shoes. Suddenly I hear a spine chilling scream, I look up and the lady ahead was sliding towards me. Her hands and legs were in the air, and she was sliding down like a child who enjoys the slides in a water park. Except, her expressions told another story. For that split second, I felt my balls went straight to my mouth. I felt a punch in my heart when I saw her sliding towards me. Surprisingly I grabbed her left leg and stopped her. She was lying there with her hands in the air, and one leg held against the ground. For 5-10 seconds, we were both still like statues. Then I broke the silence and screamed in agony, “Why are you lying down? Try to stand up,” to which she replied, “But how should I do it?”. Well, that question made me fall silent again. Fortunately, one of the porters came down and helped her stand.

I won’t forget that incident for a long time. If I would have slipped too because of her, I bet I would have taken at least three people down with me. But jokes apart, even now I am still wondering how she managed to turn her body while sliding down. Assuming she slipped while climbing up, her face should have been facing the ground (that would have made the fall even more terrifying). However, when she was sliding towards me, her face was towards the sky. You never know what your instincts will make you do to survive. I am also wondering how I grabbed her leg with perfect timing because I am not known for my fielding skills in Cricket.

Irony of Mountains

Grandeur mountain range with valley
Grandeur mountain range with valley

Once you cross 10,000ft, you realize that you are surrounded by the Himalayan Mountain Peaks all around. They are everywhere, and you are right in the middle of them. You can feel their grandeur. They do not disappoint you. Whenever I looked at them, I felt like they are telling me in disgust that “You are a speck of dirt that can be wiped out of this universe with one flick. Look at us, we are here for thousands of years, yet no one can bend us. You do not belong here; you better go back”. I was terrified to look at them. I felt like they were like a bunch of bullies standing shoulder to shoulder, trying to corner me. That was one of the reasons I preferred to look at my own feet rather than look above. But I was wrong.

By the time I reached the top, I was astonished by their sight. All the mountains were all standing on my level and smiling back at me. That moment I realized that none of them had intended to scare me away, but they were standing there to embrace me. They were waiting for me. Because now I was their brother.

That awesome moment when you are talking with the mountains
That awesome moment when you are talking with the mountains

Warmth at 14,000ft.

I was in bad shape when we reached Nagaru, the highest camp. We were supposed to spend the night there. Even in the 5 o’clock sun, I was shivering, and my feet turned blue. Undoubtedly, I was the reason to blame because I was over-optimistic about my immune system. I was not carrying a muffler, monkey cap, skincare lotion, cold/cough tablets, or even a proper winter jacket. I thought I could handle it. After a few minutes, I had some strength to stand up. Lots of people were getting cellphone connectivity at that altitude. So I borrowed a phone and called my parents. I spoke to them for a few minutes, told them where I was, etc.

Whenever I go to treks, I prefer being disconnected from the outside world. I feel badgered when someone calls me during treks, especially my parents. Because I am bombarded with thousands of questions, I can understand their concern, but it annoys me. This time it was different. Even though I had no contact with the outside world for 5-6 days when I spoke to my parents at 13,000ft, I felt relieved. I missed them so much more than I could have imagined. It gave me the warmth which took away the cold from me (at least for that night). Sometimes you are not as strong as you think.

The next day, we had to go to 14,000ft from where our return journey was supposed to start. We started the last phase of our climb at 5:30 AM, it was so cold that my nose was always flowing, and after a point of time, I even stopped paying attention to it. During the night, my chest was filled with cough, and the cold wind was making it worse. I felt like my blood cells were being replaced with a cough, which was weakening me. In that tough climb, we reached the plateau by 7 AM, and I finally felt the early morning sun rays. The Sun was looking down at me, and I was at his feet, bathed in the virgin rays which rejuvenated me. It was the purest light I have ever experienced.

Early morning sunrise at the plateau
Early morning sunrise at the plateau

For our journey back, we had to climb down in soft knee-high snow. We were hungry, and the trip was tiring. It took us almost 2 hours to climb down 1.5KM. To our delight, we had a small stall set up by locals who were serving ready-to-eat food like Maggi Noodles, Omelette, and Tea. Being out of food and water, I ordered all three items.

Firstly, the hot steam of Maggi cleared my nose. I gulped down, pipping hot noodles unconsciously. The noodles melted the moment they entered my mouth. I could feel every single drop of the brown taste-maker gravy, entering my mouth and going down gradually to my stomach, which warmed my body. In no time, I finished it and licked the bowl till my tongue could feel the scratches on the bottom of the bowl. It was the tastiest Maggi I ever had. I paid ₹60, but to be honest, it was priceless.

Being on the ground

In those 11 days, we saw various facets of nature. One moment it was warm and sunny, and the next moment you are battling a Hailstorm. There was a time when we were considering going back to the basecamp due to bad weather. There were already four batches before us, who went back to the basecamp without completing the expedition. But we were fortunate enough to complete it.

When nature shows its fury, we are nothing in front of it. It brings you down to your knees. Your arrogance is killed by the ruthlessness of nature, which makes you a humble person. By the time you complete the trek, you reach the ground on all levels.

When I reached Mumbai, I realized that my mind was in desolation. Everything was wiped out, and I realized how many lives I was trying to juggle. I got a chance to look at my life differently and take away things that were holding me back.

This one Himalayan expedition impacted my life more than I could have ever imagined.

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