Wednesday, July 16, 2008
Each journey, for me, has a meaning – besides the beginning and the end. Each journey is life-changing, I think, in some way or the other. And this one of course, was a bit more than just another journey – it had many more layers of meaning tucked away into it than many others. So to start with, it was an adventure trip that I had been planning with my nephew Rahul for a couple of years. It was his first trip to the Himalayan heights and not surprisingly, he spent a lot of time chalking out the details and putting together his gear in London - where he lives. Well, Himalayan high altitude may be new for him, but camping and meticulously planning out the details of our trek to Gaumukh (3900 metres) and hopefully beyond that to Tapovan (4450 m) was something that he did with a lot of enthusiasm and ardour. In fact, I found myself increasingly caught up in his youthful enthusiasm as the dates neared.
As for me, Gaumukh was the pilgrimage that I was hoping would perhaps provide some of the answers that I have been seeking for a couple of years now. It was for me another mile on the journey that has taken me to Haridwar, Rishikesh, Pushkar, Benares, Dakshineshwar and Amritsar. Now that we’re back, and as I take stock of whether I have my answers or not, I know that I have some - while others still linger on. As another trip to the Himalayas – which for me is my spiritual home – this was long awaited. The rugged and extreme Garhwal was a region that I had not really encountered before, except for a much less intensive trek to Har-ki-dun. That too was a journey with depth - with a childhood friend who has always been there for me. Back to this one - perhaps it’s fitting that the toughest Himalayan terrain was left for what could well be my last trip to the rugged heights. The experience – in terms of geography and pushing the physical envelope was everything it promised to be. From Gangotri to Bhojbasa and further on to Gaumukh, the glacial snout which is considered by us Hindus as the birthplace of our holiest of holy rivers – the Bhagirathi and the Ganga – provides the most complete range of features that one can hope for. From glacier walks to crossing mountain streams and walking on scree and terminal moraine and even dodging rock falls – the scenery does not disappoint even for a moment. Besides the thrills, the landscape is intensely beautiful too – as one walks along the river bank with the stately Shivling and Bhagirathi peaks for company. There are the chir pine forests of Chirbasa and the Bhuj trees along the way. One runs into company in the form of the mountain goats or the Ber, as they are locally called.
But for me, the trip has taken me beyond just the Himalayan grandeur that was the passion of my youth. Rahul – who the hill folk have decided to call my ‘bachcha’ - much to my delight, did come up trumps. And even though I’m exhausted and can’t even imagine making it to Tapovan – he does it with a fair degree of skill and competence, despite his status of a first-timer. He has braved the steep gradient, the height gain, the lack of oxygen and of any defined paths. And most important, he has enjoyed every bit of the adventure and will probably come back again for more. Besides, along the way to Gangotri & Gaumukh, Rahul also developed a taste for simple Indian food such as chapatis, the delicious pahari rajma and alu paranthas - which my dearest friend Alka, a skilled mountaineer, who's been on many tough expeditions, feels is the best cuisine to tackle Himalayan journeys. And my 'bachcha' has also passed the test of ferrying his own load during the trek, something that I've always failed to do.And while maintaining his composure under pretty extreme conditions, he was only ruffled a little bit when some ugly red scars mysteriously appeared on his forearm at Doon School - at my friend Purnima's home, after we got back to the plains. Probably ruptured blood vessels from a scratch he got from his rucksack or heat rashes. Anyways - nothing that the magic neosporine powder from the little white bottle with a blue cap couldn't take care of!
As for me, I was thinking of my father throughout the trip – in fact, it was a journey made for him in many ways. As I sat on the rocks near Gaumukh with my feet dipping in the freezing waters of the Bhagirathi, I knew that he was definitely there in my life, even though death had taken him away from us forever.
And as I helped my ‘bachcha’ pitch his Summit Series tent at Bhojbasa – battling as we did against the snow-storm, I knew that it didn’t really matter, if I could not ever make it to such heights again. There were the signs of immortality strewn all around me. And I just love to drink it in and absorb it. The Himalayas are eternal and so is life – that’s the biggest takeaway from this journey! And then it's not really a surprise or hardly a coincidence, when soon after our return to Delhi via Uttarkashi and Dehra Dun - my cousin Srila (my Bachcha's mother) sends me a photo of my parents which is one of the best recent ones that I've seen of my good-looking father. The photo must have been hidden away in her albums and she must have suddenly chanced upon it. For me, it certainly eases the degrees of separation and brings back my father much closer to me.