A friend, who doubles as my trekking partner and fellow gourmet-experiment enthusiast, was taking me to lunch. As we were digging into some authentic Korean food, we got talking about the two years that had just gone by. Two years in the corporate world, two years of financial freedom, two years of responsible work. But the first thing that flitted across minds when we looked back on these two years? Not achievements, not promotions, not the new car or the now bike that we had purchased, not the parties, not the laughter, not the sorrows- none of all these. We both zeroed in on a memory which was so vivid, it amazed us, considering the time that had lapsed since the experience.
In May 2011, we had gone to the mountains for two weeks. It was a small group, totaling 7 friends. We reached Manali, and we trekked along, and up the snowcapped peaks for 4 days and nights. Everyday, we would start walking when the sun rose, with our backpacks and gear, halting for food that our guides would prepare in a jiffy. We would experience, alternatively, spurts of energy and emotional and physical drain. As we gained altitude, we had trouble breathing. The winds became chillier, and we saw only one colour- the white of the snow, all around us. The view, on the positive side, became progressively breathtaking. We stopped talking to one another while we walked, because talking tired us. I remember, I even stopped thinking. My mind was blank, and all I did was soak up the scene around me. The final test of our endurance sprang upon us on the last evening of the- expedition, if I may call it that.
Our guide told us that we were to scale one peak, which we could see from our campsite. It was a known trail, he told us. But, it was relatively difficult too, we were warned. None the less, we had come this far, we might as well scale the peak, we decided. Our guide was as agile as a monkey. One moment he would be alongside us. The next, he would be ten metres higher up. After trekking for a little over an hour, we were daunted by the seeming impossibility of the mission. But we were stranded. We could not separate from the group and go back to the camp site, for fear of getting lost in the jungles. We had only once choice and that was to keep following our guide, who, while we were looking around helplessly, had scaled another hundred metres, and was hollering at us from above, playfully throwing snow balls at us to catch our attention. The fact about snow is- it is not a nice thing at all. It is wet, slippery, and the sort of article that must be restricted to nightmares. I lost count of the number of times I fell flat on my face, (trying) walking on the snow.
Then came the part where, we were on all fours, trying to keep up with the group. It is the sort of scene that one sees in the movies, only, over here, it was for real. I will never forget the fear I felt, when I looked down, and realized that one small misstep would mean me rolling down into non-existence. Every single step was an effort. And every metre gained brought a hundred more into sight, which we couldn’t see from our original vantage point. I remembered vividly all that things that I had not done, all the things that I so badly wanted to achieve- I had not seen Paris yet, I had not made peace with a friend I had a fall out with, I had not told my family how much I loved them, I was not even married! There were so many things I wanted to do, and I was talking to God, telling him to please, please see me through this. Our guide had not forecasted any snowstorm, but the clouds were darkening. Finally he came down, and helped us off our backpacks, and with the load lessened, we were able to scramble up relatively faster. As we reached the summit, I had so many thoughts buzzing through my head. The peak- was not a peak, to my surprise. It was flat land. I was looking at all my friends with this blank look, slowly registering the fact that we made it! And as the sharp hail hit us, I felt pain and felt more alive than I did in all my life. And then I burst into tears.
As we relived this, during our lunch, we realized how much learning we got out of that trek, than anything else. We were pushed to the extremities of our emotional and physical endurance levels, so much that trivialities at work and troubles at home are not so hard to wrestle. Though it might be an overstatement, life, post that trek, seems like rebirth.
They say, live each day, like it is your last day on earth. The idea is too big to comprehend, for most of us. It needs more than just imagination to live each day like it is your last- it needs a life changing experience. And something like this has taught me how seemingly big things- like ego- matter so little, and how seemingly small things, like a hug, a kind word, or being generous with the three magical words – ‘I love you’ can mean so much. Perspectives change, priorities change, for good.
So said Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.- “A mind that is stretched by a new experience, can never go back to its old dimensions.”
*Picture-from the internet
*Picture-from the internet