Let's nurture the wanderer & explorer in us
& let it lead us to consciousness expanding adventures
because adventures are good for the Soul
Climbing a mountain is a child's play if you are a kid. Not so much, otherwise. The mind is like a library, or like a prolific author. It has a lot to say about everything, and when it comes to mountains, it pulls out a tome that classifies trekking or mountaineering as a walk that mocks gravity, and a walk that defies sanity. But what about courage and adventure, a part of me retaliates in horror and disgust. The mind quickly responds – You grew up, which essentially means, you outgrew it.
Ergo, this sole mountain that I walked up and down will always be one of the class acts of my life. I was about fifteen, freckles and glasses, an athlete, a reader and a dreamer undercover in the world of stifling academia. Yes, school will forever be a place where my intelligence, curiosity, eccentricity was flipped upside down, and was gradually led to a noose. The opposite of school was this mountain.
It was a Saturday, sunny and humid, and Mum and I met this rip-roaring group of mountaineers who climbed very often, and were part of a mountaineering club that planned expeditions on mountains – known and obscure. These were people who held regular jobs and had kids – most of them worked in banks and brought their kids along on the mountains. I don’t know how a mountaineer and a banker can live in the same person. For me, the polarity of the two roles would tear away at my sanity; I could only be one or the other.
We had to travel a long way to get to the base of the mountain, which usually is the case unless you are lucky enough to be in a city that did not tear down nature to make way for our species. The journey was as thrilling as a necessary means to an exciting end. It took us about 5-6 hours to get to Junnar, Pune from Mumbai. We changed several buses, waited at more than a couple of bus stops, and interacted the heck away.
We were pummeled by gusts of hot air when we finally got to the base of this rock fortress, this bastion of adventure which towered 2750 ft. above sea level. It was about 5:30 pm, and the briefing began. As with any organized climb, there were rules, protocols and leaders to follow. We were divided into different groups based on our age, which meant Mum and I went our separate ways. I don’t know how hard it was for my super protective mum to let me out of her sight on a climb into the wild and into the unknown. But there we were, separated but excited, and a little cold. It was 7 pm, the sun was setting, part of the giant monolith was clad in darkness and part of it stood in the eerie blaze of twilight. The rules were simple – climb, don’t fall off the edge, and don’t get lost. Fair enough, I thought.
We set off in darkness, dreamers and explorers on an adventure. The wind roared in our ears, and the sky was a serene, black, cloudless sea. We didn't have any flashlights; the light of the moon led the way, and we marched in silence to the drum of our own beat. The mountain started off with a rock strewn field that gradually climbed up. It was more like walking through a forest, except when you turned back; you saw the land falling away hundreds of feet to the ground. As we climbed higher, the slope got steeper and there were boulders of all sizes looming everywhere. We had to carefully navigate between the boulders, climb onto ledges and steps carved naturally into the rock face, and avoid getting our legs onto stones that would roll off into the void. I remember being breathless, and I remember this distinct moment when I turned back, and all I saw was darkness and the jungle and the vestiges of a hidden valley. It was like staring into an abyss. I hurried along to keep up with the group. We only rested a couple of times, and the entire trekking excursion only took 3-4 hours. My legs were toast by the time we made it to our camp, which essentially was a cave cut into the mountain face.
There were about 100 of us crammed tight, like sardines in a tin. Exhausted, we ate, chatted and called it a day. I slept okay in the cave, and the next morning, I was dazzled and spooked in equal measure. Horror and excitement made me shiver and smile, I was staring into the dizzying vortex of space between me and the base of the mountain. It seemed a long way off, and that was the first time I gave my mortality a thought. The night before, darkness had veiled the true splendor of the mountain, and obscured the sense of height, but the sight we beheld now was formidable. I began to wonder – Jeez, I can’t believe I climbed that, and I don’t believe I can climb that reverse.
The gully that held our cave opened up onto a steep crag that was notoriously perpendicular. From my vantage point, the open space seemed to dip downwards in an eternal spiral with no end in sight – a gaping chasm leading to oblivion, a swift flight to the end of existence. I looked away and took off for the summit. From the cave to the peak, we only had to hike a short distance up a steep scree slope. The flat and rocky summit was but one island in a sea of peaks; we were surrounded by breathtaking mountains.
We spent a couple of hours at what felt like the roof of the world. We took pictures, hiked around, and sat back to take in the surreal moment off utter serenity. Our downhill climb began with the terrorizing drop. My legs began to shake, and for the first time, I was scared. I realized the uniqueness of my predicament, and how otherworldly it was: My life hinged upon my ability to stay glued to this rock. I would put one step in front of me, look down, look around, and slowly put my next foot in front of me. All the while, my mind engaged in an intense survival mode: figuring out the invisible line of safety in this maze of steep crags and boulders.
Once past this steep, exposed outpost in the rock face, the climb was no challenge to the psyche of a fifteen year old. The mountain was steep, but relatively less exposed, and my excitement was on an all-time high. But no mountain expedition would be complete without a misadventure of some kind. So, a short while later, I slipped and went cascading down a scree slope with thorns and bushes. It was a short fall, but my right palm began to bleed. I got up, found my way back, rubbed my hands against the leaves, and shrugged it off. Rugged and extreme is how I felt. It was sunny, but pleasantly cold, and I made it back in a couple of hours. It was easy getting down than getting up .
Epilogue: Climb a mountain at least once if you can. It will test you, exhaust you, thrill you, stir you, heal you and rejuvenate you. You will step out of yourself, out of your cocoon of beliefs and thoughts, and will come face to face with what you are actually capable of. How you react in situations that are new – is a great way to learn something new about you. The best part is that climbing up is different than climbing down; climbing in day-time is different than climbing at night, and climbing in winter is different than climbing in summer, each of these call upon different kinds of strengths, and present different kinds of vistas to feast your eyes upon.
As a child of the 80's, when I was a kid of eight, I would circle the perimeter of a playground near my home, climbing onto the raised platform and holding onto the peculiar fences, going around in circles, imagining I was traveling around the world.
Now, as a child of the 80’s, no longer a kid of eight, I feel I am simply executing the will and the energy of my eight year old gypsy self.