Here’s how the spirit of adventure evolves: The twenties are for wild wandering. The thirties are for adventure. Heaven knows what the forties hold.
E M Forster observed that adventures do occur, but not punctually. As a young thrill-seeker, I tried hard to make life adventurous, heading out solo or in small groups to tame the mountains and jungles. The treks were memorable and invigorating but each time the planned adventure ended as a fairly pedestrian trip report.
True adventure began after I crossed over into the thirties. In April 2007, the Himalaya called again. Having planned out every detail (or so we thought), we were smugly satisfied. Adventure announced itself even before the journey began. Owing to some mysterious goof-up that only Indian Railways can explain, we found ourselves with one berth to be shared among our group of six. That night, sniffing away lint in the linen compartment of the freezing sleeper car (the air-conditioner had been cranked up to max), I wondered what else to expect.
This was only an appetiser. The next day, walking ambitiously along a part of the Curzon Trail in Garhwal, we added to our group three fellow-travellers – two hard-working and reliable mule-drivers transporting our provisions and gear on four sturdy animals, and one erratic, unpredictable chap answering to the name of Devidutt who had appointed himself as our guide. Upon sealing the deal for the next seven days, he promptly demanded an advance. That became our ransom. Part of it was meant to purchase provisions but the next morning Devidutt arrived two hours late, sans provisions and reeking of country liquor. Our money had been well spent.
We began the trek, hurrying to make the best of the sunny morning. By afternoon we reached our campsite as a storm threatened to break. Devidutt had gathered wood for a fire. He spent an hour trying to make tea but just as the water was warming up, a terrifying hailstorm began. Two tents had been pitched but one of them sprung a leak on the floor. An energetic, ice-cold stream of water gushed through our tent, drenching our socks and forcing us to huddle in a dry corner.
More adventure followed. We had pitched camp on a slope (the reason why our tent was flooded) and while sleeping at night, the occupants had a tendency to roll downhill. As luck would have it, I was closest to the opening flap. All night I tried to push back the collective burden of three snoring humans rolling senseless against me like a highway pile-up, pinning my frame to the wall of the tent. My cheek and jaw, pressed against the cold wall of the tent, froze painfully. In the morning, I was burning with fever.
We had more climbing ahead of us, and both my knees were screaming out in pain. I took painkillers and paracetamol. We walked through ethereal forests of deodar onto a great alpine meadow named Ali Bugyal. The clear sky filled up ominously with a great bank of clouds. As we gained altitude, I started to feel a curious light-headedness. I don’t recall the exact details but my companions remember that I had wandered off the trail, talking to myself. I remember the song playing in my head – Prince’s Diamonds and Pearls. I remember seeing tiny pearls drop on the grass around me. They were small hailstones. Large ones followed and we were helpless against them as we were walking in an open meadow without any shelter in sight. Our guide, now sober for 48 hours and fully in his senses, shouted a warning exhorting us to make haste as the camp was another 2 km away. My hat had slipped off and my hair was wet with rain. I remember walking on a slippery trail beside plunging ravines. I am usually wary of dizzy heights but I recall no fear. My companions later told me that I was walking perilously close to the edge and had to be pulled away to the mountainside on a few occasions. I, of course, have no recollection of it. My head cleared only when, in pouring rain, we arrived at our campsite in Bedni Bugyal. The meadow sparkled under a coat of ice. Great lofty peaks rose around us. I felt small, insignificant, vulnerable and grateful all at once. But our adventure was far from over.
We took shelter inside a dingy and dank shepherd’s hut. A warm and welcoming fire blazed in the centre of it and the last of the grey daylight streamed in through a hole in the ceiling. The hole, as we waited, got bigger. And the reason for that was Devidutt, who was assiduously tearing away bits of the roof to feed the fire. In alarm, we yelled at him to stop and spent the rest of the evening trying to dry our socks and drinking great quantities of soup.
At night, the adventure continued, fuelled by the altitude sickness that had made me act strange. I was haunted by terrifying back-to-back nightmares and woke up with a gasp, too scared to go back to sleep. I glanced at my watch – it was only midnight. The Himalayan night can seem dreadfully long when you’re lying awake. All the soup-drinking and provision-raiding of the evening started to tell on my digestive system. Nudging a companion awake for safety, I announced that I had to relieve myself.
Hobbling gingerly out of the hut on my complaining knees, I searched for a place not too far from camp. A full moon lit up the sparkling white landscape. It was biting cold and exposing any skin to the elements turned it numb within minutes. I had been warned not to stray far from camp. Even the mules had been locked up safely as leopards frequented the area.
When a man has to go, a man has to go. Nothing could stop me from this adventurous exploit in the middle of the night. I chose a nice secluded spot at the edge of the camp and, getting down to a business position on complaining knees, I defiled that pristine landscape.
Crap happens, but that was an adventurous one.
Read the full account of my 2007 trek from Lohajung to Ghat in Garhwal
A travelogue published in India Abroad, May 2008
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