When did you last see the blue sky? Would that be one of your resolutions in 2017?
Now and then, friends gape and wonder at the pictures I post on Facebook of the mountains. The deep blue skies, dense forests, gurgling brooks, glorious sunshine and the scent of the cold crisp air. As you must have realised, I can only take you close, but you have to be there to smell the cold crisp. It has already started snowing in the mountains. Well, you do get the picture.
Not because I derive some vicarious pleasure, but I do want to share my mountain travels with my friends and if that can extract even one from the comfort of their couch, I would be happy. Which is why I am writing this, something long due, that Preeti wanted me to.
Friends also do write to me occasionally about going on a trek in the mountains where you get to see the blue skies and doze off by the gurgling brook after a long day of tiring walk. And camp on a meadow high up in the mountain by a stream and see the sun go down the snow-capped mountain. Yes, there are places where you can pitch a tent on a fabled meadow, by a stream and look at the snow-clad mountains without being bothered by WhatsApp messages or phone calls. You can just be and do nothing. On your own or with friends and family.
It is a deeply satisfying and sensory experience to be in the mountains. Let me tell you why. The first thing you feel, after you alight at the road-head (where motorised vehicles can go) is the lovely fresh air. If you travel from Delhi, you feel that your lung suddenly got an oxygen boost. The deep blue sky is unmistakably noticeable. You suddenly realise where was this hiding all the time. And it suddenly dawns on you where the hell was I hiding all the time? Welcome to the hills.
The good thing about travelling to the hills is that it takes you out of your comfort zone, in a sense, literally. When was the last time you travelled in a train from Delhi to Dehradun braving the stink at the railway station and arriving at the crack of dawn and looking for the loos? Having said that, you may want to choose your first mountain travel carefully because it makes all the difference between beginning a life-long journey of beauty and love, and destroying all that imagination you had about the mountains. Which brings us to the question, where should you go and what should you do?
Choose an easy walk or just a weekend trip to the mountains, say Manali or Mussoorie. While having chosen, the only difference between you and a tourist is what you plan to do in these hill stations. If you are not comfortable staying in a tent and using the grand outdoors for relieving yourself, you may stay in town and spend the day climbing through the forest and get back before sunset. There are lovely day walks from town. Which means you get to experience the best of both the worlds. Enjoy the mountain walks and get back to the comfort of your bed at night. Well, if you think you have transcended this phase, you can choose to stay in tent for a night or two and enjoy your dinner under the starlit sky. A trek to Har-ki-dun in Uttarakhand or a trek above Jagatsukh in Himachal. This is unadulterated luxury.
Firstly, let me take you through the normal routine of what it means to be out of your comfort zone. You will realise your lungs have been out of use for a long time and you will start puffing and panting. Which is perfectly normal. Even if you are decently fit, it is way of the air and altitude to welcome you. Let’s say you are in Manali, which is anything between 2000-2400 M and you start walking on the Old Manali road towards Hadimba temple and you realise you have become old, irrespective of your age. The idea is to be mindful of the feeling and get comfortable in the out-of-the-comfort zone. The trick is to enjoy the moment and do everything at your pace. Once you are at peace with yourself and remain calm on day one, you will joyfully get into the groove on day two. Day one is called acclimatisation, a word used to getting comfortable in your out-of-your-comfort zone, mostly altitude, on the mountains. It’s a powerful metaphor for the things you do in life. Getting acclimatised.
Like most things, there are rules for acclimatisation. Which means you are not supposed to think you are Tom Cruise and do a mission impossible when you are in the mountains. Stay hydrated, eat well, be warm and sleep well. The mantra is take-it-easy and soak in the new surroundings. Like you do on the first day of joining work at a new organisation. The rest will take care of itself. Once you have figured out the bearings, your mind and body will follow suit.
A typical day for the first-timers would mean you walk for four to five hours during the day and set up camp early afternoon on that fabled meadow that I was talking about. Laze around in the afternoon sun, read a book, draw or sketch, or take pictures. Enjoy a simple hot meal, snack and hot-ginger tea. Dinner under the starlit sky is nothing short of liminal. Sharing a tent with your friend and chatting away into the dead of the night can be life-altering. Don’t blame me later.
Typically, you gain altitude and arrive at a high point and return to road-head, say in about four to five days. But you don’t have to do the typical thing. You choose what you want to. But don’t forget to wonder at the deep blue sky. Slim chance that you won’t.