As sad as I am to type this, I am not a very fit person. I’m only very average when it comes to fitness and that isn’t great news when you are going to a much higher altitude, alone.
I realised the fact that I wasn’t in great shape by trekking standards and I did try to make some amends by walking and jogging in Chennai. Though I covered a substantial distance, it wasn’t enough.
At some points along the trail, I had to stop every five steps to catch my breath and slow my heart rate. The thought of giving up never struck me on the first day of trekking because the really difficult parts of the trail were ones after the halfway mark. It was what happened at the campsite that really troubled me. The campsite at Triund is a collection of grassy knolls with a spectacular view of the Dhauladhars. I chose to stay as far away from people as possible here and as a result, I set up camp on a higher point than most. It was midway on the slope connecting the tourism guesthouse and the main campsite. I went out for a stroll and realised even that gentle gradient seemed to weigh on me. It was the altitude.
I slept peacefully but woke up to the choice of trekking down or climbing to Ilaqa. The path to Ilaqa, if you could even call it one, was admittedly much worse than the worst I had faced on day one. I was not exactly split between climbing down or up but the seeds of doubt had germinated overnight and had grown to small plants. I finally decided to climb to Ilaqa.
My desire to see the famed sights from Ilaqa won over the bleak assessment of my physical state. In other words, my heart longed to see the glaciers and the craggy rocks from much closer and it eventually won over my mind which wanted to play it safe. Or did it?
I packed up my tent, my sleeping bag and stuff my backpack. I was set to depart. With my backpack casting a shadow as large as myself, I trudged forth, up the hill looking for the small (microscopic) yellow arrows painted on rocks that would guide me to Ilaqa. I had walked only 30 metres from where my tent rested and I couldn’t go on. I found a comfortable rock – up there, the least pointy rock is the most comfortable and it is VERY relative – and I collapsed onto it. The plants of doubt were beginning to grow tall.
I sat there quite a while; it must have been some 20 minutes. Suddenly, I was surrounded by goats returning from their breakfast. I sat there watching the most natural creatures of the mountain – there was no place on the mountain that was inaccessible to them. I sat there a while and the tall plants of doubt had withered. I trudged on upwards. And as though it was a reward from the Heavens above, my phone buzzed to indicate the arrival of a message. Losing no time, I called home.
It was a very brief call – as brief as BSNL would allow at that altitude and location. The call ended abruptly and caught me halfway through a sentence. I was trying to explain that I had set camp at Triund the previous night when my mother was thinking I was just about to start trekking. I still sat there, on the same rock, after the phone call. Ten more minutes, staring off into infinity beyond the mountains but I can’t clearly remember what happened here but it must have involved me talking to myself for a bit and then more staring off. But finally, I did go on. I had come to terms with my limitation and learnt to operate within the physical limits imposed by my body. I decided that it was worth panting and resting every ten minutes if I could get to see the amazing sights beyond what I could see then.
I realised that it is always like that, in any situation. You always have some constraints – sometimes set by yourself and sometimes by external factors and the constraints add value to the reward at the end. I am sure that the mountains looked much more beautiful to me at the end of the journey to Ilaqa just because the path was difficult!