Feb 11, 2016

How a City-bred Turned Into a Trekker—A Narcissistic trip

Given my well-broadcast lineage to Uttarakhand hills, through writings and verbal diarrhea that may border on regional chauvinism, it is natural for my friends, and co-trekkers, to believe that I was born and brought up in the hills. How else such adaptability to cold climate or rabble-walking could come from, they have wondered aloud many a time.

I’m afraid I have to belie their scrutiny. If being born, studying or working one’s life were a parameter, I would be a true-blue Delhiite. I am in love with this ancient city and its chronicled history as much as its modern makeover and recent regime changes (Kejriwal, for instance). Yet, I do regret sometimes that I did not study at some non-descript school in Kumaon hinterland or could not become a part of Nainital theatre group. Small towns have their own charms, also challenges.

So, how did I take up to trekking as if it were in my bones? Was it a search for my roots that took me to highlands in Uttarakhand off and on? Or was it plain masochism? I do not know the answer but here go the facts.

From as far back as I can recall, my first informal trek came when I was a college student in late 1980s. This was my first “conscious” trip to my native land, prompted by my father's insistence. A temple for Goddess Kali was being built at a sacred hilltop about four-five km from our ancestral house and each twig of our family tree was funding the cost, besides what can loosely be called kaar-seva (a term for physical service to religious deeds, made famous by Golden Temple disaster).

I am not a religious person (save for the times when I am in deep shit) but since I had a thing for my father, I obliged. College was off for summer vacations and it made sense to cool one's heels at the Shivalik range that nested my village.

In the sweltering Delhi, when I told my friends that I was off to a Ranikhet-Corbett jaunt, which was not untrue since my village is spot in the middle of these two summer getaways, there was a tinge of envy in their eyes. Little did then I know that the village life was going to be a punch on my nose. The first morning, I realised there was no private place to relieve oneself for morning ablution. On inquiry, I was handed a mug of water and asked to find a suitable place in the step-farms to let off the pressure. My choice of place had a couple of neighbors in splits (I will spare you the funny details).

I went light on food thereto, which was not difficult since I found the servings UNAPPETISING. Milk tasted thicker, and smelly. Chapatis (sorry, rotis) were too thick for my liking and chilies in the vegetables brought tears to my eyes.

The worst part was public humiliation. Everyone seemed to be taking pleasure in the plight of my city-bred weaknesses. Though I never complained about the food or the chores, my discomfort was not hidden. Yet, there was little empathy. I found those men and women cruel initially. As days wore on, I realised the Pahari way to deal with trials – adapt and laugh over the cynics.

I had barely got used to this Pahari way when a harder drill arrived. The migrants were pouring in home from different parts of the country to contribute to the temple-building (a sheer waste of money and labour, I still believe) and they needed young men to carry the load from the main road bus stop to their houses at the village, a bit uphill. I was pressed into service, like other village bums, each time the twice-a-day bus arrived. Thankfully, I would always be given the lighter bags to carry. Twice a day of walking down and up wasn't my idea of a summer vacation, but I held fort. My frustration was often let off at poor little pets coming my way. As the village was a small place, I soon earned myself the reputation of a rogue who wrings the tails of innocent goats, hurts innocent cows and even scares buffaloes.

More rigorous tests were to follow. The temple building required carrying of the essentials uphill, including food and water besides the building material. The privileged ones were to carry logs, food and water. Being a smartass, and a novice, I judged carrying water a safe option. The stream was halfway from the village to the delivery point which meant you cut the labour by half. So I judged.

What I didn’t realise were the travails of carrying a full bucket uphill. It is one thing to carry a log or a sack on up the ascent but to balance a water bucket requires additional effort of expertise. I realised that the half-way distance was soon negated by the loss of water during transportation. I would summarily deliver almost one third of what I had started with. I realised that the Pahari smirks at my plight would just not end. However, my humiliation went proportionally down as days and weeks passed and the modest temple came apiece.

All miseries come to an appropriate rewarding end. When my father announced the date of our return to Delhi, a city of joy to me by then, there was still a week to prepare for the college to reopen and indulge in the local cricket. I seriously looked forward to the commode comforts and Sunday matinees.

What I didn’t notice was the change in my own behaviour. I would no longer complain about a power cut; TV wasn’t my preoccupation; I wouldn’t be finicky about the food at my table (in fact mother complained of over-eating) and the 5-km morning jog failed to sweat me. Clearly, I was a fitter and more tolerant person than I was a few weeks back.

The colleges reopened and I heard my classmates talking about the manly tan on my forearms. The college Physical Training Instructor, a beefcake of a Jaat, was the first to mention it correctly: “You are looking like a mountaineer, Sharma,” Dr Malik said (Did I ever mention that I headed the college badminton team). I told the PTI that I did belong to the hills and was back from a trip to my native lands. Inside, I kept wondering about the tribulations I had gone through.

A few weeks down the line, though, I began to get what seasoned mountaineers refer to as a “call of the mountains”. I wished I were in the hills again, scaling my way up amid cold winds, lungs puffing heavily, but limbs carrying on.... There, I tell you my friends, a trekker in me was born.

No comments: