“Why would any sane person huff and puff and sweat and stink and kill themselves walking through some god forsaken place?” Very sane question I must say. “Especially when there’s a jeep which will take you the summit that gives you a view of the valley, which you are too tired to notice after wobbling across the those tricky mountain paths, and collapsing on the ledge of the summit.” Very valid point, I admit.
I have asked myself those questions a number of times. I still do while lifting my legs wearily one at a time, praying that they don’t fall off, as I pretend to walk or trek across some vague mountain. I have always believed that I am not “one of those trekking people”, ones who are mad enough to use their legs for things which are meant to be done by wheels. When I first started going on trips with friends, the first thing I would check is “Do we have walk lots?” I am not sure how many friends I lost with that question. Who knows? I could have had a 500+ plus FB friend list if I hadn’t asked that question.
To get back, I still don’t trek much. I walk lots, but I don’t trek much, at least not as much I would like to. I have been on some treks, but nothing that would make consider myself as a serious trekker. I think I like it that way, but that’s only because I have a problem with labels, even with hip ones as this.
So why? I still don’t know why.
I now like to walk. As simple as it sounds, I like the rhythm of walking. The motion of your appendages working at a regulated speed, in a particular direction. There’s a particular monotonous regularity to it which I like. I like the fact that once the rhythm takes over, it goes on without any conscious effort, even for somebody who is as unfit as I am. I like the fact that the rhythm works so well that the body takes over, and the mind is left to do as it pleases. I like the fact that walking allows my mind to be the greatest mind in the world J. It allows me to think absolutely crazy ideas, it allows me to fantasize impossible dreams, it allows me to replay conversations and redo them, it allows me to bitch, it allows me to vent, it allows me to be at peace, and all without anybody’s help. How can I not like walking, independent idiot that I am?
But trekking? Trekking over mountain and hills and forests and deserts? I was never very sure of it. As I once told R, “why would I choose to be uncomfortable when I am watching the best scenery in the world. If I was in such discomfort, wouldn’t all that scenery just seem blaah.”
One of my first treks was with Mika and Amit, we went up the Chembra peak in Wayanad. As treks go, this is one of the easier ones, though I could swear Amit was working on a conspiracy to kill me, as he alternatively cajoled and bullied me to go up. I think it was a five hour trek which we managed to do in seven, thanks to my fit and healthy body. As I stumbled and wobbled and crawled up the mountain, I think I had an inkling of the pleasures of trekking, but the death haze in front of my eyes was so much, I couldn’t really catch it. The trip was memorable for my almost-death and a few other reasons, but I can’t really say I was dying to climb another mountain soon.
Over the next few years, I became slightly more fit, and I have to emphasize on the word slightly. My waistline has increased significantly, and so has my ego. Which is why I gloat now that I have more stamina than a lot of other people, and I could easily do a lot more than I could before. But was the stamina to do things enough, wasn’t it more about the place, about seeing and experience and feeling the place?
Yes and No. In all the places I have been to, Ireland is my favorite country. Oh it’s a beautiful country, with landscapes which are so unreal, it would take your breath away. It’s a country where you would look in any direction, and find beauty that would make it possible for a butcher to write poetry. So walking in such a country is no real hardship, not even the slightest bit. Every day we would wake up with no real agenda, but to explore the countryside. And since we were always broke, this would mean no rented car, but walking and using our wits and charm to get rides from strangers. We would walk for hours – climb mountains scrambling up loose stones, walk leisurely along cliffs listening to the sound of waves crashing on mountains, roam about in the woods looking for leprechauns. And every day we would be exhausted. And yet we would continue. There was one instance where we had gone walking in Glendalough National Park, and by the time we got out of the park, my legs felt like they don’t belong to me. We didn’t have any transport, and the nearest restaurant from where we could make a call was one km away. That was the longest one km anybody has ever walked, one that made us actually google to check if the Irish had a different standard for the metric scale.
But again, why would you do it?
I walked like a maniac in Cornwall. Partly because I was travelling alone, and there’s nothing to do in Cornwall except walking. Partly because they don’t have a public transport system that would take you to real remote places. I would start with good intentions, mark my routes in my tourist map, and start my cliff walks. The first few kms would go by in a pleasant manner. The air felt crisp and fresh, the sun would smile on the ocean making it gleam in various shades of blue, the green meadows would feel peaceful, the heather soft as you threw your bottom against it for a well-deserved snack break. But as the day would progress, my body would protest even as the scenery would comfort you. My ankles would feel like they were made of lead, my backpack would seem like a quarry of stones, and my mouth as dry as the Sahara. The path would look endless, and my destination very far. And I would keep one foot ahead of the other, and another and another. And look around. And be overwhelmed. I could feel each breath I took, I could feel the cramps in my calf muscles, I would struggle to summon the will to lift my camera to take a shot.
I would feel alive.
I know. It’s very difficult to explain. How can you feel alive, when you are so exhausted you would accept death happily? How can your senses feel alive when your body is at its decapitated best? I don’t know either. But as you breathe, as you grab each gulp of air, and look at nature around you, you actually breathe in the place, as weird as that sounds. As you walk, small and miniscule, you feel the mountains around you, and the word ‘awe’ is an understatement to describe what’s in your heart. As you listen to the ocean, and daze over the horizon, you realize that your mind for once is clear. It’s got – nothing. Not your fantasies, not your anger, not your worries. And all that’s happening, is your heart beating, your being – conscious and aware, but only of a resounding happiness, which is unlike anything anybody can give you. Some call it peace, some call it freedom, some call it love. I call it happiness, in the purest sense of the word. Happiness that is not dependent on anybody, happiness which is just about being in the moment, happiness which is about being grateful in this world. Being grateful that there’s so much beauty in the world, being grateful that’s there so much in the world I don’t understand, but I can appreciate, being grateful that there’s so much in the world to discover, so much that my miniscule being can’t even comprehend.
And before you ask, this doesn’t happen in a Nirvana moment. It happens as you walk, and walk, and walk, over unknown territories, pretty and otherwise. It happens as you learn to let things go, as you walk. It happens as you learn to smile when you are in cramping pain. It happens as you learn to laugh when you are lost in the woods. It happens when you learn to let yourself be, when fear racks you in the wild. It happens when you are least aware of it.
And no, I am not there yet. I would like to be, and so I walk. I walk, and I walk, and I walk…