I put one foot in front of the other, concentrating on tiny increments of effort. I only allow myself to look a little ways ahead, focusing on the next small hill or switchback. I feel the weight on my back, the aching of my shoulders and the tension in my legs. I am aware of my body. I lift my head up every minute or two to remind myself of where I am–seeing is believing–and I tell myself that these are not just any mountains: they are the Himalayas.
From New Delhi I take a rickety bus that charges up steep passes, its motor growling and body teetering too-close to the cliff edge. Once in Joshimath, the hill town in Uttaranchal where I begin my trek, I hire a guide and buy bread, peanut butter and chocolate (you may want to buy supplies in New Delhi—Joshimath is somewhat lacking in foodstuffs). I then decide on a six-day trek over the Kuari Pass.
On the trail I hear the clunking of my water bottles, and the crunch of the ground under my feet. I scramble across snow drifts, digging in my heels, falling on the ice, hating it but loving it at the same time, and quietly working with my guide. In silence we stand at the top of the Kuari Pass, peering down at the land that simultaneously we conquered, and that conquered us. The sides of the mountain seem to go straight down, and we look through the natural frame created by the cliffs and see a meadow full of pink and purple flowers. The mountains do not make me feel small; rather, they remind me that I am a part of something larger than my own person, something serene and sublime.
At night when we camp there is a transcendent feeling of purpose, and a quiet understanding of what is important and beautiful. When I take off my pack my body springs up, and the lightness I feel makes me giddy; instead of walking I run to the stream to fetch water, and I jump onto and off rocks to get to the campsite. It is quiet, always quiet. But the quietness is inside of me—the mountains can actually be thunderous. I can sometimes hear herd of sheep bahing, their sounds echoing inside of the valley where we sleep. And always, always I can hear the rush of water somewhere in the distance, or somewhere right at my feet. Every sound is meant to be here, and so even when the din is so loud I can’t hear my own thoughts, I feel at peace.
I hurry to pitch my tent before the sun sets, and before darkness falls I always manage to boil the water to make the tea that trickles down inside of my chest and warms me. I awake at dawn, not wanting to crawl out of my sleeping bag, out into the cold earth, not yet heated by the sun. On the trail we often pass shepherds, with their sheep, goats, donkeys and horses. I clamber up onto rocks to allow the stampeding animals to pass by.
Even though it is extraordinary that I am where I am—the Himalayas–more and more I believe that in life, it is possible to feel how I feel right now. It is possible to pack a bag, book a flight, and step off of a plane and onto another continent. Here in the mountains, straddling the Nepalese and Tibetan borders I am overwhelmed by a sense of knowing that possibilities are endless, and that exploring the world is invaluable. The vastness of the mountains and the openness of the Himalayan sky remind me of how much time I have, and that change is always possible. Life is too short, as they say, to only dream of faraway places and altering experiences.