Thursday, 24 October 2013

These boots are made for walking, and that's just what they'll do!

Written by: Prachi Shrivastava

I bruise my silken legs and line my pedicured feet with deep muddy cuts. The soft velvety skin on my tailbone is now crusty crocodile-like, thanks to bristles from my rucksack. My lustrous hair has lost its sheen as it gathers mountain dust. My nails chip, my lips lose several dried up layers and I reek of goat stench. How squarely unladylike!

I am at 12,000 ft above sea level, the mellow warmth of the sun is missing from the scene and wind at 14 km/hr claims my ribs, but I sweat. I sweat and my cheeks flush crimson as I endeavour to make this mountain my own – climbing up the last 2000 ft of the Dhauladhar range to the Indrahaara pass.

My hips’ and thighs’ vulnerable soft curves are perpetually clenched - wary of slipping on the chilling canine rocks surrounding me. Clenched, they stiffen up. Their tenderness transforms into tight muscle – and I gain a defined stride and sure-footedness in this world.

I have left many loved ones behind in the city, but have carried their voices in my head all the way up here. The voices say: “Are you sure you want to do this?” “What is the big need to take this ‘thing’ up?” “You need to give it a good think, these things are not easy!” “Let it go, it is too strenuous, it is not for you!” “What are you trying to prove anyway?” Together the voices seem to share only one sentiment - I am a lost cause!

My heart pounds faster with rage at this sentiment, and my breathing loses its calm rhythm as I heighten my pace.  I put all my energy into drowning those voices through the speed of my moving feet. I am determined to glide through this “thing” I have taken up and find my bliss in my own passion instead of the one handed down to me by societal mores. I fully intend to carve my own niche.

The figurative mountain I wish to conquer sometimes rolls its eyes and sticks its tongue out at me – at my rawness, my weakness – and twice I give up. Snow that has made its way to my untrained trekker’s feet despite many safeguards is like daggers to my toes. I am close to my monthly menstrual cycle and the lack of oxygen at this altitude doesn’t help my stomach cramps. The fact that the gender accompanying me has never known the knife stabs I am dealing with in my abdomen, adds to my woe.

For a moment my rust brown, high ankle trekking boots refuse to budge another inch. But the boon of reaching 99 is that there is no option but to zip up to 100. I hardly have the option to turn back from the last 1,000 of the 14,000 ft I am covering today and so I gather my wits, look around and try to get over myself.

What I see, looking around, tickles my stomach. Here I am, claiming a spot on the mountains which I had earlier only seen from either an airplane or from a motorable road far, far away. And here I am – the sole life on that spot today. My sibling and I always fantasised about sitting on the cotton candy clouds in the sky above, and here I am living that fantasy today. The herb Ratanjot that had enhanced countless mutton dishes of Rogan Josh that I have relished in my life, sits lining my path here. The blinding white snow on the treacherously sharp boulders gives me no leeway to be careless here.

And why am I here? Because I have a pair of feet and I can! I can goddarn be wherever I want to be!

This freedom of being is not the only thing that inspires me to regain my enthusiasm. Warm-blooded hands that reach out to grab mine and get me up to speed have an equal role. The hands belong to a few liberated men, who need hardly any materialism in life to go on – let alone luxury. Their endurance is an example, their faces ever smiling, never flinching in the face of ceaseless physical effort – and all they want today is to help me conquer my mountain. Getting to match my steps with men like these gives me a heady rush!

With my resolve dying and reviving several times in the course of the climb, I finally make my way to the highest point of the trek. Another bout of tummy cramps hits me and I am the only one in the group doubling up in pain – the only woman up there. But nature smiles at my three-hour effort and decides to grant me the chance to be ecstatic at its unexplored beauty. The sun comes out, its mild heat helps my cramps dissolve and I open my eyes to the vast valley beneath the pass.

Opening my eyes I see liberation. There are more possibilities to my life than the petty everyday concerns I often find myself entangled in. In the face of the valley’s vastness I decide that there is nothing to do now but to let go. The hinterland of life, with its unexplored potential for surprises, starts from where we let go.

Why do I burden my weaker womanly frame with trekking-luggage when I can sit pretty and let men do it? To know for sure that I am never alone in this world as long as I wholeheartedly have myself for me! Why do I venture into the freezing, rocky lifeless wilderness of the mountains? Because I am free to do so, I am not bound by anything! Why do I not give up even though there is no worldly possession to be earned in climbing a mountain? Because to the one who can give birth, “giving up” does not exist!

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