The wind whistles through my hair as I march forward, one arduous step at a time. A steady burn is growing on my thighs. I look at my watch. 3:00 AM. Two more hours before I reach the summit.
Trekking has a way of rinsing away your cares. You gain an intimate knowledge of mountains that individuals who survive on distant glimpses do not. This is as close to heaven as one can get.
I am on the trail to Mt. Chandrashila. Literally translating to “Moon Rock”, it is nestled among prominent Himalayan peaks like Nandadevi and Chaukhambha.
Gritting my teeth, I wipe the steady flow of sweat down my temples. I can’t see anything beyond a few meters; it will be many hours before the sun peeks out from the horizon. My searchlight illuminates the path in the pitch darkness. As I approach the summit, I ponder on the journey that got me here.
It started by taking a bus from the sacred city of Haridwar in Uttarakhand to Sari, a tiny village up in the mountains. The ride wove through the entire expanse of the state, offering great views of the landscape.
From the base camp Sari, we set off into the mountains. We trekked through Kedarnath Wildlife Sanctuary, passing through stunning pine forests. Ferns paved the way as we trudged towards Lake Deoriatal, the Himalayas peeking out above the treeline.
At camp Deoriatal, we got our first view of Mt Chaukhambha. It towered above us, often lost amidst the clouds.
The next day we headed towards Camp Syalmi, going through dense forests and meadows. Rhododendron and maple trees swayed as we passed them by. Walking along ridges and through meadows, we passed through the most picturesque parts of the trek.
Mt Chandrashila was now visible along with its neighbour, the Kala Parvat. According to the Mahabharatha, the Pandavas hid their weapons at a glacial lake below the peak.
From Camp Syalmi, we headed towards the next camp at Baniya Kund. Lush forests surrounded us as we hiked up. We crossed streams and stone shepherd dwellings to get there.
Many trekkers stay at this campsite, for it is one of the closest lodges to the peak. We went to bed quickly, for we had a steep incline to deal with tomorrow.
We woke up at 1:00 AM to hike up to Mt Chandrashila. We trekked up in darkness to reach the summit for sunrise.
Before the summit lies the Tuganath Temple, the highest Shiva temple in the world. The climb follows a steep pilgrim trail with multiple twists and turns.
Tired beyond measure, I took one laborious step at a time. I did not look up, for the summit seemed as far as it did from the base. I pulled my hands close, for the cold had seeped through my gloves. My shoes squeaked over the thin blanket of snow.
My path was illuminated by my head torch and the glow of the fading stars. It was faint; I could not see a mere few feet ahead of me. What lay in the blackness ahead of me, I didn’t know.
Then I noticed that the darkness was dissipating. The sun was rising! If I continued at this pace, I wouldn’t reach the summit in time to see the sunrise.
Informing the trek leader, I walked ahead. I had not come all this way to miss the striking sunrise. Determined, I quickened my pace, inching my way closer to the peak.
The first glint of red streaked across the sky as I passed the Tuganath Temple. I would come back later to see it; my only goal was reaching the summit. The suspense was building like the impetus of a crescendo, the topmost point gradually coming into view.
I reached the top just as shards of light pierce the cloud line. I was sore in every part of my body. I couldn’t feel my toes, and my lips were chapped, but I was thrilled to have made it. I pumped my fist into the air in jubilation.
I watched in awe as the sun climbed higher in the sky. It ascended behind Mt Nandadevi, one of the largest peaks in India. Vultures, the kings of the skies, circled against the rising sun. The surrounding hills wore a mantle of colours as the light touched them.
I felt humbled in the presence of such majestic peaks. I couldn’t comprehend the magnificence all around me; it was too overpowering. I froze, my mind wiped blank by the elegance.
All pain and my worries faded at that moment. I was one with nature, basking in its glory.
Such is the nature of the great outdoors. The therapy of nature can soothe like no other. As the pandemic has made our lives feel baggy and shapeless, a little taste of nature can rejuvenate us.
I know one thing for sure. I am going back there as soon as I can.
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