Deo Tibba: Time of Wonder
Distances, elevations, hours of walking, grades of treks, itineraries, notes - I am always oblivious of these. I don't trek in the Himalayas to measure anything at all. I walk because I am compelled to return to where I belong. I walk one step at a time. My feet do not carry me, it is my mind I trek on.
The trail we walk is breathtakingly beautiful indeed. It is not on the trekkers map to Deo Tibba base, that is widely known : the mountaineers route to ascend the 6,000 metre peak from the north side. Instead, we approach the base of the peak from the south side on an unmarked shepherd's trail, and circle the peak for a wondrous day, never getting close enough not to be awed by it. We are rewarded by an amazing variety of Himalayan landscape and vegetation. The chosen camp-sites are stunning in the sheer magnificence of views.
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What remains of the trek is a kaleidescope of vivid images: the snow-capped peaks I never have enough of; the silence that protects me; the lashing wind and the relentless rain, the rumble of thunder and the streaks of lightning; the soft flakes that fall in a blanket of snow that freezes around me; the green, green grass of meadowlands that are interspersed with flowers, dotted with sheep; the gushing mountain streams I wade through; the rocks and boulders over which the stream skips lightly on it's way; the melody of nature that plays on instruments I have heard before but that eludes me in the world of men.
The lashing wind and the relentless rain, the rumble of thunder and the streaks of lightning; the soft flakes that fall in a blanket of snow that freezes around me; the green, green grass of meadowlands that are interspersed with flowers, dotted with sheep; the gushing mountain streams I wade through; the rocks and boulders over which the stream skips lightly on it's way; the melody of nature that plays on instruments I have heard before but that eludes me in the world of men.
The images alone engulf me - I do not recall their sequential order. The giant canopy of trees, the reeds that part, the soft carpet of brush underfoot. The familiarity of deodar, oak, rhododendron, bhojpatra, of mountain flowers that peep shyly, of giant roots that form paths through forest climbs, of walking the forest at night, strangely comforting, oddly familiar.
I delight in rediscovering the earth beneath my feet, in walking on land that is never level. My shod feet feel the squelch of wet mud I sink into, of the icy, cold waters that rush through the mountains in a dance of joy. I am forced to climb wet, slippery rocks where the only foothold is your mind.
I balance on the sheet of ice forming below me, as I run through a white world of snow and sleet, breathing the stark beauty I love, aware that I cannot stop for pause here, now.
I clamber up gracelessly. I slide down the sides of grazed mountains of mud and earth, wet with rain. I slip again and again till I fall with the ease of surrender, which makes falling lighter being without resistance. I sidestep my way down sheer grassy slopes, my slightly angled and painful knees are the brakes on my descent. In the gathering dusk of the thick forest, my feet have their own eyes, and I have no option but to trust them.
My hands long accustomed to a polite and aloof withdrawal, touch earth, trees, brambles. Long seasons of experience have taught me that you avoid certain plants and recognise the leaves that are antidotes to stings and nettles. I can sidestep thistle and thorn I clamber among rocks through, ignore the burr that clings to my clothes in a riot of undergrowth I battle my way through. My fingers are numb from the cold of melting snow and the improvised walking stick I cling to.
I follow a viper with curiosity, nudge a bull to move out of my way, outstare a sheep who shares my outdoor loo. I bathe in the icy waters of a mountain stream, screaming into the roar of the water. I watch the yeti-like shadows cast on the cloud that has created a sheer wall between me and beyond. I look at the inky blue skies and the stars lead me to spaces yet unexplored. I am hypnotised by the crackling fire as I am later mesmerised by it's dying embers. I am fascinated by the streak of lightning as it zig-zags it's way across the skies in an outburst of angry thunder.
In this rarefied air, beyond the savage plundering of man, perforce, one is aware of the fragility of the environment that we can afford to ignore in the cages of our cities, where we pace, chasing the great god, Mammon.
Treks are as much about people as they are of places. This one is a delight because of the harmony of spirit. We laugh together, banter, tease and support each other - both friends and strangers, across ages and cultures, who know the bonding of a shared experience.
I see the fears of those who have the courage to confront themselves: nightmares...anxieties...panic attacks. The terror of walking on the brink of your own mortality. A reconciliation of who we are, and where we stand...a recognition of ourselves. For isn't that what we come here for? To challenge ourselves as we stand at the edge of other realities.
Those vast spaces of timelessness...valleys, meadows, flowers, trees, streams, peaks...nature in it's unsurpassed grandeur, expressing the very essence of being. One step at a time...each step enthralled in the wonder of where I am...lost in the sense of having found again.
To walk silently in the tranquility of inaccessible reaches, one's mind stills, and the moments lived are of a rare intensity. Are travelogues about physical journeys, when it is the mind we travel into?
I am no wiser for having walked those six days in the Himalayas. But then I am no wiser for all the years of my living.
Editor: Romola Butalia   (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.