Tuesday, 7 October 2014

The First Step a.k.a. The Loss of Starry-Eyed Notions

For many months I had visualised that moment. 

Standing on the final steps of the bus. Looking at the red earth beyond the last step. There may be a stone or two, some clumped earth, or even a footprint. Perhaps my knees would wobble after stepping down, due to the unevenness of the ground. I think I would inhale, a deep inhale. There would be the scent of mixed everythings, including the dust of the land and smoke from the bus. I may be tired from the many hours of sitting, and yet restless to begin. I imagined I would see fellow pilgrims gathering their gear, an upwards path visible in the distance, and what would seem like little ants creeping up slowly. I figured I would be approached by an enthusiastic chaiwala, and of course I would gratefully accept. His name would be Chotu, obviously. 

View from the trek

I would then stand back, taking it all in, my hand covering my little tea glass to contain the heat of the precious little. I would tense my shoulders, pick up my kit, and take the first step. It would all be a bit like that last scene in the Sound of Music, when the Von Trapp family trekked over the mountains to escape Austria. With a Sikh twist. We might replace "Climb Every Mountain" with Beynti Chaupayi, and maybe the long flowing grass with dry earth, but really, that would be the only difference.

This is how my journey to Hemkunt would begin, once we got off the busses at Gobind Ghaat.

Entrance to Gobind Ghaat, the base of the trek

Clearly, clearly, it had been a while since I was last in India. 

I had forgotten that you cannot lock India in a woven basket and hypothesise on what lies inside; for like a snake charmer who bears the risk of snakebite, you have to lift the lid and allow yourself to be hypnotised by Her dance.

You cannot chart the turn that your journey will take, you cannot follow a map; for like the milk She blesses into Ghee, She churns every possible route and outcome in Her consciousness, and delights in picking the most impetuous one. 

You cannot hope to keep your feet on the ground; for like the pilgim mass that will sweep you in its embrace, separate you from those you know, and unexpectedly release you in unfamiliar places, She will deliver blows to your stomach, compassion to your heart, tears to your eyes, sickness to your body, and bliss to your soul.

Her weapon of choice is shock, and She uses it unflinchingly. Her soul is unruly; She will not be tamed. 

Enter the den, and survive, O Man.

The lure of marigolds

The romantic myth of my first step was quickly dispelled. Let's revisit my earlier reverie.

Standing on the final steps of the bus. Looking at the red earth beyond the last step.
CHECK. There was also a frayed plastic bag, mixed in the earth, to add to the view.

There may be a stone or two, some clumped earth, or even a footprint. 
CHECK. Small stones, many footprints.

Perhaps my knees would wobble after stepping down, due to the unevenness of the ground.
CHECK. I did lose my balance.

But not because of the stones, oh no. I was ambushed, ambushed, I tell you, by an army of pithus (porters).

Each face earnest, and hungry to be selected. Each mouth promised to be able to carry anything in the baskets on their backs: luggage, food, even children. Each frame small; most of them are Nepali farmers who come to the region in the summer for this type of work. 

Bahadur bhaiya, one of our pithus. This was bhaiya's first summer working at Hemkunt. 
Ma liked him instantly for his sweetness :)

In all our bewilderment, we attempted to formulate a strategy to circumvent the mob and make it at least 2 steps away from the bus. Forget it! By now, our newly arrived bus had drawn significant interest, and the siege was joined by porters and their mules, guides, dhaba-owners (breakfast! lunch! dinner! NUDELS!!), walking stick sellers, and every other human in that square who believed he had God's own solution to making our trek a smooth one.

Anything you need, HA!

At this rate, getting to Hemkunt seemed like the least of my worries… I first needed to get to my travel gear, a mere 6 feet away! :)

And so there it was, the Loss of Starry-Eyed Notions. There was no submissive step down, no liberating deep breath. No sea of pilgrims, no intoxicating scent of cha. And no opportunity to pause and take it all in. 

Elbowed by humans and bags on one side, and badgered by pithus and mule owners on the other, I made a quick adjustment to all other naive fancies I had earlier formed on the days to come.

Designated parking area at Gobind Ghaat. All modes of transport welcome!

And then, a corner smile. A knowing shake of the head. You did it again, Mother India. Aimed Your stun gun and unsaddled me. 

As mischievous as Your methods may be, here, I am reminded that the only thing that exists right now, is right now.

Throw out the guidebook, and surrender to the vortex of Your whirlpool.

Sign along the trek. SO appropriate :)

I turned to look at my mother, and we both laughed. Here it goes!

And we took the first step.

North Star, leading the way, as always :)

~ notes from my road, Hemkunt 2012 ~

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