There is a sudden wave of keenness to knock items off the bucket list and, surprisingly, to travel within India rather than abroad. We had almost missed Malana. We were already warned two friends, who frequented the tiny village at 3,029 metres that we must leave 11:00 am latest. Let’s call our friends G and D and this was their third time to Malana. “The trekking is not that difficult” we were told them and the shopkeeper who was our guide in Kasol, the other shopkeeper who gave me two pyjamas in Rs 500 which I still use and the one-of-the few local ladies I met in a café. And so we were expecting an easy but long walk. So everyone took it easy, ended up oversleeping only to wake up post lunch. Then we rushed, carefully selected the items we wanted to carry with us. Obviously there has to be lack of foresightedness from someone or the other. We were very late and scared… scared of the dark. It wasn’t possible to climb down after the sunset
We luckily found a smaller jeep-like car that drove till the point a car could reach. From there we were left to venture. Excitement had already started building up because the car journey itself gave us a glimpse of how it feels when you have to pass a narrow path with balancing on the edges. We felt our heart beating faster than ever, one of us sat in a prayer like position and one of us just provided a comic relief every now and then. Thank God for that. And I mentally kept taking notes. And that’s what I did for the rest of the trekking, and for the rest of the journey. The journey started and not long before people started complaining of the weather being too cold, heavy bag and breathlessness.
The movement is not simply to get from point A to B in absolute comfort, but to stretch out the experience and soak in the experience of getting there. It is better to travel well, than to just arrive. I always like standing at the back of the group while walking because I get to observe; especially for an absent-minded writer it is best to follow and prevent getting lost. Also I hate walking right in front of the pack while going anywhere because then people behind me know my next step. And this is very general because in this trek it didn’t matter. I never got a chance to stroll and click photographs. Every step required balance, focus, strong legs and straight back to avoid injury. With a lingering back problem I kept in mind the correct positions to maintain while walking. I used every opportunity I could to look around and memorise how fast the water was, how the mountains changed their colour, the unpredictable path in front of me, the remains of landslides and the overall the breath-taking view. Each time we paused to rest I would remind myself we are in heaven. And then again I would take back my thoughts because I had whispered prayers to God asking him to keep us safe, so there was a slight fright in my mind what if nature doesn’t support us. What if my body doesn’t support me?
The trek was said to be for one-and-a-half hours, but we took a little more than two hours to reach Malana. The driver, who drove us till as far as he could, had told us he will only wait for three hours. We had got used to running late so we had decided we’ll have a quick look at Malana and climb down. Anyway, trekking after dark wasn’t possible, if the sun sets, we have to stay the night there. Period. But worse, as we were nearing the small huts and houses we felt a drop or two. It was getting cloudy and even though it was just 4:30 pm it felt dark and really cold. It was then, when the man leading the crew spotted the villages and announced “we are here”. It was nowhere near even then, but at least residential huts and temporary cafes were visible.
Once we reached, we were greeted and treated like royalty. They instantly knew we are from Calcutta because our friend G had already told them to expect some visitors. We were lead to his hut which was built on stone staircase and wooden pillars. As soon as we nestled down it started to rain. We cuddled up and sat together, six of us hungry and amazed at the unimaginable life up here. We were treated to hot tea, biscuits and Maggi. Once the rain stopped we looked around and took a temporary room in a guest house. Calling it a guest house isn’t exactly right, but that’s what the board said. A massive bed on the floor and comfortable cushions were all we needed and that’s what we got, along with some more snacks. We were also running out of money but whatever we had left we gave it to our host who had pink cheeks and really shiny hair. Actually everyone over there did. Even I was very impressed with how my hair and skin had improved even without getting the time to shower much.
With the clock ticking away to glory we started arguing whether we should stay there the night or not. Some of us refused with confidence saying the journey back won’t take time and there was no way we could spend a night there unprepared. I was prepared for anything that would keep us safe. We called the driver to make sure he hadn’t left us, because then we would really have to stay. He said if we made it back in an hour then he would wait. With just a drop or two visible we decided not to get too comfortable. Our host guided as back to where we had come from and off we went biding a sad farewell. Our journey back didn’t feel the same. We knew where we had to balance, where the pathway was rough and where it was just a straight walk. Our clothes had started drying because our pace was much faster than before. I still tried to glance around and see how different the view was. The water seemed to imitate the stillness in the sky and just before an hour we climbed the final stairs where our jeep was waiting. Once we were on the bus, no one spoke till we reached the hotel; everyone had an out of body experience, everyone was now a different person, everyone had overcome one fear they secretly had.