Despite a recent fatality on the mountains, adventurers love to ascend peaks on escapade trips. When a bunch of Kashmiri women lately went for the same expedition on Thajwas glacier, it turned out to be a ‘self-exploring’ experience. Here, a backpacker details her journey and impressions of the peak outing.
I held the buried stone with one hand, and tried to get a grip to put my right foot on something. I looked to my right and could see stones and pine cones rolling down the edge. I wondered what if I had come to face my death to this camp, and what if I would slip off the edge that I’m fighting to fix my feet on, hit the trees and massive stones and die in an instant.
Our tour guide put his hand forward for me to hold, but I couldn’t reach. I was stuck, and wondered about the poster that led me to this camp: “Girls escapade at Team Mountaineers Sonmarg.”
My mind was hooked at the poster, for a good two minutes. I was overwhelmed. Some part inside me told me that I couldn’t miss it. And the other part was apprehensive — whether the ‘escapade’ would be worth it, or not!
It was a bright sunny day as I was picked up from my home at around 10:00 am in a Tavera taxi with strangers. The only person I had an interaction with was Anam, the coordinator for Team Mountaineers.
I watched her while she clicked pictures from her phone. Looking at the rustic scenes outside the window, my mind, heart and soul were fixed on the colour-changing sky. I’ve always been fascinated by the enormity of the sky. It just fills in.
The drive of around 82 kms to Lashpather is when the ‘escapade’ began. We were sharing the road with tourists, pilgrims, taxi drivers, bikers and cyclists.
“We don’t speak very good English,” said a Polish cyclist Teodor Furs, wearing a wrinkled porcelain face and a little sparkle in his eyes.
He along with his friend Andrzej Bryk had come all the way from Poland and Norway to explore this side of the world. We shared some snacks, a few words and smiles at a roadside food outlet.
“Europe doesn’t have such features as Kashmir does,” Teodor said.
It took me around 5 minutes to gather myself. I held the rope tied to my waist that connected me to the tour guide. In a fraction of a second, I took the “leap of faith” and jumped right to the other side.
While trekking down the slope, I thought about the Nichnai Gujjars whom we paid a visit just a few hours ago. They’ve to come across this fine line between death and life almost every day, walk on the thread to make ends meet. But I guess, this is how they would prefer to live, a simple life, yet thrilling.
We went there, so that Qurat, an MBBS intern at SKIMS, could see their sick. I strolled around to explore their world.
A little girl in a green dress followed me around. “May I take your picture?” I asked her. She smiled and ran away to hide. The crease at the end of her smile contained her innocence.
I kept on clicking, and she kept following me. Another kid gave a warm, huge smile, while I took his picture. Kids are so pure.
As far as my eyes could see, huge mountains stood tall and magnificent, from where I stood, sprinkled with pine trees.
Their locality of around 5 households had an earthen exhibit, with mud, stones and wooden logs tied together. This basic engineering survives blizzards and storms.
“How many kids do you have?” asked an elderly woman.
“I’m not married yet,” I laughed and replied.
“People in city marry quite late,” she sighed.
I smiled at her in reply, not knowing what to say.
She had seen life more than I could even fathom. I couldn’t get her sigh, and she didn’t understand my laugh.
Down came running a giant black dog—having the most lustrous fur, guarding his clan. For a person who isn’t into pets, dogs have a special place in my heart.
On the first day of our camping trip, we were greeted by three dogs—Winter, Jaunti, Soni—for both security, as well as company. All this set me thinking: Our biggest setback is that we never pause. We’re centered by the web of “Done with this, what next?” We’re so hard on ourselves, that we forget to breathe.
After we had gotten ourselves acquainted on the first day, we were taken out for a short trek to the nearby cascades. While walking, I just couldn’t think, but the glistening sun and the light cold breeze were echoing all around.
Sitting by the water stream, I observed the sunlight cutting through the small water currents, birds chirping, ants working their way to their colonies, clouds paving the vast sky, water striking the stone surface to find a way back to its stream.
“A light bulb is called Gaash Thool back home,” said Qurat, and lit up with laughter, while we strolled down the slope, heading towards the base camp.
Our trek to the Thajwas glacier began with a cup of Nunchai. Starting from the base camp, we began our hiking along the rough path, all the while savouring the smell of the mountains. The local Gujjars trekked along with us with their horses and dogs. While they were trekking for their livelihood, we trekked because—well, we wanted to.
We made our way through the slopes, resting in the vast meadows. We finally made it to Thajwas after a trek of around 2-3 hours, with empty stomachs. We were exhausted, but victorious.
My hunger pangs were mixed with the sweeping view of the Thajwas Glacier. I like grey for the colour, but the grey Thajwas told the tale of a dying glacier taking its last breath. That white blanket of snow covered with traces of brown mud seemed like it was cursing the human race for its defacing.
The first dollop of rice that I ate felt better than the most delicious delicacies, for it felt like I had walked solely for it. A few kids ambled towards us with their horses.
“My name is Anwar and this is my horse, Raju,” said a kid while sitting on his beautiful horse.
“Do you go to school?” I asked him curiously.
“Yes, I’m in 4th class,” he proudly replied.
The first thing that I got to check off my ‘bucket list’ was to witness the sunrise. I woke up around 4:30 am, put on my jacket and stepped outside my tent. Pitch black sky seemed vast, empty, yet so filling; so infinite, yet so compact.
These wonders and miracles are for us to experience without any cost. But we’re so buried in our miseries that we refuse to even look up.
I saw a time-lapse right in front of my eyes: the same mountain, sky, the same landscape change itself.
How the sun loved the moon so much that he died every night to let her breathe. The world didn’t know—neither did the sun. At dawn, the moon dimmed itself for the sun to shine bright.
We got back to the base camp, started the campfire. I put my hands on rich yellow Biryani and spicy red chicken. They’ve amazing chefs at the camp, so the food always satiated our hunger. Fixated on the crackling embers, I wondered why I needed to pause—maybe to get my sense of belonging, or maybe, to lose it.
These camps, these nature escapades don’t solve anything for you. It might inspire some, refresh some, help out untangle the knots. But the rest you’ve to work for yourself.
There’s so much to explore. Not just the roads and places, but your own self too, including your flaws, depths, qualities that you never realised exist. Or to just hold that sunlight in your palm, and watch wonders happen.
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