The Floating Thoughts brings you a seven-episode series on a trek to Kedarkantha peak in the Himalayas. Take this journey with Neil as he wanders into the lap of nature with fifteen other strangers. Witness him to create unforgettable memories and to forge everlasting bonds while he journeys towards his true calling.
To READ EPISODE #1: click here
a Himalayan Trek Series
Episode #2: Wings for Winds
PRESENTED BY ROY & DEE KAY
“Maa…I am scared!”, I sat clutching her hand as she stood outside the train holding the steel frame of the window. Behind her, stood my father and sister.
I was leaving my nest for the first time to complete my schooling in a different city and among unfamiliar people.
She replied with a polite smile. The smile that had greeted me into this world. The same smile that became my first ever friend. The smile that has always given a haven to my turbulent thoughts. Her smile was enough to put out the fire of doubts arising in my mind; for a brief moment.
“You’ll be just fine, son. You will soon make new friends and achieve your goals.”, she continued.
How could I tell her that I didn’t need anyone more than her?
How could I say to her that I am scared of making new friends?
How could I let her know that I fear that those new people and that new place may not accept me as I am?
It isn’t the new place that makes me want to cry rather it is leaving the sanity of my protective nest that sparks this unusual panic.
“Neil?”, she finally spoke as the green signal and the train’s whistle nudged me to the reality. I looked up at her with my doubtful eyes.
“It is difficult for any bird to flap its feather as it leaves its nest. How can it know that the sky will accept it!” She said with a relenting calmness in her tone.
I stared at her waiting for her to answer that for I had no clue, being lost to the aggravating fear of discomfort.
“It is the belief that it has those wings to rip through the strong winds and not to hide itself, makes all the fears worth to be conquered. Go Flap your wings to the scary winds…” she said with the same smile.
The train rumbled gaining speed and I watched them through the bars of the window frame as the platform slowly faded away from my sight.
The thundering sound of the halting train echoed around the Dehradun station as we came about the destination to the foreseeing trek trip we had signed up for a few days back. I was still not sure what I was even doing here in the first place. I am not the outgoing ready-to-be-friends-with-strangers type nor am I the atypical adventurous strain of humanity.
I sluggishly dragged my feet away from the platform while Naman excitedly led the way. He was already on the phone with the coordinator of the trip and soon began to wave at someone at a distance on the other side of the road where a minibus was parked. I took a deep breath as I walked towards a whole bunch of strangers who had decided to meet the mountains; maybe for different reasons than mine.
Few of them stood wearing a heavy rucksack on their back and a backpack to their chest while others were busy clicking selfies. My attention shifted to a guy in early twenties who was busy shooting with his Go PRO while his friend accompanied him, suggesting the perfect frame for the shot.
“We have a YouTuber midst us.”, I chuckled to myself…
…and the others like me were standing up against the freezing early morning with one hand tightly locked in the jacket pocket and the other holding a hot cup of tea.
Everyone seemed to know what they were up to and were excitedly awaiting the journey to begin while I could feel my heart beating a bit faster and my stomach paving way for the anxiety to kick in any minute. I was already in the limbo of social acceptance and the norms that follow, questioning myself what I have gotten myself into this time. I wanted answers to the torrent of questions that always erupt whenever I lose my shit and at that moment the daunting reality hit me hard: “I am gonna climb mountains like seriously!”
The sound around me slowly diminished and all I could listen to was what Misha said on the day I left for the trek…
“It’s a solo trek Misha”
She flitted through the backpacks while searching for the best one for me without even paying heed to what I was saying.
“Here check this out. This will fit everything perfectly.” She handed me a blue colored wildcraft rucksack while rushing towards the shoe section.
“Are you event listening, Misha? I don’t think this is a good plan. I mean spending a week with random strangers in an isolated place and without any network. That doesn’t sound correct.” my voice was transiting slowly towards the edge of irritation.
“You need a proper shoe that has a nice grip and doesn’t get wet.” She seemed to be lost to herself and oblivious to whatever I was saying.
“Try this” she handed me a hiking shoe and gestured me to wear them.
I took the shoe and placed it aside along with the rucksack.
“Listen to me, Misha.” I held both her hands and tried to draw her complete attention to myself.
“I think I am gonna cancel it. This is entirely a stupid idea. What the fuck I was even thinking?” I blurred it out at last.
She smiled at my childish uneasiness. Entwining her fingers in mine and clutching my palms tightly.
“Neil!” she looked in my eyes.
“Neil! It is the fears that are speaking to you. Try to listen to them for accepting the fears is the only way past them. Talk to them with your heart and not with the mind. The language of the heart cannot be understood by any code. Close your eyes and feel its beats. It will give you all the answers you seek.”
She instantly went back to shopping after giving her pep talk.
I closed my eyes for a second and felt the iciness of the cold weather piercing my thick layer of the jacket. I could sense the adrenaline rush skimming the surface of my skin. I could listen to the fall and rise of my heart beats. I felt uneasy entering the new city but in the next second a chilly gust of breeze skimmed my face, beholding an unfamiliar yet friendly fragrance and giving away the answer in one word, that I had been unintentionally searching since the beginning of the journey.
STAY was what my heart echoed.
It was as if Misha was speaking to me through my heart… …and that brought instant tranquillity on my face.
Delaying my intention to get in the bus in the hope for an SUV option ride while evading the social connect, I ended up sitting in the last seat of the minibus. By the time the SUV arrived, it was packed with inventories for the trek and the seats in the minibus had already been occupied by others.
As I entered the bus, I met eyes with every member of the trek group. It was the most diverse group I had ever been a part of; ages stretching from the 20s to late 50s; a fine balance in gender and relationships; a duo of daughter-father, lovers, childhood friends and just-formed buddies. As I listlessly made my way to the last seat, I kept on analyzing the stories that lay hidden behind those unknown smiling faces.
Maybe it was just me trying to find some similarities in their stories with mine; either in full or in bits and pieces.
Maybe it was how I tried to fit myself in by turning deaf to my unique individuality while camouflaging beneath the acceptable norms of the group.
Why do we need to search for approval of ourselves in the eyes of others even though no one is asking us to do so?
Why can’t being just who you are is enough for yourself?
There are questions we ask ourselves to which we never really want to have the answers.
“Why am I here?”, I allowed my mind to barrage me numerous other questions as why am I on this bus traveling with strangers seeking adventure to climb a freaking mountain with snow on it? And my heart answered,
“It’s not the people, it’s never the situation, or anything else; it is just who you are.
It’s whether your wings dare to fly across the unruly winds of your thoughts.”
The mini-bus began the 10-hour journey through the serpentine roads that spiraled around the mountains towards the base camp village: Sankri. As I looked outside the window, the turbulent mind, filled with self-doubts and incongruous apprehensions vanished away. It was the air that flowed in that atmosphere had a certain magical power to instantly make us fall in love with the place. The greenery around the valley assured us that majestic moments were in store for us. The river flowing down the gorge reverted with a promise of sharing with us the exquisite experiences of a lifetime.
“Hey! You are into photography?”, a guy same age as mine drew my attention. Sitting diagonally across me, he gave away a curious gleam to my dangling camera pouch. The way his voice squeaked, it reflected an affectionate tinge of respectfulness wrapped in the words that had the power to draw you towards his innocence and caring attitude.
I too noticed the camera on him which looked suspiciously similar to mine. He turned around and smiled as we exchanged the non-verbal confirmation of having the same make and model of the camera. He introduced himself as Akshay. This would be an easy name to remember, I had this foolish thought as we continued our conversation. Akshay had been doing photography for a couple of years now while I just borrowed this camera from Misha.
“Go capture some memories.”, Misha’s statement jumbled in my mind as I continued to have a conversation with Akshay. I talked to him a bit more before we resumed looking out of the window in search of our respective cosmic contemplation.
Sometimes all we need is just a vague erratic topic to talk about to break the ice of awkwardness. That is how a simple bond is forged that continues to transform into an unforgettable connection for the future.
“Who knows the answer to the next question?”, the teacher asked still busy looking at the textbook.
I immediately raised my hand as I had solved this question last night. I was waiting for the teacher to see me and as his gaze began to divert from the textbook to the class, I realized that only I had my hand up. In those mini-seconds from raising my hand to the time the teacher’s gaze fell on the class I had reverted my hand. I was afraid of something. Maybe it was the fear of being wrong or maybe it was the fear of being judged but there was a fear buried deep within me.
“Yes, Neil. What’s is the answer?” I was confused about how the teacher knew it was me who raised the hand when I realized that my hand was again high up in the air. Only this time the boy sitting beside me was hosting it upward for the teacher to see me.
I glared at him for unmasking my camouflage while he just gave me a thumbs-up.
This was the start of a chapter of an endless friendship that percolated from the candidness of schooldays and has till date survived the wrath of the manipulative corporate world.
The bus staggered to stop, drawing me back from my memories.
“This is the last trail of Yamuna river that you would witness en-route. So, you can spend some time if you want” the driver announced.
The second largest tributary of Ganga glistened under the morning sun as it glided over the rocky bed towards the vastness of its stream. Every one of us walked down to the shore that was lined non-uniformly with rows of pebbles of different shapes, sizes, and colors. Along with those stationary rocks, we stood watching the Yamuna as it slid past us, smiling with its greenish blue color while embracing in itself the colossal of the lifeline forest surrounding us and reflecting the expanse of the incessant sky.
We all sat along the riverbank in the same small groups in which we had arrived. I perched on a rock that lay partially submerged in the river. Removing my shoes, I placed my feet in the fresh but cold water. I savored the fleeting warmness of the sun as my toes touched the surface of the river and as I moved them inside, the warmth transited to the pleasant coolness of the brisk breeze. It was as if the river was touching my soul with the enormity of the universe enveloped within itself, assuring me that it was alright if I came out of my shell…that it was okay to feel vulnerable…that it was fine if I was just me…
I looked at my reflection that swayed on its surface and noticed another image wobbling near me with the ripples of the river. I was a bit surprised to find him standing silently a few steps away from me and watching intently into his reflection. He was the most amiable person in our lot, wearing always a genuine welcoming shine on his face. A young AIIMS doctor by profession and a true wanderer turned veteran trekker by passion, Asif had already made a place for himself in the hearts of almost all the members of the group. I envied his easy-going personality but on the other hand, adored his love and inclination towards his passion.
Watching him standing silently, aloof from the group, even for a few minutes, made me realize that I was not the only one lost in the enjoying the moment while searching within me for the answer to the unknown. We all are working to make a place for ourselves so that even being a millisecond in the billion years old universe, we may be remembered for an extra second in this world; just a second longer for the person who we are after we pass away.
“Hey Asif and Neil, look here,” Akshay called us, peering through the lens of his DSLR.
“Wait for me.” Naman hobbled towards us
A perfect imperfect picture of three of us, lost in our own space, connected to each other by destiny and relishing the moment in the candid laughter. Little did I know it was the beginning of my most memorable journey and formation of true friendships. The phone vibrated as the screen came alive to the message from Dee Kay. I smiled as I read his message.
“Enjoy the trip, Bawa. And remember to come back alive.”
The bus gradually made it’s way deeper into the lap of the mountains, providing us with momentarily glimpses of the snow-clad Himalayan faraway peaks. With soulful music effusing inside the bus, our hearts founded harmony with the enigmatic beauty of the tortuous path around the mountains. I looked inside and at that moment felt an uncanny unsaid connection with everyone present inside. We were like those pearl beads of different shapes and colors that were linked to one another with a single thread, i.e. love for mountains. I smiled at my own thoughts.
“Congrats on 2500 followers, Bawa.”
My cell phone blinked with a message from Dee Kay. It had been a year since I came across him accidentally on a WordPress blogging platform. He guided me with the nuances of the technicalities in setting up a website so that my words don’t go unheard.
I have always made friends in the most unexpected situations and this was no different. We soon started to work together, proliferating the website with stories of ours and other creative souls like us and thus The Floating Thoughts came into existence.
“Congrats to you too brother. How is the final chapter coming up for the novel?” I replied
“Fucker! Why do you think I am pushing you to go on this trek? Thank God Misha is on my side. Bring back some inspiration from mountains. We need to complete our novel.” He called me up and reminded me of my higher purpose.
“I don’t know if I am up to the right thing? I am better around my laptop than around people.” my apprehensions clouded my mind.
“SO?” he continued.
“Your words are what gives you the ability to fly while the mountain provides you with the winds on which you sail. At the end of the day, you have to do you, before you do what the world wants you to do, and trust me brother your heart knows what it needs to do. So, just follow it to the mountains and FUCKING FLY.” He shouted the last two words making me crack up.
The sky metamorphosed by bursting in the vermillion hues of twilight. I didn’t even realize that we were about to reach our base camp. A lot happened in that span of a few hours. From breakfast to lunch, the initial ice of alienation started to melt away, solidifying all the strangers under one purpose, irrespective of age boundaries and background limits.
I didn’t even realize when the sun went on to light up the other part of the world after bidding our side goodbye just after we reached the small guest house in the village Sankri. We all rushed out of the confinement to the open space outside. I stretched the limbs while inspecting the hotel’s structure. A typical mountain hotel with the entrance towards the road while it is running down the mountainside.
“Welcome to Trek The Himalayas.” The head trek leader greeted us as we took seats in the lobby.
“My name is Happy. Along with me are Mahavir, Ram, and Jassi. We are your team members, guides and family for the next few days.”
“and this group of adventurers will be called???” He signaled, prompting us to choose a name for the group.
“Sweet Sixteen…” one of the ladies sitting in the front spoke with a tinge of hesitation. Everybody burst into laughter, finally agreeing in unison that it was the best name for us.
Sweet Sixteen was just perfect. We were sixteen members, many of us novice to a Himalayan trek experience. We had our own reasons to come search for answers in the wilderness. A bit of uncertainty, a chunk of madness and a lot of confusion are what that make the sixteen sweeter and we all had that within us. Fears have their own sense of bringing people together. Alone you are sacred but together the group can stand brave.
“You mind if I join you all” a girl from the group called us from behind as I made for an evening stroll with Akshay, Asif, and Naman through the muddy lanes of the village. She introduced herself with a bright smile: Janess. I don’t know why but there was a hint of sadness in her smile while the positivity around her aura hid it well.
The dark night gathered its blackness and spread it across the scenery and in that darkness, the whole village came to life. The distance flickering lights of those small towns in the heart of the mountain resembled nothing but the night sky above with all its glorious stars. There was a strange calmness to the whole surrounding as I stared at the light, miles apart, in the dark galaxy of the mountain. Five of us slowly made our way under the diffusive dusk, languidly taking each step. Those slow steps gave room for a variety of conversations, bringing us together amidst the mystical ambiance of the mountains. I wonder how much history have those centuries-old pile of rocks encapsulated within themselves while they unknowingly unfolded our hidden stories without even trying.
The writer within me got some inspiration as the overflowing emotions finally found a dam to restrict them. As I lay on the bed after having a hot dinner in the frigid cold night, I began to contemplate whether it is worth all this discomfort and pain. This is still a hotel room while the trek would be taking us over those hard rocky mountains. I don’t know whether I am going to accommodate the loss of leisure and the pain of sleeping in a bag for the next 5 days. I am not even in my best shape and it’s been months since I last went on a run or hit the gym. With that thought in my mind, I let sleep take over me.
“Dreams keep our sanity intact. Without dreams, there is no purpose. Devoid of purpose, you lose your story.”
I heard the office janitor reading aloud from a crumpled piece of paper as I passed by him.
The words seemed familiar. I stopped and looked at him.
He handed me the paper saying in his elderly slurry voice,
“You forgot to add fears. Fears help us keep your story safe. Without fears you won’t put up a fight for your stories for the stories are what define the real you.”
“you write well Master Neil. I have read all your torn pieces and crumpled pages. Never lose faith in your story. God bless you son.” He left me in shock and surprise.
How well he knew me…better than I ever knew myself.
Maybe sometimes you need others to tell you who you are.
Maybe sometimes your uniqueness stays mundane until iterated out loud.
I woke up from the flashes of positive memories only to find myself in an empty room. There were things that I need to sort out while there were things that need me to get sorted out first. I shook my head and rushed through the morning routine to make my way to the lobby of the guest house.
Standing in the balcony of the guest house that protruded from the main lobby, I stood to witness the magnanimity of the formidable snow-capped Himalayas in front of me. They looked down at me with the purity of the whitish snow and the fortitude of the golden rays of the sun.
And I stared at them with stubbornness to conquer my fears and firmness to live my story as I questioned my own fear for the first time.
Have you ever stared right into the core of your fears and felt an innate sense of satisfaction?
Have you ever dared to write the story that you have always lived in your dreams?
Have you ever fluttered your impulsive wings for ascending towards the wayward winds?
Well, I am going to and trust me it is the best moment you can ever experience.
I looked at those great mountain ranges one more time as my gaze turned into stares.
“I will see you at the summit”, I whispered as my lips curled up to a decisive smile to those snow-capped mountains while a burst of cold gusts caressed my skin.
“Neil…bro…let’s go… it’s time” Asif called from the exit of the hotel.
I picked up my rucksack, wore my shades and with confidence to meet the promise turned away from the balcony only to face the mountains in the end.
Asif, Akshay, Naman, and Janess smiled at me as I joined them…
…and thus, our Trek began…
इस छोटी सी ज़िन्दगी का मतलब समझ रहा हूं मैं।
जिस ज़िन्दगी में लम्हे तो है कम,
पर उन लम्हों में खुशहाली कैद कर रहा हूं मैं।
जब कोई पूछे मेरे बारे में तोह कह देना की
सफरनामा लिख रहा हूँ मैं।
to be continued…
Episode-end Poetry taken from the anthology of Safarnama by Akshay Deora
To READ EPISODE #1: click here
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