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.
EPISODE #1: click here
EPISODE #2: click here
a Himalayan Trek Series
Episode #3: The Strangers Tribe
PRESENTED BY ROY & DEE KAY
Often people say us to be brave enough to take the first step towards our dreams. Never have we ever questioned the fact that what if we can’t make the last few steps to our destiny. We are living on the implicit notion that once we start our journey we are going to traverse the entire length till the end. Is it really true?
I reached the Kedarkantha Camp #2 adorned with an array of bluish small tents amidst the white endless expanse of the snow desert. The tumultuous rays of the sun struggled with the hindering layers of clouds before darting onto the smooth glossy snowy surface, releasing a fragrance of the perennial shrubs that lay buried under it. The tall pine trees encircled the snow-laden flatland, secreting away a haven from the unearthly habitat of the wilderness in those snow-capped mountains.
Brushing my heart with a tinge of fear from a palette of awe, I entered the enigmatic exquisiteness of the scenic beauty that awaited to bless us with open arms. I stood at the center of the huge bowl of land and looked at the sky. I closed my eyes to feel the heat of the receding afternoon over my face while sensing the frigidness of the snow to catch up with me as it numbed my toes and fingers.
It had been over thirty hours away from civilization and into the lap of mountains, as I prepared myself to spend another night under the scintillating starry skies. With every passing multitude of moments in those many hours, I was losing bit by bit my known-self only to find a lot about my unknown-self. With every foot ascending on those mountains, I was rising from the cacophonies of my chaotic thoughts into a realm of lucid, transparent and expressive emotions. I was able to put words and meaning to those emotions that once had befuddled me with its complexities. My heart gradually accepted that my flaws were no less important than my strengths for realizing my dedication towards my commitment. On the other hand, my body acclimatized with the different weather conditions, promising to be with me throughout the journey.
I knew that there were an additional 4500 feet steep trek to the summit yet the hiking and camping over the last one day had piqued some out of tune cords of my personality. I wanted to relish every passing second that I spend in those mountains and so as I stood at the camp with eyes closed and face towards the universe, the fresh vivid memories started to ricochet through my mind.
**** 1000 ft to Camp #1 ****
I felt the weight of my heavy rucksack as I stepped on to the muddy patch of trail, behind fifteen of my groupmates; few of whom I knew by now while the others were still under my reading radar. I read people just like I flip through the pages of the novel. Sometimes I know them before they speak while sometimes all I want to is listen to them. It’s not that I do it intentionally rather it is impulsive process and happens just like a reflex.
Maybe it is how my mind predicts if I can find acceptance in others. And to be honest, it never has predicted in my favor.
“Don’t worry. I won’t let u stumble”, Asif helped a woman as she slipped over a damp pebble while walking just ahead of me.
She had a small daypack on her, unlike our heavy backpacks. Her friend, Deepali, treaded through the track, making sure that Mittal was following her. Both of them, were in their mid-thirties and I could see the lifetime bond of friendship between them that superseded even the sisterhood. I knew Mittal came on this trek for the first time ever. Maybe it was some secret to-do-list for them. But I was mesmerized by her sheer will to keep moving on irrespective of her floundering steps.
“Neil!” someone shouted from ahead and I looked up to see Naman smiling at me from the front of the group.
“Is your rucksack too heavy or you have already given up?” he chuckled
“Watch me” I hollered from behind to which Mittal smiled at me giving me a pass past her.
Mittal, her innocent smile and soft voice, appeared as serene as the calm winds that gust through those valleys. I looked at her and kept following her. I knew my speed was way slower than I was capable of. Yet walking beside her gave me the much-needed courage to look past my need for finding a sanctuary in other’s opinions.
It’s alright if you stumble, for getting up after a fall makes the next step ahead, all worth.
“Neil!”, I heard someone as his voice brought me back from the thoughts of this wandering soul. Then I heard a few clicks and to my surprise, Akshay had snapped a couple of candid photos of me.
“Wait for me!”, Janess came hurdling towards me while Akshay was ready with his camera to capture the two of us. I managed to smile as she came close while my thoughts were lost in the serenity of those ancient mountains.
I could feel the warmth of veiled independence in her as Janess held the lapel of my jacket while posing for the lens. Her childlike beaming eyes unlocked parts of my lost childhood within me. She seemed happy in her own world and I felt lucky to be a fleeting moment in hers.
Away from the ruckus of the society, I was developing the elemental humane connections in that seclusion ; connections that were in return leashing my tamed thoughts.
To domesticate your thoughts is to restrain your lingering remanents of childhood within you.
“Now that’s a good pic……”, Akshay said looking at the photo as Janess approached him to check his facts.
I kept looking at them, wondering, how did we all manage to be here in this moment when just days ago we were nothing more than strangers without the knowledge of each other’s existence yet the universe found a way to collect so many souls to connect miles away from civilization.
****500 feet to Camp #1****
“You seems to be awfully quiet.”, Janess pointed out the obvious trait of an introvert.
“I take some sweet time to warm up.”, I said without trying to be funny though she laughed a bit.
“I guess you will need to start few fires in this cold weather.”, she clucked at her own joke as she walks past me.
I smiled at the silliness of my words and then the reply she gave. I might not say that I have seen a lot in my life but I do know how harsh life can be, and that is a sensible way to put it. The way she carries herself is what tells so much about her yet she never ceases to keep her world under-wraps. She only lets out how much she wants to but then I have never been a person who would get into someone’s personal space, intentionally.
“Hey! Mister…… Are you going to catch up or not?”, she said as she hurled her hand trying to make me walk a bit faster. I smiled as I picked up some pace.
‘I think she is trying to warm me up.’ I thought and this made me laugh a bit. I surely am picking up a few things on this trek.
“Why did you come on the trek?”, I asked her as she looked at me like I was supposed to know the answer to this question. I gave her a confused look so she just spread her arms and said,
“Look around you and you will know why any of us came on this trek.”
I smiled, as I knew what she meant but what was more fun was to see the way she answered it while stretching her small arms wide apart. At that moment, I could see a few cracks in the walls around her as only two types of people are called by the mountains: the broken and the healed. I guess I knew her type.
The unceasing silence in that cold desert was like comforting music to calm the unrest souls of the mortals. Occasionally coupled with the deep rasping tone of the ravens encircling us from above and the whooping of the soft icy breeze through us, the sounds complemented the slow rustle of the heavy branches of the centuries-old pine trees.
“Daddy! drink this lukewarm water and get some rest. You seem tired.” I watched Sahana as she handed her father the bottle with utmost sweetness in her voice and care in her eyes.
She was in her mid-twenties, yet acted like an old mature soul around her father. The affectionate connect that she had with her dad melted my heart instantly, making me miss my home.
Human relations are unique in their own ways yet identical in the core, which is only made of LOVE.
Her father, Suresh sir, became an icon of motivation the moment he stepped in our group for this trek. Our group was fortunate to find the youngest heart among us as we started our trek celebrating his 60th birthday. Humility is what I personify when I talk to him and Spirit of Steel is what I witness when I watch him walking with us.
Sahana turned towards me and gave away a smile to my nod.
I could not help to grin about the first conversation that we had had over our camp #1.
****at Camp #1****
“It is not S’o’hana. It’s S-A-H-A-N-A”, she glared at me as if I had committed a huge crime by pronouncing her name incorrectly.
I was taken aback into confusion whether to ignore or apologize to her. I resorted to a brief nod and that is what became our own language to which she flashed a forgiving smile.
We reached our first base camp, that was around 7500 feet above sea level. It wasn’t the camp that was planned as per the itinerary rather an emergency transient site to battle with the heavy snowfall. It had been snowing for last few weeks and so the original schedule had to be modified for the previous trek groups. To give you a picture of it, let me tell you that the first camp should have been at the height of 8800 feet “Juda ka Talab” which now transformed as the summit for the trek groups previous to ours. We were at the mercy of the weather in the mountains if we wanted to see the end till the summit of 12500 feet.
“Are we planning for the summit, Happy?” , Asif asked the trek leader as he entered the common tent where we were having hot lunch after the tiring three hours trek.
Asif had summited a few peaks earlier and had been quite hopeful of not returning back without kissing the peak of Kedarkantha.
“Weather in the mountains is a tricky game. As it is said Mumbai’s rain and Mountains’ weather can never be predicted.” Happy exited the conversation with his evading diplomatic yet a realistic reply.
All of us were exhausted from assembling our tents and unpacking our rucksacks. A few moments ago, we have been throwing snowballs at each other; laughing and running around; capturing the best selfies out of our cameras and cell phones; stealing away the enthralling beauty of the nature that enwrapped us.
As the powdered snow fell outside and solidified over the existing ones, the iciness of the strangeness among us melted away into the warmth of nascent friendship.
“Bro! Let’s play Mafia”, Viggi, a guy in his mid-twenties, whom I had mistaken for being a Youtuber, seeing his Go pro camera skills, proposed. All of a sudden, a wave of excitement passed through everyone’s face and a sea of confusion drowned me.
I had no clue what this Mafia game was about and felt out of place and my introversion started to crawl back from its dormancy. I watched him as he explained the rules and Sahana and Nisha jumped in right away.
“Nisha”- You will get to know more of her. For now, just remember her as “the girl with the most beautiful smile.”
Anish, her boyfriend watched her enthusiasm and childlike excitement with goofy eyes.
Once the rules were explained and the names of everyone was memorized by one another, Nisha took the lead and started the game.
I am not going to tell you what type of game MAFIA is, only that it is super fun and the best way to make friends for life out of random strangers in the mountains. If you want to know more, take a trip to the mountains with strangers.
We were so lost in the game that we could be heard shouting at the top of our voices, accusing each other of being THE MAFIA while defending us from not being the one. We didn’t even realize how soon we found a friend in the other. I was amazed to see how I unknowingly encountered the process of ecdysis from introversion to ambiversion.
Afternoon scurried into twilight and the cloudy skies burst into raindrops, metamorphosing instantly into snowflakes reaching us. We rushed out, hurriedly putting on our shoes, for the most beautiful snowfall.
It was for the first time I stood under the snow as it fell over me in the form of cold and soft white powdery crystals. The sun-kissed branches of the pine trees were painted in the hues of golden as the sunlight retreated from over them, leaving them with the thin layer of snow outlining their rims.
I looked at the far away snow-capped mountains under the shower of snow, with my arms wide apart as if to embrace the boundless beauty of nature in me so that I could securely save that experience in my memories.
“I feel your breath with every flake of snow that caresses my surface” I spoke silently to those mountains.
“In a way, we are connected now” I smiled to my thoughts.
All of a sudden, I felt a blow to my back, leaving away dampness on my jacket and soft push that almost made me slip. I turned to find Asif, Gautam and Viggi standing with big balls of smalls of snowballs in their hands and me as their poor prey. And that is how it started. The bonds of brotherhood forged in the iciness of the snow.
“Did you take the meds I gave you?”, Asif’s voice brought me back from the camp 1 memories to the present reality of camp 2.
I had almost forgotten about my wrist injury during our snowball battle, last evening. I nodded as he examined my injured hand with dexterity of a doctor, which he is in reality.
“The swelling is still there but it will go away with time. Just don’t exert any weight on it. Understood?”, the last word came with an extra emphasis as I smiled and agreed.
It is funny how I had to come so many feet above sea level to get a feel of what it intuits to have an elder brother or a stranger who takes care of you like an elder brother. Ever since I got hurt he has been constantly looking after me.
Maybe this is what being in a tribe is like that even the weakest is being taken into account. The Sweet Sixteen Tribe.
“Not the weakest, though just injured.”, I said to myself.
“Let’s not just stand here and act all philosophical. We should go for lunch.”, Asif said as we moved towards the dinning camp.
“Heya Bro! I saved you a seat” Gau grinned at me, indicating a place beside him; a comfy couch made of sleeping bag and thermals. I was the last one to enter and became center of attraction in an instant amidst the smile and hoots of everyone.
Until few days, before the trek, smile for me was synonymous to sarcasm, wherein at that moment I could see an entirely different meaning to it as those stranger-turned-friends faces welcomed with hearts on their sleeves.
Gautam, an engineer same as me, mauled by the burden of corporate life and burdened by hidden emotions, found his solace in words. That was just the instant connect for us. WORDS.
I stepped towards the seat, displaying him the peace sign, a universal code for brotherhood, while fading back to camp #1 memories.
***** Base Camp #1*****
The thunders accompanied the splashes from the heavens as the evening drifted into the night, making us finally call it a day. I wasn’t sure what to expect from the next day as I mentally took note of how much the temperature had taken a dip. I am sure tomorrow it would snow heavily just like a previous couple of days. Maybe we won’t even get to make the summit if this weather pattern continued and frankly, I wouldn’t even complain. I readily prepared the sleeping bag for the much-needed rest after a long day of trekking.
“Holy mother of FUCK……”, I couldn’t help screaming as I slipped inside the sleeping bag that seemed more like an ice slab than a bag meant to sleep. Nature has its way of deducing humor from the least humorous persons like me. As the words left my mouth in the silent snowy and rainy sky, it reverberated in the pauses of the thunderous snowy night.
“Ohho Brother. Great thoughts.”, I heard Gautam shout back from an adjacent tent
“and we thought he doesn’t have things to say.”, Akshay screamed.
“Except for fuck…”, a couple of more people joined in as the valley echoed with laughter. We finally ended our rage of laughter as finally, sleep took over us.
The raging night gave into a pleasant morning, enveloping the land in another dense layer of snow.
“We will leave after breakfast, OKAY?”, Mahavir shouted to make sure everyone heard him though I was pretty sure most just ignored because that’s what people do.
I hurried towards the portable washroom to get the day started only to be welcomed by the men already there.
“Look who’s here!”, Gau mocked as I shook my head, for my fellow trekkers just won’t let go of what happened last night.
“Holy mother of……..?”, Akshay joined in the mocking as he tried to make me repeat it once again.
“FUCK”, Naman and Asif completed the sentence for me. I laughed and proudly gave them a middle finger in reply.
Cuss words are the only ways how guys bond. This is one primitive tradition that men could never escape from.
“Someone has a potty mouth.”, Janess added her statement.
“At least it was better than the bear’s snore.”, Asif said making Janess embarrass a bit and turn red like an apple.
“Btw how did you sleep?”, Gau asked me as he waited for my reply only to be interrupted by Asif.
“Oye! Don’t even think about washing your face. Just wet the towel and use it like me.”, Asif shouted as all of us looked towards Anish and Nisha who had their pack full of face wash and other things.
“Who even wash their face in the wild?”, Asif said looking at the young couple.
“Only those who are not wild.”, Janess gave a quick rebuttal.
“It’s minus 20 degree and as per science it’s pretty unusual for germs to even survive.”, he paused and then continued.
“Also I am a doctor, darling and moreover I have done this too many times to not do this shit over and over again.”, he said before walking away after his drop-the-mic comment to which Anish and others just couldn’t control their laughter.
Just as Naman proudly declined to brush his teeth yet to his surprise most of us were already doing the deed. He shook his head in disapproval while we suffered the wrath of the cold water.
I never realized how such insignificant acts as washing the face in the mountains seem like a herculean task.
“Guys! Lunch is ready. Hop on!” Jassi, the youngest member from the crew of Trek The Himalayas called on us, bringing my attention back to the warm and cozy ambiance in the tent amidst the glittering blanket of snow.
“Pass me the plate, Neil?”, Nisha asked as she and Anish sat opposite me.
Nisha and Anish. Even the name sounded heavenly matched just like their relationship. I kept thinking how by taking away the ‘A’ from ANISH and placing it behind other letters, Anish can find his NISH-A. It is as if he just needs to look behind and find her as his soulmate waiting for him or she just needs to take a step ahead and find him waiting for her since eternity.
I smiled away, handing the plate while recollecting how I unknowingly stepped into their world.
***** 1 hour to Camp #2 *****
“Can I have some water?”, Nisha asked Anish as I took a seat a bit away from them while the group took a break on our way to camp 2. I too took my bottle out as I gulped the precious liquid. Though the temperature was low still dehydration was an issue if not taken proper care.
“Hey, Neil! Want to have a bite?”, Nisha asked as she offered me a chocolate bar. I politely declined to which she smiled and I couldn’t stop myself from reciprocating. I looked at Anish who was still busy taking care of her but above all the way he looked at her showed more emotions than he would have ever expressed.
“Let’s go!”, Jassi shouted from the front. I put the cap back on my bottle as I pulled myself up.
My gaze went back towards them as he was putting the bottle back in her backpack when she started walking away. He pulled her back by holding the edge of her bag, which unbalanced her bit, but he was there to catch her.
As they say ‘Only make someone fall in love when you have the intention to catch them.’, and here I could see the intention as well as love. He caught her and she gave him a fake angry look before they both burst into laughter as they made another small memory.
“Hey Akshay, let’s hear something out from you bag of poems…The Shayar of our group”, Anish encouraged him as we all were aware of how meaningful his words sounded, giving us the necessary boost of inspiration.
I looked around me, in that tent and found those faces to be no more strangers. I seemed to have known each one of them since the time had been ageless. I saw them beaming with happiness that bore out of pristine love. The love that once took its inception for mountains now was shared among all of us.
In that tough climatic conditions, we found resilience in our togetherness.
In that disconnect from the culture, we found our own family in the other.
In that formidable unruly terrains, we found our safe haven.
As Akshay read those words from his anthology of poems, Safarnama, I could envision the starry skies sheathing us with their twilight and the bonds among us entwining us with one another’s destiny. At least now we were in a few pages of one another’s story books, as the Tribe of Sweet Sixteen of Kedarkantha.
शाम को घर लौटते उन चेहरों में खुशी देख रहा हूं मैं।
मूंद ली थी जो आंखें तेज़ किरण में कभी,
अब छांव में उससे ही राह तलाश रहा हूं मैं।
जब कोई पूछे मेरे बारे में तो कह देना कि सफरनामा लिख रहा हूं मैं।
EPISODE #1: click here
EPISODE #2: click here
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