After having travelled expansively in Kashmir valley and then in Leh, for more than 14 days, my desire to trek on foot was getting irresistible. And this impending desire was getting even more adulterous with every dawn, when the sunbeams rushed to kiss the snow-clad peaks, making it a shine brightly in this undecorated land of bare beauty.
It seemed as if these towering peaks had been constantly teasing me of my insignificance amongst their mighty presence. And then ‘altitude sickness’ teamed up with this thought of unimportance, through fatigue and weakness to a feeling of ‘not fit for’ impression.
After a day full of activity, the hike to ‘Shanti Stupa’ was made optional, as many of us, including me, were still ailing with the symptoms of altitude sickness. The Stupa is located at Changspa, on the hilltop and is connected by a ‘motorable’ road and a steep flight of stairs. We were to scale it by taking the stairs, which was ought to be a tough climb.
"Shanti Stupa was built by the Japanese who harboured the ambition of spreading Buddhism across the world, in 1985 with aid from the Japanese Government. It was inaugurated by Dalai Lama in 1985. Unlike other structures like the monasteries/Gompas and palaces which has more of a Tibetan influence, this structure is different."
Since this yearning to accomplish these heights had reached its zenith, I thus challenged my spirit to take upon this quest.
Once we reached the foothill, I saw a white structure perched in the sky, stretching out towards the indigo sky and then the stairs that led to it. At once it looked easy so for a moment the thought of conquering it without any stops brushed my mind.
But since the trek has been very unpredictable from the beginning, I did shrug this thought off.
I began the ascent with the mantra of being slow and steady and a solitary aim of proving my inhibitions wrong.
After climbing 40 odd steps I was struggling for my breath. So I soon realised that it wasn’t going to be as easy as it appeared. While hiking a black-billed magpie flew right across me without any acknowledgement of my presence. As if this intruder had no real significance in its daily chores. And then I saw more of them hopping and flying from one stone to the other.
It was a sight to see!
All this while I kept pushing myself to keep climbing constantly, encouraging myself not to stop, in pursuit of happiness of a haughty ego!
Looking back I saw people trying to catch up with their breath which did appeal to me for a moment saying, I should stop too. But the voice in the head was too strong to let that happen. So with a sense of achievement I kept walking up the stairs.
With each step taken my legs were getting heavier, I was gasping for more air. My head was drooping, shoulders had dropped down and hands had reached out to my waist. And now I didn’t even wanted to turn back and look at my sense of accomplishment. I cribbed about the fact that this whole suffering was a choice I made.
Soon after few more steps I realised I needed to stop.
I was panting heavily and my lungs were under immense pressure for that one last gasp pf breath.
And yes I did!
While I was struggling to breathe I saw an elderly ‘white’ couple begin their climb from where we had begun. I smiled with the thought of the time they would take to reach the summit or rather meeting them midway while I start my descent.
Soon with new found strength, to beat them in this quest, I began again with the thought of no-more-stops!
I soon realised I was wrong!
I stopped more than..hmm..I didn’t count. I couldn’t count. All I was trying to do was to breathe. The elderly couple..not only did they race ahead of me but they reached the Stupa without a single break!
‘Firangs!!’.. I mumbled!
Finally with innumerable breaks I finally managed to reach the summit. The elderly couple busy capturing the scenic beauty with their SLR passed a courteous smile as if acknowledging my feat. I did manage to smile back with a sense of achievement, so what if I reached after them. I reached! That itself was an achievement for me then.
Once on top, I saw an open quad from where I could look over the panoramic view of the chain of mountains. The peaceful little village of Changspa with typical Ladakhi houses built along a gushing stream, and the towering Namgyal Tsemo in the distance. I could see the ruins of Leh palace and the victory tower at a distance.
The splendid view from the top alone was well worth the effort.
So I took to the edge of the court and sat quietly to regain myself.
With the setting sun the view was pleasing and scenic!
I could witness the vastness that the mountains around me had in its span.
I could listen to the silence in the chilly wind cutting across me.
I could spot the shades of different colours in the contours of those peaks.
It gave me immense pleasure to look down from where we had begun our ascent; saw some of my buddies still hiking at their own sweet pace.
Looking at the azure sky I took this time to sit and listen to the voices that I normally don’t tend to listen to.
And soon white thoughts dotted the white expanse, edges frayed and drifting aimlessly.
Insubstantial thoughts of the past, glinting to get my undivided attention.
So I gazed upon the things the mind doesn’t forget, as if complaining, that I don’t take note of them.
Then a strong breeze tossed my thoughts around.
And after, all was calm again.
The past was blown away, and I was free.
A journey through 580 odd steps and I was free again!
And although this journey has ended, I'll never forget what I've learned along the way, or how I learned to take it day by day.
An egoistic soul..!!