Filled with my parent’s memories in this place, we threw ourselves forward with new vigour coursing our veins. We scrounged through wild bushes, scampered over fallen trees, swung on low hung vines and jumped down rock ravines. Finally we reached the base of the bare cliff that we had to traverse and climb to reach the cave. The sun was about to set across the plateau below us as we climbed. The problem with the wild? There are too many other high mountains. So the sun sets pretty fast. In other words, we were losing light. And losing light on a cliff meant you were stuck. No going ahead, no going back. Stay put or plummet to your death. And the problem with this cliff? It was a straight 90° fall. The winds were so strong that they could pluck you off your rock, and watch you flailing your arms wildly in an attempt to fly. And it wouldn’t be a quick death either. Nope. That wasn’t much fun, was it? You would probably smash into the cliff a few times. Your voice would be stolen and harassed by the winds. And just when you were on the verge of either losing your energy or losing your consciousness, you would go ker-splat. So no, the only option was to forge ahead and reach the cave. Shivering with this fear, we began our ascent. Well, to be truthful I wasn’t shivering. The new-guy with us. He was scared right out of his wits. Off his rockers. Completely bonkers. It was amusing to see him like that, though I was cruel to be amused at his expense. Just because I didn’t fear heights didn’t mean anyone else shouldn’t. Besides, it was quite a valid fear. And the height at which we were? Dang, it was a VERY valid fear. Coaxing out words of encouragement, we snailed right to the top. But before the cave came the real challenge. There was a black stump of a tree leaning casually on the cliff. It was balanced on the very edge of an outcropping ledge. The amazing part? It had these stump-like projections. Like steps. Like one of those knotted ropes. Only, this was a tree. And it was naturally like that. Apparently, it had been that was ever since dad trekked this place. And before that. And before that. I wondered how long it could hold up, and how long our luck would hold out. Oh and if any of those stumps fell apart I would fall and fall apart too. Yep. Let’s climb this thing. It’s completely safe. So we climbed it. I could feel the branch rolling below me on it’s single axis. Yep. It was not going to lose it’s balance. I kept climbing till I reached footsteps. Yeah, footsteps right in the middle of a cliff. And if they could carve them up there they couldn’t do it before could they? But oh no. You had to climb a ballet-performing wooden branch. Anyway, the steps were roughly carved into the rock like huge niches. They led to the cave. Did I mention that the cave was actually a temple to the god Bhairavnath? That’s the explanation to the steps. Reaching the cave was such a relief that I trudged forward, kept my bag down and sat down to await the others.
“Alice: How long is forever?
White Rabbit: Sometimes, just one second.”
– Lewis Carroll
Alice in Wonderland is befuddling many times, but sometimes it just makes so much sense…
My mother had been to the same trek twice before. Once before meeting my dad and once with my dad. An example that my mother often quoted as an example of a good relationship was her own. Apparently, no one in their entire trekking group knew they were dating until they themselves revealed it after a few years. And when they did reveal it, everyone was more or less flabbergasted. Now, I have no claim over this story and do not vouch for its truth but damn discreet eh? Anyhow, she says that’s how a good couple must behave in a crowd- discreet. Not jumping on each other like a hormone-crazed love-starved pack of hyenas. Point being, I had never heard of any story whatsoever where they displayed any PDA. Before going into the story, I want to describe the kind of setting that I am imagining here. Despite being there, I had to imagine it too. You see those 6 feet tall stalks that crowded this part of the mountain were called ‘karvi’ in Marathi. They were special because of their blooming. They bloomed only once every seven years. Otherwise they were just that, stalks. But when in full bloom they were blossoming pink and purple, turning the entire mountain purple. The Nilgiri range of India gained their name due to these flowers, not because of the eucalyptus (nilgiri) trees as is often assumed. When these flowers bloom every seven years they turn the entire mountain purple, or blue as it seems from a distance. Thus, nil=blue and giri=mountain. Anyhow, for you westerners- can you imagine a cherry blossom? Then imagine purple flowers carpeting the ground and falling off stalks like cherry blossoms. And dear Indians, do the same for Gulmohar. But the cherry blossom and Gulmohar are trees. These karvi stalks bent over the foot trail in a canopy so that they were literally walking in a purple tunnel that showered them with purple blessings. So, in that kind of a setting with a cool breeze blowing my mom dad held hands and walked. Yeah, my dear new generation it may not seem like a lot to hold hands and walk. But close your eyes and imagine again. The beautiful setting and my dating parents walking hand in hand. Apart from that, it was a chance that never came again. Since then, they haven’t had such a chance again. Never seen a full bloom again. And never walked that walk again.
We went forward. We backtracked our way. We tried a new way. We sent my father as a scout to go and find a route. We tried all directions. We climbed the top of the fort and tried to orient the directions again. It was then that we realized the path we were supposed to take and the mistake we had made. And every direction we went, we found cliffs. But never matter, we decided to sit down and calm ourselves. Now what were our options? We could either go back all the way we had come and go the right way. Pros? We would reach the temple-cave for sure. Cons? We would never reach in time. There was this dangerous rock patch that couldn’t be traversed without light, so the cons outweighed the pros. The other option was to scout around more. There was certainly a way to go down to the temple-cave. If you could come up from there, you could certainly go down from here! Pros? If we found the way we would reach faster. If we didn’t find the way then we knew we could camp near the ‘tankis’ and be safe. Cons? It would take time to scout, and maybe a lot of climbs and slippery slopes. Being who we are, we chose the second path. Most of us sat down where we were instead of wandering around and wasting energy. My dad, trekker uncle, and my mom went scouting. My sister sat down next to me on a rock outcropping in the middle of the yellow field. She had been jumping around and complaining about all kinds of weird things that were pricking and poking her alone. But now, tired, she sat with me and we shared a silent moment.
Suddenly, I heard a muffled ‘AYEO!’ This was the imperative cry that we used to locate each other, and estimate how far away the person might be. This cry was my dad’s and came from our right. We all jumped to our feet, hoisted our bags and half dragged, half carried his 15kg backpack. He had found the way that was to lead us back. And then he gave this weird smile to my mom. I couldn’t fathom one percent of it, and I didn’t think I would want to know. It felt pretty personal. So we moved ahead anyway. We had to hack through a lot of wild weeds and grass. Don’t let that let you think of tiny little things that must be uprooted. These gigantic monstrosities were as high as me and there were fields and fields of these! My sister kept jumping up every time her ‘weird things’ pricked her, but more or less we reached a green wood. On both the sides of us, however, there were no trees. They weren’t shrubs either. They were these tall sticks with a few odd leaves sticking out. I asked my mom what they were and a surprising story unfolded.