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Dream chaser

High Altitude treks aren’t just for those who run every morning, eat healthy, and never wake up with a hangover. They’re for those who can hold on to a dream, reports Sukhwant Basra.

india Updated: Aug 09, 2009 00:58 IST
Sukhwant Basra

Wife’s pregnant”; “Going abroad for family get together”; “Changed jobs this year” … His initials are AK and he’s turned 37 this year. The years have piled on and so have my friend’s excuses. He’s the corporate type with the cubicle life of a rat and an overflowing bank account that he will never, ever be able to empty. For decades his dreams of going on a high-altitude trek stayed wafts of fantasy ripped by the whirl of life. Suddenly this year, AK-37 chose to fire.

This is the story of a 37-year-old suit-collar worker with a dodgy right knee (had an operation) who finally decided to go on a real trek. He does not run, does not exercise regularly.

He epitomises the regular 9-to-9 — life for far too many of us. Just that this one had a dream that he hung on to, which he would rekindle every drunk late night conversation, message every boring meeting while the boss droned on, and irritably mail whenever the wife bullied him into another tame family outing.

The Parvati-Pin walk is not the best initiation for a beginner. But the first time had to be a big bang lest the lust for more ebb for good — in adventure, bigger is always better. Being the more, ahem, experienced trekker, I felt responsible for AK. He was noncommittal on ability, I was sceptical about his. So with a flak jacket of ‘turn-back-when-you-can’t-walk’ I chose to thrust him into the Himalaya.

The boom of the Parvati river in its narrow gorge close to Khir Ganga is a thump that reverberates in your marrow. En route to its origin from Mantalai lake — a full four days trek away — it becomes part of one’s core, always there murmuring, alive — like a heartbeat. But here, right at the start of the trek, the river is a primordial beast — sinewy, startling, and phantasmal in its ferocity. The essence of the mountains floats up with the mist from the churn and froth below. It’s AK’s first taste of the great beyond — far, far more vivid than a seat in a car can ever offer. A lifetime removed from what the breadth of a picture can encompass. Between gasps and shaky footing compounded by plummeting rain, he grins ferocious. I know this one is hooked.

That’s pertinent for he’s going to need that enthusiasm to keep going. All treks begin and end in the head. Yes, they are long walks in trying terrain. In the upper reaches of the Himalaya, thinning air, dizzying climb and freezing wind chill compound matters, but all that is incidental. If you believe you can, you probably will.

For those not too fit — drinking nearly half a bottle a day in the weeks preceding the effort would put me firmly in that category — the first two days of these treks are a battle between sucking in air and maintaining footing as the legs threaten to fold with each careening downhill. It’s a painful plod wherein footfall follows footfall and the walking stick becomes a lifeline firmly planted in the ground when all else seems to be turning to jelly. AK managed. After the initial pain the body adapts and the vistas expand. The eye is soon seduced and the soul invigorated by breathing in the keen air that bears the promise of peaks beyond.

AK was doing fine by the time we reached Mantalai, suffering far less from altitude (by then roughly 4000m) than the far more experienced writer. I suspect he was grinning wide every time my splitting head was turned. It snowed at the lake — a rare occurrence in mid-June. It had, quite surprisingly, been snowing persistently over the last week.

The pass loomed ahead but far too snowed under to be safe despite our crampons and climbing ropes. Avalanches rumbled loud throughout the night and after a quick recce by the guide next morning, it was clear we were going no further.

“We have to come next year to finish this. I’ll apply for leave in January,” grumbled AK. Told you, he’s hooked.

The writer believes that an high altitude trek is the best detox and weight control programme. We suggest you take your Doc’s word on that.