People’s first taste of nature can sometimes be a negative experience. We tend to remember the bad times – when we were being bitten by a leech, scrambling through the muddy forest floors with sweat dripping uncomfortably from our bodies…. Rarely do we remember why we got out in the first place.
I was reminded of that when I spent 90 days in the Himalayas, a period that afforded many moments to think, reflect and wonder about a lot of things. Being among some of the world’s most towering mountains can, as I’ve learned, do a lot to a person and alter your life views.
In those three months, I traversed four mountainous states, climbed many mountains, and explored the remotest regions in the Himalayas. As a city dweller, I used to constantly fall into a deep psychoanalysis to ensure I had everything perfectly aligned – everything had to be practical, perfect and provide comfort. By the time I reached the foot of the majestic mountain range, all that didn’t matter anymore. Here are six lessons I learnt during what has proven to be a truly life-changing journey.
1. Go slow, go the distance
At 4,000- 5,000 metres above sea level and sub-zero temperatures, you’re fighting with a lot of things: Strong gusts of wind, biting cold, and your energy slipping while you aim to keep you going. Sometimes you don’t know if your body can take it and sometimes, you don’t feel that you’re brave enough to go all the way. While I was scaling one of the highest peaks, I couldn’t help but compare my climbing speed to the others and that wore me out. I couldn’t keep up; I just wanted to slow down and be honest enough to say “I will join you later”.
Similarly, in life, we all so often live in the shadow of others’ expectations and as soon as we do that, we lose the ability to think rationally. I didn’t want that. I wanted to keep going but at my own tempo without focusing too much on the destination but rather, on the choices that I have made along the journey.
2. You don’t need to have a lot to give
While climbing up the Chandrashila peak in Uttarakhand (northern India), my friend and I suffered snow blindness – that’s temporary loss of vision caused by bright sunlight and UV rays reflected off the snow. We were not prepared for it, and had little resources with us other than a tent. We had no clue how we would even map out our living logistics for the next 24 hours.
Our guide took over. He pitched our tents, then trekked to his village to grab blankets for us and even got his mother to cook for us besides treating our eyes with a turmeric mixture.
His family did not have a lot; they earned a living by through back-breaking labour and grazing livestock, yet they went out of their way to help us.
They were simple people living simple lives, but they had a lot of heart and compassion to offer us. My friend and I had planned to see it all and get from one place to the next as fast as possible, but none of those mattered in the end.
3. “I can” are words to live by
Climbing a mountain is no mean feat but descending can be even tougher. It’s easy to lose your cool when you come to a steep incline that you can only crawl through at best. At such heights and in the face of fear, our instincts are to protect ourselves and stay away from danger. The only way to overcome it, I told myself, was to face it head on. Before I knew it, I had made my way down. Telling myself “I can” worked in so many ways, and I often surprised myself with what it enabled me to achieve.
4. Be not afraid of moving slowly, only of standing still
Many times during the journey, I found myself in a state of obsession – I was obsessed with climbing that particular mountain which everyone talked out, obsessed with wanting to know more, feel more, see more and become more.
But the more I chased those, the more I rushed through the moments without appreciating being there. I didn’t stop long enough to learn about the people there and their way of life. That was the reason of the journey in the first place but I had forgotten as I obsessed over the other things.
If I could, I would retrace my steps and take my time. I would slow travel through the mountains and make it a point to form strong connections with the people and the places. I would gain more insight into their lives because I know that there are lessons that life cannot otherwise teach me.
5. Curiosity will take you places
In Uttarakhand, I made a 7KM trek and climbed a high rock, which brought me to a shrine dedicated to the Hindu goddess, Kali. I went out of my way to get there because I was told that a German woman has been living there, off the grid, for the last 25 years. We chatted in Hindi – she speaks it fluently – and the encounter left me awestruck.
She leads a very basic life, made no demands or had any expectations. It got me wondering about the choices that we make. What do we really want out of life? What I do know is that being curious can lead to some of the best discoveries you will remember for a long time.
6. Celebrate the little things
Standing face-to-face with the Himalayan mountains, you come to terms with the vast expanse of our earth. Camping at -30 degrees in the remote region of Zanskar in Ladakh, I decided to brave the cold and stepped outside of my tent. I stood there transfixed for a long time as I looked up at the stars. I could spot many constellations that I didn’t knew existed. It was soothing and downright inspiring to be able to feel connected to a world that is larger than we knew. Although I was dwarfed by the sight of the mountains and the stars, somehow the everyday concerns of livelihood, of social standing and helpless romances all fell away. That realisation can be a source of tremendous positive energy.
We’re often told or are made to feel insignificant when confronted by greatness. In the face of the majestic mountains, you are bound to feel even smaller. But just as we revere greatness, we shouldn’t discount the ‘smallness’. Celebrate the little things, no matter how trivial they may seem because they are all part of the big picture.
By Pashmina Binwani
This article originally appeared on Zafigo, a travel guide for women travellers in Asia and the Middle East, and is republished with permission.