October 31, 2018.
You have been climbing for three hours. Every pore of your skin is sweating. Your legs are tired. Your head is spinning. You are still conscious of not slipping down the narrow foot trail. There are small round seeds that have fallen off the tress beside the trail. They threaten your existence. The peak is just “there” but you can’t seem to reach it. The peak is just at an elevation of thousand metres, and it takes your breath away. “What if it was Mount Everest?” you ask.
One of your friends, Anish, climbed a five-thousand metre peak last year, above the Everest Base Camp. “It was cold. I felt my fingers would fall off. But once I reached the peak, I forgot all the pain.”
‘This is not even a tenth of the harshness of close to the Everest’, you think. Your spirit lifts up a little. Legs drag you up better than they had a couple of minutes back. But your lungs are not helping. Your low stamina hampers your movement.Luckily, your friends are in your support. They themselves are tired, but they do not lose the hope of reaching the peak. The hope of finding the target village-Sathimure.
Your climb began from Mugling—an old hub connecting Kathmandu, Pokhara and Chitwan with three of your friends: Anil, Anish and Ishwor. The town is at the altitude of about 180 m from the mean sea level,well-developed, full of life. Your twenty-eight years old topographic map shows a foot-trail leading to the village in question. The policemen show you a road. It looks easy, but it’s long. ‘How long will you have to walk?’ you discuss with your friends. You and your friends decide to take a foot trail if possible.
You are not hiking. It’s a geological exploration. You measure the rock orientation, wonder at the folds you see and imagine the amount of stress the region might have undergone. You know these rocks tell the history of the evolution of the Himalayas over a million years. These mountains are not as tall as the mighty mountain peaks that are popular as the Himalayas or Great Himalayas. You call them Lesser Himalaya, but reaching its peak is tough. More so, when you realize you have to climb up another two hundred metres and climb down to Kalikhola if you are to make an accurate geological map. But you lack time, and you make a rush.
You realize your stamina has lowered because of eating and sleeping for the last couple of months. You are panting. You take long breaths. Nothing helps. You have not walked a mile and you have felt the heat. You strip off your jacket. Your body balances heat by sweating. You reach a shade. The sweat cools you. After a rest, you don’t want to move. Yet you carry your legs forward. “Return back if you can’t,” your friends suggest. It’s a good advice. One person should not slow the group. Yet your ego gets hurt. You can’t give up before it has begun.
You ask help from the locals. Most of them are girls. Some help, some don’t. It’s a cultural thing. Villagers don’t trust city men. Girls are told to shy away from men in most of the occasions. Male-female interaction is still spied in the cities. Anyway, you find help and catch a foot-trail, width decreasing with each footstep.
You don’t find villages along the trail. One house at an interval of about one-hundred metres climb. They have farms and gardens. You and your friends express desire to reach Kalikhola. The locals say it’s a dangerous path. Three people died some months back. You and your friends are scared. Safety comes before the map. Your teachers did not expect you to go all the way. You give up the thought of completing the track. Had you been allowed to stay for a day at Sathimure, you could have hit the target. But you have restrictions. You decide to reach the village, at least.
“Look out for the real trail,” Anish calls. Foot-trail has forked. Each time you saw a fork, you made a unanimous decision: “Take the route that goes up.” This time, the up-going trail looks dangerous. Ishwor says the other path goes nowhere. “Are we stuck?” you fear. Anil goes up the dangerous route, reaches the peak and calls out. You follow. The ground is slippery and covered with grass. You don’t know where you are stepping. “Goats would not climb this,” your friends behind you tell. You are attacked by ants.One last step. And you reach the top. You lose yourself for a moment. At that moment, you have become victorious over the mountain. You feel blessed.
A little farther, you see what you had been longing for. Sathimure. A small village. A place where you have found solace in it even from the distance. Bamboos, oranges, cucumbers and other fruits and vegetables. A farming village. That’s what you wanted all day.
The village has less than twenty houses—small, all of them painted in blue and red. The people are amicable. Your group wants to buy some oranges. They don’t fix a price. “Give whatever amount you want to give.” These people have hardships. There is some help from the NGOs but the nearest town, Mugling, is miles downhill. There is no good road. They have to buy everything.Yet, they are generous. They don’t take our offer for granted. They believe in emotional relationship, not commercial. They give you noodles. You longed for it but can’t help wonder that noodles have made way into even in a village that small.You eat anyway. The taste reminds you of home.
You begin to descent. There was an error in the map. You have decided to correct it. Sitting upon a ground facing north, you look at the Great Himalayas, the Lesser Himalayas, and the miniature town of Mugling. You can’t see a human from that height. You feel lost. “Humans might have built civilizations and have dreamt of exploring other planets but we are microscopic in the universe. If a portion of the Earth is this big, how big the Earth is! And it is not even the largest planet.” The extent of universe amazes you. It’s not for the first time, though. The universe has always fascinated you. Geology was one way you thought that would help you understand the universe.Mugling viewed from Sathimure
The walk downhill takes two hours. The villagers at Sathimure had told it would take about forty-five minutes. “Time is relative,” you begin to understand. They have lived their whole lives going up and down the hill. Their legs have strengths your legs do not. They are faster because they have lived with the mountain. You see school children going up and get a stronger proof.
When the journey ends, you are satisfied. You might not have met all your goals but you made memories. You have learnt something. You have something to tell others. You have stories for your children and grandchildren.