Over the Hills and Far Away

Before I begin, I need to point out that some very important pieces of our Shanti family were missing during this adventure. Our long legged mountain man, Jake, was too sick to trek and our beloved Peter stayed back with him. On day 3, Isadora wasn;t well enough to carry on and went back to the resort. We missed you sitting around the campfires with us, girl 🙁 We were thinking about you guys the whole time.

I’m going to try my best to paint a picture of what went on in our little Himalayan fairytale.

As we eagerly rode up to the starting point, we had no idea what we were in for. We hopped out of the cars and were greeted by beautiful mountain stray dogs and a colony of paragliders soaring off into the atmosphere like birds. We strapped on our packs and jumped right into it. One of our guides, Ady, and his shaggy little dog named Dash showed us the way. They led us up a steep, rocky ridge where we were basically on all fours making our way up. About ten minutes in (maybe less) most of us were sweating, panting and our hearts were racing a mile a minute. I know for me, I was deeply questioning what I got myself into and if I could handle that pace for the next five days. I shook my fear off along with a layer of clothing, caught my breath and trotted along the mountain with the rest of the group.

The trail greeted us with pine trees the size of 5 story buildings and higher. They curled up out of the ground and shot up to the sky, shielding us from the morning sun. There wasn’t a human in sight as we went deeper and deeper into the wild. After a small hike, we made our way up another steep climb to our dreamy lunch spot. There was a 360 view of mountains and valleys and we were so high we were breathing in the clouds. We sat in an opening of short grass while Peter, who joined us just for the day, played the perfect tunes on his guitar to match the scenery. After our break, we gathered up our energy again and moved along to our first campsite.

At one point, we were walking with a shepherd and his herd of sheep, competing with them for space on the narrow path. When we weren’t walking through trees, there were mystical views of mountains that to all of us, seemed like they were breathing the same breaths we were and moving further away the closer we looked at them. I quickly realized that when you’re out there in the wild, you can really see that everything is alive. The trees, grasses and moss cover the mountains like fur, making them look like big beasts whose sizes you can’t even fathom.

We made it to our first camp, where we’d be for two nights, which sat on a little farm with the perfect view of an 18,000ft peak. At camp, our guides took the best care of us. They gave us chai to warm up our cold, tired bodies, made us a buffet of warm, tasty food and build us big fires where we warmed up and spent some quality bonding time. For all of our nights, we huddled around the campfire, took turns telling our life stories and quizzed each other with riddles. Before bed, for those who could stay up, Keshav read Harry Potter with his ultimate storytelling voices.

The next morning we woke up, in awe of the views around us. After breakfast we trekked on to our next location that looked straight out of a Bob Ross painting. The walk took about two hours and we made our way down the valley and onto the banks of a crystal clear river made up of congregated waterfalls swimming down the mountains. However, we had to cross a wonky old bridge over the rushing waters to get to our break spot. It was pretty scary, but also pretty majestic. Some of us took naps to the sound of the water, while others soaked in the transcendent views surrounding us. We filled our water bottles with fresh water straight from the glacier and headed back to camp. The trees around us as we walked looked like they were dancing to the rhythms of the wind. The sun glistened on us through the pine needles, warming us up whenever we took breaks to catch our breaths. We made it back to camp around sunset, most of us collapsing onto the ground, very grateful to be done for the day. Much like the night before, we shared stories around the fire then crashed happily in our tents.

On day 3, we had a relatively uphill hike back to where we had lunch the first day. By then, two of us were sick, lots of us suffered from gnarly cuts and blisters on our feet and one of us had a sprained wrist. We rested at the dreamy ridge for a little longer than our guides wanted, then had to book it to the next campsite in a race with the sun. These next 2 hours were when things got hard. We were climbing uphill the entire time on a tiny path of uneven rocks. We had to cling to the earth next to us, knowing if we took one misstep, we’d tumble into the abyss of the forest. Not only were we one step away from a lengthy fall, a lot of us were pretty worn out and the batteries in our legs were drained. For me, many times during that stretch I got super mad at myself for not doing any cardio or leg workouts before the trek. With cold sweat and burning thighs, we made it to camp alive as the sun started to set. This place seemed like heaven on earth. Our tents sat on a ridge high up in the sky, with views of mountains and valleys in every direction as far as the eye could see. The sun was setting and turned the sky from clear blue to a peachy pink. Everything around us was glowing the colors of the sun. We the sun finally said goodbye to us, we put on every layer of clothing we brought and circled around the fire. Here, there seemed to be even more stars. Sparks shot from the fire into the sky, becoming one with the stars. As they flew up into the sky, more and more stars began to appear as the floating embers faded away. We cuddled with our strays dogs, who we named Siddhartha and Priyanka, then made our ways to bed.

The next morning, the sound of the winds rattling the tent woke me up. I was more than excited to open up the tent to the view of the monsterous mountains right in front of me. We munched on breakfast and captured our last glimpses of the views that were out of this world.

On our next hike, we reached civilization again, or what was left of it, as we followed abandoned train tracks to our last campsite. The tracks were taken back over by the mountain, landslides here and there and grasses that camouflaged them into the ground. We walked to the beat of some good old Beatles blasting out of Garrett’s backpack. Our last camp was at the end of the railroad, next to old buildings and a vintage trolley that used to take people up and down the mountain. We enjoyed one last peachy mountain sunset and fireside storytelling.

Early the next morning, it was time for our descension. For a very, very long 2 hours we trekked down the mountain. Every step was rough on the knees and many of us took some spills. I kept repeating to myself some of the wise words of my yoga teachers: “engage your core” and “smile!” When those only took away some of the pain in my legs, I resulted to singing happy music in my head. Eventually, we victoriously reached flat ground and celebrated with a warm breakfast.

The last and hardest part of the trek was saying goodbye to our sweet little stray dogs that followed us the whole way. We still miss you, Sid and Priyank 🙁

We then made it back to the resort, took steaming hot showers and had a dinner as our whole Shanti family for the first time in a while.

Well, that’s pretty much the trek. Now we’re out of the fairytale and back in the beautiful chaos of India.