”This is going to be too easy “, I thought. The most significant challenge one can face is holding strong in the face of possible death.
Karan’s birthday treat to all his friends was to take us camping. We’d gone to the outskirts of Bangalore for a two-day camping trip. Part of the trip was a trek to the top of a small hill near the area we were camping.
I’ve always enjoyed trekking simply for the beautiful views from the peak. I don’t mind going to extremes for this purpose. I love looking at the world from a higher vantage point- to look at what I see linearly in 3D and for its entirety.
We left early in the morning around seven and took sandwiches with us to have on the trek up for breakfast. We carried with us a big two-litre water bottle that we thought would be sufficient for the entire trek. A local guided the trek, warning us early on, that there were leopards in the area. Then he told us that they normally didn’t hunt during the day. All six of us there heaved a sigh of relief! As I realized, we were yet to learn many things from the trek.
While trekking uphill, we had fun trying to locate a peacock whose call we could hear clearly. That wily peacock eluded us despite our concerted efforts. There were thorn plants nearly every inch of the way, which we had trouble avoiding; and our clothes kept getting caught in it.
Several places uphill, sheer rock faces made us feel we were doing professional rock climbing. Besides a few scratches from thorns, we were all safe and still energetic after reaching the summit of the climb. At the peak, the view was exhilarating. I could see the hills all around abounding with greenery.
We were all so excited on reaching the top that we continued without really keeping a track of where we were headed. Inevitably, we got lost. We didn’t remember the path we had followed and neither did our ‘trusted’ guide. The surroundings gave us no clue in discerning the path we had come by.
Our guide looked for a new path down and checked the surrounding areas, until he found one that didn’t seem particularly dangerous. We followed that path down.
Expecting no problems in trekking, we had not equipped ourselves with safety harnesses. The first part of the path involved sliding down a steep rock face. The only thing that ensured our safe landing was the friction between our jeans and the rock. I was terrified but felt excited, as I could see the drop into a thick thorn forest just beyond the rock face and I feared that my momentum would carry me too far. I was slightly overweight and this place seemed to be rooting out the unfit. But physics meant that the smarter person was also fitter. I ensured that on my way down I kept my velocity to a minimum and achieved maximum friction by keeping my body pressed against the rock surface. Though it was life-threatening, it gave me a feeling of excitement and exhilaration. I knew I wouldn’t let anything happen to me.
I had the strength to hold on. I arrived at the bottom of it feeling thoroughly proud of myself and thinking that I could go home now. The ‘happy ending’ was still a long way to come. After navigating a few steep curves and drops we found ourselves in the middle of the thick thorn forest.
The thorn forest wasn’t at all sympathetic to our plight, and kept scratching us as we went further down the hill. Many of us got cuts and bites as well. In some places we were forced to nearly break the plants partially to make our way through. Our only source of direction was the feeling that we were headed down an incline. In the meantime we faced a new predicament as someone had finished up the water and it didn’t look like we were any closer to civilization than before. We moved on unhindered- there were bigger things to worry about.
After over an hour of getting scratched, cut, bitten and tripped by the tree roots, we made it into a slightly more open area. Our dismay was acute; we were still,miles away from our campsite. There was nothing to be done but to move on and I lead the way in the general direction of our camp while our guide kept looking for simpler paths. I tried to look for trails that had fewer plants and trees with thorns. Taking a stick, I proceeded to hack down plants that blocked our way.
It had now been over four hours since we had left the camp and we were all dehydrated and feared that one of us would faint. At an opportune time we found a plant with edible berries , we ate them with a ferocity unmatched in even the most primal animals. Times of stress always bring out the survival instincts inherent in all humans.
After another hour of charting our own way through the forest, we came out into a field which was close to our campsite. A yell of sheer, unadulterated joy reached till the heavens. Those of us with a little energy to spare, ran for the safety of civilization. Five hours and twenty minutes after we started the trek, we returned to the camp. One of my friends admitted to finishing the water but all of us were too relieved to do or say anything to him.
The feeling I had, was one of joy, love for life and a desire to develop my physical strength. Luckily all of us were brave enough and had the strength to go through all those tough paths. We are all primitive to the extent of animals when our survival instincts come to the fore. It is only the strong who can hold on to their sophistication in such dire times. While I hadn’t fallen prey to becoming entirely ‘primitive’, I had also not held to my sophistication as, if I had I might not have been in the situation in the first place!
This happened in tenth and till date I have constantly got a feeling of sheer exhilaration on thinking about it…