If you ever find yourself standing at the base of a mountain preparing to climb it, I have only one word of advice to you – Don’t look up. No matter how tall or short the mountain, no matter if it’s covered in snow or in trees, one look up will have you convinced that it is highly unrealistic, if not outright impossible, for you to reach the top. This was my first mistake.
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My second mistake was assuming that since this was a popular trail many took regularly to reach the top, it would be an easy climb. Never underestimate the devotion of Indians to admire nature. Their tenacity is one that makes a mockery out of mountain-climbing.
Nevertheless, I had driven hours from Pune to reach this point, and I certainly wasn’t going to turn back. Resigned to whatever obstacles lay before me, I began trekking upwards on Sinhagad Mountain. Besides, I’d already hiked many times in the Smokies. How different could this be? A mountain is a mountain, and a trail is a trail, isn’t it?
Not at all.
At first, all I noticed were the bad differences. Like how a recent drizzle had turned the dirt into a slippery solution coating everything in sight … including myself. How boys half my age and women twice my age alike were swiftly passing me on their familiar path. How, for modesty’s sake, I had to wear jeans and a t-shirt instead of my usual exercise ensemble of a tank top and shorts. How the trees weren’t tall enough to stave off the muggy heat from the sun.
As I continued climbing, though, even the heat and the sweat and the slippery rocks couldn’t overshadow the emerging camaraderie I felt with those hiking alongside me, though I didn’t know most of them. People joked and chatted and helped one another, forging friendships without knowing each other’s names. If I ever looked uncertain about a step or a crossing, I had only to look up to find a hand to help me across. The best thing about such amity is that it’s contagious – my disgruntled attitude stood no chance of surviving here.
An hour or so after we’d started, I discovered another sign of hospitality: little shacks were constructed by the villagers at intervals up the mountain. These shacks sold icy lemon-water and cucumber slices sprinkled with chili powder, and they offered weary travelers a chance to rest. While I appreciated such generosity, any hiker can tell you that the closer you get to your goal, the more energy you have.
Finally, standing more than 2000 feet above the surrounding jungle, I took a deep breath. This was the first time I’d turned around to look down since we started the climb hours ago. I saw the trail we climbed, snaking down through the trees, dotted with people making the exact same journey as countless had before them. The village at the base looked like nothing more than a splash of white on a green canvas. Mostly, I just saw hills upon hills of endless green.
When people visit the Grand Canyon, they often say that they suddenly feel insignificant; they realize how vast the world is, and it makes them feel small in comparison. But in my opinion, standing on the top of an obscure mountain in rural India, you realize the enormity of the world that you are connected to and a part of. And that feeling of harmony, of significance, of togetherness is impossible to forget. Much like the view.
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