The pungent smell of pine was strong in the air. The firm earth gave slightly as I ascended the slope. The trees towered up into the heavens and the lush canopy swallowed the velvety sky. It was mid afternoon and the temperature had dropped noticeably. A dense fog rolled across the green meadows below. It had been nearly three hours since I last saw my family. Quietly traversing the terrain of Nathiagali, a hill station in the North West region of Pakistan, I had expected to find signs of life long ago. Panic-stricken, famished, and dehydrated, I was lost.
honorable mention 2011 Teen Travel Writing Scholarship
Traveling is a cherished annual tradition in my family. Every year brought about new and unbearably beautiful scenery. I always valued this time with my family, forging bonds and maintaining a resilient love that has come to support us in difficult times. This summer would not be the same. While visiting family in the rural town of Rawalpindi, we had planned to travel to Murree, a popular summer resort town near the end of the Himalayan Mountain range. We would hike out from there. The day had begun without a hitch and we set out before sunrise. Hiking up a particularly steep slope, we had come across a fork. Thinking back, I realize why a fork in the road is always more than just a divergence in the path. This marked the beginning of my troubles. Being the lively youth that I was, I wanted to take the longer, more scenic route. My family was worn from the backbreaking hike from Barian, so we parted ways.
Hours later, I was alone, distraught, and on the verge of tears. I had indulged myself long ago, finishing off the last of my rations. Water was scarce and darkness was descending. The fog had not let up. Voluminous shadows danced across the forest floor with a sickening perversity. As the sun descended behind the mountains, a visceral fear clutched my heart. Tears ran freely down my face. I began to regret my decisions. Was this it? The vastness of the life was pulled out from beneath my feet.
I wondered how far I could have gone. What I would have done. What I would have seen. What I would have become. The flittering mantle of my soul burned in desperation. I began bargaining and praying for another tomorrow. I thought of promises unkept, desires unmet, and dreams unfulfilled. Suddenly, an artificial beam of light filled my watery eyes. It was over, just like that. The next thing I remember was my mother’s warm embrace and the subtle smell of jasmine.
Ever since, I have always wanted to move forward—to touch that which I could not reach, to do that which seemed impossible. The veil had been lifted from my eyes. I had lost the naivety of a child and gained an enormous respect for the possibilities ahead of me. There is still that fear that I just may not have enough time. Time to get things done. Time to truly milk essence of life. I now understand what John Keats meant in his poem “When I have Fears That I may Cease to Be.”
Fortune was with me on that day. In retrospect, I may laugh with a healthy dose of mirth, but I still cannot fathom that it could have all ended back there. On that fateful day, the seeds of unrest were sown into my very being. I simply cannot sit around idly any longer.
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