Emerging outside again after that surreal experience we were in for a rude reality shock. The serenity and quietude of those inner sanctums was forgotten as soon as we saw that the weather had now totally packed up. The intermittent rain had turned into a steady drizzle; it was wet, cold and the late afternoon visibility further reduced by the dark heavens. Our understanding had been that the descent would be easier and much quicker but no one had prepared us for such a contingency. We had no rain cover gear, just a limited food supply of some sandwiches and drinking water, and with no other food/shelter available at that altitude of 10,000 feet, just one option left…start climbing down and get back to base as soon as possible!
First things first, we found some cover and gobbled up the food we had (the army training of our husbands believing in that old wisdom of ‘an army marches on its stomach!’) The nourishment cheered us up a bit and with as much optimism as one can gather in such circumstances we began the walk back. The mud track had now turned to slush and you had to watch your footing around some of the steep drainages along the hillside. The few vendors we had seen en route on our way up had all packed up and left. An odd hiker-pilgrim would occasionally overtake us on his way down, nodding an encouraging greeting. The rain did not let up and the water slowly soaked in through our ill-equipped jackets even as the water from the ground below seeped in through our shoes and wet our socks and feet. Somewhere i had once read that a hike in the rain can be a magical experience. Perhaps that person had never had the experience of a trek in soggy, near freezing conditions — there was no magic, we were just all out miserable!! Meanwhile the jukebox-in-my-head (as it usually does in such situations) began to mockingly play that old Lynn Anderson song from the 70s~
“I beg your pardon
I never promised you a rose garden
Along with sunshine theres gotta be a little rain sometimes…”
As other thoughts and even the occasional chatter became numb with cold, the feet moved mechanically to that refrain in my head! (Why that song haunts me from my school days is another story for another day!)
The laborious descent seemed to stretch on forever. Our physically tougher husbands kept cheering us on with promises that we would soon be there but beyond a point we just gave up and they literally dragged us down the last few yards to the base. The drive back to the guest rooms was another tortuous haze of benumbed cold. By the time all bedraggled we finally stumbled inside the guest rooms i couldn’t feel any sensation in my frozen fingers and toes. Then civilisation offered some ministration in the form of a hot water bath and a stiff cognac with warm water. Within the hour life looked good again and we sat beside a cackling fire tucking into warm spirits and a delicious hot meal, joking and laughing at what we had just been through.
That’s how the memory of that trek has remained with me: a juxtaposition of two contrasting experiences ~a test of physical endurance under extreme conditions on one hand and our more puny attempts at scaling a spiritual summit on the other. Maybe one could call it the yin and yang of life…