The Trek….

Every time we clean our houses, a lot of dust emanates, some of it we throw, some of it remains and some of it sticks to our skin. When we mop the floor, the remnants from the floor vanishes or at least a majority of it. Then having done the exercise, most of us head to the shower where we clean the remnants on our bodies. I guess life experiences are no different, we build some bile in our mind, some experiences do leave a bitter memory, some encounters tend to freeze our mind-space to a certain period/person or to a certain occurrence. Then there’s the house-keeping….My guess is house-keeping is as relevant to our own persona as it might be to the house. Every now and then, one round of it clears a lot of assumptions, memories & mental bile….the mopping up does the rest & when we finally take the plunge into the next day of our lives, guess the shower’s through.

All said & done, this unlikely metaphor has its limitations & the similarities end here. You know that you have to get rid of what holds you back, some people work at it everyday & eliminate the negatives in their lives and…. for some people it is re-lived everyday until a life altering experience changes the way they look upon themselves. Guess, I fall into the later category, not a pretty picture but something that I now accept. Unfortunately, life is a variable, diametrically opposed to the comfort of constant….you never know how, where, when, what & which lessons it imparts. I had been waiting for some of my lessons.

Some movie I saw, once quoted, Bhutan as the happiest country, the “Land of Gross National Happiness”. The adage kind of stuck to me. I knew I had to visit this nation. If you are visiting Bhutan, the trip is incomplete without a trip to the Thakshang Monastry or “The Tiger’s Nest”. So like every run-of-the-mill tourist I knew I had to do it.

Things however were not so rosy after the inputs began flowing in….
– A trek completely through the woods & mountains….no roads;
– Its all about inclines & very steep ones at that….rocky outcrops (the monks sure did want their share of exercise/pain & some for you too!);
– Its raining cats & dogs which meant, heavy siltation, slush, chilly weather, all soaked up before you reach….boy! perfect timing;
– I was the oldest guy on the trip, rest of the bunch, all young studs….what if I am the only one who failed to make it….why the f*** were you born so early

There was this little tussle between the two “me’s” the night before….
– The egoist one (trained & baptized long back for this….should be a cake walk!!!!) &
– The broken realist (bad back, oodles of fat, sheer lack of exercise, haven’t done it in ages….are you kidding me??!!).

However, this time round I was ready to push myself & so be it! The four hour trek began with some briefing by our organizer, some safety tips, a wooden stick in tow & some really soaked and chilly weather (the water-proof wind-cheater was of little help!). You could not have been discouraged more than what you see within the first five minutes of the climb. The huge monastery peeping through the clouds like a dot in the page.

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If this wasn’t enough, the moment I stepped on the stony outcrops, there was this huge group which came down bragging about their U-turn midway into the trek and how its so dangerous & slippery out there. The other side within me was immediately happy, now I know that even if I came back midway, I could comfortably say that I wasn’t the only one!!!! The question however was, “Did I want to”?

Fifteen odd minutes into the climb, the slopes were now quite steep….almost sixty degrees, the path’s narrower, the mud slush’ real, the entire route was an accident waiting to happen (the same slender route was for the scores of horses, ponies as well as people) and on top I was all breathless. To rub salt on the wounds, I found some of my team members waltzing away effortlessly on. Guess the local folks saw the evident pain. One of the guides informed that there’s a cafeteria at the midway point with beer available!!! What a relief, I suddenly find a spring in my shoes & air in my lungs. I was even more convinced now, that if anyone asked, I could also say that the booze had me & I just sozzled out enough not to contine….The question was, who needed convincing, people or me?

Midway it was at last, the cafeteria in sight, turning right meant the beer, carrying on straight meant a prayer wheel & barely a shade to sit….the wind’s freezing & the rain’s soaking, heavier by the minute….the prayer wheel it was….the beer’s the reward waiting on return.

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(Thakshang Monastery as clicked from the midway point, but at the full range of 300 mm on the lens….)

Guess this was one break I happily skipped although my back & my lungs said otherwise. Continuing the path was even more difficult now although the gradient’s eased a bit. Nevertheless, the slush got worse as did the winds. At this point I knew that whatever was my preliminary estimate of myself, I had crossed it, so whatever distance I could do now was a bonus….The question was, did I want to live with just the bonus & regret not having made it to see what its like?

‘Soldiering on’ would not be an appropriate term (because, by now, I had ashamed myself enough with my thoughts of giving up every five minutes, the disdain with which I had treated my body leading to this lack of fitness) but this was remotely what I was trying to do. As every step got heavier, the knees weaker, the gaze buried to the ground & the only solace being the start of a series of markers pointing to the monastery….I slipped barely holding myself to my walking stick & a protruding branch. “This was enough & that I could not make it, time to return….” was the only thought manageable through the almost exploding lungs when a really old monk (no pun intended….) breezed aside me chanting the holy scriptures & throwing a lovely smile saying “you are there”. Walking a few steps ahead I could see the Thakshang. However, Guru Padmasambhava did not want short cuts to divinity & spiritual yearning, almost 500 stairs were yet to be covered. I clicked a few pictures. Who would know if I actually made it to the structure & prayed, all I had to do was simply click a few zoomed-in pictures & post it in on social network….b’seder….The question was, is that the aim?

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The few hundred steps were like the last nail in the coffin, it broke me (knees, lungs, back, tummy, every single part….) but having made it as I headed into the monastery I looked for my organizer who carried the entry passes & my other team members….couldn’t find anyone….was more than happy….found a corner where the rain water didn’t pour through….all soaked & wet, in pain & frozen by the chill….I dozed off. People in droves kept pouring in & out, all cheerful at having made it & received the blessings, I was just content with the warmth of the corner & the person sitting next to me. The question was….I was too blanked out for any questions, f*** the questions!!!!

An hour later, a familiar voice woke me up….one of the team members, the rest were fetching up. My lungs felt not-revolting-against-me-anymore now, it was still damn cold & I was wetter, the winds changed direction & so did the rain. As all fetched up almost two hours after I reached, someone did point out that I was the first one who made it up in almost hour & a half (there were some Awwww moments heard….). I was now in the sanctum sanctorum & it was a moment of peace, tranquility, spiritual chanting of the verses, sights of people praying to Guru Padmasambhava. As I headed to the place where they lighted candles, the warmth of the flames as if brought in a sense of pride & it felt as if bloated up from inside. It was just a while ago that I thought about chickening out & here I am….all set to glorify myself in my mind & blurt out self praise in front of others….The question was, who was I fooling, people or myself?

As i lighted up the candle & the warmth blew to my face, the only thing I could remember were the few moments ago when I had almost given up, the old monk who smiled at me….and yes!!!! my back, which by now was killing me. It was time for return….came down a few notches & clicked THE THAKSHANG MONASTERY one last time….A lesson in humbleness received, a tale to be reminded to self, a grim reminder of the weaknesses I carry & somewhere a belief that “it-can-still-be-done!!!!”

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Coming down was an arduous affair….I slipped & covered myself in red soil, the camera’s obituary had almost been written but above all, the latent & bloated ego of having completed the trek was put to rest for good. Midway it was again….the beer’s in waiting! Having ‘Done-&-Dusted’, time for a couple….if Guru Padmasambhava’s followers didn’t have a problem with it, why should I….”Guess it wouldn’t be a left turn, just turn the prayer wheel & keep walking….” was the voice inside….I kept walking.

Back to the hotel in the evening, a nice warm bath, good food, cultural program & a few more clicks later, it was time for bed….there was more to explore the next day. Something within me wasn’t there anymore, some enemies have been decimated, some burdens have been shed, some egos have been shattered, some excuses have been foregone, some fears have been put to rest (not conquered yet though!!!!) & some people had been ‘let-go’….I had my house-keeping done….The question was, who all would I tell about this? PROBABLY NOBODY….

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