“Dude! How was it??” They’ll ask you when you get back from your trek.
“Everything was perfect! We had no problems or challenges and everything was pretty easy.”
That is not what a perfect trek is- not even close.
When is the last time you watched a movie (that you enjoyed) where the characters didn’t have to solve a problem or achieve some personal growth through a struggle they overcame? I hope never- that movie would be, for lack of a better adjective, sucky.
But why? Why can’t we enjoy something that fits the stereotypical definition of “perfect?” Because you don’t grow if you never push yourself, and you’re only pushed when you go out of your comfort zone a bit. Humans thrive on the exhilaration and pride of knowing that they are strong and capable, hardly something you can discover if you never do anything remotely difficult.
That is why our trek to Roop Kund last week was as unperfectly perfect as it gets.
We begin in the trailhead village of Lohajung, as so many adventurers before us have. Tansing, our local guide, leads the way, with Triveni, Dushyant, Megha, Pratik, Pravine our trek leader and me following close behind.
The sun was literally glittering through the forest as we began a gentle descent (what?!) towards our first night’s camp of Tolpani.
You know how that saying goes, “What goes up must come down”? Anyone who has trekked know those rules are reversed in the mountains- if you are going down in altitude before your summit day, you can bet your momma’s fried chicken that you’ll be climbing right back up.
And climb we did.
Across creeks and streams where we refilled our bottles, through kilometers of vertical switchback after switchback- with some crewmembers battling symptoms of overheating in the day’s blazing sun, up the slopes of Didina village where we happily pause for a lunch of veg sandwiches and Frooty, and keep right on moving up through the forest until we break into a lush clearing where we are finally able to rest our legs for the night.
Here’s my question for you though: would it have felt so good to sit in grass and stretch our toes if our feet had not been aching all day? Would our dinner of matar paneer and fresh, hot roti taste so good if we had not made ourselves so ravenously hungry after burning so many calories?
I think not.
We head out, freshly enthusiastic after chai the next morning off and, well, up again- this time headed for the famous twin meadows of the Roop Kund trek- Ali and Bedni Bugyal, and are stunned by their beauty. Our green vantage point rolls on and on, and we travel alongside the mules that speckle the area.
Just before another major ascent, we find temporary rest at a tea stall, with kind strangers who offer to share with us their aloo paranthas and conversation. Both are eagerly welcomed.
Pravine points to a nearby rock, and tells us the story of a couple long ago who was married, each from one of two opposite valleys that we now straddled via the meadow. The wife left the husband, taking the child with her. Enraged, he set out with the intention to kill her with a massive rock (personally, I feel this kind of behavior may have had something to do with her deciding to leave him, but what do I know?), but when he reached this point that we now sat, he received news that she had died in a storm.
In despair at this news, he dropped the rock where he stood and vowed never to go to her valley or marry again- and to this day residents of the separate valleys generally do not get married to one another because of this legend.
The rock in the story sits three meters away from us in front of this tea stall in the meadow.
“If you can pick it up to your chest,” Pravine says, “you will be blessed with good luck.”
Naturally, all of us try it.
Naturally, none of us can get it more than a paltry inch or two off the ground.
Time for the final push of the day, up a steep and then gradual but constant incline for a few kilometers more to reach the one-of-a-kind Bedni Bugyal camp.
Dinner never tasted so good, and somehow sleeping on dirt felt like heaven after the 6 kms today and 11 kms yesterday.
Funny how that is.
We head for Patar Nachauni through the fog the next morning in an eerie white-out that reflects the dark green of the grass. Past temples and up into the clouds, we hike on blindly, with just the trail immediately in front of us to look at.
Pratik and I see, for one glorious split second, the glowing tip of an absolutely massive snowcapped mountain emerge out of the finicky clouds ahead of us before disappearing behind its cloak once more.
There’s just one problem. Now we know it’s there, and we want to see it again.
We wait for an hour, cheering on the clouds as they appear to be moving away and yelling at the sky for moving new ones in to replace the old. Disappointedly, we decide that the mountain has decided that today was not the day it would privilege us with its view. We set up camp for the night, hurrying into our tents to avoid the oncoming storm that never stops- all night long.
Or all morning.
The wind is thrashing at breakneck speeds, pelting rain sideways at our temporary shelter (which is now drenched with puddles, mind you) and we are seriously starting to worry if we’ll be able to continue. It’s already noon, 5 hours past when we were scheduled to have moved out toward Bhagwabasa base camp.
Suddenly, as we eat lunch, we notice how much quieter it sounds when we think.
Could it be?
We run outside to a still-foggy, but dry sky and cheer with relief. Let’s go!
Nothing makes you decide that you want to climb a mountain more than when something keeps you from doing it.
Up, up, up- we go. Several crewmembers are experiencing breathlessness of minor AMS and fight hard to reach the top of the endless muddy switchbacks.
We almost don’t notice the dissipating clouds in our focus to reach the top of this ascent. Then, suddenly, there it is.
The mountain we so desperately wanted to get a glimpse of yesterday, in full glory against a neon blue sky. Chaukhamba, the stunning massif that rarely is seen from this point, is glowing pink in the distance, clear as day.
As we perform a pooja to place a trishul in the temple before us, the sweet chai from the tea stall, earthy odor of the incense and incomparable views fill us with an energy we did not know we had.
At our camp that night, the storm clouds from the morning hover low in the mountainous valley below us, soaking in every color from the sunset like a glowing sea. It is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen.
Crawling into my sleeping bag that night, preparing for our 2:00am wake-up call for summit day tomorrow, I make a mental note of how thankful I am for that storm that I had spent so much time hating.
Was it inconvenient, cold, wet and uncomfortable? Yes.
But had I been able to see the mountain yesterday if the storm clouds hadn’t covered it up, would I have been filled with the same elation of finally getting to see it as I had today? If I hadn’t spent the whole night and morning with the possibility of having to cancel the trek looming over us, would I have appreciated the opportunity we had to continue the way I now do? Would my heart be as grateful?
And had we not endured the storm, would those clouds have been there at sunset to gives our eyes the most spectacular show of our lives so far?
You guessed it- nope. Not even close.
Our 2:00am summit hike to Roop Kund itself would not be what I call comfortable. Temperatures dipped below zero and bit at our faces as we climbed. The 4 km uphill climb was slow and tedious, requiring crampons and careful maneuvers around hidden patches of ice.
People fell on their butts.
People with dangerous AMS symptoms had to turn back.
People were tired and sore and sleep-deprived.
And if we didn’t earn every inch of that view, I know we would not have looked at the unbelievable peaks that surrounded us and mysterious skeletons with the same level of glee that we now were.
Pure, unadulterated joy at this beauty and our accomplishments.
Because in order to feel like you’ve conquered the world, you actually need to conquer something.
It’s just logic.
So go to Roop Kund and get a little down and dirty. Get exhausted, hungry and sore. Because when you do that, is when you’ve earned the rewards that are undoubtedly coming your way.
No fairytale crap.
May you have an 'unperfectly' perfect adventure of a lifetime.