On that first day of the trek, we walked for 12 kms and gained an altitude of 920 meters. I had never done trekking in my life before – at least not this kind of trekking where you walked uphill for six hours, carrying a rucksack as heavy as the combined weight of all the elephants in the jungles of Africa. Slightly heavier than that actually.
After the first hour, the walk was just not fun. Instead of trying to be a front-runner, I preferred going slow, matching MRP’s pace. So that I could be with her as much as I could. After all, this was an important agenda – to spend time together. We didn’t get to do that too often in Darjeeling; the schedule had been too tight. One was always doing something or the other. And when not, one was often too tired to fool around with one’s partner anyway. Except Psycho and his best-friend Northy may be. Because they were always fooling around. All the time. Xth class kids. And talking about the local Xth and XIIth class kids who we had in our course, almost all of them had way better stamina than the rest of us, especially when it came to walking. Most of the times, they were always ahead of everyone else.
So yeah, I walked slower than my natural pace to be with her. And though I didn’t realize it much for sometime, that actually proved to be very stressful for me. More tiring than walking at my natural faster pace. Every time she would stop to breathe in some strong air, I would annoy her – ‘don’t stop – keep walking. Walk as slow as you want to, but please don’t stop’. Such logic emanated from my running experience. A runner never stops till a run is complete. That’s the basic rule. If you get tired, you run slower. And when you feel better, you pick up speed again. But you never ever stop. This course however had people from all strata of life, each with a different physical capability. I had mine. MRP had hers. I wonder why then I kept annoying her with my gyaan. May be I wanted the best of both worlds – to walk as fast as I could and be with her at the same time. My pleadings worked sometimes. And sometimes, they didn’t. She would stop for a while, wait till she felt better and then proceed. I got used to that eventually. And together we kept going up. And up.
The last one hour of that day’s trek was pathetic. Almost all of us kind of dragged ourselves up to Bakhim. Some of the local guys who had already reached ahead of others, came down and asked the slower walkers if anyone wanted to give away their rucksacks. I think some of them actually did. MRP didn’t. ‘This is so painful, I feel like crying and laughing at the same time’, she would say, ‘but there is absolutely no way I am going to let someone else take my rucksack’, she was very clear. Of course I was proud of her. My love.
In terms of being rotten, dilapidated, dark, dusty, dinghy and smelly, the place where we laid out our mats and sleeping bags in Bakhim was exactly like the place in Yoksum. Slightly darker, dinghier and smellier if you ask me. Instead of concrete though, the floors and ceilings here were made of wood. Damp wood. And the walls were full of graffiti. Unlike several door-less and window-less rooms that we had in Yokusm, here all that the guys had to them were two big halls on the ground-floor. And for a change, the windows and doors existed here. Albeit broken. The girls were put-up on the first floor, where the instructors lodged.
The oldest guy in our course was a security-guard from Israel who almost always wore an orange coloured t-shirt if he didn’t have on him his grey-maroon pullover. He was 42 years old. In the evening, I saw Orange teaching Judo to a couple of folks. Psycho was one of them. Psycho – the wonder-kid who thus became a Judo-master in just one evening. And then, that night he started irritating another class X friend of his – Paldy. When Paldy couldn’t take it anymore, he punched the Judo-master so hard, his nose bled. That was the first time a fight broke out in our batch. Another one would happen days later in the base camp. And Psycho would be involved in that again. They didn’t call him Psycho for no reason.
As I tried sleeping inside my sleeping bag that night, I could hear the rains pouring outside. I looked around. Besides Psycho’s bleeding nose, I could see the firangs playing some weird card-game. Min, Mexing and Red-shorts. Min was from Bristol (UK) and had decent climbing experience. He was in the course so that he could see a glacier. He had never seen one before. Mexing was half Mexican and half English. He was only 18 but if you didn’t know that and if you just looked at him, he looked liked someone between 23-25. Easily. After the course ended, he planned to go to US and study Mechanical Engineering in University of Columbia. Red-shorts was a telecom engineer from New Zealand who worked in London. He was between jobs, had done rock-climbing before and was in this course, because he wanted to learn how to climb ice. It wasn’t their card-game that caught my attention. It was the fact that the playing cards that they were using were half the regular size of playing cards. Things climbers do to bring down the weight they have to carry! Heh.
As the sleeping bag got warm, I closed my eyes and tried to sleep. I could hear the girls singing songs from up above. One after another. Antakshari. And I could hear MRP too. After having an early dinner at just six in the evening, we had to go back to our respective rooms because it had started raining and there was no common sheltered place where the two of us could sit together and talk about the days’ trek. We had a little chat before we said good-bye and good-night to each other.
‘We would get wet if we remain here. I think we should go to our rooms and sleep’, I advised.
‘Hmm. By the way, it’s been such a long time that I hugged you. Or kissed you.’ She remarked.
‘Hmm. So can you do something about it?’
‘Why don’t you meet me at this very place at 0330 AM?’
‘Are you sure? Would you be able to get up that early?’
‘Yes. Tomorrow is anyway a rest-day. So it’s okay’. I expressed confidence. And then something occurred to me. ‘You don’t even have a watch on you’, I asked her, ‘how would you get up on time? Unless you probably borrow one from someone?’
‘I will try. I am not sure. So tell me, what will you do if I don’t appear in the morning?’
‘I don’t know. May be I will wait for half an hour. And then go back to sleep? Or may be, I would go out in the woods, dig a pit with my ice-axe and get done with this shitting business.’
‘LOL. Chalo then. Good night. See you in the morning. Hopefully.’
‘I love you.’
‘I love you too.’
The sleeping bag got warmer. My eyes remained closed. I could hear the girls singing songs from up above. One after another. Antakshari. And I could hear MRP too.
Aa bhi jaa, aa bhi jaa, ae subaah aa bhi jaa, Raat ko kar vida, dilruba aa bhi jaa. aa.aa. aa.