How to measure Chadar trek (and perhaps some bit of life)?
Title inspired by Prajwal Kodi’s parody on the Clayton Christensen’s book I was reading (How will you measure your life?)
On our last day getting back from base camp, we visited a gurdwara on the outskirts of Leh. Inside the gurdwara was a large boulder. According to a local legend, once a wicked demon lived in the area who terrorised the people where the gurdwara is now situated.It was Guru Nanak Ji who decided to come to rescue of the people and started meditating at the banks of the river. Angry, the demon slide a boulder from the hilltop in guru’s direction with an intention to kill him. However, the boulder turns soft like wax when it touches guru nanak’s body leaving him unharmed. The demon realizes that guru’s spiritual powers, asks for his forgiveness and thereon devotes his life to service of people.
Somehow this story stayed with me.
Unlike a lot of other experiences, I never obsessed about the Chadar trek. Rather, I was almost always scared of it. I can take high altitudes. I can take long hikes and uninhabited terrains but cold weather bums me out completely. And Chadar trek which gets its name from Frozen Zanskar River (resembling a bedsheet of ice) you trek on is freezing. I could never imagine surviving in -25 degrees let alone hike and camp in it. It was only a strong recommendation from a friend and my forever experiential and challenge seeking self that landed me at Leh on a cold Jan morning.
But if there was one realization I had during the nine days that followed, it was that a lot of my fears were unfounded. For one, there isn’t much difference between being at 0 or -5 or -25 degrees. All of them are freaking cold. If your head’s in the right place, you usually get through it. I also discovered new fears, the most surprising being the fear of walking on ice. The first time I slipped on that unforgiving sheet of ice, it hurt for a while. I became a careful and slowed down considerably. And despite it, I fell again and then again and yet again which was when I gave up on worrying about falling. It didn’t prevent me falling but at-least I was a lot less inhibited and a lot more fun and which also brings me back to the question I started this post with.
When I asked Kodi the content of his unwritten parody book “How to measure Chadar?” he replied “You f***ing walk. That’s it”. Though it did crack me up, my version of the book would definitely have a few more add ins:
I’ll measure it by the many firsts: first flight missed, first ladakh expedition, first winter trek.
I’ll measure it by the walks on ice, the foot stomping on snow, the hike up those occasional mountains and the sliding on the sledges
I’ll measure it by all the times I fell hard on the ice, laughed it off, got myself up and joked about it later in the evening
I’ll measure it by the unimaginable unparalleled cringeworthy cold and my survival instincts to fight and even enjoy it every bit of the way
I’ll measure it by the steps to Shanti Stupa, the views at SheaPalace and the tranquility atThikSe Monastery
I’ll measure it by all the simple pleasures;the campfires and the songs, the dances & conversations around it, the Poker and Least count nights, the smell of soupyMaggi, the touch of a hot cup of tea on a freezing morning
I’ll measure it by the moonlight and thousands of stars every night
I’ll measure it by the sounds; the sound of Zanskar river flowing by, the sound of the ice cracking underneath my feet and sometimes just the pleasure of listening to the sound of my own breath and nothing else
I’ll measure it by the courage of real heroes we came across; army men who spend months in that weather to protect the country, the porter and kitchen staff who carry 40-50 kgs weight throughout the trek, the guides who’d put their own life on line to save mine
I’ll measure it by Basile’s fearlessness, Kodi’s wicked sense of humour, the fun I always had with Divya and Asif and all the other friends I made whichmade me realize how lucky I am when it comes to the people in my life. Hopefully I’ll take a little bit of them in me
I’ll measure it by the stories; stories like the one at gurudwara, stories of armymen at hall of fame, story about trekkers and their trek. I am a sucker for stories!
I started this post with a story that stayed with me and I know why it did. Hiking for me is like meditation. I go to the mountains sometimes with / sometimes without any personal baggage. These mountains challenge me in every way, physically, emotionally, spiritually. So much so that they let not any baggage from outside come in. They belittle me, my arrogance by their hugeness and yet they break barriers I never knew existed within me.
And when I come back home, it’s usually with a big smile and a much larger space in my heart.
That’s Chadar and perhaps some bit of life measuring from my end!