In 2003, the wife and I did a 1200+km bike ride from Shimla-Kinnaur-Spiti-Kunzum La-Gramphoo-Keylong-Leh and then to Pangong Tso, to Nubra and around Leh.
I have never made my peace with bikers writing about how they conquer the mountains, ever since.
These are some of the most active mountains in the world. Never still. Never stable. Tall. Dangerous. And just because we made it without much of an adventure or any mishap does not mean we conquered something that’s beyond our control at a scale we cannot usually comprehend. Most days on the ride, one was very aware that one boulder moving at the wrong time would be all it took for it to be all over, and the world, life and especially the planet would continue exactly how it always was. The realization that, ultimately, I am insignificant is immediate and persistent, and I guess sows the seeds of a spiritual understanding of life.
You still feel proud and happy that you did it, but you realize you also have been allowed to, by circumstances.
In this context, the recent tragedy in Garhwal and in Kinnaur is a mere reminder, despite it’s scale.
These trips were always assumed and known to be dangerous, and in treacherous terrain. Part of the reason of going there was to submit yourself and abandon the usual notion of control.
More than anything else, what’s gone wrong is our expectation that we will be able to do it easily, safely. Up there, that was never true – it’s a mountain range moving up at 5mm a year, changing all the time. And because of this expectation, we started turning up in larger and larger numbers, and built anyhow and anywhere for them, losing respect for this much larger set of forces than we are. And we paid.
It’s sad. But not surprising. And in a sense, even how it was meant to be. The same is playing out across the planet, sometimes in less dramatic ways. We are losing sight and understanding of natural limits, boundaries and the expectation is that we are harm-proof. So we continue recklessly.
The Himalayas taught me that I can count, but beyond a point, I don’t matter. That there is a larger scheme of things, and I exist within that. It taught me the true meaning of humility, of understanding and of effort and reward.
And it’s taught all of us that lesson again. Harsh, but a lesson nevertheless.