Every time I go looking for a waterfall, a journey that requires hiking, climbing, etc, I inevitably have a fall. Sometimes, like my most recent one, the fall is comical – slipping and plonking, buttocks first, into the water. Sometimes I come away with minor infractions: a broken umbrella, a lost water bottle. A scratch here or there. And sometimes, i return with long lasting scars. On my chin, just under a lip, while trekking to Meenmutty Falls in Wayanad. On my left shin, a coin shaped wound from tissue that was torn out, still healing, from the Ba Ho waterfalls in Nha Trang, Vietnam. Battle scars, I think of them. Me against the waterfall.
My adventures with hiking are not restricted to waterfalls though. I don’t remember when I caught the bug, but the first major hike I did was climbing to Roopkund in the Himalayas, back in 2011. When I proposed it back then, I remember the looks and exclamations of skepticism I received: on my general fitness levels (which at that time, was a gym membership collecting flies), my endurance, and on my general distaste of all kinds of exercise. For some reason, the adventure proved to be more alluring than all this nay-saying and I set off, not confident but determined. And it was hard. Much more than I’d thought. But whether it was the people I was with, the kindness of our guides or something else altogether, I prevailed, almost reaching the top (bad weather convinced us to abandon our last stretch). And more than me, watching a friend with a lung issue manage it as well made me both question our sanity, but more, marvel at human resilience.
Coming back to ground I was filled with a sense of super-humanness. What can I achieve if I put my mind to it. I quit my dead-end job and found another, infinitely more satisfying one. A more, my urge for adventure was kindled, and that fire still burns.
Not that I’m any more graceful on a mountain than I was while starting out though. Especially waterfalls and I, we share a temperamental relationship. One of great yearning, and fascination from one side, and malicious humour on the other. But the fire that burns trumps all of that. At Nha Trang last December, after suffering the worst fall I’ve had (into a gorge, narrowly missing razor sharp rocks, scratches and blood all over my body), I overcame my fear and jumped off those cliffs, 20 feet high, into freezing cold water. The fear still persists though, and two weeks ago at the Drakensberg range, confronted by large wet rocks with foothold few and far inbetween, numb with fear, I told my companions to proceed without me. 10 minutes of waffling later though, I made myself get over it, and clambered up (ungracefully, clumsily, but steadily), catching up to them without any help. I remember reaching the waterfall that I’d almost missed out on, and being overcome with gratitude – for my own perseverance (or foolishness) and to the world, for creating such beauty to live with, and marvel at.
And this, this moment, is what I hike for. To feel my body stretched thin, but not breaking. And to remind myself, that I am human, that I am frail, and that I’m ephemeral, in a world that ought to continue long after me. And I realise what a privilege it is. To never have faced those hardships that come with living in mountains, or having to walk to school, or for work, walking/hiking becomes challenging, adventurous, and not an every day chore. And I’m grateful to have the opportunity to experience it, briefly as it is, to remind myself of what I have, and what others don’t.
I’m blessed to have lived and be living in countries and cities that offer me unending opportunities to discover the hills, and in the process my own frailties and courage. From the Deccan plateau (night hiking in Kolar) to the dormant and dead volcanoes of South Korea (Halla-San in Jeju-do was a highlight) to the rolling hills of the crater that Johannesburg and Pretoria are situated in, each offering new challenges, new obstacles and (to use tired cliches) new peaks to summit. I’m seeing new challenges this year – will keep you posted!
(In the meantime, using WordPress on two devices means that I’ve accidentally deleted my previous post on pickles. I still have abt half of it, but rewriting it is calling for more reserves than I have right now. Consider its impact as fleeting, meaningful when written but not meant to last, as nostalgia often tends to be)