I like trekking because its the one activity that lets me keep in shape while not having to do much thinking. In fact, the faster you hit that zone of thoughtless mindfulness, where you’re not actively cogitating, but remain alert enough to react to your surroundings, the more you’ll enjoy longer hikes and treks.
In case you’re wondering, the difference between a trek and a hike is that a hike takes place over a pre-cut trail, whereas with trekking you’re breaking new ground. I did a bit of both in the mountains above Billing, in Himachal Pradesh. Like most people trekking in an unfamiliar area for the first time, I had a local guide with me. We started at the paragliding takeoff point, which was accessible by car. The plan was to pitch camp near the takeoff point and then start off into the woods, using trails and goat tracks.
We started walking at about 2.30 PM – most people might think that setting off when the Indian sun is at its fiercest might be foolish, but we were blessed with a cloudy, leaden sky and didn’t have to worry about the heat. Which is a good thing, because I was eager to make up as much distance as possible, so as to see as much of the mountains as I could.
The temperature was about 19 degrees C, which ensured a brisk pace to warm up. Along the way, I stopped occasionally to take pictures.
As you can see, the sky was being very dramatic and contrasted well with the warm tones of the earth. The terrain was smooth initially, as we followed a path that will someday become a tarred road to the villages behind the mountains.
The jungle flowers weren’t out in all their glory, except for one early-blooming species of red flower that I could see everywhere. The picture above was taken about 40 minutes into the hike. While you can’t really appreciate the height from the photo, we were about 4000 feet above sea level at this point, well into the upper reaches. There are many peaks much higher than the one we were on, but they were away in the distance and less impressive.
At about this point, around an hour into the trek is when I entered a fugue-like state that most trekkers know. It’s like being in a trance, where you’re intimately aware of everything around you, but your active conscious mind is somehow quelled. I’ve found that when you’re on a longer trek, you tend to approach this state in waves, steeping in and out of it gradually. The next few pictures were all taken over the remainder of the trek as we made our way 12 km into the mountains and back again. We turned around after spending about half an hour with some shepherds who stay on the trail, tending their sheep and horses.
Upon returning to camp, we rested a bit. My knees and thighs were trembling from the terrific exercise of climbing downhill. For some reason no-one seems to realize that climbing down is far more strenuous because you have to force yourself to go slow. Most injuries occur during the return leg!
After a quick meal of mutton and rice (washed down with some whisky!) we retired to our tents and slept. The next morning, we struck camp, packed everything up and I rode a paraglider down to Bir – but more on that in tomorrow’s post!