Travel is freedom. Sounds as much of a cliché, as it’s true. I leave my house, get on a taxi, bus, plane and just in one second I leave everyday humdrum behind. My mind goes to other spaces, and my thoughts become as first and new as the places I reach. The rush of life, things to do, unsolved problems, people expecting something – it all disappears replaced by the exciting curiosity of the unknown. My breath and pulse accelerate. My eyes open wider not to miss any scene. I set off.
I’ve experienced this special independence which I feel far from home and familiar routes so many times, but I still can’t get enough. Where’s this feeling the most intense? Actually, in every place I discover for the first time, but especially in the mountains. Space, silence, wind, rocks overwhelming with their magnitude and clouds rushing above. Standing on top, I need nothing more to feel I’m flying, even when after hours of hiking my body’s aching because of its own gravity. The effort to reach the summit, blood throbbing madly and bottomless breath put my mind into a meditation. Then the world watched from the high mountain becomes really small – not only physically.
I remember my first solitary travel – trekking in the Himalayas. Ten days in the Langtang Valley – which seems to be the world’s end – tightly surrounded by six-thousanders. Ten days of being the absolute master of time, when every hour, minute and second is born and lasts forever. I’ve never felt so much “here and now”.
Langtang is not far from Kathmandu, but it takes 11 hours to get there. The narrow and bumpy road meanders over the precipices and swooshing rivers, amid steep hills overgrown with jungle. Views are spectacular and petrifying – especially the wrecks of trucks far below. Meanwhile, our driver is working miracles to prevent the bus from crossing the thin line separating us from the same fate. Another attraction is a huge rock lying in the middle of the road which has fallen down just 10 minutes earlier.
On the bus – a mosaic of people, clothes and faces. Someone is travelling with two goats. Another with several sacks of cabbage. Those who don’t fit inside, travel on the roof. Talks and laughs not stopping even for a while create an intriguing cacophony of strange sounds. I’m the only stranger and the object of the natives’ unbridled curiosity. The Nepalese are open and friendly so we talk effortlessly without using the same language.
After such a prelude, I start a few-day hike to Kyanjin Gompa, where I want to stay and explore the beauty of the Himalayas. My previous treks took place at lower altitudes, so very quickly I start to feel the hardships of hiking. Steeply uphill, steeply downhill, and again, and again… Short breath, suffocating cough and various body parts tingling alternately – the face, the arm, the heel. Every day. Cold nights in poor rooms, where the wind whistles in countless cracks. Washing water even colder than the nights. Sleeping at the altitude of 4000 m, I suffer from short breath and chills lasting for several minutes after every visit to the toilet at the end of the corridor. Amazing how many ways a human body can find to say no. And in how many ways a man can resist it.
The Himalayas reveal all my weaknesses, but also empower me. Views are so stunning that every ailment is just a small discomfort. The mountains are generous to me, exposing themselves in many ways. Completely naked with all crevasses revealed. With rocks dressed it clouds, in places where you expect to see the sky only. Dark and threatening as if they were to fall crushed by the leaden burden. Kyanjin Gompa greets me with snow falling horizontally with a speed of an express train, and sun shining next to the snow cloud. Heat and cold simultaneously.
The culmination of my trekking is reaching Kyanjin Ri (4773 m). Before I conquer it, once again I have to conquer my own weaknesses. I’m hiking uphill completely breathless. I have to stop every few steps to catch the air. My tempo is as slow as if I walk immersed in tar. Every moment drags mercilessly but after three hours, which seem an eternity, I reach my highest mountain ever. The bewilderment makes me breathless again. Before my eyes there is a great rocky amphitheater with wide glacier tongues flowing down. I can hear them cracking.
Everybody has their own Everest. For me hiking Kyanjin Ri means fulfilment, freedom and independence from the limits. It’s worth experiencing it at least once in a lifetime, because it stays forever. Even when you go back to everyday humdrum, unsettled problems and people expecting something.
Thank you for reading and commenting. Please enter the Independence Travel Writing competition and tell your story.