I’m scared stiff of heights, upward climbs suck the life out of my lungs, and the combination of wet and cold is the death of me.
I stand out of breath on a rocky mountain path 14,000 ft. high up in the Garhwal Himalayas in India trying to ignore the irony, halfway through a 7-km, fog-filled trek. The foggy ravine plays peekaboo – I try not to look. I’m nursing swollen toes and painful blue toenails. I’m gritting my teeth with every step. I wonder if I’ll see my Mecca, a famed valley bursting with rare alpine florae. We have flown and driven 1,300 miles, trekked, ridden horses in the rain and missed seeing it the day before due to the weather.
My weary mind muddles with Tolkien’s words – No half-heartedness and no worldly fear must turn me aside from following the path to the valley unflinchingly. I have a fanatic demeanour as I trudge ahead.
My ‘fears’ are put to test within the next few minutes, when we come upon the Sphinx in our path – a landslide patch with sharp, jagged rocks sitting precariously on the mountainside. The stretch is devoid of the cushion of vegetation, with nothing to stop a rocks fusillade or protect us from tumbling down the valley.
As my turn comes, I tear down the path, jumping amongst the rocks, breathing only when I get to the other side. My heart is thudding wildly. I have made it.
Or have I?
Barely a km down the path, we come upon a bridge, beyond which lies the valley. The ‘bridge’ is a mere asbestos sheet across the gushing Pushpavati River.
By the way, I’m terrified of crossing borderless bridges.
If I die now, I’ll make the papers. Tourist makes it to the top, falls into the river.
I do end up making it across the sheet alive, and look up – and my breath catches in my throat.
The Valley of Flowers is everything I’ve imagined, and everything I haven’t.
I gaze adoringly at the spectacle, let out a great sigh, and begin clicking.
The descent is fresh hell.
The torrential downpour is a hostile companion. My body aches and I’m feeling fresh stabs of pain in my feet. The landslide patch is dangerous, the visibility is appalling, and the path is slippery, slowing us down. We hasten to exit the valley before the 5 pm closing time, lest we wish to run into unfriendly fauna.
It’s one hell of a nerve-wracking descent, but we’re out of the woods soon. As I limp into the village, my adrenaline rush returns – I’ve feasted my eyes on the Valley.
The valley is closed for the next two days. My toenails take six months to look like a human’s.
It is totally worth it.