Monday, May 07, 2007

Nothing To Fear Except Fear Itself

Pirate left this morning and I was sad to see him go. He left at 9 am in an air conditioned car bound for the airport in Pathankot, a small town about three hours away from McLeod Ganj, where he was going to catch a flight to Delhi. He was an excellent traveling companion and I had so much fun with him. It's funny, when I imagined this trip I hadn't pictured travelling around with boys but it just seems to be working out that way. First, I met P.J. on the train from Kolkata to Darjeeling and had a terrific time with him exploring Darjeeling. Then I met up with Pirate in Delhi and travelled with him up to Mcleod Ganj. I must say, although males are not essential as traveling companions, and although I really appreciate the time I've had alone as a solo female traveler in India, I do appreciate having a strong, tall boy around from time to time.

Pirate and I had a number of adventures in McLeod Ganj, including an accidental 8-hour hike to the top of a nearby mountain, to a place called "Triund" which is approximately 2,300 meters above sea level. We had intended to hike up to the Mountain View Cafe, which according to the scribbly map provided by the trekking company, was midway between the town of McLeod Ganj and Triund - about three hours away. The hike on the way up was wonderful. We walked on dirt paths strewn with rocks and pebbles that scissored back and forth across the steep mountainside. Surrounding us on all sides were forests of fir trees and magnificent views of the valleys below, the snow-capped mountains above, and the towns and little houses far off in the distance. It was beautiful, peaceful, and towards the end more than a little challenging (during the last half hour I kept envisioning how luxurious it would feel to lie down on the ground and not move for a good couple of hours).

So intent were we upon persevering onwards, and so tiny was the tarp-covered lean-to referred to as the Mountain View "cafe," that we completely missed the cafe and ended up climbing all the way to Triund. You cannot imagine our surprise - and how impressed we were with ourselves - when we noticed the sign that said "Triund, 2,300 meters." We arrived at the top of the mountain at 4 pm, after climbing for about 6 hours, just in time to catch a thunder storm that forced us to huddle together under the tarp of the Triund Cafe - a tiny hut with enough room for 4 people to sit side-by-side on the floor, outfitted with a small cooking stove and a fine selection of crackers and candies, including kit-kats. Pirate and I had cheese toast, an omelet, and chai and watched the wind whip sheets of rain across the mountain top. I was dressed in only a tank top and capri pants (not the best preparation ever, I must admit) and it was chilly up there! Thankfully, Pirate graciously shared some of his body heat with me.

After an hour, the storm calmed down enough for Pirate and I to begin our hike back down the mountain. We set off at about 5 pm, which was about 2 hours later than we had planned to head back. At first the hike down was lovely, but at about 6 pm the sun went down (it was a beautiful sunset) and we found ourselves hiking down the mountain, through the middle of the forest in the dark. Pirate had a head lamp and I had a mag light that we used to illuminate the trail in front of us, so we weren't in any danger at any point.

However, I have a phobia of the dark that I had forgotten about until the sun went down and I found myself on a deserted path 2 hours away from civilization in the middle of the woods at night. Specifically, I have a phobia about dark spaces that stretch back into unknown depths - spaces that could shelter all manner of alien life form, bogeyman, or walking dead, psychotic mass-murderer ala Jason or Freddy. I haven't felt that level of anxiety in a long time. It brought me back to all of those times in high school when I was dropped off after a night out in front of my parent's house - a house that was surrounded on all sides by dark woods. As the car that had driven me home backed down the driveway, I would walk steadily up the path to the front door, using every ounce of control I had to stop myself from sprinting, feeling like at any moment some monstrous creature was going to lunge out of the darkness, pierce my back with its talons, and rip me to shreds.

In the end, other than my heart pounding rapidly in my throat for a good hour and a half, and more than a few startled jumps and strangled half-shrieks at random noises, everything turned out fine. No one resembling Jason or Freddy crossed our path, and it was a good opportunity for me to practice my deep breathing exercises as a way to cope with anxiety. (Good practice for when I start working again for Legal Corporate America on the 21st). One minute we were walking in the dark (me fearing for our lives, Pirate trying to distract me by making me tell him stories), and the next we tumbled out onto the main street of McLeod Ganj. Civilization! I had never been so happy to see a group of Indian tuk-tuk drivers in my life.

We headed straight for a bar and ordered ourselves some Thunderbolts (Indian beer) and pizza. It was the most delicious, perfect way to celebrate our great victory over the mountain, our bodies, and for me, my fear. Once we were safely out of the woods, and sipping our beers, the fear receded and all I could think about was how awesome it was that we had made it to the top. All in all, it was a fantastic day.


Starshine said...

Sometimes, those unplanned adventures turn out to be the most memorable. Thunderbolts and pizza...a fun celebration indeed!

Gypsy said...

Ah, I miss that unexpected stuff that comes with traveling. :)

Random Magus said...

I get the walking in the darkness thing so well.
The last steps to the door are completed in a sprint when you get back in the night have to walk a little bit to your brain works overtime and sketches the most awful things and my heart is in my throat....

Artemis said...

Your adventures sound so wonderful!!!!! thanks for all the updating :)

I just tagged you for a fun meme for poetry - check it out here:

And I've moved blog sites!!!!!! Fun :)