Walking up on the trail I hear a gentle creaking of pine trees. The mid-winter weather is foggy with intermittent rain. Up on the ridge sits a small village at about 2900 meters altitude. The snowline begins here. It is colder and windy than the valley. A motorable road rises up from the valley and gets to the village in thirty-five hairpin bends.
I took the walking trail used by the villagers before the road got here. It helps that the road and walking trail do not overlap.
The road goes up to a hydroelectric power station. Further up is a narrow valley, a wider one after that and then over a sharp trail to a high mountain pass. The pass leads into Spiti valley with its signature trans-Himalayan landscapes. The pass is avalanche prone and impassable during winter months.
It has been a month living above Manali. I have walked up this trail a couple of times. It is a walk that I have found much pleasure in. The steep climb literally feels like one’s leaving the chaos of the hill town behind with every step. Several other non-human sounds become audible as I rise. Wind blowing through pine leaves, bird calls and one’s own breath which is short, often form the soundscape. It feels nice to leave behind the constant roar of the river. It is a portal with a different soundscape and headspace.
A sense of longing for these experiences strikes me even as I am here. Why did it have to wait for all the winters over the years? Where was I? What were all of these years being spent on? These questions draw vague answers. I do not have much to show for.
This winter has brought back all the things that I had thought of doing (or left half done) as a younger person. An outdoor life that reverses the current configuration of days – more time outdoors and less time at work. And work, to earn just enough to support basic needs. Is it in the nature of these realisations that they occur only later in life, when there is less physical ability left for them? It looks suspiciously so.
I have spent two months in the mountains since the beginning of this year. There isn’t much that feels amiss about life in the city. The trails are bringing back possibilities of daily life and directions it can take, in sharp focus. It is not the call of the mountains. It is an unveiling of the futility of far too many activities and chases that living can get cluttered with.
A walk reveals much about what one needs, what is essential and irrelevance of the remainder. Can this be a livable alternative? Trying out in the months ahead.