I Hiked the Himalayas and I Failed.
I’ve never been a hiker yet here I am; me, my failing hopes, and my inconvenient forty-pound backpack. We are all working in tandem, each one of us equally fueling my defeat. I’m in Gangotri, India with my study abroad group traveling to one of the holiest site to Hindus, Gaumukh, the origin of the river Ganges and the seat of the goddess Ganga.
My group is several kilometers ahead of me so alone I wander. To my left is a sharp hill with several mountain goats who occasionally disturb the earth and send human-sized boulders down the mountain. To my right lies a sharp cliff that, if fallen off of, would send me plunging into a rushing river. I was alone in a foreign land doing what I thought was the impossible- I was hiking.
I begin to take in my surroundings. First, the rare sighting of a Himalayan black bear and her cubs. Pilgrims trekking the path barefoot, their devotion to their god worn on their sleeves. A husband and wife who 60- sympathetically stated that my friends were far ahead of me and I needed to catch up. A handful of visitors who see my black skin and begin to laugh. A family sees me struggling up the path and what logically follows is the decision to ask me for a photo.
I continue to walk.
Then, came the straw that broke the camel’s back. I tripped over a rock. I fell on my back and stared into the heavens. I think to myself, I can’t do it. It felt like every fear, every piece of anxiety I’ve ever encountered sprouted and grew, wrapping my body in vines of paralysis. I began to calculate what ifs. I was never good at math, but I was always estimating the chances of me surviving moments.
I rest my body against the rugged boulders that outlined the trail. As I sat slumped over, a wandering holy man’s gaze meets my eyes. We stare at each other. Both tanned skinned and deep brown eyes. He is plainly dressed- white cloths and bare feet. He reaches his hand towards me and breathes. In that moment- the fear that once paralyzed me seamlessly melted. Because- despite not knowing each other’s language we exchanged a moment that transcends verbal communication. We exchanged hope.
His hope ran through my body like adrenaline. I believe he wanted me to experience the awe of the glacier Gaumukh; the power the goddess Ganga could grant those who come to her. There is a reason why so many Hindus walk this dangerous path- her beauty is undeniable.
On the path of Gaumukh, I was blessed by a stranger.
I have never walked the same again.