On the mountain, you can’t get anything but chai tea, Maggi noodles, or omelets made with a slice of bread cooked right in the middle. Sometimes there are vegetables thrown in too, but only if there is enough room on the donkey’s back to lug them up the long mountainside, to where the blue tents stand. Vegetables aren’t very high on the list of priorities; more important are the things to keep you warm. Things like only semi-destroyed blankets to replace the threadbare, irrevocably mildewy ones covering the makeshift plastic crate benches. And whiskey.
It’s monsoon season, and everything is wet. Even when you think you’re dry, you realize your skin still has this sticky feeling and you unconsciously avoid the pack of gloriously coated shepherd dogs because their hair sheds right off in sopping wet clumps that amalgamate with damp garments.
The endless pounding rain keeps you up all night. The sound of thudding on the wood roof would be soothing were it not for the fear of being washed away, liquefied along with the giant heaps of cow dung swept off the cliffs, smeared across stone. The smell of feces is inherent to India, whether you’re in Delhi or 3,000 meters above sea level in the “village” of Triund.
What designations are required to deem a place a “village”? Triund is a mountain peak with an old creaky cabin for travelers, and just two permanent residents, men who live under blue tarps and offer a warm bite to eat, a warm swig of whiskey, and warm words to the occasional visitor. Triund is a place where cows and horses and sheep roam without fences, kept in check by those eternally wet dogs. Triund is a place where the clouds are so thick you can get lost in them, so thick in fact that you literally have difficulty seeing your own toes. You live in the clouds, you breathe in the clouds, sometimes it’s hard to believe you’re not part of the clouds.
But when the sky clears, which only happens just after the heaviest rains threaten to wipe away all existence; when the sky clears, which only happens just after you forget there’s more to life than watching raindrops flow down your own nose from your saturated eyelashes; when the sky clears… There’s a silence so crisp it speaks.
When the sky clears, there’s a timid stretch of Dharamshala visible beyond the ridge, there’s the snow-capped mountain peaks of the higher Himalayas above; there’s green grass and brown horses and blue tarps. There are multi-colored prayer flag-survivors grasping at the cord that arches between two trees. There are grey boulders too steep to climb, shadows caressing water-gorged crevices. There are toes.
When the sky clears, you understand that you have been invisible. You are wary of peering down at your own reflection in the freshly formed ponds, wary of any sign of permanence. When the sky clears, you feel naked, too exposed, and ache just a bit for the inevitable restoration of anonymity.